Friday, 3 May 2013
Evangelism and community
A couple of days ago I was reading a book called "Barefoot Christianity: the rough road" written by Ricky May. The book aims to show what it means to be an active follower of Jesus in the current age by allowing yourself to be vulnerable as you follow in his footsteps. One particular chapter in that book caught my attention as he dealt with evangelism and community.
It was really just one sentence that stood out for me and this is what the sentence said. "We come up with the Christian terms such a mission, ministry or evangelism because we just don't have relationships with the community around us." This is quite a damning indictment of the churches because so much is being invested in ministry, mission and evangelism through all sorts of programs aimed at making Christianity relevant, useful and acceptable to people who are without the church. What he seems to suggest is that it would be far more effective if in a community setting Christianity could be shared by the normal processes of social interaction. I've heard this called gossiping the gospel.
This sounds great but I think there is a flaw in what he's saying. The problem with the approach of leaving evangelism to a community to spread the message by itself is the definition of what is a community. Sociologists have been telling us for a long time the people belong to many different communities all at the same time. Many communities may be communities of interest where people sharing like interests gather together to follow their hobbies, sports or perhaps their political beliefs. Such communities are a very real communities for those people yet many of them may not require any sort of physical proximity or may not even require people ever to meet each other. Sometimes the idea of community is mixed up with the term social networking however social networking only refers to a technology that makes certain interactions possible.
Research on effective evangelism quite clearly shows that people talking to friends and encouraging them to join a church is one of the most effective means of outreach. Does this mean then that churches should concentrate their efforts into community development instead of spending vast sums of money on evangelistic programmes? Perhaps what is most needed is a programme to develop the confidence and skills of ordinary church members so they feel happy in sharing why church, Jesus, and the Christian faith play an important part in their life.
Another quotation from later in the same paragraph. "Instead of loving we call it being Christ like and instead of serving we call it outreach." What the author is objecting to is that these special churchy activities have often be become a substitute for doing what should be a natural friendly activity. He is essentially calling for us to show radical love that would no longer love others from a distance but develop a compassionate involvement. In this way we'll really want to help them and part of that will involve sharing our faith with them.
I haven't yet finished the book, and to be honest, I'm finding some of it not very good, however, if there are any further nuggets offering insight or which provoke me to think deeply I will share them on the blog.