From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
One of the opportunities presented in these COVID times is participation in the increased number of online training courses and conferences, both domestically and internationally. Those of you who have been taking up such international opportunities will know that it often means being online late into the night and early morning, given the different time zones.
Last week I connected with an online conference from the UK – “The ‘E’ Word: A deep dive into the part of the fresh expression journey that many of us struggle with … Evangelism “. I was keen to engage with this conference because I’ve been picking up in our church an aversion to evangelism. Mind you, it is not just our Uniting Church that is distancing itself from evangelism, churches in the UK are experiencing similar aversion. So much so that it has become popular to speak of evangelism as something you would not do to your dog, let alone someone whose friendship you valued.
One of the keynote speakers for the conference was Chris Duffett. You can find out more about Chris from his website - be the light – The creative ministry of Chris Duffett, prophetic artist and evangelist. There you find the way that he blends being an artist with ministry in evangelism, and the wonderful relationships this brings with people.
I’d like to share with you a couple of points in his presentation that caught my attention. His session was about evangelism as following and fishing, drawing on Mark 1:14-20. From the start, that title may have evoked distaste for you. Like some other biblical images, fishing as an image for evangelism has become problematic in our times. “Fishing” is now imbued with negative connotations. Think about “fishing for compliments” and social media phishing that is a type of fraud in which users receive an enticing invitation to click on an infected link or provide personal information. Acknowledging these and other problems with the descriptor “fishing”, the invitation is to persist to seek what nuggets might be found beneath.
Chris made the point that the call to follow comes first. The fishing will come but follow first. If we get this order around the wrong way, putting fishing before following, we will find ourselves relying on methodologies and techniques for evangelism, and the fishing becomes heartless. The following starts with devotion to Christ, and then the evangelism overflows form a heart of devotion with a heart-felt regard for people. The following is also a call to child-like adventure. It means movement. It means strangers who become friends who become disciples. It means doing things we’ve never done. Chris commented that in this following, 9 times out of 10 his heart is pounding. It certainly is an adventure.
This starting place for evangelism is so important. The focus on following and devotion reminds me of a point Rev Prof Sathi Clarke made at Our Synod’s “Out of the Box” Missional Conference earlier this year. He mentioned that the hope in Jesus Christ to which we testify is to be a present hope for us. We must be facing toward the Jesus who we lift up. He must be our hope. David Male in “How to Pioneer (Even if you haven’t a clue)” also emphasises the starting place as God’s love. He asks: “Do you understand that God loves you without any preconditions?” It is this love and hope that draws us into devotion to Christ and that overflows to send us out toward others.
Another point made by Chris Duffett in his session is that Jesus makes in us the ability to do evangelism. Here he drew on Mark 1:17 – “… and I will make you fish for people”. Various translations render this as show you, teach you, make you, turn you into, send you, transform you. This emphasis on Jesus creating in his followers the ability to do evangelism reminds us of the incarnate one’s creative role in the beginning – “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him” (John 1:2,3). We see this again in Colossians 1:16 – in him all things were created, and Hebrews 1:2 – through whom God also created the worlds. His creative role in making something out of nothing in the beginning is at work again in his followers to make in us the ability to do evangelism. And, when Jesus makes stuff, it is good.
These were stirring and challenging words from Chris. That Jesus specialises in making in us a readiness to give an account of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). That he makes something out of nothing – that nothingness (or even aversion) we feel about evangelism. Jesus makes something in our heart from what we cannot be bothered with.