I wrote here about how Christmas may not be the big time for evangelism that some assert. I am left wondering though, whether now we are entering the time of year when we have the most fertile opportunities to engage in evangelism.
January is recognised as the month of year when our moods are at their lowest. Many things combine. We are on the leeward side of the Christmas and New Year party season. There is the gnawing feeling that those parties just did not deliver the satisfaction that they promised. Moreover the excess associated with the holiday season has left us deflated about our appearances. And then there were those fractured relationships which were once again evidenced in the family gatherings over Christmas. Oh and don’t forget the debt-ridden bank accounts from all the necessary (and unnecessary) expenditure at Christmas. Then there is simply the process of putting away the Christmas decorations and realising how we put them up in much excitement for the holiday season and now it is all over; the parties and the holiday were not that great either.
Furthermore, there is the higher level of illnesses such as cold and flu. The weather often being dark and dreary does not help.
Put into this cocktail the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and there is much feeling that everything is not right, SAD is the condition that results from the reduced level of sunlight at this time of year. In passing I note, that the third Monday of January is generally known to be the saddest day of the year.
So what does all that mean? It means that January is the time of year when it is most detectable that all is not well. People are thinking, more than at other times, “there has got to be more than this.”
All this sits up as a free hit for evangelism. So there seems something wrong, in my observation, in the church going into something of a stupor at this time of year. We give it our best go over Christmas; now we will have our January sabbatical and get on with preparing for Easter in February.
I caricature, of a measure, but I feel there is more then a grain of truth in this. Are we just missing a great importunity through not being more sensitive to the emotional flow of our neighbours and our society more generally? Is it the case that the fields are ripest for harvest in January and the church is hibernating? How about re-thinking some of our strategies?
Oh and of course don’t forget this has everything to do with the eternal welfare of those around us. We love our neighbours most when we are willing to intervene to help introduce them to the Saviour. Right outside your door (and mine) there might be many who are more open to hearing the hope of the gospel than at any other time. So why don’t we get praying and get going and sharing our Saviour.
I do find myself somewhat intimidated by the high octane messages which emerge from certain parts of the evangelical scene about how Christmas is the big time for evangelism. It is the season when we have great “an open goal” to reach people with the gospel is how it is presented. I understand that this is the case in many places, but I have not found it to be so here in Feltham.
It was therefore interesting to read this article here by Stephen Kneale. This would be something of our experience here in Feltham, although for different reasons.
It seems to me that in more middle-class areas we can expect the influx of visitors because it is something that people do a Christmas. However, in an area like Feltham which is historically working class and now of more mixed ethnicity this does not appear to be the case. So we are seeking to reach out and invite people to carol services this Christmas, but we are not seeing it as “The” big time for evangelism. If we did gets lot of people in that would be great and we trust they will hear good news concerning the Saviour who has come to save sinners. And what joy there would be to know of those being saved
If in your situation you normally gets lots of strangers coming in at Christmas then that is great. And may the Lord use the Word declared and relationships established to bring many to Himself.
We recently had the privilege of visiting Italy, Pozzuolli near Naples, to be precise. We stayed with Alec and Patrizia Catchpole and their family. You can find out more about their ministry through these links here and here.
The River of Life church of which Alec is one of the elders is essentially a first generation church made up of those who have been converted within the last fifteen years. It was beautiful to be able to attend their service on a Sunday morning, to be a part of their worship and to meet some of the people.
Their worship service was not dissimilar to ours at Feltham on a Sunday morning. They would not have a split in the service, though, like we have at Feltham with the Lord’s Supper service and preaching and worship all is included in one service in Pozzuolli.
Graciously Alec’s wife Patrizia, and son, Joseph, translated for us and so we could follow what was going on. The preaching by Stephano was sound and lively. The main message was that we are to glory in the Lord and not in his gifts.
Hearing one or two of the testimonies of those converted was such a joy. They were really encouraging to my faith as I was faced with living demonstrations of the grace of our God. This brings me to ponder on the similarity to Barnabas’s experience at Antioch. In Acts 11:22-23 we read: The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
I attended a house group on the Tuesday morning and was struck by their desire to hear God’s word, their affection for Alec and their delight in being together.
Three things I have been left to ponder upon:
- Getting involved in the community. Alec is a gregarious individual and very much a people person. He obviously has a lot of contacts through his mingling in the community of Pozzuolli.
- House groups These seem to be quite fluid in their arrangements. There is one for students and one for the younger adults. Otherwise you can get involved in whatever one you want to and whenever you want to. This may all reflect the haphazardness of the Neapolitan culture, but it has a certain attractiveness.
- Gospel Engagement The commitment to get contact with as many people as possible and get the Word of the gospel, out to as many as possible was striking. I am left thinking about whether we should be more thoughtful about 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. There, in Pozzuolli, they have done various things such as karaoke, concerts, tent missions, watching football on a big screen, playing football amongst others all with a view to making the gospel known to people.
One of the hard experiences of pastoral ministry is to see people either drifting away from the Lord, turning away from the lord or not going on to follow the Lord. It is a source of distress and grief that such happens. The sense of wastage of life in people not wanting to go the Lord’s way is hard to take.
When this happens there is the inclination to dwell upon the loss. There is the desire to chase after the people and get them back in the right way. These responses are legitimate and are understandable if you have a caring shepherd heart. To see people go off and to greet that with a sense of “good riddance” is not the godly response of a true shepherd.
However, when people reject all your advances to restoration or just ignore the loving exhortation of the godly then there is a time when you have to move on. Not that these people should leave our hearts or our prayers. But to continue to pursue can amount to harassment and a lot of wasted time.
Moreover, we must be reminded that there are others we need to care for and go and seek after. In fact we should be continually praying that the Lord would be bring us the next set of sheep to care for and nourish and look after. Pursuing those who do not want the rich pasture of the Lord is time not well spent.
There are obviously balances to be struck here because we do not want to be too quick in giving up our pursuit of people for the Lord. But we do need to exercise wisdom.
” I prefer the evangelism I am doing to the evangelism that you are not doing” is a well-worn quote. However, it has a certain poignancy to it.
We can sit around all day and night pondering what might be the best form of evangelism and never get round to actually going to tell people about Christ. The important thing is that we get out and about to share the message of our Lord with others.
We may be scornful of “negative” methods, of pointed messages on sandwich boards, or preachers haranguing people about their sin, But at least they are doing some evangelism. So many of us are just doing nothing.
None of this takes away from the necessity for us to strive for excellence in evangelism. I have written about the whole issue of excellency here and the need to be careful in how we present ourselves. But we do have to take the Nike strap-line and “Just do It”.
Finally, be very careful of criticising from your ivory tower and comfy chair those who are out there sharing the Lord. Because remember “I prefer the evangelism I am doing to the evangelism you are not doing.”
When potentially meeting people and thinking about talking with them I have often been deterred from doing so because of a mental malfunction. I reason it out that as a Christian I should talk to them about the Lord and His salvation. However, in the presenting situation, I feel that that would be difficult and perhaps awkward. So I conclude in my deluded way that I won’t speak to them at all!
What I have sought to do of late is to ditch that way of thinking and rather just speak to people normally. I have sought to simply interact with people about this and that; anything that might be of mutual interest. In doing this I have desired to enjoy the interaction with the other person. In taking this approach I am to freed myself of the perceived burden of having to introduce spiritual things.
So if nothing about scripture or the bible develops then I hang loose about that. However, should the opportunity arise to move things on to a more spiritual level then I trust the Lord to take advantage of such opportunities.
In all this I feel that the ministry of the Lord was of this ilk. As i read the gospels i sense a calm reasonableness to His approach to the general circumstances of life. When he was interacting with people there was nothing off putting about him. There was no Bible bashing or contrived spiritual conversations. He simply talked to people and naturally introduced spiritual matters
Of course He was the ultimate Holy Spirit led man who was always anointed into the right way. However, He is also our example in all things. And when we are enabled and anointed by the Holy Spirit we will be ministering in a way that is in the likeness of our Lord.
The plan of God as it unfolds in the book of Acts and into the epistles is to have churches established and built-up. This is God’s agenda for this age. In one sense the church is His mission plan for this age. Churches are established and out of those churches other churches are established.
I have been pondering on this issue particularly as regards to the sending out of missionaries to other pasts of the world. The goal should always be for those sent out either to link with churches which are already in situ in the location where they go to, or if it is a completely spiritually barren area to establish new churches.
There is something wrong for people to be just loan rangers or loan groups operating independent of churches.
This also raises issues more close to home. To engage in evangelism is absolutely vital and we give thanks to the Lord for all mission agencies who are labouring for the Lord. But these should always be operating in connection with local churches.
The commission of our Lord is to go and make disciples. Disciples are formed in the context of a local church. A convert can be any where, but a disciple should always be in a church. Evangelism should always be about recruiting disciples.