we don’t know whether to love it or hate it, do we?
I think one reason for that is evangelism in the West has mostly been based upon models developed within Christian countries, and Christendom. That’s meant that most of those who came to faith ‘got saved’ in recent years have had church backgrounds at a time when fewer and fewer people have such a background and the ranks of the unchurched are (in most european countries) rising. Finland of course is an exception here. It’s still firmly within Christendom with about 90% of teenagers chosing to confirm their faith (even if then they are not regular church attenders, and many drift away from the church again in adulthood). It’s meant that the models don’t work because the conditions are no longer what they used to be.
Britain is very different to the Finland of course. Not only are most people not really part of the church (other than on a census form) but the country is much more pluralistic in attitude. In Finland you might learn a lot about other faiths, but you won’t actually easily meet people of other faiths because in many ways the nation is still very monocultural. Not so in England. And that has meant some very pragmatically different approaches to the ways the good news is shared.
For many it’s still an e-word
But things like Mission-Shaped Church are challenging that.
One approach to evangelism begins not with the message we wish to proclaim but rather with listening to the beliefs and experiences of others and looking for connections to the Christian gospel with them and their stories. This approach requires the building of relationships and a willingness to go to where people are in mission rather than expect them to come to us. We can call it incarnational … but what is important is that it it the church (groups of Christians) not only going out, but also staying where people are rather than dragging them back to church as we know it.
As part of my job as intern over at Cliff College I have been priviledged to be co-leading a course on interfaith evangelism this semester. This week we went on a field trip to Galeed House, an interfaith community meeting place run by Christians in the heart of a predominantly non-Christian neighbourhood. We were indeed priviledged becasue the work at Galeed House has been long term and consistent and real relationships have been formed with both men and women in the community. That meant they welcomed us friends of Galeed House too. We women ate with women, visited people in their homes, and got to play with children too. I even got to sit on an English lesson for immigrant women. The male students in our group met with men, helped dig gardens and also worked with boys and young children. It was a fabulous experience for me.
It was a very humbling experience for me. We came in on the shirt tails of Galeed House. And for me it was a living embodiment of 1 Cor 3, where different people plant and water but it is God who gives the growth. We may not yet see the results of our labour (or the long hard and patient work of others) but interfaith evangelism is a long term commitment, built on building friendships and walking with them on their journey. Not unlike the way of the early church where the conversion process usually took 3 years of intense mentoring.
When doing some reading this week I was reminded of this important truth.
Those who come to faith often find it hard to be accepted by churches, and indeed would naturally express Christian faith in their own culture. Insights from the C1-6 explorations of evangelism among Muslims are likely to be helpful in this area and it is likely that longer term mission in this culture will be served by planting churches in that culture.
This applies not only to our work as Christians within the muslim communities, but for example with people from new age backgrounds. Steve Hollinghurst’s books are really helpful in exploring this. E.g. the grove booklet New Age Paganism and Christian Mission is a good starting point. For futher reading you could try Mission-Shaped Evangelism (excellent read) or Robert Webbers Ancient-Future Evangelism
Maybe evangelism isn’t such an e word after all, but rather a f for friendship word. And that’s something we can all do (and in very different ways too)