back to the future

We become flash and fancy with our evangelism today, don't we? The programmes. The technology. The strategies. While participating in the annual conference of the Association of Evangelists in the UK last weekend, I was reminded again of three ancient, yet proven, components to evangelism.

Are we losing sight of them? Have we really become so sophisticated that we no longer need them?

The conference unfolded within a simple template. Somewhere between 100-150 prayer partners gather for a weekend with the 8-10 evangelists in the Association. While there are Bible teaching sessions (which I had the privilege to bring), the main focus is on hearing updates from each of the evangelists and then, immediately, breaking into small groups to pray for them.

The three components of the weekend which remain with me are:

The call of the evangelist
I won't use the word 'gift', as many of you will leave me at this point. Primarily, this is not about people getting knotted over discerning whether they are gifted or not. This weekend was about listening to people who have obeyed a call and are experiencing both God's energising (another word for 'gifting') to obey that call and God's faithfulness in living out that call.

Evangelists are much less common than evangelism. These people are not so much Billy Grahams, devoted to gathering people together for thunderous crusades. These people are not so much street preachers, climbing onto their soap boxes to harass the passerby. Let's delete the stereotypes. While I suspect they are not adverse to the crusade, or the street corner, these evangelists were normal, consecrated people of grace and truth - and courage - who pressed themselves into daily life, with all its opportunities, for the purpose of the gospel. Story after story emerged of simple, everyday initiatives in which every opportunity is taken to speak a little word for Jesus.

The vocation of the leaflet
I won't use the word 'tract', as many of you will leave me at this point. But pictured here is a table laden with evangelistically-themed leaflets, mostly written by Roger Carswell (the person primarily responsible for pulling this Association together). Look at them all! These leaflets take the opportunities which society provides (for eg., World Cup rugby), to produce brief, colourful and engaging presentations.

Roger himself has a warm and winsome way about him and these leaflets reflect this quality. That is why they have possibilities, slipping them into peoples' hands here and there. [NB: They are readily available at www.10ofthose.com (enter 'carswell tract' in the search area)].

It is not enough simply to have community-building ministries in a church - and that's it. Back home in New Zealand, in the Baptist context with which I am most familiar, churches tend to be exceptional in birthing and nurturing such ministries. But those ministries need to be herded more towards a sharing of the gospel (even at the risk of a few people not returning the following week!). To distribute a winsome little leaflet now and then, or to have someone give a word of testimony, are simple ways to add a gospel flavour to these ministries.

The commitment of the pray-er
I won't use the word 'intercession', as many of you will leave me at this point. That word can be a bit intimidating... These were everyday people who believe that God answers prayer - and so they pray. Simple as that. They jot down the information and then they take it to the Lord in prayer. Yes, the average age was up there quite a bit ... but I enjoyed it so much. It took me back to my days as a pastor and our 'Living Long and Loving It' group with whom I liked to linger. It took me back to my days in a missionary family where we learned, from a young age, to cherish pray-ers like this, as they demonstrated that they loved us enough to pray for us.

I was able to tell the story of one elderly woman who approached me at the door after a church service where I had preached. It is about ten years ago now. As she walked towards me, rather nervous and shy, she was fumbling in her purse for something. Finally she found it, thrust it into my face, with a rather curt, 'Is this you?' Initially, I was taken aback - but then I melted ever so quickly. It was the prayer card of our family from the late 1960s, with me all of seven years of age. 'Yes, that is me'. To which she responded, 'I prayed for you every day while you were there in India'.

The evangelist. The leaflet. The pray-er.

Have they really been tried and found wanting - or, is it that they are are still wanted and not really been tried? Are you sure, absolutely sure, that your current flash and fancy alternatives are that much better? Could you not squeeze the tried and true in there somewhere as well?

nice chatting

Paul


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