Monday, March 12, 2007

why are we so bad at evangelism (or - time to get cookin')

Yesterday morning, fellow hOMEie Jim and myself did a team-preach/discussion facilitation at St Clement's Parish Church - the Parish that most of hOME's activity takes place within (so we are there with their kind permission etc.)

The Lectionary gospel passage for the day was Luke 13: 1-9 which is a strange passage in many ways. We decided to focus on the second part in which Jesus tells a story about a tree that has been planted but has borne no fruit for three years. It was a challenging passage for us as we have been going about three and a half years now, so the passage begged a difficult question for us i.e. what does it mean to be fruitful, and have we been?

The New Testament describes fruitfulness in different ways (fruit of the Spirit etc.) but there's also no getting away from the fact that it also envisages fruitfulness to mean the growth of the Christian community. We might want to term that evangelism.

Evangelism has got a lot of bad press in recent years, a lot of which has been justifiable. And I have spoken many times about the need to see evangelism as an aspect of mission (which is rightly understood to be God's activity in the world to restore the whole of his creation).

But what about this pesky evangelism business. Why are we who are exploring new forms of church seemingly so poor at seeing people come to faith (this seems to be quite a common experience in emerging communities).

In the passage - Jesus talks about the manure that the gardener wants to put around the tree to encourage it to be fruitful. What might that compost/manure be?

We suggested it could be many things (and there were some fantastic contributions from the congregation to the discussion at this point) but some fresh thinking might be part of it.

Then we developed a germ of idea that was suggested in Pete Rollins' book - How (Not) to Speak of God.

Much evangelism to date could be characterised as being akin to going up to people in the street with a plate of food and trying to convince them (a) that they are hungry (they mostly don't think they are) and (b) they should take some of our food. We then develop ever more elaborate ways of trying to get them to take the food or convince them that it makes rational sense to take the food.

Pete suggests a different approach. What if we understood ourselves to be the 'aroma of Christ'. I guess we've all had the experience of walking down the street and catching a whiff of some fantastic food, which instantly makes us feel hungry. Could this be a more helpful way of understanding the task of evangelism?

What would we need to see this happen. We suggested 7 things:

1. chefs i.e. people of faith
2. a kitchen i.e. a context for the chefs to be together - church
3. ingredients i.e. good smelling stuff - mercy, compassion, reconciliation, justice, forgiveness
4. a cooker i.e. the life of the Spirit in us and between us/around us
5. some open windows i.e. to let the good smells out - relationships, honesty etc.
6. proximity i.e. to be cooking near to where people might be
7. a spirit of inclusion i.e. the ability and willingness to offer people a seat at the table once they take the initiative and get in touch with their own hunger.

Traditionally we have jumped straight to point 7 without thinking about how we can help people to figure out for themselves that they are hungry.

Anyway - thought there might be somebody out there who might be interested in this!

1 comment:

Matt Page said...

Hi Matt,

Your blog has suddenly burst into life!

Great post. Might have to plagiarise it (or at least buy the book and "borrow" from that).