Friday, 12 October 2007
A Little more conversation?
(I've even used this column to bang on about it before but that was quite a while ago so I'm hoping the editor won't notice.)
It strikes me that as our society becomes less and less Christian, there is more and more of an onus on all of us to find appropriate ways to give voice to our faith. The idea that we can bear witness to Christ without actually piping up is dangerously misguided.
I know St. Francis of Assisi is a bit of a hero, even among Protestants, but I wish someone had sat on him quick and heavy before he managed to utter, 'Go and preach the gospel. And if you must, use words.' Sure it's a nice line and yes, I get the sentiment behind it - communicating the good news involves far more than being a gob on legs. But these days most of us need little encouragement to clam up when it comes sharing our faith.
In fact I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that a worrying number of Christians are not only shy about breaking the sound barrier with those who don't share their faith.
In 2005 the Methodist Church published a study book called Time to Talk of God. It seeks to get Methodists talking to each other about God. Apparently it's not a thing that many of them like doing. Perhaps they should consider handing out WWWS wristbands, What Would Wesley Say?
And it's not just Methodists. Earlier this year I led a training session on faith-sharing with a Baptist Church. I used the well-worn exercise of getting the participants to tell each other the story of how they had come to faith.
Normally it's good to get appreciative feedback after speaking at a church. This time however I found myself wishing they hadn't been quite so enthusiastic. 'You know we really enjoyed that. It's the first time we've talked about such things,' they said. I ask you.
What makes it worse is that some of the most innovative and interesting younger Christians are just as hopeless at telling others.
Those involved in the emerging church movement might be pretty hot on incarnating the gospel, seeking to be a gospel community, getting alongside people and showing them (all really, really, really good things) but they don't seem to be at all sure about actually telling people.
This summer I finally got round to reading Velvet Elvis by American emerging church guru Rob Bell. This otherwise excellent volume is decidedly diffident about verbal evangelism.
I know that some evangelists give the good news a bad name. I know that some evangelistic techniques would have Jesus turning in his grave - if he were still in it. But I'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit wasn't sent to make disciples hesitant.
If others have taken witnessing and screwed it up, straighten it out. If some have got it badly wrong, find ways to get it right. For God's sake don't just stop!
No wonder our wonderful new Christian neighbours from places like Nigeria are bemused by what they see in this country. For them speaking of God is second nature and the importance of telling others is taken for granted.
I'm not suggesting we duplicate their methods or adopt their way of speaking. I am suggesting that they've got something that we've lost. Something precious.
It is probable, humanly speaking, that some of us will live to see the death of more than one historic denomination. Parts of the British church are dying fast. The reasons of course are complex. But this much at least seems obvious: talking a bit more about God ought to help.
My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. I don't reckon I'm up to both a weekly newspaper article and a weekly blog post so I'm copping out. With the agreement of the editor I'm going double up and post my BT article. This means that the blog will have a slightly different feel. To chek out the Baptist times as a whole click here
The weekly poll will continue as usual.