My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
I’m really pleased that Chris Duffet is going to become president of the Baptist Union. Chris is an evangelist. His love for Jesus and his love for other people are truly infectious. He’s also an innovative thinker and a bold practitioner. Those of you who know him will agree that he doesn’t need any advice from me when it comes to evangelism. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’m going to give him some anyway.
I think Chris should use his presidential year to promote a total ban on evangelism, a moratorium of at least five years. Let’s see if he can’t get us to cancel our Alpha courses, tear up our Back to Church Sunday leaflets, forget all about friendship evangelism (please God let’s forget about friendship evangelism) and call off the search for the next Billy Graham immediately – there isn’t one.
Evangelising is so central to following Christ that we have to ban evangelism. Unless we do we will never learn what it’s all about. You see we have a problem. Evangelism has become something it was never meant to be. It’s become a thing. Worse than that it’s become a particular thing. A special thing. Something that requires a method (preferably one that “works”) and ideally a programme (the very latest if at all possible).
Over the years since big Billy Graham style rallies became unfashionable and unworkable I’ve lost count of the various projects and schemes that have been heralded as the next big thing: JiM, Minus to Plus, Power Evangelism, Challenge 2000, Alpha, Fresh Expressions. Each one was seen as the answer. None of them “worked” – not really. And in the process we’ve lost sight of something truly precious: the idea that all of us are called to bear witness to the good news every day of our lives.
Evangelism has come to be seen (first and foremost) as the domain of the specialist organisation and the uniquely gifted individual. Something they do and which from time to time the enthusiastic among us get to join in, for a while. It’s nothing of the sort.
Each and every follower of Christ is called to bear witness. The things we say, the stuff we do and the way we are, these are the beating heart of goodnewsing, helping people to hear, see and experience gospel for themselves. It’s meant to be a part of who are, our very identity: witnesses of Christ.
We could learn a thing or two here from our cousins, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not only is the word in their name, it’s how they see themselves, it’s written right through their sense of who they are, it’s why they draw breath.
As Baptists with our rightful insistence on the Priesthood Of All Believers we should be the first to champion that other great reformation doctrine, the Evangelisthood Of All Believers.
OK, so I made that last bit up. And yes, it will never catch on as a title. But I still think I’m right. This is too important to be left to the experts. It’s a job for amateurs – literally those who do it out of love, even if they are not especially skilful.
And no, of course evangelistic programmes and special events are not ultimately incompatible with personal witness but I am serious in my belief that our obsession with method has ripped the heart out of goodnewsing. And my tongue is poised but certainly not fully planted in my cheek when I suggest that a moratorium would be good for us.
So, how about it Mr. President?