Clergy Letter for May 2016 by the Rev’d Derwyn Williams.
I wonder what the word ‘evangelism’ brings to your mind, and whether it inspires a feeling of fear or of fun?
Perhaps it prompts an image of a stadium being addressed by Billy Graham, with an altar call being made, urging new converts to come forward and commit themselves to Christ. Or maybe you find yourself picturing someone in a city centre shouting biblical texts, wearing a placard saying ‘Repent, for the day of the Lord is nigh’.
Evangelism can indeed be ‘big’, ‘public’ and ‘in your face’, with the blessings and drawbacks such approaches might entail. But it can also be quiet, gentle and long term, and at least as effective.
For example, I wonder who evangelized you? If you are a Christian, who took the time and trouble to pass on their faith so that you might share it? Who thought that following Jesus was sufficiently exciting, inspiring and important to talk about it, in the hope that you and others might join in?
Maybe it was Billy Graham, or a stranger in the street. But more likely, I venture, someone a bit like you. A parent or grandparent or godparent. A neighbour or friend. A teacher or choir director or junior church leader, or even a minister. Someone, or some combination of people, decided Jesus’ story was worth telling in their generation. And you heard it, and gradually or suddenly, willingly or reluctantly, came to believe that this story is true, and life giving.
Someone evangelized you, if you are a Christian. And just as well, for without them the church would be that bit smaller and weaker, a bit less able to do God’s work today. For evangelism is constantly required if the church is to journey though time, and faithfully to serve God’s purposes in his world. A theologian once said ‘the church exists through mission as fire exists by burning’. Being sent into God’s world to share his message and serve his people is simply what the church is and does. If we stop doing this, firstly we deny our very purpose and identity, and second, we inevitably wither away and vanish.
We can’t all be Billy Graham, and we’re not meant to be. And I don’t intend this article to inspire you to make a placard and harangue Bishop’s Stortford town centre with random quotes from the Bible. But I wonder if there is someone you can lovingly, helpfully and enjoyably evangelise? A friend or relative or neighbor, a child or grandchild or godchild to whom you can find the right moment to say – ‘I’m a Christian, here’s what it means to me, and this is why it really, really matters’. You could be giving them the greatest gift they’ll ever receive.
And if that sounds a bit scary, why not join in the Archbishop’s Week of Prayer for Evangelism this May. It will run from 8-15 May and there will be flyers in church with details and suggestions. Could you do some of these things: Worship with other Christians at this season, when our services will try to respond to the Archbishops’ call. Visit the website all about this: thykingdomcome.co.uk. Pray in your own time and in your own way that God’s church will be faithful in sharing his good news. And, yes, maybe invite someone to join you at a service and hear the gospel? Perhaps on the Day of Pentecost, 15 May, when our Week of Prayer culminates with bishop Alan’s visit to us to celebrate this great festival, and to dedicate the rebuilt organ.
The church exists though mission as fire exists by burning. As we journey through Eastertide towards Pentecost, may the flame of faith burn in our hearts, and inspire us to be and bring God’s good news to his world.