Evangelism and attentiveness…

Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Blog | 3 comments

On the weekend I led a seminar on evangelism for the good folk at Kingsway Methodist Church. It has been a little while since I have led a seminar on this topic, and I decided to think through some issues in a slightly different way. After reflecting on the importance of pre evangelism, and the many obstacles that prevent people from making a meaningful response to Jesus, I asked those present to think of 5 people they knew who haven’t yet said ‘yes’ to Jesus, and to write their names down. I thought this was important, as it is so easy to lapse into theories that have little resemblance to the lived reality of peoples lives. These five names were to be the touchstone against which they were to think about questions asked and to evaluate claims made.

I then asked them to discuss why, in their opinion, the people on their list are currently saying ‘no’ to Jesus, and to try and figure out what it would take to change their ‘no’ to a ‘yes’. It led to some fascinating discussion. For some the issues are intellectual. For a larger number, they are personal, the result of a bad experience of either life or of church or of both. For others it is simply ignorance – their knowledge of Jesus too slight for them to make a response. For yet others, life is so comfortable at present that deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of life are unlikely to be asked with any seriousness. Several seem to be enamoured by the Western gods of money, sex and power, and the thought of having their attitudes to any of them challenged has blocked any serious spiritual quest. And yet more answers were given. If you wrote down the names of 5 people you know who are saying ‘no’ to Jesus, what would their reasons be? It’s worth keeping them in mind…

We then spent some time reflecting on 1 Cor 1:23 where Paul speaks of the Cross of Jesus as a stumbling block for Jews and Greeks coming to faith, and explored the idea that the only real reason people should say ‘no’ to Jesus is because they have considered the Cross, and rejected its message. Any other reason is secondary – and we should work really hard to remove things which are unnecessary stumbling blocks which prevent people from coming to faith.

We then explored the essence of the Christian message – working through some of the concepts from my book The Big Picture (and the folk at Kingsway are indeed good, for they purchased every copy of the book I had on me!).

Up until this point the seminar was running along a fairly traditional line. Sound, conventional, solid stuff. Then we came to what for me was the heart of the morning. An exploration of the link between evangelism and attentiveness. In broad outline the idea had been introduced by a chapel guest speaker (thanks Mark Holt) at Vose Seminary earlier in the week. He had commented that we tend to think that evangelism is about proclamation, and suggested that we would be better served (and more effective) if we thought of it as an act of attentiveness… Attentiveness to God, attentiveness to what is going on in the other person, attentiveness to what God seems to be doing in the other person, attentiveness to the Spirit’s prompting in our interaction with the other.

Pondering these insights, I devised a 7 step exercise in attentiveness, and we spent the closing time in the seminar experiencing them. Here they are:

  1. Be still. Take time to become quiet enough to listen for God’s voice.
  2. Ask, ‘who is God putting on my heart who does not yet know Jesus?’
  3. Pay attention to what you think God is saying about this person.
  4. Pay attention to what you think is going on inside of this person.
  5. Pay attention to what you think God wants to do in this person (remember, it is what God wants to do… not what your agenda for this person might be).
  6. Pay attention to any role that God may want you to play in this.
  7. Pray that God will help you to fulfil your role…

I joined the participants in this, and was challenged by what came to me. A clear voice about one person who I am now thinking about and praying about in a new way… and waiting expectantly for the doors that God will open.

I found it rather liberating. Rather than feeling mildly guilty for not rushing around trying to tell all and sundry about Jesus, trying to become more aware of the work that God is already doing seems to me to be a far better and more fruitful route to travel. For God is always at work, and is constantly inviting us to join in that work. But we need ears to hear and eyes to see… we need to become attentive to the work God is already doing.

What about you? Is evangelism in your too hard basket – or is it a fresh challenge to you and I to be more attentive to God, and more attentive to one another…

Nice chatting…

3 Comments

  1. Now that you mention it, I can’t think of an instance where I’ve played a role in someone’s journey toward faith without this sort of attentiveness being part of the picture. Sometimes it’s just as eye-opening to put words to what you already knew as it is to encounter some completely new idea.

  2. Thank you for this, Brian. With your permission I’ll share your 7-step exercise with my church

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