Friday, December 03, 2010


Evangelism. Do you like the word? At its root it means something like 'good-newsing.' So far so good, but ask anyone who is not a follower of Jesus and they will feel got at by it. It makes those who are being evangelised into a target audience, a potential customer-base and therefore to feel either the victims of advertising or over-zealous selling techniques. I reckon it is a mortally wounded word which can only be used effectively by Christian leaders talking about something they plan to do. It should not be allowed out in public any more. Yes, I am aware that this is public and therefore I am failing to follow my own advice. See this post as an obituary.

Who got it into trouble? Probably street-corner evangelists more than anyone else. Those who scatter-gun the gospel at passers-by in city centres. They hit any given individual only with theoshrapnel. Like telling someone about confectionery by throwing sugar-grains. They make me sad because I believe some of the same things as them.

Our Alpha Course at the pub finished this week. Again I have negotiated the minefield of running a genuine Alpha Course whilst holding back from its more conservative elements. On matters such as the nature of evil, answers to prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit I tend to present, 'Some Christians say this, others say that, what do you think?' I see the course as seeking after truth and allow the guests to seek. Our team consists of a range of theological views. We get on.

Again this week I had to listen to a comment about the clergy. I'm not bragging here although it will come across as such. A member of our course said, 'I didn't think that people like me could talk to vicars.'

Can we take a moment's silence to digest that please? Thank you.

What have we done, what have we done to the idea of ministry as service to the living God, God's hands on earth, intermediaries, helpers that someone, almost certainly representative of a goodly chunk of ordinary folk, might think they couldn't approach us, let alone talk to us?

So all I did over the last eleven weeks was be a bloke, in a pub sitting on a stool talking about Jesus to invited guests and then chatting over a drink in small groups. And it may well be that being accessible rather than clerical was more important than any of the talk content.

Four or five times in the last few years people have taken the trouble, either as I was walking down the street or after a public occasion, to congratulate me on being normal. Regular readers might recall me posting about this. It was what I set out to do twenty six years ago. I wanted to be a vicar without stopping being me. I wanted to stand up in church and say hello the way I normally say hello; to chat after church the way I chat in my lounge and to avoid feeling that an act of worship, after a lively conversation in a vestry, should be introduced in a pompous voice saying 'The hymn two hundred and forty five' or whatever and all personality should be left in the changing rooms.

This ministry lark could be the easiest job in the world. Before we have any chance of doing the complicated business of speaking of God we need to spend a few years demonstrating that those of us who speak of God are ordinary people.

A new style of invitation to church beckons, 'Come and meet our vicar; you'll be amazed how ordinary he is.'


Richard said...

Steve, may I reassure you, you are not normal.

Anonymous said...

But he should be the norm.

RuthJ said...

Well put: I like 'theoshrapnel'. Very graphic.

If we are going to spread good news by being normal, that is going to require a highly holy normality. Like Jesus, I guess.

Possibly the most likely pitfall would be to exude synthetic holiness without intrinsic mefulness. Becoming a holy Joe. Not normal.

In fact like most important truths, it sounds very simple, but could be remarkably challenging to put into practice.

Alex Hobson said...

Steve, just catching up with MSS after a hectic period. enjoyed this post - as a military chaplain, I find the greatest compliment I get is being called normal. And then I get a little sad that anyone should be surprised by it. I think there's a very imperfect analogy with the Tories, in terms of "de-toxifying the brand". Much of my ministry involves just chatting with people, listening to them rather than telling them what to think, drinking beer (shock! horror!), laughing at their jokes about nuns and vicars, not conforming to stereotypes, etc. That allows people to be open to the notion that church is not full of weirdoes, and then occasionally I get to very gently talk about the reason for the hope that is in me. a little bit. It doesn't always feel like enough, but on a good day I realize it's actually quite a lot. Vive la normalité!