Last month I was in London delivering a RealityBites assembly about Cheryl Cole’s consumerist faith in a school. As I arrived at King’s Cross station I observed an evangelist who was energetically quoting Bible verses at passersby. I think John 3:16 got a mention. I noticed that no one was listening. To be honest I felt embarrassed for the street preacher and hurried on to the school I was visiting.
Why does the word ‘evangelist’ often evoke this cringeworthy scenario?
Years ago when my children were filling their nappies, I found it onerous and gruelling talking about the Christian faith with non-Christian friends and neighbours. I knew about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) but failure to carry this out was my daily woe. I wanted to talk about Jesus and His death and resurrection but it often sounded awkward, clunky and cheesy. I dreaded conversations that might touch on Christian faith.
I remember praying – “Lord, I hate evangelism! Can I be a Christian and ignore the Great Commission?”
Truth be told, I lacked both confidence and imagination in my witnessing. I discovered that many Christians also dreaded the e-challenge. In church I heard sermons that made me feel guilty about not sharing the gospel but I never heard a talk that helped me to talk about Jesus in a credible, natural and engaging way.
I began studying the gospels. How did Jesus talk to people? I discovered that Jesus told fantastic stories (parables) and he asked great questions. He had a gift for imaginative, winsome and engaging storytelling. I began praying: “Lord, how can I imaginatively share my story of a good God who loves this broken world and wants us to follow in His ways to bring blessing to the world without sounding like a desperate Bible basher?”
Thinking it through I realised that evangelism becomes easier and much more powerful when we engage intelligently with the hidden secular beliefs that are seldom mentioned or even noticed. Let me explain this key idea with two vignettes from my work as a Religious Education teacher. On one occasion during a lesson, a young fourteen-year-old boy said to me. “Mr Roques, your subject (RE) is rubbish because it isn’t scientific. It’s just your opinion so who cares what you think?” Boffins call this view materialism.
On another occasion, a twelve-year-old girl informed me that “Heaven will be whatever you want it to be.” Boffins call this view relativism. I began thinking and praying about this. Could we at RealityBites develop a way of talking about Jesus that was both imaginative and engaged with these hidden materialist and relativist mindsets? Traditional ways of doing evangelism seemed to fail on both these counts. I wanted to talk with people not at them.
I began exploring a creative, storytelling way of talking about the Christian faith. I began asking questions like this:
“Have you heard how England football manager, Glenn Hoddle was sacked in 1999 for saying that disabled people have a bad karma? In other words they are being punished for something they did in a previous life. What do you make of this story?”
As I chatted to non-Christian people, I pointed out that there are, at least, four ways of looking at this story. Some atheists say that when you die you rot and your corpse is nibbled by rats and worms (Materialist view). Others contend that when you die you get the afterlife you believe in (Relativist view). Then there are those who agree with Hoddle that when you die you come back deaf or blind if you have a bad karma. This then leads naturally into Christian communication – those who follow and believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection will have all their sins forgiven and enjoy bodily resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth.
I tried out this story on all kinds of unchurched unbelievers. I was thrilled to find that they didn’t glare at me as if I were a Bible basher. Disdain ebbed away. They often told me how intriguing and fascinating these stories were.
Wow! Telling stories and getting people to think about them from different angles really was enjoyable and fun. It took the dread out of evangelism and replaced it with joy, creativity and thanksgiving to God.
Now I have a wide range of stories that I use whenever I want to talk about Jesus. I find out what people naturally enjoy talking about and then I build bridges into this enjoyable chat zone. I tell intriguing stories and invite people to look at the narratives from different angles. I always finish by saying something important and edifying about Jesus.
So if I want to talk about repentance I have a story and some questions in the locker. Ditto the cross, the resurrection, the incarnation and the kingdom of God. Even why I believe in the angel Gabriel.
Telling stories and asking questions is natural, disarming and fun. This approach has liberated me to talk about the incredible hope I have in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you would like to know more about this creative, storytelling approach to evangelism read my book The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith.
To find out more about the Glenn Hoddle story go to this RealityBites film:
- Doreen, the Altruist, is attacked by a Doberman Pinscher - February 20, 2024
- George Cadbury, Jim Skillen and Christian Responsibilities - January 18, 2024
- The Parable of Jack Leonard and his Hollywood Buddhist Faith - December 20, 2023