Simpler Church? Witness wherever we are

Neil Harrison

17.11.2020 | Congregational Life, Mission, Refined

Many of the ways in which we seek to witness to others have come to depend on running events and programmes in which they ‘come to us’. Restrictions on gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic have made this form of witness problematic. Neil Harrison, PCI’s Mission Development Officer, reflects on some simple ways in which we can bear witness as we ‘go to others’ wherever we are.

Relationship and trust

“Mr Harrison my name is Frank from Fantastic Insurance. We’re a company that offers the best deals with the most coverage, and if you’re looking for better insurance, we can promise that we’re the best around. Would you be interested in purchasing insurance with us?”

“No thanks, Frank” - if I haven’t already hung up the phone after the first sentence.

Cold calls are a bit of a nuisance and unfortunately their frequency seems to be increasing. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience where you find yourself ‘politely’ declining a service you have not asked for, from a person you have never seen. Apart from the mild irritation, it doesn’t really bother us to say ‘no’.

17_Nov_Blog.jpgA year ago, I had a cold caller at my door offering me a better deal on my electricity supply. Unlike faceless Frank on the phone, this was a person standing in front of me. His name was Barry and we knew each other from church circles. We had several mutual friends and I understood him to be a decent guy.

As you can probably guess, I listened to Barry’s pitch and happily accepted the offer of a better deal.

Two cold calls, both promising to save me money and yet my responses were poles apart.

Why? What was different between Frank and Barry?

Perhaps part of the answer is presence. It’s much easier to say no and hang up a phone than it is with someone standing in front of you. However, I have done exactly that for many other sales people on my doorstep. The crucial difference between these scenarios is relationship and trust. I knew Barry. I liked him. I trusted that he was being truthful in what he was offering, which made me much more willing to listen and respond positively.

Perhaps that is a perception we need to appreciate much more in our approach to reaching those who don’t know Jesus personally, as we seek to refine our witness wherever we are. A relationship of trust provides a much more natural platform to share our faith.

The example of Levi

Levi, a tax collector, understood this well when he had a transforming encounter with Jesus (Luke 5:27-32). He’s so excited to share Jesus with others that he finds a way to do so through putting on a banquet to which he invites ‘a large crowd of tax collectors and others’.

Levi begins by inviting the people he knows, beginning with his work colleagues. We can’t know for sure who the ‘others’ were but if we were to place ourselves in Levi’s shoes, having experienced such an exciting and significant change, is it not likely that we would want to celebrate and share that good news with those closest to us? Therefore, might the ‘others’ of the passage be Levi’s family, friends and neighbours? People he already had a relationship with.

Similarly, those invited were more likely to attend because of the relationship with their friend Levi. They had heard of his dramatic life-change and were likely to be intrigued to hear more.

Although we won’t be inviting anyone to a banquet or any other kind of event in our church hall during the pandemic, the lesson to learn from this story for now is that a trusted relationship with a Christian is often the starting point on someone’s journey towards finding Jesus for themselves.

Wherever we are, we have a good news story to share. A life-changing story of Jesus that offers hope, centred on the cross and resurrection. Yet, just as with the cold caller, the response of many people in our society is ‘no thanks’ due to mistrust and misunderstanding. Might that all change if we were to share that story in situations in which we have taken the time to build genuine and deep relationships? Maybe that’s something we should have a particular focus on doing just now.

Six relational practices

Here are six practices that might be helpful in moving people along a journey towards Jesus in a way that is comfortable and non-threatening. They will help build real relationship and trust that leads to natural evangelism:

1. Noticing: A starting point to knowing anyone is noticing them. This is not only the first step in becoming aware of another person, but also in paying attention to God’s activity in your world. By taking the time to intentionally pay attention to others, we take our eyes off ourselves and create an opportunity to get to know them and recognise them as treasured creations of God.

2. Praying: We should pray for those we meet in our day-to-day life and ask God to show us what he wants to do to bless them. By doing so we will become more invested in their lives and more compassionate and loving towards them.

3. Listening: Try listening to others with genuine care, interest, and empathy. Do not rush to offer your own unsolicited opinions. Giving advice or answers often kills dialogue and is rarely helpful because it bypasses the very important process of allowing people to discover the truth for themselves.

4. Asking Questions: Perhaps we need to be more curious in our conversations, drawing others out with great questions, seeking to understand more than to be understood. In doing this we invite meaningful conversation. A natural order of questioning that deepens relationship would be:

History e.g. where are you from?

Transitions e.g. where are you now?

Journey e.g. how did you get here?

Goals e.g. what’s next?

5. Loving:  We need to genuinely love people and see them through God’s eyes. He is the one that actively and continually pursues us. We need to remember that love may sometimes feel, but it always acts (Romans 5:8).

6. Welcoming: We need to welcome people by valuing their presence so they feel that they belong. Welcoming is not just about inviting; it’s about bringing a warm, appealing presence to others wherever you are. It’s a way of living. We can do this well by maximising the following welcoming aspects:

Your face: Our smile might be hidden behind a mask for now, but warm eye contact can go a long way to making people feel welcomed and comfortable.

Your space: Make people feel at ease in your presence. Even with social distancing, try to limit any awkwardness by finding common ground in conversation.

Your place: The ever changing restrictions present difficulties in showing hospitality but, as these ease, seek to provide a comfortable place that allows people to feel more relaxed and accepted.

Your grace: Accept people as they are and build relationship at an appropriate pace.  Walk alongside others and admit your own flaws and need for God’s grace.

Imagine if we built these practices into our lives and developed genuine relationships with unreached people over time, so that the good news of the gospel was clear to them through how we share our lives and through our words. Imagine the difference that would make to our lives, their lives and the life of our church, as we seek to share Jesus with others. Perhaps any mistrust and misunderstanding would be replaced by interest, and a willingness to find out more, as we walk alongside people on their journey towards Jesus.

Sharing Jesus Today

Look out in the New Year for a series of short clips from PCI that will help congregations and individuals think practically about how they can be ‘Sharing Jesus Today’.

Neil Harrison is PCI's Mission Development Officer. 

This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.

Visit the Refined hub here.

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