Hunting the light
Shut-up evangelism: seeking out what God is already doing in someone’s life, rather than dispensing booklets and tracts. By Chris Duffett
At our supper club/ prayer evening two friends gave me a hat. They thought I would like it as it said stuff about light on it. Being the founder of ‘The Light Project’ light references often come my way… as do the occasional light-bulb sales calls and emails from various factories and electrical fitters.
Well, I do quite like the hat as it’s rather cool and ups my street-cred ten-fold compared to the ‘old man’ flat cap I don on forays to the allotment.
However, it’s more than the trendiness I like. Its phrase "hunting the light" has got me thinking again about pioneering in post-Christendom.
(Post-Christendom is "the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence." Alan and Eleanor Kreider in Worship and Mission after Christendom.)
In my own role as pioneer over the past 20 years I have observed a striking change in how I do what I do: an emergence from educating and bringing knowledge of the gospel to seeking out that which God is already doing in someone’s life.
While teaching what Jesus teaches us is integral to the great commission, the teaching aspect has changed from the premise that ‘people know nothing’ to one of ‘helper’; making sense of the experiences people have of Him, ministering some clarity to strange thoughts, encounters and feelings.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that faith comes through hearing (Romans 10.17). Yet this hearing seems to take on many guises, and it strikes me that more and more people are encountering the presence of God before knowing what that actually means or where ‘it’ comes from.
In the book Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancy comments on the transition in approach Nouwen encountered when it came to evangelism: “Nouwen changed his approach from ‘selling pearls’, or peddling the good news, to ‘hunting for the treasure’ already present in those he was called to love – a shift from dispensing religion to dispensing grace. It makes all the difference in the world whether I view my neighbour as a potential convert or as someone whom God already loves.”
This ‘hunting for the treasure’ seems to me a vital role in pioneering. As city centre chaplain this often takes the form of listening to people’s stories, then speaking words of truth about Jesus into people's hearts.
The most dramatic example of this ‘shut up’ approach to evangelism happened last year when I and one of my team were approached by a lady in the streets who wanted to ask what Church we represented. We politely answered her questions and then asked her one: ‘Do you want to talk and have a cup of tea?’
Over a brew we listened to the messiest heartache and pain-filled story you could imagine. After which, the lady confided in us that she had everything she needed to end her life that evening and had made plans to do so. We held her hand and with tears explained that it didn’t need to be that way, and that we believed in a God of miracles who could change stuff in her life.
Her response shocked me. She explained she really knew what we were talking about, as she felt God must have brought her to us. She explained that she wasn’t even meant to be in town that afternoon, and on seeing us she felt compelled to approach. ‘I’ve never stopped to talk to a stranger ever before in my life’ she explained.
This lady has now been baptised and is part of a city centre Baptist church. Gloriously saved through two pioneers willing to shut up and seek the treasure of what God was doing in her life. I wonder what would have happened if this lady had approached us and in answering her question about church we didn’t let her get a word in edgeways, but rather sent her off with a pile of booklets and tracts?
Even in such a messed-up life there was light. In this lady I regularly now see an exuberant disciple shining out with good news, and so the hunting of light lives on as some people in her family have encountered what she has and seen that God has been working in them too.
When Jesus declared in Matthew 5.14 that ‘You are the light of the world’, who was he addressing? Verse one of the same chapter reveals it was to the crowds. Being light in this world isn’t a ‘sorted disciples-only’ club. Every human being is called to be light in this world. Hunt for that light in each one and if you find you’ve got a bit of a natural knack at it than please do consider joining us at the Pioneer Collective.
We are a movement of new pioneers hunting the light of Christ in everyone we meet. We’re looking for 400 pioneers to join our collective over the next four years. Our vision is to go where Church isn’t, do what Jesus does and see what happens.
One last thought… who was it that made sense of the treasure and light that you had as God worked in your life? Take a moment to think of your journey to faith and those who aided you: how about letting that person or people know how they helped you become a follower of Jesus?
Baptist minister and evangelist Chris Duffett is a former President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.