13 March, 2014 Carl Chambers
At the excellent ‘Evangelists’ Conference’ in early October I saw, on a large scale, two things that we hold very dear at our local church family.
Neither is ‘new’ or ‘radical’. But both are crucial in order to live out what it is to love and serve the Lord Jesus, in the power of His Spirit. Without them, a church will not grow.
The first of these things really won’t surprise any readers of The Gospel Partnership website. It is a commitment to word-based ministry, and specifically to word-based evangelism.
We know that it is through the word of God that life comes: God spoke creation into being, God speaks through the living word Jesus Christ, and God speaks today through His word the Bible, as we meet Jesus ‘walking off the pages of scripture’. Of course, we depend on the person and work of the Holy Spirit to open blind eyes, to convict of sin, and to assure of righteousness – but it is the Bible which is His sword, as God reaches into the darkness of humanity to shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
We know also that it is through the word that we grow as Christians, learning and maturing together.
Here in Christ Church Brighton, we think that in evangelism we should ‘start as we mean to go on’. Because we come to Christ through the word, and we grow in Christ through the word, and we depend on Christ through the word, we won’t want to leave the word of God. But we have to come to the word of God to begin with. This means we want to use the word of God in evangelism – in our Gospel explanations and the courses that we run. To those to whom we are seeking to introduce Jesus, we want it to be totally clear that the way we come to know the God of heaven and earth is not only through His Son, but through the word of God which reveals His Son (depending on the Holy Spirit to work always, of course).
But here’s the second thing that struck me from the Evangelists’ conference, and is something of which we are all too aware in seeking to build a faithful church in Brighton. There is unity in diversity which is to be celebrated, whatever tensions that may bring.
The unity in diversity I observed was in the sheer number of evangelistic courses being presented that day. Granted, there was an emphasis on ‘Uncover’ and the John material. But listen carefully, and you’d find plenty of others being talked about: The World We All Want, Christianity Explored, Tales of the Unexpected, Simply Christianity and Two Ways to Live were just some that I can remember. We know there are more. Even as a small church, we’ve used several.
The tension of course was because we are naturally competitive, and all too influenced by this world’s thinking. Which one is the ‘best’? Which one ‘works’? Which one is so-and-so doing? At best, we ask these questions because we are concerned to see which would work best for the different people we are seeking to reach in our networks. At worst, we are sheep and insecure in the Gospel, and just want to find a magic bullet to make ministry ‘easy’ or ‘successful’.
But surely we should genuinely delight in this diversity, as each attempt seeks to unpack the scriptures in a way which is faithful to God, and introduces Jesus!
The respect shown towards the different courses was a real example of those gathered making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
How does the rubber hit the road in a small, struggling local church in Brighton? Where do we see the importance of this celebration of unity in diversity, with all its tensions?
The obvious answer is that everyone is different. The kind of people who will enjoy one course will not find the other so helpful. That’s simply acknowledging that we all speak slightly different languages, have slightly different cultures and backgrounds, and live in slightly different worlds.
Actually, we live in very different worlds, and most churches are in contact with a whole variety of people. One size may well not fit all. In the last 24 hours I’ve been in personal contact with various ‘kinds’ of people: a private equity investment manager, the MD of a fast-growing small business, several self-employed people (artist, business coach, personal trainer, cleaner), a blind unemployed father living with a single mother, an ‘ex’-addict and former prisoner who was trying to find work and get a driving licence (having been banned five times already), and a medical student. What unites them is that they are made in God’s image, for relationship with Him, and that God has shown His love to the world in such a way that, without Christ, they have nothing.
Clearly our ministry is to introduce Jesus to people, and we will use God’s word to that end. But the style and manner of that will vary enormously.
We need boldness to speak truth to a hostile and dying world. And we need gentleness – for that same Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is the one who will not break a bruised reed nor snuff out a smouldering wick. Unity in diversity.
The fruit, though, will be a body of Christ which grows in love for Jesus, and maturity in Him. We will see a growing maturity, as a diverse group of people are brought together as one; forgiving and bearing with one another, loving and serving together. No wonder the psalmist exclaims how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!