by Phil Andrews
What should we make of folks who evangelise on street corners, or knock on doors bringing the Gospel to complete strangers taken unawares as they prepare to eat their evening meal, or settle down to watch the football?
Well, one thing that is for certain is that we should not be unkind. How could we, as Christians, feel anything other than solidarity with those who give of their time to go out and spread the good news – enduring as they do so rejection, ridicule, even hostility in the name of our Lord?
We should pray for them, that they might be protected, and rewarded, as they go about their calling. And while we’re at it we should pray for ourselves, that we might one day be gifted the courage that these people already have in such abundance.
Does it work?
But that said, does it actually work? Do the public, in such a scenario, respond positively to being door-stepped at home or stopped as they walk along the street – probably, as is so often the case these days, in a hurry to get to their destination?
Or do street preachers, like cold callers selling PPI or e-mail spammers from distant lands wishing to share multi-million dollar legacies with us in exchange for our personal data, work on percentages? For every so many thousand who hear, maybe one will inevitably respond?
Speaking personally, I struggle with the idea of badgering random people in random situations who wish to remain unbadgered. True though (I hope) I am to my faith, I would feel awkward about acquiring a reputation as a local nuisance and yet even more awkward, if I am being honest, about the possibility of somebody responding positively because they were vulnerable, desperate or distressed.
Yes, Jesus reached out to those in need. But I am not Jesus, and my consciousness of my own imperfection would cause me to feel dishonourable, and exploitative – even when I know the message that I am giving to be one of truth and hope and salvation. Maybe it’s because I used to be a politician (of sorts)?
So how can we inspire others?
Does this mean, then, that we are to keep our faith to ourselves, content to seek our own salvation in the darkest recesses of a half-empty church, hoping (like we all do on the bus) that nobody sits next to us?
Does it mean that our belief is something strictly personal to us, not to be shared with others who might benefit from the message but rather only to be discussed with one another, over a biscuit?
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy we are told: “Make yourself an example to believers in speech and behaviour, in love, fidelity and purity … Make these matters your business and your absorbing interest, so that your progress may be plain to all. Persevere in them, keeping close watch on yourself and your teaching; by doing so you will further the salvation of yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4.12-16).
Setting an example
The message is then that we should be an example in all that we do. Not just in the way that we conduct our everyday lives, but also in the way that we engage with others. And in the way, too, that we engage with each other. Demonstrating humility, grace, patience, understanding – yes, and love.
Would somebody we speak to, or who listens to us speaking to one another, feel inspired by our comportment to want to be among us? Would that person feel that our words and deeds were being guided by the Holy Spirit? That we were speaking, and acting, in Christ?
If not, then in which way precisely are we helping anyone other than ourselves by coming to church and taking part in its affairs?
We need to consider this and reflect upon it, not to be defensive about those good things that we each and all undoubtedly do. Because we are all called to be evangelists, even those of us who are not door-knockers or soapbox preachers.