Equipping people to be everyday evangelists

Kara Martin

Everyday Church, Tim Chester & Steve Timmins.

Tim Chester begins this book with a startling and real story of the change of the place of church in our society. He talks about his grandmother who lived all her life in the same house. When she was young the life of the surrounding community revolved around the church. Church concerts, teas and outings were the working-class alternatives to the pub. There were 100 in the congregation, 50 in the Sunday school and 20 in the choir. Fast-forward 90 years, and his grandmother is still playing the piano for the Sunday service, because there is no-one else. There are only 12 in the congregation, none of whom are under 50. The church is now seen as irrelevant to the community.

This introduces the theme of the book, that Christians live in a post-Christian culture, and that changing what we do in church will not attract those in our community, rather what we need to do is meet people in the context of their everyday lives.

Chester and Timmins quote Stuart Murray who describes the shift:

  • From the centre to the margins
  • From majority to minority
  • From settlers to sojourners (Christians are aliens in our culture)
  • From privilege to plurality (Christians no longer privileged in a pluralistic society)
  • From control to witness (churches no longer exert control over society, only influence through witness)
  • From maintenance to mission (no longer about maintaining the status quo)
  • From institution to movement (no longer based around a building and institution).

There are some funny stories to illustrate this: a school kid hearing the Christmas story for the first time and asking why the baby is given a swear word for his name; and a businessman who visits a church to drop off something for his partner who works during the week in a creative arts project and exclaims, “What are all these people doing here? I didn’t know churches were open on a Sunday!”

In this way, the authors suggest that Peter’s first letter in the New Testament is very relevant to us. Peter was writing to Christians who were on the fringe of their society, who were exiles, aliens, strangers. So Everyday Church is based around that letter and its teaching.

They suggest that what we need to do is get out of our Christian ghettoes and rediscover our culture by asking:

  • Where? Where do people experience community, where are there existing tangible social networks?
  • When? When are the times when you can connect with people? What cultural celebrations do people value?
  • What? What are people’s fears, hopes, hurts? What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?

The key thing is not to do this research to judge or condemn the culture, but to love the culture, and to look for opportunities and intersections of stories by attempting to apply the gospel to the core concerns of people in their culture.

There are some wonderfully simple ideas for getting to know your local culture/neighbourhood better:

  • Eat with non-Christians
  • Walk, don’t drive
  • Be a regular, that is, go to the same places for groceries, haircuts, coffee…
  • Do hobbies and sports with non-Christians
  • Talk to your co-workers, be intentional in your breaks
  • Volunteer with non-profits in the local area
  • Participate in local events: fundraisers, festivals, clean-ups, concerts
  • Serve your neighbours.

The book has some excellent examples of Christian communities who do this. Chester and Timmins also include some challenging questions to ask of church members about how much time they spend with non-Christians, or even praying for non-Christians…

What I particularly like about the book is a section which applies the gospel story to people’s concerns, along the categories of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. For example for someone considering breaking up with his wife: “I’m leaving Jane because she’s not prepared to see my point of view.”

This contrasts two stories about relationships:

 

His story

Healthy relationship story

Creation

I should be in control or sovereign

We are made to find freedom under God’s sovereignty

Fall

Other people prevent me from being sovereign

We rejected God’s sovereignty in favour of self-sovereignty

Redemption

I will avoid people who challenge my sovereignty

God welcomes rebels back under his sovereignty through the Cross

Consummation

My sovereignty is unchallenged

God will restore his liberating rule through the world

There are lots of other useful resources in this book, but at the end the authors tackle the issue of why churches do not embrace this everyday approach:

  • We are too individual and don’t necessarily want to share our lives with others, especially non-Christians
  • We are too proud and self-sufficient to embrace community
  • We like to be comfortable
  • We fear rejection or mockery from others.

I saw myself in this list of obstacles, and felt rebuked. How will my neighbours and workmates know about Jesus if I do not model his life or share with them?