Rector's Reflections - 3 May

Rector’s Reflections  

Friday 3rd May 2024

Philip the Deacon Gives a Masterclass in Evangelism

In yesterday’s reflections, I wrote about the importance of looking around us for fertile soil in which to sow the seeds of the gospel. But once we have found the fertile soil, what happens next?

The next stage is to start a conversation – not just any conversation, but a conversation which has the potential to allow the gospel to be shared and to be heard.

This was Philip’s approach when he met the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip could have chosen to start by preaching a sermon, but he deliberately chose a conversational approach instead. Philip started the conversation by asking a question : “Do you understand what you are reading?”  This allowed the eunuch to reply – “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And the conversation developed from that point. 

I think many attempts at evangelism get nowhere because they do not allow for conversation.  Conversation is vital. It can happen at any stage.  In some situations, the conversation comes first, and the sharing of the gospel comes later, as a result of what has been said and shared in the course of the conversation. Sometimes, the sharing of the gospel happens as  part of the conversation itself. And sometimes, the conversation happens after the gospel has been shared:  the gospel message is proclaimed, and then there is an opportunity to discuss what has been said.

Evangelism needs to be intimately linked with conversation.  But how often is this done in practice?  I think it is fairly rare.  Why might this be?

In part it is because we like quick and predictable results. As soon as we start a conversation with someone, we are never quite sure where it will lead, or what will come up. It is hard to let a conversation take its natural course.  Some conversations last a few minutes, but others continue over a much longer period, even over a period of years.  I am often reminded of things I have said to someone years ago, and I too remember conversations from the past, which have stayed with me over the years. 

As soon as we enter into a proper conversation, we begin to lose control – control over our agenda and our time.  A proper conversation is an exercise in humility : we need to be prepared to have our opinions and our approach changed as a result of what we hear in the course of the conversation. How many of us are willing to allow this to happen? Much easier to provide for a superficial conversation that ticks the box of  consultation, and  then get on with what we were going to do anyway.  And of course a proper conversation requires a genuine interest in what other people think and do,  and a real openness to the possibility that other people may have wisdom which is as great, or perhaps greater, than the wisdom we ourselves possess. God forbid!

I wonder: when was the last time we felt genuinely listened to?  When was the last time we were party to a proper conversation, that allowed time and space for mutual listening? Such conversations are rare indeed, perhaps especially so in contemporary society.  Perhaps the influence of social media means that everyone wants information presented in black and white, and communication has to be in the moment. A proper conversation is so counter-cultural – it takes time and mutual respect, and a willingness to accept that the truth is something to be explored rather than proclaimed in block capitals. 

So Philip the Deacon’s question to you and I might be this: when was the last time we had a really good conversation with someone?  What turned it from being a merely conventional exchange into something which was much deeper? How might we give ourselves the time and space for proper conversations?

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