Rector's Reflections 10 May

Rector’s Reflections   

Friday 10th May 2024

Philip the Deacon Gives a Masterclass in Evangelism

We have now reached the end of the current series of reflections, in which we have been looking at what we might learn from the story of Philip the Deacon, found in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles. There is of course so much more that can and should be said on the topic of evangelism.  While there is much that can be said in favour of  Philip’s approach to evangelism, there are certainly other methods which can prove equally effective.

Let me finish by offering some thoughts of my own.

To start with, I think there is much to be said for the image of evangelism as the art of sowing seeds in fertile ground.  Our role is to sow the seeds of the gospel, trusting that God will bring the growth in God’s good time. The other day, a priest who works in Oxford was sharing his experience of sowing  gospel seeds in the context of Choral Evensong.  He said that several students  were attracted to the service through the music.  Through attending the service, the students encountered God – for several students, this would be the first time they had had a meaningful encounter with the stories in the Bible and with prayer.   This in turn led to some of the students wanting to be baptised.  Of course it is wonderful when the gospel bears such visible fruit, and we are there to see it. But often we do not see the fruit of our sowing: we sow the seed, and someone else will gather in the harvest.  This need not worry us: God is faithful, and the seeds of the gospel will bear fruit in God’s good time.

I think there is also much to be said for seeing evangelism as a conversation rather than a lecture.  The problem with an old-fashioned lecture is that it is based on the idea that there is one person with the answers (the lecturer), and the rest of us are either ignorant or mistaken, so we have sit quietly and take instruction.  If we are lucky, there might be an opportunity for one or two questions at the end of the lecture. But the whole model is based on assuming that we are passive learners and that the lecturer has all the answers. Some people still like this old-fashioned model: it celebrates and affirms the power and status of the lecturer, and it saves the audience from the tiresome task of having to think for themselves. But I think that a more conversational approach to learning is more effective, especially with adults.  If we see evangelism in terms of a conversation,  we are less tempted to assume that we have all the answers, or that we know the questions people are asking. Much better to allow the questions and their possible answers to emerge in the course of conversation.

Finally, I think we need to see evangelism as a two-way street. Yes, we need to tell others about Jesus. But are we allowing others to be evangelists to us? Evangelism is about sharing the life and teaching of Jesus. Sharing involves both giving and receiving: yes, we share the gospel, but we also need to receive it from others.  This can be so hard for us to do. Part of this is due to human nature: it is often harder to receive than it is to give.  I wonder whether so much of our evangelism is ineffective because it is all about power rather than humility.  We are wanting to establish our status and credibility by giving others a gift (the gospel).  In so many situations, I think it would be much better if we saw the gospel in terms of a gift to be received from others. We have so much to learn from others about what it means to be a follower of Jesus- indeed, many non-Christians have much to teach us about this.

I wonder: where and how might we be receiving the gift of the gospel in our lives?  Who might be helping us to live more faithfully as followers of  Jesus? 


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