There are reasons for encouragement all around us. The Church is doing so much good within society. The growth of numerous mission initiatives is having a profound impact and we should never underestimate this. For this mission to be most effective though, it must involve both lifestyle and proclamation.
Word and action have to go together.
Jesus may have told us that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40), but he also specifically instructed that we should “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15). Deeds and words give a context to one another, but one alone can never be good enough.
It is often argued that the Church does more youth work than the state. However, without sharing the gospel as a part of this youth work, how are our efforts any different to those that the state would provide? Depriving young people of the spiritual dimension of life doesn’t invalidate initiatives aimed at their physical and emotional well-being. Yet it does remove the one lifeline that would truly transform their life for now and their destiny for eternity.
It was St Francis of Assisi who has been widely quoted as saying:
Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.
It seems that we have often gone to the extreme of attempting to preach the gospel while believing that we don’t need to use words. We’ve become terrified to declare the name of Jesus because of what we fear people’s response might be. The dynamic preacher, Jeff Lucas, referred to this situation in his monthly column for Christianity magazine:
Some of us have packed up using words altogether. But the chap who said that was none other than St. Francis of Assisi, famous not only for chatting with squirrels, but also for giving away everything that he owned. When you’ve donated all you have to the poor because of your love for Jesus, you probably don’t have to use that many words.
Like fashion, these things seem to go in cycles. A generation or so ago the Church in Britain used lots of words and needed to capture a stronger social heart. However here we are, a little later on and it feels like we have a strong social heart and need to discover words again without losing the social gospel at the same time. We don’t need a pendulum shift back to words, rather let’s keep the social engagement strong and add words to that to bring balance. Besides, how could you preach the gospel without words? That would be like cycling without a bike!
We can’t expect people to come to faith by osmosis, sometimes we need to make the invitation. We need to pray for the self-assurance to step out, knowing that whatever the outcome the Lord is with us. We’re doing loads of amazing things, but are we giving people an opportunity to meet Jesus? Let’s be people who give the invitation regularly. There will be many sociological benefits along the way, but our chief goal above all else must remain the fulfilment of the Great Commission.
We are all involved and it can never just be the role of the evangelist to lead people to Jesus. All Christians should have non-Christian friends. Who can you share with, and show Jesus to? Let’s all be in relationships with others where we are seeking to lead them towards Jesus. I wholeheartedly believe that the best days for the UK Church are yet to come, but for this to be true we all need to be involved.
Step out of your comfort zone, pray fervently, get involved and believe the Lord will move and together we can create a better future. After all, one of the most common promises in Scripture is really reassuring… whatever we are facing, whoever we are asking, whenever we feel afraid, the Lord promises His people: “I am with you.”