‘I don’t mind dying,’ Woody Allen once wrote, ‘as long as I don’t have to be there when it happens.’
Most of us, I think, feel the same way about evangelism.
When we first took our children Christopher and Emma to primary school, we were happy for other parents to know we were Christians, and hoped this would later lead to helpful conversations.
But we felt that the best way, for us, was to try a non-confrontational, softly-softly, low-key, easing-ourselves-in-gently approach.
We believed that, although we are proud – hopefully in a good way – to bear the name Christian, there were those for whom the name Christian might conceivably carry unfortunately negative feelings or connotations. For Jews or Muslims, the term Christian can mean persecutor. For humanists, agnostics or atheists, the name Christian might conjure up words such as killjoy, hypocrite or God-botherer.
So we wanted to go in slowly. To build relationships, gain people’s trust and respect, and eventually earn the right to be heard.
After all, on day one at the primary school gates, all most people are interested in is whether their child will be okay. (Though sometimes it’s the parents who are in a worse state than the children!)
Also we knew we’d have about seven years of primary school conversations at the school gate, so starting a conversation by saying:
Hello, I’m Gary, I write articles for a Christian aviation organisation that serves 26 developing countries – what country did you say you’re from?
Hi, I’m Julie, I’ve been to Bible College, and was a missionary in Hungary, Albania and China, probably wouldn’t work.
We kept to fairly safe, non-controversial subjects, made vague allusions to the kind of work we did – or had done – and prayed that things would gradually develop, and we’d find opportunities to speak.
In time Julie ended up telling people which countries she’d worked in. Indeed, as relationships gradually developed, people invariably asked her which company she’d worked with.
In time, when people asked if anything I’d written could be found in the local newsagent, I could say ‘no’, because I wrote for the supporters of a Christian charity – Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).
When people asked where the money came from to keep 135 light aircraft in the air, I was able to explain that it came from individual believers and churches, because MAF not only provided aid and education, but shared the gospel, transported Bibles, missionaries and Bible translators, and helped disciple Christians.
My wife had similar conversations about why she’d taught English in a number of Communist countries.
When I was asked to dress up as Father Christmas for the school fair, I agreed, but told some of the parents that it was a bit ironic because we’d always told our kids Father Christmas didn’t exist, because we didn’t want them to doubt God’s existence when they later discovered Santa wasn’t real.
Then, when some friends invited our children to a Halloween party, we thanked them for thinking of us but explained why, as Christians, we didn’t really want them to go.
By the time articles Julie and I had written for the locally distributed parish magazine finally appeared in print, it was safe to assume that practically everyone we knew, knew we were Christians. We even made our articles more evangelistic when we realised they were reading them!
Now – apart from one exception – I can’t say we’ve seen anyone become a Christian. And I can’t necessarily say that anything we’ve done has made a visible difference in people’s lives. But we’ve hopefully sown seeds and been a good witness.
We have, I believe, earned a measure of credibility, trust and respect, which later enabled us to bring people’s most precious possession – their children – to church events such as football and holiday clubs, Messy Monkeys, Adventurers, Seven Up, Friday Club, badminton, and the occasional church service or evangelistic event.
I believe that many of the parents we know, though not Christians, feel comfortable enough to let us take their children to a place where they can have fun, meet Christian friends, and hear the gospel.
At times, it feels like we’re in danger of becoming a kind of spiritual taxi service as we frantically ferry children to and from various clubs and events. But it’s worth it, because it’s one of the ways young people can encounter Jesus and – when other events are planned for their parents – gives adults a chance too!