01 November 2008
Being a Christian every day, everywhere
The Alliance-facilitated Forum for Change is encouraging Christians to make a difference in the workplace, developing what it means to be Church outside the four walls of the building. In the final part of our series, Hazel Southam looks at how ordinary people are sharing their faith in everyday ways...
The last words of the book of Matthew read, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."
It's easy to think that this really only applies to people who have a particular calling to hot places inhabited by large spiders. But it applies to all of us. And we don't have to be Billy Graham attracting thousands to international stadia.
St Francis of Assisi said, "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."
One person who's enabling others to achieve this is Rev Chris Duffett, national director of the Light Project. Three years ago he launched a foundation degree in evangelism to "encourage people to consider how they share their Christian faith". Since the doors opened, some 50 students have gone through the Light Project's doors. Currently there are nine people on the course and interest is growing.
"On the whole Christians are still strong on the programming style of evangelism," says Chris, "which often means letting the Church do it maybe through an Alpha course or an evangelism day. The day-to-day evangelism needs to grow more in the British Church. People can talk to their neighbours. That's how people see Jesus. We've grown up thinking that evangelism is done by the professionals. People don't see evangelism as a day-to-day activity, but it is."
Practicing what he preaches, Chris heads out into his neighbourhood in Chester making balloon animals for children and chatting to people about God. Over the last eight years he's made 3,000 animals and given them away free. "Most people ask me why they are free," he says, "So I talk about the free gift of Jesus given to the world. Some people want to find out more and then we can talk. Some people have even asked me to pray for them."
Another person living out his faith in his neighbourhood is 30-year-old Sam Stephens, who runs a recruitment consultancy in London. At the beginning of September, Sam organised and hosted a picnic for 14 surrounding streets on Bishop's Park. Some 250 people came. Everyone brought food to share, and a giant tug-of-war was held, won by the triumphant Harbord and Inglethorpe Streets team.
"I am always banging on at church about how we should be more outwardlooking and do less navel-gazing," says Sam. "I just know that these events are a little picture of heaven where everyone is included and everyone has an invitation. We didn't have the aim of bringing people into the church. But creating community is a wonderful thing. It's what church is. Because this went so well, we'll probably organise a Christmas carol evening singing on the 14 street corners. And we'll definitely do it again next year. It was great fun. There was a good sense of community, which you don't always get in London. It's easy for people to feel isolated. I suppose what we were trying to do was to create the feeling of a village, of a parish, here in London."
Work is a starting point
Businessman Mike Carson uses his work as the starting point for telling people about Christ. Today Mike runs MCA, a company specialising in transforming business through transforming the lives of its leaders. You may think that this is thinly veiled evangelism, but it's not in the classroom that Mike talks about his faith.It's everywhere else.
To date, he's brought 80 work colleagues along to evangelistic events, including Alpha. "I invite people because Jesus tells me to," he says simply. "The driving force is that I hear Jesus saying, 'Tell people about me'. There's a compulsion to tell people. Sometimes I have to keep that in check."
While working for his former employers, a well-known international consultancy, Mike mentioned his faith to many of his colleagues. One person's story sticks in his mind. "I had gently witnessed to one colleague. She had not invited me to share at a deeper level, so we left it," he recalls.
Some time later, his colleague, who we'll call Sally, suffered a personal tragedy that made the headlines in national newspapers. Overnight it seemed her world had fallen apart. "She got out of London for a few days to escape everything," says Mike. "When she arrived at her destination she saw a church and thought, 'I need to pray', which was extraordinary. So she stopped her car, went into the church and started to pray. The priest came and chatted to her. It turned out that he had written to The Times only that day saying that people should be praying for her."
She later told Mike, "I have fallen in love with Jesus." So he invited her to an Alpha course in his home town in Hampshire and then helped her to find a church near her London home.
Mike isn't worried what his colleagues will think of him. "It's not about me," he says. "In this pluralistic world, we have to go for it because everyone else does. There's a whole atmosphere of 'you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe'. That allows us to share and we have to take advantage of that."
Jo Trott, a biology teacher at the Abbey School in Reading, is "taking advantage of that". For the last decade, Jo has run a lunch-time Christian group for 11- to 13-year-old girls at the school. In that time, several hundred pre-teens have been through her doors.
"The motivation is to give the girls who are Christians somewhere they can meet together and meet other Christians who don't necessarily live near them," says Jo. "They may be the only girl from their church at the school, which can be isolating. And I run the group to show the other girls that the Christian faith is neither what you learn in RE nor dull and boring. Often other girls come.
"I sometimes wish I could just sit down in the staff room and eat my sandwiches. But it's worth giving up my lunchtime. I see them grow in their faith. When they start off you can tell they are just repeating what their parents say, but after two years they are thinking for themselves. It's becoming their faith."
So will she carry on missing lunch to run the Christian group? "I've probably got another 10 years ahead of me," she laughs.
- For ongoing information about the Alliance's Forum for Change, and contact points in various vocations, visit: www.eauk.org/forumforchange