21 December 2015
Making Jesus known
As 2016 approaches, I've been reflecting again on what I'm convinced is the greatest challenge the Church faces in the UK. How do we make Jesus known to our generation?
Maybe, it has always been the challenge facing the Church, but the Talking Jesus research has brought home to me the scale of the issues. Working together, The Church of England, HOPE and the Evangelical Alliance presented the initial findings to a gathering of denominational heads and network leaders. The impact was extraordinary, and the final report carried a commitment to work together to bring change to the spiritual climate of our communities.
Looking forward, I thank God for all He is doing through His UK Church. Has there ever been a time of greater social engagement? Thank God for the food banks, Street Pastors, night shelters, debt counselling and the multitude of activities the Church is engaged in. Thank God also for those who daily dedicate themselves to their place of work; teachers, health professionals, designers, businessmen and women - I could go on. People who work, not simply to pay the bills, but because they sense God's calling. In all of this wonderful, God-ordained activity, the challenge remains, it's only the Christian community working in collaboration with the Holy Spirit who can make Jesus known. Others can and do serve the community, but it is only the Church who can introduce people to Jesus.
As I look at the Talking Jesus research there's lots of good news. The Christian community are known by non-Christians - 67 per cent of non-Christians know a Christian. We are liked, and we are talking about Jesus, with the results being higher than Christian leaders expected - 33 per cent have talked about Jesus in the last week and 33 per cent in the last month. However, behind this good news is some challenging news - how can it be that two out of five non-Christians in the UK are unconvinced Jesus was an historical person? What does that say about the British education system or media, and indeed to us the Church? There are also questions about what's happening in those conversations. Some people are coming to Christ, but for others it's not such a positive picture. I know Jesus wasn't always received well, but let's make sure we're not putting people off for the wrong reasons.
The shocking news in the research, for me, comes when we discover that three out of five non-Christians have never had a conversation with a practicing Christian about Jesus. That percentage, alongside 81 per cent of practicing Christians being educated to a degree level, we are faced with the possibility that we as a Christian community are generally speaking to the same people, mainly like us. Maybe, we're not breaking out of our bubble. For me, one of the most challenging verses in the Gospel is found in Matthew 9, when the Pharisees, unhappy with the friends Jesus has made, ask his disciples: "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Who am I eating with? Who do I spend my leisure time with? If I'm honest, it's largely people like me and chiefly people who share my faith.
Maybe this returns us to the amazing social engagement the Church is involved in. Perhaps this is us breaking out of our bubble, engaging with people who are 'not like us'. But here comes the challenge - are we intentionally looking to take a moment to make Jesus known, to give people an opportunity to encounter Jesus for themselves? What about our places of work? We are paid to do a job, but we're also passionate followers of Jesus, so making Jesus known must leak out.
As we enter 2016, let's do so in prayer.
Recognising that we desperately need God's help to rise to the challenge of making Jesus known, let's make our own response. A friend of mine, Cynthia, recently told me she had read the Talking Jesus research and decided she was going to take the opportunity of her bus ride home from work to chat to the person next to her. "I used to have great conversations," she said: "I just got out of the habit." Maybe like Cynthia, we can foster new God-habits to make Jesus known.
To learn more about this research and to find resources to use in your own church, visit talkingjesus.org/.
Following the results of the research, we have been stirred to call for the Church across England to a focused time of prayer between 31 December 2015 and 3 January 2016. We would love your church to join us in prayer over this time. For more information, visit talkingjesus.org/pray/.