June 2, 2021

Preaching the Gospel in the Chaos of Urban Ministry

It’s fascinating how the Lord Jesus used so many informal settings as teaching opportunities.

Reading through Luke’s Gospel offers us some unique insights as to how Jesus used this style of teaching as he travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke contains all sorts of stories, questions, and metaphors for how Jesus interacted in the normal scenarios of life. It is a book filled with a variety of parables. Importantly, most of them are about everyday stuff with no connection to the Scriptures (received at the time) or church, or, indeed, anything remotely religious at all. Jesus used them to cleverly connect spiritual truths to people within their own cultural contexts.

Truth in the Ordinary

I believe that one of the reasons many Christians struggle to effectively communicate gospel truth to people Monday through Saturday is because they talk to unbelievers like it’s a Sunday! We may be able get away with ‘churchy’ language on a Sunday, but not the rest of the week.

I think that the parables of Luke remind us that many of our relationships with unbelievers aren’t built from the pulpit or in formal teaching sessions. They’re built, in the main, ‘on the road’ (so to speak). In Niddrie, that can mean in the car on the way to the chemist for their ‘script’ (Methadone/Valium etc.), giving someone a lift to town because you passed them at the bus stop, going to the local hairdresser, the job centre, the doctors, or at the corner shop.

Many of the best conversations I have had have been off the cuff, chance encounters in the street, and I have just decided to change my schedule. Flexible Spontaneity, we call it at Niddrie. That’s where some of the more task focussed members of the church fall down. They won’t cancel or delay that meeting they are on the way to, no matter what. Someone may stop them in the street, but they miss out because they are on their way somewhere. The problem is that we’re all on our way somewhere! The key to a more intentional life is to develop an‘on the way’ evangelistic heart.

Many people whose lives are task focused—people driven by their diaries—don’t like chaos, and so they desperately try to impose order upon it. Many believers here think that I have some secret gift for getting people to want to hang out with me on the scheme. But I don’t. I just pursue people. I am constantly, intentionally alert and sensitive to any and all opportunities that present themselves. I take a real interest in people. I hang out with them whether we talk about Jesus or not. We need to be a people whose prayer cry is:

Break into my day, Lord, and help me to break into somebody else’s.

Not on Your Watch

So much that I read about community and missional living is concerned with fitting people into the structures of ourday and our lives. That works fine in ‘order world’ but in‘chaos city’, that doesn’t fly. In chaos city, missional living is on the go. In the spur of the moment, intuitive decision making has to deal with the immediacy of the person in front of you. They need you now, not a week on Thursday when you have a free hour.

God commands us to give our lives over to Him and for His service. God’s will for the disciples was to send them as sheep among wolves. Why is it, then, that so much of the talk about mission and evangelism reads like a health and safety pamphlet? We’ll be doing risk assessments next before we embark on evangelistic service! I hear lots of chat along the following lines:

God wouldn’t want us to do anything foolish or too costly. He wants us to use our common sense after all. We must be wise in what we do. We wouldn’t want to burn ourselves out. What good would we be then?

The Bible I read tells me that God doesn’t want us to burn ourselves out. He wants us to do more than that! God wants us to give our lives! Look at Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:24—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Or imagine how the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews felt when they read chapter 12:4. They had given up so much for the faith: friends, jobs, and loved ones and yet they are reminded, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”. (Heb. 12:4)

What Does It Take?

Do we realise what it costs to ask somebody to turn to Christ on a housing scheme? The pressures are enormous. How can we call people to a life of self-sacrifice, yet promise to meet up with them for an hour once a week, if we’re not too busy? What are we really willing to sacrifice for the gospel? Where’s the line we won’t cross in terms of service? Where does our ‘yes, but enter into this type of thinking? We shouldn’t be selling people a product we’re not buying and using ourselves.

Evangelism on the way means learning to listen well, keeping our spiritual eyes open to instant opportunities, being spontaneously flexible, walking with people through the mundane and, very often, being willing to go the extra 10 miles for the sake of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We ask a lot in Niddrie, but nowhere near as much as God requires from those of us who promised to forsake all to follow the Lord.

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