I want to begin by quoting Jesus, 'You have heard it said, but I say ...', words of much meaning in my faith but seldom used in our internal reflections. So:
Isn't it strange that we so often raise the question of 'mission' and 'evangelism'?
If to be a Christian is to be a missionary, otherwise we are impostors, as Charles Spurgeon said then why are we discussing this issue? If every Christian should be involved in evangelism, and should be 'intentional' in doing so, then why is it not item one on every Christian's agenda? I suggest that the words, the concepts, the process, the specialism is off-putting. Our language suggests something out of the ordinary, additional, specialised, overly challenging. If we do think that we ought to do it, event want to, we feel that we cannot because we are not ready, not able.
I don't often speak to Christians about evangelism, I'm an inter faith practitioner and activist. Most of the 'evangelism' that I encounter these days is from Muslims inviting me to embrace Islam, on the fringes of inter faith events. Though also when Christians want to share the Gospel with me because they think I am too close to Islam. My Muslim colleague and I wrote an article together about a year ago on the irony of us being an inter faith organisation based in a Mission Church (though not mission in its most 'missiony' sense).
Many years ago I did knock on people's doors inviting people to come to church, certainly intentional but perhaps that was not mission or evangelism either, marketing people call it 'cold-calling'. As people of faith we do not want to be in the business of cold-calling, we need to be people of warmth engaging warmly, especially those of us who also follow John Wesley. I suggest that warmth is part of the answer, it's certainly how we are able to deliver our 'mission' of modelling and encouraging good relationships between Christians and Muslims.
What is the church's contribution to members not feeling comfortable sharing their faith?
While I hope people do feel comfortable sharing their faith, from my own experience it does seem that this is an issue for many people, they're not sure what to say, how to do it, how to broach the subject. Talking about 'mission' and 'evangelism' may contribute to that difficulty. Christians could talk about this as an area for improvement amongst our people or ask, and I think we should, what can our churches do? In order to do this we need to think differently. My mind and heart are never far from inter faith and the example of inter faith engagement can help us here, though again it can be very challenging for some, please check out 'Inter faith for the cautious'.
Those who are involved in inter faith, connecting with people of other faiths, frequently say that the encounter with those who are 'other' has strengthened their own faith. I've heard this so often that it really does describe widespread encouragement and empowering of those who have embarked on this journey. As I'm not a missionary or an evangelist I've rarely had the opportunity to say this, but in the churches we can 'mission' ourselves through meeting with Muslims and others. Though not with the purpose of intentionally seeking the conversion of our dialogue partners, see the Christian Muslim Forum's Ethical Witness Guidelines which talk about openness and honesty.
We should also recognise that people may be on a journey from uncomfortable to comfortable which is well known in religious and personal development. This is why we need to get away from the language of 'intentional', it creates another hurdle when if we do want to describe it, as language can often create distance, we should talk of 'integral'. This takes us back to some of the things that John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad conveyed to us.
'A good man, or woman, brings good things out of the good stored up in him, or her' (Matthew 12.35)
'You are the ones who bear love towards them, while they do not love you' (Surah 3.119)
What Biblical word should we use?
Thinking about the Biblical words we should be using gives us the pointers that I have begun to allude to. For example, how many times does 'mission' occur in the 'New Testament'? Only once - Acts 12:25 'When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.' And again, how many times does 'evangelism' appear in the Bible? - none, 'evangelist' (3).
The important word is 'witness' which appears many times in our scripture. It is no coincidence that when the Christian Muslim Forum did some work on mission, evangelism and the Islamic equivalent - da'wah - we ended up talking about 'witness', a powerful word in both traditions, in fact creedal in the case of Islam. 'ašhadu anla ilāha illal-Lāh ...', I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God. Similarly, 'witness' is used frequently in the Qur'an.
The other word we should use, possibly instead of 'Christian', is 'disciple' which is regularly used in the Book of Acts. This takes us back to the 'great commission', though it was only given to eleven people. Our mission, as Christians, if the great commission is ours too, is not to be missionaries, or evangelists but disciplers. We need to ask ourselves not are we missioning enough, are we doing enough evangelism but are we developing disciples? Disciples will then go on to be masters, whether they are ordained, lay preachers or laypeople. When we can see this happening we will know that we have succeeded in our mission!. Again our two scriptures have the same vision of how a disciple will share their faith:
'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.' (1 Peter 3.15,16)
'Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.' (Qur'an 16.125)
Can we do 'mission' together with people of other faiths?
For most people reading this the immediate answer will be no. Even the Forum's Ethical Witness Guidelines indicate this. However, the process of Christians and Muslims working together harmoniously to show God's love in society by sharing love for each other and our neighbours is in itself a witness. This witness, living out the values of faith, then becomes, in a sense, a joint mission. Our dialogues which both underpin and overarch our practical initiatives will include reflecting on what we might say together, and differently, about the mission of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad.
For more on this topic, and my own journey, read my previous article 'From Evangelical to Inter Faith'.