As a young man at university in the south of England I was at that age and stage in life when one questions everything but is open to anything. I had not grown up around people of faith, and everywhere I looked Christian faith seemed dead or irrelevant, and my conclusion was that it was dead irrelevant.
Music, parties, drugs and fun seemed much more vibrant and real, and no-one with any authentic faith in Jesus seemed to cross into our somewhat darker world. In the words of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair ‘We didn’t do God’.
I had ‘tried’ faith as a boy at boarding school. I really put God to the test. As part of our routine it was compulsory to attend the school chapel once midweek and once on a Sunday. Our school had formerly been an American Air Force hospital during the Second World War, and so the chapel, like most of the classrooms, was a converted ‘Nissen’ hut made from corrugated iron.
One Sunday I gave God the ultimate challenge. The chaplain stood in the pulpit at the far end of the hut, robed and dog- collared. I don’t remember a single word of his sermon, but I do remember wanting to believe there was more to life than boarding school, so I challenged God.
As I sat there, I can remember saying under my breath ‘Alright God, if you are real, and if you can hear me, I want to look up at the chaplain, and see him glow.’
The chaplain didn’t glow, and so I concluded that God wasn’t real and couldn’t hear me.
Years later at University I was still convinced - and that was where I first encountered evangelism, and it was a horrible experience.
I have heard evangelism described as ‘the only thing that both Christians and non-Christians hate’. I have even heard it described as ‘the ‘E’ word’, like some kind of foul language!
My first experience was at the hands of what I call a ‘Christian Rottweiler.’ This young woman and I had a mutual friend, and I happened to bump into her late one evening queuing for a kebab after an evening in the pub with friends.
Having had one or two beers, conversation in the kebab shop was flowing, and she quickly turned it to the issue of faith in Jesus. Hearing that I didn’t believe she bared her teeth and snarled. (Not really, but that’s what it felt like!) She just relentlessly began to take chunks out of me with her muscular and aggressive talk. I didn’t become a believer that evening, all that happened was that she left me bleeding and wounded.
Why would I want to believe in Jesus if he turns your speech into something so hateful? The Rottweiler once again confirmed my suspicions that Christian faith was not a good thing.
My second experience was at the hands of an experienced older Christian man. His technique was different to Mrs ‘bite him and spit him out’. He was a man who knew his bible. I was happy to engage him in conversation, but every time there was an opportunity he would quote huge passages of ancient scripture, clearly learned by heart from an equally ancient translation of the bible. Every time I opened my mouth, it was as if he was rolling up his scroll and stuffing it down my throat until I choked.
I choked. It was not a pleasant experience. He wasn’t interested in me, he just wanted to argue a point, and he just wanted to win.
For all my critique, at least these dear people felt an urgency with the gospel and had a go. I dare not be too harsh in my words. All the other Christians kept the news to themselves for fear of offending, and I’m not sure which is more unloving.
Contrast these examples to the young lady who spent time with me. Who cared enough to look beyond the druggy lifestyle and look, and who seemed to be alive in a way that I wasn’t. She was the one who prayed for me for months.
She was the one who answered my questions and stuck with me when I didn’t agree or understand. She was the one who helped me to navigate the bible and discover the real Jesus, and eventually she took me to a church. She was the one who not just told me what to do, but who embodied grace and patience and genuine love and strength.
She was the one who was there the day I crossed over a line of faith and sought forgiveness from God and believed for myself in the power of the cross. I am very privileged to say that she was also there beside me on my wedding day, and went on to become the mother of our four amazing children, and who still strengthens me daily and points me to Jesus.
My wife Jo was neither a ‘Rottweiler’ nor a ‘Bible Stuffer’. It was her beautifully patient, yet thoroughly uncompromising attitude that persuaded me that the
God she spoke of was real. She embodied the message. Her attitude was confident, yet humble. Honest but loving.
It is clear that we have a call upon us to not just communicate the gospel, but to seek to win and persuade people in all walks of life of the truth of our message. As we do this, our attitude matters.
This article has been adapted from from Chris Kilby's book: Equipped: Gearing yourself up for the plans of God