A CHRIST-CENTRED COFFEE CULTURE
Rev Tim Saiet has run the Natural Evangelism course (formerly known as Breaking News) at several UK churches
I like to describe our culture as the ‘Latte Generation’, because it’s the norm to go out for an hour-long coffee with someone. When I run the Natural Evangelism course, I want to equip the Latte Generation to use that hour to effectively share their faith.
1 Peter 3:15 says: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ We need to be prepared in the way we communicate our beliefs.
I’ve run the Natural Evangelism course many times, but one that particularly stands out took place on the Isle of Wight. Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Pentecostals and Methodists came together; we had 240 people on the course.
J.John and I officially launched the course, which then ran over six sessions. We taught that everybody has a story of faith to share and can practise interpreting the moment. Sometimes you need to steer a conversation gently on to deeper things so that you can introduce your story or questions of faith in a way that is non-threatening.
The sessions include a lot of role play. You have a minute each to tell your story, explain the gospel and define what a Christian is, all without using religious jargon.
Quite a few people came on the course feeling scared to tell others about Christianity, either in the workplace or in family situations. They reported breakthroughs in sharing their faith without it being inappropriate or socially awkward once they had been given the tools to do so.
The course was originally written by J.John for use in a home group setting, but we sense God is saying that it is most-effective as a front-led, corporate church course. We’ll be running the Natural Evangelism course for churches in Tonbridge in Kent from January 2015.
Rev Tim Saiet is vicar of St John the Evangelist, Hildenborough
SETTING PRISONERS FREE IN UK JAILS
Seventeen years ago, Steve James was serving time in prison on criminal damage and drugs charges. Now he runs Christianity Explored’s prisons ministry, which includes leading the course at Usk Prison in Monmouthshire
We have anything up to eight guys on one of the Christianity Explored courses in Usk Prison. The course runs for eight weeks and the sessions revolve around the three big themes: Who is Jesus? Why did he come? and So what?
When the guys come, they’re obviously very dented from their prison experience and looking for answers. Sometimes they don’t even know why they’re there. But the first thing the course does is create a fellowship.
The course is very visual; we use a lot of flip charts. We’ll ask: ‘Who is Jesus?’ and get the guys to put it on the board. The exercises we do are short and we have fun.
IT’S A GREAT PLACE TO GET OUT WHAT YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH AND TO BE COMPLETELY HONEST
The men can interrupt at any point and ask a question, although sometimes we have to hit the pause button and talk about it over coffee afterwards. It’s a great place to get out what you’re struggling with and to be completely honest. When those on the course get to see the real Jesus and understand what grace is, it empowers them to go on with the Lord.
One former prisoner who had been on the course sent me a text message two years on, saying: ‘You were right, God is good. He’s really looked out for me. I’ve got a job and I’m settled.’ Another prisoner said: ‘I’ve done Christianity Explored three times since 2011. It’s helped me to become a Christian, which I am to this day. I’ve found I can pass on my experience of what I’ve learned. I’ve taken up new ways of living my life.’
Steve James is director of prisons ministry at Christianity Explored
A WEIGHT OFF MY SHOULDERS
Introduced by Drummond and Lindah Robinson, the Positioned for Blessing course enables Christians to deal with hurt and unforgiveness, and to understand God’s will through a series of DVDs, group discussions and activities. Anne Pelc, who took the course at Carmel City Church, shares her experience
When I attended the course for the first time in 2005, I was quite a new Christian. I was happy to go along and see what it was all about. I was a bit miffed that we had to talk about hurt and unforgiveness, but afterwards it felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I was so closed up. A friend described me as a closed box with the lid nailed on before I did the course. I hadn’t been loved and I didn’t know how to love.
I went on the course again two years later and have since helped on it about ten times, because I got so much out of it myself when I first went. Positioned for Blessing shows you how, if you’ve been rejected, you’ll probably reject others; including God. After the first time, I thought, ‘That’s me sorted’, but God can reveal more and more things to you. I’ve seen such a difference in people who begin the course hurt and closed up. Come the Saturday, they’re completely different, but it’s also an ongoing thing.
Sometimes people are held back by pride and stubbornness – and it can be hard – but you have to let go of it. I think everybody ought to do this course, however wonderful your childhood was. When it comes to forgiveness, there’s always something we can learn. The course shows us what God wants for us, not from us.
ELEVEN PEOPLE STARTED ON OUR LAST COURSE, BUT JUST BY WORD OF MOUTH IT GREW TO 25
It’s about changing the way we think about him, ourselves and others. Looking back, some awful things happened to me. It’s sad, and you don’t have to deny the facts, but Jesus can restore anything you’ve done or that anyone has done to you. I’m a work in progress, but each time I attend Positioned for Blessing, I am amazed once again by how good God is.
Anne Pelc is a bookkeeper and serves on reception at Carmel City Church, Bristol
HEARING WHAT ATHEISTS HAVE TO SAY
Martin Fair has led the Exploring the God Question course multiple times. Examining the natural world and the hidden depths of the mind, the course takes place in homes, schools, restaurants and community venues
Exploring the God Question gives Christians a boost, but also works well for sceptics and seekers. Quite a lot of those who came on our last course were at the seeking stage. For them, the course wasn’t the sole thing that clinched it, but it has been very instrumental in moving them towards a profession of faith. Several were baptised at Easter time.
The course is run in a small group setting over six weeks, and each week there’s a DVD presentation. Each film features experts from both sides – some from a Christian point of view and some from an atheist’s point of view – but all of them are experts in their field. The groups are then free to discuss and debate the issues. Eleven people started on our last course, but just by word of mouth it grew to 25.
What really wins it for me about the DVD presentations is that the debates are neutral. There’s no voiceover that dismisses the atheist point of view; it’s entirely open. I’ve been amazed at the way people viewing them are much more drawn to the Christian viewpoint, even though it’s not forced.
A teenage girl who did the last course concluded that it was funny how all the Christians seemed to smile and the atheists seemed to be angry all the time. People have said that the Christians are much less defensive.
Exploring the God Question doesn’t offer a dumbed-down approach to apologetics; people are expected to really think and engage. We’re ready to run it again and again.
Rev Dr Martin Fair is minister at St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath, Scotland
I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE
Anita Mitchell began running the Parenting Teenagers Course at her home in Willaston, near Chester, two years ago
I had arrived in my car to collect my children from school when I noticed the lady in the car in front had her head resting on the steering wheel. Thinking she was unwell, I went to ask if I could help. As I sat in her car, she told me that her teenage daughter was having problems. She wouldn’t eat a meal with the family or communicate, and it was causing a family breakdown.
I gave my new friend the Rob Parsons’ book, Teenagers! What Every Parent Has to Know (Hodder & Stoughton) and told her that we would do a parenting course together. I spent six months researching online and eventually came across Relationship Central’s Parenting Teenagers Course. I found six other parents with children of a similar age to mine (they were 11 and 15 at the time). We ran the course – which is five sessions long and entails watching a DVD and group discussion – in my home.
EVERYONE SEEMED TO HAVE A FRIEND WHO WANTED TO COME ON THE COURSE
Things snowballed from there. Everyone seemed to have a friend who wanted to come on the course. Since then, I have run two courses every term: one on Wednesday mornings and one on Thursday evenings. I cap numbers at ten people; I like to keep it to that size so that I can keep in touch with everyone and give them some nurturing afterwards. Parents of children from 11 different schools have come. I have a waiting list.
Recently, two GPs came on the course. They have since been recommending it, and The Parenting Book (Alpha International) by Nicky and Sila Lee, to their patients. There are so many resources out there for new parents, but very little for those with teenagers.
After the course you can often see a visible difference in the parents. Often, they come to the powerful realisation that: ‘I’m not the only one’ and ‘My teenager is normal’.
Anita Mitchell is the mother of two teenagers
MEDITATION ISN’T JUST FOR NEW AGERS
Ian and Audrey recently attended a nine-week course on Christian Mindfulness; a mix of awareness and self-awareness via meditation. Ian, who attended sessions at Liberty Church in Dunfermline, explains
Attending the Christian Mindfulness Course helped me in terms of just getting to know myself. You learn to focus on your breath to calm yourself down, but rather than emptying your mind, you are fixing your thoughts fully on God. I found it quite humbling.
There was nothing mystical about the course, but there was a sense of wonder at the human body in terms of God’s creation. Christian mindfulness is very God-centred. It's about self-discovery and being in a position where you can hear from God. It’s a good way to clear out the other stuff that’s going on in your life.
There was quite a gentle introduction to the course, which wasn’t intellectually heavy. Each session has a different theme, but they’re all centred on our thought processes. There’s a bit of psychology in the course about how the mind works, as well as biblical interpretation.
I think [course founder] Richard [Johnston] has successfully brought the gospel into something that a lot of Christians might be a bit worried about, because of the association of mindfulness with Eastern religions. After the first session my mind was put at ease; it felt really natural.
As Christians, we’re always trying to be good enough. Actually, what God wants is a relationship with us. Sometimes we don’t give him the space to be part of our lives.
Any Christian could benefit from this course. I think for those in ministry it would be particularly helpful. You can do the course online – there’s a free taster – or a local church could run it. It can also be adapted for a range of other settings such as retreat centres, theological colleges and schools.
Ian Hepburn is operations coordinator at Marine Scotland