On Saturday 9th October 2010 a group of some twenty people from a number of churches around the Synod met in the James Hall for a day led by Reverend Paul Stokes. Paul is minister of Plymstock in Plymouth, Devon for three-quarters of his time, and an advocate for GEAR, the Group for Evangelism And Renewal within the United Reformed Church, for the remaining quarter of his time. He is one of three ministers so employed across England (which amounts to three-quarters of a full-time-minister). GEAR is funded by donations from individuals within the URC, and not directly by the national Church, although it is almost as old as the URC itself. It exists to assist Churches with what can seem like a difficult subject: Evangelism.

 

Mention the latter and many Christians run for cover, perhaps visualising Billy Graham, and not feeling equipped to approach people about Jesus, in fact, as Paul Stokes was keen to point out, Evangelism is about bearing witness to Jesus in the everyday situations of life: at work, at the social events that we attend, in the way we behave and the example that we set. In this context every one of us has scope to evangelize whether we realise that we are doing that or not! Indeed the stereotype of accosting people in the street is both misleading and false, since if people are harangued about religion by others they are less likely to respond favourably.

It is therefore a case of how do we respond to the challenges that God brings us, allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, rather than trying to do things entirely from our own motives. If we do the latter we will fail. If we allow the Spirit to guide us then we will succeed. However here is the rub for many Christians: we are quite happy with the idea that God can transform people's lives and change them for the better, but we are not comfortable with what the Holy Spirit can do within and through us. The "faith-as-big-as-a-mustard-seed" quotations of Jesus in Matthew 17v.20 and Luke 17.V.6 are not mere flights of fancy but demonstrate how Christians can achieve things, which might otherwise surprise them and others, by trusting in God and allowing the Spirit to work through them.

These points were followed up by first hand experiences of the Holy Spirit at work delivered by Paul and a member of his congregation. We also spent a little time thinking about what we would say to others if we were challenged to explain to someone else, within five minutes, what is meant by the Good News. In a World where many people are seeking answers it is useful to be able to explain ourselves and our beliefs in simple terms. Trying to explain what we believe is also a challenge at first, if we have no experience of so-doing. (Equally, as any teacher will tell you, having to explain, or put an idea into words, helps develop one's own understanding of a subject.)

Since prayer is a vital component in seeking to do the Lord's work, we also spent time praying for one another in small groups, as well as for our church here at Isaac Watts, and for the work of other churches, asking for the Holy Spirit to be present in these different situations.

Our thinking and praying was reinforced by looking at the story of Philip (book of Acts, especially Chapter 8). Starting with Acts 6v.5 and 6 we read that as with other members of the early church, Philip was set aside for his particular work and prayed-for by other members of the church, as well as praying for the Spirit's guidance himself. Responding to the Spirit's direction he bore witness to Jesus in Samaria before leaving to meet and convert an Ethiopian eunuch. This was a real act of faith since he was leaving a highly successful area of work to go into the unknown. The meeting also happened on a road between two places and not in the more logical environment of a town or city. As soon as this was done the Spirit took Philip away through various towns where he preached the Good News, to settle in Caesarea. In Acts 21v.8 he was still living there when the apostle Paul visited, and had four unmarried daughters who were also proclaiming the Good News.

All in all it was a thoughtful, helpful day for those who attended, linking up the themes of Bible, Prayer and Evangelism, improving understanding of the interdependence of these elements, and of the latter in particular, in preparation for begins this Advent. Thanks are due to Paul Stokes and his assistants, as well as to Edward and Jean for all their hard work in helping the day to come about.

Chris Noyce