Julia Faire talks to Ben, Jo and Claire from YWAM about Justin Welby and evangelism.
Ben and Jo Foster and Claire Heffer are full-time team members of YWAM (Youth with a Mission) and work in Warwickshire and Coventry. Evangelism is high on their agenda, inspired by the YWAM motto: “To know God and to make Him known”.
Recently, I asked them for their thoughts on different aspects of Welby’s speech.
“The best decision anyone can ever make,” Welby said, “is to be a follower of Jesus Christ”. Is this the best decision you have made?
Jo: Absolutely. I’ve tried life both with and without Christ. Walking with Christ is such a journey of adventure. There are struggles but Someone is walking with you. When we make that decision to be a follower of Jesus, we don’t just believe: we are transformed. That transformation comes through walking with Jesus.
Claire: A follower is not someone who just says, ‘Yes.’ If we are followers of Christ, our whole life looks different!
Welby talks about the need for every Christian to share ‘the revolutionary love of Jesus Christ’. What do you understand by ’the revolutionary love of Jesus Christ’?
Jo: In the early chapters of Acts we read that Christians in the first church shared everything and gave to those in need. They looked after each other completely. They didn’t just speak words about love – they were the church together.
Claire: Yes, revolutionary love is radical love! And some people think it’s too crazy and goes too far!
Ben: Revolutionary love is an uncommon love; we use the word ‘love’ so often as ‘fleeting love’. Real love is commitment to others. Such faithfulness and commitment astounds people; revolutionary love is extraordinary love.
In his lecture Welby said: “This country will not know of the revolutionary love of Christ by church structures or clergy, but by the witness of every single Christian.” At YWAM, you train young people to tell others of the revolutionary love of Christ. How do you do this?
Jo: YWAM is a non-denominational organisation and the Discipleship Training Schools (DTS) we run welcomes people from many different backgrounds for a few months of intensive training in discipleship and evangelism. The students live under the same roof and eat together, help one another deal with issues of the past and their concepts of what God is really like are reshaped. Sometimes DTS feels like living in a pressure cooker and there can be tensions and arguments; students are challenged to change and in most cases really rely on God to help them change in such an environment. DTS usually culminates in a three-month outreach programme overseas which includes working alongside a local church. The emphasis of DTS is on putting what Jesus said into practice. The transformation in the lives of the students on DTS is amazing.
When I was 26, I went on DTS and it totally transformed my life. Previously, my lifestyle had been dualistic: God revealed Himself to me and I learned to hear His voice. As Joyce Meyer says, I was, “ruined for the ordinary.” There was no turning back.
Reaching out to others and telling them about Jesus has transformed my life. I felt a strong call to missionary work for rest of my life.
Ben: We notice the students really grow as disciples of Christ as they reach out. Outreach begins on week two of DTS. Although everyone has growth areas, I think there is a danger in saying new Christians are not ready to evangelise. Time is short; God’s love is sufficient. We don’t need to know all the answers before we reach out. We need to listen and point the people we meet to Jesus.
Welby stated: “Evangelism is the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ into this dark world … it comes to us unwarranted, unsought, without our initiation. Jesus comes to us… It’s not technique, it’s not manipulation, it’s not organisation, it’s not systems… it’s God. It’s raw God.” Welby clearly sees that fruitful evangelism does not come with reliance on effective techniques but with dependence on God. What do you think he means when He says we need ‘raw God’ as we tell people the gospel message?
Claire: I believe relying on ‘raw God’ means being sensitive to God’s presence, asking God “What do You want me to say or do?” We never encounter exactly the same situation twice! It also means being ‘me’; some people are outgoing types and this is reflected in their evangelism. I’m a gentle person; I find it’s so important to build relationships with others whilst being myself – not trying to be someone I’m not.
Ben: I’ve tried systems and it’s stressed others out and hasn’t been fruitful. We all have different styles. My style is to talk to people and come to a place where I pray for people. Evangelism is not about forcing our view of God on others but showing love that goes beyond what people normally encounter. We can do this as we care for people. We tame God when we get stuck in religion.
Jo: Our identity is in God and we need to speak God’s words. I think it’s so important to be real with people and not hold back with British reserve. God has to be a reality to us when we talk – people know if this is so. It’s so important to find a way of evangelising that is you.
Claire: I used to be petrified of speaking and felt sick – but somehow I did it. I was relying on God. Even now I have to rely on God when I speak to people; if it’s God’s words I speak, people’s lives will be changed.
Jo: Last Sunday I saw a man sitting outside the courthouse and I felt God say, “Go and say to that man, ‘There is hope.’” I told him and walked away; then I felt I needed to pray with him and turned back. “Excuse me, can I pray for you?” I asked. The man told me afterwards, “I’m trying to get custody of my kids; your words really helped me.” The Holy Spirit brings accuracy as we reach out.
Ben: I enjoy engaging in conversation on the streets with people, but it is when I pray with the individuals that I sense God’s leading through my thoughts. He seems to direct my heart, through the Holy Spirit, to pray for the specific needs of that person.
Welby quotes 20th century theologian Karl Barth: “No other task is so urgent as that of spreading the news on earth and making it known.” Do you agree with this statement?
Jo: Yes, I believe it is the most urgent task and yet the harvest comes from finding an intimacy with God. We love God, we are in love with Him and other people catch that love and passion.
Ben: I’ve heard some say put God first, family second and your ministry third. I believe God must come first, second and third. We can be task focused, and not focused on our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is most important.
Claire: If we believe Jesus is the only way to live and don’t tell people, what sort of people are we? The message is urgent.
In his speech Welby encouraged us to speak the gospel and, controversially, said, “The old adage is attributed to St Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the gospel at all times, where necessary use words.’ Lay it aside, put it down, forget it. Don’t even think about it. Mainly for the reasons that he almost certainly didn’t say it, and even if he did, he was wrong.” What do you think of this?
Claire: God is a holistic God and both practical deeds of love and telling others about Jesus are as important as each other. They go together; you can’t say words and show no actions.
Ben: Words and deeds go hand in hand; there’s no life apart from God. However, I watched a video blog from a self-confessed atheist and he concluded his message by saying, “If you’re a Christian and you truly believe Jesus is the way, how much do you have to hate someone not to share the gospel with them?” A challenging statement for us all.