Here’s a piercing question:
“Do you realise that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven?”
(Raymond Ortlund Jr., Isaiah: God saves Sinners)
Sometime around 740 BC, the prophet Isaiah was given a 4K ultra-HD glimpse of the throne room of God, attended by multitudes of
six-winged flaming angels (Seraphim) chanting a deafening but glorious tune: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6 v 3).
God is Holy, raised to the power of Holy, raised to the power of Holy; infinitely separate in His greatness and purity. And this God is intent on filling this world with His reign? “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6 v 5) is correct!
“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in…that you are held over in the hand of that God…You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it” (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God).
Yet why does Isaiah’s story not end there? Far from eking out his days despairing in guilt, his missionary adventure began that day with the words: “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6 v 8)
What changed a scared stiff sinner into an always available ambassador for the “LORD of hosts”? The amazing news that this Holy God delights to show grace (free undeserved favour) to guilty sinners: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6 v 7). The guilty are cleared through faith in His provision of a substitute to take the punishment we deserve – fulfilled in Christ who “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4 v 25).
Like Isaiah, at New Life Church Catford, we want to respond to God’s grace with a posture of missional availability. This is why we’ve started taking to the streets of Catford town centre once a month, to see how God might use us to speak the gospel of His grace to those who have not yet come to a realisation of God’s holiness, their eternal danger, and the atonement for sins that is offered in Christ.
Our aim is clear: to verbally share the gospel in conversation with any who are willing to listen. We make clear to ourselves that the invite to church is a follow-up option, not the aim. Without clarity on this, we could pat ourselves on the back for talking about church rather than Jesus, or conversely grow discouraged because this isn’t immediately producing bums on seats.
On the day, we begin by meeting to pray in a parking lot, asking God for boldness, winsomeness and receptive hearers. Next, we go find a spot, not obstructing traders’ market stalls or the middle of the pavement. Then we set up a small book table. The table acts as an anchor; a safe retreat zone to pray or just pull yourself together again. On the table, we stack useful tracts, booklets, and church leaflets - having these to hand can also be a helpful way in to conversations.
Starting a conversation with a passer-by is actually quite a fun test of creativity. It’s fun to see how different people in the team approach this and we learn from each other. A certain demographic of woman might appreciate a younger lady saying something like “Auntie! You must tell me where you got your dress!” and you’re off! Overall, I think we’ve found the most important thing is to be prayerful and sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.
I remember seeing two young men with dreadlocks carrying their skateboards. I had let them pass me by, but then I had a pressing realisation that I had discounted them as unlikely candidates, but they could be more spiritually aware than most. So I obeyed this thought, briskly caught up with them and just went for it; “Hi! Sorry. We’re just from a local church out here talking to people about life and God. I was wondering what you think about all that?”
We had a brilliant conversation where they shared their pantheistic views, and they politely listened whilst I explained the gospel to them for several minutes. They said thank you and took a ‘Two Ways to Live’ booklet and ‘3 Days that Shook the World’ tract.
How do we hope this ministry will impact our church? I think this is summarised well by what one church member posted on WhatsApp after taking part for the first time: “Nice when you are doing it with a couple of people. I was nervous at the start, however I was encouraged as I went on. Thank God for the conversations had.” Whilst we pray God will draw some people to continue investigating Christ through our church, the most visible fruit right now is that God is definitely blessing us with joy and maturity in Christ as we make ourselves available in mission. Joy in the privilege of being used by God to make Jesus known to the lost, and maturity in evangelistic boldness that is transferable to other areas of our lives, like conversations in the workplace.
Street evangelism is maturing us as disciples who are obedient to Jesus’ great commission (Matthew 28 v 18-20), willing to take up the cross of exposure to shame for Jesus’ name (Mark 8 v 34-38), because we are on board with God’s big plan to gather people from every nation before His throne for His glory (Revelation 7 v 9-11).
Zim Okoli leads New Life Catford with Remi Adedire