Peters Pentecost speech struck lots of chords with me this year. He does 4 things, all of which resonate very strongly with the present day:
- Deals with misconceptions ('these people are not drunk'). Often that's the starting point, there is stuff that needs to be dealt with before people will even give the Christian message a hearing.
- Explains what is going on in terms people can understand ('this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel'). As fewer and fewer people are familiar with God or the work of the Spirit, we have to do more explaining, not less. 'Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary' is a dangerous nonsense, preaching the gospel always involves words, because if people are encountering God and seeing him at work they will not often realise what's going on. And most folk are a lot further back than the Pentecost crowd, who knew who the 'prophet Joel' was, the Holy Spirit is an utterly foreign language to them. I've had several recent experiences of seeing God touch the lives of non-Christians or people who are exploring the Christian faith, and actually pointing out to them that perhaps this is God they are experiencing. Otherwise it's just put down as a 'strange peaceful feeling' or a coincidence, or not noticed at all.
- Puts the focus on Jesus - 'God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ'. Peter could have stayed with the phenomena, the amazing gift of languages which enabled dozens of nations to hear Gods' praise in their own local dialect. That in itself would have been enough for most people. But he knows why this has happened - the whole point is that the church should bear witness to Jesus, and that the disciples should make disciples. So he makes it clear that this is all about Jesus.
- Explains how to respond - 'repent and be baptised'. No messing around, no Alpha course, no invitation to join us at our next family service. They are ready there and then if they're willing to say yes to Jesus. Do we have a clear explanation of who Jesus is, and how people can respond to him? I heard during the week of a small group of soon-to-be-vicars who were asked as part of their preparation how they would lead someone to faith in Christ. A depressingly small number had anything approaching a decent and immediate answer to the question. If people can't find the door then they can't get in.
Justin Welby said during the week that evangelism is "emphatically not just a clergy thing, it's a Christian thing." It's bad enough that many clergy can't go through the 4 stages above, it's that we're not equipping our church members to do it either. And here, like many preachers, I'm preaching to myself.