COVID – 19 has hugely impacted people’s lives and communities in this country and across the world this year, with the changes and challenges it has brought to all of us, some temporary hopefully and some permanent painfully. There have been times where it all has seemed dark but as always there has been light: individuals looking out for each other, communities pulling together, the marginalised being brought into the centre. Churches have often quietly been involved in this – delivering food parcels to those in need, keeping contact with vulnerable people online, providing socially distanced street or drive in services.
So rather than the good news, that people always need to hear but maybe feel they need to hear more than ever at this time, being locked down it has been freed up. As Paul said when he was in prison, literally in chains, the Word of God is not chained up (2 Timothy 2 v 9). Not only has the church been out more, it has been reported more people have been visiting churches online who don’t usually attend and people have been praying.
With planned Evangelism consultancy speaking and training events cancelled, I have taken the opportunity to connect online with some evangelism events conferences, catch up on lots of overdue reading, and done a bit of online guest preaching (find me on 3rd May here). But I have also been meeting Atheists, Sceptics and Evangelists….
Meeting Atheists and Sceptics
In recent times, and certainly during lockdown, I have been concerned about my lack of interaction with people who are not Christians. Yes, I meet regularly with a group of guys for a curry/quiz night (more quiz than curry online during lockdown). Yes, Thursday night clapping for the NHS and essential workers meant we got to know our new neighbours much more but it still didn’t feel enough. So I set up a new twitter account and started following a number of people with names such as Atheist forum, Sceptic City and Judas Carrot (you might need to say that one out loud).
It has been a great experience of learning and interaction. I have tended to look at what people have posted and responded by giving a Christian view about a general view of life or an alternative Christian view that does not generalise all Christians views or a personal view of a theoretical view. I have learnt how Atheists see Christians, how many of them seem to have once been Christians, their different views on Atheism and of course what their issues are with Christianity. I have had in depth discussions on the evidence of the bible, the purpose of life, free will, the flood, indoctrination and the need for sacrifice. I have had some abuse – but my last job was more than good preparation for that! But I have had some genuine questions about why I believe, heaven and hell and the cross.
In an all my interactions, I know it is unlikely that any one ‘clever’ argument is going to impact them. As 1 Peter 3 v 15 says, it is about answering people with the hope that we have – I try to be very Jesus focused in my answers – and with gentleness and respect, as that speaks as well as the actual answer as some people have commented on. It is only God who can change people (John 16 v 8), so please pray for these people that I am engaging with.
There has been a rising awareness in Chelmsford where I live of the need to be united as Churches and as Christians if we are to reach out and transform our city. Last year there were discussions by Christians Together in Chelmsford with Rooftop ministries and City Vision and there are expectations for more going forward. As a response to this, I wanted to get together some like – minded, evangelism – minded people from the Chelmsford area to see what that means for us as individuals, for our churches and our ministries. A small group of us met just before lockdown , thought it was something to pursue so a group of 6 – 10 of us have been zooming (a new verb) once a month.
Our aim has been to get to know each other, encourage each other and look for ways we might work together now and in the future. We have heard about the work of Street Pastors, work in prisons and with families of prisoners, with alcoholics, with families in need and prayer walking. We have shared stories about how we have tried to keep sharing our faith during this time and how our churches have been doing it. We have encouraged each other in love and deeds and to keep meeting together (Hebrews 10 v 24, 25), that God has a plan for our city (Acts 18 v 9, 10) and to keep close to Christ to bear fruit (John 15 v 1 – 8). Please pray for Chelmsford as we continue to meet together and invite more evangelism – minded people to join us.
Please also pray for:
Churches generally to know what they should hold onto and what they should let go from this time. For example, should services stay online in part for those who want to check out church virtually first or find it hard to physically attend? How can that sense of community care be the ‘new normal’?
Great Wakering Evangelical church who want to reach their community more with the challenges of this time and Saffron Walden Church of England Deanery churches as they consider Gospel Sunday for next year after it was cancelled this year.
The planning and action of an online course for people from the local community to consider puzzling questions of life that I am involved with at Life Church Chelmsford. We know that this has been a time that many people have reflected on what is important in life so we want to make the most of this opportunity to give people space to discuss life and the place that faith can and should have in it.
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