As Christmas comes round and carol services appearing the diary, I’m always reminded of one particular conversation, and of the reasons I’m a preacher, and a passionate evangelist.
The church I was brought up was always packed for its Christmas services, and it did them well. There was a big choir, properly trained, and it did the Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight bit with great attractiveness.
But as I began to develop an awareness of the gospel, I became increasingly concerned by what was being said on those big events and what was not being said. There was a gospel shaped hole in the service. Or rather, given that the readings and carols couldn’t be more explicit, there was a gospel shaped hole in the sermon.
One year I spoke to our minister after the service, and asked him why he hadn’t made his talk more evangelistic.
“Well, Chris, I didn’t want to ruin any future opportunities.”
On one level I completely understand what he was driving at There will have been people in that service who hadn’t been at anything since the previous year, and whose contact with the church was minimal Ruin their annual attendance, and they’d never come back. He risked emptying the church
But on another level, even with years of experience, knowing my similar fears, and with 20/20 hindsight, I still don’t get it, and it’s my disagreement with it that still fuels me.
Pushing the gospel badly and inappropriately (we’ve all done it,and wince at the memory) will turn people off and make them angry. Of course – BUT so will doing it well, even if for different reasons. My minister was so anxious about giving offence to people who had come, that he had refused to allow the gospel to give offence.
And each Christmas I remember that conversation, and try not to let my 16-year-old self down. Because my naive, brash 16-year-old self was right.
Don’t presume the crowds who come are people who are believers who just don’t show it Assume they are curious, well-meaning unbelievers who need to be invited, welcomed, and then commanded to lay their lives down before the baby who became their Lord and Saviour. If they’re already believers they won’t find that offensive. And if they’re not, then putting it starkly – they need to.
So as you prep for Christmas, please don’t blow it. For the sake of the people who for the rest of the year hear so much anti-Jesus stuff, make it clear. Make it unmissably clear.
Otherwise you’ll meet a bolshy 16-year-old at the door.