Last Saturday we were invited to an 80th birthday party. It was a wonderful occasion. We began with celebratory drinks – Prosecco and sparkling elderflower being the two tipples of the day. We then sat down to a superb lunch with wines and soft drinks to boot – I was reminded of an article I had just read where the author argued we should rename our dining tables ‘feasting tables’. Then we had a short break while the tables were relayed and the ladies ‘powdered their noses’. We returned for the cutting of the cake and the speeches, followed by tea and coffee and cake. It was a ‘jolly good do’.
One small thing made a particular impression on me – and that was the wording of the place cards. Not surprisingly on one side was the name of the guest; but on the other side, above the name of the restaurant were the two words Intriguingly Different. Designed as an imaginative marketing device for the restaurant, immediately my mind went to some words of the Apostle Peter: “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Peter 3.15), or as Eugene Peterson puts in The Message: “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are”. Peter presumes that if we are livingly truly Christian lives, then people will be intrigued and will automatically want to ask why.
A few years ago Graham Tomlin, now the Bishop of Kensington, wrote a book on evangelism with the wonderful title of The Provocative Church.(SPCK, London 2002). There he wrote:
Unless there is something about church, or Christians, or Christian faith that intrigues [my emphasis!], provokes or entices, then all the evangelism in the world will fall on deaf ears. If churches cannot convey a sense of ‘reality’ then all our ‘truth’ will count for nothing. Unless someone wants to hear, there’s no point in shouting louder. Churches need to become provocative, arresting places which make the searcher, the casual visitor, want to come back for more.
He went on:
Is our church just another little club for likeminded people who happen to enjoy singing, religious emotion and sermons? Or is there anything in the life or worship of our church that would make an outsider looking in want what we have?
Of course it is not only churches which are called to provoke and intrigue. Individual Christians too are called to provoke and intrigue; not in the first place by the things they say, but rather in the way which they live our lives. Our values expressed in the way we live, at home and at work, should provoke and intrigue others to want to know more about what it is that makes us different.
It was with this approach in mind that the Apostle Peter, addressing a group of Christian women whose husbands did not share their faith, effectively said, ‘Don’t nag your husbands to come to church’; rather ‘attract them to church by the kind of lives you live’. In this way, “your conduct will win them over” (1 Peter 3.1).
I shall never forget the day our eldest grand-child was born: we had gone to Newmarket to see the horse-racing. The next day we went to see Jemima. We think Jemima is a lovely name. Jemima was one of Job’s three daughters, and Jemima along with her sisters are described as the three most beautiful women in all the earth (Job 42.14). I proudly told this to the African nurse looking after Jemima. But she knew her Bible: and she reminded me that the Bible places more worth on ‘inner beauty’. To quote the Apostle Peter again, instead of women paying a small fortune on beauty parlours or on designer dresses, “your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight” (3.4). In other words, non-Christians will not listen to us until they see the difference that Jesus makes to us. In this increasingly secular age, the key to effective evangelism is not preaching, but rather a life-style that is ‘intriguingly different’