Esther Vernon, apprenticing at Avenue Community Church in Leicester in 2010, gives us a feel for her experiences of evangelism in an apprenticeship.
Is an apprenticeship in ‘full-time gospel ministry’ going to entail a slightly suffocating, shameful, step-back from non-Christians? Or is it potentially a brilliant opportunity behind the front line to begin to get equipped with a better understanding of the gospel, to be exposed to different environments where it needs to be applied, and to serve and disciple others with the aim that they be so utterly convinced by the Truth that they go on to give their friends a reason for the hope that they have?
To be honest, in terms of ‘how it feels’, it can be both. But I think the reality is the latter.
Does an apprenticeship reduce the amount of daily-rubbing-shoulders-witnessing you do with non-believers? Inevitably yes. Does it reduce evangelism? I think the types of opportunity change. Am I implying evangelism doesn’t require relationships? Definitely not. To some extent I think it means you just become a different link in the chain.
Some different contexts arise. I meet a group of young, non-academic, teenagers with a different religious background, in a lunch club every week. Occasionally I go into a primary school and take an assembly. Simplifying messages back to their bare bones is a real challenge. Public speaking is basically terrifying. It makes me tremble. And speaking clearly is not my forte at the best of times! But this is outweighed by the joy of getting to tell them the Truth.
The rest is more one-to-one.
There’s this type of potential evangelism…
I’m in the weights room at the gym; it’s immediately evident, let us be honest, that this is an odd room for a girl to be in. It’s full of big, scary, loud men. I’d say it’s useful though. Gradually you become more familiar and people question me! I’m not here for evangelism, I’m here to train. But I think that’s the best way for both of those things to happen. I try to come at the same times each week, and these are early, as I think the opportunities are greater this way.
…Then somewhere in the middle there’s this type…
I’m in Costa coffee doing one-to-one’s with an older non-Christian. We’re looking at John’s Gospel. I am struck that any familiarities become sharper and more compelling when studied with someone who is not yet convinced. She is not urgently questioning. This has pushed me to trust in the power of God’s word more.
…Then at the other end there’s this type:
I’m in a university chaplaincy for a mission week follow up course with students. Brilliant! The hard work has been done for you; they’re here! You get talking to someone. They’re all international. Sometimes there’s a brilliant, if not cheeky, freedom to be gently bold in challenging latent belief structures, and to expose idolatry. But equally, sometimes there’s a real challenge going on to find the right words to explain what on earth it is that is so important about the Lord Jesus. I am literally reminded of Paul’s words almost as soon as my words have left my mouth: the gospel does indeed sound like foolishness! What can be so important that ‘even they’, a seemingly self-reliant, ‘busy going-somewhere’ student, should be in awe, humbled, contrite and do an about-turn? I begin to retract my earlier thoughts that the hard work had been done for me!
Then I remind myself that this is God’s wisdom not mine, and that he has given me a spirit not of timidity but of power, and that it is a privilege and a mystery that he would bother to use me to convey this.
So there we go, it’s not impressive. But this is what evangelism as an apprentice has looked like in my context.