We’re coming up to our annual puzzle event. This will be the third year we hold an event to help equip the church for the spiritual age in which we live. It’s the Evangelism in a New Age consultation, in Basel, Switzerland, Oct 28-Nov 1. The puzzling bit is why the church in Britain has really caught on to the urgency and opportunity of today’s spiritual openness, while on the European mainland there seems to be very little interest from missions and churches alike.
For all across Britain, churches have hosted workshops to run stalls in Mind Body Spirit fairs, as they are often called, or other creative ways to engage with those seeking spiritual realities outside of traditional religion.
David Beckham is typical of such ‘seekers’. “I have a definite sense of spirituality,” he said after his daughter was born. “I want Brooklyn to be christened but don’t know into what religion yet.”
British initiatives include city centres for holistic healing, spiritual health weekends, healing on the street, life coaching, massage centres (yes, that’s right!), healing ministries near places of pilgrimage, tea and prayer stalls in graveyards, peace gardens (‘green evangelism’). Special events are held around festivals, seasons and rites of passage like births, miscarriages, marriage, funerals, graduations, new jobs, retirement…
One of the pioneers of this sort of ministry is Steve Hollinghurst, guest speaker in Basel this year. Steve co-edited an excellent workbook for local churches called Equipping your church in a spiritual age, full of practical ideas on reaching out to seekers.
This workbook is published by a broad ecumenical council, and is endorsed by bishops and leaders of both Catholic and Protestant churches.
On his blog [onearthasinheaven.blogspot.com], Steve explains that he works for a Church of England mission agency called Church Army as a researcher in the Sheffield Centre. “My job is about enabling the church to communicate effectively with the increasing numbers who have no church background. This is about what is traditionally called evangelism, but my role is about thinking beyond such traditions! Indeed it’s about exploring evangelism as a journey of discovery between seekers across many faiths and spiritual traditions–to which I bring my own Christian tradition. Not about bible bashing, street preaching or a door to door selling approach.
Mind Body Spirit
“One of the things I do in the UK is train churches to run stalls at Mind Body Spirit fairs. I find these fairs fascinating places to be and meet a whole variety of people exploring the spiritual. It’s a place people don’t expect to find a Christian presence. The Church is often assumed to be ‘unspiritual’ on the one hand and automatically condemning of contemporary spirituality on the other. We try to enable people to discover rich resources from the Christian tradition and open up the possibility that the Christian path has things to offer after all.
“We spend much time sharing personal stories and I often have a lot to reflect on afterwards. I keep meeting people who, as I would understand it, are having encounters with the God I discover in Jesus Christ. I think Christians have sometimes got used to an idea that people ‘out there’ are secular and unspiritual and we bring God to them and have to persuade them of the reality of their spiritual realm. Either that or we assume that anyone who is having spiritual experiences outside Christianity must be encountering something demonic.
“But what if neither assumption is necessarily true? What if God is speaking directly into the lives of people who are not at all interested in Christianity but are spiritual explorers? How might that change the way we seek to connect with such people?
“I think this is one of the reasons I like speaking of ‘a fellow explorer model‘ of evangelism. Those we seek to open up the Christian faith to are already often on the journey. Similarly, I think Christians are increasingly becoming aware of the extent to which we are also still on a journey; that ‘becoming a Christian’ isn’t the end of a journey but a key stage on the journey. And of course we are increasingly aware of the very different ways faith in Jesus comes alive for people, so that for many knowing when they ‘became a Christian’ is not possible. In this world the evangelist becomes lead explorer, searching out the territory and inviting others to journey with them, rather than a salesman.
Steve will be joined, among others, by Daniel Hari. I’ve written about Daniel before. After healing demonstrations at the New Age fairs, he sometimes asks if those present know of others who need healing. “Call them right now on your mobiles,” he tells his audience, “and I’ll pray for them while they are on the line!” One woman, healed during such a phone call, confessed that wild horses could never had dragged her to such a healing event!
Other speakers include:
• Ellis Potter, a former Zen Buddhist monk and now pastor of the Basel Christian Fellowship.
• Ole Skjerbaek Madsen, a Lutheran pastor from Copenhagen leading a ministry to new agers called ‘In the Master’s Light’,
• and Fluri Bärtsch, a Swiss church-planter and evangelist seeking effective ways to reach esoteric seekers.
The consultation will be held in the idyllic Chrischona Conference Centre, overlooking Basel. I know of no other event on mainland Europe where experienced practitioners share with each other and those eager to learn how to reach out to today’s spiritual seekers. For further information and registration, visit www.hfe.org/newsandevents/events.php.
Hopefully this event will help us catch up with the church in Britain. But I’m still genuinely puzzled why there should be such an awareness gap. Can anybody enlighten me?
Till next week,
Till next week,