How not to do evangelism at the coronation

We are getting close to the coronation of King Charles III and there’s some discussion going on about whether or not, and how, this might create evangelistic opportunities.  Some churches are planning events and some people have been producing resources to use.

Whatever your views on monarchy or republicanism and whatever your views on whether the coronation presents a good evangelistic opportunity, I want to highlight one example of an evangelistic approach that I definitely don’t think will be helpful and would strongly discourage you from taking. It comes from Living Waters, the ministry of American evangelist Ray Comfort.  It seems that they are planning an outreach event during the coronation in London, as well as encouraging people to use their resources elsewhere around the world.

You can find out more about their plans here and below I’ve reproduced the specific tract that they are planning to use and are making available.

The first problem with this approach is that it lacks any cultural sensitivity or engagement with what is actually happening with the coronation.  It seems that those involved have decided to piggy back in on the event without any real  understanding of or appreciation for what is happening and therefore those who are going to be participating.  This is so important when we want to engage missionally with communities and during events.  So, for example, when we did some outreach at the Commonwealth Games, here in Birmingham, we did two things. First, we made sure that we attended the event ourselves.  We enjoyed a rehearsal of the opening ceremony, we went to watch some athletics and then we were there at the closing ceremony.  In fact, I’d spent time watching the venues getting put up, I got to see the athletes arriving, I even as a local have observed the dismantling of venues.  We were involved and engaged, so that we had a basis for connecting with those who came.  We were able to have genuine conversations about what was happening and we were able to help people find their way around. 

The big clue that the event is being used, piggy-backed onto for something else is that the text of the tract actually only makes the briefest of mentions of King Charles and the coronation.  One sentence acts as a clumsy and obvious hook into what looks to me like an existing, standard tract text that has probably been used in thousands of other contexts. You don’t get the feeling that the author has sat down and written something new about this.  It doesn’t indicate much thought or care.  When you do that, then people get the impression that you don’t care much about them but also that level of laziness tells them that you don’t really care much about your message either.  One person pointed out to me that the tract seems to spend more time talking about the organisation’s web presence (who really cares how many hits their podcast/YouTube channel gets) than it does talking about Charles and the coronation but bluntly, it is a close run thing as to whether Jesus’s death or resurrection or the organisation get more attention.

In terms of the tract message itself, it is deeply disappointing.  It talks about the destruction of death but there is no attempt to explain why that matters or to help the reader see the Gospel offer as attractive. It kind of assumes that they are already looking for the answers the tract gives without checking if they are actually asking those questions.

Then it leaps into a list of questions to do with the individual’s sins, it’s a classic list based around the Ten Commandments but it reminds me of the rich young ruler’s engagement with Jesus, no doubt, one like him could pretty truthly answer “no” to the questions asked.  He was able to tell Jesus that he had kept the listed commandments. The tract, unlike Jesus, misses out on the “one thing you lack” moment.  You see it fails to get to the heart of the human condition.  It treats sin as a surface issue to do with the things you are seen to do or not do. It doesn’t get to grips with the beautiful good news that God is love and the problem of sin which means we do not love him as we should.   Evangelism should be a form of worship but I don’t see it here.  There is no sense of how deep and powerful the Gospel really is, no sense of how wonderful Jesus is.  It is a sad and shallow gimmick.

Now, personally I’m not a great fan of tracts generally as I think they tend to risk this particular trap. I’m also a little bit cautious of just assuming that we can make the coronation into an evangelistic opportunity, perhaps even more so as there isn’t the same connection between King Charles and explicit evidence of belief in the Gospel that we increasingly saw with his mother in her later years. Note, I’m not claiming to know his heart and to second guess whether or not he has put his trust in Christ.  I’m saying that his mother was making a fairly overt profession which isn’t there in his case. We could at least link into her own words.

However, I do think there may be opportunities to share the good news if done carefully and sensitively, just as we found with the Commonwealth Games. So, how would we do that?  Well, by following the same kind of advice.  If we see the coronation as being something that our society and community is involved in (this will vary between neighbourhoods) and we are part of it with our communities then that is when we are most likely to see opportunities to share the good news, not imposed in a crass way but arising naturally from the relationships we develop. 

So, for example if there is a street party planned for your neighbourhood or you are the kind of person who likes organising things, then go along, get involved.  It will be an opportunity for you to get to know your neighbours better.  If your church is in a particular context where this will work, why not organise something together for the community as a church, a party, a screening of the coronation so people can watch it together etc.  Celebrate life together with your community and as conversations naturally allow, use the opportunity to share the goodnews without tracts and gimmicks.

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