15 December 2021
The gift of unconditional love
the greatest gift we share in evangelism is always, always about relationship – about being totally present to other people, listening to them, and loving them unconditionally
Holly Adams, Evangelism and Contemporary Culture Officer, shares here experience of volunteering as a Street Pastor.
I don’t know about you, but I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking about gift-giving at the moment. Not only about my list of yet-to-purchase Christmas gifts for my friends and family, but also about how evangelism can be a kind of gift-giving.
One of the main ways I practise evangelism is as a Street Pastor in my home of Canterbury. Street Pastors, in case you don’t know, are a team of people who walk the streets of towns and cities all over the world during busy nights to look after people who are out partying, or sleeping rough. In Canterbury a team goes out at about 10pm every Saturday night, and heads home around 4am. We don’t preach or proselytise – but if somebody asks, we’ll talk about our faith and sometimes, if we feel it’s appropriate, we’ll offer prayer.
Street Pastors give out many gifts. We give flip flops to women who have taken their heels off, foil blankets and rain ponchos to help people face the cold and wet, bottled water or snacks to those who need sobering up - and it’s amazing what a lollipop can do to calm down rowdy crowds.
But the most important of all the gifts that a Street Pastor offers, is the gift of a listening ear. It never fails to amaze me how people, who often have experienced deeply difficult moments in their lives, long to share their stories with you during the wee hours of the morning.
It reminds me that the greatest gift we share in evangelism is always, always about relationship – about being totally present to other people, listening to them, and loving them unconditionally. If our evangelism is really good news, it has to be a gift with no strings attached, with no agenda or expectations – it has to be rooted in unconditional, non-judgemental love. As Randall Worley writes: “evangelism is not so much about reminding people about how lost they are. But how loved they are.”
But if evangelism is the gift of unconditional love, then this demands something of us. It means that evangelism has got to be more than a gimmick, more than a gift left somewhere for somebody to find, more than a token. If we’re giving the gift of love, it means we have to step out and meet people, build relationships, receive their stories with humility and gentleness, and - whether we journey with them for just a few minutes or for many years – we have to love them.
But the beautiful thing about this is – it’s not just a gift we give, it’s a gift we receive too – from God and from the people we meet. When I’m out Street Pastoring I always, always return home with a full heart of gratitude for the people I’ve encountered, for the ways I’ve seen Christ in them. When you engage in evangelism, you walk away changed. As we receive the gift of unconditional love from God, and as we pass it on, and as we receive it from others, we enter into the beautiful, Kingdom-building, life-changing, community-transforming work of God.
So, as you finish your shopping for gifts this Christmas, consider this: how are you called into evangelism to offer the gift of unconditional love to others in 2022?
The Methodist Church is launching a new course called Everyone an Evangelist. Find out more here.