Category Archives: Evangelism

Telling the story of the King with the local voices of the street

I am increasingly aware that many people in our area are non-literate people.  Not illiterate, but non-literate.  They can read, but they do not read.  They primarily get their information and ideas from non-literate sources.  Music is one of these key non-literate sources.  Music and literature are two totally different types of source materials.  As a result the way they are taken up and inform the cultural stories told in our neighbourhoods are vastly different.

While never replacing the Bible as a source document I think we need to recover some of these other forms of communication so that people might hear the gospel in their own language and cultural form.  Just as Bible translation (hearing the Bible in their own language) is a key component of mission work everywhere, so perhaps we need to reconsider supplementary modes of communicating that truth.   Hearing the gospel in their own cultural forms of communication.  Cultures throughout history have shaped their culture and understanding of the world through story-telling, music, artwork and drama.  As evangelicals we have often been too shy to seriously and robustly engage in other, non-literate, modes of communication lest we downplay the centrality and significance of the Scriptures. We must resist the temptation to reduce this to an either-or shoot out between faithfulness to Scripture and appropriating new cultural forms.  The reality I suspect is a far more dynamic and integrated process.

One surprising mode of alternative communication that is gaining ground in reformed circles is hip-hop and spoken word.  As a young man this was (and I still is in many ways) my meat and drink.  I resonated deeply with the rhythms, the lyrics, the substance and the edginess of hip-hop and more particularly of late spoken word.

“In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the South Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling life in the ‘hood.” (Kurtis Blow: The History of Rap)

Hip-hop became the  voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, injustice or lack of access to the resources of the music industry.  Instead it became the voice of the streets.  Young black men and women who had no voice for their social and political concerns in a society still ravaged by racism and injustice, created their own voice.

Hip-hop became the voice of the disenfranchised streets.  Using complex wordplay and socio-political commentary it spoke to the fears, the anger and the world of the marginalised youth.  It gave young people a voice, a sound that belonged to them and began a movement that spoke to their harsh, edgy and yet hopeful, world.  While most of the history of rap and hip-hop will reference the DJ’s, the clubs and the records produced, perhaps the true impact was in the thousands of crews that grew up all over neighbourhoods of New York (and then spreading to other cities and countries), finding their voice and forging local communities gathered to celebrate the sharing of their stories through their unique mode of communication.  A mode of communication that  embodied their language, their joy, their pain… their story.

While the world has moved on… dramatically so.  The internet for one has dramatically changed how we receive, tell and hear the stories of our world.  But for all the good of globalisation I wonder if we have lost something significant when we lose our local stories and our local story-tellers.  Hip-hop as a vehicle for our stories and our hopes and our frustrations has not died in my neighbourhood, despite what the superstars have done to it. But too often we no longer tell our local stories, we no longer have our local MC’s, our local crews or B-boys that tell our stories.  Its far too easy to plug in your iPod and download other stories, slick, well-produced and mostly insipid stories.  But what if we dreamed of our local stories again?  What if we dreamed of finding ways to tell our local stories  again?  What if we rediscovered these modes of telling our stories and infused them not only with our small stories but the greater bigger and altogether more glorious gospel story?

What if among other cultural forms hip-hop and spoken word could become a powerful tool to reclaim place as a powerful component of our stories?  And what if we recovered place as a powerful component of telling the gospel story?  Not merely the gospel as some esoteric disembodied set of principles but as the true gospel, the good news for these people in this place.  The God of all the earth wishes to bring good news to this people in this place through his “new-life people” as they tell his story through all available means, making sense of the one true and great story, by translating it into the language and communication modes of this people in this place.

I know it is not local but I love the work these guys are doing in using appropriate cultural modes in order to retell God’s story.  Perhaps this can inspire some of us to dream about what it could look like to tell our story of His Story here in the East City…


A Party for Prostitutes

Tel Aviv, December 2005

Last week I shared the story of throwing a birthday party for our friend J who had never had a birthday party before.

In no one indicating that the details are similar, it did remind me of this story by Tony Campolo as retold by Tim Chester;

Tony Campolo tells of a time when he was speaking in Honolulu, Hawaii. Campolo lives on the east coast of the United States so his body was six hours ahead of Hawaiian time. At 3am it felt like nine o-clock to him. Awake and hungry for breakfast, he found himself in a “greasy spoon” café in the small hours of the morning. As he bit into his doughnut, eight or nine prostitutes walked in. They had just finished for the night. Their talk was loud and crude, and it was difficult to avoid listening in. He heard one tell the others it was her birthday the following day. “What do you want from me? A birthday cake?” was the sarcastic reply. “Why be so mean?” she replied, “I was just telling you. I don’t expect anything. I’ve never had a birthday party. I’m not expecting to have one now.” When Campolo heard this he made a decision.

When the women left, he went over to the café owner, a guy called Harry. “Do they always come in here?” “Yes,” said Harry. “Including the one who sat next to me?” “Yes, that’s Agnes. Why do you want to know?” “Because I heard her say it’s her birthday tomorrow and I thought we might throw her a party.” Pause. Then a smile grew across Harry’s lips. “That’d be a great idea.” A moment later his wife was in on the plot.

What Happens Next

Half past two the next morning. Campolo had brought decorations and Harry had baked a cake. Word had got out and it seemed as if every prostitute in Honolulu was in the café – plus Campolo, a preacher. When Agnes entered with her friends, she was flabbergasted. Her mouth fell open and her knees wobbled. As she sat on a stool, everyone sang “Happy Birthday”. “Blow out the candles,” people shouted, but in the end Harry had to do it for her. Then he handed her a knife. “Cut the cake, Agnes, so we can all have some.” She looked at the cake. Then slowly said, “Is it alright … would you mind … if I wait a little longer … if we didn’t eat it straight away?” “Sure. It’s okay,” said Harry. “Take it home if you want”’ “Can I?” she said, “Can I take it home now? I’ll be back in a few minutes.” And with that she left, carrying her precious cake out the café.

What Kind of Church?

There was a stunned silence. So Campolo said, “What do you say we pray?” And they did. Campolo lead a group of prostitutes in prayer at 3:30 in the morning. When they were done, Harry said, “Hey! You never told me you were some kind of preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” Campolo answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry waited for a moment. Then he kind of sneered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that.”

Campolo Comments:

Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning?… But anybody who reads the New Testament will discover a Jesus who loved to party with prostitutes and with all kinds of left-out people. The tax collectors and “sinners” loved him because he partied with them. The lepers of society found in him someone who would eat and drink with them. And while the solemnly pious people could not relate to what he was about, those lonely people who usually didn’t get invited to parties took to him with excitement.

(HT: Tim Chester)

Photo Credit: Tal Bright via Photo Pin

Mike Breen: State of the Evangelical Union

This is a very interesting article by Mike Breen of 3DM. Lots of food for thought. Does anyone want to start a conversation on some of his thoughts?

Here are a couple of quotes I will be chewing on:

“You get a missional movement by starting a discipling movement. For too long we’ve had the missional conversation in lieu of the discipling conversation.”

“If you do discipleship, it means you’ll be creating leaders. Creating leaders rather than managing volunteers will make you re-think your Leadership conversation. And releasing Leaders into the missional frontier to make disciples will make you re-think you Missional conversation.”

“One of the things we try to ask worship leaders is this: “If you didn’t have an instrument and couldn’t sing, would everyone still see you as a leader in your church?” The sad fact is this isn’t often the case. Many worship leaders are hired guns and without the talent of their instruments or vocals, they would be little use to the church.”

“There has been so much talk about Missional Communities and discipleship in the last year, but people forget one grounding reality from the scriptures: In the New Testament, discipleship and mission always find their flourishing in an extended family. But in the last 100 years, we’ve really lost the extended family and we’ve lost the oikos on mission. (Oikos being the Greek word used in the New Testament for “households” that refers to the extended families existing as households on mission for the first 300 years of the life of the church).”

“If you don’t have Family on Mission, discipleship, leadership and mission aren’t possible. Family on Mission is the context needed for the rest to flourish. And at the end of the day, I want to be part of a movement that puts missional discipleship back into the hands of every-day people. You get that by learning Family on Mission.”

You can read the whole thing here

I am a Misfit!

I shall confess…. I am a misfit.

I have never really fitted in with the church scene.

Don’t misunderstand me, this is not going to be one of those disgruntled with the church blogger type rants (at least I hope not).

I love the church!

When I read the Bible I find a picture of the church made in the image of our God. A church that reflects the character and the mission of our God.  I read about a God who loves the unlovable; who shows grace to the undeserving, mercy to the merciless, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. I read the story of the King who used his power not to crush us or serve his own ambitions but to rescue us, to restore us and to give us new life and new birth into a living hope.

The church is not perfect but we are right now a foretaste of what God is at work doing. His Kingdom has now broken in and is at work saving and restoring a people, where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. We are now a foretaste of God’s restored humanity. In the church we find a taste of what it means to be truly human… again.

In the Scriptures I find a picture of church far beyond my experience.

I find myself frustrated wishing it would be so much more. It could be so much more. It should be so much more.

Mostly I wish we were more radical in our love for lost people…

I am fully convinced that God does and can and will continue to use the contemporary/ traditional/mainstream (choose the most appropriate and least offensive description) church to preach the gospel, care for the broken,  disciple believers,  and reach the lost. I, for one, am a testimony to this.

Honestly I think that there are some great churches within easy driving (or walking) distance of where I live. They are reaching people and will continue to do so. But in all honesty, many of them are reaching the same kind of people. Even if they have a diversity of membership it is still largely a similar kind of diversity.

In a country as diverse as South Africa, and in a city as diverse as Cape Town we need to continually be thinking through our methodology and our church culture, asking ourselves – who are we reaching? And perhaps more significantly who are we not reaching?

The answer of course is not to be all things to all men in one structure. What we need are scattered communities of light willing to get into the nooks and crannies of our society, adopting the rhythms, and shape of their lives, meeting them on their terms and on their turf.  Engaging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in word and in deed.  And demonstrating through the shared life of the gospel community that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.

I suspect am a misfit because I did not grow up in a Christian family or breathing the unusual air of the pervasive Christian culture.  I got saved in a culture of mission and I was discipled in a culture of mission.  I admit I got lost in the whole church culture scene for a bit.  But through some really tough circumstances I ended up out of the church culture for a bit.  And I realised that I never want to go back…

Like I said I love the church and I love so many people who are part of the contemporary church scene.  Some of them are doing some amazing thing and some of them are being used by God to do amazing things.  But we have slowly (read kicking and screaming) made peace with the fact that God has called us to a different path.  A path for misfits.  I struggle to put words to it but somehow I have always gravitated to those on the fringes;  the doubters, the strugglers, the broken, the sceptics.

For as long as I can remember I have always had a burden to reach those who are not being reached by others.  I can clearly remember on Scripture Union camps asking for the “difficult” kids to be in my group and volunteering to be on duty to “baby-sit” the smokers because I knew it was most likely that most of these kids were not Christians.  At one church I worked at as a youth pastor I remember another youth pastor telling me that my kids scared him a bit… I’m still not really sure what that was all about?

But something within me has always come alive when faced with those others deem too difficult, too broken, too lost.  When I was a 19-year-old rookie camp leader, a man I greatly admired looked at me across the table one meal time and said, “John, God is going to use you to reach people the rest of us can only dream of reaching!”

Honestly, I never believed him. But as I look back over 15 plus years I can see unlooked-for echoes of those words throughout my life.  I still don’t really know if I believe him but I now know I want it to be true.

And finally I think I am starting to be at peace with the unorthodox shape of our ministry.  Finally I realise that sometimes it is a blessing to feel more alive outside with the smokers than inside singing with the saints.  Sometimes God uses misfits too…

The Story

When we were in Loughborough last month with The Crowded House, we joined them for some bible storying.

I have read quite a bit about storying before and seen some storying done before but what I saw in Loughborough really sparked my imagination as something that we could do here in Woodstock.


It was really simple; hot chocolate, some cakes and other sweet stuff, a nice mix of mature Christians, some new believers (converted in part through their interaction with the The Story) and some non-Christians.  The atmosphere was relaxed and easy-going and yet focussed on hearing the story, re-telling the story and reflecting on the story.  Without any great monologue or rigid teaching structure from the leader we got the main idea, reflected on implication and thought about what this could mean for our lives (with a few sidetracks along the way).  Jonny’s wicked sense of humour probably really helped the atmosphere and communication of the message.

In February next year we are inviting some friends, neighbours, long-time Christians and other assorted sorts along to our house on a Sunday evening for some food, and some story.  We thought we might play with some video or other creative ideas to get everyone participating and engaged in The Story.

Here are some helpful resources here from Soma.

You can also check out the Orality Strategies website.

Some useful discussion on Orality from the Lausanne movement


John Bunyan’s Greatest Desire in Ministry

“My greatest desire in fulfilling my ministry, was, to get into the darkest places in the country, even amongst those people that were furtherest off of profession;… because I found my spirit did lean most after awakening and converting work, and that the Word that I carried did lead itself most that way.”

John Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Discipleship Failure? Most Christians Know It’s Important But Rarely Share Their Faith

Ed Stetzer’s, Lifeway Group just released some new research on church goers and sharing their faith. I would imagine that statistically the results are probably fairly similar in Cape Town.

  • 75% of churchgoers say they feel comfortable in their ability to effectively communicate the gospel
  • 80% of churchgoers agree they have a personal responsibility to share their faith
  • 39% of churchgoers they have shared their faith one or more times over the last six months.
  • Nearly half (48%) of church attendees have not invited an unchurched person to attend a church service or some other program at their church in the past six months

BIG QUESTION: Given these statistics does it not raise the question that perhaps we are doing something wrong when it comes to church?  If the aim is to make disciples, surely we need to question if our church structures are actually achieving our goal?