“There is a lack of expectation that the Lord can and will move to save people,” says Steve Chong, who believes lowering the bar on what God can do is holding back evangelism in Australia.
Chong was one of the 30 Christian leaders surveyed recently for The Future of the Church in Australia report, conducted by McCrindle Research. Chong is the co-founder of RICE Movement – a youth-focused national ministry – and a well-known evangelist who was part of the SBS TV series Christians Like Us.
Chong hopes the COVID crisis will be a circuit breaker for Christians, helping them to become bolder about sharing the good news and believe that God can use their efforts.
The vibrant minister says his call for greater boldness from everyday Christians, not just church leaders, is shared by those surveyed.
“The consensus among all of us, even though we have different slants, is that something needs to change. That’s the key. No one was like, ‘Great, we’re on the right path. Let’s keep going.’”
Gathering the observations and insights of leaders from denominations such as Anglican, Catholic and Hillsong churches, as well as para-church organisations, The Future of the Church in Australia proclaims that the coronavirus pandemic is a turning point for Australian Christianity.
Changes to church life in Australia this year are vast and well documented, with leaders such as Karl Faase (Jesus the Game Changer Season 2) and City Bible Forum’s Sam Chan (in Eternity‘s Evangelism in Post-COVID World podcast series) also calling for a changed evangelism focus.
But Chong hopes some of the former ways of doing things are not resurrected.
“I think churches have put themselves in defensive mode. We’ve started to believe a lie from the media or Satan – or whoever it is – that people are not willing to engage with Jesus,” says Chong. “We need to shake it out. Otherwise, if we stay there, we will have this inertia inwards. We need to turn the tide.”
“The truth is people are disillusioned with the church, but I have stories to tell, and experiences to back it, that they are open to Jesus.”
The McCrindle report affirms Chong’s own experience about a “spiritual hunger” in Australia. It also describes how “COVID-19 has shown the importance of personal discipleship and evangelism in addition to centralised delivery from the professional clergy.”
“As people were required to stay at home and church moved online, church has largely taken place through friendships, homes and the laity,” it reads.
“Almost two in five churchgoers (38 per cent) strongly/somewhat agree that COVID-19 has made them more active in ministry as they feel they cannot leave it to the paid church staff. Many have also invited more people to church online (47 per cent) or have opened their homes and hosted watch parties for church (34 per cent).”
“I think that’s a bold step we are missing in the everydayness of evangelism.” – Steve Chong
Chong thinks we can do too much talking about evangelism, and not enough evangelism. While he understands the tension of feeling as if you might lose a friendship by mentioning Jesus, Chong wonders if we hide too much behind such fears.
“We so worry about how we are going to be received by the non-Christian that we almost spend our time battling our own excuses on behalf of them,” Chong says. “What if I get it wrong? What if they are not ready? I don’t want to turn them off.”
“We want to slowly move them along the pipeline [to Christian faith] and are so worried about that, we are not willing to pop the question which is: ‘Hey, would you like to start a relationship with Jesus?’ Can I just ask you that in the power of the Holy Spirit?”
“I think that’s a bold step we are missing in the everydayness of evangelism.”
Dale Stephenson is senior pastor at Melbourne’s Crossway Baptist Church. In the Future of the Church report, he echoes Chong’s sentiments about where the evangelism barriers are: “The hard soil is actually between the ears of the Australian Christian where the inner voice says, ‘I can’t.’
“It manifests as fear but is actually pride. I’ve seen it so repeatedly that I could hardly say it with more conviction. Australian Christians en masse predispose in their own mind ‘I can’t, it has to be someone else’, especially when it comes to sharing the gospel.
“They think it’s only them that thinks that, but it’s en masse.”
Chong is lovingly calling on every Christian to be on the front foot. He’s even started an “Unmute the Church” campaign to encourage Christian communities to take courage and proudly declare the gospel in a world rocked this year by disease, death and destabilisation.
That sounds like marvellous everyday service to God’s kingdom – but isn’t this easier to preach when you have the communication gifts of Steve Chong?
“I think we have so quickly gone, ‘Oh, that’s a Steve Chong thing. He’s an extrovert.’ But I’ve seen the power of introverts,” responds Chong to the challenge that evangelism is only for those who are outgoing or articulate.
“Introverts often have these relational connections where people take their words much more seriously.”
As further encouragement to everyday evangelists going forth and actually evangelising in their own ways, Chong mentions his “earthly heroes” Billy Graham and the Apostle Paul – two men who were “crazy gifted” evangelists in the history of the Christian church.
“Now, here’s the thing,” Chong gets to his point. “The Holy Spirit that lived in Billy Graham and Paul the Apostle, and the disciples that birthed the early church, is the same Holy Spirit that is in us. We didn’t get a downgraded version … or the ‘Junior Holy Spirit’ version.”
“We’ve got to remember that the disciples were scared – hiding in the Upper Room – before the Holy Spirit gave them the boldness to then go and tell the world.”
Chong slows down, pauses and considers how to say this best: “I wonder whether we have so magnified the gift of the famous evangelists that we have minimised The Great Evangelist – The Holy Spirit.”