In different places every week, across Australia and the world, Steve Chong asks people to join Team Jesus. That’s his specialised job. For the past three years, the founder of youth-focused ministry RICE Movement, Chong has been “released” to be an evangelist. The vibrant speaker spends his time as an “impact player” whose sole task is to provide a fresh approach to what Christian communities already are on about: inviting others to get on side with Jesus.
“I know I’m not the main player; I think the main game is the local church, week to week, what they are doing,” explains Chong, who led a church in Sydney’s south for seven years before turning to itinerant work.
“I come in and even though it’s not rocket science, I simply say this: ‘Here it is, guys – Jesus loves you. He’s died for your sins. He’s risen from the dead. You need to give your life to him, and I’ll tell you when you need to give your life to him … Now. Why would you do it tomorrow?’ What happens is people respond because you put it on the table.”
Something of a human dynamo who seems to not lack for energy, Chong feels like he picks “the low-hanging fruit” cultivated by the Christian groups he visits. Whether it’s a small youth group of 10 kids or a bigger conference in Melbourne or Taiwan, Chong plays the same “impact” role wherever he goes.
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The risk of pride in such a position is obvious and Chong has worked at keeping his ego in check. “There are a few ways you can stay humble,” says Chong. “One of them is to remember, with fear, who you are serving. That any glory taken away from Jesus is a really, really bad thing to do … and defeats the main aim of the person I am proclaiming.” Chong also surrounds himself with a board of older, trusted Christian men who lovingly pull him down a peg or two if his “head starts to blow up.”
“I don’t think there are many doing what I am doing and I think that’s a shame.” – Steve Chong
Under the “Believe” banner of RICE Movement, the sort of itinerant “evangelist” that Chong is seems quaint in 2017. Almost 60 years on from the nation-shaking Billy Graham Crusades of 1959 and decades after it was popular to start up para-church ministries, Chong would like to see more people like him.
“I don’t think there are many doing what I am doing and I think that’s a shame. We don’t need a whole room full of ‘impact’ players, otherwise we would have no one on the field. But we do need more to shake things up a bit.”
Trained in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney by renowned evangelist John Chapman, Chong speculates that “in an era gone by, the upfront evangelist … was seen as much more of a needed and acceptable role.” Stressing he is not an expert, Chong only has theories about why itinerant preaching appears to have diminished.
He speculates that the list of roles outlined in Ephesians 4 (“And [Jesus] personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Eph 4:11) might have suffered from some being emphasised over others. In the conservative evangelical circles in which Chong’s faith and skills have grown, he has observed “the pin-up gift and ministry pathway to get to is someone who can theologically handle well the Scriptures” on a weekly basis, in a local church.
“I really believe there is nothing more important than for people to move out of death and into life as they understand Jesus.” – Steve Chong
Such encouragement into a congregation or parish setting might be at the cost of other ministry roles, such as evangelism. “What I’m trying to say is that evangelism hasn’t been championed as a really sought-after and looked-to gift.”
Could Steve have the best job in the world? The way he talks about it, you might think so:
Perhaps another reason that being a roaming evangelist isn’t more prominent is because, well, people fear it could get boring. Chong agrees: the potential for boredom is real when you do the same thing, over and over. He could switch on auto-pilot and robotically call people to give their lives to Jesus. Chong just can’t conceive of that happening, though, given he is tasked with steadily sharing “the most exciting news in the world.”
“I’m a pretty passionate guy but it’s not purely because of my personality. It’s because I’m really passionate about what I do. I really believe there is nothing more important than for people to move out of death and into life as they understand Jesus.
“The moment I get a little bit bored about seeing the response, I think I should quit. But, for me, you don’t get bored of your first love. It’s like, ‘do I get bored of being married?’ I hope not. Sure, you have tough times but [my wife] Naomi is the love of my life, humanly speaking. And that’s trumped by Jesus, who is the deepest love of my life. And I’m not going to get bored telling people about him.”