I am a fan of the American political drama The West Wing. One of my favourite scenes comes in season four when President Jed Bartlet is running for re-election. For weeks his staff have been trying to encourage the highly intellectual President to sum up the answer to any question in just ten words. In a televised debate, his opponent answers a question on taxation with a perfect ten word response. This is how President Bartlet responds.
“There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. (The West Wing series 4 episode 6 “Game On” 2002)
We live in a world of ten word answers. Increasingly in the Christian world everything gets summed up in a sentence which has to be able to fit on a poster or a T-shirt. The most profound mysteries of faith, the great problems of suffering or good and evil, the width and length and height and depth of God’s love, all reduced to the first ten words. What I want to explore is, “What are the next ten words?” This is a vast field, but in particular I want to look at the area of outreach and evangelism.
These activities involve both building relationships and sharing the Good News of Jesus in some way. Most churches have activities designed to serve and build bridges into the community and build relationships. Those activities give many opportunities for the first ten words of faith-sharing. We can tell folk that God loves them. We can offer to pray with them in times of trouble. But what next? What are the next ten words?” How do we extend expressions of faith and opportunities into meaningful conversations? How do we help contacts to become seekers?
Many churches run inquirers’ courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored. But over the years these have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit. Most contacts on the fringes of churches are far from ready for a full seekers’ course. We share our first ten words of witness. But what next? What are the next ten words?
So, to be clear, I would like to discover what Christians and churches are doing about sharing their faith in that area between, on the one hand, sharing “the first ten words” of testimony in the context of relationship-building activities, and on the other hand enquirer’s courses. What can we do to share Jesus within, alongside and beyond our successful Toddler Groups, Cafés, Food Banks, children’s clubs, knitting circles and Table Top sales? What is working in the area of “the next ten words”?
I propose to devote the major part of my Sabbatical Leave this summer to exploring this question. Any helpful suggestions welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org