One of the things I've most enjoyed doing since I took up blogging has been to tell stories of what Christians are doing in this country to make it a better place. I was writing about the origins of the Trussell Trust and foodbanks long before the mainstream media had taken a serious interest in them. I've covered prison ministries, charities offering money and debt advice, a wedding charity, individuals tackling gang violence, groups fighting people trafficking and a whole lot more. The point of it has never been to brag and pretend that Christians are better people than everyone else, but rather to show the way that God uses those who have given their lives to him to share His love, grace and mercy to others.
St Paul in his letters refuses to boast about himself, but readily boasts about the good work and faith of others who have served Christ well. In a similar way I've been keen to raise awareness of those who are sacrificially doing great things as a result of their walk with God.
As 2014 began to draw to an end and the regular 'top' lists began to appear for various groups of individuals, we had an idea at Archbishop Cranmer, the blog I co-author, to put together a list of Christians who had done something of note during the year that deserved recognition. And so the Top 100 UK Christians of 2014 was born. We always knew that such a title was a misnomer because who can make such a judgement except God? But the point was to draw attention to just how much Christians are doing in this country and beyond for the good of others as well as themselves.
On the day that the nominations opened, it was exciting to see an immediate deluge of entries, but along with a rapidly expanding list of nominees was a growing one of complaints and condemnation. Just a small sample from Twitter included: "This is just awful, absolutely awful." "Seriously?! Can think of many worthy people who would be horrified by the idea of this list so I'll honour them by not nominating." "Please tell me this is all a joke? Otherwise a hideous idea, profoundly contrary to the example and teaching of Jesus."
It was disheartening to the point of wondering if maybe it had been a huge mistake, but later, when I read the nominations paired with their often lengthy reasons, a beautiful picture began to emerge. Here were hundreds of people - some well-known, but many more not - who had influenced and encouraged those putting their names forward sometimes in profound life changing ways. It was a privilege to be able to read these testimonies and gain a taste of just how much God is working through the lives of these people.
As the nominations continued to roll in, one name came up repeatedly, that of Canon Andrew White, commonly known as the Vicar of Baghdad. Such was the strength of support that it was felt that he should get a special mention and we decided to give him a place at the top of the list above the remaining 99 who were recorded in alphabetical order. If anyone deserved such an honour for devoting themselves to serving Jesus and risking it daily in the process, it was him.
On the last day of December the list was published and it included a wide spread of people from different church backgrounds, careers and ministries reflecting the breadth of nominations. Many voiced their thanks for being introduced to new names outside of their particular circles of familiarity. There were plenty of messages of support for Andrew White, but once again the criticisms rolled in for various names especially for Iain Duncan Smith who received more negativity than Andrew White received praise. Some individuals were accused of not even being Christian despite their own public professions of faith.
So what did I learn from the whole process?
Well, there are some incredible Christians out there doing amazing things. A small number like Justin Welby get noticed by the mainstream media, but the vast majority never will. We have had Christian heroes like Jackie Pullinger and Mother Theresa who we look up to as shining examples of Godly people, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. God is doing an immeasurable number of great things through us, His people and we need to learn to celebrate this fact.
We live in a culture where to put others down and judge them is commonplace, especially if they don't act or think quite like we do. Christians are far from immune to this. Christians are far from immune to this. Gossip, slander and judgementalism have sadly been present in every church I've belonged to and I myself have played my part. How often do we choose to criticise when we could be building others up? Boasting of God's works should something that comes naturally and be a message of hope that we are eager to share with those who are ignorant of such things.
Jesus said that he is the way, the truth and the life. This is wonderful news that those of us who believe it should never be ashamed to share and that includes when it is being lived out and demonstrated in the lives of others around us.
The 'Top 100 UK Christians' can be found here.
Gillan Scott regularly writes about the relationship between Christianity and society. He is deputy editor at www.archbishopcranmer.com and founder of the God and Politics in the UK blog www.godandpoliticsuk.org