Sheridan Voysey: 'People are going to local fortune tellers rather than priests'

(Photo: Lukasz Brzozowski)

We all live in communities and each community has a story but how do we bring that into God's great story?

Sheridan Voysey was at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity last night to explore that question, starting with the simple statement that "people have souls".

It sounds straightforward enough but it's also profound in its implications as the desires and longings of the soul drive the culture of the day.  

Understanding these is key to finding the doors through which Christians can present the Gospel, Sheridan explained.

And it all starts with listening.    

"People reveal their souls in what they say, do and create.  Humans create culture and that culture reveals something of their souls." 

The culture of the community also reveals something about what the people believe about the meaning of life and the things that can give their lives meaning. 

"Human beings are the beings who ask the question 'why?'.  Human beings can't live without an answer to the question 'why?'," said the Unseen Footprints author.  

The framework for Voysey's talk was the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  It starts as a conversation about physical water and physical thirst, but Jesus sees more deeply into the situation, exposes the central longing of her heart, and tells her the truth about what she is really searching for and where she can find it - not in another husband but the divine love of God.  

As Voysey puts it, Jesus didn't avoid godless Samaria but went there and put his religious credibility on the line by speaking to a Samaritan woman.

But in doing so, he brings her out of her story and "into His story and into a bigger story altogether, the fulfilment of your heart, the Kingdom of God".  The result is that she puts her faith in him and even brings her friends to the truth.  

"We'll never listen to the soul of our community unless we cross the social, cultural and religious boundaries," Voysey said. 

"If you want to listen to your community, start off by crossing boundaries and sitting by the wells, and then start listening to the guiding stories that are shaping people's lives." 

As an example of crossing boundaries, he spoke of the Open House radio talk show he hosted in his native Australia that successfully engaged the 'spiritual but not religious' crowd.  The radio station blended clean contemporary music and Christian music, and attracted an audience that was 65 per cent non-Christian. 

He went on to expand on some of the guiding stories shaping people's lives, such as other religions, secular humanism, sciencism, New Age spirituality and consumerism.  

"Who are our community's priests?  People are going to local fortune tellers rather than priests.  Mind and spirit festivals have popped up all over the Western world." 

While shopping malls - or "cathedrals of consumerism" - sell people the "me I want to be", nightclubs provide escape, psychiatrists offer forgiveness, and coffee shops give people community, he explained.  

Even celebrities have their own disciples, and "messianic hopes" are pinned on the political leaders of the day.

Voysey acknowledged that going to the difficult places could be a challenge as there is always the temptation to stay within our comfort zones.

"The fear is so often on our side," he said.  

He cautioned that Christians have to be sure they can withstand the cultural environments they are seeking to enter into.  

"Can you maintain your distinctives in that place?  If you can't you may well need to move on."

There was also a note of warning to Christians who feel they are already saved but who are just as caught up in consumerism as non-believers.  "They are the hardest group to get," he said.  

Even the way people interact on social media reveals primarily a desire to be loved, while physical human interactions get replaced - Voysey noted that while research has found the average couple spends around 12 minutes a day talking to each other, the average time a person spends on Facebook each day is two hours.  

"People are weary and burdened searching for meaning in their life," he said.

"We're not bringing them from one cultural story into another cultural story - that's Christendom," he said.

"We're calling them into the grand story of God, of the Kingdom of God."