'Just in case': What Michael Green taught me about back-pocket evangelism

I have had the great privilege of getting to know some of the great elder statesmen of the church. Michael Green taught me at Wycliffe Hall and he was always an inspiration. Richard Bewes mentored me when I was a serving my time as an assistant minister-in-training. And there have been others.

They came to mind for a couple of reasons.

First, of course, was the death of Michael Green. I once interviewed him for a major piece in a Christian newspaper. He bounded in, still in tennis whites after a game, and told me that in a recent chat with a person at a bus stop he had managed to get her to give her life to Christ. That is some going and what it made it all the more amazing was the way he so matter-of-factly told me about it.

Bus stop evangelism – could it catch on?Pixabay

The second reason they came to mind is something my lovely verger Avril said to on Sunday. We were talking about being fishers of men and women and she remember that her dear old father, a Baptist lay preacher, had always carried around a sermon in his back pocket in case he needed it.

Both Richard Bewes and Michael Green and the other old heroes of the faith I have got to know shared this 'carrying of the sermon, just in case' habit.

Thinking about it, I think it is exceptionally touching, almost quaint, and it's something I have decided to take up as well. You simply never know when you might have the chance to preach or speak the great message of hope.

In some ways it might portray a certain sense of entitlement. You have to, perhaps, be a preacher of note to know that that that's what you are and that's what you might be called on to do. But Avril's father wasn't well-known, he just made sure he was always ready – just in case. Perhaps it's more that these old heroes of the faith had a sense of being wanted, of being relevant, feeling that people really might ask them to speak. You carry a sermon because you feel there is always a chance that you might be asked. I want to feel this way too, even in a world that seems to have slipped anchor from the idea of truth.

I have decided to be much less timid and to reconnect with the motto I signed up to in my days as a scout – 'Be prepared'. In some ways, if we had the sermon always with us it might do a few things.

It could remind us of a core calling – to be able to explain our hope to those who ask us about it (although a full sermon produced in response to a simple request at a bus stop might be overdoing it). But it might make us more attentive to opportunities for public speaking.

If that sermon were burning a hole in my back pocket then perhaps I might be more alive to chances to 'say a few words'. I love preaching. I also love the challenge of saying what I have to say briefly and applied to the audience, For me, at least, the perfect length of a public talk of any kind is 12 minutes.

Of course, I then begin to wonder what the ideal sermon might be? What one might I draw into service at the drop of a hat and in all circumstances. That's something I might open up to the floor – what do you think?

Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214