This will be hard to describe. Hang in there with me.
Often we think reaching people with the Gospel means that we are busy. We teach Bible studies. We serve the poor. We coordinate volunteers to go out and share the Gospel. The list can go on.
But the more I try and share the love of Jesus with people in my neighborhood, the more I find myself doing less on purpose. Why?
Lately, maybe over the last year or a little more, I found myself having more opportunities to share the Gospel with people as I was sitting around my house. Every time I was going off to “do something missional” I found myself having to turn away kids that were hanging out in our home. It became increasingly difficult to turn away the mission field that was showing up at my house to go find some kind of hypothetical mission field somewhere else. So I’ve had to reconcile within myself that being a normal guy hanging, trimming the yard, playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, and sharing the Gospel in everyday situations is one of the most fruitful things I can do. But often it means I have to keep my schedule light in order to make room for these opportunities.
One of the events that taught us this in a real way a few years ago was an outreach to our local park. We went on a walk one morning to explore where God might have our church inhabit a place for the Gospel. We took our kids with us and found a park in the middle of our neighborhood. Every Sunday that summer we’d show up at the park, play soccer or football, push our kids on the swings, and have lunch. Quickly other adults started showing up to play games. Many people returned week after week as we started sharing our food with them. (Missional Pro Tip: People flock to food.)
Because we live in an economically depressed neighborhood we would see other churches and ministries do outreaches in the park and in the neighborhood. The people who we knew from the park would tell us how much they loved us, because unlike the outreaches would come in once a summer, hand out food or supplies, and then disappear, we never left. They weren’t projects to us. They were friends. We shared the Gospel too, but it was in the midst of everyday interactions we had as we played with our kids.
This isn’t to say we don’t do anything. We actually share the Gospel and meet as a church and serve people when the need arises. We do all those things as a response to needs that we have the time to encounter because our lives aren’t busy with Christian programs and outreaches. Sometimes, it means confronting the itch to be needed and prove “we are really doing something.” Often it means saying “No” to over-packing our schedules. Sometimes it looks boring. But many times it frees us to be able to share the Gospel with someone we would have never had the time to encounter before.
It’s the missional power of doing nothing.
Jesus never promised us security. While there is a reward for following Christ, we are called to walk a dangerous path that has real implications for our lives. But where does the church fit in? How do the people of God together encourage each other to follow Jesus and not love their lives, even unto death?
Often I hear the church described as a place where believers should be safe. I understand what people mean when they say that, but I don’t know that Jesus meant what we mean when we say safe. I think what we mean is that the church should be a place where people are loved despite their sin. This is true. We don’t want to become a house of Pharisees. But the New Testament church was also a place where those who lied to the apostles died and those who exercised their spiritual gifts where required to submit themselves to the judgment of others. In many of the ways we think about safety, it wasn’t safe.
I think a big part of the challenge is that our culture is obsessed with safety. We have safe spaces and talk about people “being safe.” In some ways, because our culture is not connected with the Gospel, they’ve begun to idolize safety and security over other virtues: love, courage, freedom, etc. In some places, the church has followed suit. This is sad because the church’s job is to disciple believers to love something beyond their own life. Each church we are part of has to become a place where we impart a love for Jesus that compels us to love Christ and others more than we love ourselves.
How do we do this? A particular passage of the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has been helpful for me in this process. In this passage, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are telling Lucy, Susan, and Peter about Aslan, who serves as a type of Christ in the story:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.
As the people of God, we help disciples embrace the danger associated with the Gospel by showing both the willingness to embrace risk for the Gospel and also embracing the goodness of God in the midst of danger. Jesus–who is always and forever good–has not only His Kingdom’s best intentions at heart when He sends asks us to do dangerous things, He has ours as well.
What we all need are followers of Jesus who model the trust in Jesus’ goodness, even when that trust could cost us our very lives. This kind of radical trust reproduces itself in the lives of disciples who witness it. It teaches us that there is a better Kingdom, even then the kind we enjoy in this life, that we are willing to trade this life for. May we all learn how to say, with Shadrack, Meshak, and Abednego: “Our God is able to save us from the fire. But if He doesn’t, we will stand firm.”
It’s easy to talk about living dangerously. I find there’s a lot of talk about laying our lives down for the sake of Christ, but most of us hear those verses and think they’re only for missionaries to scary countries. Or worse, we spiritualize them mean just laying down our ambitions or something important to us, nothing more. It’s hard, in our middle class, Western mind to fathom God really asking us to risk anything significant.
But Jesus calls us to lay down our very lives for the Gospel. That may mean our physical lives. Every time I travel to Africa to serve the church there, I have to count that cost. I have to lay down at the feet of Jesus my fears for my wife, my young family, and whatever else I’m responsible for every single time I go. You don’t want to see me right after that time I have with the Lord. I’m a mess. It’s not just in regards to Africa, though. I have to do the same thing on a regular basis here in the sphere of influence the Lord has given me.
For the last several years I’ve been focusing most of my time and attention in the inner city neighborhood I live in. I’ve also been pretty direct about working with people that don’t darken the doors of a church building. To be clear, there are plenty of hard-working, decent people where I live. However, there is also a fair number of people with lives that are a mess. The homeless, the drug-addict, the sex-addict, the attention-addict. The list goes on. These are the people Jesus would hang out with. But they are also not the safest people in the world to minister to.
And for the last several years, I’ve also been fairly forward about calling people to live their lives down here with us. Coming into the neighborhood, dropping the Gospel, and then leaving wasn’t going to work. Come, be a part of the neighborhood. Learn how to interact with people who have no interest in your church. Come share the Gospel here. Come make disciples here. Come live here. Give your lives.
This came home clearly a few years ago. My wife and a friend were regularly meeting at our local McDonald‘s as part of their weekly discipleship time. I received a call late one night from my wife. She was a little bit frantic. As her and her friend were leaving, someone they had never met before walked up to them in the parking lot and punched her friend and ran off. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Now this would have been horrible in any circumstance, but our friend was nine months pregnant at the time.
I’m happy to report that other than some bruising, everyone came out okay. Our friend gave birth to a healthy, active baby boy. The police never caught the assailant. But we experienced a wake up call that day. There is a cost to living on mission that you rarely hear about. There is a danger that we all have to embrace. This could have turned out much worse.
Jesus did not call us to be safe. Countless believers have lost their lives over the course of church history as they’ve tried to bring the Gospel to people who didn’t have it. In other places in the world, becoming a follower of Jesus is a death sentence. It’s only in the West we are fairly inexperienced at loosing anything for our faith.
It’s important to be very clear: Jesus does not call us to safety. He calls us to love Him and trust Him. He also calls us to trust Him with the risk that doesn’t make sense in light of His Sovereignty. And He calls us, regardless of whether we go to Africa or live in the inner city or practice mission to the most broken or live in the gated communities of the upper class to lay down our lives for His sake and the Gospel’s sake.
For too long, Christians have talked about laying their lives down and been willing to do it in abstract ways. It’s time for us to embrace the fact that Jesus calls us to truly put our lives on the line. We need to ask the hard questions: Is God still good if my worst fear happens? Is the Gospel worth really loosing my life? If we are willing to count the reward, the answer is “Yes.”
If we embrace the danger of living for the gospel, we will find, on the other side, true life.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
-Jesus, Mark 8:35
Jesus frequently warned that following Him would cost us everything we have. In fact, he told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him. What that meant to first century Jews and most of the Roman world was that following Christ was a death sentence. You were welcome to do it if you wanted, but you knew it would cost you your life.
The apostles would regularly say similar things. Paul told the early disciples in the churches he planted (after being stoned–possibly to death–in the previous city) that they “must suffer many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). Paul would go on to tell his apostolic son that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter would tell the churches he served not to be “surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Clearly the apostles understood that experiencing danger was part of following Jesus.
Yet so often the church cautions us to be safe. Under the disguise of “being wise” they caution us not to do daring things. And while some of the young and naive may have been kept from doing something foolish through this “wisdom,” the ultimate message is “don’t loose your life for the gospel.” In doing so, the church can end up on the wrong side of the Gospel.
Jesus calls us to lose our life for Him. That doesn’t always mean we die. But of the original twelve disciples/apostles that followed Jesus, eleven lost their lives sharing their faith. The Romans attempted to boil the twelfth disciple/apostle in burning oil, but he miraculously survived at least long enough to pen the book of Revelation. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Jesus–our example– was brutally murdered. My point is, while Jesus has the power to heal our bodies and even provide for us, He doesn’t create a safe space for his disciples.
Why would we follow Jesus if this is the kind of life He promised us? Who would sign up for something like this? Only people who have come to believe that Jesus’ love is the answer to life. Only people whose hearts have been transformed by His forgiveness. Only people who are convinced that there is more to life than just today or tomorrow. Only people who believe He is their great reward.
There is a danger in signing up for the Gospel. We shouldn’t hide it. In fact, we should call people to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Anything else is a gospel that is too small and worldly to be called the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.
In case you missed it, today is my annual trek to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood to drink a Shamrock shake and read the Confession of St. Patrick. I do this regularly because of the impact Patrick’s life has had on me. Reading his story stirs my heart to live the kind of life he lived and be part of a movement that leads many people to Christ.
First, a brief summary of Patrick’s life: He lived in Britain and he was the son of a deacon of the church of Rome. At 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he worked as a slave herding pigs. Prior to this he didn’t know or acknowledge God, but during this time he began to pray a hundred prayers during the day and a hundred prayers at night. The love of God began to capture his soul and he began to seek God early in the morning in the snow because “the Spirit was burning in [him].”
It was after this relationship with God took root that the audible voice of the Lord told him to run away from his master. He escaped and joined a group of barbarians. He was later recaptured and the Lord told him he would be captive another 60 days. At the end of 60 days he escpaed and came back to Britain. After some time there, he had a vision of a man named Victoricus (an angel? the Lord?) bringing him a letter from the people of Ireland begging him to come back and bring the Gospel to them.
He said yes and became a missionary to the unbelievers of Ireland. This is the Patrick we celebrate. It was during this time that he baptized thousands of new believers. Patrick himself speaks of ordaining many who would go and preach to a hungry people. Many of the chiefs’ daughters became celibate to follow Jesus and churches and monasteries sprung up every where. Patrick became the catalyst for an Irish church planting movement.
Any wonder why he’s my hero? 🙂
So, here are today’s takeaways:
- Probably the thing that struck me this time that I had never seen before in this letter is the fact that Patrick was insistent that everything that happened to him was a divine gift. He took no credit it for it at all. He didn’t point to the ten steps that made him “St. Patrick.” Over and over again he points at how the Lord helped him when he was unable to help himself. The movement that started was God’s, not his, and Patrick was just thankful to be a part of it. In fact his words say this: I entreat those who believe in…God…that nobody shall ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing I achieved…but accept and truly believe that it would have been a gift of God.” I think many of us who hope to be part of a movement can learn from this. We need to learn to depend on God for the things we want to see happen like they are a gift from Him, and we need to not grow proud if those things actually happen. All of this is a gift from Him.
- I love, and I hope I never stop loving, how Patrick became a believer. He prayed a hundred prayers a day and a hundred at night. This was the season in which he said “more and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase.” This is so crucial because we always believe that apostolic mission starts with strategy and outreach. But it ALWAYS starts with prayer and a heart burning for the Lord. We cannot write this into our strategies. It doesn’t happen just because we know it’s the gateway to a movement. But we can start by praying and asking God to make “the Spirit burn within” us. Whether we start movements or not, the Spirit burning within us is crucial.
- I’m again reminded how supernatural all of this was. All of the crucial moments in Patrick’s life were accompanied by a vision, an audible voice from the Lord, or a prophetic word. Most movement strategies have very little room for this in their methodology. Obviously we can’t control it. But more and more I’m convinced that these are necessary to see the Gospel penetrate a hard and rebellious people. We can’t control it, but beloved, we can pray and we can ask the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives. As we do and begin to share the Gospel with those who don’t know Him, the power of Jesus will be displayed for all of us.
These are some things I learned today. How about you? Oh, and by the way, the Shamrock shake, while not the healthiest thing, was delicious. 🙂
Several years ago I had a friend who I started talking to about discipleship. I looked him in the eye and asked him, “If you lead someone to Jesus today, would you know how to help that person grow in the Lord?” A kind of glazed look came over my friend’s face as he realized that he really didn’t know what would come next if he lead someone to Christ.
My friend isn’t alone. In fact, my experience in Christianity in the West tells me that very few people know how to share Christ and fewer know how to disciple those they lead to Christ. This hinders the spread of the Gospel.
Before we go too far, I feel like it’s important to say that I understand not every Christian is going to be an evangelist. I don’t primarily consider myself an evangelist and many of the people I know who share the gospel regularly aren’t evangelists either. But every believer should have a basic understanding of how to share the gospel and disciple new believers. This is part of what Paul means when he says that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15). Every believer is called to be a witness and a disciple (and therefore a disciple maker), but not every believer is called to be an evangelist.
You are called not just to be a Christian and pursue your calling, but regardless of your calling to lead people to Christ along the way. And as you lead them to Christ, you will need to baptize them and instruct them in following Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less than that.
If you are an elder or teacher in the body of Christ, make sure that those around you can articulate the gospel and know how to respond when someone says yes to it. This can make the difference between leading one person to Christ and many more people coming to Christ through the testimony of a new brother or sister.
For those of you who don’t know how to share the Gospel with those around you, here is a clear, simple, reproducible way to share it that we’ve used many times with those we know:
Many times, though, leading people to Christ is the easy part. Teaching them to obey the Risen Christ and helping them to lay aside their old lifestyle is much harder. So next week, we’ll look at a process we’ve used here to raise up disciples.
Until then, what do you think is the main difficulty you have in sharing the gospel and discipling new believers? Let me know in the comment section.
I’m not quite sure what got into me a couple of years ago. But sometime in early March three or four years ago I became frustrated with our culture’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. We take the date that perhaps one of the greatest apostolic missionaries since Paul died as a day to pinch people who don’t wear green and drink green beer. Even in Christian circles, we talk a good game about Patrick on his famous day, but we don’t do what he did.
So in my typical rebellious approach, I thought I would do something different. Instead of celebrating all things Irish on March 17th, I would spend some time getting acquainted with Saint Patrick’s life. Pretty quickly I found out that Patrick himself actually wrote two letters that we still possess and one of them is him telling the story of how God lead him to plant churches among the Irish.
But I couldn’t just read the Confessions of St. Patrick on St. Patrick’s day. No, no, no…that would be too easy. So instead, I went down to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood and read St. Patrick’s confession there…all while enjoying one of McDonald’s Shamrock shakes. Why would I do this? Because I became convinced after reading Patrick’s letters that if he lived today in my city, he would reach the people who hang out in the roughest McDonald’s in town. Something about reading the letter there stirs me to follow in Patrick’s example.
Now here’s the million dollar question: Why am I telling you this story?
The answer is this: I’d like you to join me on March 17th in reading the Confessions of St. Patrick. It’s the story of a young boy who is sold into slavery and while a slave learns how to pray to God and hear His voice. God then leads him out of slavery and back to his home, only to be stirred by God with love for his previous captors. He returns and lives like them in order to reach them and proclaim the Gospel to them. When I think of the nature of a missional lifestyle, it’s hard to get better than that. You can get a copy of his “Confessions” for free here.
But I don’t just want you to read the Confessions of St. Patrick in your home. I want you to go and read it in a place that St. Patrick would go as a missionary if he lived in your city. If you’re in my city, you can message me on Facebook and we can stage a sit-in and read it together. But ask the Lord to do in you what he has done in generation after generation and raise up missionaries for the Gospel who will love God, learn to pray, and become vessels of redemption to those living in the darkest places. You won’t regret it.
And check back here on March 17th for some thoughts from my reading of St. Patrick.