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.
Christian culture can make us comfortable and affect our ability to reach people who don’t know Christ. And often we have to be willing to leave our comfortable subculture behind to share the gospel with the people who need it the most. But the good news is we don’t have to go there alone. There is someone there who has gone before us and made the sacrifices we’re talking about. His name is Jesus.
If you think about it, Jesus had the best set up in existence. Before becoming a human He existed in communion with the Father in a way no man since Adam had ever tasted. There was no pain there. No difficulty. Perfect fellowship. There was peace and joy and goodness constantly surrounding him.
But He loved us.
And because He loved us and because it was the Father’s will Jesus left Heaven and endured a world that undoubtedly was harder than the one He left. Pain was there. Heartache ran rampant. He would hunger for the first time. He would be tempted for the first time. He would become the only just man who had to endure suffering. Most important of all, He would leave the immediate fellowship with the Father and submit to living life like we do.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
and John, speaking about Jesus coming to Earth says:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14, The Message
And He did it all out of love.
But Paul (and I’m sure John) tells us these details about Jesus’ life for a reason. Just before Paul begins to tell the Philippians about Jesus renouncing His privileges, he says this:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Paul’s point in telling the story is that we’re supposed to be inspired to do what Jesus did. He left aside the privilege of fellowship with God. He laid aside all the rights of Godhead. He didn’t count equality with God as something to be held onto at the expense of us. Instead He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
And we’re supposed to do the same. Out of great love and humility and servant-heartedness, we will need to lay down some of the “joys” we have as Christians in order to participate with the mission of God. Just like Jesus had to leave the comforts of home to win the hearts of people who didn’t know their need, so do we. He has gone before us, has been the example to encourage us, and now calls us to join Him outside the camp.
Will it be easy?
Is it always fun?
But Scripture tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus so that we don’t grow weary and give up. And if leaving the comfort of the Christian circle you’ve found yourself in is hard, then fix your eyes on Jesus who did it first. He is both our motivation and example.
Will you join Him there?
A few days back I wrote a post called “Evangelism in an Upside Down Kingdom” that I didn’t really expect people to get or resonate with. However, over on Facebook there was some conversation that was good and I felt like the conversation deserved a follow up post. You can catch the conversation from Facebook below:
First, let’s talk about the situation we find ourselves in. In general, I find that the church in North America still believes they have an answer that the world is looking for. And while I believe that the Gospel is key to transforming every broken heart, I think the church dramatically over-estimates how likely an unbelieving, unrepentant sinner is to walk into a church full of people they don’t know looking for answers they haven’t been able to find.
Frankly, the church in America is cloistered. A cloister is a secluded, religious place*. Whenever we hear someone referred to as cloistered, what we mean is they live in a religious community that has some how cut them off from what the rest of the world thinks. And this is the state that the church finds herself in. The church has become so isolated from the world that we don’t even realize that a large part of our culture doesn’t turn to us for answers any longer, no matter how desperate.
Cloisters (architecturally) were originally designed for monasteries and convents. They were places that monks and nuns could draw away from society and focus on the devout life. And while these were started with good intentions, they did have the affect of taking believers out of the world that they were called to be salt and light in. I believe this has happened with the church as well. We have pulled back from the world in an effort to be pure and not be stained by the world. But the effect has actually taken us out of the world we were designed to make an impact in.
I once heard a fact that I’m now having trouble sourcing, so take what I’m about to say next with a grain of salt. The factoid went like this: In the West, we lead as many unbelievers to Jesus in the first two years of coming to Christ as we will for the rest of our lives after that. Essentially what this stat is saying is that when you become a believer you have about two good years where you live close enough to the world to impact it. Once beyond that, you become drawn into a church community and it becomes hard to get out of it to share the Gospel.
Think about it: When you became a believer, there were so many things to learn. So many classes to attend. You were busy Sunday morning and your unbelieving friends weren’t. You began to grow apart. You married a believing spouse, wanted to raise believing children, etc. etc, and all of these things (as good as they were) pulled you farther and farther away from the world you wanted to impact. It can become hard to move beyond the “Christian bubble.”
My point is this: We have to get over the cloister affect. It’s not okay for the church not to be salt and light in the world. In order to do that, we have to move away from our own tribalism and take the Gospel to people who look like they don’t want it. Jesus had to do the very same thing: Though He lived in Heaven with the Father, to redeem mankind He had to leave the confines of the fellowship with the Father and be willing to preach His Gospel to people who (based on outward appearances) didn’t want it. He overcame the cloister of Heaven and embraced broken humanity, and He calls us to do the same.
Every week, two or three of the guys in my house church eat breakfast at an inner-city McDonald’s to pray for the lost, talk accountability, and discuss what we’re reading in the Bible.
Because this is a McDonald’s of the inner-city variety, there’s always something entertaining going on: The janitor walking out of the bathroom reacting to the mess he’s found inside, some kind of fight breaking out in the lobby, or a guy on a hover board riding back and forth through lobby while never buying anything. We’ve come to call our Sunday McDonald’s experience “dinner and a show.”
What’s happened as we’ve continued to meet there week after week is we’ve become some of the regulars. Not only that, but we’ve found if we make ourselves available, we regularly have chances to share Jesus with the men and women who come to McDonald’s on Sunday mornings. As you might guess, most of the people who are there at that time aren’t believers.
So a few days ago we were sharing the Gospel with a new friend at McDonald’s. We weren’t yelling by any means, but because of the close nature of the building, you could hear what we were saying pretty clearly if you wanted to. I was sure others heard us. And I realized something: We had become part of “the show.” We are the guys who are always sharing Jesus in the midst of this already unconventional restaurant. We had become part of the unusual cast of characters that gather here.
This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, Jesus called us to be “salt and light,” (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt, in addition to be a preserving agent, is also something we use to bring out the flavor of our food. We actually make things better and more interesting as we live out our lives a salt and light. Instead of blending in or hiding, my friends and I are starting to embrace the drama we’ve been called to be a part of. We’re the Jesus guys at McDonalds on Sunday morning. My point is that instead of blending in in this environment (whether people like it or not) we stand out. Our hope is we not only get to be salt, but that in time our light will break through the darkness and people will be changed.
How about you? Somewhere, in your life, you are called to be salt and light. Neither salt or light go unnoticed. They don’t blend in; they stand out. They change the environment they enter. Aren’t you tired of sitting in the seats watching? Somewhere, it’s time for you, in your own way, to become part of the show.
Will you join me?
So just to mix things up a bit, I thought I would post a series of quotes by Michael Frost. For those of you who don’t know Michael, he along with Alan Hirsch have been pushing leaders, churches, and movements to leave their comfortable lives and engage on God’s mission. What follows is a series of quotes from his message at Exponential East this year, as recounted by Matt Hill on his website, Matthill.org. I hope you enjoy!
People aren’t primarily moved or changed by bullet points or sermons. They are changed when you give them a different story to live into.
God captures not by force, but by the imagination of his fallen creatures.
Encoded into the DNA of suburban American is “be safe”, “build houses,” “renovate your kitchen,” “send your kids to the best schools.” Left to their own devices they will be sucked into the American dream. The only thing that will draw them out is story….Stop only telling people that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Tell them what it could look like if they lived like Jesus. Tell them the story of God and what it could look like if they saw heaven.
A year or so ago I had a minor revelation that changed how I understood much of the New Testament. It’s a small thing that dramatically shifts how we understand the priorities of Jesus and the apostles. Are you ready?
Somewhere along the way I began to replace every occurrence of the phrase “the word” with “the message.”
You see, every time I read the phrase “the word,” my mind always pictured the Bible. So when I read that Jesus was “the Word” (John 1:1) I would always think Jesus is the Bible. This was really confusing and I’ve seen it cause some folks to deify the Scriptures.
But if I replace “the word” with “the message” I get something entirely different. Now when I read that Jesus is the word I understand He is God’s Message. He is what God would say in any circumstance. And this message became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).
So when Luke writes in Acts 13:49 that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region,” I know that Luke is talking about the spread of the Gospel and not the knowledge of Bible verses. In the same way, when Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,” (2 Thessalonians 3:1), he’s asking them to pray that the message of the Gospel would be received powerfully.
All of this should shift the focus from accumulating Bible knowledge to actually being a part of knowing, embodying, and declaring God’s message that’s found so clearly in Jesus and the Gospel. This is why I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the minimum standards of discipleship is a functional knowledge of the Gospel.
What do you think? Would reading the Bible this way change how you understand what’s happening in the New Testament? And, is this approach dangerous in any way?