A few days ago I objected to attractional forms of ministry and an unhealthy fixation on the individual (here). This post is the second of two intended to offer practical suggestions concerning incarnational ministry and its implementation. The first post is here. I’ll address individualism in a later post. [For definitions and further explanation of incarnational versus attractional forms of ministry, see this post and the series attached to it.]
3. We should be living conspicuously spiritual lives in our communities. But we shouldn’t be obnoxious in doing so. Let me demonstrate the difference:
This: After taking the time to buy a meal for a homeless person, he thanks you. You reply, “You know, it’s not my money anyway. God has blessed me and expects me to bless others. Plus, I can’t very well teach my kids to share, if I’m unwilling to do so myself. I hope you have a great day.”
Not this: Being approached by a homeless person asking for a meal, you reply, “If you were to die today, are you confident you would go to heaven and live with God for eternity?”
- Initiate the conversation, but allow your friend to decide where it goes. Say something like, “You know, I learned something about how to treat my wife during my Bible study this morning.” If they ask what you learned, share briefly what you learned about marriage and how you’re trying to be obedient to it — then stop. If they are interested, they will say so. You might be invited to explain how you’re benefiting from obedience-based Bible study. Or you might share with them what you learned about marriage last week, and how your obedience has improved your relationship with your husband. Or you might shut up, and not push.
- We have to trust the Spirit to do the drawing. My words in themselves will never convict anyone of anything. Nor can someone come to Christ because of my experiences. If God is tugging on someone, be willing to share with them. But don’t force.
- We should, however, put opportunities out there for others to show interest. Mention how you were finally prompted to forgive a relative for hurts they’d caused. Or how you’re experiencing greater joy now that you’re sponsoring a Compassion kid in Rwanda.
- But remember that service to someone speaks much louder than words. Open doors. Grab an extra coffee when you get yours, and give it to a coworker. Ask your friend with a family member in the hospital if you can bring a meal for the family. Search for ways to serve others. When you’re reading the Bible for obedience, you’ll find these opportunities seem to find you — or rather your eyes have been prompted to see them.
- Don’t debate. It’s just not productive. Allow others to have their ideas. Speak from your experiences and respect theirs.
- Don’t ask questions about someone’s assurance of salvation or eternity or the soul, when all they wanted to know was what you learned about marriage.
4. Experience other cultures and communities. Our default stance is to invite others into our community and culture; cut that out. Go. Explore. Discover. There’s a great deal that can be learned from other groups — a lot about who they are and why. Standing in another community is also one of the best ways to learn about your own.
And just as important (or more) is this: Christ came to earth in the flesh. He lived among us. He didn’t call us to him from his seat at the right hand of God. He experienced life as a man. He ate with us and cried with us. He experienced love and experienced loss. And he did it on our turf… in our neighborhood. As the body of Christ, we’re expected to do the same. We’ve got to stop inviting people to our parties, and instead go to theirs. Some ideas:
- Stop thinking of things in terms of secular OR sacred. Look for God in that which is common and every day. Search for beauty in other communities. Find “Godness” in all people and groups; I promise his essence will be there, at least in part.
- Enjoy your time with non-Christians. Have fun. Don’t be anxious about saying the right “God things” at the right times. Be yourself — a disciple of Jesus, who cares about all of God’s children.
- Expect sinners to be sinners. If you desire to be Christ in your community, you’ll have to learn to deal with bad language and alcohol and the like. If you’re offended by beer to the point that you can’t hang out with people who drink it, you’re never going to be Christ in that community. Jesus didn’t come to earth to hang out at temple potlucks and play ball in the family life center. And he didn’t excuse himself from the room every time a prostitute walked in. The lost are lost — expect them to act like it.
- Search for that which you have in common with this other community. Do you like playing darts or soccer, watching college football or eating ethnic foods? Take advantage of those areas in which your culture intersects with theirs. Not so you can trick or force them into your community, but to demonstrate commonality. You already know how to be a Christian and participate in those activities — and you’re comfortable doing so. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of that.
- But do these activities in their neighborhoods. I mentioned playing basketball in a family life center — I personally think that’s one of the worst ideas we’ve ever had. Even (especially) when we use it as an outreach. Play ball at the gym where everyone plays ball. Join the “secular” softball league — why should church teams only play one another. I think all that is ridiculous and completely counter-productive to our mission. Live life in the larger community, and stop building fences that keep others out, while claiming you’re doing so to invite them in.
- Remember Christianity penetrates cultures. It doesn’t force others into our culture. This is a major force working against mission today. We extract the individual from his culture and community in order for him to be a part of our group. This actually prevents the spread of the gospel, though we think we’re promoting it.
5. One last idea:
- Remember we don’t have a monopoly on God. There are other churches and other Christians. We’re about spreading the good news of the kingdom. We’re not about adding to our own numbers. Make disciples; the church thing will work itself out.
What other practical suggestions might you have?