A Proper Approach How to enter into gospel-centered relationships

How we approach people as we seek to be missional is important.

This simple truth reminds me of all the movies I’ve seen over the years in which a pilot is about to land their plane and they get ready to make their approach.

They have a checklist to go through, a way to be prepared.

And they know that if they do all that’s on that checklist, then they will be much, much more likely to land the plane safely than if they went about it all willy-nilly.

Why do we think being and sharing the good news of Jesus would be any different?  Our approach matters too!

Sure, we might not have a checklist that we must work through each time…but there are some tried and true ideas to help our approach be much, much more likely to succeed!

Why Talk about Our Approach at All?

This notion of writing about this topic became self-evident last week.  I wrote a blogpost called “5 Reasons Not To Be Judgmental” that got shared around on Facebook a little bit.

The response was what I expected.  Several people were in agreement with me that being judgmental is a bad thing and that, among other things, it hurts the way we present ourselves to those who have yet to follow Jesus.  And many, many more people were angered by the post, claiming that I had gone too soft or too liberal or had become too tolerant.

Despite the fact that I should have known better, I waded into the comments to duke it out with the latter group.  In one particularly tense comment thread I found an unexpected ally, Sam.  I don’t know much about Sam other than he seems to be somewhere on a path toward Jesus.  I don’t know where he might be on that journey, but I’m pretty confident that he’s on it!

Sam decided to make his voice heard in a conversation where one commenter was saying that any preaching of the gospel should include an strong effort to convince the hearers that they are “wretched sinners.”  And while an awareness of sinfulness and repentance is certainly part of responding to the good news of Jesus, it seems to me from a lifetime or reading and studying the New Testament that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and lead them to repentance.

This is where Sam stepped in.  Here’s what he said:

approach

I was impressed by what Sam shared!  So I asked him if I could use his comments.

approach

And Sam replied:

approach

And he concluded with this zinger:

approach

I was left more or less speechless by what Sam had shared!  And from that day until now all I could think about was sharing Sam’s words on this blog.

So, there they are — the wisdom of Sam, highlighting the importance of having a proper approach when being missional!

Boiling Down Sam’s Ideas about Approach

So, how can we get the most out of Sam’s words?  Well, I think it might be good to look through them and find the best nuggets.  Here are the results of my mining efforts:

  1. We must have an audience that’s willing to listen!  If our approach is too aggressive, too judgmental, too churchy, or too negative overall, then no one will listen.  So if we are hoping to share and be the good news where we work, live, and play, then we MUST find ways for folks to listen to us!
  2. When we share we should be “positive and accepting.”  This is going to feel like watering down the gospel to some folks.  But stick with me for a minute.  The word “gospel” literally  means “good news.”  It follows logically then that we would want to have “good” things to talk about when we share the “good news”!  And simply because we’re in proximity to or having a conversation with someone whon our church culture deems as a “wretched sinner” doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone whatever sinfulness that is present.  Instead it means that we are trying our best to be like Jesus, who was infamous for being friends with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9.10-11, 11.19; Mark 2.15-16; Luke 5.30, 7.34, 15.1).
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Sam implores us to let our loving and selfless actions do the talking as we make our approach instead of talking about how others are evil for their actions.  What kind of actions should we engage in?  I love how Sam starts at a really simple level — just asking if everything is okay or if we can help in anyway.  I’m pretty sure that all of us can take those two steps!  And in so doing we will be more likely to move the relationship closer to Christ.
  4. Our actions in the community are noticed.  Sam said, “It’s really hard to shut out any group who displays positive work in their community, who supports groups of people who are otherwise ridiculed and discriminated against, even if they don’t agree with them.”  There it is, in plain English.  How we treat people in our neighborhoods is a known commodity.  People see us.  They see us as individuals, families, small groups, congregations, and as the Church as a whole.  So, wouldn’t we want what they see to be attractive instead of repulsive?
  5. Following Sam’s approach can lead to people feeling impressed, inspired, curious, and respectful.  Aren’t these reactions much better than the way that people tend to think of us today, namely as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too political?  And in so doing, wouldn’t the person we are sharing with be more likely to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom?

Our Approach Should Be Like Jesus’ Approach

But those of us who are Christians follow Jesus and not Sam!  So how did Jesus do this?

Much could be written about Jesus’ approach but I only want to explore one little story here: the calling of Matthew.

A little background would be good.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has gained a reputation for being a good teacher, a worker of miracles, and a friend of the unlovable.  One group that was certainly unlovable by the vast majority of Jews living in Palestine in the first century was tax collectors.

Now when we think of tax collectors today we might think of IRS agents with their carefully pressed suits, calculators, spread sheets, and complicated tax codes.  But Matthew was a different sort of tax collector.  He was more akin to the member of a gang who shakes down local businesses for protection money.  In other words, Matthew had more in common with mob muscle than pencil pushers.

And Matthew did his work publicly.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did.

So when Jesus started his approach with Matthew, all of these things were true and everyone, Jesus and Matthew included, was aware of them.

Here’s how it went down:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9.9)

Notice what Jesus didn’t do.  He didn’t judge Matthew.  He didn’t tell him to shape up before he would be able to follow him.  He didn’t care much about the opinion of anyone other than Matthew.  And he didn’t try to convince Matthew that he was a wretched sinner.

Instead Jesus just said “follow me.”  Jesus asked Matthew to join his community, to become one of his traveling band.

How crazy!

Jesus’ actions certainly don’t line up with our typical approach.  We tend to tell people that they have to behave and believe correctly before they can belong to us.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He told people that they belonged and then taught them through his own life how to behave and believe!

 

Friends, let’s follow the advice of Jesus (and Sam) and let’s fix our approach to sharing the good news!

 

What do you think?  How can we fix how we approach sharing the good news with someone who has yet to follow Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Missional Extrovert: Strengths What's good about being an extrovert when trying to follow Jesus in the real world?

What strengths does a missional extrovert have?  Are there advantages to needing to draw energy from social connections with others for a follower of Jesus?  And what are some practical ways that a missional extrovert can deploy his or her strengths for the benefit of Jesus, his mission, and his gospel?

The twentieth century saw the meteoric rise of personality testing.  One test in particular has grown especially popular — the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.  The popularity of the MBTI® can be seen in the proliferation of people self-identifying as one of the Myers-Briggs personality combinations on social media.

Here are a few examples from Twitter:

And there are thousands and thousands and thousands of other posts like these!

And some of the time people on social media and in real life like to pit their personality type over against others, especially with regard to that first Myers-Briggs category: Extroversion vs. Introversion.  This is something that I know first hand since my wife is an extreme extrovert and I’m a slight introvert.  Periodically we like to compare notes about why being an extrovert or introvert is awesome, while clearly hinting that the other side of the equation isn’t quite as good.

Which is better?  Well, in my humble opinion, extroverts had their time in the sun for years and years and years.  Think about it, an extrovert tends to let you know about how awesome s/he is, while an introvert hopes you figure it out on your own.

But introversion has become a hot topic these days.  With the popular book (which I highly recommend!) and TED talk (go watch it now…but come back!) by Susan Crain, introversion has become sexier and sexier.  I’ve even written about the strengths of being an missional introvert.

So, it’s time that we let the extroverts shine again.  Sure, being a missional extrovert comes with some challenges but I want to explore a few ways that being an extrovert helps someone follow Jesus in the real world.

Strengths of a Missional Extrovert

  1. Outgoing — A major part of being missional is interacting with other human beings.  And this is something that a missional extrovert is great at!  Since extroverts gain energy from being with other people, it only makes sense that they can use this for the benefit of the kingdom.  While many of us may have to find internal motivation to connect with people in a way that points them to Jesus, an extrovert may not need the same kind of internal pep talk.
  2. Deeply relational — Being communal is a must for those who seek to follow Jesus in the real world.  Why?  Because it’s hard out there!  And it’s hard within our missional communities too!  We need extroverts to use their natural relational abilities to help us navigate these waters well.  In fact, extroverts can really lead the way in helping us connect well with one another.  And connecting well is essential if we are to make disciples the way that we see Jesus doing it in the Gospels.
  3. Naturally develops others Leadership development is a key for discipleship to work properly.  Why?  Well think about it like this: If we don’t develop leaders as part of our disciple-making endeavors, then we won’t get past one generation.  If we only focus on helping people start the journey of being a disciple, then how will those folks make disciples themselves?  This is where we need extroverts since they are often good at helping others grow.  This is the case because leadership development is a relational animal and extroverts tend to be great at relationships!
  4. Usually great at communicating — In order to follow Jesus well in the real world we need to communicate well.  And a missional extrovert can really help a lot here.  All the extroverts that I know are good at communicating in one form or another.  Some are great at teaching.  Some are great at preaching.  Some are great at one-on-one talks.  And many are great at sharing the gospel with their words.  This is not to say that introverts aren’t good at communicating also but extroverts tend to be excellent communicators thanks to their relational natures.
  5. Working in teams is second-nature — Introverts tend to excel in all things that require solitude (and there are many!).  But a missional extrovert often finds great success working in teams.  They are good at communicating.  They’re great at relationships.  And they usually loved group projects and study cohorts in school.  So teams come pretty naturally to extroverts.  And teams are really at the heart of being missional.  We need to follow Jesus together.  We need to engage in evangelism together.  And we need to make disciples together.
  6. Generally pretty convincing — Business leaders often claim that extroverts tend to outsell their introvert counterparts, though not always, of course.  How many people explain this is that extroverts are not only more natural communicators, they are also better at convincing people of new ideas.  Now don’t get me wrong, evangelism is not about convincing anyone of something logically but it is about convincing someone of something relationally and experientially.  And extroverts have these ways of convincing down in spades!
  7. Often good at motivating others — Seeing that extroverts have spent more time relating with others than introverts, they tend to be quite good at helping others become more motivated.  Also, all that experience in relationships can help a missional extrovert put him/herself in the shoes of others, which is a huge help when trying to be encouraging.  And, if we’re all honest, following Jesus in the real world can be tiring and we all need a little motivation from time to time!
  8. Good at literally talking about the gospel — Extroverts have fears just like everyone else but often when it comes to talking to people about Jesus, the fears of extroverts are a little more surmountable than those of introverts.  The experience that extroverts have in speaking with others in many other contexts can be generalized to evangelism-specific situations as well.  It should be noted that not all extroverts are the best listeners, which is an important aspect of evangelism, but they generally have the speaking part down pat!
  9. Tend to be good with new people — For an introvert, there’s little that’s more awkward than trying to get to know someone new.  What do you talk about?  At what pace?  Where do you stand in reference to the new person?  What do you do with your hands?  For most extroverts, these questions don’t even make sense!  They very naturally have a knack for doing things just so in order to help a new person feel at ease.  So as a missional community makes disciples and folds new people into the mix, it will be imperative to have some a missional extrovert or two around to hep put the new folks at ease.
  10. Often excel in chaotic environments — While it’s not always true that introverts prefer controlled environments and that extroverts prefer a bit more potential disorder, it is true that the more relationships someone is entangled with, the more chaotic her/his life tends to be.  And it’s this entangled chaos that provides many extroverts with a perfect platform for them to continue to connect well with others.  And when following Jesus in the real world there is a ton of chaos to contend with.  Thus it follows that an extrovert may be able to manage that chaos a bit better than an introvert.

So being an extrovert doesn’t have to be a bad thing if someone is seeking to become more missional.  In fact, being extroverted can be greatly helpful for those who are seeking to follow Jesus in the real world.  However, it must be stated clearly here at the end, this blog is not intended to say that extroverts are the best at being missional or that they are inherently better than introverts.  Not at all!  Both extroverts and introverts are needed for the mission of Jesus to move forward effectively!

What do you think?  Did I miss any strengths that a missional extrovert might have?  If so, let me know in the comments below!

#Courage: New Wine Podcast #017

Why is courage vitally important for any missional endeavor?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Missional Introvert: Strengths What's good about being an introvert when trying to follow Jesus in the real world?

What strengths does a missional introvert have?  Are there advantages to needing to draw energy from being alone for a follower of Jesus?  And what are some practical ways that a missional introvert can deploy his or her strengths for the benefit of Jesus, his mission, and his gospel?

Introversion is a hot topic these days.  With the popular book (which I highly recommend!) and TED talk (go watch it now…but come back!) by Susan Crain, introversion became cool and more accepted.

This has not always been the case, however.  For a variety of reasons, extroverts tended to take center stage in the past.  This was especially so in the church.  The bombastic leader with the gift of gab and extreme charisma was the gold standard that everyone looked toward.  Full-time pastor-types tried to be that person, even if they were introverted, and most Christians who aren’t clergy seemed to find the extroverted type most interesting and appealing.

The challenges of being an introvert and trying to follow Jesus well in the real world weren’t always addressed well.  Introverts were told, explicitly or implicitly, that in order to be truly used by God, they needed to be more like those widely-lauded extrovert pastors.

Today, thankfully, things have changed, even with in the church.  Quiet and reflective voices are starting to be heard and respected.  Being loud and in front is still valued, but so is being thoughtful and in the background.

In fact, I think that it’s time that we let the missional introverts get a little shine.  With that in mind, here’s a top-ten list of the greatest strengths (in my opinion) of a missional introvert:

Strengths of a Missional Introvert

  1. Alone time to recharge — This is more-or-less the definition of an introvert and can be seen by many as a negative.  However, as we’ll see below, what one does with this alone time can be productive.  Here, however, I want to focus on the execute-retreat cycle that many people have found to be beneficial.  The basic gist is this: you give your all to something, expending lots of energy, then you retreat in order to recuperate and recharge.  Then, once you are ready, you go back at whatever it is with renewed gusto.  This cycle would be quite natural a missional introvert, who would need have some alone time after all the socially demanding parts of sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom.  In other words, there will be little need to convince an introvert to engage in some self-care during a socially-draining stretch; s/he will pursue it somewhat naturally.
  2. Don’t enjoy being the center of attention — Full disclosure, I’m an introvert and I love attention.  So this isn’t always the case for every introvert.  But most introverts are happy to let someone else take all the social limelight.  Thus, the basic ideas of putting Jesus first and focusing on the interests of others, may (and I stress may) be a bit easier for the missional introvert.  And this is important, of course, because there’s a really appealing temptation to put oneself at the center when trying to be missional.  The look-at-me syndrome can strike and strike hard.  But many introverts are naturally disinclined toward social attention of any sort.
  3. Limited interests which are explored deeply — Many times introverts only have a few things that they really pour their energies into.  It is typical or a missional introvert to be invested at work, in a personal relationship or two, and on mission with Jesus.  And that’s it.  This narrowing of interests helps the missional introvert divert less and less energy into things that don’t matter and more and more into the things that do.  And it’s that depth of attention that is a real benefit for an introvert.  It’s not just that s/he is focused on a narrow list of things, its that s/he is focused deeply.
  4. Tend to be deliberative and intentional  — It is normal as an introvert to be called thoughtful, reflective, and introspective.  But an introvert’s thinking is often directed outward as well.  In the case of a missional introvert, s/he can very carefully work through various options when seeking to follow Jesus well in the real world.  S/he often has a great capacity for weighing pros and cons against one another when making decisions.  And, often an introvert can exert a great amount of mental energy thinking about how to help encourage her or his friends and fellow missional practitioners.  Thus, many introverts are quite intentional, attempting to think three or four steps ahead at all points.
  5. Personal reflection is important — Related to #4 is inward-directed thinking, aka personal reflection.  This really is the hallmark of an introvert.  I mean, what does s/he do with all that alone time?  Well, many introverts spend that time evaluating themselves, their actions, and their motives.  A missional introvert can go over attempts to share and be the good new with a fine-tooth comb, painstakingly breaking down each detail.  This can be a good thing, helping the introvert make different and/or better choices in the future, so long as it is not overboard and unhealthy.
  6. Communicate best one-on-one — It’s not true that introverts hate people!  That can’t be said enough.  Introverts are simply emotionally and physically drained by too much social contact, especially if that social contact is with a large group.  Thus, missional introverts, like all introverts, communicate best one-on-one.  This is a great thing for someone seeking to share and be the good news.  It allows s/he to focus in on a single conversation and relationship, giving it ample attention and pouring into it lots of love and care.  Doing so can help someone feel loved, heard, and respected!
  7. Tend to think before speaking — Again, not all introverts are experts in thinking before speaking, but many are pretty good at it.  Why?  Well, mainly because one of the biggest fears for an introvert is to look stupid in a public setting.  And one of the most common ways to look stupid is by putting one’s foot in one’s mouth.  Thus, due to this fear and a general tendency toward being reflective, a missional introvert may do a slightly better job than others at not saying rude, offensive, and hurtful things.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but many introverts make concerted efforts to communicate well when engaged in socializing.
  8. Form a few deep attachments — Introverts don’t tend to spend their social capital in many places, instead investing in a few relationships (usually no more than three).  This is not dislike Jesus who while he was followed around be quite a few (100+), there was a smaller group he was close to (the Twelve), and an even more exclusive group he was closest to (Peter, James, and John).  Thus, the missional introvert can be a great benefit to any group of people seeking to follow Jesus in the real world together.  S/he can pour all their energies into the well-being of a few members of the group, bringing to them insight, accountability, and encouragement.
  9. Tend to listen well — Due to the fear of looking silly we talked about earlier, lots of introverts have learned the art of listening.  And the same is true for a missional introvert.  S/he would do his/her best always to listen more than s/he talked, especially as s/he engaged in sharing and being the good news.  In order to understand how best to expose someone to Jesus, we have to listen to the cues that they give us.  Introverts tend to do this well.
  10. Very observant — Lastly, introverts tend to be exceptionally observant.  This can really come in handy for the missional introvert.  S/he can see a need for the good news that others might miss.  On a prayer walk, a missional introvert might notice a detail about the neighborhood that everyone else missed.  And when engaged in strategic planning, a missional introvert can often see how all the various parts work together in ways that others miss.

So being an introvert doesn’t have to be a bad thing if someone is seeking to become more missional.  In fact, being introverted can be greatly helpful for those who are seeking to follow Jesus in the real world.  However, it must be stated clearly here at the end, this blog is not intended to say that introverts are the best at being missional or that they are inherently better than extroverts.  Not at all!  Both extroverts and introverts are needed for the mission of Jesus to move forward effectively!

 

What do you think?  Did I miss any strengths that a missional introvert might have?  If so, let me know in the comments below!

#Gospel: New Wine Podcast #016

What is the gospel, the good news, and why does it matter?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Opportunity Taking Advantage of Each Moment

opportunistic

An Opportunity Missed

I’m not even sure that I can tabulate the number of times that I’ve missed out on chances that were right in front of my face.  Tons.  Every day.  From the time I was young up until today.

Today.

I parked my car and walked to our house.  As I did I walked by my neighbors’ place.  They had just moved in and one of them was working in the garage.  I had a thousand things to do, sure, but I could have offered to help.

Or I could have at least said hello.

But I didn’t.

I let the opportunity slip right by.

And what makes this especially bad is twofold:

First, I said hi to two other neighbors and even had a brief conversation with a third.  Why couldn’t I at least say hello to the new neighbor?

And second, I’m the guy that encourages people to be missional and to live life like God has set up divine appointments for us.  Honestly, I feel a little hypocritical right now.

But this little anecdote is serving (and will hopefully continue to serve) as a kick in the pants to take advantage of each opportunity that comes my way!

Jesus Faces an Awkward Opportunity

In John 4 Jesus and his closest friends were tired (even Jesus got tired…see, he was fully human!).  They had been traveling all day and Jesus’ disciples went to go get some food.  Jesus didn’t go with them, instead he went and sat by the well in the Samaritan town named Sychar.

It was the middle of the day.  This wasn’t the time of day that folks generally went to the well to get water.  That activity was usually reserved for cooler parts of the day, like the morning or just before sunset.

But as Jesus sat by the well, a woman came up to draw water.  Even if Jesus wasn’t the second Person of the Trinity, he could have worked out that this woman was not well-liked by many people in town.  If she was, she would have drawn water when others did so that they could say hi to one another and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

But here she was.  In the middle of the day.  By herself.

Clearly she was a bit of an outcast.

And Jesus was the leader of a new religious movement and was considered by many to be a rabbi, or a traveling teacher.  And in his day, religious movement leaders and rabbis did not associate with the type of women that drew water in the middle of the day.

And to make this an even more awkward opportunity for the two of them, Jesus was a man and the woman was, well, a woman.  Men and women typically did not have much public interaction, and a rabbi certainly would try to avoid such a scandalous action.

And culturally there was a barrier too: Jesus was a Jew and this woman was a Samaritan.  These two groups had a nasty history and did not get along at all!

But the cherry on the top of this banana split of an opportunity was the fact that Jesus was tired.  He could have totally checked out and no one would have blamed him.  He had been traveling all day.  He needed some “me time.”

But Jesus didn’t let all of these hurdles prevent him from taking advantage of this opportunity.

He asked her for a drink.

He started a conversation.

He made an intentional act to reach out to her.

We Need To Take Advantage of Each Opportunity Too

Here’s the call to action: Let’s be like Jesus and take advantage of each opportunity that we face!

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Pay Attention — It’s so easy these days to completely check out of the reality around us.  We can chat on our phones, text, check Facebook, play music, etc., etc.  We all have a thousand and one ways we can stay completely distracted from our surroundings.  If we’re distracted, it’s going to be hard to even see an opportunity, much less take advantage of one.  So maybe we all need to put our phones down, take our headphones off, and pay a bit more attention to our surroundings.
  2. Start Simple — Jesus asked for a drink.  I should have just said hello.  We’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here!  When an opportunity arises, simply start somewhere comfortable and natural.  Here’s an example: you’re walking in the mall and someone drops their bags.  You can help them pick their stuff up and say something like, “Man, I do that all the time.”  That may start an important conversation that could change the course of both of your lives.  Or it may lead no where else.  Either is fine!
  3. Practice Makes Perfect — Over time these sorts of encounters will become more natural and more a part of our routines.  We won’t feel so awkward when we’re faced with an opportunity.  We’ll just take it!  But in order to get there we need to feel our way through that awkward phase first.  And that’s okay.  For some of us, like me, it might always be a bit awkward.  For others, like my wonderful wife Alida, being set free to take advantage of each opportunity sounds amazing.  Persistence is the key for all of us though!  It will get easier and more natural!  And when we fail to take advantage of each opportunity, which will happen, we can’t beat ourselves up.  Let’s just admit our mistake and move on!
  4. Don’t Discriminate — Even though none of us like to admit it, we all pick and choose who to talk to, who to smile at, and who to invest in.  Those of us who follow Jesus, however, shouldn’t pick and choose.  We shouldn’t try to stay away from certain people, no matter the reason.  We should reach out and connect with whomever when given the opportunity!
  5. Pray — Lastly, we should pray.  First, we should pray that God will bring people across our paths so that we can connect with.  Second, we should pray that the Spirit of God would aid us as we attempt to take advantage of each opportunity.  And third, as we are engaging in conversation, we should be internally praying that God would inspire us to share the good news with those we come into contact with, in tangible ways and by using our words too.

 

So, what do you think?  What about taking advantage of each opportunity seems hard to you?  What seems easy?  How should a follower of Jesus go about taking advantage of each opportunity?  Let me know in the comments below!

Proximity Spaces

The Reality

One of the chief challenges facing Western Christians today is a general lack of meaningful relationships with people who do not follow Jesus.  Christians are simply not in proximity with those who don’t know Jesus yet.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Perhaps there is a view that mingling with those who don’t follow Jesus will have a corrupting influence.
  2. Perhaps the follower of Jesus simply spends most of his/her time among other followers of Jesus naturally, due to an honest and authentic attempt to worship, learn about, and grow in relationship with God.
  3. Perhaps there is fear regarding those who don’t follow Jesus, since they are sometimes vilified by some Christians.
  4. Perhaps followers of Jesus really are judgmental toward those who aren’t on their team (like much of the evidence seems to indicate).
  5. Or perhaps there are other reasons that I have overlooked.

Whatever the case, many folks who claim to follow Jesus have almost no real contact with people who don’t know Jesus yet.

So What?  Why Is Proximity a Big Deal?

Why does this reality matter?  What difference does it make that followers of Jesus don’t have many non-Christian friends and acquaintances?  Why is proximity important?

It matters for many, many reasons.  Here are just a few:

  1. In Matthew 5.13-14 Jesus says that his disciples were the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”  And they were!  They were out there in the world being salty and light-y!  But if we aren’t walking about on the earth, in among people of the world, then we can’t really be salt and light!
  2. In Matthew 28.19-20 Jesus gives his followers one last command, namely to make disciples.  Well, how can we make disciples if we are always and only surrounded by folks who claim to be disciples?
  3. In Matthew 22.36-40 we learn that Jesus boils down all of the commandments in the Old Testament to one: Love God and love your neighbors.  Welp, how can we love our neighbors (especially those who do not yet know Jesus) if we don’t actually get to know them?
  4. If we are to have an impact in the cultures where we find ourselves, whether in Altadena or Azerbaijan, then we must know the culture!  And while we can read books, watch movies, and hear testimonies about various cultures, the only real way to learn a culture is to meet, interact with, and befriend people within that culture.
  5. Lastly, while it is important that followers of Jesus maintain certain ethical standards and live out certain priorities, we don’t have to be awkwardly weird!  If we cloister ourselves off from the cultures in which we live, we will drift further and further away from what a typical person is like.  And if this happens, then the “us and them” phenomenon will much more easily rear its ugly head.

So, suffice it to say, it’s not biblical, advisable, or obedient to live a life completely separated off from people in this world — people created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus died!

How to Move Forward…

If it’s true that many followers of Jesus have almost no real relationships with people who don’t know Jesus and if it’s true that this is a bad thing…then what should we do?  How should we respond?

Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost have a phrase that is helpful — “proximity spaces.”  They define this phrase as “places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other” (24) in their book entitled The Shaping of Things to Come.  What might these proximity spaces look like? 

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Challenge your small group to begin to make friendships with people who don’t know Jesus and then have a party in which you all hang out together.  Nothing “religious” has to happen at this party.  This is simply a proximity space in which people can see that those who love Jesus aren’t necessarily judgmental, arrogant buzzkills.
  2. Another option is to plan a service event a month or so in the future.  Invite some of your friends, both those who follow Jesus and those who don’t.  In my experience people are much more likely to say “yes” to this invitation than they would be to an invitation to go to church.
  3. You could also begin to play a sport with someone who doesn’t know Jesus yet.  This one is especially beneficial for two reasons: 1–They will get to observe you dealing with failure and frustration, along with victory and success; 2–There is often down time between games, holes, innings, etc. during which you can chat.
  4. Use your imagination.  Think about where you work, live, and play.  Is there some way that you could intentionally invite someone who doesn’t know Jesus yet into that space?  Think about your hobbies and habits.  Can you co-mingle with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus in that capacity?

 

Friends, if we don’t find ways to interact with people who don’t know Jesus yet, how can we be obedient to the call of Jesus?  How can we truly face our growing mission field in the United States if we don’t interact with people who haven’t begun to follow Jesus?

 

What are some other examples of proximity spaces?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ghost of Church Present: Part Two

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (see the links at the end of this post).  And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present (here’s Part One).

Nemo / Pixabay

A Non-Missional Response

The ghost of church present already revealed that the U.S. is a mission field.  So, how has the church responded?

By and large, the church hasn’t responded all that well.  Here are two statistics that I originally saw in Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay:

  • “Roughly half of all churches in America did not add one new person through conversion growth last year.” (Lost in America by Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, page 27)
  • “In America, it takes the combined effort of eighty-five Christians working over an entire year to produce one convert.” (Lost in America, page 29)

I think we need to let those stats sink in for a minutes and not rush past them.

First, half of the churches in the US don’t see any conversions in a year.  There should be some disclaimers, of course.  Many of these churches are small, rural, and in Christianized communities.  But not all of them.  And of the half that did have new converts, I wonder how many of those are really just biological growth, that is, the children of Christian parents.  Are we reaching out into our communities to the unchurched, dechurched, and antichurch?

Second, it takes 85 people working for 365 days to lead one person to Christ!  Firstly, this paints a funny picture.  It’s hard not to imagine a large and cumbersome committee of stodgy Christians trying to work together to save one soul!  Secondly, and more to the point, this isn’t saying that 85 people intentionally worked together for the conversion of one person.  The researchers simply took the total number of believers and divided them by the total number of new converts in a given year.  Thus we are left with the rather shocking fact that the vast majority of us are not actively engaged in making new disciples.

Here’s the point: there’s a massive mission field right outside the walls of our comfortable church.  Right. Outside. The. Walls.  And we aren’t responding.

Well, that’s actually not true.  We are doing some things.

  • We’re preaching sermons.  This is a good thing.  In the New Testament we see a repeated call for folks to proclaim the good news.  So, yay us!  Often we preach sermons that challenge our people to be a witness where the live, work, and play.  Again, yay us!
  • We’re running programs.  We have courses on evangelism that we either create ourselves or buy from an expert.  We have programs like Alpha, which are awesome!  People have come to know Jesus as savior through Alpha and programs like it for decades now.
  • We’re supporting explicitly missional efforts.  A few of our churches are realizing that we’re not doing a great job, so a few of us start funding missionaries who work right here in the US.  It could be through church planting or through an organization like InterVarsity, but some of us are investing in missional efforts.
  • We’re actually engaged in missional activity ourselves.  I use the “we” in that statement very loosely.  Why?  Because my guess is that so very few of us, myself included, live missionally on a day-to-day basis.  In fact, many of us are so insulated by our Christian sub-culture that we may have to try really, really hard just to have contact with a person who does not know Jesus yet.  But there are a few rogues out there living like Jesus did.

The truth is that the statistics show that what we’re doing isn’t really working.  Why not?  Well, in my humble opinion we’ve focused too much on preaching and programs and not enough of funding missional efforts and being missional ourselves.  Our hearts are right but our actions are a bit skewed.

What do you think?  How do you see the church responding to the reality that America is a mission field?

 

The Ghost of Church Past (Part OnePart TwoPart Three)