I’ll never forget a conversation I had a few years back with a group of Christians. I had been attending some atheist and freethinker groups for a couple of years, and I was continually impressed by the kinds of honest relationships and communities my friends in these groups were forming. I longed to see something like that happen except with Christians leading the effort. Since many of these group meetings I had attended were in “neutral” places like breweries or coffee shops, I was praying about whether I too could start such a group in a neutral territory like a brewery.
When I shared this prayer request with the group of Christians, one of them antagonistically shot back: Well what are you going to do once all these bar people are coming to your church!?
Yikes! (Note: This dear friend is now one of my biggest supporters of ministry in uncomfortable places!)
I was shocked. How could a professing Christian have such a strong view toward people they hadn’t even met? Looking back on that experience now, I’ve come to see how often I have similar reactions. It is so easy for us to deal with people in the abstract rather than as actual people, isn’t it? Some might call this othering – labeling and treating other people as being intrinsically different and therefore unrelatable to ourselves.
Bishop William Temple once said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” It’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? Perhaps attempting to echo the teachings of Jesus from places like Mark 2:17 (“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”) and his many parables about the Kingdom of God (like that of The Great Banquet – Luke 14:12-24), this quote reminds us that the mission of the Church is to go out into the world to make disciples. In so doing, more and more people will have peace with God and be made whole.
So why does it seem like becoming a part of a church can often be so, well – difficult? In his recent book The Second Mountain, author David Brooks describes what some might call a conversion to Christianity, or what others (myself included) would call a spiritual journey toward embracing Christianity. When it came to actually interacting with Christian people and Christian institutions, Brooks describes his journey in this way:
“I was on a journey toward God, and I found out pretty quickly along the way that religious people and institutions sometimes built ramps that made it easier to continue my journey, or they built walls, making the journey harder. I found that many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex. I found that Christians, especially of the Protestant evangelical variety, are plagued by the sensation that they are not quite as intellectually rigorous or as cool as the secular world. At the same time, many of them are inflated by the notion that they are a quantum leap or two more moral.”
Yikes! In a future post I will explore some of the ramps he found that made it easier to interact with Christians and their churches. In this post, I want to explore the four walls – or barriers – that Brooks discovered in his experience and discuss some of the applications it might have for our churches. Continue Reading
How do people come to faith? The way you begin to answer this question explains a lot about who you think people are and the way God works in their hearts to bring them to faith. So often the way Christians approach this question is by way of theory and method, comparing ideas and what they think will “work best.”
While it is certainly important for us to brainstorm with others or compare ideas to refine our ability to share the gospel, many Christians get stuck in the world of theories and never move into the realm of real relationships with real people. The result is a lot of hypothetical evangelism which forgets about the complexity of sharing life with flesh and blood friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
This is why I have long been grateful for the work of Randy Newman. In his first book Questioning Evangelism, Randy presented the task of evangelism as less of a theory and more of an art. He showed us how the work of the evangelist involves real conversations with real people – meaning we actually need to come into contact with real people and engage them in conversations using good questions and plain speech.
In his newest book Unlikely Converts: Improbable Stories of Faith and What They Teach Us About Evangelism, Randy shares real stories that help us see the dynamic and supernatural means God can use to bring people to repentance and faith. The way he weaves real stories, biblical exposition, and practical applications helps us to avoid mere theory while sharing lessons that translate into the everyday life of Christians.
How do people come to faith? Using his concept of pre-evangelism, Randy tells us people tend to come to faith in four ways: gradually, communally, variously, and supernaturally. Continue Reading
Two words that go together about as well as alone together, minor crisis, or good grief.
But this is exactly how the Apostle Peter chose to describe the first century Christians of the Dispersion (modern day Turkey) in 1 Peter 1:2. These Christians knew what it meant to live life in the margins of society. Peter’s words have echoed throughout centuries of the Church to every generation of Christians who have felt similar pressures on the margins of their society.
Christians in the West find themselves increasingly in a culture that closely resembles the pluralistic and progressive culture of the first century. What will our response be? Will it be to close ourselves off behind the walls of an evangelical ghetto? Will we be known more for our criticisms of the culture than how we seek to influence the culture for the common good? Will our positions on moral issues speak louder than our position on how amazing grace really is?
We need to remember how to embrace the call of elect exiles. Continue Reading