Missional Living

Lessons from an Unlikely Convert

If you have not watched this interview with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, let me highly encourage you to do so (it is an hour long, but it is well worth your time).  Dr. Butterfield is a former lesbian and tenured literature professor at Syracuse University who came to Christ through the faithful friendship of a Presbyterian pastor and his wife.

Dr. Butterfield speaks insightfully (and quite engagingly) about her journey to the Christian faith, and she offers many helpful thoughts related to how we should share the gospel and love those who need Christ.

Nicholas McDonald has a great summary of her interviewhere. He breaks down her main points as:

  1. Be patient – Good evangelists are patient; we’re not trying to rush people into “decisions”, we’re coming alongside them as a genuine friend who cares.
  2. Be polite – The manner in which we introduce the gospel is at least as important as what we say.
  3. Be probing – Good evangelism almost always starts with good, genuine questions. Just look at the life of Jesus!
  4. Be prayerful – If conversion is regeneration, none of our words can sufficiently do the job. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to break through.
  5. Be plain – Non-Christians need to see that we are not people who’ve gotten it together, but who’ve fallen apart at the cross of Christ.
  6. Be philanthropic – Christians, we need to bring those we consider “dirty” in the door – we need not fear “contamination” because we are the contaminants as well, and we have a remedy through Christ.
  7. Be in pursuit – Christians need to let go of their self-righteous prejudices and unfounded fears, and make friends with those they consider different by their own initiative.
  8. Part with preferences – As Christians, we need to strip away every unbiblical obstacle to Christ and meet people where they are, and sacrifice our preferences for non-essentials in order to do the essential work of evangelism.

Both the interview and the blog post are well worth your time. Watch, read, and be encouraged that God saves those we often peg as “the least likely to come to Christ,” and he often does so when his people open up their lives and commit to faithfully loving people and sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus.

Do You Really Believe It?

Have you ever had a conversation with a non-Christian (or even an outright atheist) that said, “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

Or how about this: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

The comments, from a college student who is a professing atheist and from the famed illusionist and atheist Penn Jillette, sort of turn our expectations on their head, do they not? I think it is safe to assume that, usually, we expect non-Christians and atheists to want Christians to downplay their evangelism. We can assume that non-Christians and atheists will respect Christians more if they minimize what they believe and largely keep it to themselves.

However, what if our expectations and assumptions are mostly wrong, and that it is largely authenticity that is attractive to non-Christians? This is what Larry Alex Taunton argues in an article for The Atlantic. Taunton and his non-profit, Fixed Point Foundation, began a nationwide project last year where they interviewed college students who identified themselves as atheists. His main question to these students: “What led you to become an atheist?”

The answers they gave are quite interesting. For instance, most of these students embraced atheism in high school, and their reasons for embracing “unbelief,” while they claimed were rational and scientific, were actually more emotional and relational.

Taunton also consistently found that these atheist students had more respect for and were more attracted to authentic Christian faith. Most of the students interviewed came from some sort of church background, and their atheism was largely in reaction against the church. But it is interesting to note what they were reacting against. They decried churches that were “shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant;” churches with pastors who were ignorant of the Bible and could not provide answers to their questions. These students had heard plenty about being good and “social justice” but little about why Jesus matters and how he fits into their lives. They experienced churches that were more focused on being “friendly” and “attractive” than authentic, and, ironically, these churches became utterly unattractive.

Taunton wisely refrains from laying the blame of these students’ atheism at the feet of the church; it is always more complicated than one thing. However, he draws a very important conclusion as it relates to evangelism: authenticity is always more attractive than minimizing. People crave authenticity, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, we should be the most grace-filled, authentic people in our communities. If Christ really has transformed us, if we really do believe the gospel, if our fundamental identity is disciple of Christ, shouldn’t that be our most noticeable feature?

Taking it a step further, not only should it be but non-Christians also want it to be! You will always build a deeper, more meaningful relationship with a non-Christian if you are authentic rather than if you hold back. Of course, this does not mean that all non-Christians will be friendly, some will be outright hostile. Nor does it mean that the non-Christian friends you do have won’t get angry at you when you tell them things that challenge and upset their unbelief. However, it will mean that what you do say will carry more weight, because they will not only hear the message of a glorious Savior they will see someone who really believes it! There is something attractive about a person who is so convinced that Jesus Christ really is the resurrected and reigning King that he is willing to give his entire life to him.

I love the anecdote about George Whitefield and David Hume that Taunton ends his article with:

“There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:

‘I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,’ someone asked.

‘I do not,’ Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, ‘But he does.’”

 

Community Blog Post – Community, Mission, and Commitment Part 3

In order to integrate mission and community in community groups, we need to be committed to one another, and we need to be committed to planting new community groups.

It sounds so easy, right? Well, at least it’s easy right up until you are the one involved.

A couple months ago the community group I lead planted a new group. The plant made sense, a Godly couple was ready to lead, people were excited about it, the details worked out pretty smoothly…but it was still hard. A lot of our friends ended up going to the other group. We had spent a lot of time with these people. We were close to them. And while we’re still friends, the realities are different. Maybe you’ve had the same experience. Maybe you’ve had really bad experiences. I think one of the biggest challenges to our vision to multiply and plant new groups is the tension of relationships and change.

What do you want when you think about relationships in the church? Oftentimes, my orientation for relationships in the church has been to try and find the perfect formula of relationships that makes my life easy, enjoyable, and fulfilling. I want to find people that are easy to be around, who are committed to staying in this area, who encourage me, who really know and care for me, who are fun, etc. Once I find these relationships, I want to keep them. Actually, if I’m honest, I really want to bring them into my house, lock the door, and put a “we are full” sign on the door so no one tries to separate us or change the perfect dynamic that I’ve created.

Relationships are wonderful gifts from God. We are saved to be apart of his family. But just like any other gift from God, we can twist it into something from which we derive our trust and security. My energies can easily turn to trying to ensure that nothing changes, instead of trusting that God will always and completely provide for me.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think the church should be a bunch of small closed groups. The church is the ever-expanding family of God with a Father who loves to bring more and more people into it. Does your view of relationships reflect this? Do you have a desire and excitement to see more and more non Christians and new Christians added to the church community? Or are you more inclined to try and find the relationships you need and then put on blinders? This does not mean that you can’t maintain or continue close relationships you have. I think it is helpful and good to have one or two close friends. But it is about an orientation. Does your love for others compel you to think through how they can experience what you have?

I think we can easily forget where we are in the redemptive story. In this story, we are in the “in between time”. Where God has renewed desires in our hearts for relationship and rest that will only be fulfilled when he returns. We taste it here, we occasionally see it, but we are not home yet. What we long for is heaven. So we rejoice when we experience close, intimate relationships, we should desire them, but this is not the end.

While we wait for heaven, our God is still working. He is still revealing his glorious gospel to people who have never heard it before and He is still maturing Christian’s understanding of himself. Our role is not to sit idly by, hoping our relationships and life don’t change. We get to participate in this exciting mission. And he’s given us a community to do it with.

As you think about community groups in Redeemer,

– Pray that God would give you an excitement and willingness to participate in multiplying our efforts as we plant new groups
– Pray that God would give us a commitment to one another
– Pray that many non-Christians and new Christians will come to our community groups
– Pray that God would raise up new leaders to plant new community groups
– Pray that the Gospel would continue to spread in Arlington and DC.

Community, Mission, and Commitment – Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote how integrating community and mission in community groups requires a commitment to one another.

It also requires a commitment to planting new community groups.

Our goal at Redeemer has never been to grow a meeting numerically. It’s pretty easy to draw a crowd if you find the right mix of music, marketing, and personnel. But it takes the power of the gospel to build a community of believers that are living their “ordinary lives with gospel intentionality”. This is the growth we want to see as a church. Where people integrate the gospel into all of their lives. Where they grow as disciples of Jesus on Sundays as well as day to day.

As a church, one of the questions we’ve had to work through is how we can get non-Christians and new Christians to observe the difference Jesus makes. How can we show that we don’t just gather on a Sunday but we believe the gospel truly transforms all of life? How can we help people see that a Christian’s life is one of repentance and growth? How can we multiply our Christian presence in Arlington and DC?

Our Sunday gathering is certainly a context for this. But we think one of the best ways to do this is by multiplying opportunities for people to both see and participate in this type of community.

In other words, we see planting new community groups as a main way that we are trying to reach the city with the gospel. In these groups, new people are able to observe authentic (notice I didn’t say perfect!) Christian community. And they get to see it done by people that live in their neighborhoods and go to the same gyms, restaurants, and parks. People who they see every day.

Our hope is that we will reach the neighborhoods of Arlington and DC as we create more and more community groups where people are living out the gospel.

There are over 60 neighborhoods in Arlington and over 70 in DC. Imagine the effect if each of those had a group of Christians committed to eating, learning to love another and grow in gospel integration?

Next week, I’ll talk about one of the biggest challenges to this vision.

Community, Mission and Commitment

When we started Redeemer three years ago, one of the phrases that we used to try and capture the goal we have for the church is reaching through building and building through reaching. We wanted to reach the city of Arlington/DC with the gospel by building a church that loves the gospel. In other words, our desire to see people saved is not separate from our desire to build a strong community where fellowship and care occur. Actually, these things are vitally linked. We are trying to integrate community and mission.

This idea shapes and informs all of what we do at Redeemer, including community groups. In many churches, community groups function as the place where real ‘care’ takes place. Due to this, they can often be the most exclusive and intimate ministry in the church, small groups of people who meet consistently in a closed environment. While this can be a good and effective way to do small groups, at Redeemer, we think that small groups are actually one of the best places for new people to observe and experience authentic community. We want them to function both as a place for relationships to deepen and growth to occur, as well as a place to invite guests and non-Christians to see what living together in a gospel community looks like.

In order for this to happen, we need to have a commitment to one another and a commitment to planting new groups.

Ever been in an uncommitted relationship? It’s the kind of relationship where you are basically friends until something better comes along or some difficulty presents itself. You are never really sure where you stand, what to expect, or how to relate to the other person. Living an authentic Christian life in the context of a local church involves commitment to one another. It is fueled by a conviction that God has called you to participate in his family, both to grow as a disciple and to help others grow as well. As we commit to eat together, learn to love one another, and grow in gospel integration in community groups, we present a compelling example of the difference the gospel makes. Our relationships will ebb and flow and change through time, but a Christian’s relationships should be marked by commitment. This commitment takes action. It takes work. It takes prioritizing these relationships.

Here are a few questions to consider:
• Does your participation in a community group affect the way you schedule your time?
• Are get-togethers and opportunities to hang out with your group the last thing to go into your schedule?
• Are you working to live ordinary life with them?
• Are you consciously seeking to love the people in your group?
• Are you aware of how others in your group are struggling, or what their burdens are?
• Is there a disposition to be with these people, even if situations might not enable it?

While certainly not the only context for relationships in the church (a topic for another post), community groups are a unique place to truly experience and display the reality of the gospel. In these groups, there are probably people that are not like you, who will probably sin against you, who are in different seasons of life. What better place to learn to love one another? What better situation to display authentic Christian relationships?

Let’s remember, we are committing to each other because Jesus has changed us. He is the one doing this work in our hearts and he is committed to building this community, having purchased it with his own blood.

Next week we will look at a commitment to planting new groups.

Reward of His Suffering

I wanted to share a brief story I read several weeks ago that has deeply impacted me:

“In the 1700s, two young Moravians heard of an island in the West Indies where an atheist British owner had 2000 to 3000 slaves. And the owner had said, ‘No preacher, no clergyman, will ever stay on this island. If he’s ship wrecked we’ll keep him in a separate house until he has to leave, but he’s never going to talk to any of us about God, I’m through with all that nonsense.’ Three thousand slaves from the jungles of Africa brought to an island in the Atlantic and there to live and die without hearing of Christ.

Two young Moravians heard about it and sold themselves to the British planter. As the ship left its pier in the river at Hamburg and was going out into the North Sea carried with the tide, the Moravians had come from Herrenhut to see these two lads off, never to return again, for this wasn’t a four year term, they sold themselves into lifetime slavery. As a member of the slave community they would witness as Christians to the love of God.

The families were there weeping, for they knew they would never see them again. And they wondered why they were going and questioned the wisdom of it. As the boat drifted out the young boys saw the widening gap, and one lad with his arm linked through the arm of his fellow, raised his hand and shouted across the gap the last words that were heard from them, they were these, ‘MAY THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN RECEIVE THE REWARD OFHIS SUFFERING!’”

It’s that last line that particularly gets me. Yes, the fact that these two men were so moved with compassion for these slaves that they would be willing to sell themselves into slavery to reach them with the gospel is powerful. But it was more than that for them.

They were willing to sell themselves into a lifetime of slavery because they were so convinced that Christ is worthy of the worship of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Those young men believed that nothing in this life could compare to seeing Jesus Christ – the sinless one who became sin, the guiltless one who became guilty, the eternal Son of God who was cut off from his Father so that we may never be cut off, the great Savior who died in the place of sinners but is now resurrected and reigning – receive the reward of his suffering.

And in the salvation of these slaves, in the salvation of you and I, in the salvation of all peoples, Christ is receiving his reward – a people, a church, a bride, a chorus of nations who will one day surround his throne and sing “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

What will compel us like nothing else to share the gospel, whether it is on a foreign mission field or with our neighbor next door? What will motivate us like nothing else to give our lives away so that Christ is exalted above all things?  It is so simple yet so profound – that Christ may receive the reward of his suffering because he is worthy!

Growing in Our Faith by Sharing Our Faith

One of the things I love about the book of 1 John is how it connects “doing” with “knowing.” John emphasizes to his audience that we know Christ and experience him more deeply when we do what he has called us to do. Our spiritual growth and our relationship with Christ grow not just through studying Scripture and prayer, but also through living out the life of a disciple: walking in purity and righteous, serving and loving people deeply, bearing others’ burdens, and sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ.

The thing about being a disciple, when you really take it seriously, you see that you can’t do it without Jesus, and when you give your life to love and serve others and share the gospel, the tension and difficulty and uncertainty of it causes you to run to Jesus and seek his presence. And this is a good thing! Because it is here that we begin to know him deeply and see that he truly is a great Savior.

So, if you want to really grow in your faith, grow in your prayer life, grow in your study of Scripture, if you want to know Christ more deeply, my encouragement to you is to be bold and start sharing your faith.

I love this quote from Jeremy Walker’s book, The Brokenhearted Evangelist:

“How do we keep our prayers fiery? By engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Satan’s hosts, for those who are yet under his dominion. Why do we keep our spiritual weapons sharp? So that we can fight. How do we learn how to use those weapons? When we engage with lost men. Where are our graces brought to their highest pitch and exercised to their greatest degree? It is often when we are locked in mortal combat for the salvation of a soul. Where are our minds fired with holy truth so that we begin to understand, to press, and to be in earnest? When are our hearts most ablaze with love for Jesus Christ? When, in short, are we most alive as Christians? With the possible exception of the gatherings of the saints for worshiping God, it is when we are involved in the life business of the redeemed men and women of Jesus Christ, engaging with transgressors and seeking their salvation for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. There is little that so elevates us—that so engages the totality of our redeemed humanity—as the holy cut and thrust of evangelism. Nothing so casts us upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing so reminds us of our need and sends us in desperation to God for increased measures of His Spirit as the reality of wrestling for souls.”

May we be a community that shares Christ passionately because we know Christ deeply.

Personality and Evangelism

When you think of people who are “great” at evangelism, what type of personality do these people typically have? My guess is most of us think of very outgoing, extroverted type people who have no problem talking to anyone. Of course, an extroverted personality lends itself to sharing the gospel openly with lots of people.

But what about those of us that are more introverted? Must we work against our personality and force ourselves to be outgoing in order to evangelize? And if we don’t force ourselves in this way, does it mean we are just being fearful (sinful?) in failing to share our faith?

Seth McBee has an interesting blog post titled “The Introverted Evangelist”, where he discusses how one does not need to be extroverted in order to be an effective evangelist. He wisely points out that “not everyone fits this extrovert [evangelist] mold, yet people think this is how all followers of Jesus must be and live. We must stop calling everyone to be an extrovert evangelist and allow people, specifically introverts, to live out the identity of evangelist and missionary in the way God has made them.”

Being someone who is on the more introverted side of the personality spectrum, I found McBee’s words helpful, as I often find myself struggling to be someone I am not when it comes to evangelism. This has led me to feeling guilty, at times, and sometimes even hating that I can tend to be so “shy.”

But the reality is, God has made both the extrovert and the introvert, and he has designed both personalities to be a part of his kingdom mission. This being the case, McBee notes that when it comes to evangelism (and even discipleship) the church must be careful to keep in mind:

  • Being an introvert and staying an introvert is not a sin. Many put this on others and in return introverts can feel very alienated and burdened to do what others (read extroverts or functional extroverts) are doing.
  • Do not try to make an introvert an extrovert. This is not your calling. Your calling is not to make everyone in your church look like you or act like you.
  • Having introverts in your church is not the same as having immature believers or wolves in sheep’s clothing.
  • Being an introvert does not exclude them from the mission. Do not allow introverts to use their design as a crutch. Instead, shed light into how God is going to use them.

McBee also considers some of the ways extroverts and introverts can work together for the sake of the kingdom by partnering together in evangelism. Some of his suggestions I think are quite good, while some raise questions in my mind.

Overall, this is an interesting article to consider, and I’d love to hear any thoughts, questions, or pushbacks you have.

A “So That” Community

One of the things that I love about the Book of 1 Peter is how it communicates the essential connection between life in Christian community and mission. Peter is writing to a group of Christians who were displaced from their homes for political reasons and were probably also facing various kinds of persecution. As followers of a “new religion,” these Christians were met with suspicion by their pagan neighbors, masters, and rulers. They were misunderstood, lied about, and threatened. Understanding their situation, Peter, throughout his letter, strengthens these believers’ faith by both reminding them that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” and challenging them to be holy and honorable in their conduct, earnest in their love for one another, submissive to authority, and doing good in their community.

One of Peter’s most important points is that Christian virtue, displayed by both individuals and the church as a whole, is a powerful evangelistic argument to the truth of Christ (see 2:12and 15). In the midst of a culture that was hostile to their beliefs, living out authentic Christian community was a powerful testimony to the gospel. In Peter’s mind, then, Christian community is meant to be put on display for the sake of the gospel!

Perhaps Peter’s most powerful and beautiful statement of the connection between community and mission comes in 2:9, where he writes: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaimthe excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Here, Peter articulates that one of God’s purposes in calling a people, saving a people, and setting a people apart as holy was so that his people would proclaim to the world his amazing works of salvation. God created a community and called us to live by kingdom principles not only for our community’s sake but also for the world’s sake. Life as a community is meant for Christians to be sure, but also so thatnon-Christians may see it and experience it as well. When we love each other deeply, when we serve each other faithfully, and when we care for each other and push each other toward holiness, we are putting on display the power of the amazing salvation of our God. And our world needs to hear this. Our world needs to see this. Our world needs to experience this.

The question, then, is this: do we orient our life as a communityso that the world hears our proclamation of the gospel and sees in our lives the amazing salvation of God put on display?

Joining our Father’s Mission

Let me throw down a challenge (or if that is to direct, offer a suggestion): if you feel yourself cold and indifferent to mission and evangelism, you need to refresh yourself with a big picture of what God is doing in history. If you are wrestling with the “task” of telling other people about Christ, perhaps it is because you see mission more dependent on you and your abilities and less about God inviting you into joining what he is already doing!

Last week, I used the metaphor of a father inviting his son to join him in crafting a beautiful piece of furniture. The father is the initiator and the controlling hand in the mission; his skill and expertise guide and direct the project. Yet, he also invites his son into the project, and he uses his son’s gifts and equips him to contribute. The son has joy because he is a part of his father’s work. And because he loves his father so much, to the son, what could be greater than this?

Do we think this way? Do we see our world as the place where our Father is actively on mission to redeem sinners and will one day bring full restoration to our sin cursed world? Are we so caught up with who our God is, are we so taken by his glory, and are we so compelled by his love for us that nothing could be greater than joining him in his mission?

If your heart needs to be refreshed, I encourage you to take in the grand sweep of the narrative of Scripture. See how the Triune God has initiated a grand and glorious plan to save us, his people!

See God the Father planning salvation and setting it into motion. He declares his intent to destroy the power of sin and Satan and save his people from the judgment of sin through a Messiah (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 42:1-4, 6; 53:1-12; 61:1-2). He initiates his plan through the calling of Abraham and promises to bless all the nations through him (Genesis 12:1-3). From Abraham he raises up the nation of Israel and delivers them from bondage in Egypt as a foreshadowing of the deliverance brought by the Messiah (Exodus 12:1-28; Matthew 26:17-29; Luke 22:1-20). Within the nation of Israel, he raises up the kingly line of David from whom the Messiah would be born (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89, 132; Amos 9:11-12; Isaiah 9:1-7).

See how, as Paul says in Romans 5, at just the right time, Christ was sent into the world to die for the sins of his people and accomplish and fulfill the plan of the Father. The Gospel of John emphasizes Christ being sent into the world; he is on mission for his Father (John 3:17, 34; 4:34; chs. 5-8; 11:42; 17:18). Matthew mentions this (15:24) as well as Luke (4:18, 43; also see Acts 3:20). Paul affirms the “sent-ness” of Christ (Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4) as does the author of Hebrews (3:1).

See also how the Spirit is also sent by the Father and Son to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15; 20:22-23). The Triune God is indeed the originator of mission and is actively engaged in the redemption of his people.

At the same time, see how he sends his people on mission as well. In the Old Testament, in addition to his sending of Abraham, God also sends Moses, the Judges, the prophets (Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.), and kings, such as David. The mission of these men was to proclaim God’s word, call the people back to covenant faithfulness, and seek restoration and justice in Israel. In the New Testament, Christ sends his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and we see the Spirit leading and sending the Apostles (Acts 13:1-4; Acts 16:6-7). In this, God’s people are sent and commissioned with the very mission of God. They are joining God in his ongoing work. Paul’s understanding of himself as an “ambassador of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:20) speaks to his awareness that he is an instrument for God’s purposes. The mission of reconciliation belongs to God himself; Paul simply sees himself as one sent to participate in that mission.

The redemptive story God is writing is breathtaking in its scope and beauty, but what we cannot miss is that this is our story too! God has invited us into his mission and that truth should change everything.

So I encourage you, study these passages (and there are many others!). Read the Bible as the unfolding story of God’s redemption. Refresh your heart and mind with who God is and what he is doing, and let those truths set your heart on fire to join God in his mission and tell other people about Christ. May we be a community that cannot help but tell others about Christ!

Next week I want to look more specifically at what it means to be a community that is joining God’s mission.

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