So, one of the points I’ve tried to make in this series is that if you think the driving question of Scripture is, “how can an individuals be forgiven for their sins?”, then relationships with individuals tend to be instrumentalized. That is, others become prospects defined around an abstract identity, “sinner.” We become salespeople, who at some point, to be effective, must isolate the other in their status as sinner. … So, all we have then is the heaven/hell card.
It’s true, and I confess that I’ve long felt uncomfortable with our traditional approaches to evangelism for this reason — going back to high school. This is not a Church of Christ problem. It’s a problem shared by all American Protestants, especially evangelicals but also Fundamentalists. We are Americans, and so we see the gospel as something to sell — and the lost as potential buyers. And the result is to dehumanize our relationships with non-Christians. And the Sermon on the Mount is all about not objectifying people.
How do we avoid being salesmen and turning our friends and family into customers?
1. Change the focus of your evangelistic message. Proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God, not penal substitutionary atonement. Proclaim life under the new ordering of God’s reign, not a theory of atonement. Proclaim the Kingdom, part of which is creating new relationships around the peace and hospitality of God. If this is the focal point of proclamation, then your proclamation is an extension of relationships created through hospitality, not an add on. …
I think the idea of witness or testimony in the NT is to point to what God is accomplishing–to explain, in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, what people are experiencing. … Rather, the deal is to live in the rhythms of the Kingdom and to proclaim a Christian understanding of those events. …
2. Proclaim your own salvation. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of yourself as the one who has all the good stuff, and you are simply bringing the good stuff to the world. But, the truth is, God is active in the world and you engage the world to experience your own salvation in newer and deeper ways. In fact, the very activities related to finding people of peace will change you and your perspectives on the world. It’s not just the hope that the “other” will be saved, but also that you will be saved by living in God’s hospitality. …
3. Live in such a way that its clear that you are living out the particularities of the Christian story. You garden because you are convinced that the earth is good and a part of God’s ultimate desire for a renewed creation. You garden because you want to share food with others and to experience with others the blessings of God. … You’re real, not a poser or pretender, because you believe your life is based in grace and not performance, in gift and not reward. Live and speak so that people are clear about what story you are living. …
4. Pray. Ultimately, this is God’s work. Ultimately, people become Christian because they experience the presence of the Spirit of God. Prayer is the work. Prayer reminds us of this fact and allows us to move in sync with what God is doing, making his presence visible and available.
5. Reflect and articulate. I’m convinced that the canned nature of the evangelistic message related to explaining theories of atonement has stunted our ability to reflect on God’s activity in our lives and contexts. Time must be spent reflecting on the church’s experience with its neighbors, bringing Christian vocabulary and concepts to name that experience, and learning to say something meaningful about that experience publicly.
In a later post, Mark expands on some of these thoughts —
The big difference for churches living into God’s mission is that they see their life not as an end in itself, but as God’s instrument for blessing the world. Or as the book, The Missional Church, puts it, the church is not a vendor of religious goods and services, but an outpost for the reign of God.
So, don’t do “missional things,” be the ball!
I also hear people talk about all members becoming missionaries. And while I think I know what they mean and like the emphasis, I think many people don’t recognize themselves in this description. Missionaries are people who have specialized knowledge of the Christian story and hold Bible studies with their neighbors and give powerpoint presentations at church. And while it would be great to have more of these kinds of people, most don’t recognize themselves in this picture.
So, I’d prefer to talk about missional living. Put simply, these are people who are prayerfully aware of the contexts in which they find themselves. They see the primary expression of their faith, not as attending worship, but as living intentionally in their neighborhoods and workplaces.
Now, it’s important, I think, to imagine all this in terms of congregational life. This is not about what I do. It’s about what we do. I may be perfectly awful as a personal evangelist. I may struggle to reflect and imagine as Mark urges me to do. But, together, we can do this. And if our congregation becomes a church characterized by these things, then what limited competencies I do have will be reinforced, strengthened, and synergized by the church as a whole.
Mark has been working with churches to help them become more intentionally missional, and he suggests these 7 core competencies as key:
So, communities on the missional path
1. Develop a shared biblical imagination for mission.
2. Discern God’s calling in communal processes of discernment.
3. Find and cultivate new partnerships in mission.
4. Practice hospitality in ways that convey the welcome of God.
5. Find and empower new leaders for mission.
6. Take risks for faithful experiments.
7. Develop practices of testimony that bear witness to God’s Kingdom hospitality.
Now, these require some unpacking, and Mark’s blog posts in this series do just that. You should read them. Here are the link numbered by competence.
I’m not going to repeat Mark’s material here. Rather, I’ll just reflect on a few points.
First, we in the Churches of Christ are very hierarchical in our behavior. We expect the elders or the preacher to tell us what our mission is and send us on it. But Mark’s approach is for the leaders to lead the congregation in imaginatively thinking through the scriptures — perhaps even selecting single key text, such as Luke 10, to study for a year.
But that doesn’t mean the preacher preaches a 52-part sermon series. It means the congregation studies together and shares what they learn — and this requires a structure quite different from a sermon series. Perhaps this is done in classes. Or small groups. But if so, then I’d have the classes or groups share their findings with the congregation — and how it’s changed their lives through testimony. Even though that’s just not how we do things.
Second, we have to be willing to partner with others — including with non-Christians. A few years ago, my congregation did this. The elders appointed a committee to search out ministry opportunities — places where our skills and availability could benefit our community as servants. At the time I didn’t realize how revolutionary this was. We didn’t claim to have the solutions or to even understand the problems. We just offered to help.
Several local nonprofit programs were identified, and most were not even a little interested in our help. They’d all been “helped” by churches before, but the church quit when they didn’t immediately gain converts or things weren’t being done their way. The churches had objectivized or instrumentalized the nonprofits — using them to serve the church. But we started just by wanting to serve the nonprofits and their beneficiaries. Seemed obvious at the time, but evidently this is unusual for churches.
Now, if you measured our success by baptisms, you’d (and we’d) be disappointed, because we live in the Deep South and most of the people served by these organizations already have a church home. But conversions happened — because of who we became as we served others simply for the sake of serving others. Love has a way of changing both the person loved and the one who loves. And churches with servant hearts are attractive because they look like Jesus. (Which is a good thing even if it’s out of fashion to be an attractional church.)
Mark repeatedly emphasizes hospitality as an essential missional practice. Hospitality is not just for our own or with us as host. We might join others at their tables as well.
Learning to participate in God’s hospitality requires two significant capacities: interrupt-ability and attentiveness. Though being friendly may help, it is not the key to hospitality. Interupt-ability and attentiveness. The enemy to these capacities is being in a rush. So, it’s hard to imagine developing capacity for hospitality without a similar commitment to simplicity. Put simply, the more simple our lives, the less we need to rush and the more room we have for others. This is deeply spiritual work.
So how does a church become evangelistic? Well, by surrendering everything at the foot of the cross. By admitting it doesn’t have all the answers and confessing that God does. By pointing the lost toward God by becoming like Jesus — through service, submission, sacrifice — and even suffering. And perhaps we should add “simplicity” to the list. Jesus was big on simplicity — and simplicity is a discipline that is the very opposite of modern life — even modern church life. Simplicity gives us time to do Kingdom things and to be Kingdom people.
By raising up servant-leaders. By believing that our God is alive and active and powerful. By praying to a God who answers prayer.