Mission is an acted out doxology. That is its deepest secret. Its purpose is that God may be glorified. – Lesslie Newbigin
This is part 2 of what it means to be a community on mission together. Part 1 focused on your community’s unified effort to love—through word&deed—a group of people. This article is about inviting everyone else in the lives of your community to follow Jesus, too. The individuals in your community have neighbors, co-workers, friends, bartenders, yoga instructors, financial advisors, teachers, classmates, fellow PTA members, and a whole slew of relationships that exist beyond the pro-active and shared mission described in Part 1. In other words, the people in your community have friends who don’t follow Jesus or know the gospel. This section is about inviting those folks to believe the gospel and become followers of Jesus. We also have to become the type of communities that make space and welcome those who don’t believe.
The Power of the Scattered Church
As you live in gospel community, people around you begin to notice. They see you and your family serve the poor. They see you care for others in your community, they hear you talk about what God is doing, and they hear you share the gospel. God has actually placed you around those friends, neighbors, and co-workers to be an ambassador of the reconciliation of God. You demonstrate God’s reconciliation in your life. The power of a scattered church—opposed to an isolated commune—is we infiltrate all of society. Our webs of relationships take us into almost every corner of culture, and there we are God’s billboard. God scatters us across the city each day to be salt and light. It is truly amazing how many people God has intentionally put around you. Jesus promised this would happen in Acts 1:8, that the Holy Spirit would make us witnesses and that we are.
Whether you work in a high-rise office-building or in your home caring for your small children, you are sent there by God to be his agent of reconciliation. This is how God is making himself known through his people, by sending them out into the world. God actually places more people in your life than you probably realize.
Here’s a helpful exercise to illustrate how God is placing us in the city and giving us people to demonstrate the gospel to.
The Posture of a Community on Mission
Knowing everyone in your community has been given people in their lives to love, speak the truth to, and disciple is one thing, being a community that is welcoming and moving forward with faithfulness is another entirely. What kind of community is able to invite others into faith? What is required in its posture?
You are Sent to People not Projects
You must begin by viewing these people as people not projects. They are not a check-box, or customers you are trying to ‘close’ a deal with. They are people. With stories, doubts, and heartfelt objections to following Jesus. Treat them like people not as friends. Invite them into your life out of love and care, not because you have a strategy to make them Christians. You know you are doing this when you invite them because you enjoy them, not because they aren’t Christians. You know you are doing this when you share your life, struggles, and joys with them. This is when it becomes exciting, as they watch from up close as you journey through life’s suffering and happiness. This is when they have the opportunity to hear and observe the gospel. Listen to them and welcome them into your life. This means you will experience their mess, also means you will share your mess with them. This is when they aren’t projects, but people in your life.
It might be relationships 101, but this skill is lost in our society: listen. Ask questions, and then ask follow-up questions. Ask about their feelings and their fears not simply the facts. Don’t turn conversations and stories back to you. We have an ego centric society and struggle to make others the focus in conversations. Usually, we are the center of conversations. Begin to listen to them several questions deep. In a world where everyone is their own center of conversations no one is heard. You will bless people in your life significantly by giving them the floor and being intentional to hear them.
Patiently Speaking the Good News of Jesus
In the scriptures, what we translate as patience is more literally long-suffering. There is a persistence, steadfastness, and longevity to patience. It isn’t waiting in line at the DMV with smile on your face, patience is a pro-longed steadfast work. This is the posture of a missionary sent by God to proclaim the gospel to the people in our lives. We do so consistently, persistently, and for as long as it takes.
Patiently speaking the gospel to people in your life requires boldness. To be patient in proclamation requires a courage that comes from security and confidence in the gospel. You can speak the gospel repeatedly overtime to people who have rejected many times before because you are God’s child, saved by Jesus, and empowered to be God’s witness by the Holy Spirit. This is the remarkable reality of being on God’s mission: You have power from God to be speak the gospel. Ironically, you have to believe the gospel to speak it. You have to believe you are accepted by Christ.
Patiently speaking the gospel to those you love requires clarity. It is one thing to spurt out phrases about God, Jesus, and the Bible. It is a whole other thing to speak the gospel to someone.
Welcome doubts, questions, and non-church folks
As a community welcome hard questions about faith and doubts that any of this stuff could be real. The gospel sounds crazy! Every point of the gospel message goes against what we would naturally experience in this world: grace, mercy, hope, and love! Furthermore, the particulars of how God has expressed his grace, mercy, hope, and love is astonishing: becoming a man, dying for the sins of people he has never met before they were even born, raising from death several days later, ascending to heaven, and giving the Holy Spirit, himself, to each believer. If this is the story we are preaching, we must acknowledge people’s doubts in this story and be a place where people can really ask these questions without getting brushed off or being told to just get it. A gospel community has to have a posture of not only welcoming people but also their doubts and questions.
Talk About It!
Keep this aspect of being a gospel community at the forefront by talking about it. One of the best ways is to begin your weekly meals with conversations about making disciples of the people in your life. Simply ask: Any stories, issues, struggles, breakthroughs with neighbors, co-workers, etc? After people share, pray for everyone involved (both those sharing Christ, and those who don’t know Christ).
Create Welcoming Spaces
Finally, as a community you can create welcoming spaces where people can literally invite their neighbors, friends, and co-workers into community. Community and mission are not events; however, events are helpful parts of being in community and on mission. This is where communities really begin to be creative! They ask questions like, what would be fun, enjoyable, and a good opportunity to welcome folks into relationship with our gospel community? What is culturally relevant in our neighborhood, city, or town? I’ve seen communities do all sorts of things, here’s just a small list:
- Grill out and invite folks over
- Watch a sporting event together
- Game nights
- House Show (Concert in a house)
- Craft Night
- Fire-Pit Night
- Front Yard Ice-Cream Parties
- Easter egg hunts
- Movie Nights
- Picnics in the Park
- Run clubs
- Book clubs
- Home Brewery Night
The options are endless. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. You are not cruise directors. You community doesn’t exists to throw parities and events. Also, what is truly important is the the attitude of your community. Do you welcome and engage people that come by asking them questions, listening, and truly being hospitable at these events. It is sad but true, I’ve seen groups have great events but when a neighbor comes or co-worker comes, the community essentially ignores that person. Lastly, this isn’t a bait and switch. If you invite people over to grill out and simply enjoy an evening with your friends, don’t turn the music off half way and preach a sermon, unless you invited everyone to come hear you preach a sermon in your back yard. The goal of these things is to build relationship and community with new people, not stay in your pre-existing huddle.
How can your neighbors, co-workers, friends see mission, participate in community, and hear the gospel?
How can people on the ‘outside’ your community experience the life of your community?
When can those exploring Jesus participate in the life of your community? How open and inviting are your times together?
How can you explain prayer, communion, studying the Bible, etc. in a way they understand why you are doing it and in a way that they get to hear the gospel.