A standing concern of us over the recent years of emphasis on housechurching and community, is that if we are not discerning and careful, we can get so ingrown, so addicted to loving our intimate fellowship, that we might forget to be missional, to go beyond us, and possibly even deftly ignore the enormity and the timeliness of the God’s Great Commission and today’s ripe harvest.
But, I also have the greatest of hope, that in moving towards the more authentic living of our faith in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our daily lives, we might be able to steer more effectively towards the lost and steer away from some of the great mistakes that have been made by believers in the past in trying to reach those who do not yet believe.
Here’s Life America!
When my family and I arrived in the Bay Area of Northern California over thirty years ago, we came into the city God had called us to at a time when the entire nation was in the throws of one of the most extensive campaigns it had seen to date. “Here’s Life America,” was a multi-million dollar evangelistic effort sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, originally founded by Bill Bright.
It was localized in 253 major metropolitan regions of the United Sates, involving no less than 14,500 local congregations across the country.
It was claimed that during that crusade three-fourths of all Americans were exposed to the campaign’s catchy slogan, “I Found It.” You could see it on bumper stickers, billboards, and massive television commercials everywhere.
Without question, North American churches had joined together into what was perceived as a quantum leap forward in the attempted evangelism of this nation.
At the end of the day though, when it was over, all indications were, that whereas “Here’s Life America,” was a streaming media success, it had proved to be a drastic evangelistic failure. As the facts of all the empirical studies came in, it saw merely a trickle of new members actually added to the body of Christ, with some experts concluding that this massive effort had virtually no measurable impact on church membership in the United States.
Somehow, something deep, something core, something essential had been forgotten. It was the simplest reality that when a person comes to faith, or commits his or her life to Christ, ultimately they do so for reasons that are important to that individual person.
The reasons may not seem vital to that one’s family, to that one’s friends, even to that loving friend who is endeavoring to lead that person to faith. But the final reasons are deeply essential and critical to that individual who decides to commit their life to becoming a follower of Jesus.
Experts call the reasons people do things, “motives.” And because it is generally premature to ask someone to do something unless you first understand how he or she feels and thinks, it seems clear that we may have to be willing to put aside our reasons why our friend should become a Christian and try to see into their world, and try to understand their needs, before we offer the greatest of solutions to all of life’s problems.
Seeing Or Hearing
One of the saddest parts of today’s church is that for the most part it has become hidden from life, locked weekly into the four walls of our “stained-glass” wombs, and not available to be seen, witnessed and experienced in the everyday, and interacted with in the normal context of a person’s life.
Like some kind of weird “witness protection” system, we have hidden the most powerful witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the very people that Christ has changed, filled and empowered to live His life in the world.
People simply do not hear our answers to questions that they have not yet asked for themselves. Any canned presentation, even by the most well meaning Christian towards some hypothetical, average person is like trying to selling tickets on the Ark to someone who has been praying for rain for two years.
The church is to be the visible expression of Christ in this world. It is to be in view of the others. So that by watching or viewing the church, people absorbed as a body of believers, other people can sense, can feel, and can even ask questions. The world must experience the living fullness of Christ.
That is why living church 24/7 in a real world, out in front, for all to examine and to see is so critical. The church is an eternal presence in a fallen, temporal world, but we must have influence. And if all we do is go to meetings, whether in a building or a home, and never interact in the context of others, we have very little influence.
Listening Or Lectures
As Dena Brehm once stated, “Just by way of observation preaching was done to those who didn’t yet believe, dialogue was done with those who did already believe.” When we preach down to others, rather than live in front of them, we keep them at the distance of their unbelief. When we eat with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and most of all listen to them, we become a bridge into their world rather than a disjointed, disconnected religious wedge of condemnation.
When we listen to others we find out what is really going on in that person’s life. Then, and only then, we might be able to offer some help to where they are. Even better, we might even be specifically asked to help, at which point the Gospel the Good news of Jesus alive in me has become attractive.
Evangelism is not a course, not a subject, and not a goal. Loving people is. Loving people until they ask “why.” Our primary relationship to those outside the faith is not to try to get them to come to a meeting, endure a lengthy sermon and walk the aisle to an altar call. It is to do good works, helping them with any needs that they may have. Whether that be babysitting for them, helping them find a job, or simply having them over for coffee and listening as a friend.
So, how can we do that when we are constantly running off to meetings, even meetings to better learn how to share our faith? How can we do that as we continue to hide behind the excess of our religious activities? As it has been well said, “Preach the good news to everyone, everywhere you go, and when necessary, use words.”
“We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond to them.” – Abigail Adams (1744 – 1818)
A Virtual Visual Living Witness
That is why I so love doing church in a natural way, in a natural setting like a home, an apartment, a yard, a park, an office, in the marketplace of life. And with real people in real-life situations. By observation our neighbors see what goes on, even hear what is going on, long before we try to pounce on them with the “sinner’s prayer.” The fact that we have time to spend with them, the fact they are not made to feel like the objects of our evangelistic zeal, but rather friends, friends we like being with, and friends we actually care about goes much further than our quick wit with the Four Spiritual Laws or the Roman Road.
What is missing for many people, who might normally be curious about the Christian life, is they don’t get to see the Christian “life.” They only get to see us going off to another Christian “meeting.” They need to be exposed to how we live, how we struggle, and how God continues to transform in the midst of the same difficult circumstances that the whole world lives in.
When we live out this 24/7/365 Christian life, and live it next door, and even invite those neighbors in to participate, we have created a context that makes what we have to offer real. At the end of the day, we only have one thing. We don’t need to compete with the world’s intellect, music, style, wealth or lack thereof.
We have a unique commodity. The living, breathing example of changed, transformed lives. And seeing them, live, care, cry, struggle, share, hurt, heal, all is part of the picture.
So, lets get about the business of “being the good news,” before we attempt to present or proclaim “the good news.” Evangelism is a conversation, not a sermon. It is a proactive interaction not a pedantic put-down. It is a series of inclusive acts, not a pattern of rejection or manipulation to adhere to a list of rules.
Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” Now does that describe today’s kind of Christianity that is only known for its objections and political judgment?
Let’s keep the conversation going, keep the neighbors coming, and let’s include them now, even before they “pray the prayer,” so that we understand they will very likely “belong before they believe.”
Finally, let’s be reminded that part of God’s corporate mission for us is that we would live in transforming communities. Communities that not only feel like family, but act like family when the going gets tough, especially when it is time to confront a brother or sister, and walk them through the “hard times.”
Andy Christopher on community recently wrote, “Though community is to be sought after, it should not take the place of a real reverence for the Lord and a respect for His prerogative to reach down and blow up whatever plans we cook up together outside of His specific command.”
Changed lives, intertwined with other changed lives, living for the world to see. What a concept of a missional community!
Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day Churches, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day Churches now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.
His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.