A couple of years ago, Andrew Wilson posted a very helpful and immensely practical blog in which he listed 10 ways that we can all of us live a little bit more engaged as missionary Christians. Today’s post comes from that blog:
I take it as read that there is a strong link between the evangelistic level of a church, and the evangelistic level of its leaders. There are all sorts of churches where the leaders talk an awful lot about mission, but because mission – by which, in this context, I mean evangelism – is not embodied in the everyday lives of the leaders, the culture of the church doesn’t change much. The fish stinks from the head down, says the Greek proverb, and so it seems. Evangelistic churches, almost without exception, are led by leaders (or teams of leaders) that are evangelistic themselves.
That, for many of us, is a huge challenge. It certainly is for me. I’m a full time church leader, writer and travelling teacher, which means I work with Christians, spend most of my weekends with Christians, have Christians round to my house in the evenings, and am away a lot teaching, you’ve guessed it, Christians. So if I’m not careful – and this has happened to me regularly – I can look at my life and realise that (outside of church meetings) I haven’t had a non-trivial conversation with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus for a month, let alone talked about the gospel with them. The temptation to rationalise this, particularly when your public ministry involves preaching the gospel frequently to lots of people, is acute. But the Holy Spirit continually pokes me on it, through a combination of fellow leaders, encouraging examples, challenging resources and confrontational friends.
The most recent was Tim Chester’s very simple list of six things to make life more missional. Here they are, followed by a few of my own:
1. Eat with other people. We all eat three meals a day. That’s 21 opportunities for church and mission each week without adding anything new to your schedule. And meals are a powerful expression of welcome and community.
2. Work in public places. Hold meetings, prepare talks, and read in public spaces like cafés, pubs, and parks. It will naturally help you engage with the culture. For example, whose questions do you want to address in your Bible studies, those of professional exegetes or those of the culture?
3. Be a regular. Adopt a local café, pub, park, and shop so you regularly visit and become known as a local. Imagine if everyone in your gospel community did this!
4. Leave the house in the evenings. It’s so easy after a long day on a dark evening to slump in front of the television or surf the Internet. Get out! Visit a friend. Take a cake to a neighbour. Attend a local group. Go to the cinema. Hang out in a café. Go for a walk with a friend. It doesn’t matter where as long as you go with gospel intentionality.
5. Serve your neighbours. Weed a neighbour’s garden. Help someone move. Put up a shelf. Volunteer with a local group. It could be one evening a week or one day a month. Try to do it with other members of your gospel community so it becomes a common project. Then people will see your love for one another and it will be easier to talk about Jesus.
6. Share your passion. What do you enjoy? Find a local group that shares your passion. Be missional and have fun at the same time!
This last one is frequently talked about when leaders get together, and has often made me feel a bit awkward, because I’ve never been a go to the gym sort of person. I love playing football, and I do every week, but in six years of doing that with the same people, I have never had a deep conversation with anyone; running hard after a ball doesn’t lend itself to that, in my experience. I enjoy playing golf, which is more conducive to talking, but I have young children so I only play a couple of times a year. I like time with my wife, but not so much if there are other people there. I enjoy reading theology, but almost all the people who also do are already Christians. So the “be missional and have fun” thing, as much as I know it works well if you’re into book groups or playing squash or cookery, doesn’t really work for me. Still, five out of six ain’t bad.
A few other suggestions, from other leaders I know. (The fact that these all come from church leaders, by the way, merely indicates that we generally find the everyday interaction side of things the hardest, as a result of the way we spend our 9-5s and our evenings). #7, from Phil Moore: asking questions about what people in your community believe, whether in the form of a questionnaire, a quick survey, a poll on your next preaching series or a brief conversation, can open all sorts of doors, as well as informing you what sort of beliefs you ought to be engaging with. #8, from Steve Tibbert: even if you can’t do “friendship evangelism”, you can do “friendly evangelism”, which is basically being nice to people in ordinary contexts – shops, streets, commercial interactions, and so on – and seeing where it goes. #9, from a whole bunch of leaders: go and talk to people in your welcome area/visitor cafe on a Sunday morning, and ask them how they found things. And #10, from me: if you use social media, use it deliberately (or, as Tim Chester would put it, “with gospel intentionality”) – use your tweets, Facebook friendships, status updates and links to things wisely, humorously and thoughtfully. AsColossians 4:5-6 puts it in the ISV, “Use the internet with wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your tweets and updates always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
That’s an even ten. If those of us who are in church leadership were to live consistently like this, we’d probably end up with churches that did, too. And that would be a good thing.