I want God to move in my life, in my relationships, in my community and in my world.
I want Him to move. And I want to be a part of it. As I have prayed for this expectantly, I’ve realized that in order to allow Him room to move in my world–in my life and in my relationships–in order to join Him, I need to move first.
We all do.
We’re getting in the way. And we need to move. We need to move from manipulation to intentionality; from talking to listening; from apologetics to apologies; from debate to dialogue; from exclusion to inclusion; from learning about Christ to being like Christ.
Let’s move. You, and I. Together.
From manipulation to intentionality
Most of us have seen it–the churched community puts on a big outreach event and we’re encouraged to bring our un-churched friends…something fun, something trendy, something crazy–something they’d never expect a church to do. They’ll have a great time, hear a big name band, be befriended and engaged, be entertained somehow and then, right before we let them leave…we’ll ambush them with a gospel message and a call to repentance.
All too often our churches are geared towards a “bigger is better” gimmick-type outreach–rather than following the example of Jesus and relying on relationships to influence our friends through loving them well towards faith in Christ. Instead of concerning ourselves with and allowing ourselves the freedom to love the people God has put in our lives–ultimately showing them His love and grace through the context of relationships and conversation–we throw an event.
We’ll put on a show; a concert; a movie; even a circus–some big draw to trick those nasty pagans into getting inside the four walls of our church building to rub shoulders with the holy saints. Once we’ve bamboozled them into our territory, we smack them upside the head with the gospel message. They never even see it coming. “AHA! Now you recognize your need for Christ!”
Unfortunately, we are frequently afraid to follow Christ’s example and invest the time, effort and energy necessary to earn credibility through practicing the art of relationships and instead settle on a professional presentation of the gospel message by our pastoral staff or an outside self-proclaimed “expert.”Intentionality means we are deeply involved and investing intensely into our relationships–meeting people where they are at in their journey and joining them along the way. Intentional relationships are missional and have purpose–but they are not designed or manufactured to manipulate individuals into a certain mindset, behavior, or system of beliefs. To be intentional means that we are willing to enter into the messiness of authentic relationships with those who are like-minded as well as those who think differently. It means that we are not only willing but are committed to doing so, and that we’re determined to stick it out with them as their friend even if their mindset doesn’t ever change. Jesus was accused not of simply being friendly to sinners and tax collectors, but of being a friend of them. We should be accused of the same…and it should be true.
From talking to listening
For some reason, many Christians persistently believe that we can talk people into following Jesus. We are habitually taught that individuals can be persuaded to do just about anything with the right sales pitch, and we then practice ours as we seek to sell Christ–that is often why we think we need to memorize the right words to say when asked about our faith or even the right way to tell the tale of our own life-story, practicing, polishing and labeling it as our “testimony” (as if we can’t even remember own story without both rehearsing and re-packaging it). Part of moving in our relationships and intentionally deepening our investment in others requires us to stop talking so much, and to start listening more.
We all know the impact it has on us when someone listens to us. The simple act of listening is sadly so rare that whoever practices it (even if they practice it poorly) is immediately set apart in our minds as someone we’d like to spend more time with. Lovers list being listened to and heard as chief among reasons for compatibility with their chosen partner. If we are called to love others–to really, truly love them–perhaps it would behoove us to stop trying to convince them of our point of view, to stop talking–and just listen.
From apologetics to apologies
The status quo of evangelistic conversation is to “prove” Christianity is the only “real” religion; yet, it cannot be proven. At Richwoods, we will soon be embarking on a sermon series entitled Valid Reasons Not to Follow Jesus. Instead of denying the valid doubts, concerns and questions that many have when faced with the choice of whether or not to follow Christ, we ought to validate their apprehensions and fears. They are legitimate. When we attempt to “defend” the faith against all comers, we position ourselves in a battle against the very people we have been called to love and minister to. We have done this for centuries–and it has never ended well. It never will–until we stop viewing it as “us” versus “them.”
Telling someone, “I’m sorry for the way we Christians have misrepresented Christ” almost always surprises them. Frankly, most non-Christians have learned to see Christians as arrogant and unconcerned about their opinions, feelings, or concerns. In his 2003 book, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg of Oregon State University describes how his university students have a uniformly negative image of Christianity. “When I ask them to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity,“ says Borg, “they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.“ Offering an apology may in fact be the most effective way to get a conversation rolling. The old adage here applies: people don’t care how much you know until they first know how much you care.
Simply saying something like, “I’m sorry that we’ve failed in representing Christ; that really doesn’t look much like Jesus, does it?” can open the door to some unbelievably beneficial and relationally rich conversation.
From debate to dialogue
Consistently, our conversations concerning spiritual things turn out to be nothing more than debates on dogma and doctrine. Debate is about humiliating your opponent. That is what we’ve done for years, and it hasn’t worked. Coming from a standpoint of apologetics and defending the (or better, “our version of the”) faith, further perpetuates a dangerous and erroneous way of thinking: that we are in opposition to the very people we are called to love in the way of Christ.
“us” versus “them” not only doesn’t work very well; it really isn’t even biblical.
Dialogue is about inviting our friends into the Conversation. If we listen to what he/she has to say, we may even learn something. Jesus was an expert in dialogue, and invited many people into conversation. He asked lots of questions. He engaged. He met people whereever they were at and seasoned His conversation with grace. He didn’t use power to overcome, but instead used kindness to overwhelm.
From exclusion to inclusion
A shift in focus needs to take place to allow God the room to move in our world. We must corporately progress from a place of exclusion to inclusion–from a focus that is searching for differences (e.g., whether in doctrine or in practice) and in so doing, participating in a means that eventually excludes the very “others” we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to love. Even with the most noble of intent (spiritual conversion to our version of the faith) at some point these differences emerge and a barrier to authentic relationship is created. When we begin to define people by what they believe instead of who they are created to be, these natural barriers instinctively create an exclusive mentality and we lose our ability to genuinely love, to be intentional, to listen, to sincerely apologize, and to invite others in dialogue.
Let’s be part of it. Let’s move from manipulation to intentionality; from talking to listening; from apologetics to apologies; from debate to dialogue; from exclusion to inclusion; from learning about Christ to being like Christ.
Let’s move. You, and I. Together. And let’s join with God where He‘s going.