Let's say you have a co-worker. They are an un-believer. Perhaps they are divorced with a couple of kids. They have a group of friends they party with; usually at the casino or weekends at the lake. Because of your proximity to them and the fact that you have always "worked well together", let's suppose they come to you and ask, "You're a Christian, right?" Awkwardly, not knowing where this conversation is going, you reply, "Well, yes...?" Feeling relieved, your co-worker says, "Good! I thought I should tell someone that last night I prayed for the first time in like 15 years. I have just been feeling lately that God has been trying to tell me something about my life and my future. Well, I finally caved and told God that I was ready to listen..." Wide-eyed and a bit excited you exclaim, "That’s great! You should come to church with me on Sunday!"
While I know this is the default reaction, and that we have all been well schooled to "bring our friends to church". I just wonder, is this best?
Let's consider how this will play out... There are really only two pathways:
1.) Your new believing friend joins you, following your lead, and starts going to Church. You introduce them to your preacher (proud that you have been so "evangelistic"), and plug them into a "Small Group". Now they are loaded up with Church stuff; Sunday Mornings, Wednesday Nights, everyone in the small group wanting to connect with them. Before you know it, this person has completely left their old circle of friends behind. They just don't have time anymore for a night out or a trip to the lake. They call this their "new life in Christ".
The alternative is,
2.) Your new believing friend joins you, following your lead, and starts going to Church. Only to find that this is a lot of work! They have to learn a new language, adopt new practices, adjust their entire life rhythm around Church events, and never get to see their friends anymore or go to the lake! This "Christian thing" is just too much. So they stop coming to Church, and you just assume that their decision for Christ was just a fluke, so you never really talk to them again.
So let's back track. What if you responded differently than, "You should come to Church with me!" Instead of jumping in and re-writing the script of their life (mirroring the script of your life), what would it look like for you to recognize that God is absolutely at work here and choose to simply come alongside it. If the Holy Spirit is capable of meeting them right where they are at in their world, then why can’t we? Before assuming that responding to God means becoming a habitual “church person”, take some time to discover with them what God may be doing in their life. It is likely that God will be able to use them to help spread the gospel into new places.
Here are two translations/versions of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth:
I Corinthians 7:17&20 (NIV) - Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches... Each person should REMAIN in the situation they were in when God called them.
I Corinthians 7:17&24 (MSG) - And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. Stay where you were when God called your name... Friends, stay where you were called to be, God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side.
Jesus himself endorses this…
Mark 5:18-20 (NIV) - As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Now, wouldn’t it make more sense if in fact this man had “come to faith”, that Jesus would have wanted to bring him along with the other Disciples, so as to not lose him back to the ways of the world? Said another way, is Jesus not being really risky with this guy’s salvation if 2 minutes after getting “saved”, he tells him to go back to where he came from?? Apparently, this is very intentional on Jesus’ part. Think about it… If Jesus honors this guy’s request to follow him and join his crew, who would go and tell his family and his friends about what he (Jesus) had done for him? No one... For the sake of spreading the Good News about the Kingdom, Jesus sees it to be more important that this man remain among the people that he already knows, (and know him) that he may proclaim the gospel.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus clarifies for us how this is both good and possible.
John 17:15-19 (MSG) - I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.
Jesus is teaching us that the gospel itself is powerful enough to protect us from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But we have convinced ourselves that “Being Part of a Church” is what keeps us holy and faithful. Not according to Jesus. If every time someone comes to faith, our response is to extract them from the world and plug them into new community of like-minded, well behaved people in a “holy huddle”, that sure doesn’t make the gospel very mobile, does it? Our thinking is that if we can just get them “in” for a while, clean their life up a bit and teach them the core disciplines of the faith, only then will they be ready to go out and do “evangelism”. But all we’ve done is given them a new identity, new culture, and new sphere of relationships; none of which allows them to return to their people group and relate in a meaningful way!
The gospel is designed to spread like a virus, but for a virus to spread there must be contact! You can’t infect others if you are never around them! In fact, the less time you are with people spending time in the context of friendship, the less potent the gospel becomes and more difficult it is to translate it into their lives. Here is the deal, each of us are the only people on the planet with our own personal, unique and specific relationship network. In a sense, this network is exactly who it is in our world that Jesus has sent us to! Unfortunately for most of us, the only real friends we have are other Christians! No wonder we have so much difficulty being evangelistic! We assume that the only way someone can become a Christian is to join our Christian club, so naturally we default to just inviting people to Church! This has made the gospel virtually anemic in our society, by demanding that if anyone wants to come to Christ they first must do all the cross-cultural work to get to our Church! Not so! We, the sent-one’s of God are responsible for doing the cross-cultural work of translating the gospel in to their world, not the other way around!
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I am anti-gathering/anti-fellowship, hear me out. I am not that at all! I want you to imagine what it would look like to engage and participate in Christian fellowship, and in fact create Christian Community in the very rhythms of life of those whom God is drawing to the faith. Instead of defaulting, and inviting people to your Church, dream of what it would look like for you to experience fellowship in step with where God is already at work…
What if you said to your new believing friend, “This is incredible what God has done!” And asked them, “What can I do to come alongside you as you begin to discover what God might be saying to you about your life and your future?” Since you both already share the same life rhythm of work, perhaps you begin to read the scriptures together on break? Maybe at the beginning of your day you pray together that God would give you eyes to see what he is doing in your workplace? You might also start eating lunch together, breaking bread in the name of Jesus. It’s possible that there may even be others whom you work with that would want to join you in fellowship. This will allow for discipleship to happen in line with how God is working in their life, as well as keeping them connected to (and active in) the relational spheres that God has already placed them in, that they may naturally and authentically share the good news! And as they do, you will have modeled for them how they can then come alongside their friends; creating new discipleship networks and Christian fellowships, responding to the active work of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of people all around them!
This is my understanding of how God has designed the Good News of His Kingdom to multiply in the lives of men and women and spread to all cultures and all peoples, even to the ends of the earth.
by Clarke T. Cayton