WHILE DISCUSSING THE NEED to mobilize more believers to talk about the gospel in public settings, a Christian leader told me, “I couldn’t agree more about the need to infiltrate the community with the gospel. We have an exciting example of doing this in our church.” He then told this story: A young woman developed a passion for ministry to unwed mothers. She asked a few business leaders in her church to form an advisory committee (later to become a board after the ministry incorporated). She rented a house, advertised the program, and was soon caring for several women. The ministry flourished as one woman after another moved into the house, gave birth, was helped to establish a healthy parenting lifestyle, and heard about Jesus. “That,” he concluded, “is a great example of infiltrating the community with the gospel.”
Well, not exactly. It’s a good example of a church launching a ministry to meet a pressing need. But it’s not an example of taking the gospel to community venues. My friend’s interpretation of this ministry as being “in the community” illustrates how difficult it is for many Christians to conceive of sharing the gospel outside venues controlled by a church or ministry organization. Many believers, especially those who have been Christians for a long time, have difficulty conceiving of infiltrating culture as a primary means of sharing the gospel. We have a hard time breaking out of our Christian subculture’s way of thinking.
INSIDE THE BUBBLE
Prior to becoming a Christian, you probably had an extensive network of community-based relationships. For example, you played softball with your company’s team, went to a ceramics class at the YMCA, or volunteered in the classroom where your children attend school. As your lifestyle changed (becoming more churchcentric), if you are like many believers, you lost connection with people from these other places. Sometimes, that’s a required adjustment to help break old, destructive behavioral patterns in your life. Unfortunately, at other times, it cuts us off from people who need to hear the gospel.
Changing your lifestyle to obey biblical mandates regarding church fellowship is important. Some former activities, like carousing with immoral friends, had to stop when you submitted to Jesus as Lord. Behavior that contradicts clear instructions from the Bible must be avoided. Not doing so perpetuates a sinful lifestyle and will, ultimately, deaden your spiritual sensitivity and stunt your spiritual growth. You also may need to avoid other activities, though not inherently sinful, because they were too important in your former life. They skewed your past priorities and will prohibit future spiritual development. Any all-consuming activity can become an idol—a false god controlling your behavior and relationships.
Carney coached girls’ softball, spending almost every weekend practicing or traveling with an elite team. When he became a Christian, he had stepped away from that commitment to establish a relationship with a church, focus on his spiritual development, and devote more time to his family. After a while, he resumed coaching—albeit with a more reasonable schedule—and found the relationships with players and their families fertile ground for sharing his testimony. Through those friendships, several adults and teenagers made commitments to Jesus.
MAKE AN INTENTIONAL CHOICE TO BREAK OUT OF THE CHRISTIAN SUBCULTURE.
Distancing yourself from your former community may happen inadvertently if your church creates a menu of activities to replace corresponding community programs. Churches build recreation centers to replace local gyms, sponsor sports leagues as an alternative to public leagues, and create senior citizen activities to compete with community-based programs. Churches also create ministries as “Christian versions” of community programs—children’s homes instead of foster care, Christian schools instead of public schools, or benevolence ministries instead of government-sponsored homeless shelters. All these church or ministry-based activities create a Christian subculture—a way of life with limited contact with people in the world around us.
While there’s nothing wrong with churches creating these ministries (they are often quite helpful), they can have the unintended consequence of isolating you from relationships with unsaved people in your community. Being “involved in the community” then becomes a euphemism for “supporting church-sponsored programs for the community.” While they sound similar, they really aren’t the same thing. The first is essential for sharing the gospel as life happens. The second can become a well-intentioned, but isolating substitute for being with lost people. Some Christians, including many church and ministry leaders, must make an intentional choice to break out of the Christian subculture. As my daughter once told me, “Living your life surrounded by Christians is like being in a big bubble. You’ve got to break out if you want to reach lost people.” Breaking out of the Christian subculture means connecting people with the gospel, in their setting, by infiltrating your relational network with the good news about Jesus.
Jeff Iorg, Unscripted: Sharing the Gospel as Life Happens (Ashland, OH: New Hope Publishers, 2014).
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