Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Church and Creative Engagement

            Jesus Christ not only came to redeem humanity but through His incarnation, His sent-ness, His relational interaction and servant example we have the model for the church to reach a broken and alienated world. The day of the two-week tent revivals or camp meetings is gone. Cold call, door-to-door soul-winning may have some merit but not as an effective method of winning the lost. Far too many churches have relegated missions for a committee to budget and plan a conference, short term trips and programming while failing to recognize that the Church, the body of Christ, IS God’s mission strategy for reaching the world. 
            Christ left His heavenly abode and came to a sin-sick, dark and hostile culture that facilitated His death. During His sojourn he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of the people with whom He was identified, He railed against organized religion that created spiritual hierarchies. He washed feet, touched lepers, lived as homeless, spoke boldly of another world, rejected the allurement of possessions, actively engaged the community and, most importantly, made disciples who followed His example and carried on with the Gospel-driven mission.
            Reaching our postmodern culture requires Christians to be creative and intentional about engaging the culture in meaningful, relational, less glamorous and compassionate forms. First, we must understand that our well-founded arguments for absolute truth are more powerful when they are subsequent to creative and compassionate engagement.  For example, a member of our church is a county commissioner on mission for Christ. He does not fill this position with grand visions of bringing local ordinances and proposals that impose Christianity upon the community. He serves in a humble and mediating manner. The calmness, resolve and wisdom that Mark inserts in the issues facing our community serve a redemptive purpose and offer a form that is a picture of Christ’s greater passion for people above issues. Currently, a school bond issue is dividing our county. Mark is opposed to the bond and boldly asserts the reasons for his opposition but he does not moralize the issue or build barriers by responding unwisely to negative comments. Mark and others like him in various roles see themselves on mission for Christ in our community. The local church should challenge, train, support and resource believers to be “redemptively” engaged in our community, Mark's did.  As a result, Mark has the prayer support of his church, pastor and brothers in Christ as he is incarnating the Gospel through local politics.
            Tim served as vice president of our local Little League organization. There are over 1600 kids involved in Little League. Tim also coaches a team. He and his family have taken this role in Little League as a means of intentionally engaging our community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his role as vice-president Tim is often called upon to mediate difficult circumstances. He has to be stern at times, gracious, compassionate and even compromising of his own feelings at times but Tim is seen as an example of stability and fairness that enhances the Little League experience for every family involved. Again, Tim does not lead devotions on Saturday mornings at the ball field, he could but he knows that is not the primary purpose of his service for Christ in this venue. He does his job well in Christ’s name, thereby serving a redemptive purpose in our community. His bold faith and pursuit of excellence provide a strong and elevated platform for an incarnational Gospel witness. Tim and his family represent a local church creatively and naturally engaged in the community, making a difference and attracting people to the Savior.  
            A third example is 63-year-old Bob. He is a high school boys Sunday School teacher who quit his job as a long time manager of a local Hobby Lobby to become the custodian at our local high school on mission for Christ. Bob could say that his vocation is being a witness for Jesus Christ, being the custodian at the local High School is his ad-vocation.  Bob and his wife are also founders of a ministry for teenage mothers called House of Hope. Bob daily engages students by listening to them, cleaning up after them and offering an encouraging word. Needless to say his Sunday School class has grown but that is not why he became a janitor. He and his wife, Diana, do it because they desire to live life as missionaries who bring the redemptive work and reconciling message of the cross to bear in a lost and broken world.
            A fourth example of creative engagement is from Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. As most cities, Austin has a pretty active nightlife. Many of Austin Stone’s members are well acquainted with the bars of the city due to their pre-conversion lifestyle. Some of these members formed a team to engage people who frequent the bars of Austin by showing compassion on Friday and Saturday nights. These teams show up outside the bars around midnight on the weekends. They stand ready with water, food, coffee and a vehicle to assist people that are so inebriated or vexed that they cannot drive. It is not unusual for a team member to be the victim of a patron’s sickness or hostility. Over the past four years these teams have assisted countless bar patrons to survive the evening. In some cases these missionaries have connected to hurting or angry families. But where is the redemptive pay off for such ministry? It is in the collateral effect of the service these four previous examples provide as a living, incarnational witness of the person and work of Jesus Christ in their community through their local church.

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