Thursday, July 13, 2006

In Not Of

In her post The SBC's Forgotten Missionaries, Kiki Cherry recounts some of the challenges encountered by our SBC Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries in their efforts to raise the funds needed to support their ministries. (For more information about MSC, read Kiki's post and go to the MSC home page.) MSC missionaries make up a large percentage of NAMB's missionary force in North America, and they are on the front lines in some of the most challenging ministry environments in North America. Many MSC missionaries serve in areas outside of the Bible Belt, and most of those who serve in the Bible Belt are ministering to some of the most needy and neglected segments of our society. In short, most MSC workers are serving in environments that are very different from what most SBC church members and pastors are accustomed to. While many, if not most, Southern Baptists live inside a church bubble, our MSC missionaries are at the forefront of a missional movement within our convention. Because they have broken outside the church bubble, they are often misunderstood and criticized for the way they minister to people. Kiki describes a couple of encounters that illustrate the difference between a church bubble mindset and a missional mindset:

We also were challenged in aspects of our ministry. One man objected to us "interacting with homosexuals." Another lady was appalled that we would "allow non-Christians to come to our group." She was concerned that they might tarnish our Christian doctrine if they were allowed to participate!!!
A church bubble mindset, as exemplified by the critics, is concerned with maintaining the purity of the institution. There is a fear that interaction with people whose values and lifestyles are non biblical will lead Christians away from the truth. Homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, drunkards, etc., are to be shunned and avoided until they give up their sinful behavior. If we were to associate with such people, others might assume that we are condoning their behavior. Outsiders are welcome to come to the church, as long as they conform to the church's norms of behavior and appearance. The church is a safe and comfortable refuge from the big, bad world out there. It is not a place for questioning; it is a place where all the answers have been found.

A missional mindset, on the other hand, is concerned with bringing the message of redemption to a fallen world. Missional Christians recognize that the world is a dirty, sinful, sometimes scary place. They also realize that it is the place where lost people are and that if these people are going to be reached with the gospel then Christians are going to have to go to them. Furthermore, to reach them we must go to them not in fear, not with a judgmental attitude or critical spirit, but in love. So we need to interact with and minister to homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, drunkards, etc. When they act like a lost person, instead of criticizing them we need to love them. We don't condone their behavior, but we realize that we cannot expect people to live a godly lifestyle until they are disciples of Jesus. Being missional also means that we accept people's questions as legitimate and that we listen to what they have to say. Instead of becoming defensive, we should welcome their questions as they push us deeper into the Word to find real answers.

It may be a cliche, but we have to be "in the world but not of the world" if we are going to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gone are the days when the church could simply say, "Here we are! Come to us!" and see people respond. Like it or not, we are living in a secular world filled with secular people who are not clamoring to join a church. Indeed, many of them see the church as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst. However, they are looking for something real and meaningful to fill a void in their lives. Only Jesus can truly fill this void and give them that real and meaningful something they are seeking, but we have to take Him outside of our church bubble and into their world if they are going to know Him. The lyrics to the song, "In Not Of" by Avalon describe the journey of a believer from a church bubble/protect us from the world mindset to a missional/redeem the world mindset:

I hide me far away from trouble
The world outside me grows darker by the day
So I promise to stay here close beside Him
Surely God would want His children safe

Then reading, how my eyes were opened
I find that He is leading us out into the world
Into the middle of fallen saints and sinners
Where a little grace is needed most

(CHORUS)
Come take the Light to darker parts

Share His truth with hardened hearts
We are not like the world
But we can love them
Come bring the Hope to hopeless men
Until the lost are found in Him
He came to save the world
So let us be in it, not of it

Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it? Why we run and hide?
Entertain a stranger, maybe entertain an angel
The danger is if our worlds don't collide

CHORUS

We've cursed the darkness far too long
We need to hold the candle high
We have to go and right the wrongs
We need to touch the world with love
With His love

Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it? Why are we not in it?


CHORUS TWICE

Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it?


Written by Nick Gonzales and Grant Cunningham.
Copyright 1999, Vogon Poetry (ASCAP) and River Oaks Music Company (BMI)


As God's people we have two options in this ever darkening world. We can retreat into our safe and comfortable church bubble, but in doing so we limit our ability to minister to people and reach them with the gospel. Or we can go out into the world, where lost people live, and love them. We'll have to put up with a lot of stuff that bothers and offends us, but how else are we going to reach them?

8 comments:

Paul Burleson said...

Tim, You speak to the issue, whatever the issue might be that is being addressed, as clearly as anyone who blogs that I've read.

This post shows your passion and your last post shows your integrity. Both are a tremendous blessing to me personally.

Maybe that's why early each morning I check your blog second in a long list I have on my desktop. [You probably know whose first on that list.]

I've believed for a long time the goal should be for us to "as we go love them where they are" instead of "come hear my good sermon and see our great program." You've captured my heart for true evangelism and church life by dealing with this need. Thanks.

Paul Burleson

GuyMuse said...

You write like a missionary, Tim. Are you sure you're not feeling a "tug" towards missions service? :)

You've expressed well what so many missionaries would like to say to the established American church who seem content to live within the "bubble" and oblivious to a lost and dying world in all its messiness.

Kiki Cherry said...

Tim,

This is a GREAT article. And thanks for putting in a plug for MSC.

Guy,

Tim would make a wonderful missionary. He has as big of a heart in person as is evident in his writing. I'm convinced that the best days for the Sweatman family are still ahead, even though they are having to weather the trials right now.

IN HIS NAME said...

TIM,

I see your HEART and know where it comes from. Before moving to Texas in 2001, I worked with the Homeless. I have a lot of stories I could tell. My Pastor DICK KAUFMANN joined TIM KELLER in Manhattan, NY for three years to Assist TIM and learn the ropes so to speak. DICK returned to San Diego and started the same Ministry and Church plants there.
KIKI and DOUG join us in worship this past Sunday at Brother JEFF YOUNG'S Church and what a BLESSING.
My wife commented that DOUG and KIKI reminded her of DICK and LIZ KAUFMANN. We also had a halfway house for young men being released from prison, who had confessed a faith in JESUS. We joined with our small group Elder to visit a home for Men with AIDS. The list goes on and on, of all the BLESSING'S the LORD has for us as we try to do things the way our LORD and SAVIOR showed us when HE CAME DOWN. The first Sermon JESUS Preached was THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (MY FAVORIATE)

TIM, I'm still praying for You and Your's and a Church.
LOVE
Your Brother in CHRIST

Tim Sweatman said...

At the risk of shattering everyone's impression of me, I must confess that I talk a better game than I practice. Not by design; I truly believe that a missional mindset is the only way that Christians can make a difference in today's world and carry out the Great Commission, and I want to be this kind of Christian. My problem is that I haven't figured out HOW to do it. How does someone who is by nature very quiet and introverted and rarely initiates a conversation, who is completely at ease with books and the Internet but is withdrawn around strangers, take the initiative in getting involved in the lives of others? Other than my personal prayer life (which I hope to never be content with), this is the only area of my Christian walk where I feel like I'm floundering, even failing. I think it may say something when my two weakest areas as a Christian are those that are the most relationally oriented. I've popped the church bubble, I know what the goal is, and I can articulate it pretty well, but I am clueless about how to get there. It's very similar to my ability to look at the big picture and develop broad strategies to achieve a vision, but I am ineffective at putting it into action.

I've often wondered if I'm using my personality as an excuse for not being more evangelistic. I've asked God to make me the kind of person who can talk to anyone at any time, but to be honest I've never felt any sort of prompting by the Spirit to begin talking just out of the blue with a stranger. Now, there have been several occasions when I spoke with someone I did not know in a more structured setting, such as serving as a decision counselor, and the words just came to me. The problem is that you encounter many more people outside such situations.

Slightly off topic, but I want to thank everyone for the prayers and encouragement.

Dan Paden said...

How does someone who is by nature very quiet and introverted and rarely initiates a conversation, who is completely at ease with books and the Internet but is withdrawn around strangers, take the initiative in getting involved in the lives of others?

By design.

Tim Sweatman said...

Dan,

Please explain.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Tim,

I believe that God gives each of His children permission to live the Christian life according to his own gifts and personality. If you are a bookworm and author, then minister in that way. If you are quiet around strangers, then be quiet around strangers. My favorite among the several pastors I have had was Dr. Mark Kemp in Copperas Cove, Texas. He is shy and quiet in person, not the typical gregarious pastor. But I love him and was greatly blessed by his preaching ministry.

Love in Christ,

Jeff