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This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post describes 3 ways to embrace the kind of God-ordained missional lifestyle described in a previous post.
A phrase like “a missional lifestyle” is both grand in scope and a little nebulous. A legitimately difficult part of going on the mission of Jesus is knowing how to take tangible, practical steps to focus your lifestyle for the sake of mission. This post will seek to give you three ways to begin to embrace a missional lifestyle in focused and practical ways.
As you prayerfully and lovingly engage the various lost people around you (see a previous post), God will give you favor with some and lay some especially on your heart. Identify three of these people (people that are local and that you see at least on a semi-regular basis) as “your three” and make three commitments before the Lord about them: first, you will pray daily for them and potentially even pray specific Scriptures over their lives; second, you will make “next steps” with them (this could be setting time-sensitive goals for loving them practically and creating opportunities for a Gospel conversation with them: going out to lunch, having them over, inviting them to a social event, etc.); third, you will set a time-sensitive goal to begin a spiritual conversation with them with the aim of sharing the Gospel.
Identifying “your three” will help you avoid the trap of simply becoming a generally nice and kind Christian person in relationship with unbelievers, but not actually taking specific steps to sharing Jesus’ love with specific people. “Your Three” helps us fulfill Jesus’ big mission to all with small steps to specific people.
In our busy culture you will need to make margin for mission and for ministering to your three. Margin means “edge” or “border”. When we use this word in reference to our lives we mean “free space” at the edges of our lives, time that is not filled up with activity. American and church culture are epically busy and without margin—to make margin for mission is to actively arrange your life to not be as busy with the non-essentials so that you can give time to the mission of Jesus.
Every phase of life has an intense busyness in American Christianity that must be fought against for the sake of mission: singles fill their calendars with social events (mostly with other single Christians), young marrieds “need” their off work time to exclusively be together and their weekends to take trips, parents of young children are swamped and want to keep precious kid-free time to themselves, parents of older children are running their children around to every conceivable extracurricular activity imaginable, and everybody “has” to be out of town at least a weekend or two a month to see family and friends (or watch college football games!). A typical church culture exponentially adds to this busyness. I’ve known Christians who attend as many as three to four regular weekly gatherings with believers (if you include Sunday mornings, small groups, Bible studies, and casual fellowship like dinner or coffee with other Christians, how many do you have?) without a single set-apart time for ministering to unbelievers.
If you’re going to take part in Jesus’ mission you’re going to have to make margin—in other words, you’re going to have to say “no” to a lot of good things lots of people do for the sake of the necessary thing, the best thing Christians are called to do. Craig Groeschel says that in addition to a “to-do” list, anyone who wants to accomplish anything of significance needs a “to-don’t” list: a list of good things we will not do so that we can be free for the best things we must do. Look around at your busy life for things that you do not have to do and ruthlessly eliminate them until you can say, in good conscience, that you have made room to intentionally pursue the mission of Jesus with your lifestyle.
One specific way to discipline yourself to make margin for mission is to tithe your time to unbelievers. The method is simple: calculate the number of waking hours you have that are “free” (i.e. not sleeping, spending personal time with the Lord, working at your job, worshiping on Sunday mornings, or doing a specific God-given life stage responsibility. Consider everything else “free time”—even if it’s a church community group, service project, hobby, working out, etc.) Take those waking “free” hours and divide by ten. Whatever number you get (in some seasons of life it will be a large number, some seasons it will be a very small one), seek to intentionally spend that amount of time with an unbeliever (or pursuing/meeting non-Christians) each week. You can seek to include them in things you already enjoy, or set aside specific time to just spend with them. Be creative in this, plan ahead in the way you would plan to spend time with friends.
Start with one or two of these practical methods, and prayerfully expect the Lord to work!
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post describes the kind of lifestyle God would have us embrace for the sake of mission.
A missional lifestyle is a lifestyle that seeks out intentional, loving, and evangelism-aimed relationships with unbelievers. Many Christians are happy with the idea of evangelism as long as it is something we do “over there” (on special occasions, perhaps as a church activity) or “when God gives an opportunity” (by which we most nearly mean— “when someone asks me to tell them about Jesus”).
Embracing a missional lifestyle means embracing the fact that God has called me to leverage my entire lifestyle for the sake of evangelism and mission and that He has ordained all the spheres of our lives (work, family, hobbies, where we live, etc.) to be caught up in Jesus’ mission to the lost. It embraces how God has providentially placed all of the unbelievers in all of the various aspects of our lives and that He calls us to intentionally love and seek to share the Gospel with them. One only has to read a little ways in the Gospels to see Jesus taking up many providential encounters with strangers for the sake of the Gospel.
For example, a Christian who loves the Lord but isn’t living missionally might view their career like this: “I’m thankful for a job that I (mostly) enjoy and that provides decently for my needs. I’m going to work hard, be honest, and be kind to my coworkers and those I serve in my vocation. I’m going to glorify God in the way I do my work. I’m going to pray that God gives me strength to do my work well and that He gives promotions and opportunities in His timing.” A Christian who has embraced a missional lifestyle says, in addition to all the above: “God has placed me here in this particular workplace to be a witness, in word and deed, to these particular people. I’m going to pray for their conversion daily. I’m going to relationally engage them at work. I’m going to sacrificially spend time with them and invite them into my life outside of work in love. By God’s power I am going to speak to them the word of life, the Gospel.”
A missional lifestyle embraces this attitude—“God has placed me here to be a witness”—in every sphere of life—how you relate to nuclear and extended families, how you relate to your neighbors, how you vacation, how you view your community or HOA, etc.
If you want to be faithful to Jesus and embrace a missional lifestyle, start where you are. Specifically, begin with your providential acquaintances, the unbelievers you have relationships with through the various parts of your life. Examples include: neighbors, coworkers, and people in your affinity/interest groups (people who enjoy the same hobbies as you, or have kids who are on the same sports/whatever teams as yours are). Engage these people by seeking out an intentional relationship with them—getting beyond casual conversation and seeking to care for them as a person. Invite these people into your life in love in various ways (a future post will have more details). Make practical goals, like learning one new significant thing about these people in each interaction.
Second, start with “providential strangers”. Even the most insulated of Christians (like those who work at church and have Christians for neighbors) interact with lost people every day—baristas, waitresses, grocery store clerks, people sitting next to us in public places, etc. Lovingly engage these people in conversation. Ask a waitress how her day is going. Memorize the names of the baristas at your favorite coffee shop—and frequent the same places so you can be around them often. Refuse to be glued to your phone (or Heaven help you, have headphones in!) while standing in line or in the first 5 minutes of a flight.
As the Lord gives you favor with some of these people you are engaging, seek to include them in the things you are already doing. The utter loneliness of American culture means that many people long for company and community and will take you up on it when you invite them into your life. Do you go to the gym before work? See if a coworker wants to start going with you. Are you really excited about a group from church going to the beach this weekend? Invite your unbelieving neighbor. Getting an unbeliever around your Christian friends is especially helpful because it helps your Christian friends see your missional lifestyle and helps your unbelieving friends see the blessing of God’s people. Do you really enjoy __________? See if there are any unbelievers you know who enjoy that too and do it together.
A bonus to embracing a missional lifestyle is fulfilling the most basic of Jesus’ commandments: loving your neighbor as yourself. Noticing, engaging, including, and caring for people is fulfilling the Golden Rule and aiming at fulfilling the Great Commission.
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post begins the series, describing how we overcome our heart barriers that keep us from evangelism.
It took a nervous baby Christian attempting to share the Gospel with me to convict me to address all the barriers between my heart and living on Jesus’ mission. A few years ago I was on a plane ride back from a seminary course in Louisville. It had been a long week and I was exhausted. I spoke briefly to the man next to me, and the Lord immediately began to lay on my heart that I should share Christ with him. I had every excuse in the book—he looked uncomfortable already, I hadn’t had my devotion today, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know where to start—and most of all, I had butterflies in my stomach.
We made small talk for 5 minutes and sat awkwardly for an hour. Finally, as the plane began its descent, this baby Christian unknowingly started sharing the Gospel with a Christian pastor! He looked at me, sweaty and nearly shaking, and said “I don’t know where you are spiritually, but I used to be an addict and Jesus saved me. He can help you too”.
I wanted to laugh and weep in that moment. I wanted to laugh because here we are, two sons of the living God, both eternally secure and going to Heaven and sharing the life of the Spirit—and we were too afraid to even mention the name Jesus to each other! Really though, I wanted to weep because I, the seminary trained pastor was too selfish and fearful to be willing—and this baby Christian with zero training was willing to speak for Jesus through the shakes and sweats. I resolved that day that whatever it took, I would, by the Spirit’s power, address and overcome whatever ugliness in my heart made me unwilling to speak for Jesus that day. The Lord’s done a work and continues to work on me in this area of my life; here's what I’ve learned so far.
As I examined my heart and lifestyle, I learned that selfishness and fear were the two great barriers that stood between me and a life on mission with Jesus. First was the glaring observation that I had so few evangelistic opportunities in daily life. A part of the reason I was so nervous/unwilling when opportunities came was because I had so few opportunities at all.
Then a scary, oh-no-I-don’t-want-to-look-in-the-mirror thought struck me: the reason I had so few evangelistic opportunities is because I was basically living a selfish lifestyle. I interacted with unbelievers every day but wasn’t intentionally getting to know them. I wouldn’t take the time to remember the grocery clerk’s name, or to have my neighbors over for dinner, or spend even 10% of my prayers for their salvation. I was too “busy” (a nice way to say “filling my life to the brim with selfish pursuits”) to know and care for unbelievers—which is the primary context in which one has significant evangelistic opportunities.
Then there was fear. First off, fear is different than nerves. (Nerves are natural in evangelism—in fact, a seminary professor of mine said “evangelism is two uncomfortable people having a conversation”!) Fear, in contrast to nerves, is letting your nerves and emotions paralyze you from obeying God and loving others. It’s allowing various specific fears and the unpleasant possibilities and emotions surrounding them control your actions. The most common fears are: “What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” “What if they reject me?” “What if I bumble the conversation up and forever convince this person Christians are idiots?” “What if this conversation ruins my relationship with this person?” The presence of uncomfortable emotions and questions is not necessarily sinful—but allowing those emotions to control you is. For me, overcoming fear looked like choosing to speak through my feelings of fear. It looked like acting like Jesus would help me even when in the moment I didn’t feel like he would. It looked like asking that conversation-shifting question about spiritual things, even if the moment felt awkward.
So I learned the ugly truth about myself—my selfishness and fear was what really hindered my evangelism. But as the Lord showed me this ugly truth, He showed me a surpassingly beautiful one—that the Gospel I was too selfish and fearful to share was the solution for my unwillingness to share it.
First, the Gospel gives me a clean slate and access to the Father in my disobedience regarding evangelism. Christ died for me; I’m 100% right with God based on His life and death. The Father loves me and will pour grace on me even if I really am as selfish and fearful as I now realize.
Specifically, for selfishness: The Gospel tells me that I am not my own, for I was bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). I belong to Jesus. He has bought me for His purposes—joy of knowing and being like our loving God in His outgoing mission to bring many sons to glory (John 17, Hebrews 2:10). The Gospel also tells me that Jesus Himself, the one who came to seek and save the lost, lives in me (Luke 19:10, Gal 2:20). Christ, the ultimate seeker of the lost, living in me, has the power to make me a seeker of the lost. These truths, slowly but surely, began to help me re-arrange my life around Jesus’ mission (see a future post for the details).
For fear: The Gospel addresses all of my fears surrounding evangelism. What if this person rejects me? The Father has fully embraced me in Christ—His approval is what my soul longs for and will find fully as I trust Jesus. What if I jack up the conversation? If I’m speaking any aspect of the Gospel with any degree of clarity, that is impossible—because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). The Gospel gives me the power to speak for Christ and the assurance that the Spirit works even in my “weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3) because He worked through the weak, trembling apostles before me. The Gospel addresses both my specific fears and gives me the faith to speak in the midst of fearful feelings.
Have you not shared the Gospel in months, or ever? Do you feel convicted/guilty about that? Most likely, it’s your selfishness and/or fear. Praise God, that same Gospel can change you. Preach it to yourself, massage its truths into your heart, and this week, step out of your selfishness and lay down your life to intentionally know an unbeliever—and by faith, speak for Jesus through the butterflies.
In Season 3 of his acclaimed podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell (author of cultural insights like The Tipping Point and Outliers) poses the question as to when does new information change behavior. The episode is called “Burden of Proof” and features Gladwell giving a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania. The lecture told the story about the long-ago fight over miner’s asthma and about the more recent and unforeseen death of a Penn student named Owen Thomas. Thomas had been a football player at Penn and had committed suicide three years earlier due to the effects of CTE. Through both stories, Gladwell pushes his audience to consider “How much evidence do we need of the harmfulness of some behavior before we act?”
In a wonderful book called You Are What You Love, James KA Smith wrestles with a similar question. “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do? Have you ever found that new knowledge and information don’t seem to translate into a new way of life? Ever had the experience of hearing an incredibly illuminating and informative sermon on a Sunday, waking up Monday morning with new resolve and conviction to be different, and already failing by Tuesday night? You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike, yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”
While both Gladwell and Smith want to see people make improvements and changes for the better, their means to do so differ. Gladwell believes that with enough evidence, the burden of proof will compel people to change and get their act together. Smith, through personal experience and observation, sees a hard-to-bridge gap between knowing and doing...especially when it comes to the Christian life. Reminiscent of James 1:22-23, Smith recognizes the human tendency to hear something good and true, then never follow up with it again.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that the recipients of his letter would abound in their love (v.9) so that they would/could grow in knowledge, discernment, and purity. So that they may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (v.11). To think and act and be right, they had to first love and love well. Paul is saying that our actions and habits are formed more by our desires (ie. what/who we love) than what we know to be true. This is why Smith defines discipleship as “a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.” He calls it “more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing.”
This is psalmist-type language. If you read Psalm 42 or 63, you’ll see words like thirsting and panting. You’ll see someone who longs for the Lord. If you read Psalm 119, you’ll see words like love and delight. You’ll see someone who finds joy in the Lord and considers His very words sweeter than honey (v.103) and more valuable than riches (v. 14). Someone who has had their affections completely captivated by the goodness of the Lord. Sanctification is less about learning new information and more about delighting in the One who brings about life transformation. We shouldn’t settle for knowing the right things...our hope and prayer should be that we love the right things. That we are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We need to consider how we can stir up our affections for the Lord. We need to consider how our hearts are curated.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1
Do you have anyone in your life who is not doing what they should be doing? Or do you look at anyone and think, “If they would just _________, their life would be so much better!!” Maybe it is not someone close to you; maybe it is a public figure with no relation to you whatsoever. How easy it is to solve the problems of others….
What might be said of me? What areas of my own life need some adjusting? What planks in my own eyes need to be removed before going to restore a brother or sister?
Before I consider how I might restore another, it is necessary to spend some time removing the planks from my own eye. This gives me perspective. It helps me to remember that not one of us is without sin, perfect in all our ways. It helps me to approach others in gentleness and humility, knowing that we are all the same. My planks might be different than yours, but we all have them. So, my heart is then fixed on the Lord and His righteousness, and my desire is tuned for others to see Him and not me.
Hearts can be very tender. Very often we have no idea what battles a person might be fighting. As you approach someone to help in some area, you might discover many things you did not anticipate. For one thing, people may not be ready or willing to receive help. This can seem shocking if a person is obviously in dire straits. What should you do? Pray. Ask the Lord if you are the person to help. If you decide to move forward, offer your help in a very confidential, warm, and sensitive way, while continuing to seek the Lord in prayer. In any case, the person might refuse for many reasons. You should continue to pray and wait. You might reach out gently again later, but help cannot be forced. If this is a family member for whom you have some level of responsibility, your role is going to look much different. Again, prayer is so key. You might need some counsel if the situation is such that you cannot remain uninvolved.
If the person accepts help, you must pray through the entire process for His wisdom and guidance; for His heart and attitude, for His will and way, for His discernment to know how to provide help, and for the person’s willingness and readiness to receive it. Perhaps part of the preparation that the Lord is doing in that time is work in your own heart.
You may have heard the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We might know exactly what to do to correct the problems a person is experiencing and thereby improve their life. But all of that knowledge is wasted if, in the process, we fail to communicate respect for them as a person. If I personally feel shamed, I will not want to receive help from you, nor will I feel your love, even if you are trying to help me; even if you are spending your time and energy and maybe even your resources to help me. We all want to be loved. And we all want to be known. However, being known is so risky because, deep down, we all realize our faults and we fear being judged and rejected.
So, our help must first gently communicate respect. We have to be vulnerable to demonstrate that we are not any better than the person we are trying to help. Those verses in Galatians warn us to watch out lest we ourselves fall into sin. This does not mean necessarily that we might fall into the same sin of the person we are helping, but rather the sin of pride- the sin of thinking we are better than they are. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are all the same; “one dumb decision away from blowing it,” as Buster reminds us.
After you have gone through all of these steps prayerfully, you can move forward and gently offer your help with humility and grace. Offer to pray together as a first step. If your help is not accepted at first, offer to meet on a regular basis for prayer. Trust must be established. A relationship must be built. Rely on the Lord in every way.
Remember that you are not God and that He is able to take care of the person apart from your help. Prayer is effective. Perhaps His call to pray is why you feel burdened for the person. Perhaps you are not the person God intends to provide the practical help. Pray for the one whom He will send. He is faithful and good, and His love endures forever. He can be trusted to make a way.
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