As we wrap up this 12 Step series, I want to specifically address those of us who are leaders in the church. Step 12 is all about continuing to practice these spiritual disciplines, so that we all become Contagious Carriers of Life and Freedom. Instead of spreading epidemics of greed, or self-centeredness, or hurt like we humans naturally tend to do, we can go into the world spreading this eternal quality of Life Jesus purchased, setting captives free all around us. But why is it so incredibly difficult to get this to actually happen? Why is it that so many churched Christians feel like reaching out to those outside their comfortable church community is extra credit, not the core idea? I want to suggest three possible reasons that leaders must address if we are to be on mission with Jesus.
1. Leaders must model it.
As much as I hate to admit it, the parable of the Good Samaritan was for leaders like me. Jesus was making a point to busy religious people who thought they could somehow do what God wanted without making time to have compassion on hurting people right in their path. As leaders, we need to be engaging the people around us who do not know of the Life and Freedom God offers. I think one reason we are hesitant to reach out to them is we do not realize how good God’s intentions are towards them (I’ll deal with this in the next post).
As leaders, we need to be telling stories of how our neighbors and friends are exploring faith, or the questions and concerns they have, and the extreme rush it is to see a life eternally redirected and walking toward freedom. If our friends are exploring faith, we will have new eyes to see what needs changing in our church culture so that they feel welcome to explore with us. If leaders stay too busy to care about those outside the church, and if the people in our churches are following us, then what are we leading them to become?
2. Maturity must be redefined.
If you listen closely to Christian conversations about maturity, what you’ll find is something very different than what Jesus said or modeled. I think this false view of maturity keeps many churches locked into a very adolescent, narcissistic view of faith. Typically, a church for the mature means we parse Greek verbs in the service, or draw out new Bible insights each week, so that everyone feels like they’re learning. Or mature means we worship without constraint for large amounts of time, or we exercise certain spiritual gifts in the service. Or mature might include having deep small group community, where we study together and truly love one another. And none of this is bad—it’s all good—even necessary at times! That’s the problem.
The problem is that we mistake the means for the end. These wonderful things are means toward maturity, but they are not maturity. Several things Jesus said will be helpful to see this. Jesus kept saying to the busy religious people, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” To be like Jesus, which should be our definition of maturity, we must grow in mercy for a hurting, lost, wandering world.
“I need to be fed,” has become a Christian mantra for the “mature.” But I will contend it’s a false definition of maturity that creates Teacher-centered dependencies rather than Christ-centered maturity. After leading the woman at the well to faith (she had racked up 5 divorces and was living with a guy), Jesus’ disciples offer him food. Listen to how Jesus defines food for the mature: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life…” (John 4:34-36). We need to define maturity as having a Jesus-like impact on the world He came for that’s ripe all around us.
3. We must keep it simple.
Finally, we all need it simple, and we need reminders. I find many Christians get hung up thinking things like, “I don’t know what to say!” “What if I can’t answer their questions?” “What if I don’t know how to help them?” Keep it simple. Baby steps, Bob. Do you know your neighbors’ or co-workers’ names? Start there. Have you ever just asked them questions about themselves—just cared enough to get to know them? Start there. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from simply starting to care. If you will simply engage, God’s Spirit will change you and lead you to show a lonely world His great love.
Let me encourage you to just discover the names of 10 people God’s already put in your path. Write down their names as a reminder and simply try to B.L.E.S.S.* them:
Begin praying for them
Listen to their story so you discover where God’s already at work
Serve them as you discover needs
Share your faith story when God prompts
* Dave and Jon Ferguson came up with BLESS