There are so many things to blog about. Rather than cram them all into one entry, I’ll spread them out over the course of the next several posts. Here are a few topics floating around in my head: 1) translating established patterns of ministry to more ‘organic’ ones; 2) creating ‘margin’ in ministry; and 3) letting outsiders participate in the development of values and purpose. I’m writing them down in this post mainly so I won’t forget to post on them later. Stay tuned for reflections about these things.
First of all, all of you should know that our dessert party last week was a tremendous success. Thanks for your prayers. We were nervous that no one would show. But without fail, when put your neck out there God comes through. Nine people showed up from our apartment community: several were from our hallway, and a few more worked at the leasing office where we live. Interesting observation: no one at the party had lived in the community longer than 6 months.
Another family of four RSVP’d but had to decline because they caught the stomach bug. We’re excited about this particular family because they have two children Ryan’s age and have expressed a lot of interest in having play dates. We really didn’t expect for Ryan to have any playmates in our apartment community, but again, God provides.
Now I’ve really feel like we’ve started. Relationships with outsiders have begun.
I’d say the most critical learning lesson for us in this experiment of hospitality concerned the issue of agenda or motivation. In short, we tried to make it our agenda solely to extend ourselves as friends and good neighbors, nothing more. Not as church planters. Not as Christians. No gospel strings attached.
This is hard, particularly for someone whose livelihood is wrapped up in the gospel. It’s my job to connect with people, right? We’re starting a church in Dallas, right?
I think, however, that there’s a healthy sense of reservation required of Christ-followers who show hospitality to outsiders, for two reasons: 1) God calls us to love people and be good neighbors regardless of whether they show interest in God or being part of a church; and 2) outsiders can sense when they’re disingenuously being set up for a sales pitch or recruitment to something.
We’ve got to be able to form relationships with unbelievers without pretense or ulterior motives, other than loving them as those who are created and loved by God.
I was careful, therefore, not to divulge too much about myself when asked. I was certainly honest in telling them we were starting a church in the area, but I was slow to add any more detail. What I discovered was that those who were interested were quick to come back around to ask more questions about it later.
It’s so much easier to let people explore the gospel on their own terms, in their own time. Our work is simply to respond to those who God is moving to respond to us.
It reminds me of the parable of the sower—some soil responds to the seed and other soil doesn’t. One of the dominant metaphors for mission in the gospels–the agricultural image–does not include instructions for tilling the rocky soil, getting rid of the thorns, or shooting the birds that come and try to carry the seed away. We leave that to God’s Spirit. Our role in mission is sowing seed and gathering up the harvest—that is, collecting what’s grown up from soil that’s responded to the seed of the gospel and the work of the Spirit.
Keep praying that God will be preparing people to respond to the gospel as good soil, and that he’ll give us eyes to see the harvest that’s ripe for gathering into the kingdom.