What do we lead with in spiritual conversations? To what or whom do we draw people? How do we describe ourselves to people?
Do we lead with “church”—or do we lead with “God”?
This question has emerged often in the weeks we’ve been in Uptown. People ask me what I do for a living. I’m confronted with this question. People ask me to describe what we’re doing in Uptown. I’m confronted with this question. We’re thinking through marketing and perception issues for our context. I’m confronted with this question.
How do I respond when people ask what I do? I usually tell them I’m starting a church—that I’m a church starter. It’s a natural reflex. The answer reflects my own perception of my vocation. It also reflects, for better or worse, the church-centered religious heritage from which I’ve come.
A growing trend in mission, however, is to stray from framing a community or individual’s existence in terms of the church and frame it rather in terms of God’s work in Jesus. It is God’s work, after all, that brings the church into existence.
This growing trend seems to be the reinvigoration of a practice of the first Christians. The Apostles in the early church were not commissioned as witnesses to the church, but rather to the work of God in Christ. The formation of the church was a natural outgrowth of preaching about and living within the kingdom of God.
Leading with Jesus in our conversations with people is a move of humility. We point away from ourselves, the church, as a source of healing and righteousness (because we so often are not), and we point to God, the one in whom healing and righteousness are found. We don’t want people to connect with us because we’re awesome—because we aren’t. We want people to connect with God in Jesus because God is awesome.
This approach is also particularly appropriate for the next generation, urban context we find ourselves in here in Dallas. People in my generation and younger tend to be suspicious of the institutional church. Many have been burned by it. Many have negative perceptions of it in light of abuse scandals and fanatical right wing politics.
So instead of pointing urban Dallasites to the church, perhaps it’s better that we point them to the character of the God who brings the church to life. If they can connect with God in Jesus, God can be responsible for reshaping their perceptions about church (even if some perceptions are unfortunately on target). The church is certainly important; but it is secondary to the character and work of God.
Help me process through this. What do you lead with? Church or God?
How does leading with God in Jesus change how we describe ourselves to other people?
On a very practical level, if I don’t call myself a church starter, what do I call myself?