EPIPHANY: The Light in Our Darkness #7

   Moving Beyond the Church World ©  We stood gazing over the impressive “hemi” engine at the Good Guys Car Show located on the grounds of the Fort Worth Motor Speed Way.  My cousins, Fred and Tom, peered intently inside the hood of the “hot rod.”  They gazed in awe down at the engine components.  I gazed too but I had no clue what we were actually looking at.  Finally I had to ask; “What are we looking at?”  Almost reverently Fred pointed with one finger down at a part of the engine intake.  Solemnly he intoned, “Fuel injected.” That day at the Texas Motor Speedway I was introduced to a different world I only dimly knew existed.  My cousins had talked with great zest about the world of cars and car shows (especially what I would call the “hot rods”) before.  They had repeatedly invited me to come to one of the shows with them.  They both had restored older model cars to a “street rod” configuration.  This semi-hidden world was a great part of life for them.  It was a part of life that they were eager to share. So what does all this have to do with the Wisemen and “the light in our darkness?”  In a sense, everything!  Neither of my cousins is an active Christian.  To be sure, they would align themselves loosely with what they understand to be some of the values of the Christian faith.  Still neither would claim the title of “disciple” or “Christ follower.”  Strangely however, they were “evangelistic” about their love of cars and zeal to share that love with others. For me they are a launching point into this last blog (of seven) on the series “EPIPHANY: The Light in Our Darkness.”  I write to offer six practical suggestions for church pastors moving themselves and their churches beyond the church world.  Additionally, I write to offer five practical suggestions for lay people in moving beyond the church.  [While I will list them separately, there is a real sense that both lists belong to both lay and clergy alike!] Practical suggestions for church pastors moving themselves and their churches beyond the church world: 1.     Live the incarnation. Go and enter in the non-Christian, non-church world. The Lord of the universe didn’t just demand that we come to him!  Jesus came to us.  Follow Christ’s example! 2.     Make friends for the sake of friendships (not as a means to an end). Model such behavior for your congregations and be publically explicit about such modeling! This is a basic way we both share the love of Christ in us and help our congregations do the same. 3.     Where appropriate, share what God is doing in your life. The key is to speak of the triune God as a subject in action and not as the object of sentence. To quote Carlyle, “People want to know God other than by second hand.”  To quote Peter, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it” (I Peter 3:15). 4.     Pray to be led into a faith-sharing, witnessing opportunity. The Holy Spirit is at work in our world and our lives. Every time I remember to pray to be led, in measurable time, the Holy Spirit comes through!  The Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is powerfully active in our lives!  We need to both seek and trust the Spirit’s guidance. 5.     Turn “attenders” into “recommenders.” Jim Ozier writes, “Before we get to a culture of invitation, we must master the art of recommendation” (Jim Ozier & Fiona Haworth, Clip In: Risking Hospitality in Your Church, p. 117; the whole book is an excellent starting place, but chapter 9 is worth the price all by itself!). 6.     Rediscover and employ in congregational worship brief “testimonials” or “witnesses” by lay people about how God is active in their life. Brief, practical faith sharing has a power and blessing all its own. It must not be about God but do stress how God has been active in my/our life/lives. Practical suggestions for lay people in moving beyond the church world: 1.     Prayer, Prayer, Prayer! It cannot be said enough. The Holy Spirit will lead you!  In your prayer, trust your fears to the Lord. Pray also for people you see in public places. Try asking your table server next time you eat out if they have something they might like you to pray for as you say grace.  9.5 times out of 10, they will be deeply appreciative and often spiritually moved! 2.     Rehearse and be able to share your own story (“testimony”) of how God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit has been and is now active in your life. Sunday School classes and small groups are excellent safe places to practice. In fact, a Sunday School class will itself be revitalized and revolutionized by such faith sharing. 3.     Engage in mission outreach as a part of sharing your faith story. The Christian faith is more caught than taught. A (lay) friend recently told me about how in his church they share fresh grown produce with the poor and hungry.  In doing so, they add a gracious non-coercive verbal witness 4.     Exemplify a Christian lifestyle by both word and deed. It is not an either/or equation. It takes both word and deed.  The two together are a gift to others!  Employ Philippines 4:4-9.  In this divisive culture, it will be received as a blessing. 5.     Invite and go with. Incarnational faith sharing and invitational faith sharing go together. They too are not an either/or.  Pick some wonderful ministry/event in the life of your church and invite a non-Christian friend to go with you.  Most Christians fail to understand how scary visiting a church is to non-Christians.  Simultaneously most non- or nominal Christians would secretly be delighted by an invitation to go to church with Christian friends on Christmas Eve, Easter or Mother’s Day. There is more, much, much more, to be said.  Allow a redundant emphasis.  The clergy list applies to laity and the lay list applies to clergy!  The light shines in our darkness and the darkness does not overcome it!  (John 1:5). Moving beyond the church world is an exciting adventure in faithfulness! I would also recommend these resources to explore evangelism and faith sharing: Clip In: Risking Hospitality in Your Church by Jim Ozier and Fiona Haworth Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson and Kay Kotan Just a Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels