In Pastor Burk Parsons’ teaching series The Great Commission (you can watch the first lecture free), he takes us through Matthew 28: 18-20, which reads:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We could say that our mission as Christians is telling people about the good news of Jesus, the Gospel (evangelizing), making disciples and teaching them. Baptizing of these disciples is done by the local church.
If this is our mission, how are we doing with it? I’m afraid that as an individual, I may have to give myself a failing grade on sharing the Gospel with others. Some look at this passage as being about missions. John Piper has said about missions, either we go ourselves or we send others (contribute financially). I’m not specifically talking about missions here. I’m applying this to our daily lives and the people we interact with.
As I take a look at my life, now that I’m retired, I realize that I rarely engage with non-believers. I’m either with friends or family who are believers, or church members. When I was working, I interacted with many non-believers each day. However, as a leader I was limited in being able to share my beliefs.
I recently saw an ad in my church denomination’s magazine about a Presbyterian retirement community. That got me to thinking about our Christian sub-culture, and how living in that sub-culture may drive us away from the mission we were given by Jesus. This sub-culture can also be called Christian Tribalism. Do we only hang around people who are like us? People of the same race and class, that have the same political views, are the same age, go to the same church, etc.? Do we allow any room for nuance or being challenged to think in a different way? Can we become or stay friends with folks we disagree with, and “agree to disagree”?
I may have more questions than answers here, but my intent is just to start us thinking about this.
Here are a few of the areas of our Christian sub-culture to think about regarding our mission:
Schools. My wife Tammy and I were not blessed with children, and thus we never had to make education decisions for children. Today, Christian parents must decide whether to send their children to public schools, Christian schools or perhaps home school their children. It would be possible, by sending children to Christian schools, or home schooling, and then sending them to a Christian college, to isolate them from those that Jesus told us to tell the good news to until they were ready to enter the workforce. I am not advocating for the public schools. I recently heard Albert Mohler describe the shocking sex education framework for California public schools being a manifesto for the sexual revolution and LGBTQ movement on his program The Briefing. Often times, changes to our culture introduced in California, will eventually work their way across the country. It would be hard for parents to send their children to public schools with this type of curriculum. What are parents to do about the education of their children in light of the Great Commission?
Books. I try to read books in a variety of genres, including Christian living, theology, biography, sports, professional and personal growth and leadership. However, even though I read in a number of genres, most of the books, even in these diverse genres are written by Christian authors. Perhaps your reading is more diverse, and you read more books by non-Christian authors. I’m not necessarily suggesting this, but throwing out the question in light of our mission and being able to engage in conversation with our non-Christian friends and family.
Music. Like my reading, I listen to music in a variety of genres, including contemporary Christian music, worship, classic rock, and Christian hip-hop/rap. I have found that talking to non-believers about music is a good way to engage in conversation. For example, I talked with the individual who was cutting my hair, a musician themselves, about Bruce Springsteen, an artist they appreciate. At the time Springsteen had recently talked about his Catholic faith (caution: adult language). I plan to weave this into the conversation the next time I get my hair cut.
Movies. Tammy and I love to go to the movies, and before Covid would see at least one film each week. However, most films have some type of content issues (sexuality, language, violence), which will keep many believers away from films that many non-believers will see and be talking about. I’m not suggesting that you compromise and see inappropriate films, but only stating that popular films (rather than films made by and for Christians, which I also go to), are something that people like to talk about and talking about them may be a good entry into a conversation with a non-believer.
Retirement communities. This gets me back to Christian retirement communities. The particular ad states, “You can retire from the ordinary things in life – like a lawn mower, rake, and the snow shovel, but you never retire from pursuing your interests, building relationships and spending time with family and friends”. We may ask how this relates to our mission as stated by Jesus in the Great Commission. I remember a dear saint, long since departed, who was very upset about having to go into a nursing home. She was depressed for months, before she came to the realization that she could bloom where God had planted her. She then decided to see the people in the nursing home – residents, nurses, food service workers, janitors, etc. – as her ministry. Can Christian retirement homes and communities, like Christian schools, serve to isolate us from those Jesus wanted us to share the Gospel with and make disciples of? It’s something to think about.
Friends, here I’ve asked more questions than provided answers.
Bob Goff says: “We make loving people a lot more complicated than Jesus did.”
“Find someone you think is wrong, someone you disagree with, someone who isn’t like you at all, and decide to love that person the way you want Jesus to love you.”
So where can we begin to get out of our Christian comfort zones and love others different from us and carry out the mission Jesus gave us?
- My wife Tammy will often start up conversations by asking people about their tattoos. Tattoos are like a window into people’s souls and their life history. They show what’s important to people, and we’ve never experienced anyone unwilling to tell us about their tattoos.
- Maybe start with hospitality? Inviting new neighbors over for a meal or take a meal to their home?
- Jemar Tisby in his book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism suggests practical ways to develop interracial relationships.
As you can see, I don’t have many great ideas, but I’d love to hear what you think about what I’ve written, and also any other thoughts/suggestions you’d like to share.