Speaking and Caring
This last Sunday, our little missional community group here in Seattle got together to discuss what it means for us to be a missional community and to share some of what we have been doing or what we are going to do for our own individual missional community. It was a great discussion with a lot of good insight, but something one of the members there said really stuck out at me, "One thing that keeps people from knowing about God is other people trying to tell them [about Him]." After he said this, I had to just pause and think for a minute, as it has profound implications for our mission.
So often as Christians we start with our words. We ask people what they think about God, we tell them what we think, and then we try to convince them to agree. It's a fairly simple three step process, one that I've used many times. But the problem is we are creating an environment in which we have the right answer and they are simply wrong. While we may not want to portray a sense of superiority, it still comes out as we are informing the other person of what they need to do or need to be like and they find that to be really offensive. In all honesty, I hate it when Pastors tell me how I should act as a "do this or else" statement because I feel as if I am devalued, or that I am lower then they are, because I am not living the great truth that they think I should be. So I can understand in many ways why someone would shut down when they feel like someone else is telling them that they are wrong and they just need to assent to a different truth.
This type of "missional" work seems to miss the point of Isaiah 61, which Jesus states is about himself,
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
As we see in the gospels, the freedom is not just for the religious, but Jesus brings freedom to those who were quite possibly the most unreligious. He communicates in a way which brings freedom and grace, instead of feelings of being judged or of being less then others. And I know it's not our intention to do this, as we all want to love others and help them to come to know Christ, but the mentality of simply telling others about God and giving them a tract, having a bit of debate and then somehow they are convinced of the truth, is not an effective way of speaking to others at this moment in history. However, only speaking the truth to a person treats them as if they only have a mind, and if we can only get the person to intellectually assent to the truth, then we will be okay. Yet, people are holistic beings, we not only have intellectual needs, we have physical needs, spiritual needs, love needs and even grace needs. So to live missionally we must engage the needs of others on all levels, not simply on an intellectual level.
So, perhaps we should start not with conversation about the beliefs of God the person across from us holds, and instead begin with caring for some of the other needs that person has. Can we help them with a project? Can we talk to them about their life? Can we simply spend time being with them? Whatever it may be, we should look for the need of the other person so that we can love on them wherever they find themselves at. And amazingly enough, if we walk with them, not to convert them but to truly love them, we will find that they will begin to be set free and with God's help, be lead into knowing Jesus who is the source of our love for them. For then we can speak of God and who we see Him as, because the other person will hear our words coming out of love instead of interpreting them as a desire to simply be right.
To end with, I want to share a quote from St Francis of Assisi, who I think sums up what it means to live a life of love and not simply worry about getting to a conversation about Jesus. St Francis wrote, "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words." May we remember that as we walk day by day, trying to love those around us and show Christ's love to them.