A SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE WITNESS

8 03 2013

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BY STEVE DUNN

“Would you be willing to put a cross on your front line as a simple expression of witness?”

This is how an older lady in a Methodist Church in Harrisburg PA began  a quiet announcement in her church.  “People have all kinds  of signs on their front lawns for many purposes.  How about a simple cross that simply says ‘A Christian lives here.”

Ultimately 250 persons from her church living around the Linglestown area of the city had crosses on their front lawns.  Not garish.  No other messages–but the most powerful one.  “A Christian lives here.”

One day a lady knocked at the door of a house with this cross on the lawn.  “My car broke down, my cell phone doesn’t work, and I am lost,” she told the homeowner.  “I really didn’t known what to do, and then I saw your cross and thought, ‘Someone with  cross will surely help.”

What a wonderful serendipity of the Spirit!  What a wonderful witness!  What a wonderful way to say to a community in an inviting and non-threatening way, “A follower of Jesus lives here.”





BRIDGEBUILDING IDEAS

22 02 2013

page25_picture0_1345493656These are some ideas Bridgebuilder churches have used to begin developing a redemptive relationship with their communities.

Volunteering to help the cafeteria workers in the schools

This is a great one for building a rapport with the school and helping your people see that side of life

Taking a Vacation Bible School INTO a neighborhood

This helps people meet you—lets them see their children are safe with you—lets your people meet neighbors who may hide out in their houses otherwise

Offer A GOOD QUESTION Forum in a neighborhood coffee shop

This I can share in detail—but you create a middle space where people are invited to come, enjoy coffee and ask questions about the Bible, God, Christianity etc—where they will not be asked to join anything , agreed or commit to anything.

Throw a Baby Shower for an Unwed Mother

Walk the Neighbor Hood and Ask “How can we make this a better place to live for you?”Great starter for spiritual conversations)

Adopting a Food Bank and Offering Coaching in Food Preparation

Microwavable and easy-to-prepare food is not often present and people have to learn how to use the food they receive

Diaper Changing Stations at Community Festivals

Setting up a Prayer Station at a Community to Pray for Loved Ones in Afghanistan, etc.

Does your church have an idea they would share with us?





WHAT DOES BEING COUNTERCULTURAL LOOK LIKE?

24 01 2011
From a blog post by Gabe Lyons. How does this observation impact evangelism to the prevailing culture? What are its implications for traditional churches? – Steve 

The word “counterculture,” a sociological term describing a group whose actions run counter to mainstream norms, is making a comeback. The term was popularized in the West during the 1960s when it was used to label the movement to oppose the Vietnam war in the United States and England. But the next Christians are also countercultural, though they look nothing like the peace-loving protesters of the mid-twentieth century.

How are Christian leaders being countercultural, and why do their lifestyles give us hope for the future of our faith?

“While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith,” wroteNewsweek editor Jon Meacham in the April 4, 2009 issue, “our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago.”

To a growing group of believers, the changing religious landscape represents a new chapter in the story God is telling through His people. It’s a welcome change from the out-of-control manipulations they’ve experienced when religion gets intertwined too closely with public life. They see it as a new opportunity to send the Gospel out in fresh and compelling ways. Every generation must face this quandary of how to maintain cultural influence, and in our changing world, the conversation has been resurrected again. Let’s consider the way past generations have predominantly related to culture in light of our future leaders.

Separatism. In the past, some Christians fell into the separatist trap. They responded to culture with condemnation and retreat. Removing themselves far away from the corruption of culture is the name of their game. But Christians who remove themselves from the world in hopes of self-preservation fail to realize that true cultural separation is impossible. More importantly, separation ignores the task we’ve been given to carry the love of God forward to those who might need it most.

Antagonism. Some Christians see little in the current culture worth redeeming and have decided to fight against almost everything culture promotes. Offended by our current cultural disposition, they want to flip over the tables of society instead of negotiating the difficult terrain of working it out from within. By default, they are known for being great at pointing out the problems of society, but they rarely offer good or practical solutions and alternatives that promote a better way of life. They succeed in stating clearly what they are against, but their Achilles heel is suggesting alternatives that embody what they are for.

Relevance. Others have gone to the opposite extreme by falling into the “relevance trap.” In my estimation, this is probably the larger threat for Christian leaders today. In an effort to appeal to outsiders, some Christians simply copy culture. They become a Xerox of what they perceive as hip in hopes that people will perceive them — and their organizations, ministries, and churches — as “cool” and give them a chance. Unfortunately, this pursuit of pop-culture removes the church from its historically prophetic position in society. Relating to the world by following the following the world is a recipe for disaster.

Countercultural. The next generation of Christians aren’t separatists, antagonists, or striving to be “relevant.” Instead, they are countercultural as they advance the common good in society. The next Christians see themselves as salt, preserving agents actively working for restoration in the middle of a decaying culture. They attach themselves to people and structures that are in danger of rotting while availing themselves to Christ’s redeeming power to do work through them. They understand that by being restorers they fight against the cultural norms and often flow counter to the cultural tide. But they feel that, as Christians, they’ve been called to partner with God in restoring and renewing everything they see falling apart.

[For more on how the next Christians are being countercultural, order The Next Christiansby Gabe Lyons.]

Paradoxically, in our current cultural context, this not only opens up more people to personal salvation, but it also sustains a God-glorifying testimony to the world of His restoration power at work. It’s truly good news to the world. Rather than fighting off culture to protect an insular Christian community, they are fighting for the world to redeem it. This is the essence of being what pastor Tim Keller refers to as “a counterculture for the common good.”

A commitment to being countercultural rather than being removed or “relevant” isn’t always easy. Living differently can be hard. Going against the ebbs and flows of culture can create friction and sometimes provoke a hostile reaction to the good we are trying to create. Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon remind us that this should be expected, for “whenever a people are bound together in loyalty to a story that includes something as strange as the Sermon on the Mount, we are put at odds with the world.”

Yet, it is through maintaining this cultural orientation that the world can experience God’s restoration power and people will be convinced that our faith is all we claim, all that Jesus commissioned his followers to. As the apostle Peter encourages, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12, TNIV).

Is a countercultural community the answer to restoring the soul of the world, winning the skeptics, and revitalizing our faith? We’ll have to wait and see. For now we know that the clear call of Jesus is for the Christian community to be salt on a rotting world and light in the dimmest places.

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What are ways your faith community is shaping culture through being countercultural? Do you agree that this is a “way forward” for the Christian movement?





JUSTICE NEEDS EVANGELISM

24 11 2010

In the October 2010 issue of OUTREACH MAGAZINE Dan Kimball published this thoughtful article. Click on to the Dan Kimball link at the end of the article to subscribe to the magazine and website.

It is incredibly encouraging to see how the evangelical church has awoken to the need for global activism for justice as Jesus and the Scriptures teach. New generations are not simply seeing justice as something extra to do as a Christian like an annual trip to build a home in Mexico, but instead as a fabric of the Gospel itself and an incredibly important part of what it means to be a Christian.

Unfortunately, the more I interact with younger Christians in particular, the more I’m seeing them define the Gospel as participating in justice more than the cross. But the more we care about global engagement in justice, the more we need to care and spend effort on evangelism too.

Those of us who have been Christians a long time and were ingrained with a reductionist form of the Gospel that focused only on the cross and death, resurrection of Jesus and payment of sin have welcomed the infusion of a healthy holistic theology that includes seeing the kingdom of heaven come to earth. But emerging generations are often solely learning the Gospel as an emphasis on justice. They actively participate in justice projects and stay aware of global happenings. However, I am concerned that they aren’t learning about the importance of evangelism.

Making New Disciples

When I think of evangelism, I think of the embodiment of the “Good News” of Jesus and proclaiming that in intentional relationships. Yes, the Gospel is about heaven on earth here and now and not just about what happens when we die. But we all do die. Everyone will face judgment, and there is but one Savior and one cross. If we aren’t teaching how to evangelize with word and deed and seeing new followers of Jesus being reproduced in number, then the amount of justice we can become engaged in and active with will lessen. So if we care about justice, we have to care about making new disciples.

What a shame and horrible thought it is that because some current evangelical Christians became disillusioned with how we went about “evangelism” and explaining the Gospel in the past, many then forgot to focus our attention on making new disciples and only focused on justice. So in 20 years, 30 years or 50 years, if we haven’t been making new disciples, we won’t have the number of Christians to serve passionately on the justice issues that Jesus would want us to.

The Power of the Gospel

I also believe it is easier to focus on justice than it is to focus on evangelism. At a recent private discussion group with [New Testament scholar] N.T. Wright, someone said it is culturally acceptable and applauded to be involved in justice these days. Thankfully so! Even atheists are passionate about justice globally. But it isn’t as easy to pray, spend time, invest in a relationship and have a difficult conversation explaining the cross and salvation to someone. That goes against culture. We have to remember the power of the Gospel and that it did take actual words and explanation of the cross for most of us to eventually make a decision and become followers of Jesus and therefore get involved in justice activism.

I dread to think of the lives who won’t be helped by the church and Christians in 50 years through acts of mercy and justice if we aren’t evangelizing and seeing emerging generations of new Christians coming to know Jesus as Savior today.

More about Dan Kimball, Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, Calif. »

 





BEING A GOD INFLUENCE

23 05 2010

The Bridgebuilding Church understands that it is called influence its world. We tend to think of influence as a political act. Influence that is a result of living with Jesus’ DNA is an act of love for our neighbor and faithfulness to God. The description of Christian influence is found in Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 5:18ff. “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.”

Intentional ministry is intended to be an influential ministry. A missional church in focusing on living according to its mission asks the question, “How will our actions lift up Christ before this community?” Such churches know that to misrepresent Christ is an act of disobedience to God with perhaps tragic consequences because it might influence people to embrace a false understanding of Jesus. Or if the non-Christian has a sense of what Jesus truly is like, our behavior in Jesus’ name may influence them to reject Christ, or at the very least cause them to want to have no part with His Bride, the Church.

An inward-focused church often has little influence because its has little contact with or relevance for the community that surrounds it. That is more a tragedy than anything. And if the people surrounding that church see that the church is basically occupying space in the neighborhood and little else, they can easily (and perhaps appropriately) say that the church does not care. And that influences them to seek love from some other source than Christ.

Influence, therefore, requires involvement–on a daily and basic level. The church, to truly be influential intentionally builds (what Bill Hybels calls) redemptive relationships–relationships intended to assist God in His work of salvation and life transformation.

Influence is not throwing your weight around in the public square, it representing the name and the aim of Jesus to a world that has grown skeptical and suspicious about the value of God in their community.

(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn