Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
I remember having lunch with my friend, Ben, who is starting new works in a particularly “unchurched” area of our city. He is taking a pretty non-traditional approach, at least in terms of denominational church starts. He is simply making friendships in businesses and schools and other places in the neighborhood, then watching as some of those friendships develop into Bible studies. The goal, I believe, is to start a number of these Bible studies in multiple locations around the neighborhood and see what happens.
So, as Ben and I were enjoying our Mexican food, we were talking about these friendships he was making. Many of them are not the kind of people who would ever feel comfortable walking into my very traditional, very WASP downtown church. As he was explaining his approach to these friendships, he said something that really hit my traditional, institutional church paradigm completely sideways. He said, “Blake, the people I am talking to about Spiritual things are not asking the question, ‘what do you believe?’ That’s not a question they care about at all. What they are asking is, ‘Are you somebody I want to be like?'”
I haven’t been able to get that comment out of my head. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It has really shaken my world.
I live and move in a world of strategic planning. I consult with churches regularly, telling them how important it is that they spend time defining who they are and what they believe. I am big on mission statements and purpose statements and vision statements and core values. If you ask me to describe my own church to you I would probably begin with what we believe. When I talk about Christianity to non-Christian friends, my entire mindset is about what we believe. Frankly, it is where I find meaning in almost everything. So, if there is a generation (or two) of nonbelievers to whom I am supposed to witness and whose radar screen doesn’t even have the question “what do you believe?” anywhere on it, then I am suddenly feeling woefully ill-equipped.
Can this be true? As a church, are we really creating entire websites that are answering questions our target audience isn’t even asking? I mean, I’m not completely out of touch. I’ve been reading for years now about the disconnect between the mainstream church and the culture in which it lives. But this distinction seems to me to be pretty fundamental. If my friend is correct, then evangelism cannot begin with what I believe. The gospel does not start with the message of salvation, in fact, it does not start with a message at all. If Ben is right, it actually starts with something much simpler and much more foundational than words…
…it starts with friendships.
What Ben’s philosophy holds is that, long before we have earned the right to sit and discuss beliefs, we must be friends. There must be needs being met and a genuine desire to spend time around each other without any agenda at all…just friends hanging out together. If Ben is correct, then the church has got to re-think how it operates, because we actually have to be looking to make new friends all the time. We have to be willing to open up our lives and forge new, meaningful relationships with people we don’t know. We have to spend time with them during the week and care about much more than just their spiritual well-being. We may have to put the spiritual discussions on hold for long periods of time in order to strengthen the friendship, with no guarantee that the spiritual part will ever bear fruit at all. We have to do more than just minister…we actually have to become friends.
I hope Ben is wrong about having to make new friends in order to reach people with the gospel. Because I’m not altogether sure we’re set up for that. Are you?
© Blake Coffee
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