Jesus said: ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34-35) We need to be communities of love and we need to be seen to be communities of love. People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter.
Mission must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians, but between unbelievers and the Christian community. We want to build relationships with unbelievers. But we also need to introduce people to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so that they see Christian community in action.
People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message. The best place for belief to emerge is in a context where people already feel that they belong. If a believing community is a persuasive apologetic for the gospel then people need to be included to see that apologetic at work.
Our approach to mission should involve three elements:
- building relationships
- sharing the gospel message
- including people in community
1. Building Relationships
It’s all too easy for us to put on events that suit us at locations that suit us and at times that suit us. But to reach a neighbourhood or community of people, we need to eat their food, play their games, hear their stories, walk their streets, enter their homes, follow their timetable and inhabit their spaces.
2. Introducing to Community
This does not necessarily mean inviting people to a Sunday church meeting or to your church building. It means introducing them to our network of relationships in the context of ordinary life: inviting both Christian and non-Christian friends round for a meal or for an evening out.
We should not try to be behave differently around unbelievers – be, as it were, on your ‘best behaviour’. We want to be authentic, vulnerable, real with them. We will share our struggles as well as our joys. We are witnesses to grace, not to good works. If we project a façade of shiny, happy or good people then either they will see us as hypocritical fakes or they will assume we are reconciled to God through living a good life. So people will see us falling out, but being committed to one another and forgiving one another. for this reason, it is much easier to communicate grace (as opposed to works) in community than on our own.
Unbelievers often experience a significant culture gap when they first attend a church meeting. One way of overcoming this is to ensure that our ordinary life together is gospel-saturated so that ‘God-talk’ to be normal. At the same time we want our meetings to feel less religious so unbelievers feel comfortable in them – more like a family gathering than a religious service. The result is that when people come to a meeting it is not a big culture shock for them. At the same time, because we have introduced to the network of believing relationships, they should already know half the people here. It becomes a much less threatening occasion.
3. Sharing the Gospel
A key aim is to invite people to read the Bible with us or explore the Bible story with us. But sharing the gospel usually begins with talking about Jesus in conversation. (This is easier if talking about Jesus is also a normal part of conversation with believers.)