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Intimidated by the Culture, Part 3
by Tom Goodman
December 24, 2007

In these latest editions of LeaderLines, I've been thinking about a recent conversation with a missionary couple.  They were talking about believers in another part of the world, a place that has become quite secular.

"The believers in our part of the world just don't interact much with their non-believing neighbors," the couple said.  "The culture has become increasingly secular and more sophisticated in their objections to Christian faith.  Over time, people have just become intimidated by their culture."

That phrase captured my attention: "intimidated by their culture."  Around the world and in our own town, churches lose their effectiveness in a community when they feel threatened by it.  How can we lose our fear of engaging the city God has placed us in?  Three things will help:

We've looked at the first two suggestions in the last two editions of LeaderLines.  Today let's commit to building no-strings-attached friendships with those around us.

John Stackhouse described too many believers when he wrote about a woman named Lois in his book, Humble Apologetics (pages 132-133):

An earnest Christian woman once spoke up at a prayer meeting of the small Chicago church to which I once belonged.  She worked as a clerk in the university bookstore, and had done so for years.  As a lifelong church member -- indeed, as a lifelong Southern Baptist -- she was convinced that she ought to be speaking about the gospel to her workmates.  But she confessed at this meeting to her complete frustration.  She never had opportunity, she said, to speak a single word of spiritual truth to her fellow clerks, and she didn't know what to do.

After expressions of sympathy were offered by members of the group, somone finally asked her a direct and pertinent question:  "Lois, how many of the clerks would you say are friends of yours?"

Lois looked a bit stunned.  The conversation had taken an unexpected turn, a turn that seemed to strike her as irrelevant.  "Well, none of them...."

The questioner gently persisted.  "How often do you have your breaks with them, go for coffee or lunch with them?"

Again, Lois looked a bit blank.  "I always take my breaks by myself to have coffee and read my Bible.  And I usually take my lunch in the park across the street on my own."

The rest of the group then tried to help Lois see that with no friends or even cordial acquaintances among her workmates, she would literally have no natural opportunity to speak of spiritual things in the course of ringing in sales in a bookstore.  Furthermore, if she were to broach the subject, her surprised colleagues might... simply deflect her well-meant initiative as irrelevant, since it is unlikely that Lois would know any of them well enough to speak to a zone of genuine need in their lives.

Lois doubtless came across at the bookstore as a decent, responsible coworker.  And that consistent morality is not to be despised.  But without sharing more of her life with her workmates, her message simply would either never emerge, or would likely not emerge in a way that would be understood and received.

I wish I could say that Lois was unique, but you know that's not the case.  If you aren't sharing your life with others, you aren't going to get too many opportunities to share your gospel with others.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul wrote, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."

Paul said he and his companions were delighted to share two things -- not one thing but two things -- with the Philippians: the gospel and their lives.

Paul said he shared the gospel with them.  He wanted them to know Jesus, to know Jesus' forgiveness and guidance and power for living.  But Paul said he shared not only the gospel with them but also his life.  The Greek word there literally means, "soul."  In other words, he shared his very self: his time, his energy, his heart.  He was enthusiastically connected with them.

A lot of us have heard sermons, Sunday School lessons, and workshop talks on sharing the gospel.  But the missing ingredient that keeps us from being effective is friendship.  The second step in Hillcrest's "INVITE Evangelism Strategy" is, "Nurture authentic relationships with others."  Mark Mittleberg of Willow Creek Church calls it the "Barbeque First Principle."  If you're getting to know someone, you should probably invite them to a barbeque in your backyard before you invite them to church.  In other words, socialize, be real, and develop a no-strings-attached friendship with those around you.

Are you intimidated by the culture around you -- a culture that's more and more remote from the Christian consensus of the past?  Church members will have to overcome that fear if we're going to be effective missionaries.  Here's how to overcome it:  Get a firm grasp on what you believe, identify what is honorable about the culture, and develop solid relationships with those around you.


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