Rather than presenting an argument, these communities present a
life. They do not concern themselves with presenting a gospel formula,
but rather their focus is on whether the gospel was demonstrated in the
recipients midst. How do they go about that?
Primarily, these communities extend hospitality to the recipient,
i.e. the outsider becomes an insider, and the outcast is included.
These acts are not performed so that the gospel can later be presented
— these acts constitute the gospel. These outsiders are invited to a
join in God’s movement to redeem the world, to bind up the
brokenhearted,to set the oppressed free, to join God in creative
activity. This is a lived apologetic — it is a "taste and see" rather
than a "think and decide".
Our church actually had a Sunday night service a few years ago called Taste and See. It was essentially a communion service where people could receive personal words of prophecy from leaders. It was a decent idea at the time, I suppose, and I know that some were positively affected by it, but it tended to be the same 50 people every month, wanting another prophetic word. It wasn’t really what Ryan is talking about here, or what I’ve heard about in other places.
I am thinking about a distinctly missional community – a church with a purpose other than making itself bigger – a community with a purpose, a job to do, a task get on with, partnering with God in the redeeming of his world. That kind of community would attract "activist" types, and thus instead of people being argued into the kingdom (think and decide), they would be "welcomed" into the kingdom. Their path into the kingdom of God would be engaging in his mission first, and finding "faith" later. The truth that "we are sinners saved by grace" doesn’t necessarily need to precede the truth that "God is actively involved in his world, working to redeem and restore it to its full glory."
I have brought up this idea a few times in various settings with different people, and the usual questions and hesitations revolve around the words of the gospel message:
"You mean you never actually present the gospel message?"
No, it’s just not the very first thing you do.
Because our ways of presenting and talking about the gospel don’t translate very well in the current culture. They already know the words – they sing them ironically in their songs:
I hear if you make friends with Jesus Christ
You will get right up from that chalk outline
And then you’ll get dolled up and you’ll dress in white
O to take your place in his chorus line
And then in you’ll come with those marching drums
in a saintly compromise
No more whiskey slurs, no more blond-haired girls
For your whole eternal life
And you’ll do the dance that was choreographed
At the very dawn of time.*
When I get to heaven, I’ll be greeted warmly
Surrounded by the angels, as Jesus takes my hand
And I’ll receive a mansion on the river Jordan
And a crown of diamonds for a race well-run
I won’t ever lock my doors
I will trust my neighbors
Confident that they deserve
To be there in heaven, too.**
They know the words by heart, but they’ve never seen it authentically lived out. Besides some questionable blessings after death, they’ve not seen what kind of difference it all makes.
"So we just let them do whatever they want, without ever challenging them to follow Jesus?"
Well, no, but those kinds of conversations would happen in the context of real relationship. It’s the whole "belonging before believing" thing (which is a really nice-sounding theory but a supremely difficult activity).
One of the questions that has haunted me for awhile is this: Do I actually have any good news? What I mean is Does my life reflect what I say the gospel is all about? Am I living a new kind of life, an eternal kind of life. And not just me personally, but my community of faith – are we living in a new way? Are we working out new humanity? If it’s true that the Father loves us, that Christ forgives sin, that the Holy Spirit brings a new kind of life, that we are the firstfruits of God’s new humanity do we look anything like that? If we aren’t experiencing at least the beginning stages of this radical new kind of life, do we have good news? Do we have anything to say if we’ve not experienced anything?
So that’s the other part of it: we have no good news if we don’t have a gospel-formed life. (And I’m not talking about moral perfection, or trotting off to a desert to perfect spiritual discipline for 15 years before ever preaching the gospel). So I do think that we need to get busy living this stuff out, for mission’s sake! In this culture, the relational and missional realities of our communities of faith will speak much more loudly than some slickly alliterated, enumerated, annotated presentation. If something is actually different, they will notice and eventually they will ask about it. So let’s make sure there is something different, and maybe not worry so much about what we’ll say when they ask.