By Tim Chester, reprinted from his blog under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Christians in the West today increasingly finds ourselves living on the margins. It was the same for the readers of 1 Peter. In a series of posts I’m identifying principles from 1 Peter for developing a gospel and missional DNA in our churches. Here are the four principles:
- Proclaim the gospel to one another
- Proclaim the gospel to create a missional identity
- Proclaim the gospel in everyday life
- Proclaim the gospel through community
In this final post in the series we are looking at the fourth principle: Proclaim the gospel through community.
1 Peter 3:15 is one of the more frustrating verses of the Bible: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ It promises so much, especially to those of us in the silent majority of introverted non-evangelists. We want to share the gospel, but many of us struggle to start gospel conversations. But in this verse the focus is upon the other person to start the conversation as they ask us to explain our hope. Great!
The only problem this is rarely happens. It is all too good to be true. What’s the problem? A significant part of the problem is our failure to recognise the nature of pronouns. Peter is not talking to individuals, but to a community. Verse 15 is the culmination of a paragraph that begins with Peter saying: ‘Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble’ (3:8). In contrast to a self-serving society, we are to live in harmony. It’s our harmonious life together in a self-serving culture that will provoke the questions of verse 15.
This is very helpful. People often ask me, ‘What do I do next? I’ve talked about Jesus with my colleague and they’re not interested. What do I do next?’ What is the next step with friends who show no interest in the gospel?
My answer is this. Expose them to the Christian community. Here people will not only hear the gospel word, but see it being loved and lived. They will see the power of the gospel to united disparate people and make them family. They will also see us failing and falling out, but then see grace in action. They will hear our message with a variety of voices and from a variety of experiences. The different gifts God has given us work together to create a compelling testimony to gospel. By exposure to the Christian community we mean of course more than attending a weekly meeting. We mean being introduced to the network of relationships that make up the church. We mean sharing in the life of the community in the context of ordinary life. Often people dismiss our intellectual arguments, but they find it much harder to dismiss the compelling witness of the Christian community.
Practical action: involve unbelievers in the life of the community
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 – not in church buildings where we feel comfortable, but on their territory. But we also need to introduce people to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they see Christian community in action. People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message. This does not necessarily mean inviting people to Sunday services. 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. So our approach to mission should involve three elements: (1) building relationships, (2) sharing the gospel message; and (3) including people in community.
The church may never out perform TV shows and music videos. But there’s nothing like the community life of the church. There’s nowhere else where diverse people come together as family. There’s nowhere else were broken people find a home. There’s nowhere else where grace is experienced and God is present by his Spirit.
I think of my own gospel community: a dozen or so people of all ages and backgrounds, eating together on a Wednesday night around the table, enjoying simple food yet relishing it as a good gift from God, celebrating together what the Spirit has been doing in our lives, praying for the needs of the world, discussing how we can bless our neighbourhood in Christ’s name. There are plenty of other social groups in our neighbourhood. But there is nowhere else where such a diverse people come together with a commitment to being family. It is a beautiful thing.
Think about the people you are trying to reach. What could you do:
- to build relationships with them
- share the gospel message
- introduce them to the Christian community
For more on these themes see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church which is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.