We are not “in church” for around 165 hours each week. We call those “non-church” places our “frontlines.”
If you’ve been paying attention to the people you encounter on your frontlines, you may well have experienced a sense that there is a great gulf fixed between them and you. They don’t seem to feel a “God-shaped hole” in their hearts. They don’t see themselves as needing to be “reached.” They don’t seem to be asking the questions that we as Christ-followers want to answer! They readily admit they’re not perfect, but don’t see that as a “sin problem.” They don’t often stay awake at night pondering questions of “meaning” and “purpose”—and if they do have an occasional sleepless night, they have what appears to be an almost infinite, and expanding, universe of options: a vast array of religions, spiritualities, therapies; all kinds of “freedoms” to experience and enjoy, “peak experiences” to seek, new technologies to be dazzled by. “Christian stuff” is one small item on a long, long menu of choices.
This is not a counsel of despair or withdrawal; we should be neither angry nor indifferent. But we do need to take a fresh look at what “fruitfulness” is and how God brings it about.
First, the world we live in is often puzzling, confusing and deeply troubling to us, but not to God. We need to be renewed in humility. Our stance towards our neighbors needs to change from “we’ve got what you need” to “what do you think you need, and where do you see it coming from?” More conversations, fewer “presentations.”
We can no longer, if we ever could, approach people by saying, “We’re the Christians and we’ve got the answers; listen up!” We need to get more comfortable with questions and conversations, with listening more than telling.
And we need to stay “out there,” not hunkered and bunkered into our various siloes. Attend some meetings of the “opposite” political party—and try to understand why they see things the way they do. Hang out with the local atheists; be willing to be challenged by their questions.
Our humility needs to be married to confidence: confidence in God’s goodness, grace and love, rather than in our skills and expertise. We can still say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.” And because we can have that God-confidence and gospel-confidence, we can afford to be patient. We can afford to be honest without expecting to see quick “results.” We can be honest about our own struggles, and about the mixed history and witness of the Christian community.
Jesus hasn’t cancelled his Prime Directive: Go. Go into the highways and byways … go into all the world. Most all of our going is the going we’re already doing every day: going to work, going into our neighborhoods, going to meetings, events, social gatherings of all kinds.
We go to these places because Jesus is sending us to them. Yes, it can be hard to know just what to do once you get there, but we need to remember that we are sent, and to remember who it is that sends us, and to remember that the one who sends also accompanies us as we go and while we’re there and while we head back home wondering what happened, what we could have done differently, what we learned, about our neighbors, ourselves and the Gospel.
We need to keep going because Jesus keeps sending us. God so loved the world that he sent … a person, his Son Jesus. Jesus so loves the word that he is sending … a person, you, me, each and all of his people. Maybe that’s what our world needs more than “answers”: genuine kids of “personal contact.” As Jesus is “God with skin on,” maybe, by the Holy Spirit, we’re “Jesus with skin on.”