I don’t know how plugged in you are to the conversations of church leaders. Maybe you are one, maybe you’re not. But just in case you aren’t let me tell you something that might surprise you.
We’ve all kind of been freaking out for the last 10 years.
Just take a peek at most pastors conferences, best-selling church leadership books, popular websites and podcasts and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Our culture has quickly undergone dramatic shifts from “churched” to “unchurched” or from “Christian” to “secular” – it’s almost as if every church has been removed from its place of founding and transplanted into a entirely different world. And we’re all trying to figure out how to lead in this new place.
Whether or not you are privy to those church leader conversations, you’ve probably noticed the shift. Our culture just doesn’t seem to care about Jesus like it used to.
But I still believe in the local, worshipping community. I also believe that this current shift is going to either make or break certain local church leadership structures. Something is going to have to change.
But what if the changes we need to make aren’t as far-fetched as we once thought? What if the clue to unlocking the way forward lies in remembering where we have been? After all, this is not the first time the church has existed in secular culture.
A Glimpse Behind
George Hunter has studied one of the greatest church movements that has ever taken place in secular culture – the Irish church movement under the leadership of St. Patrick. In fact, St. Patrick is credited by both Christian and secularist alike as being responsible for leading the movement that saved Western civilization and kept the Christian faith alive in Europe, despite the opposition that he received from the established church powers of his day.
What do we learn from Patrick and his team? We learn that the existence of church buildings and pulpits have never been enough to break faith into secular culture. Secular culture can only be reached through the presence of an evangelistic people.
Notice I did not say, “people who evangelize”. I said “an evangelistic people.” It’s a subtle but important difference.
For the one, evangelism is a task. For the other, it is a way of life. An evangelistic people are so convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel that it colors everything they do.
Let me say it straight: Our secular culture will not be reached unless we become an evangelistic people once again.
3 Steps Toward Becoming Evangelistic
So how do we become that kind of people?
Before anything else, we must be convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel. Remember, that conviction is at the core of God’s evangelistic people. But we see in the Irish church how that conviction worked itself out into their daily lives. Drawing on Hunter’s insights, allow me to offer these three steps.
1. Invite unbelievers to spend some time in your community of faith.
Invite unbelievers to come see what life is like for people who trust in Jesus. It’s not just about inviting them to a worship service, though that is certainly part of it. The Irish Christians invited those who seemed receptive into the “doing life together” part of being a Christian, everything from a bible study to sharing a meal together with other Christians to working on a project led by that community of faith.
2. Engage them in conversation, ministry, prayer and worship.
Here’s a hard lesson for us to learn today. We’re often so afraid of “pushing them away” that we don’t even try to invite them in.
But these Irish Christians believed that conversation and practical help as well as prayer and worship were equally effective ways of engaging the heart of the unbeliever. That belief caused them to be intentional about doing those things for and among unbelievers.
Today, we tend to do conversation and practical help pretty well. But when was the last time we were intentional about praying for, praying with and worshipping while in the presence of our unbelieving neighbors?
3. Let them discover faith. Don’t force them to choose it.
This will mess with someone’s theology. In reaching out to unbelievers in their secular culture and inviting them to experience the grace and love of God (often before experiencing saving faith in the work of Christ), the Irish Christians found that their unbelieving friends did not first “choose” to believe. It was more like they “discovered” belief. Somewhere along the way, they just discovered that they in fact did believe. It was after that discovery that they made a personal commitment to Jesus and publicly confessed their faith.
When we look at those three things they might seem challenging. But they also seem very simple, don’t they?
What do you think would keep you or your local church from embracing these three insights from St. Patrick and his team? Do you see any problems there?
Let us know in the comments below!
Mentioned in this post: