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Gospel & Community

Greetings All,

This weeks 'thought' comes from a book a local pastor gave me as we sat eating breakfast together one cold winter morning! It's called Total Church, and is written by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (co-founders of 'The Crowded House,' a church planting initiative in Sheffield, England).

It's a book about reshaping the church around the Gospel and community. (It's strange, is it not, when the basic message the New Testament has proclaimed for nearly 2000 years sounds like a new idea?!) At any rate, my pastor friend had marked this excerpt with yellow marker (I do love reading previously owned and well-marked up books - thanks Daryl)! I found it to be a helpful reminder myself, and pray that you will too.


"Ideally evangelism is not something to be undertaken in isolation. Of course, if opportunity presents itself, the gospel word should be spoken clearly and sensitively in conscious dependence upon the Holy Spirit -- whenever, wherever and to whomever. But evangelism is best done out of the context of a gospel community whose corporate life demonstrates the reality of the word that gave it life.

Christian community is a vital part of Christian mission. Mission takes place as people see our love for one another. We all know that the gospel is communicated both through the words we say and the lives we live. What Jesus says is that it is the life we live
together that counts... People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. 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. But we also need to introduce people to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they can see Christian community in action.

In our experience people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message. If a believing community is a persuasive apologetic for the gospel, then people need to be included to see that apologetic at work. People often tell me how they have tried telling their unbelieving friends about Jesus, but they do not seem interested. So they want to know what to do next. My answer is to find ways of introducing them to the Christian community. The life of the Christian community provokes a response. When Peter says, 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have,' he is not speaking to individuals but to churches (I Peter 3:15). Too much evangelism is an attempt to answer questions people are not asking. Let them experience the life of the Christian community. The church is the home in which God dwells by His Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). Its life is the life of the Spirit, and its community is the community of the Spirit. Let our relationships provoke questions. And do not worry if your church life is sometimes less perfect than it should be! We do not witness to good works, but to the grace of God. Our commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another's failures are more eloquent testimony to the grace of God than any pretense at perfection."

He finishes up with an email he received from a fellow Brit which illustrates this all so well. The man writes:

"I was talking with a Chinese non-Christian yesterday. He told me how he'd done a Bible course when he first came to the UK, but had understood almost none of it. A year later, he now wants to study the Bible. He told me its because he's seen the lives we live and the decisions we make. He commented that everywhere else, in China and the UK, people try to find happiness in money. But he's noticed that we aren't chasing those things. We don't work all hours for money and possessions. We don't find our identity in our jobs and careers like so many people he knows back home in China. I was able to give up my job in the bank [to have more time for ministry], something he says most people in China would find unbelievable. So he has concluded that this is real happiness and he wants to know about it. Next week we'll start going through the Bible story together."

With prayers that our own church communities might similarly be, "a persuasive apologetic for the gospel." In the Bonds of the Gospel.

Pastor Jeff