Have you ever struggled with knowing what to say to a friend who might be going through a difficult time? Maybe you feel like you can’t relate to their situation or you don’t think the words you have are appropriate for the moment. I’ve personally found myself in situations trying to support good friends (both believers and non-believers) who have gone through difficult situations and all I’ve ever known to do is just sit and be quiet. The words just don’t come to me. And while being quiet is not always a bad thing, learning how to fluently speak the gospel in love to these situations could likely prove equally, if not more, beneficial to both us and our friends.
Over the last several weeks, CoMission’s two community groups have been discussing the subject of gospel fluency, applying information from a book titled, Gospel Fluency, written by Jeff Vanderstelt. And interestingly enough, the subject of gospel fluency has tied in perfectly with our practice of B.L.E.S.S., which I talked about in a previous blog post. One of our group discussions back in late September focused on how if we listen carefully to the story of the person we’re engaging with, we might be able to figure out what part of God’s story his/her beliefs or circumstance lines up with. Through this action, we’re practicing the letter L in B.L.E.S.S. which means “listen and engage,” and this could potentially lead to “sharing stories” (the last S of the acronym) with those we’re engaging with.
When it comes to practicing these two B.L.E.S.S. action steps in a gospel-fluent manner, there are two methods that could prove effective in how we do this. Based on the story of the person we’re engaging with, we can start by 1.) sharing something from our story that might have something in common with the other person’s story and then 2.) share what the other person might not yet know or believe, which would be how the good news of Jesus affected that part of our story for the cause of His even greater story.
The apostle Paul gives an example of how to transition from the topic of sharing common ground to sharing about the truth of the gospel. In Acts 14:8-18, the people of Lystra start worshipping Paul and Barnabas after they heal a lame man and Paul says, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God….” As we can see, the common ground is obvious: it’s being human. Shoot, that’s probably the only thing every one of us has in common. Paul then transitions to telling them about the one true God who is worthy of our worship, as compared to the inanimate beings or legendary individuals (regardless of whether dead or alive because they were all imperfect in some form).
Here’s another scenario that might be more relevant to us in the 21st century. Suppose I have a friend who is struggling with loneliness and desperation for a spouse. Since this is something I also struggle with, I can share with the person how I relate BUT I can also transition to sharing how God’s love for me through Jesus is all that truly matters. I could also share how my identity is found in Him and not my marital/family status. Finally, I could encourage the other person by sharing how we can trust in God’s perfect plan for our lives, regardless of whether He makes certain details of that plan clear to us or not.
Another method that we need to make sure we incorporate into these conversations is something Jared Looney from Global City Missions emphasized, depending on how well we know the person we’re talking to. We need to avoid using “Christianese” language (i.e., “led by the Holy Spirit,” “fellowship” or “Lord willing” ) when sharing the gospel with non-believers because they’re not going to understand what we’re talking about. We also need to avoid using this lingo when we’re talking to people we don’t know because how will we know if they are believers (who understand our language) unless we have the opportunity to get to know them better? I realize that in most cases, it’s never safe to just assume something but when it comes to spreading seeds for the sake of the Gospel, it is better to assume every person we meet for the first time is not a believer. Having this awareness in the back of our minds ought to ignite a stronger sense of urgency so we can ensure that the Truth of the Gospel reaches every single person we interact with.
Finally, when it comes to wondering what we can say and when to say it, I want to leave a piece of scripture that the Lord encouraged me to memorize earlier in the spring. Jesus encouraged His disciples in Matthew 10:19-20, “...do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” May the power of God’s gift of His Spirit in us give us the right words at the right time.
How can we as Christians---more specifically, followers and disciples of Christ---live in such a way that represents the kingdom of heaven well? How can we share the gospel and love of Jesus with others without feeling the need to start a debate or conflict based on theological intellect? The answer is simply this: being fluent in the gospel.
Like a foreign language, to speak the gospel fluently requires practice, and lots of it. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we have to know everything the Bible says either because we will constantly be learning as we keep practicing. A basic knowledge of the gospel story (see the Story in 4) and how it’s affected your life is enough to get you started. So how can we begin incorporating the gospel into our everyday language? To help us figure this out, I’m going to address a few different methods that I have learned so far while going through my own current, long-term journey of learning gospel fluency.
Last summer, I read a book titled, Tactics by Gregory Koukl and it presented all kinds of methods for how we can share the gospel and learn how to defend why we believe what we believe. One of the very first things Koukl addressed was the importance of just asking questions; keep the conversation friendly by getting to know the person; learn to know/understand their worldviews so you will know how to navigate the conversation with further questions. Here’s an example he shared from a personal life experience. The clerk in the photo shop was wearing a necklace with the wiccan star. He asked her what it meant, which led to him asking about her religion. He then asked about her worldview on a certain moral matter and her statement contradicted that belief. Then, he simply asked her why she stood with that certain worldview when it clearly contradicted her beliefs.
While this encounter didn’t allow for time to share the gospel, Koukl says that merely asking questions that get a person to think is a great starting point. The metaphor he used (which I now hear all the time when talking about learning how to evangelize) is called leaving a stone in the shoe. Asking questions that will leave a person thinking about their beliefs or worldviews---to the point of irritation that they feel like they have to figure out the solution, so to speak---is a simple way to scatter seeds for the sake of the gospel.
Speaking of scattering seeds by putting stones in people’s shoes, another method I recently learned was at an evangelism class that was held at my church last weekend. Jared Looney of Global City Missions mentioned the value of a one-liner. Whether that be a question or even a simple comment/response (i.e., “God’s been good”), if it gets a person thinking, it’s better than nothing at all. In the words of Christian Challenge director, Paul Worcester, we need to be “seed-scattering fools” because we don’t know where the seeds will land or if they’ll bear any fruit. All we have to do---all we can do---is scatter the seed and leave the results to God.
Who knows, maybe the grocery clerk (or college student) you speak to one time for a few minutes and might never see again will meet someone else a year or two later who had the opportunity to speak some truth to him; and then maybe, just maybe, a few more years later, he’ll meet someone else who will speak even more truth to him which could help him realize his dire need for the saving grace of Jesus.
“‘Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside...Some fell on stony places….Some fell among thorns….But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty….he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.’” Matthew 13:3-8, 23 (NKJV)
Image source: Westminster Presbyterian Church
Many of us who use social media are probably very familiar with the hashtag, #blessed. Believers and non-believers alike use it for pretty much any and every good thing they post about, basically to the point that it’s overused. Granted, that might be a slightly exaggerated perception of mine so don’t take my word for it. Anyway, since we’re on the subject of the word “blessed,” I’d like to go into a little more depth on what this word means for us as followers of Christ who are more than just blessed ourselves; we are also called to bless others.
The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines the adjective, “blessed” four different ways, one of them being a means of enjoying happiness; the term we often refer to when using the social media hashtag to describe how good our lives are at the moment. Then we also have the verb, “bless” which is defined seven different ways, one of which means “to confer prosperity or happiness upon.” This term is the one we’ll be looking at as we consider what it looks like to bless the people around us.
This semester, CoMission is using an acronym called B.L.E.S.S., which implements five missionary rhythms that we are learning to apply to our everyday lives as we interact with students and non-students alike; both within our church body, as well as those outside of it. Below is the list of action steps that we can begin taking as we learn to “bless” students at the USFSP campus for the sake of the Gospel. Our current students (especially our student leaders) are also learning how to bless their fellow students (classmates, roommates; students we may not otherwise be able to reach) by practicing this unique method as well. In fact, this method is so simple, it’s been said that a 5-year-old can do it. At least to some small extent.
B - Be praying: pray for God to show you where and with whom He's already at work. Pray with and for people to whom God has called you.
L - Listen and engage: prioritize asking questions over talking, and create spaces to intentionally engage with those to whom God has called you
E - Eat: spend time eating meals with people, grabbing coffee, or enjoying happy hour with those to whom God has called you
S - Serve: meet needs, be selfless, practically serve others
S - Story: share stories of Jesus or The Story in 4. Be ready to invite others to discover Jesus with you.
Speaking of acronyms, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the popular W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do?). As cheesy as that one might be, practicing B.L.E.S.S. actually allows us to live like Jesus did (and still would, were He on earth today). Think about it. He intentionally engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26); He ate meals and spent time with people, including those who were unpopular, like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10); He served the disciples by washing their feet (John 13:1-17); He told stories that brought people to Himself (Luke 15-16:13). And of course, I’m sure Jesus prayed all the time for the people He interacted with as well.
These things that Jesus did are all things we can do as well, to ensure that the seed of the Gospel is planted in the heart of each and every person we come into contact with. To bless others simply by living as Jesus lived and being His witnesses can impact those lives for eternity and in due time, we will be blessed with a reward that is far greater than anything here on earth can give; to enter the kingdom of heaven and hear our Father say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21 & 23)
It was March 23, 1775 when one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry delivered his speech, “On The Resolution to Put the Commonwealth into a State of Defence” at the Virginia Convention. While the title of this speech may not sound familiar to many of us Americans today, the last sentence should ring clear as a bell if we paid attention in history class. “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” The point Henry conveyed throughout his speech is that we as Americans should fight for our freedom; not just sit back idly and hope that we’ll be protected. Because the latter is sure to render us utterly defeated and enslaved.
Meanwhile, we as Christians have a similar call of duty. The only difference is that the liberty and freedom we’re fighting here for is eternal and literally a life-or-death matter (and I’m not talking physically).
Paul Worcester, the director of Christian Challenge at Chico State University in Chico, California, takes the last seven words of Patrick Henry’s speech and basically “embellishes” it, so to speak, to help motivate this generation of missionaries who are taking the gospel to college students. Worcester’s new and improved saying goes, “Give me freshmen or give me death!” But why freshmen specifically? Because “the friends a student makes the first two weeks [of school] determines the course of their entire life” (Worcester) and we need to make sure we “fight” our way into that friend circle. Let me explain why.
Worcester tells us that “the college campus is a recruitment culture” and in all frankness, the Greek organizations tend to put our ministry organizations to shame when it comes to recruiting students. Let’s face it, they just do a better job of packing the first two weeks on campus with fun activities in order to draw in as many students as they possibly can. However, it’s important to realize that our competition for freshmen students is not merely the other social clubs on campus, but rather Satan’s kingdom of hell. How is that so? The fact of the matter is, Satan will stop at nothing to prevent those who are seeking fulfillment from finding the true source of life in Christ Jesus. Fraternities and sororities are just one of the lethal weapons he uses to combat the kingdom of heaven so we need to do whatever necessary (even if that means going above and beyond our social limits) to combat the kingdom of hell just as hard. As Paul (the apostle in the Bible, so as not to get confused with our friend Paul Worcester) tells the church in Ephesus, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV, emphasis added).
Now that we know who and what we’re really up against, we need to know how to best equip ourselves for the battle. Paul (again, the apostle) continues in Ephesians 6 by telling us what to do, starting in verse 13. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day….” The pieces of armor then listed in verses 14-17 are (1. A belt of truth, (2. A breastplate of righteousness, (3. Shoes of the gospel of peace, (4. A shield of faith, (5. A helmet of salvation and finally, (6. The sword of the Spirit. If we wear and use each of these pieces well, Satan and his army are sure to fall back in retreat. However, the ultimate weapon that we must take care to utilize most often, in order to prevail in this fight for the lives and liberty of these students, is prayer. Lots of prayer. We on the front lines need to be praying, as well as our supporters back home. We need to be “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints….” (Ephesians 6:18 NKJV, emphasis added). Prayer truly is the most powerful and successful weapon in any battle.
While the University of South Florida St. Petersburg doesn’t have any Greek clubs (except a business fraternity) that we in CoMission have to compete with, there are quite a few other clubs and extracurricular activities that often take priority in the students’ lives and interests. It’s amazing how Satan uses the pleasures of this world, no matter how harmless they may seem, to deceive us into thinking we don’t need God to have a good life. That trick alone is enough to make our fight for the students’ lives all the more difficult (shoot, it’s a constant battle in my own life) but as long as we wield our weapons and armor well, “wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:18-19), and leave the rest to God, the results will be worth it. The fight and the battle will be worth it when we students come to experience true life and liberty through salvation in Christ.
"If….we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!….Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave....Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" - Patrick Henry
List of Sources:
Picture of Patrick Henry: Encyclopedia Virginia
Campus Ministry Today Podcast. "Give Me Freshmen or Give Me Death" by Paul Worcester
The Jeremiah Study Bible. New King James Version
The Constitution of the United States of America and Selected Writings of the Founding Fathers.
Well everyone, after a two-and-a-half month hiatus, I’m slowly figuring out how to best utilize my time as I’m now basically working two jobs in one. That’s right. In addition to my handful of usual tasks for CoMission, I am now also employed as my church’s new receptionist/administrative assistant. I’m in the church office four days a week but I’m learning to multitask and divide my time for each position so as not to limit myself to just one mere day a week for the things I have to do for CoMission. No matter how few or how much they seem to be.
While my initial hope was to find a second person for me to share the office with two days a week, I’m somehow enjoying---even thriving on---the busyness of what could be considered a job and a half. Especially now as I’m learning how to reorient my flexibility. I don’t have nearly as much free time as before when I was just serving with CoMission but I’m finding that taking a few hours out of the office once or twice a week won’t always put me behind on my duties. And I’m not opposed to staying in the office an hour or two late every once in a while to play catch-up if necessary. Regardless, my goal is to spend at least an hour (out of seven) on a CoMission task or two each day while in the office because it’s rare that I spend a full seven hours each day on office tasks anyway.
Now, multitasking between some bookkeeping and/or document editing for CoMission and a few office projects is one thing, but trying to multitask between office work and writing a blog (which probably takes an average of three hours) is significantly more difficult due to the amount of research, focus, and thought processing that’s required. That being said, my blog routine might start to look a little different. Instead of just sitting down to type away for two to three hours one time a week, I will have to start taking a more gradual process of what might be researching and/or writing for just 30-45-minutes at a time several days a week. Of course, there’s always the opportunity of staying in the office an hour late or arriving at the office an hour early, which is always feasible but we’ll see how it goes. Also, my writing routine might decrease from weekly posts to bi-weekly posts, but that also might be something I’ll have to play by ear as the months progress.
As a conclusion to this post, let me just say that I am very excited about being able to get back to writing this blog again (no doubt my favorite part of my one and a half jobs) and sharing lots of good content. Content that not only represents what CoMission is about as a college ministry, but content that will hopefully inspire and encourage you as the reader in your walk with Christ, no matter what stage of life you’re in.
Lastly, I want to share a piece of scripture that our CoMission staff have been clinging to as a means of casting, catching, and holding onto the vision we have, not only for the college campus, but for the world.
“....I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9-10
As I shared last week from David Worcester’s article, “5 Practices of A Life-Long Learner,” we can choose to just go through life, or grow through life. Personally, I believe that merely going through life shows that we don’t care about it; we’re just here, doing whatever it is we do for no particular reason. But if we choose to grow through life, I think it could prove to be so much more meaningful. That’s something we as Christians, especially those of us who are in the mission field, should start putting into practice if we haven’t been doing so already. After all, growing in our personal relationship with Christ should be our first and foremost life goal. So, how can we learn to start growing through life instead of just going through it? Well for starters, here is what David Worcester recommends, using the L.E.A.R.N. tool he designed for us.
The first practice he gives us in this set of tools is to listen to wise people. Worcester tells us that we should take care to listen to people we aspire to be like. In this case, listening to audiobooks or sermons by reputable, theologically accurate pastors and teachers is a good start (I personally recommend David Platt, John Piper, and Dr. David Jeremiah, just to name a few). The Berean Jews in Acts 17:11 are an example of how good listeners become good life-long learners. “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The aspect of listening and putting it into practice is important because it will not do us any good if we don’t take care to study and cross-examine what we’re taught for the sake of accuracy and understanding.
The second practice Worcester applies to these tools is to evaluate experiences. In other words, an experience itself might be good, but for us to take away valuable lessons, it helps for us to pause and reflect on what was learned from the experience.
Asking questions is the third, and probably one of the most helpful and applicable practices in this set of tools, in my opinion. Although it's probably one of my weakest points in learning too, ironically enough but don’t ask why (pun intended) because I don’t think I can give a valid enough reason. Worcester notes, “Your growth is largely determined by the quality of questions you ask and the wisdom of those you ask. If you ask the right people the right questions, you tend to get the right answers.” Jesus was a prime example of one who asks questions for the sake of learning and understanding, as seen in Luke 2:46-47 when his parents find him in the synagogue among the religious leaders.
Next, we should practice reading good books. But not just any good books (because romance novels and science-fiction won’t do). Like listening to wise people, we need to take care when choosing what information we want to consume. Being an avid reader myself, here’s something that I found helpful from Worcester when I need something good to read. “The most important thing about a book is not what it teaches you, but what it stimulates in you.” Information is great but it’s even better when the information stirs up conviction or motivation to put it into action and make a change.
An example of a good book is one that I read early last summer called Tactics by Greg Koukl. One thing it teaches us is how we as Christians can make friendly conversation with non-Christians by simply asking them questions about why they believe what they believe. And if they’re open, we can even ask them if they would like to know why we believe what we believe (something our CoMission staff does on a regular basis with students at USFSP). Talk about taking the practice of asking questions to a whole other level!
Finally, the last practice Worcester gives us in the L.E.A.R.N. tool is to never stop learning. “As long as your mind is working, every day can have the adventure of learning something new!” Remember how I mentioned last week at the beginning of my blog post that there are two things I believe can never be perfected (life and medicine)? Well, I don’t think those could be any closer to the truth, especially when it comes to life itself. If we choose to keep learning for the sake of growing, especially in our walk with Christ, life is chock full of adventure and meaning.
“To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of
To receive the instruction of
Justice, judgment and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and
A wise man will hear and increase
And a man of understanding will
attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an
The words of the wise and their
The fear of the LORD is the
beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and
We’ve all heard the popular saying, “practice makes perfect.” While this might be true in many aspects of life, there are two things I firmly believe can never be perfected, no matter how much we practice. One is medicine. Why do you think doctors call their places of business practices? Someone can practice medicine for 30+ years and become very knowledgeable in the subject but never perfect it because they’re always learning something new about it.
The second thing I believe can be practiced but never perfected is life in and of itself. Like medicine, life always presents us with something new to learn. We learn how to determine between right and wrong; healthy and toxic. We learn how to behave when encountering different situations. Learning is a never-ending cycle in life. But what’s more, we need to apply what we learn and allow ourselves to grow.
I recently read an article from Campus Ministry Today titled, “5 Practices of a Life-Long Learner” written by David Worcester of Compass Church in San Diego, California. He referenced an old metaphorical saying that basically means “Teach someone and they will learn something, but teach them to learn and they will learn for a lifetime.” But we already spend our whole lives learning so why or how does this matter? Here’s what I think Worcester is getting at: how we learn is what makes the difference, especially when it comes to living in a way that reflects Christ to those around us. Even more so for those of us who work in college ministry because if we’re not willing to learn, how can we expect our students to learn?
Worcester mentions that in order for us to learn, we need to be willing to make some changes in our everyday lives and routines; break some old habits and replace them with new ones that will help us grow. We need to choose between either just going through life or growing through life. “Growth almost always happens outside your comfort zone, it very rarely happens by accident, and usually costs you something.” To expand on his question for us, what are we willing to give up so we can grow up as disciples and disciple makers? Naturally, the answer will be different for everyone based on different lifestyles.
The second half of Worcester’s article presents us with a tool that he came up with to help teach us how to learn to grow. And what better method than an acronym called L.E.A.R.N.? The action steps, or practices, he gives us to utilize are the following:
Listen to wise people; Evaluate experiences; Ask questions; Read good books; Never stop learning.
For the sake of time, I'm going to wait and share more detail on each of these practices next week. In the meantime, the article is linked for your reading pleasure if you so choose.
Until then, I leave you with 1 Timothy 4:7-8
"...Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that is now and of that which is to come."
It's so hard to believe that another semester at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has come and gone, let alone the whole 2020-2021 school year. Although COVID-19 has made things difficult, there are still so many things to be celebrated, including CoMission's USFSP graduating seniors. The week before spring break, we had what we called a Send Party, which not only celebrates the end of a semester but the sending out and commissioning of our graduating seniors as they finish school and prepare for the next chapter in their lives. Naturally, our hope is that these graduates will be able to take the gospel and become effective disciple makers wherever the Lord calls them. This week's content features a short testimony of one of our graduating seniors, Ashley Cyrus, who was also one of CoMission's prominent student leaders. Here's her story.
(Side note: Ashley and one of our CoMission staff, Jordan, knew each other long before USFSP but had lost touch until a few years ago. Now that's what I call a divine encounter!)
I transferred to USFSP in the spring of 2019. During this semester, I was very lonely, knowing basically no one and had no community to be a part of. I thought "this is how my next two years of college will be." However, God answered my prayers and on the first day of the fall 2019 semester, I re-met Jordan. She brought me into CoMission and within the first week, I was serving with different events and getting to know everyone involved in CoMission. Looking back at my first semester, I learned that God was showing me how important community is and how much we need to be involved with other believers to be able to grow in our faith. I also learned that we need to have a support team that will go into the lost world and hear other people's stories; but most importantly, share God's story with others.
I want to encourage students to cherish this community and family that we are a part of. Also, do not be afraid to take as many opportunities as you can to hear other people's stories and share God's story with them because this is a crucial step in growing this family and community. I know many people say this, but these years really do fly by. Take these experiences as learning opportunities to lay the foundation of being able to share God's story with other people in the future. Whether you feel called to be a missionary or go into the workforce, we are all called to tell others about Christ if we believe in Him. What good is it if we just keep this good news to ourselves?
As I transition into a non-student/support role, I also want to encourage the non-students to pray, get to know our students and be there for them. One thing that really stuck out to me when I first came into this community was all the support and love I felt from all generations of people. I could really tell that they cared and wanted to get to know me and support me as I went through college. Let's continue to be a family on mission together that supports, loves and welcomes new people into this family.
Well everyone, as life would have it, last week was spring break at USFSP but I personally did everything except take some time off for a break. Except from the blog of course, on account of writing my newsletter. Since that has been completed now, I can get back to the blog business by wrapping up my series on the traits of a thriving church community.
The fifth necessary trait needed for a thriving community is the ability to process conflict. Now, if any of you are like me, you probably try to avoid conflict as much as possible. Don’t speak your mind or give your opinion because you might offend someone. If your friend asks for your opinion on her outfit, tell her she looks great. And whatever you do, don’t tell her that shirt or dress makes her look fat because you might never hear from her again. Okay, that might be a little rash but now let’s consider something a little more serious.
Suppose your best buddy---who claims to be a Christian---started sleeping with his girlfriend and moved in with her. He asks you not to judge him but as a brother in Christ, you’re responsible for holding him accountable and reminding him what scripture says. You’re afraid he’ll get offended and break off the friendship because you don’t support him so you don’t say anything. Or maybe you simply tell him that you may not agree with his actions but you still love and care for him. Better to avoid the conflict and just keep living as if the issue wasn’t a problem, right? Wrong. Believe it or not, “we do our communities a disservice if we treat conflict itself as the problem instead of using it as a springboard toward further growth and development of our mission and identity.” (Rowe & Jones) If we truly love our friends, we’ll tell them the truth and work through the conflict in a manner of love and respect; a manner that honors Christ, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Even though conflict in and of itself may not feel like thriving, the community as a whole will ultimately thrive as an end result of having worked through it in a healthy way.
Finally, the sixth and last trait of a thriving community is one that none of us would even come close to considering as a vital point. Suffering. How in the world can suffering result in thriving? Well, to be honest, it just depends on how we view suffering and how we respond to it. “To take suffering seriously as part of the pattern of a thriving community helps us see that Christian communities constantly run the risk of being an offense to the world. And at the same time, some suffering---the kind that seems senseless---can help us learn to hope in the end, in the resurrection. Living through suffering reminds the world of both its brokenness and its hope.” (Rowe & Jones)
As seen in the book of Acts, the church community endures suffering on several occasions but that doesn’t stop them from trusting in God’s deliverance. An example of this is seen in chapter 12 when King Herod kills James, the brother of John. He then imprisons Peter “but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (vs. 5) and an angel of the Lord breaks off his chains and leads him out (see verses 7-9).
Last month, I was going through some suffering--- albeit significantly less intense compared to what the church in Acts was going through---and came across Psalm 138:8, which I memorized. “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” Dr. David Jeremiah’s footnote for this verse in my study Bible talks about how the Lord uses our struggles to help us grow and mature in our faith; He renews us in the midst of our struggles. Like processing conflict, suffering may not seem like thriving at first, but the end result will bring the church community to an ultimate place of thriving when we place our hope and trust in God during our trials and tribulations.
What do you think about when you hear the word, “thriving”? Financial comfort and having a job that you love? An exciting social life? Living in a safe neighborhood? What about just spending some quality time alone and/or being in the presence of God? While these are all good things for us as individuals, the authors of Thriving Communities talk about how we as the church body are called to go beyond our comforts by helping those who are less fortunate, namely providing for the weak. “To thrive as a community necessitates that we provide for the weak and downtrodden, not as a kind of add-on to the central mission of the church, but as something integral to its identity. Making room for the weak members of the community is at the very core of what it means to be a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God.” (Rowe & Jones)
Examples of the church providing for the weak can be found all throughout the book of Acts. Selling one’s goods and giving the money to those in need is one that shows up several different times. Once in chapter two, verses 44-45 and another time in chapter four, verses 34-35. Another example of the church providing for those in need can be found in chapter 11, verses 27-30 when the “mission” church of Antioch sends relief through Saul and Barnabas to the “home” church in Jerusalem during a famine. As clearly seen, providing for the weak surely makes for a thriving church community.
The fourth trait that identifies a thriving church community is articulacy of belief. Now, to help us understand what this means, Miriam Webster defines the word, “articulate” as being able to “express oneself readily, clearly, and effectively.” We as Christians need to be able to clearly communicate the why for our beliefs so other people around us might be able to understand the reason for how and why we live the way we do. However, Rowe and Jones assure us that possessing this type of articulacy does not mean we have to also be well educated or have a high IQ. As a matter of fact, two of Jesus’s followers, Peter and John, were known as “uneducated, common men” but that didn’t stop them from sharing what they knew and understood to be true of Christ (see Acts 4:13). After all, He was the one who taught them everything they knew (at least as far as the Gospel is concerned)! Isn’t it comforting to know that we don’t have to have a college degree, or even a high school diploma, to share the Gospel of Christ? As long as we know and understand the Gospel well, we’re set.
“Everyone in the community, and not just the scholars or intellectuals, must learn to speak about why the community exists. This part of a leader’s work, then: to transmit this information to the group, helping them to know why the institution exists and enabling them also to impart that belief to others.” (Rowe & Jones)
To close out this week’s post, I impart to you Proverbs 1:7.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of
But fools despise wisdom and