An Obstacle to Missional Encounters

I think that one thing that keeps evangelicals from missional encounters is that we have the illusion that we must first be equipped before we do anything.

Remember, the pattern in John 4 is that God sustain us with his own life when we take the initiative to encounter others in relationships of mutuality and with the aim of serving.

Evangelicals talk a lot about being “equipped” for ministry.  We tend to imagine that we need to have all the right tools, get all the right teaching, and only then do we go out and get involved in our communities.  I wonder if we think this way because we want to guarantee that we’ll get results.  Or, perhaps we want some assurance that we won’t fail.

One unintended consequence of this way of thinking is that we have many Christians who soak in plenty of Bible teaching in their churches but never get (or take) opportunities to act redemptively in their communities.

We must indeed feed ourselves on Scripture.  But, if we can think in terms of eating, this is only part of the meal.  Or, perhaps hearing the preached word is only washing our hands before dinner.  We eat, digest the food, and have it nourish and strengthen our bodies when we serve others and when we initiate and enjoy open-ended relationships with outsiders.

About a year into our urban missional church experience, I was walking with my friend John in our church’s local neighborhood.  We had imagined that God was going to do amazing things through our church.  After all, we were sent there as their salvation.

The on-the-ground realities slowly dissolved our romantic notions and our big dreams.  Rather than seeing lots of change in the neighborhood, we began seeing changes in ourselves.  That conversation made all of this make sense to me.

We had come to realize that we weren’t the salvation of that neighborhood.  God had us there in that neighborhood to save us.

God was sustaining us and giving us life as we enjoyed conversations with people over a meal, as we shared about our lives and listened to their stories, and as we developed friendships of giving and receiving.

My point is that we must re-imagine how God sustains us with his life.  It is certainly essential that we hear Scripture alongside one another and that we serve one another within the church.  But it also essential to our connection with Christ that we relate with outsiders intentionally and with postures of humility.

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6 responses to “An Obstacle to Missional Encounters

  • Andrew

    Peace with God is enmity with the world. Built into evangelism the sense that the evangelist will face judgement and rejection by the world.

    This is hard.

    Also built into evangelism however the idea that sprinkled throughout the world are those who will respond to the Gospel (so there will always be some for whom evangelism is effective).

    The catch-22 here is that when we evangelize, we see some who do respond, which is evidence that God indeed sustains us; but we cannot see this if we simply do not evangelize.

    I guess it takes faith.

    • timgombis

      I’m not really thinking of evangelism but of encounters with others in which we take on postures of mutuality.

      That passage in James indicates that taking on corrupted worldly behaviors is a bad thing, not that engaging in mutually beneficial relationships is bad. “Friendship with the world” in the sense of accommodating corrupted behaviors is different than “friendship with people in the world” in the sense of honoring and being honored by others.

  • scottemery

    We had come to realize that we weren’t the salvation of that neighborhood. God had us there in that neighborhood to save us.

    Love this. It has been the same for me, not only in our neighborhood, but also in my job within a public school. Thank you for sharing.

    • timgombis

      Good word, Scott!

      It’s a huge mistake to see ourselves only as God’s gift to our families, communities, work-places. Those environments are God’s gifts to us as he longs to bless us through them and along with them. While it’s good to focus on giving to others, we also need to receive blessing through others. That way they also get in on God’s blessing!

  • S Wu

    Love this, Tim. Well said.

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