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.