Monday, February 11, 2008

We've Fenced Ourselves In!

As of late, I have been terribly burdened by an evident withdrawal from the world among my reformed brethren. By withdrawal from the world I am not referring to a refusal to buy into the world's world view or standard of righteousness. Rather I am referring to a tendency to hide from the world out of a fear of being influenced by her. There is a tendency to be so afraid of the world that we run to our little barricaded, fenced-in forts to hide from her influence.

This is a safe way of playing Christianity.

However, it is hard to be a light in the darkness when we never engage the darkness. There is a prevailing tendency in reformed churches to act as if the main purpose of the church was to "hold the fort down." No, the main purpose of the church is to expand the kingdom of God.

The problem is that we have, out of a fear of being influenced by the world, built towering walls to keep the world out of our doors. The reason this is so bad is because the walls that we have built to protect ourselves are actually blocking us from infiltrating the world.

This is not something you see with Christ: He did not gather his disciples and run off to the hills to be free from influence. No! He hit the world head on. He went out among them like a fish in water.

He hung out with the sinners, prosititutes, and tax collectors.

The slogan I am hearing from reformed people these days is, "Retreat." But this was not the slogan of Christ. The slogan of Christ was, "Pursue! Overcome!"

For some reason we forget the promise given in 1 John 5 that the evil one cannot touch us. This is not license for Christians to go out and indulge. We must be discerning. However, this is a call for reformed folk to stop neglecting the command of the great commission out of a debilitating fear of being influenced by the world. The fact is that the light will overcome the darkness.

I am not sure if it will be tomorrow or the day after, but I will add another post to this topic.

15 comments:

John said...

Jimmy, I trust your next post will be good and full of wisdom. I've heard people speak to this issue before where I've thought their comments ranged from really good and fitting to total junk and unrealistic.

I'd be interested to hear what you think this means in practical day to day living. Especially depending on what environment you live in (big city vs. small town, christian college vs. secular University, etc.).

Personally, I believe that if Christians have love in their heart for the lost, these barriers are overcome naturally. Thus, the bigger issue is love for the lost. Would you agree?

Jimmy Snowden said...

John,
Thanks for the comment.

First of all, I do not believe there is any one formula to follow. How one meets the world head on is going to be different in each and every place. The application of what I am saying is for the individual to figure out. I will not even attempt to give advice on this because I don't want people to take any advice as a one-size fits all type model. There really are no models.

I agree that there have been many good things and many bad things said on the topic. So many think that the way we get to the culture is by adopting everything loved by them--this is silly.

You said, "I believe that if Christians have love in their heart for the lost, these barriers are overcome naturally." I would agree with this to a point--depending upon the gifts and personality of a person. For some this will be their knack. For some reading the Bible is their knack while others struggle with it greatly. We are all so different. For the majority out there I think that a hard core intentionality needs to be exerted. I think we should put a lot of thought into it and be very intentional about where we place ourselves. Just like every other commandment in Scripture, a great deal of effort is needed to be obedient (and especially for those who have different gifts and struggles).

I think many have a love for the lost but are too afraid of really engaging them in relationships. Especially if they commit certain sins that are not deemed as "acceptable" to the church. I do not think a "if you really loved Jesus you would get out there" approach is necessary. I know you are not saying that this is how we should go about things. However, I do not think that the biggest issue is a love for the lost. I think it is a fear of the influences of the lost (maybe I am wrong).

Just some thoughts,
Jimmy

Luke Snowden said...

Jimmy,

What you are saying is true within a certain context. To those whom you are speaking it is accurate (those: the people you accuse of being paralyzed by fear of worldly influence). John is speaking to a different group altogether.

To those who are paralyzed by this fear of being influenced I beleive that there are deeper heart issues at stake. There is a lack of faith in the power of the Gospel to preserve. There is probably a desire for an excuse for slothfulness or quitely plainly a fear of man.

We have christian small groups, christian music, christian schools, christian stores, christian coffee shops, christian sport leagues, christian day cares, christian business directories, christian media, christian everything! We have created a subculture rather than engaging the culture.

We have found virtually every possible way of hiding from the world. Most christians I have talked with have a hard time rememberring 2 non christians they have had contact with in any given day...why, we have found ways to cut ourselves off but live in close proximity to the world.

This is definitly not what we see taught in scripture, but (as Jimmy said) how we go about engaging is as dangerous and difficult as withdrawing.

I would love to hear more thoughts on this Jimmy.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Luke,
Well, I hope your expectations are not too high. I am pretty busy so I will not be writing a dissertation on the subject. I will write one, maybe two, more posts on this. They will not be full of content. They will be brief. They will only hint at a few other thoughts I have had. The purpose is to get the mind rolling, conversations flowing, and blueprints blowing (ok, so that last one was a bit of stretch).

You are right in that I am referring to a very specific group of people.

My comment on 1 John 5 has a lot to do with what you mentioned about perseverance. Being a world engager at the outset seems like risky business. However, we know that we have been given the Spirit who will protect us from the evil one.

I appreciated your comment about how our Christian culture allows us to be close to but not actually engage our culture. Helpful.

Jimmy

Dallas Pymm said...

This is a great post. Luke's comment on creating a new sub culture was very helpful as well. If we as Christians believe that the Gospel is powerful, this should never be a problem. Especially as reformed believers we know for a fact God saves people. This is precisely why I moved in with Luke and Amy. I am letting my light shine! :o)

Jimmy Snowden said...

Dallas,
Let it shine brother. I hope your light is bright--I hope you got a flood light or something--you'll need it. Good luck
Jimmy

Jessy said...

We've recently started a Women's Violence Shelter ministry at our church. When I was explaining what it would entail (once a month going down to the shelter, which is a secret house, and eating a meal with the women and children and then doing crafts or just hanging out with them) the majority of the women, mostly the older generation, shyed away from the opportunity and volunteered to help with the meals that we would take. I was grateful for their offers of help, but was disappointed that not more of the older, Titus 2 women, were interested. They expressed to me their fears of feeling inadequate and unprepared for the challenge.

Aren't we all unprepared, to a certain extent? I mean, here we are, sinners, talking to other sinners about grace - something we knew nothing about until that one fine day. Grace! That is our preparation and adequacy, not us as individuals with our certain personalities - grace! I think that this is the essential problem: We are not propelled by grace. When we are propelled, I think it is all too often solely by self-determination instead of cross-determination..i.e. : "I need to tell that person about Jesus" instead of, "I cannot believe that I was pardoned from Death Row! Grace is so infatuating!" and with that love of grace, it naturally seeps out of you onto all who surround for the inability to contain itself inside. And because we don't actually live in a Christian colony and we do go to Walmart and the gas station and are bombarded with the realities of our local needs on the local news everyday, that stored up grace will spew (for lack of a better term) onto all we meet in some way.
Obviously this subject hits a little close to home, so sorry if it got a little preachy ;-) That is just my 2 cents worth.
Good post.

Luke Snowden said...

Jimmy,

From a pastoral perspective I would offer these negative points to help engender greater engagement with the world.

1. I would not start a program that would take up another evening during people's busy week. On the other hand I would do two things:

Identify a need in the community - in other words you don't start a big brothers and sisters club in a retirement community! Identify a deep and real need in your immediate community.

Secondly I would find a way of incorprating this kind of activity into the daily, regular, routine of the people's lives.

Engagement with the culture is not something we do on tuesdays at 7. It is a lifestyle and thus I would try to be creative as to how I would help people engage.

2.I would not assume the role of a social healer. In other words, I would not want my actions to be percieved, or other actions, as if we are out to fix problems both personal and social.

So many food pantries and homeless ministries are run and handled more like social programs rather than gospel engagment with the needy.

Thus, I would want to help people discern the difference between being a socail philanthropist and a missionary to needy people.

This does not exclude the joy of being a practical help to people, we should delight in and enjoy this. But we should be hard pressed and passionate to be much more than this - a source of divine and eternal help through the Gospel.

Social engagement, or engaging the world, is not truly engagement apart from the Gospel...if we fall short of this then we act the part of beneficent politicians, not Biblical Christians.

3. I would not suggest a one size fits all, or pet project, for a group of people. I sincerely believe that as God's purpose for a variety of backgrounds and interests in the church is His divine means to create natural, as opposed to forced or uncomfortable, engagement with the culture.

So, I would not necessarily (I would be careful how I word this so as to not exclude a particular calling in a persons life) suggest that a housewife who was saved at age 6 whose most significant struggle in her life is to figure out how to use the online bill pay without letting her flesh eek out in anger to go down to the homeless sheleter and minister to women drug addicts and alcoholics. Could she do this...no doubt. But, I would approach the ex-addict who knows that life and can minister in a much different way with those from whom they came.

Those who like football should find a way to minister to those who like football...engage that culture. Those who were saved out of a bar should be in the bar ministering the same hope. Those who were saved out of pornography should find a way to engage that culture.

Mothers with small children at home should find it both natural and consistent with their daily life to engage the many, many, mothers they see every time they're at the park with their kids, or in the diaper aisle at the store, or at the kids clothing store.

You get the point, we should help people find a natural form of engagement that is either consistent with their present lot in life, or consistent with their background.

4. I'll stop here, but I have state that we shouldn't be mechanical about engagement. Thinking, "Well, I have to engage, so I'll just do it." And then sit down and close our eyes as we land our pointer finger on a random subject or group of people to reach.

While it is good and helpful to find that which is natural and consistent it is most important to be led of the Spirit. When we read through scripture God is always guiding, directing, and speaking to his people about who and how to minister to folk.

I believe that as we pray and engage the Spirit in our daily lives, that He will help us discern how we might in our every day lives, create a lifestyle of engagement in the world.

I'll stop with this - I think this is what Jessy was getting at in her "oozing grace" idea...as we encounter God in His word and prayer, His grace will enable us and empower us to be witnesses. The challenge for us is that when God does bid us to work that we obey and do as he leads.

John said...

Good negative thoughts Luke. I especially appreciate point 3.

Jessy said...

it was 'spewing grace', Luke - not 'oozing grace' - let's get the nasty picture image correct ;-) Ha!
Good words - I very much agree with your point #3. In my own particular church body, we struggle a bit with Jimmy's main point about fencing ourselves in. Our Pastor's daughter was in an violently abusive marriage and the church has been and is still going through the heartache of the situation, so the shelter ministry is an extension of that. Our pastor's main concern was that we would not just go to the shelter, serve a meal, do some crafts and leave them with a hug, meeting only their physical needs, but that we would build relationships with them that would draw them to church to sit under the preaching of the Word. Two women and their children have already come and one of them is plannign on coming back, for which we're very excited.
It is soo easy to cross the line into a works mentality when in a 'ministry' instead of the gospel mentality. As my pastor said, we will be loving these women to Hell if all we do is feed them and leave them.
I don't want get into the middle of a conversation with all you pastors and seminary people (heehee) - this is just an account from an everyday ordinary girl. I appreciate your wisdom and insights into situations you all have to think about everyday as church leaders and potential church leaders.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Luke,

I enjoyed the practical thoughts on this. like John and Jessy, I especially liked #3.

I agree with you that we should not be mechanical about things. I also agree that we should be led of the Spirit. One of things that can be helpful is setting a part of the day to do intentional ministry. I agree that many people have overly busy schedules. However, there are many different kinds of people in the church. For those who can comfortably do so, I would not be opposed to having a set time where such ministry could take place. I would only do this if there was a clear group of people who could do it comfortably (for example, youth).

I do not see the being led by the Spirit stuff as something that would necessarily say that I shouldn't try and engage a certain people until the Lord gives me direction. I would see being led of the Spirit as being a dependency on the Holy Spirit while I was on my way out, while I was out, and after I got back from being out. I would see being led of the Spirit to being open to change direction as I was going out, while I was going out, and after I got back from being out. The point here is that I do not think that the leading of the Spirit should make us not do intentional ministry until clear guidance is given. This may be implicit in what you were saying, but I do think it is important.

I agree that the majority of this sort of work ought to be done in the daily routine of life as we mix with people in the world. I just do not see it a bad thing to make special attempts at if one can do so without over crowding their schedule.

I really believe that for some people even engaging those who are similar to them will be difficult. I think it would be helpful for many people in the church to see this stuff being modeled. It would not be inappropriate to set apart a specific time to see that this gets done. One of the things that has helped me the most in my personal evangelism was watching Jim Elliff talk to people. I didn't write a script down or anything, but I picked up huge principles.

I especially liked what you had to say about maximizing on the different gifts and likes people have. Football watchers should engage football watchers--this is helpful.

Jimmy

Luke Snowden said...

Jimmy,

I may have a tendency to over-emphasize being led of the Spirit in this matter due to my expeiences with others whose attitude was essentially that God will not guide you, it's just your job to do it.

I want people to be careful not to use being led of the Spirit as an excuse for inactivity, or unfaithfulness, to engage the world. On the other hand I do beleive that God will and does lead each individual believer to both general areas of engagement as well as to specific areas and even times of engagement.

The basic issue people might take with this position is how one might interpret a sense of no leading from the Spirit on this issue. So, if one does not sense God leading in an area of engagement with the world how should we interpret or deal with that? I would include with this evangelism as well.

1. I would begin by recognizing that God does indeed want me to engage with the world and that he has a specific manner in which I, personally, am to do this.

There are some, as I have known, who believe that if you see an unbeleiver it is your responsibility, 100% of the time, to preach to them, or engage them in some way. If this is the case then Christians would be sinning everytime their mouth is shut! Being that there is such great need, and that there is such an overwhelming amount of opportunities for engagement we need wisdom and guidance from God as to how we should approach it.

If we simply have the idea that we are to engage in general you'll either limit your engagement to one area and forget the rest exist, or be so overwhelmed you'll begin to spin circles and not sleep at night.

2.I would recognize a lack of leadership as one of three indicators from God:

a. God has made it clear what he wants to be done, we may be looking for a sign in the sky when it is right in front of us. For this situation I would help an individual think through their life and circumstances. (ie: a mother at the park with her kids interacting with other mothers does not need a sign in the clouds showing her where and when to engage!)

b. Recognize that God has seasons in our lives that lend themselves to greater emphasis on various aspects of christian living. This, I know, will make the zealous uncomfortable, but it is accurate to say that a persons primary activity in a season of life may be to wait upon the Lord for power like Acts 4:20ff (a time of prayer and fasting and waiting). More generally God may be preparing us for greater and deeper engagement than usual, so it may be a time of study and prayer.

This can easily be used as excuse for unfaithfulness, but when genuine generally produces much fruit. Again, before I pronounce myself or another as in this season I would be very cautious as it is easily abused.

c. I would encourage people by reminding them to not despise the day of small things. We sometimes think that we have to have some deep or radical manner of engagement when God's purpose for us may seem, but not really, be a small manner of engagement.

For example, a stay at home mom that cannot afford a second car to go to homeless shelters may feel like she is not engaging. However, though it may seem inconsequential from the surface, intentionally ministering to her children is just as Godly and engaging as doing anything else. Our children in our homes are just as in need of the Gospel as the bum on the street. Our homes are arenas of gospel engagement just as the crack house and third world frontier missions.

Right now I have an office with five ladies (one Jehovah's Witness), 2 children at home, and a church for me to engage in. That is enough to keep a man busy for life, but I feel like I am not doing enough...but I am! In comparison with being a Pastor I am affecting and engaging for with far fewer numbers of people, but I get to engage from a much different perspective and angle than I did as a Pastor.

The simple point is, don't think that you have to be on a plane to Zimbabwe or dodging bullets in the ghetto to be engaging. Your homes may be God's primary place of ministry right now, don't despise that or feel that this is anything short of hardcore! It is not.

I'll stop now...sorry for being so loquacious.

JG said...

Jimmy
Maybe you will touch on this in a later post, with engaging the world, but I can't help but think of the importance of prayer. So often, doing something is seen as the only way to engage the world. Jesus tells us the harvest is there, the workers are few. Then he says to PRAY to the Lord of the harvest, to send workers (sorry that is the Josh Gottman paraphrase).

I know a very godly older woman, whose health has failed her so much, she rarely gets to engage the outside world. She is now frustrated because of it. She has been told over and over to do something to engage and while she was able she did. Now she cannot. I am trying to show her probably the greatest thing she can be doing is crying out to God to send out workers. She is beginning to see the joy in prayer.

Just some thoughts to add to the discussion, this was again an excellent post, one that I see in myself and those around me....

Josh

Jimmy Snowden said...

Luke,
Thanks for your explanation. I especially liked what you had to say about not feeling like you have to be dramatic about engaging culture. I also liked what you had to say about different seasons in our lives.

Josh,
Thanks for bringing the Matt 13 passage into view on this. I think your dealings with that woman are excellent. There is a tendency for folks to, when they get a catch of the evangelistic bug, be nazi's about things.

I am thankful for the discussion on this topic. Unfortunately, blogging is nothing like writing books. When I write a post I write short thoughts. I have no intention on presenting material from every vantage point possible. I know that this could cause people to take things the wrong way--but this is risk worth taking. The other option is to throw the blog out. The purpose is to present ideas and discuss them. I wanted to clarify this so that people don't think I am some sort of a evangelism nazi. I am pro evangelism and I motivate the people I preach/teach to fulfill the great commission in whatever way possible. But i am not up for a one-size-fits-all approach for how Christians ought to engage culture. Being a culture engager is not just about evangelism. The purpose of these posts is to speak to a very specific group of people (mainly reformed) who neglect culture out of a debilitating fear of being influenced by the culture. This is my aim--nothing more, nothing less. I think this issue needs to be address. I think reformed folk need to get on the ball with this (without becoming nazi's of course). I like discussing the implications of what I am saying in the comments, but I just want to let people know my intentions. Just for clarification.

Jimmy

Luke Snowden said...

Jimmy,
Thanks for dealing with this issue and most of all thanks for taking a humble approach at carefully critiquing reformed folks. We need critiquing! We tend to think that because we get election that we've met some pinnacle of sanctification. Not so. Please, as you see fit, help us by shinning light on other issues we need to be challenged on!