Recently as I was doing some Internet research in preparation for Outside the Gate 2008: a gathering of missional christians. I ran into a blog called Subversive Influence. The thing that grabbed me in a post I read was his short definition of the word missional. It is also the subtitle of the blog. "Live your faith. Share your life."
It dawned on me that was not what I was taught as a typical white American Evangelical. We were taught to "Share our faith. Live our life." As such it was very important to be busy witnessing - sharing our faith. Sharing the Four Spiritual Laws, or pointing out sin, or pushing for a commitment were all part of sharing our faith. Good arguments about creation, abortion, the inerrancy of scripture, plus exposing the cults, humanists, atheists, liberals, socialists and communists were also part of sharing our faith. We were schooled in how to make our "testimony" fit our theology of "say the prayer and get your free ride to heaven".
Our life on the other hand, well that is something that is a gift from God to develop and so become successful, make money, accumulate things, influence or power. In other circles about all you could do with your life was to become a pastor or preacher if you really had faith.
To the evangelical church's credit we were also taught to live in such a way that it would be a good witness. But that mostly meant "personal holiness" or what people could see - no drinking, smoking, cursing, partying, pre-marital sex, etc. As part of personal holiness we were also taught to stay away from bad influences, or in other words people that do these kinds of things or gays, or liberals, and the like. Later it became all about "excellence", which is another word for putting on a good performance.
With our lives we were taught to get it all in line. Why? It was to make our sharing of faith seem more real to those we shared it with. And to make a really good witness be sure to banish any outwardly sense of doubt, fear, questioning, sadness, and even if you had to fudge a little, be sure to know all the answers. Living our life right was the only way that we had a chance that our sharing of our faith would be successful. On the other hand, this striving for outward conformity of life and appearance often seemed give us a free pass to live with unforgiveness, or to gossip as if it were a prayer request. It unleashed selfish ambition. And other true heart issues were glosses over.
We were pushy, inappropriate in how we spoke with people, invasive into private areas we were not invited into. So many times our sharing of faith came off in the eyes of many as hypocritical, unloving, judgemental, legalistic, some might even say, hateful. Some became our disciples but most seemed to reject our "sharing of our faith".
"They hated Jesus too you know," was the familiar chorus we were taught when we felt misunderstood, rejected, or "persecuted". Well here is the rub! How was Jesus received. It was the the church leader, the holy ones of his day, the Pharisees, the politically powerful religious politicians, the Sadducees, and the ones trying to make politics work, the Herodians, who joined the Imperial power, the Romans in opposing him and eventually killing him. But the un-churched and the sinners loved Him!
Why is it that those who loved Jesus in his day, often seem to despise the church of today that bears his name? On the other hand the powerful in America seem to seek out the church's endorsement - both on the political right and on the left these days. Could it be that we have this formula about life and faith backwards?
Live your faith. Live like you believe in Jesus. Instead of brushing aside his teachings on poverty, power, forgiveness, revenge, peace, self-giving, neighbor love, enemy love, and humble service to the least, why don't we focus on living this faith? Instead of teaching and talking about Jesus, why don't we focus on being Jesus (as his body, the Church) to the world? Then we will have more to share than words about our faith. We have a life lived by faith to share.
Imagine a world where we as Christians actually "live our faith" as a first priority. The natural result is to "share our lives" with the hurting, hopeful, proud, strong, weak. rich, poor, the oppressed, the oppressor, the foreigner, the worker, the boss, everyone. Would it not transform lives (ours and others) and possibly our culture and society as we participated with Christ in the salvation of the world by living our faith? True, it might also raise the ire of this world's powerful, wise, religious, wealthy, beautiful people. But, that is what it did when Jesus lived it too!
Live your faith! Share your life! This is what the world needs. It can't be done in a building where the church meets for worship. That is, not if it is to be done the way Jesus did it. Rather, it is done in the everyday ordinariness of life, in the commonplace, where we live every single day. It is small things done with great love. It is overlooking faults and forgiving without condition. It is responding with kindness. It is radical hospitality and love of neighbor and enemy. It is laying down our lives, that others might live. It is bringing peace and seeking justice without regard to reputation. It is loving as Christ loved, no strings. When people who live like this are seen, people say ... "that's what Jesus is like." I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus.
Outside the Gate 2008 I hope will encourage us to live more like Jesus. Jesus said, "As the Father sent me, so send I you." Let's become the message of Jesus to our neighbors, our city and our world.
Outside the Gate 2008: a gathering of missional christians, is on the weekend of October 3-4, 2008 in Monroe, NC. For more information check out the Outside The Gate blog at OutsideTheGate.TheCommonplace.org