The Church Outside the Walls
Coordinator of Outreach & Evangelism
I remember when I was younger, there was a fad in Baptist churches to put a sign as you exit the church that read, “You are now entering the mission field.” Some would give a hardy “amen” while others would be a little more reserved in how they use the word “mission.” This blogpost is not about whether we should take those signs down or build one to place over the doorway but to challenge our thinking about how we exit our church buildings.
Last week was the first time in ten weeks my church opened its door for people to gather. It is painfully obvious that we will not be picking up where we left off before the pandemic. Most Christians in America will experience a gradual reopening of services and programs at their church. Just the thought of your ministry at church suspended for another month may dampen the joy of regathering with your church. But before we go down that road, let’s consider the possibility that this may be the God-ordained push to move our churches forward.
I’ve heard pastors say something like, “The call to be a pastor is a call out of the ministry.” Ephesians 4:12 is their explanation for this. Here, Paul gives the purpose of a pastor (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers): “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Certainly, pastors are called to model what ministry looks like, but the vast majority of ministry done in a healthy church is done by people not paid to do it. So, if I may, I would like to tweak the plaque above our church doors to say, “You are now entering the ministry.”
Sunday after Sunday, our pastors are faithfully feeding us with the word and equipping us for ministry. The alarming statistic thrown around is that 20% of church members do 80% of the work. The good news is we have been given a reset on church ministry! In a day where everything needs to be sanitized before ministry can take place, there has never been a greater time for the average Christian to take up his call to ministry by doing it outside the church. If we begin to view our churches this way, we will rise out of the pandemic with stronger church members and churches.
This shift from the church building as the primary place of ministry to our tables and couches will take some adjustment. Running a program at church breeds a sense of familiarity and comfort. In contrast, there is something unnerving about opening our not-so-clean homes to one another. However, if we want to see our churches grow to be Great Commission focused, it will probably begin to look a lot more like Acts 2:46-47, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (emphasis mine).
It was a daily event for the people of God to get together in the early church. Just imagine with me what that would look like in 2020 America. In reality, we can’t even begin to imagine orienting our schedules in such a radical way, but maybe we should. At the very least, this glimpse into the early church should cause us to pause and consider, “How can I spend more time with my church?”
Not only did the church gather daily, but members also met in multiple places. First, they were going to the temple, but Luke takes careful note that even this happened together. Second, they were eating in their homes. Scripture has much to teach us about hospitality, but as we slowly reopen our church buildings, we need to learn hospitality in our homes. We have substituted hospitality in our homes for potlucks and fellowship meals in a church building. Neither are bad, but they cannot replace the benefits of hospitality in our homes.
Luke adds one little detail at the end of Acts 2:47 that most Christians are interested in, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” We all want our churches to grow! It would be ungodly to wish for unbelievers in your community not to be saved. There are other factors throughout the book of Acts that contribute to the rapid growth of the early church. Not insignificant was the power of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of the saints, but in a passage where Luke draws attention to the daily addition of new believers, he also gives a couple of the reasons for that growth. One of these reasons is gathering around our dinner tables.
Now, I know that this is a blog from a university, and most college students do not have their own dinner table, much less a home. In part 2 of this post, I will take the principles of Acts 2 and make a few suggestions for those of you who are like me and do not have the opportunity to practice table hospitality. But, as you attend your church, I want you to remember when you exit, “You are now entering the ministry!” Let’s start being the church daily!
Christian Worldliness and Covid-19
Mark Vowels, CGO Director
The Struggle with Worldliness
I struggle with worldliness. My flesh likes the world’s music, its movies, its pleasures, its excesses. But having lived my whole life within the confines of conservative Christendom, I really don’t have bad habits that I need to confess regarding “worldliness.” I’m not guilty, at least, of external worldliness in the way conservative Christendom generally labels things as worldly. “I don’t smoke, drink, or chew and I don’t run with those who do.” Yep, that’s me. Simple, pure, godlike.
The Reality of Worldliness
But worldliness is not just about what I wear, or watch, or listen to. For those who have been enculturated to avoid certain components of “the world,” it’s second nature to stay away from things on “the list.” Worldliness, however, is much more about embracing the values and priorities of a society where God is not central than it is about the culturally driven fads, fashions, or flavors of the moment (Romans 12:1-2). Conforming to the rules is easy, it is resisting my culture’s way of thinking that I struggle with when it comes to worldliness.
Our Moment of Worldliness
What troubles me right now is the uninhibited worldliness that I am seeing in posts, likes and shares on social media. The incredible divisiveness that has arisen over responses to the Covid-19 pandemic makes me shudder. Blinded to the reality that we are not defending unalterable truth, but are rather mirroring the world’s mindset and priorities, many Christians are making pronouncements about everything from political conspiracies to demands for the preservation of their rights; from sneering at those who are anxious about risks to their health to condemning those who forego wearing a safety mask. We are living in the most opportune moment in our lifetime to show the world what it means to be a Christian, but instead we are showing each other what it means to be like the world.
Jesus and Worldliness
Jesus modeled humility and meekness, refusing to raise his voice against the political and societal disputes of his day (Matthew 12:18-21). He was not driven by the need to win arguments; he was driven by the need to save souls (John 3:17). Because he was kind and empathetic to sinners (Matthew 11:19), the religious leaders of his day accused him of being worldly. And on the eve of his unfathomable sacrifice, he told his followers that the primary proof of our relationship to him is in how we show love to one another (John 13:34-35).
The Apostle Paul, who told others, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), taught us how to treat one another. Here is a sample of his admonitions:
Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.
So, Stop Being Worldly
The Coronavirus pandemic is revealing just how worldly we really are. We are demonstrating our worldliness in our prejudice, class warfare, ethnocentricity, and bitter speech. The plague is showing us what we really value and where we really place our trust.
What will bring hope and peace in this uncertain time is not America, or political parties, or jobs, or stimulus packages, or even vaccinations. What will bring hope is Jesus. And the world will see Jesus when we love one another in ways that defy our cultural assumptions and parochial ideals. Jesus showed His love with a towel, a basin of water and a cross. Maybe we can show ours through our social media posts.
 All Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).
Katie Hickey, CGO Staff
Towards the beginning of April, a student asked me this question: “Do you think God has been teaching you anything during this time?” Now, I truly believe that God is using one major event as a unique lesson for every individual that has been affected by this pandemic. In a broader sense, but certainly no less important, I believe God is using this uncomfortable time to shake unbelievers from their comfortable sleep. With loved ones dying, the brevity of life is felt. With an uncertain economy, the power of money is quickly shattered. The media becomes more discreditable by the minute. Finding identity in one’s career becomes difficult with layoffs, furloughs, and working from home. Even Netflix will get old at some point. The noise of a busy life isn’t there anymore to drown the questioning soul. The things unbelievers look to for meaning, purpose, hope, happiness, relief—you name it—has been stripped away. The beautiful thing about the providence of God is that He allowed this virus to occur during a time when social media would be available as a channel for true meaning and hope. On the first quarantined Sunday, I remember thinking how cool it was to see so many believers posting their church services on social media. Scrolling suddenly became less of a mindless habit and more of a gospel-filled avenue. During uncertainty, people are hungry for something sure. Maybe you know of situations in which those who wouldn’t normally go to church are suddenly open to watching a service. I do. So, for unbelievers around the world, this pandemic resulted in a massive gospel-hearing opportunity.
But the original question wasn’t directed at others; it was asked of me. What is God teaching me? Interesting thing about this global pandemic: it stripped us all of our normal lives, equally. Believers didn’t come out ahead; they weren’t spared the suffering. Why? Because suffering has a purpose. We are to be made more like Christ. And, ultimately, we are to love and value Him above everything else. The unsaved weren’t the only ones left questioning their purpose and meaning in life—so were the believers, so was I. I think you can learn what you truly value by seeing what you miss the most.
On the last day of 2019, looking forward to 2020, I wrote a post on social media that included the following:
“I hope this world disappoints us if it means we realize God never fails.
I wish us poverty if it means we find the eternal riches of Ephesians through the sacrifice of God’s Son.
I hope we feel weak if it means we learn to lean on God’s strength.
I wish us loneliness if it means we meet the One who will never leave us nor forsake us.
I hope our hearts break if it means we draw close to the God who can heal them.
Of course, I wish God’s blessings upon us, but only as much as they point us to gratitude for and praise of the Creator who gave them.
I hope temporary 2020 encourages us to dwell on eternity and live accordingly.”
(By the way, be careful what you wish for.) I’d like to say that I welcomed the coronavirus crisis with that same attitude, humbly asking God that I would learn whatever He intended to teach me, but I didn’t.
Currently, I haven’t lost anything tangible, and I’m thankful to the Lord for that. But, as the honeymoon period of working from home wore off, I started realizing some things I really valued. See, I like my normal. I like my familiar. I like things my way. Stability and predictability are comfortable. They’re safe. Uncertainty and unknowns are not. Here’s the convicting thing: this comfortable and familiar and “figured-out” life is where my confidence rested. How is that any different from someone who doesn’t know the omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, loving God? I should “know better.”
The bad thing about COVID-19 and quarantine is that it’s stripped us of what we love and value the most.
And, the good thing about COVID-19 and quarantine is that it’s stripped us of what we love and value the most.
John Piper puts it this way in Coronavirus and Christ, “The reason Jesus said that we all likewise would perish if we don’t repent is that we all have exchanged the treasure that God is for lesser things we love more (Rom. 1:22-23), and we all have treated Jesus as less desirable than money and entertainment and friends and family. The reason all of us deserve to perish is not a list of rules we have broken, but an infinite value we have scorned – the infinite value of all that God is for us in Jesus Christ” (p.81).
I know I’m not the only one who’s gotten a better look at personal sin during this time. Praise God! That’s grace. That’s hope of change. He has given us an opportunity to recognize it, repent from it, and run to Him for His forgiveness. What a merciful and loving God we serve! We owe Him nothing less than loving and valuing Him above all else. Beyond that, even during this time of being stripped of all that we thought were needs, He reveals to us that He and His Word are enough.
So let me get back to the student’s question from long ago at the beginning of this blog post: “Do you think God has been teaching you anything during this time?” I think God is teaching me to rethink my priorities and what I value in my life. I think He is prodding me to think about why I do what I do. Along with that, He’s teaching me that He is enough.
What’s He teaching you?
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.