As I write this blog I am in Berlin, Germany, one of the most secular, diverse, post Christian, cities of the world - and the cultural capital of Europe. If you want to share the Gospel in places like this literally none of what we are used to in the United States applies. Church is irrelevant and foreign, programs are ignored and evangelistic events for the most part mean nothing. What does mean something is relationship - deep, personal friendships that give one the ability to share the Gospel and that means adopting the very methods of Jesus who spent a great deal of time with people we would not in places we would not.
I asked our staff recently what they wish their supporters understood about their work. This reply was particularly insightful and it illustrates the challenge of ministry in a totally secular context where the concept of God is not even understood. You will find the response fascinating, challenging and a perhaps uncomfortable - as did the disciples and pharisees with some of Jesus' relationships.
"I would love to see supporters have a more thorough understanding of what it means to relate to non-Christians in meaningful ways. Most of my supporters would probably say they understand evangelism and how much time it requires in building relationships and exposing people to the gospel. They have a heart to see non-Christians reached with the gospel. But they are used to a programatic model, evangelistic events, and using a church building as a central point of ministry. They have very little understanding of what it means to step into a community without the remnants of Evangelicalism and be immersed in the lives of non-Christians. Although they may understand that a culture needs Jesus, they have not thought through what that means for social interactions, evangelism, and developing relationships with non-believers.
"My supporters understand I am reaching out to non-Christians, but they don´t understand the implications it has on my life. It is my job to get into the world of non-Christians and pursue them, to understand them and to relate to them on their turf. It would be arrogant to wait for them to come to me--and that means I am in bars, cafes, nightclubs, street parties. It means I am regularly exposed to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography. It means I am around men and women who not only adhere to the gay lifestyle but demonstrate it openly. It means I am rubbing shoulders with people that are not upstanding, people who are literally doing the wrong thing...and people who would never attend an official evangelistic event (let alone go in a church building!).
"As I think about communicating with my supporters, I am often concerned that what I share will jeophardize my support rather than build confidence in my effectiveness. I would love to share more about how valuable and worthwhile it is to work through the issues that come up as I hang out with my gay friend or stay out until 5am because that is when my friends are available. I do think it is important to communicate what the lostness of a culture looks like--how it plays out in everyday life--but it is difficult to be open with the messiness of it when my lifestyle choices would be labeled as ¨sin¨ by some supporters! This sentiment may be felt more acutely in European, post-Christian contexts, but I know that there were times in Latin America where many Christian workers felt the same.
"I would love for supporters to understand that reaching out to non-Christians is uncomfortable, risky, and messy. I am committed to living a Godly life, but that doesn´t mean I can avoid the parts of culture that make Christians in the US uneasy. Part of my job is figuring out how the Holy Spirit is leading me to interact with non-Christians considering the opportunities that exist. And that is much easier said in a missions committee meeting than done."
Insightful words. Now remember why the Pharisees were so shocked at who Jesus spent time with and where. And even the disciples. Incarnational ministry takes Jesus to where people are, develops true friendships and is willing to step into their lives in order to share the good news of Jesus. What might the implications be for our evangelism strategies in the United States or elsewhere?