Will we open ourselves—and our churches—to our neighbors?
by Don Morris
Janna, my wife, went for a walk on a very warm day last spring. When she returned to the house she realized that she had locked herself out. To add to the drama, it had been just days since Janna had undergone triple bypass heart surgery, the battery on the cell phone she was carrying was dead, and I was a hundred miles away, on my way home from a church planter assessment in Missouri. Janna was getting hot and thirsty—not good following major surgery.
So, industrious as she is, my wife went to our next-door neighbor’s, and found the young husband at home, which was unusual because he’s normally away on business throughout the week. He brought her a glass of water, tried to help her find a way into our house and let her use his phone to call me on my cell phone.
They couldn’t find a way into the house, and what happened next was providential. As they waited for me to get home, our young neighbor began to share with Janna that he and his wife were struggling in their marriage. There were tears in his eyes as he opened up to Janna, and it became obvious to her that we now had a God-ordained opportunity to be directly involved in our neighbors’ lives.
Do Christians still have the opportunity to be agents of change in our troubled world today? Some say things have gone too far in our post-Christian culture. They cite moral decay, the economic meltdown and recent legislation regarding prayer in public schools and government funding for abortions in other nations, and so on and so on as reasons why Christians perhaps should just give up.
What about people?
It can be tempting to isolate ourselves from the world around us, but then what happens to people? If we throw in the towel when it comes to evangelism and building the kingdom of God, what happens to the people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
I am convinced that we should be witnessing and sharing about Jesus in the same manner that first century Christians did. When the early church numbered only a few thousand believers, what did they do? What happened in the early church so that a couple of centuries later there were millions of believers?
History gives some answers. God used persecution, today known as the Diaspora, to spread the early followers of Jesus throughout the region. God did not allow his followers to remain content in their own little world of Jerusalem. Instead, God used these believers by spreading them out into the surrounding cultures. And they did an amazing thing in the new cultures in which they found themselves: They shared their lives with others. The early church shared the gospel, in all its power, with people. These early believers didn’t water down God’s message; they spoke God’s truth even if it was offensive.
Then these new churches sent out church planters to spread the gospel even wider. These early believers couldn’t keep from wearing on their sleeves their unwavering faith in Jesus. Their passion caught fire—person by person—and it spread like wildfire. And what a raging inferno of faith in Jesus it became!
Early believers lived the call of Jesus, and it resulted in the world being turned upside down. Today we would say that the early believers lived as a “missional” church. They shared the life-changing message of Jesus, lived in community together, grew in their faith and did all they could to connect with God and their culture in every aspect of their lives. They were on a mission, living as missionaries in their own cultural setting. They took the message of Jesus to the people; they did not wait for people to come to them.
While the word “missional” has been misused and misunderstood, it is a valid way for us 21st century Christians to live. Why? Because being missional is what Jesus called us to. I am absolutely convinced that the return of Jesus is coming soon, and yet no one but the Father knows exactly when this will happen. What we do know is that until Christ comes, he tells us we are to “be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35).
Yes, our world is changing in many ways. But even in change, an enormous impact for the kingdom of God is possible. You and I can be a vital part of God’s work when we form meaningful connections with those around us, witnessing boldly to our coworkers, in our neighborhoods and to anyone we meet concerning the miracle God brings when he changes our lives.
People in our neighborhoods will not come to our churches simply because we offer great programs, outstanding music or exceptional preaching. They will only come when they see the wonder and power of Jesus lived out in us. Only when they have really, truly witnessed Jesus will they want a taste.
As God’s people, we possess the exciting, rewarding and awe-inspiring privilege of helping broken people find Jesus. I want to be part of seeing more come to know him. I want to be “on mission” for Jesus.
As director of Mission USA, our national Mennonite Brethren church planting effort, I want you to know that as we plant new churches across America we will plant missional churches. These new Mennonite Brethren congregations will proclaim the whole gospel in all of its power. We won’t water it down and we won’t just hint about Jesus. We won’t create enclaves of self-focused Christians.
We will proclaim Jesus as the giver of life. We will proclaim the Word of God. And we will plant churches that connect in service to their communities. We will create bodies of believers that take an interest in the spiritual condition of their neighbors and that speak boldly that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
We will be Mennonite Brethren, living in a broken world, that know there is one who can heal anyone’s brokenness. We will be living as missionaries in cities all over this country. We will do all we can, with all we have, until Jesus comes back or he calls us home.
Back to our neighbor: Although the wife ended up leaving the home, over the past several months, on several occasions, we’ve been able to pray with the young husband and speak openly with him about the power of prayer and how Jesus can heal. He now comes to us when he’s going through a difficult day. We have a relationship where he knows he can trust us to speak truth to him.
Being missional people is this: Living as Jesus calls us to live, connecting with our culture and helping and serving our neighbors. It is boldly speaking about our Savior and sharing with others how they can know him too. These simple, intentional efforts can and will result in the church being a powerful, amazing force in the life of America. I invite us to dedicate ourselves to a passionate, active, missionary lifestyle wherever we live—until he comes.
Don Morris is the director of Mission USA, the church planting and renewal ministry of U.S Mennonite Brethren.