A Missional church is a church where evangelism is the core of everything the church does. This concept, while attractive, is very challenging to implement because of different needs of Christians and non-Christians. As a result, evangelistic ministry is usually run as a separate program in the church.
Take, for example, the regular Sunday service. Traditional approach is to keep evangelistic preaching separate from the main services, in a form of “seeker” or “friendship” services. The reason being that while the basics of the faith needs to be explained to non-believers, this may be all-too-familiar to believers. On the other hand, it is also felt that while believers need to be reminded to live a life pleasing to God, non-believers may not be able to appreciate this.
However, this approach to evangelism may no longer be effective today. Many unbelievers no longer want a case to be made for them (they probably heard it too many times, or afraid of being manipulated). Instead, they prefer to see how the church works from inside, and prefer to make their own minds at their own time.
I have recently being thinking whether it is possible to implement the missional principles in the context of our bible studies.
If we are to build a truly missional bible study, how can we conduct it so that both Christians and non-Christians can go away edified?
Below are some thoughts on how we can make the study beneficial for both non-Christians and Christians:
(A) Contextualization as a basis for teaching non-Christians:
Not imposing non-essentials of the faith on the non-believers. This includes Christian jargon, pious talk (false appearance of spirituality), unnecessary customs.
Packaging the message in a way the non-believers can comprehend, without sacrificing the essentials of the faith (sin, repentance). For example, saying that Jesus forgave our sins means little to those who don’t feel they needed to be forgiven in the first place.
Not thinking of non-believers as being always wrong and us being always right. Acknowledging the good in things other people believe or do, and yet challenging them with respect to the wrong things.
Not taking for granted that everybody at the table has exactly the same beliefs. Show respect for people who are doubting and show understanding of what these doubts might be.
Addressing questions that are important to people rather than just important to us.
Acknowledge that something such as ‘Jesus died to take away the sins of the world’ may sound outrageous to a non-believer
(B) Showing Christians how they can benefit from a discussion with non-Christians:
Hearing non-believers’ questions and doubts and learning how to address them can help Christians strengthen their faith and learn how to approach their friends.
Learning how to explain the essentials of the faith helps the person’s own understanding. From my personal experience, I find that you really understand something only if you are able to explain it to somebody else.
(D) Teaching that there are three, rather than two ways to live.The main reason for such a distinction is to demonstrate a similarity between irreligion and religion (not at all obvious) and the huge divide between them and the gospel.
- The reason to emphasize the divide between religion and the gospel is two-fold. First, Christians often sink back into religion while claiming to understand the gospel because they do not understand (or forget) the true implications of the salvation by grace. Second, many non-believers shun Christianity because of their poor experience with the organized religion, such as hypocrisy of the church, requirements to obey certain senseless laws and regulations, seeing believers’ motivation to obey as a selfish way to try to get to haven. They need to understand that these things are as foreign to the true Christianity as it is to them, so should not be an obstacle to believe.
- The reason to emphasize the similarity between irreligion and religion is to make non-believers see that salvation by works is the world’s default mode of operation, including their own lives, if we redefine the salvation as success in life. Such a redefinition is quite natural – for Christians the main purpose of their life is salvation while for non-Christians it is usually some form of success or recognition (in work, family, wealth, happiness). The only way to earn success in the world is through hard work. The way to earn salvation in religion is by doing work for God. For non-believers, seeing the similarities between them and religion, and the difference between these and the gospel (you are saved not because of what you do but because what has been done for you by Jesus) will hopefully result in the following pattern of thinking: “I am against religion but so are Christians. Yet while I have been opposing religion, I had never realized I use the same religious principles I disdain (hypocrisy, selfishness in achieving my goals, etc.), but in the non-religious domain. The gospel (just explained to me the way I never heard before) is a radical new way to live and the God of the gospel seems a truly unique God – I better give this a chance.”