We need evangelized: 3 things that show it

evangelized rodents

Every day, I need evangelized. Like Paul said of Abraham, the faithful friend of God:

“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

I am also not wavering. But I need to be strengthened. I need to be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promises. This strengthening and persuasion happens every day.

To be honest, we, as a church, need to keep the spark of evangelism stoked among us and through us or we might “waver through unbelief” like Paul fears the Romans might waver (or why bring up Abraham, right?). If Paul looked over our church, he might be writing a letter to our leaders and to all of us when he saw the kinds of things we do rather than persuading people that God has the power to do what he promises through Jesus Christ.

Here are three things we tend to do these days that show we need evangelized — no judgment, just things to think and talk about.

We manage lovelessness

This week, all sorts of people are going to bring out the four horsemen in their relationships at home, in your cell and with the leaders. We are going to be tempted to manage the symptoms of their lovelessness rather than teach a better way. Rather than reconcile after our teaching causes conflict, we will be tempted to keep things calm by not confronting the life-sucking lack of love and keeping our mouths shut. We try to manage the lovelessness. This managing rarely succeeds and the territory of the loveless expands rather than stays in the boundaries we set. Basically, we spawn a dysfunctional family like that from which many of us came.

The dysfunction is easy to see when we elevate new leaders (and we often do that, don’t we?!). The loveless test them. We have four relatively new pastors, new Cell Leader Coordinators, new Leadership Team members, and new Cell Leaders. Many tell me similar stories about people who are covenant members  and so have already agreed to love their leaders, build the church, give money, follow the Map, etc., etc. and yet cause an argument in every meeting they attend, or refuse to attend the meeting because they are hurt or mad. The temptation is to manage their lovelessness rather than insist on reconciliation in honor of Jesus.

We need evangelized. We can’t love unless we are attached to the mother/father love of Jesus.

Ahem. Beat Pittsburgh and Lancaster (but not Dallas!)

We stick with principled theology without the motivation of the Holy Spirit.

In our case this “principle-based” theology is often a breed of Protestantism that has an “imperial gaze.” What I mean is, almost all of us grew up in a church that was fully a part of Eurocentric/American thinking. [Consider Migrations of the Holy]. A common way we think about what is right, therefore, can be subsumed under the heading “perfecting democracy” or “giving a voice to the voiceless.” Many people think goodness is mainly about distributing the limited “pie” of social power, power we think we have or power we think we need in order to get by. The church is still seen as part of the imperial system and not actually an expression of the alternative to that system, an expression of the “voiceless” Jesus. Basically, our theology can lean into being an accommodated, if idealistic, element of America Inc. [Consider The Economy of Desire]

You can see this theology among us when we try to act in solidarity with people we have stereotyped by singing their music or by appropriating their culture in some way, even when they are not part of our community and not consulted. The imperial gaze roams the earth looking for people to conform to its superiority, looking for experiences it has not yet consumed, and looking for people it has not yet exploited. Solidarity with people we know and love is elemental to the gospel. (We had a Dia de los Muertos observance last week complete with Aztec dancers — the leader of the troupe being part of our church!). But learning someone’s culture for the sake of novelty or faux inclusion is not the gospel. Perfecting democracy and advancing human rights is not the gospel. Speaking up for people who are oppressed is certainly an expression of Jesus followers who love others. But such speaking does not save people, Jesus does that.

We need evangelized. We can’t be free of our self-interest and grasping for power unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and humbly submitted to obeying God’s call.

We acclimate to the inflexibilities of an established community.

I know this is all sounding negative, but I suppose some people in Rome thought that what Paul wrote to them was negative, too. Many of us are more committed to nothing being negative than we are to a practical life in Christ — we might even be “devoted” to our anxiety! Thus a great number of us might not be able to take any of the spiritual risks that mark a person who trusts God — or we might theoretically approve of “risk” (see the previous point) but leave the risk-taking to the “risk department.” Thus we have trouble adapting to our changing neighborhoods. We can’t imagine investing in the future of our mission. Some don’t listen to the possibilities of a troubled marriage. We might never invite people to our meetings because we predetermine how difficult that might be for them and never even find out what they really think about us. We end up, basically, living behind the walls of our “settlement” and are no longer an expansive, journeying tribe of pioneers.

We have been able to see this trait among us this year as we have disrupted the homeostasis so much! On the one hand, we have weathered the self-imposed storm well. We added new pastors, new leaders, changed my role around, planted a new congregation and are now contemplating new buildings! Amazing! All these things would cause any organization to stumble around like they just entered the dark living room after shutting off the bathroom light in the middle of the night.  On the other hand, we lost 50 people, we did not meet our financial goal (yet), and we ran into how stuck some of are individually and how slow to change our system can be. And, like I said, every time we tried to do something new, we encountered conflict (see point one). Such problems are to be expected, but they certainly present a challenging way to grow! Change brings out the best and worst in people.

We need evangelized. We can’t evangelize, can’t confront the long-term intricacies of transformation unless we know we are eternal and have a living relationship with God.

Life is hard. Being truly alive in Christ is even harder, it seems. We feel anxious about our lives. We react with avoidance of suffering and frantic acquisition of comfort. We need evangelized! So Jesus says about all the things he told he disciples the night before he went to the cross:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

And Peter, who totally choked on his huge anxiety when Jesus was being tried and executed, wrote:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

And Paul, who wrote such challenging things to the Romans, ended his letter with:

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another…”

He did not think they were wavering.

“…Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:14-16).

He knew they needed as much persuasion as they could get because life is hard. And being truly alive in Christ is even harder, it seems.

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