One of the main points of this blog is to conceptualize my life as a follower of Jesus Christ as one who is sent as a missionary to my community. Here's one of the things I struggle with: connecting with the mission field. Let me explain.
Who Is Your Mission Field?
"Who is my mission field?" is one of the best places to start. Notice it is not "what" or "where," but "who." Knowing geography and physical location is good, but knowing the people is better. God has placed a desire on my heart to reach those who are not actively following Jesus Christ and help them be transformed by God's love into Jesus Followers.
There are many types of different non-active Christians. There are those who used to be, but were hurt or turned-off by the church. There are those who went to church as a kid, but never really owned the practice of faith for themselves. There are those who have never had any connection to Christianity except for what they've seen, read or heard from others; and even then, that is probably very little. I want to focus on this last group, which may be harder than I realize. But, I think if I focus on that group, I can probably pick up some of the others along the way. (I suppose I could be wrong about that.)
I have a lot of questions about what life is like for a non-Christian, mainly because, I've never really been one. I was born into a "Christian home". My dad is a United Methodist, and my mom was raised Roman Catholic, and my step-mom was raised Church of God (Anderson, a holiness church). I was baptized as an infant, and raised in the church. My dad is a more charismatic type of United Methodist, and he took us to other denominations' (or non-denominations') mid-week services that had different worship experiences than our Sunday mornings. I was active in my United Methodist youth group as a teenager, and in inter-denominational Christian ministry. My friends were mostly Christians of some sort: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. I went to college and was involved in the United Methodist Campus Ministry, the First UMC, Campus Crusade for Christ, Campus Christian Fellowship, etc. I've read the Bible pretty much since I was old enough to read, and I've always thought of the voice in my head as an ongoing prayer conversation with God. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is about all I know. I'm not perfect at it, but I can talk the talk and walk the walk...in my sleep. I'm NOT saying this to brag. I'm saying this because I realize how different I am from the Mission Field. I'm realizing that in many ways I live an insulated life, in a "church bubble."
My language is different. My priorities are different (to a degree). The things I think about are different. The books I read are different. How I want to raise my kids is different. How I choose to spend my money is different (again, to a degree). My general worldview is different. I don't fit-in to one particular political party. I listen to different music and radio stations. Out of all of these, I think the biggest differences that impact my practice of ministry is Language and Worldview.
In order to connect with the mission field, I need to be able to speak the language. And, I need to talk about things that people care about. If I can't do those two things, then it will be almost impossible for people to hear me. Fortunately, I hope (and know) The Holy Spirit can make up for my lack of connection. But I still want to do my best to connect, especially with the language I use. Too often, I use "churchy" words, or overly-theological concepts. How do I translate the good news of Jesus Christ to language people can hear, both actions and words?
Truthfully, in many ways, I'm not that different from the mission field. Since I'm serving in the Midwestern United States, and only an hour from my hometown and place of birth, I can identify with a lot of the people around me. I'm a white, middle-class, American, and so are most of the people in my community. There is a lot of overlap in language, music, priorities, and worldview. Emphasizing those gives me a way to connect. Probably the biggest connection I can make with someone is that we face similar struggles, and together, with Christ, we can make it. That's good news!
How do you overcome a lack of connection with the mission field? Simple: Get Connected! Find ways to make friends with those you're trying to reach. Make sure it's true friendship and not just a means to an end of "conversion" so you can get another notch in your belt and feel good about yourself. The real motivation here is Love, God's love. Find ways to run in different circles, become friends with people in your community (people outside your church attendance/membership) and learn their language, priorities, worldview, struggles, etc. Walk with them and guide them to follow Jesus Christ. Of course, this means you have to be doing your best to follow Jesus too.
I'm not really an expert on this. I'm learning as I go. Will you help me? How do you make new friends and connect with the mission field? How are you investing in people's lives? How do you cross cultural barriers? How do you overcome self-made barriers, or a lack of confidence in the ability to connect with strangers? How do you escape getting caught in "churchy" language?
What ideas do you have, or what has worded for you? What have you read that helps you with this?
If you haven't made reaching your mission field a top priority in your following of Jesus Christ, then I highly suggest you consider it and think deeply about these questions. Why? Because God's love compels you.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?