Believing is not just a matter of knowing. “Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way – and die that way.”[i]
Following Christ Should Change Our Lives
We’ve been talking about the elements of discipleship ad nauseum for years. Bible study, surrender, the Holy Spirit, giving back… no one would disagree with these marks of a disciple… but most people never transfer these practices from the church campus to an actual life.
According to our role model, Jesus, surrender meant death in every possible way: materially, relationally, and physically. He surrendered until there was nothing left but redemption for a broken world.
The Holy Spirit is a blazing fire, charring every remnant of selfishness and pride left in our souls, an unquenchable fire that cannot be ignored or denied. Giving back means giving all; any inferior definition is pure deception. Our money, our resources, our gifts, our time, our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our comfort – these we give back in their entirety. Anything less is not discipleship at all. It is simply a clever substitution by a crafty enemy who has figured out how to use our own weaknesses against us, rocking us to complacent sleep with a consumeristic version of the gospel, knowing all the while he is making goats out of sheep.
Earlier today I sat down to start this chapter on how social action impacts discipleship when I was interrupted by a call from my wife. She said seven words, “Brandon. Come home. We got our referral!” Then she hung up.
Nearly a year ago we started the long journey of international adoption. After spending some time in Africa with The Eden Reforestation Projects, and falling in love with the children of Ethiopia, our hearts were affirmed that that’s where we were to adopt.
Jen handled the whirlwind of paperwork like a pro. It’s like applying for 20 mortgages at the same time. Quite a process: Family history, addresses, references, financial reports, physicals (even the dog), fingerprints, and home studies. We submitted our dossier. Made the payments thanks to some incredible friends and supporters. And we waited. I tried my best not to think about it too often, hoping the time would pass. Jen’s strategy was a little different; adoption blogs, facebook groups, email chains, and the adoption agency website were a daily obsession for her.
Today we were given the names, faces, and heart breaking stories of a beautiful little 5-year old girl and 7-year old boy we were going to adopt.
There are experiences in life that simply change us. Some are good. Some are tragic. But they literally change who we are and what we’re about from that point forward. While we’ve yet to realize the full impact adoption will have on us, this is certainly one of those experiences for us. Life will never be the same.
Following Christ should change our lives. We should not be the same. Discipleship should be transforming.
Yet when we think about our spiritual development, it’s easier to see a change in our practices than in our passions. We continue to add things and replace things, yet our hearts remain the same. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.
I share my story because I want you to know that my hope is completely different today than it was a handful of years ago. I’ve seen the same in others. While I know I have a ways to go, I can honestly say that the way I think is different. The way I feel is different. The way I love is simply different. My faith journey is now a joy. My church experience is life-giving. And for the first time, I actually do life with the people I’m in biblical community with.
When the Church Makes Jesus Public
Jesus was clear that his followers were the salt of the earth, a light to the world, and a city on a hill that could not be hidden. Being a visible city or a shining light does not mean that we should talk even louder when no one is listening to us or that we should wave our arms and jump around when we aren’t seen, just to get in someone’s face. When we are “salt,” saltiness is part of our very nature. If we are indeed “light,” we will indeed be seen in a dark world. Who we are can’t be hidden because light consumes the darkness.
These are images that define the nature of a community that becomes Good News to others. This is something we become because of what we believe, what we value, and what we do. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that when people encounter such a community that they will “see” our “good works” and then ultimately “give glory to your Father in heaven.”[ii]
In a post-Christian society, this is what the church needs to become yet again, salt and light to the world. The unchurched community no longer expects much from church; in fact, they often expect the worst. They are jaded. Wounded. And, confused. Yet people are still looking for hope, and no one else can offer what we have to offer them.
Our story made public, the visible witness of our lives together as a whole community, are integral to whether or not our message of hope becomes their message of hope.[iii]
To minister with influence in our current context, we must learn to locate the key differences between what our culture sees and what the Kingdom of God made visible has to offer them. The more the church lives in faithfulness to God and the gospel, the more visible God’s grace will be for all those who long for it. As Darrell Guder wrote in his book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, “Churches that listen to sermons deploring crime may be faithful in attending to God’s call for right relationships among humanity. But the church that sets up victim-offender reconciliation programs and promotes equitable economic opportunities for communities where crime is the main escape route from financial despair is not only faithful but a remarkable light to the world, a city on a hill.”[iv]
Living the Gospel We Proclaim
We’ve already established that the gospel demands both proclamation and incarnation. Proclaiming has many forms, but in the end they are all spoken. Incarnation also has many forms but it is always about how we live. It’s Good News when we speak the gospel message and share the offer of redemption that is available through Christ. And it’s Good News when we live incarnationally and take on the posture of Christ to others, humbly serving them. Either approach can be productive. But depending on how we engage in these activities, either of them can also be very ineffective.
Proclamation and incarnation are inseparably linked together. A spoken word can quickly be discredited through our actions, and in the same way our actions can quickly validate the message we speak. We can try to argue that our actions and words function independent of one another, without consequence. But one thing’s for certain: our observers never separate the two.
There are circumstances when proclamation is in order. We should always be prepared to speak and give a defense for the hope that we profess. There are moments when a spoken word can bring the conviction of sin and the confidence of reconciliation between a fallen child and a forgiving Father. But there are also times when speaking the Good News must begin by living it out and showing people what it looks like.
Mercy and justice ministry is a life-mate to the spoken Word in this equation. In an increasingly post-Christian and postmodern context where moral authority trumps positional authority, we would be wise to make sure that our deed matches our creed. If our actions and our message do not align, the message we desperately want to be heard will not be heard. At least not in the way we want.
Being Good News as a Way of Life
As a part of the spiritual formation process at Austin New Church, we spend quite a bit of time talking about tangible ways we can become good news as an intuitive way of life. Last night, my Restore Community was having a discussion around the Gospel as being Good News to broken people. I was incredibly encouraged by all the stories of how members of the group were being intentional about the gospel that very week.
After a time of sharing individual stories, I asked the group to think about how revealing, simple, and powerful each story was. And what it’s teaching them about the Gospel. Then I asked them to consider what would happen if a group of people collectively gathered around the mission of being good news as a way of life. What would be the impact on our community?
The immediate consensus was that people would want to be involved. That even those resistant to church would be intrigued. And that it would change the way people viewed us as believers.
They were excited to talk about how that might play out. They were being creative in thinking about ways to bridge new relationships with the hopes of making a positive impact on others. They were talking about how the growth would create the opportunity to form new groups and how together the scope of our service could be exponentially larger.
They didn’t even realize that we were talking about a biblical model of church where the Gospel is central. And they were excited about it growing. They were right in thinking that people would want to be a part of it. Just the idea was refreshing and life giving. Everyone was intrigued. Everyone smiling. And our affections were on the mission and the relationships, not the numbers.
Transforming the Way We View Success
I’ve heard it said that the more things change, the more things stay the same. I disagree. The more things change, the more things should change along with it. We should hope for transformed lives, increased hope, life-giving relationships, and for all things to be made new. This is the type of change I desire as a Christian. And honestly, I think it’s the type of the change the world is looking for.
Change is a good way to measure success. Often change itself is the success. Mostly because it’s the work of the Spirit that creates real change. Another way to think about it is transformation. If we were to really evaluate transformation in the church as evidenced by our lives, our relationships, our joy and peace it would certainly change what we view as success.
“It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.”[v]
This is an excerpt from Brandon Hatmaker’s book, Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture.
Brandon Hatmaker is pastor of Austin New Church and a missional strategist & coach with Missio. He is married to author and speaker Jen Hatmaker and is father to five children, two via adoption from Ethiopia and three “the old fashioned way”. To find out more about Brandon and his ministry check out www.brandonhatmaker.com.
[i] Darrell L. Guder, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 130-131.
[ii] Matthew 5:17.
[iii] Darrell L. Guder, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 128.
[iv] Ibid., 129.
[v] Neal Cole: Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).