Separated by a common language

Some time ago I had lunch with some pastors from local churches. The conversation turned to the difficulty we all had communicating with those outside the Church. One person bemoaned the fact that it is so hard to walk up to somebody and have a conversation about the ‘claims of Jesus on their life.’ Another told us of the vision he had for his church to ‘impact this generation for Christ’, and how he was sure it was about to happen. In the meantime, though, he recognised his church was ‘in a season of seeking and waiting on the Lord.’

I understood completely. Or more to the point, I didn’t understand. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!

My friends had a problem, but it wasn’t what they thought it was. They wanted to lay the blame for their lack of evangelical success on the people with whom they were trying to communicate. The problem was a little closer to home — they couldn’t speak the language of the people to whom they were taking the gospel.

I don’t think my pastor friends are the only ones suffering this malady. Christians have always spoken a different language to their neighbours in the world. The Army has its own peculiar lingo, as does any other group you care to mention. That’s only natural.

Of course, this problem is more than linguistic. The Church has developed an alternative culture that is separate to the culture of the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because there are a lot of things in the world that don’t belong in the Church. However, it can lead us to retreat into our holy fortresses and have nothing to do with the world.

Yet it is the Salvationist’s duty to take the Gospel to those outside the walls of our citadels. That’s more than just being involved in an outreach program at the Corps. Don’t get me wrong — Corps outreach programs can be a fantastic way to be involved in our mission. But taking the Gospel to those who need to hear it is far more than just that.

It means leaving the safety of our Christian friends and speaking with people with whom we wouldn’t ordinarily associate. It means being a disciple of Christ amongst people where such a calling is the exception rather than the norm. It means loving the unlovable even when it encroaches on our own personal space.

For some, it might mean joining a non-church sports team in a secular league. For others it might mean joining the town band. It might mean befriending the homeless man who lives at the local train station. It might mean taking your kids to the council play group rather than the one at the Corps. It might mean helping at a local public school — and perhaps even enrolling your children there!

To some these suggestions will sound scary, or even blasphemous. But we’re not doing anything Jesus wasn’t prepared to do. After all, he left the safety of Heaven to live among us. Are we willing to do the same for the neighbours we claim to love?

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