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Tethered to Christ, Tethered to Each Other (Issue 30)

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By Scottie Reeves

In Jesus we see this most powerful picture of inclusion. This man of immense integrity, character and holiness is always inviting those to the table we would never expect. The prostitutes, the thieves, the loan sharks and the violent extremists. At Christ’s table there’s room for Trump, room for refugees, room for beneficiaries and room for billionaires. There is room for you and room for me.

This is the reckless hospitality of Christ that whips up some more wine for a room full of wedding guests who were likely already inebriated. It’s the outrageousness that kneels down and washes the dusty feet of his disciples. It’s the controversy of a saviour who looks over the crowd immediately in front of him to call the short swindler down from a sycamore tree to eat with him.

In my experience of leading Blueprint, a church community of Millennials in the liberal heartland of Wellington City, I can tell you that my generation loves this radically welcoming Christ. He sits well alongside our near-religious fervour for tolerance at all costs. Our Jesus is shaped by a culture which says daily, ‘how dare you judge me!’ Yet we also follow a Christ who said in Matthew 16 that people weren’t really his disciples unless they left behind their families and began to carry their own instruments of death too. To sit at a table with Jesus was one thing, but to truly follow him meant abandoning family, reputation, career and security. Christ is consistently welcoming, but there is something quite exclusive about the way of Jesus too.

BELONGING AND COMMITMENT

When we talk about what it is to belong we must remember that our sense of belonging will always be equal to our commitment to one another. We belong truly with those who are tethered to us and whom we have tethered ourselves to. So while inclusive hospitality is deeply important, this alone will not build belonging or a dedicated community of disciples. Faith communities that provide constant encouragement and inclusion without a call to look beyond themselves will inevitably create consumers instead of disciples.

Alongside Blueprint’s usual Sunday services we run several community homes of hospitality filled with young adults. My wife Anna and I live in one of these houses on upper Cuba Street with five other young change-makers. Every Tuesday we hold a meal for anyone in Central Wellington who wants to join us. This is an experience of inclusive hospitality where anyone and everyone is welcome, from university students to those in the grip of addictions, from young professionals to those sleeping on the streets. Our guests describe this as a place of love, care, warmth and manaakitanga. There’s something special and profoundly Kingdom-of-God that happens around that enormous table each Tuesday night.

Yet what our guests don’t know is that the power of that hospitality comes from the fact that the seven hosts belong deeply together.

We’ve made unbreakable commitments such as daily prayer, proactive conflict resolution, mission to our neighbourhood and honesty with one another. Everyone is committed to being in our house for at least a year, and some of us are entering our third. When you know you’re still going to be living with someone in a few years it starts to seem silly to avoid the hard conversations.

KNOWN BY OUR LOVE

Jesus said that the world would know we belonged with him “by the love we have for one another” (John 13:35). Love doesn’t just grow in church services or life groups. It grows when we’re committed to one another, when we resolve to belong together even when we’re not sure we necessarily like each other anymore. The power of our dinner table is formed the other six days of the week in a community of people who have done the hard work to love one another sacrificially.

Sadly, if the commitments of our faith communities to one another aren’t deep then our inclusive hospitality is normally severely lacking too. We’re drawn in by the hospitality of God, but we’re formed by commitment to the community of faith we now belong in. As Christians we’re called to become a ‘set apart’ people (1 Peter 2:9), an exclusive people with exclusive commitments to one another and ways of living that stand as stark alternatives to the mindless consumption of the world around us. We are exclusively Christ’s, in order that we may be formed into a radically inclusive people whose dinner tables are always bulging, whose spare rooms are always full and who live out costly empathy, compassion, care and hospitality for all people.

And here’s the really interesting thing. As we’ve begun to pursue this deeper and ‘more exclusive’ way together over the past few years, we’ve seen more people come to know Christ for the first time than ever before. Maybe it is as Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Scottie and his wife head up Blueprint Church in Wellington. He’s an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church, a Social Entrepreneur, and has previously worked with a nationwide creative arts trust.

For discussion

In what ways does Scottie’s example of the Blueprint house encourage and challenge you?

What would holding together high commitment and high belonging look like in your context?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Crossing the Line (Issue 25)

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By Sam Harvey

There are those moments when you’re ‘all in.’ Palms sweaty, heart racing, trying to look cool on the outside but feeling the nervous excitement that comes when you’re taking a risk for God. There’s something about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom that seems to centre around these sort of moments… but what do we mean by ‘Kingdom of God’ and how does it relate to evangelism?

As a fan of theologian NT Wright (particularly his outstanding book Surprised by Hope), my worldview as a Christian has been centred around the belief that Scripture is a unified story of God putting back together a world marred by sin, and of Jesus as the climax of that great narrative. Through his death and resurrection the future reality of God’s redemptive plan burst into the present, and we don’t just wait for the return of the King but we partner with God to see his Kingdom come now.

This shapes our ‘good works,’ our serving the poor, the sick, the lonely, those that society has left behind. This shapes our expectation around the supernatural, as we pray for the sick and the broken. And this shapes our evangelistic passion – we can confidently, wisely and humbly invite people to embrace love, wholeness, life and healing in a relationship with Jesus, the humble King.

What kind of pants do you wear?

Two quite distinct camps have emerged over the years that have caused us to lose something of our effectiveness. Scot McKnight has captured something of this in his recent book Kingdom Conspiracy. He talks about ’Skinny Jeans Christians’ who love Kingdom work – helping the poor, drawing alongside those society has left behind, and sometimes living in ‘intentional community’ to outwork this. Yet there is reluctance to invite people to give their lives to Jesus. But Scot doesn’t stop there. He critiques ‘Pleated Pants Christians,’ saying they’ve reduced the Kingdom to ‘redemptive moments’ where people come to faith, neglecting things like caring for the poor as a waste of time since mission is all about getting people into heaven.

I am convinced we’re called to it all! We’re called to serve the poor, care for God’s creation, care for the refugee, draw alongside the lonely, roll up our sleeves and serve our communities. And we’re called to invite everyone to the banqueting table of God’s love, challenging them to give their lives to follow Jesus, to pursue and be pursued by him, and to partner with him to see his Kingdom come.

So the skinny jeans and the pleated pants crowds need each other. I wonder whether we’ve lost something of a humble spirit that would learn from those who have a different focus or passion (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There’s great power in a passion for both servant hearted Kingdom works and helping people journey towards Jesus. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’re weak in doing ‘good works’ here in NZ. I’m proud of all the initiatives just about every church I come across is doing to serve their wider community. But I wonder whether we’ve lost some confidence in God’s power to break into the world and move supernaturally.

For example, a whole article could be written about Power Evangelism. A friend of mine was recently talking to someone who was very resistant to the topic of Jesus! But my friend asked to pray for the man’s back which had been causing him pain for many years. He said yes, even though he didn’t believe in God and had never been to church. His back was instantly healed, his eyes just about popped out in surprise and a conversation ensued that ultimately led to the person asking Jesus into his life! What a reminder that God’s Kingdom is not just of words but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).

The Awesome in the Awkward

The area I’ve felt particularly challenged in is the lack of ‘redemptive moments’ I’ve offered people. I felt the Lord gently challenge me earlier this year: “Sam, in your church services, when is there an opportunity for people to cross the line to come to faith?”

I realised I was afraid nothing would happen, that people would reject me, that I’d look like a fool. So I began to step out, giving people an opportunity at the end of our services to become a Christian… and I was excited to see people actually respond! I realised I needed a ’Kingdom expectation’ around people coming to faith in our gatherings. Often God’s awesome power and Kingdom are found in awkward moments where people step out in faith. Sometimes the awesome is in the awkward!

We’re called to make disciples not converts, but conversion is a vital step in the journey. It requires someone asking a question: “Do you want to give your life to Jesus? Can I pray for you? Do you want to come to our Alpha course? Do you want to come and visit my church?”

The most thrilling part of seeing God’s Kingdom break in is when we see one of his precious children return to him. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the indescribable privilege of watching people who are a part of our latest Alpha course take real steps towards faith. Every Alpha night people from our community who wouldn’t call themselves Christians come in to our building. Some are going to Alpha, some to a parenting course, some to community youth programmes, some have engaged with our free budgeting service throughout the week. Through all of this we’ve created an ‘on ramp’ for people to journey towards faith in Christ.

My prayer is that there would be a fresh passion for God’s Kingdom in all its expressions and a fresh confidence in the power of the Gospel to change lives. May there be a ‘new normal’ in our expectation of the supernatural, the expectation that people will come to faith, and a great passion to pour out our lives to see God’s Kingdom bless all who encounter us.

Sam is the pastor of Grace Vineyard’s Beach Campus in Christchurch.

For discussion

Are you in the ‘Skinny Jeans’ or ‘Pleated Pants’ brigade? How can you find a better balance between these two extremes?

What’s needed for your church to become a place where people can cross the line and come to faith regularly? What role will you play?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.