There are so many articles out there that talk about all the things Christians need to stop doing. If you do a quick Google search, you'll come up with dozens that have virtually identical titles. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. But I don't like things that say "stop doing ______," and I think they tend to get real condescending real fast. They also often lack any kind of positive alternative to the things we're supposed to quit, which isn't very helpful. So here's a slightly different list, one which God has been building in my heart lately:
1. Invite people into their homes.
We live in a culture that glorifies privacy, tells us that we need to do more things on our own, be more independent. But what better way to communicate to people that they matter than by welcoming them into our homes? Especially for those who may be new to your community, or that you've just never put in the effort to know well, asking someone to come over for a meal or a games night can be so meaningful. Because while it's all well and good to talk with people at church or a Bible study, or to meet them at a coffee shop, inviting them into our personal space tells people that we actually care about them as a human being and are willing to invest in them personally. It is extending the hand of friendship and trust in a way that is not possible otherwise.
We need to see people as more than just the object of ministry. Yes, we want to share God's love with the people around us with the hopes that they will eventually come to know Him personally. That is a good and necessary thing. But if we only ever invite our non-Christian acquaintances to church and don't actually take the time to get to know them, that doesn't communicate a very good or accurate message to them about what God is like. It probably just reinforces any negative impressions they might already have of the church, and that is the opposite of what we want. We want to be known for our genuine love.
2. Be willing to go out into the world and be where the people are.
This follows from the last point. A verse that God has recently laid on my heart, and on the hearts of those I do ministry with lately is Romans 10:14-15 (okay, two verses), when Paul asks the church how they expect people to believe in Christ if nobody tells them the Good News. Jesus didn't tell his followers to only make disciples of people who happen to wander into their paths, or of the people they enjoy spending time around. He calls us to make disciples of ALL nations.
Christian culture has the tendency to run parallel to the rest of the world, and not intersect with it at all. But if we are to actually make an impact for Christ, we need to be willing to put ourselves out there. We can't get all awkward every time the possibility of going somewhere not deemed 'churchy' is brought up, or people are going to keep getting all awkward around the church. As a general rule, people don't like being handed pamphlets and told to show up at an event where they don't know anyone. Getting to know people first where they are comfortable is a far more effective means of sharing the gospel.
The campus ministry group that I work with has been talking a lot about this, and what it means to become involved in the community. We decided that going to a pub night as a leadership team would be a good outreach idea, because people on campus don't expect us all to show up at the pub and (gasp) have a beer and visit with people in that kind of a context. Some people were shocked at us so openly supporting an event like this, but it was an incredible opportunity to meet people where they're at and just be willing to be their friend. And let's be real here - Jesus went to places that shocked people, and those interactions created some of the most powerful impacts recorded in scripture. (see earlier comments about treating people as more than just an object of ministry)
3. Pray for people without telling them all about it.
There's nothing wrong with asking people how we can pray for them - it's a really good thing, in fact. We need to be in community with one another and have relationships where we can talk about the hard things. But sometimes we become aware of a need indirectly. This gives us the opportunity to do the most loving thing we could ever do for a person, and just pray for them without them even knowing it. I talked a bit about this in my post last week, and I stand by that. We need to be willing to do the messy work without going for the glory. Besides, telling people that we'll pray for them and then not doing it is the worst kind of dishonesty. I've done it. We've all done it. And it's always terrible.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about how God sees our actions (and the motives behind them) regardless of what the world sees. He tells us not to put on a show and pray in public just for the sake of appearing spiritual, but rather to treasure those quiet moments of aloneness with God, when nobody can hear our prayers but Him. For good or bad, He knows why we're doing what we're doing. So let's check our intentions and remember that God doesn't just hear prayers that other people know about.
4. Read the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable/bored/confused.
Believe it or not, even Leviticus has things we need to hear. It can be easy to stick to the old familiar passages that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but that's not a healthy way of consuming God's word. Eating bread is good and can be part of a healthy diet, but on its own, it does not contain every vitamin that you need to be healthy in the long-term. If you don't branch out and consume other kinds of food, you're going to end up with some serious deficiencies that will probably cause you to get sick.
The Bible is the same way. We might love one particular book of the Bible (Romans, amiright?), but if we don't put in the effort to read the entirety of God's word, we're not only missing out on some amazing stories of God's faithfulness, but our spiritual health will suffer over time. God didn't design His word to be cherry-picked for only the fun parts. He wants us to consume all of it and be truly, fully transformed. Because partial transformation isn't really transformation.
I'm not saying that you have to follow a strict plan and go through the entire Bible in 90 days, or even a year - but find a plan that works for you, and stick with it. Work through the passages that challenge your attention span, your understanding, your comfort zone. It might be tough going at times, but we need to eat our spiritual vegetables, friends.
This list is far from comprehensive, but these are just a few of the things that God has put on my heart lately to consider more often. A final note here: God is about conviction, not condemnation. The enemy likes to throw our past mistakes in our faces and tell us that we're not good enough, that we're frauds and we should dwell in despair -- this is condemnation, and this is not what God wants for us. The Bible says that there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God convicts us - calls out our sin - in love. He wants to bring us life, to call us out of shame and darkness. He wants to see us grow in love for Him and for others. Let's step into the light together this week and live as encouragers.