Friday, January 12, 2018

Becoming a Contagious Christian: Starting With Me

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It has become a January tradition for me to sit down and flip through the book Becoming a Contagious Christian, a book I first read years ago and have taught in Bible classes before (I probably need to teach it again sometime soon).  The start of each year causes me to think about about how we can be more missional in the next 12 months, both in our church family outreach and in my own personal faith, and that book is one of my favorite evangelism books to revisit.

If you’re looking for a book to help you become more missional this year, I think Becoming a Contagious Christian is a good one.  Like most books, you’ll find things you don’t agree with.  The writers have a different denominational background, and so you’ll notice their belief that you become a Christian in a different way (saying a prayer) than what we find in the New Testament (faith, repentance, baptism).  But if we can look past that (important) disagreement, I think the book as a whole shares a good perspective on evangelism.  It’s a very real approach, not salesman-like or manipulative.  Too often, Christians fear evangelism because it doesn’t feel real to them – it feels fake or forced, as if we are trying to trick people into becoming Christians, and doing it through approaches that don’t feel natural to our own personality.  This book helps overcome some of those misunderstandings, and points us toward a more relational and encouragement-based perspective, sharing our faith in ways that allow people to see the gospel in us and make their own decision.  Even more importantly, it draws from the teaching and example of Jesus.

So I’d like to take 3 blog articles (starting with this one) to share some thoughts from and inspired by that book, perhaps helping us be more missional this year, or at least help us plant seeds to grow in that direction.

The “Formula” of the Book

The book presents a “formula” based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:13-16:
(13) You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  (14) You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15) Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. (16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (ESV)
The formula they get from that passage is based in Jesus’ images of Christians as salt and light:

HP (High Potency) + CP (Close Proximity) + CC (Clear Communication) = MI (Maximum Impact)

As the book suggests, all 3 of those elements are needed to add up to Maximum Impact for Christ.  The first part of the equation, High Potency, demands that we truly be salt.  As Jesus said in verse 13, if salt loses its saltiness you might as well throw it out.  It’s not going to make a difference like it should have made.  So if I want to have Maximum Impact on the world (the last part of that equation), I first must have High Potency in myself – I must truly be distinct as someone who is living with a real faith.

Am I Salt?

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It’s no secret that many non-Christians today have bad opinions of Christians.  Some of that is because of media and the way Christians are portrayed in movies and newscasts.  Some of that is because people had bad experiences in churches at some point in their lives.  And while our goal is never just to give people a “good opinion” of us – we never want to become people-pleasers (Galatians 1:10) – we must at least show them that we are truly Christ-followers.  They should be able to see that we are different from the world.  They should be able to see that we have a genuine faith -  not a perfect faith, but a genuine faith.  What are some ways they should see genuine faith in my life?

  •  They should be able to see that I have genuine love for people.  As 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 puts it, even if I have amazing faith and amazing knowledge, if I don’t show love to people, I’m just a “noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”  How do I view people?  Annoyances?  Objects to make fun of?  Objects to criticize?  How does God feel about the person I’m annoyed at or dismissive of?  One of the consistent themes in Jesus’ ministry is that He showed love to everyone, while the Pharisees and other religious leaders were dismissive of the "sinners" they felt were beneath them.  Jesus’ genuine love for people is probably one reason that even sinners wanted to hear what He taught (Luke 15:1).  While our culture doesn’t appreciate several Christian truths, our culture still admires and appreciates genuine love.  Do I help people?  Do people know I care about them?
  •  They should be able to see that I have genuine faith.  Again, not perfect faith, but genuine faith.  They should be able to see that I truly believe in Jesus, and I’m truly trying to live for Him.  They will see me apologize when I don’t live up to the standards of my faith – in fact, an apology that shows a desire to live better for Christ may be the best thing they can see in us.  We don’t have to pretend we have it all together.  But people should see that we really believe in Jesus and really try to live for Him.
  •  They should be able to see that I have genuine commitment.  Our world sees plenty of people who are Christians in name only.  Only rarely do they see someone who truly pours their life into it: their time, their resources, their goals.  When they see us making time to be with our church family, or making time to read our Bibles, or trying to get sin out of our lives, they are seeing the type of commitment they don’t often see.  When they see us standing strong on our faith commitments, even when culture disagrees, and standing strong in a way that still shows a love for people rather than just a love for being right, they are seeing Christian commitment and conviction in ways they won’t see on the news.

My favorite image of evangelism is the idea of "overflow," that Jesus is living in us so much that it can't help but overflow onto those around us in love and encouragement.  So this first step makes sense: before I can overflow onto others, I must first have a strong living faith in myself.

So that's the big point of this first article: if we want to start being more missional for Christ, let’s start with ourselves.  Let’s make sure we are truly salt, different from the world and ready to step up to another level of Christian maturity.  If people can see genuine love, faith, and commitment in us, we are laying a special groundwork for them to think about their own relationship with God.  

We will share some thoughts on the importance of “Close Proximity” next time, as we keep building our way through the salt and light formula.  But for starters: let’s strive to be salt, living as examples of genuine Christian faith this week!

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