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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Painting Ourselves Out of a Corner

I've mentioned before that our approach to ministry is essentially relational. The firmly established social structure where we live, however, has made it difficult for us to meet people and make friends. We tried walking up to strangers, consistently hanging out in the same cafes, and joining a local gym. None of these have opened any relational doors for us.

We've known for a long time now that people don't like to feel like targets. We're not to comfortable with targeting people anyway. So here's a counter intuitive lesson we've learned: if you want to meet people, stop trying to meet people.

Just like the hard-to-love loners in high school that were nice enough, but so annoying no one could stand them for very long, we were trying too hard. Our focus on wanting to befriend the people around us was freaking them out. It wasn't until we stopped trying that God brought us some significant relationships.

Of course, it isn't enough to stop trying; we had to focus our efforts and energies somewhere else. We were a team of fairly creative and semi-artistic people anyway, so we poured ourselves into our art. Painting, writing, and photography are usually pretty solitary endeavors; but they don't have to be. We started visiting galleries and studios, just as we had done before, but now as mostly-serious artists, not as outsiders trolling for "contacts." We started taking art classes to improve our technique, not to try to find a captive audience to evangelize. We joined clubs and creative groups, we made arrangements to show our art and publish our work.

Guess what happened? We started meeting people. We're making friends.

We're moving beyond, "This is my friend from the fish stand at the market" to something more real. We're beginning to move in circles with people with whom we have a lot in common, and our work is opening doors for spiritual conversations and open presentation of Good News. We're being invited in to creative groups whose existence until now we only suspected. Art both shapes and reflects the culture. It's exciting to come into contact with the people involved, and for them to welcome our participation.

Who would have guessed that the best way to meet people would be to stop trying to meet people?


Strider said...

I am glad your back- we've missed you. Hey, I've got an idea you might not have tried. How about Tuesday night visitation? You could go door to door and meet strange people and tell them about Jesus. Anything less just shows that you lack faith.
Seriously, our calling is not just to a place. It is the authority to do what He is asking us. Find what you have the authority to do and you have found where He is working and wants you to join Him. Sometimes He gives us the authority to do things that we have lots of natural ability for and sometimes His instructions are very counter intuitive. I am a music major with an M-Div which apparently qualifies me to do disaster response. Your doing art? Well, ok as long as it is baptistic art.

Alan Knox said...

Thank you for your testimony! It sounds as if you are living as the church wherever God has placed you and in whatever you are doing. Since "no one wants to be a target," we all must learn to be a friend with NO other motives. Certainly we want to see people saved, but would we be their friend if we knew they would NEVER be saved? May God use me where He has placed me in the same way He is using you where He has placed you!
- Alan

Publius said...

No other motives? I'm not sure that's what he was saying. (if that was in fact what you were saying, stop me now)

I like the idea of not "targeting" people - I know it turns me off. But really, our whole lives should have a motive. All my relationships should have a motive. But my love for my friends should be genuine. I should be able to talk about art with an unsaved friend because I care about them, because I like talking to them, and I'm genuinely interested in what they have to say. But above, behind, and through it all, I hope that God uses my relationship with my friend to establish His own relationship with my friend.

Probably splitting hairs, I know, but I don't think it's enough to be friendly if I keep my faith to myself. We have a motive, a Commission if you will. I think there's a way to be genuinely Christian, while being a genuine friend.

stepchild said...

You all have touched on something that comes up a lot when we talk about relational ministry. Some people hear that and say, "Yeah, stop targeting people and trying to get in their faces with a religious agenda!" and others say, "But being friends with lost people isn't enough!"

As Publius says, of course we are intentional about actively sharing our faith. We take every opportunity, (as friends, we can even make a few) to share our faith. God led us here and He is our motivation. We hope He uses us to bring all of our friends to Himself. Maybe I should include that disclaimer in every post.

But Alan and Strider also make the other side of my point here: Yes, Christ is our motivation, but coming into a relationship soley for the sake of evangelism is disingenuous. To the people around us, there is a big difference between wanting to know a person and wanting to know them only in order to convert them. When people feel like we're only interested in their souls, they put their guard up.

I think there are two things to consider here: 1)Can/Should we be friends with people who are not believers and don't seem to be moving toward faith? and 2) Isn't there something powerful and significant about a lost person being in an ongoing, unconditional, personal relationship with a believer?

Alan Knox said...

Yes, you understood me correctly. Certainly we share our faith. It should be as natural to us as breathing and eating. However, what happens when someone we meet rejects our faith? Do we continue to cultivate the friendship? Or do we move on to someone else? I think we should continue to build that friendship. I think this is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor 5:9-13. Unfortunately, we usually live opposite of this. We will make friends with anyone who calls themselves "Christian" regardless of how they live, but not have anything to do with someone who is not a believer.
- Alan

Publius said...

I hope I didn't step on any toes. If there's anything I've learned, it's that there's no one "right" way to approach things. My experiences are not extensible to everyone else.

I'm in a place now where I'm having to be more intentional about sharing my faith. I have a long history of building and maintaining friendships with non-believers, not judging them, with no motive beyond the friendship itself. It's great fun, they're wonderful people. But the Lord has been working on me recently about the reason I'm there, and being willing to risk friends and my own pride to save a few.

God may not be working on you the same way. Maybe you've been great at sharing your faith, and you need to drop the motive for a while. That's great. But both of us, I think, need to do it because that's the direction God is pushing us, not because we don't want to offend people.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Publius said, "If there's anything I've learned, it's that there is no one 'right' way to approach things." While I agree with that, I can point you to several regions where this is not practiced. As I have said on another blog, I am so grateful that a church planting movement has not started above the arctic circle, or some regional leaders would look at what is different there and the next thing you know we would all be told to start serving whale blubber in our Chinese modeled house meetings.

Bryan Riley said...

Alan, great point and Stepchild, thanks for coming back.

Bryan Riley said...

Dude, write more. thanks. :)