Sharing Hope in Community

By Julie McIntosh, first printed in Compass, Summer 2021

Cancelled. Postponed. Online. In contrast to the event-oriented lifestyle many of us were previously accustomed to, these words seem to characterise our current schedules. Today, perhaps more than ever, we are faced with the truth that we cannot expect evangelism tosolely exist within well-curated public events or eloquent sermon series. As our calendars continue in this state of “tentative” and many of our states endure lockdown, people all around us continue tocrave community and fellowship and unknowingly need the gospel as much as ever before.

As 2020 began, the Macquarie Navs community was buzzing with a heart to proclaim Jesus. We planned pub nights, prepared for walk-up and had a core of students ready to engage. In the third week of semester, university campuses closed as Australia faced the realities of COVID. Although we celebrated the opportunities students had to intentionally invest in those closest to them, we eagerly anticipated the reopening of university and, with it, the opportunity to engage with the broader campus.

As I write during extended lockdowns in Sydney, our community seems paradoxical. Some are facing stressful workplaces with high exposure risk, others are facing deafening loneliness or chaotic family life amidst remote learning. Repeatedly, we hear of a desire for authentic connection and fellowship beyond Zoom.

In this season, the biblical description of believers as aliens and strangers is profound. As friends fear the “new normal”, riding the relational and  psychological rollercoasters of lockdowns, I am struck by the stark contrast between our realities. A student recently shared how her unbelieving friend summed up his reality; he questioned if he had anything left when university, the gym and travel were not accessible. We experience these similar struggles, but our reality cannot be defined by this hopelessness.

We have hope that is living and grounded … to share with the multitudes living without it. 

We have HOPE that is living and grounded. Our hope exists outside of cognitive understanding, reaching beyond our daily circumstances. Our hope is the reality of the Spirit’s work in and through us in all seasons. Our hope is the glory of our eternal inheritance. What a treasure this hope is, not just to hold, but to share with the multitudes living without it.1

As he exhorted the early church to revere Christ as Lord, the apostle Peter tells them to: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15-16). Similarly, Paul asks the Colossians to pray for gospel proclamation, before exhorting them to be wise in how they act towards those outside the church, letting their “conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that [they] may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 4:2-6)

It is tempting to read these passages with a caveat of receiving explicit questions. But these exhortations were not written to provide an excuse to avoid evangelism.2 We, as Christ’s ambassadors, are to be present in the world that we are representing him to. We are to prayerfully respond to both explicit questions and to the realities our communities face with our gospel hope. It is at this point that our wholehearted presence within our communities is imperative.

I think this speaks to two aspects of evangelism through community fellowship. The first is our active presence within the communities of our friends and family who don’t know Jesus; authentically listening, deeply knowing, and truly serving them. This is when our ears are pricked by the intersection of their hearts and the gospel. One of the ways we have attempted to do this at university has been moving our community gatherings from a comfortable, private space to the chaos of the university terrace. This provides challenges but has made us visible and present in a comfortable space for students. As you consider your friends who don’t know Jesus, how can you be present in their communities and contexts, exchanging your comfort for theirs?

We also need to be authentically vulnerable. Do our friends hear our gospel hope communicated in how we respond to joys and challenges? Are our gospel communities and relationships accessible to our friends who do not know Jesus? If we desire our friends and family to hear and trust the reason for our hope, they need to see that hope at work in our daily thoughts, decisions, and behaviours.

As Navigators, we heed the call to live and disciple amongst the lost. It is my prayer that we may see the opportunities the Lord has given us to share his gospel authentically as we fellowship with both those who know the Lord and those who don’t. I pray that we may have discernment to hear the questions our communities are asking, to be present and accessible, and to respond authentically, declaring the true, living hope we have in Christ with gentleness and grace.

[1] McKnight, S., The NIV Application Commentary; 1 Peter, 211-217.
[2] Dickson, J., Promoting the Gospel, 133-135.

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