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.

Belonging Before Believing

By Luke Midena, Canberra Community Leader, first published in Compass Winter 2021 edition

You may have heard the phrase, ‘belong before believe’. It was the catchcry of some within the Emerging Church Movement of the last few decades. Driven by a desire to share Christ with the world, allowing people to ‘belong’ to God’s people before they ‘believe’ in Christ was a way of erasing the distinction between Christians and non-Christians.[1]

Of course, the obvious problem of including all people among the saved (universalism) is that it is at odds with Jesus’ clear teaching that those without faith in him will be excluded from the kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46). So, can people belong before they believe? Or should we abandon the phrase altogether?

The short answer is … not necessarily! We shouldn’t abandon this notion, but we do need to have a gospel focus.

If you’ve made it a practice to read the bible with non-Christian friends for some time, you might be able to relate to a scenario wherein I’ve often found myself. We meet regularly at a café on campus, or near their work, and read and discuss one of the gospels. The conversations are fun and satisfying, and over time, we become good friends. They seem to ask the right questions – ‘What does Jesus mean? What’s he doing?’ – and they seem to find the right answers – ‘he’s highlighting the problem with the world’, ‘he’s solving it through his death on the cross’. But it never goes further than comprehension. They are never quite ready to ‘believe’ in Jesus. As the months roll on I sense their interest in the gospel waning and I become increasingly direct: ‘Not making a decision is a decision’, I say. They seem not to hear me as they smile and commend my sincerity. ‘What stimulating conversations we have’, they politely say. They assure me that it’s only Christianity they are rejecting, not me – as if that provides some kind of comfort. But of course, it’s their salvation which is of the utmost importance. So where to from here?

Have you had a similar experience? How can the people we meet one-on-one come face-to-face with the gospel, yet remain ambivalent? This is where ‘belong before believe’ has practical value.

Mutua Mahiaini, the International President of the Navigators, recently wrote that “many Navigators around the world are joyfully discovering the secret of working together among the lost, as opposed to serving as ‘lone rangers’”. This is true of us, both on campus and among workers. We’re finding that people are more willing to ‘believe’ in Christ if they first feel like they ‘belong’ to our group, and have a friendship with us.

…relationships are a part of what gives our lives a sense of meaning.

There’s nothing revolutionary about this – cynically, sometimes evangelism training in western culture amounts to nothing more than friendship training. The principles are simple, but admittedly, quite challenging for people with hyper-individualistic priorities, who treat time as the ultimate treasure to be spent carefully and sparingly. I myself am guilty of behaving like this at times. But humans are social beings, and relationships are part of what gives our lives a sense of meaning.

So, how can our communities offer friendship? How can we be good friends?

In Romans 12 Paul puts it quite simply – ‘Let love be genuine’ (v. 9). Friendship is, after all, love of another. Paul states that this involves being affectionate (v. 9), respectful (v. 10), patient (v. 12), generous (v. 13), hospitable (v. 13), kind to adversaries (vv. 14, 20-21), empathetic (v. 15), congenial (v. 16), humble (v. 16), peaceable (vv. 17-18)… Are you in a community of believers characterised by these traits?

Again and again, we find that when our friends who are investigating Christianity experience the richness of the gospel through a communal embrace, it is impossible for them to dismiss the gospel as just a nice idea.

Earlier this year, a student who was almost completely disinterested in Christianity – who had no interest in reading or discussing the bible or going to church, but who had been enjoying the friendship of our weekly Nav student night – approached me. ‘I’m not like everyone else’, he said. At first, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Then he said, ‘Everyone is so sincere in their belief, I’m not like that’, implying this was a major problem. The penny dropped: he wanted whatever it was that the Christians around him had; he just wasn’t sure what that was. In the following weeks I had the opportunity to share the gospel, and he received Christ.

Like many others, he belonged before he believed. God’s Spirit uses friendship within communities of believers to soften hearts and open minds to the gospel. In 1 Peter 2:12 (MSG), Paul encourages: ‘Live an exemplary life in your neighbourhood so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.’

What might it look like for your Christian community to befriend those in your neighbourhood?

I pray that we would all be more like Paul, who let love be genuine …And ultimately like Jesus, who laid his life down for his friends (Jn. 15:13).

[1] See, for example, Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 25-26, 306-307.

Connected and Valued

by Rod Jolly, Melbourne Labouring Community, first published in Compass Winter 2021 edition.

God made us to live in community. Hebrews 10:25 says it so clearly, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

A healthy community helps us to feel connected and valued. We feel at home and (more…)

Cultural Shifts

By Kristin Coulson, first published in Compass Winter 2020 edition.

In January, our staff gathered for the annual training in Canberra. One of the key topics discussed was about living and discipling in today’s western culture. The culture we live in influences us in ways we often don’t realise – how we relate with God and others, how we raise our children, how we witness, and how we disciple. It is important that we understand the way our culture impacts our faith and our lives. We must examine it in light of the Scriptures in order to walk as true disciples of Christ and to be faithful ambassadors for Him. (more…)

Your Questions Answered! – by Tiew Tuan and Rose

An Australian Navigators Interview, first published in Compass Winter edition 2020

Tiew Tuan and Rose Lau are Perth labourers who consider their office and neighbourhood as their mission fields. We interviewed them to find out how they create community in their local area in order to bring Gospel conversations into their daily interactions.

How do you intentionally engage with people around you?

Rose: Tiew Tuan has lunch with his colleagues during lunch hour. I take the initiative to approach [people in my neighbourhood] and spend time with them. When a young Indian family moved right next to us, I baked an apple pie and brought it over to welcome them. There is also a lady a few doors away. She is a chef. We visit each other often, with our conversation centred around food.

How do you bring the Gospel into these interactions, and how do you create a community among the Christians and pre-believers?

Tiew Tuan: In my office lunch group, there are some Christians as well as pre-believers. An Indonesian colleague, Rudy, asked a lot of questions about God. So I invited him to do a Bible Study with 2 other colleagues. Rudy accepted Christ and has since been inviting other colleagues to do the (EBS) study. We have now been through 3 rounds of EBS during our lunch hour with different people!

Rose: With a passion for parents with young children, I have a Mothers’ Group that supports young mothers and we learn about parenting using Christian books. There are both Christians and pre-believers in the group. I invite the pre-believers to do EBS separately outside the Mothers’ Group.

Apart from these, we also have potluck dinners, go on holidays or camping with their families. We try to integrate our groups together.

God-talk, the Gospel and the Pub

By Luke Midena, first published in Compass Winter edition 2020

Friday afternoons at the ANU campus are a highlight of every week – I get to meet with a group of believing and unbelieving students at a pub, to  discuss life’s big questions around meaning, suffering, belief, freedom and morality. (more…)

How Do You… ?

With Dan Pass, first published in Compass, Autumn 2020

Q&A with Dan & Beth Pass

From Gingerbread House-making to Ping-Pong-athon … we get the insight on howDan and Beth Pass “do” their engaging and interacting with both Christians and pre-believers, living out their Christian identity within their community. Here’s the conversation.

Compass: Tell us about your mission field or sphere of influence.

Dan: Beth and I live in a cul-de-sac so it is neighbourhood relationships mostly, and then work relationships – staff rooms at school. Beth has been able tohave many faith chats in her work place, which is highly multicultural and so conversations happen naturally.

Our sphere of influence includes our cul-de-sac street and school staffrooms.

C: How do you engage with your community, with both believers and pre-believers?

D: We have hosted a number of parties (house-warming, Christmas, a Ping-Pong-athon!), which have led to the beginning of some great friendships. We seek to include our Christian friends as well as non-Christian friends when we host events, or invite them to events hosted by our church. We also try to attend their events when we can, showing a genuine interest in their lives.

We are continually trying to improve on creating this community; organising bushwalks, outdoor activities, sports. Our friends who are Christians are great at initiating conversations and get to share aspects of their lives and often their faith or the fact that they follow Jesus. The challenge is the clashing schedules of busy people, and finding things which both groups would be keen on (“Spikeball” … movies.)

C: Do you have some examples of bringing in Gospel conversations in your interactions?

D: We always seek to listen well to what they say and earn the right to speak. When we do speak, we feel spiritual conversations come up naturally as we explain how we spend our weekend or what we are passionate about or mention a friend from church who works in a similar field.

We have had the privilege of seeing one family come back to church and for the parents to get baptised. Since then, we have been able to do weekly meals and Bible study with the whole family, a great answer to prayer. We have also attended the “Mark Drama” with a mother and son from our street. They are not Christians yet but we continually seek to include them in our lives – through Gingerbread House nights, Christmas parties, handball competitions and so on.

Community Evangelism

By Grant Dibden, first published in Compass, Autumn 2020

In our last Compass we talked about being a sent people (John 17:18; 20:21). And the question is, how do we live out that identity? (more…)

Small Initiatives

By June Sparks, first published in Compass Winter edition 2020

At the Neighbours to Nations Conference, I was reminded once again and encouraged to continue taking small step-by-step initiatives in the lives of those around me in the process of pointing them to Jesus.

Jesus said the greatest command is to love God with heart, soul and mind, and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself. Attending, paying attention, listening, noticing, seeing are the first steps in influencing the people around you toward Christ. Jesus had compassion on the crowd, he saw them as lost, like sheep.

Prayerful seeing and hearing leads to connecting. Our encounters move from knowing by sight into acquaintance and a deepening relationship. Prayerful encounters (being with/among the lost at life events, weddings, funerals; socially – just getting together for coffee, dinner; in crises – over time, friendships develop and trust is built) can become mutual and intentional friendships.

Prayerfully taking small initiatives leads to further insight and Spirit-led seeing and seizing of opportunities: seeing obstacles to faith that need to be removed; seeing truths that need to be shared; seeing practical help to be applied.

All of it – under God – becomes God-stories within the big picture of His redemption story. Some may be stories of sowing, others of cultivating, others of reaping and seeing generations spring up. In a world where distrust and suspicion are on the rise, small random as well as planned consistent initiatives have a big impact.

Community in Focus

By Grant Dibden, first published in Compass, Winter 2019

I used to play a lot of sport before I got injured and old. As a young man I did athletics training five days a week and competed on weekends with three colleagues and our coach. Later, I practiced squash four days a week and played in competitions. I trained at lunch or after work, but always with someone. Now I want to get fit, but it just doesn’t happen despite having more flexibility with my schedule. What’s the difference? (more…)

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