Tying Lost Friends into the Church
In reading last week's post, some of you may have wondered how by yourself you could ever teach your lost friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers "all" that Jesus has commanded us (see Matt. 28:18-20). If that was you, there's good news: you don't have to do this alone. In fact, you shouldn't. The wonderful truth about our witness to the lost is that it is a community project. God has made us a part of a body of believers, and we are called to teach the gospel together. So our next step in the disciple-making process is to tie our lost friends into our relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters in the church.
Now there is a real sense in which this step overlaps with the last one. A significant aspect of teaching the lost about who God is and what the gospel really means must be done in community. After all, God is triune and Jesus came to seek and save his bride, which consists of the entire body of Christ (see Eph. 5:25-27). As we invite our lost friends into our lives, which ought to include deep and authentic relationships with others in the church, people will see the implications of the gospel lived out. As Becky Pippert says in her book, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World, "We need to invite people along to see us as we live. Things we take for granted (that we pray for each other, that we sincerely try to love each other, and so forth) can make a deep impression" (p. 235). This, in fact, is an understatement.
To me, one of the most remarkable passages of the Bible is John 17:20-21. In it, Jesus prays to His Father that we as his people "may all be one...so that the world may believe that you have sent me (emphasis added)." Jesus is saying here that our unity as God's people is a visible defense of the truth of the gospel. This is remarkable. Part of how we are to teach the world about the truths of the gospel is by living in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ! As we do life together with those whom we are privileged to serve alongside in the church, we get to invite the world to watch. And God will use these relationships to do His great work of salvation in people's hearts.
Now the wonderfully freeing thing about this is God most often does this work of salvation through the normal day-to-day activities of our lives. We don't have to put together evangelistic crusades, and prepare our lost friends for them by putting together preparatory small group meetings weeks or months in advance. We are to simply invite others to join us in what we are already doing with our friends in the church. So maybe this year you invite a lost co-worker you've been getting to know to join you and some friends from church in a fantasy football league. Or maybe you invite an unchurched family to join you and your churched friends for lunch after your children's sports activity? Or maybe you simply have a mixed group of people over for snacks and games one night next week.
The point is that as we engage the lost people whom God has providentially placed in our lives we must not keep from them the fellowship that we enjoy in the church. In addition to a new life, all of us need a new family (see Luke 18:28-30). So we must invite our lost friends to taste and see what life in the family of God is really like. This does two things. First, it lifts the burden from us of having to witness alone. But secondly (and more importantly!), it paints for our friends a profound picture of the gospel, revealing to them the glorious God who has graciously included us in the eternal love that He's eternally experienced within Himself. We get to experience this love, and we get to invite others to experience it as well.
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