The Open Circle
After the essential first step of praying, what comes next as we open our circles as a church, families and Small Groups? There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for everyone. Step one is to follow Paul’s three commands in Galatians 5: “…walk by the Spirit…be led by the Spirit…keep in step with the Spirit.” Continual prayer and seeking wisdom from the Word will ensure that happens.
Thinking of our Small Group , we should ask God, “How does our group, with our unique gifts, experiences and personalities, become the City on a Hill you want us to be?”
Evangelism. This is not a Bible word, but it definitely carries a Biblical concept. It either comes from the Latin “evangelismus”, which simply means “a spreading of the Gospel”. Or, it’s taking the word “evangel”, which means “the good news of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ”, and adding “-ism” to the end, which is a suffix that adds action to a noun. It’s a good word that has often been used too narrowly. How would you describe the act of evangelism? In my past, people usually meant this by evangelism: one person going door-to-door or approaching someone on the street to share the Good News using a Gospel tract (pamphlet) or some other pre-determined presentation. These are certainly worthy activities, but let’s take this word back from such a narrow use.
First of all, “evangelist” is a Biblical word. It simply means someone specially called and gifted by God to speak the Good News; it is listed alongside the roles of apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-16). All of us are not pastors or teachers, and all of us are not evangelists. However, we are all called to teach the Word to our families, right? And in the same way, we are not all gifted teachers or evangelists, but the Scriptures certainly urge us all to be involved in “evangelism”. We are all commanded to be open about our faith whenever opportunity allows – to be ready to respond to people’s question, comments or criticisms with a gentle, gracious and clear answer about Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15). And, even more emphatically, we are all called to be involved in God’s mission, which is to draw people into His family through faith in Christ. This happens through the specific activity of proclaiming the gospel and the broader category of promoting the gospel.
Proclaiming the Gospel means to speak the truth of what God has done to reconcile man to Himself through Jesus. The activity of promoting the Gospel is broader – obviously including evangelism, but it also gives proper place to prayer, godly behavior, hospitality, being a good neighbor, serving the poor and helpless, and good deeds of all kinds. All of these are clearly connected in the New Testament with God’s plan to save people! So, in short, we must always be promoting the Gospel and always be ready to proclaim the Gospel.
So, this leads to two important questions:
Planning – How will we work together as a group to promote the Good News? (To open our circle? To be a City on a Hill?)
Practicing – Will we be ready to share the simple Gospel message when the opportunities come? (And as we seriously focus on promoting the Good News, more opportunities to proclaim it will come)
And this mission of promoting the Gospel – with the hope and goal of making new disciples – is not a solitary activity. In Christ, part of our new identity is we are now connected to a Body with Christ as the head. Therefore, we follow Christ together. What did Jesus call that first Small Group to do right off the bat? Follow me and become fishers of men. (Matthew 4:18-20) This activity of fishing for men (or for disciples) has continued for 2000 years and must continue through the local church. Following Jesus still means fishing for men – if I give you a coin, you can’t take heads without tails, one side without the other. And you can’t follow Jesus without fishing – following includes fishing.
And – again – this is not a solitary activity. Many of the original disciples were professional fisherman, and those who weren’t all understood the process, which was not the solo activity we think of today – one man and a pole, a lawn chair and a cooler of beer. Instead, fishing was a team of folks on a boat, working together, taking on different roles: sailing the boat, casting the net, mending the nets, pulling the net in…together. Fishing was a communal activity.
1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis say this about these verses in their book, Everyday Church: “This is the mission strategy Peter gives to marginalized congregations living in a hostile context. Respond to hostility with good deeds. Live such good lives that people glorify God. At the heart of this mission strategy are not services, courses, programs, and activities but ordinary lives lived for God’s glory. Mission takes place not through attractional events, but through attractional communities.”
“(Throughout 1 Peter) Notice where mission takes place: in the neighborhood, in the workplace, in the home…We reach a hostile world by living good lives in the context of ordinary life. It is not simply that ordinary Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to evangelistic events. Our life together is the apologetic. There is a place for meetings at which the Gospel is clearly proclaimed, but let us affirm and celebrate ordinary Christians living ordinary life in Christ’s name. This is the front line of mission.”
Our life together is the apologetic. So, what is an apologetic? It’s a clear, convincing argument for our faith. Chester and Timmis (along with Paul and the rest of the New Testament) are saying that how we live together as the church is the most convincing argument we have. They are not saying that our life together is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? It’s the message of what has been accomplished for the world by Jesus. But the best support for that message is how we live as a community.
Mission takes place through attractional communities. If this is true, how will we bring people into the orbit of our community, so they can be caught in the Gospel’s gravity? How will people see the light of our City on a Hill? How will we invite people into the circle so that our life together can begin making an argument?