“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
I Thess. 2:17-20, ESV
In the midst of our divisive, polarizing, and now litigious election cycle, I think you’ll find fewer things that will calm your angst and turn your eyes toward Jesus better than a missional focus. Sure, gifts like the holidays and time with loved ones bring healing, but what made Paul thrive? What gave him passion and joy in his journey?
Simple answer: Delight in the growth of his new convert friends. F.F. Bruce notes in his commentary that “These friends filled… [Paul and his team’s] hearts with hope and joy and exultation—hope that the divine work well begun in them will increase to maturity, joy in the evident genuineness of their faith, exaltation as they look forward to pointing to such converts as the fruit of their service as they stand before the tribunal of Christ.”
What does it mean to be missional? Missional thinking is not the same thing as missionary support. It’s a mission-mindedness that shows up in the kind of neighbor you are, in your welcoming heart—in how you use your home. To be missional means to be willing and eager to engage the lost in your neighborhood and sphere of influence—to first build trust and then, over time, point them to Christ.
I want to be extremely clear about how we go about this—even in the midst of a global pandemic with more social distancing and Zoom thrown in than we would like. And, what is the first step in having spiritual influence in the lives of others? Building trust based on common interests, convictions, and values. And—make no mistake—you can’t build trust without listening well, gentleness, and respect. Really, friends, why should it surprise us that trusting a Christian is the first step unchurched individuals need to take in their journey to Jesus?1
Then this: “In 2010 Tim Keller spoke at a major conference on world evangelism in Cape Town, South Africa. During one of his talks he listed ten tips for personal evangelism. Here is his list:
- Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way).
- Ask friends about their faith– and just listen!
- Listen to your friends’ problems– maybe offer to pray for them.
- Share your problems with others– testify to how your faith helps you.
- Give them a book to read.
- Share your story.
- Answer objections and questions.
- Invite them to a church event.
- Offer to read the Bible with them.
- Invite them to an “explore” course.
Keller pointed out that many of us too often start with numbers 8-10 because we think these are the only things that count as true evangelism. For others of us we don’t do anything because we also think that 8-10 are the only things that count as evangelism and we don’t feel equipped to do those. But Keller says we need to start with 1-4 with most people. Indeed, we may need to loop through 1-4 several times before our friends or coworkers or family members become interested to talk more and we move on to 5-10. And you know what? You can do that. You’re called to do that. If you’re a Christian, it’s part of your job description.”2
And in meditating on Paul’s words above,3 here’s the big takeaway for all of us: The greatest investment of your life is in relationships and a missional focus that involves Christ-centered transformation in the hearts of those you care about and, particularly, delight in the growth of new convert friends. This is the surest path to a life with no regrets. Yes, Satan will try his best to stop your efforts and will sometimes succeed but, in the final analyses, the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church!
1. Rick Richardson, You Found Me (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2019), 95-96.
2. Adapted from Presbyterian Church of Kennett Square’s Throwback Thursday, a weekly email written or compiled by Andrew Smith.
3. This article is adapted from https://www.carpentertheologian.com/heavens-proud-reward-and-crown-part-3-of-3/ . For the full three-part blog series on this passage, see https://www.carpentertheologian.com/heavens-proud-reward-and-crown-part-1-of-3/