Why is demonstrating the gospel a community thing?

BY: J.B. Tanwell

Why Is Demonstrating The Gospel A Community Thing_
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On almost any given Sunday in my home you might hear the same conversation. It takes place between me and one of my kids.

“But Dad, why do we have to go to church? Can we not just stay home this week?”

“Well, darling, we go to church to worship God, and to learn about God. You still want to worship God, right?” (Please note the misguided shame tactic contained in that last question.)

“Yes Dad, but, um, well, do we have to go to church?”

“We’re going to church, okay? That’s the end of it.”

If you’re shocked and appalled at my children’s lack of spiritual fervor, or at my unsophisticated debating tactics, I’m sorry. But I think I’m not alone in dealing with this debate.

Now I want to be fair to my kids. Our family has just moved back to my hometown where they have never lived before, and that brings with it a particular kind of social anxiety. Even in a place as theoretically safe as a church where their dad grew up, the kids feel strange and out of place.

But truth be told, this same mini-protest was going on before we moved here. So I had to wonder, where was I going wrong in building their sense of the importance of belonging to a church?

Demonstrating the gospel: A lightbulb moment

We just moved into a new home. One particular neighbor has been fantastic at initiating with us, bringing his four-year-old to knock on our door to invite our five-year-old to play. The dad and I have enjoyed a few conversations of the getting-to-know-you type.

And then one Sunday morning, after the aforementioned dialogue with one of my kids, we walked past their house on our way to church and my neighbor asked the right question.

“Where are you off to this morning?”

Quick, I thought, think of a relevant but winsome way to say this.

“Um, we go to the church around the corner,” I said.

“Oh, cool,” he replied. And as we walked on I wondered why that exchange felt so unsatisfying.

Within minutes it dawned on me: My church is not meant to be a thing or a building I go to.

I go to the dentist or the doctor or the garage where a mechanic repairs my car. My church is something I’m a part of, it’s something my family is a part of. Our church is a community we belong to, not just a weekly activity.

And so that familiar conversation with my kids is taking a new turn. My wife and I now try to help them understand the difference between going to a church and being a part of the community of people known as the church. And like most things you explain to small children, illustration — and in this case, demonstration — holds the key to their understanding.

Demonstrating the gospel means showing — not just telling

The mantra my first editor taught me as a writer was to show, not just tell. He told me that readers need to see ideas illustrated in practical action, rather than just being told one thing after another.

The same principle applies when we want to communicate to anyone the life-changing reality of knowing Jesus. They need to see changed lives, not just hear explanations of what we believe and why.

Now do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we avoid explaining the gospel to people verbally. People need to understand who Jesus is, what that means for us, and how to enter into a relationship with him. That takes words. Sometimes many words.

But if you’ve ever tried sharing the gospel with the same person over an extended period of time, you know that your behavior is being watched as intently as your words are being listened to.

If people have opportunities to see Christians love not only each other, but also others who do not share their beliefs, it often pries open the door to a conversation. It is definitely more effective than a meticulously researched argument for belief in God.

Not all of us have the time, skill or inclination to be effective apologists. But we all live in relationship with others — with Christians and with those who do not share our faith. In these relationships, we all can find a good way of demonstrating what we believe every single day.

 What it might look like to “show” what you believe

  • You bring a different flavor to the conversations in your workplace.
  • You’re ready and willing to inconvenience yourself for the sake of others, asking for nothing in return.
  • You take the risk of being vulnerable first, so that someone else feels safe to speak.
  • You actively seek opportunities to serve your friends, rather than waiting to be asked.
  • You listen just as well as you speak. This really stands out, because in our culture listening well is a rapidly vanishing skill.

I may have just written that list, but trust me when I say I’m convicted by it myself. I’m motivated by looking at my children. I think about what kind of people I want them to be. This creates in me a sense of urgency to demonstrate the gospel in my own life today.

Learning to demonstrate the gospel does not happen in isolation

I was 28 before I passed my driving test. Some of you are wondering how that’s even possible. You remember driving from the day it was legally possible. Without a car, you had no freedom, no social life, and your social status would have taken a hit.

In my case, I always lived in cities with excellent public transportation. But more than that, until I was in my mid-twenties no one encouraged me to learn to drive. No one offered to teach me.

In the end, my employer told me to get a driver’s license if I wanted a promotion. But that ultimatum alone would not have caused me to get my license.

I learned to drive because friends, family members and driving instructors formed a team of patient saints, enduring hours of my attempts to learn. They persevered through four failed driving tests in three different cities. People put their cars at risk. They sacrificed their time. They paid for extra insurance coverage so I could overcome this mental barrier in my life. (Note to those people: I’ve asked that you all receive a special reward in heaven.)

If only I could have read “Driving for Dummies” over one weekend, passed the test and moved on. But that’s not how it works.

And while there are plenty of great books and resources available on loving our neighbors — I recommend “The Art of Neighboring” — you cannot learn to demonstrate the gospel just by reading a book.

Learning to share your faith — to demonstrate and explain it — takes a community of people standing shoulder to shoulder with you.

5 reasons you need a team to help you demonstrate the gospel:

  1. You do not know everything there is to know about sharing your faith, so it’s helpful to have others to learn from.
  2. There will be times when you feel you’re failing and need people to pick you up. There will be times when you’re doing something right and need to hear that too.
  3. You can make the mistake of thinking you’re the only one able to share the gospel with a certain person. For that reason you need people who are also willing to engage with that person.
  4. How we love each other tells the story of what we believe and who we follow. So people who do not yet know Jesus need to see Christians who relate lovingly with one another.
  5. Jesus’ team generally resisted going it alone, and that’s enough of a warning for the rest of us.

God is a community – the only perfect team of one

And now, back to challenging questions I face with my kids.

“Dad, what do you mean God is three people? How can a father and a son be the same person? And what’s a Holy Spirit?”

“OK, get a big glass of milk and let’s talk about it.”

I am not going to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity here, but suffice to say, God lives in constant community with himself. To fully understand who he is, how his presence is felt in the world, and especially how we connect with him requires seeing the different parts of his identity in relationship with one another.

He describes us — the church — as his body. That’s a clear signpost. That says that without one another, we cannot accurately or adequately demonstrate or communicate what others need to know about him. Each of us has something unique to offer to the picture of God we are painting together. We each have our own story of a life with Jesus at the center.

But the more that people hear those stories, and the more that people see those stories connect to other stories, the more powerful the stories become. Together they form a more compelling invitation to those who do not yet know Jesus.

A digital tool helps us demonstrate the gospel in community

There are plenty of apps designed to help us conquer life’s challenges without needing to rely on anyone else. MissionHub is not one of those apps.

I use MissionHub precisely because it connects me to other people all over the world who are trying to do the same thing that I am with the people in their lives. We are literally learning together by taking steps of faith and seeing what God does with them.

I love collaboration. It’s part of my job, but it’s also in my nature. And I think collaboration is also a reflection of God’s nature.

If you want to demonstrate the gospel to someone in your life, there’s a community of people waiting to help you when you download MissionHub.

Photo by Shane Rounce

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MORE ABOUT J.B. Tanwell

J.B. Tanwell lives in Europe where he confuses the locals with words he picked up while living in the southern states of the USA. He’s passionate about helping Christians talk honestly about what following Jesus involves.