WHEN YOU'RE GIVEN GRIEF
by Walt Mueller
I'm involved in a rather unique ministry - I'm a full-time student of youth culture. Because I spend so much time digesting what kids read, listen to, and watch, many of my brothers and sisters in Christ think I've gone off the spiritual edge. They question my theology and believe that I've "sold out" to worldliness. If your God-given passion to reach the lost takes you out of the church and into their world, be prepared to meet the same type of opposition. Here's some ways I've learned to respond to the grief I've gotten for hanging out with "tax collectors and sinners."
Be patient, understanding, and full of grace. Those who object are typically people who don't believe they could or should share your call. When you listen to their objections it becomes clear that they wonder how their faith would survive if they were in your shoes. They might also wonder if your faith is surviving. We need to be grace-full in our response. Maybe spending time with non-Christians would take them too close to a difficult place they left that they're not too ready to revisit. Because I was once critical of people like me, I realize our objecting friends are still in process. Be patient with them.
Always have an answer. Separatists typically build arguments based on a few Bible verses that can be pretty convincing. But when viewed and studied within the full scope and context of God's written Word, it's clear that Biblical precedent is on the side of those who engage the culture. The history of redemption points to the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the God-man who came to seek and save those who were lost (Luke 19:10). The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), the ministry of Jesus, and the example of Paul combine with the whole of Scripture to call us to do the same by engaging in incarnational ministry. For those who wonder "Is it right to engage the culture?", challenge them to read the Gospels and Acts with that very question in mind.
Ask them for their answer. Many "grief givers" have never taken the time to think through "why" they oppose a ministry of cultural engagement. Perhaps their convictions are rooted in upbringing, church tradition, and a general fear of culture that combines in a reason no better than "That's the way I've always done it." By asking for their reason, you can lead them to see the shaky theological foundations of their conclusion, lead them to reconsider their conclusions by studying the Scriptures, or you can better understand how they've reasoned themselves into thinking the way they do.
Listen to their objections and search your soul. I've learned that God often uses the objections of others as a catalyst for timely self-examination. Consequently, I'm not so quick to jump back with a quick defense. Seek first to understand the perspective and concerns of those who object. They might raise some necessary issues that may set you straight in areas where your desire to connect with the lost might have caused you to compromise theology or conduct.
Realize you're a missionary. Before leaving this earth in bodily form, Jesus left his followers then and now with a clear command to "Go and make disciples." (Matthew 28:19. 20). Missionaries know that relationships built on the foundation of cultural understanding are a prerequisite for effective evangelism and discipleship. Those relationships are established and strengthened only as we spend time intimately involved in the daily lives of those we hope to reach. Knowing them and their culture (their music, film, books, etc) allows us to know their needs, particularly the "spiritual touchpoints" where the message of God's Good News can bring light into the spiritual darkness of their lives. This is the very approach the apostle Paul took when he engaged the pagan culture of
Talk about the promise of divine protection. Disengagement from the world is often motivated by fear - fear of somehow losing one's spiritual edge or even their faith. While the Scriptures are clear that we need to be careful, living in fear is evidence of faulty theology. Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd who protects his sheep from the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10). When he prayed for his disciples before his arrest, Jesus made it clear that his prayer was not that his disciples be taken out of the world, but that the Father would protect them while they are in the world - the very place where he has sent them (John 17).
Take them with you. Many people I know who are scared of non-Christians - especially those who are pretty far out on the edge - have never spent significant time getting to know people outside the church. One of the greatest motivators for a stale and inward looking church is to get the people out into the mission field of the world where they can rub elbows with "real" people. Meghan was a pretty scary sight when I first laid eyes on her. She was a goth in the fullest sense of the word. Her hair was black, her eyes were circled in black make-up, her face was whited-out, she work black clothes, and was covered in tattoos. She had been practicing Wicca. She was also one of the sweetest kids I ever met. She told me, "The people like me who look the hardest on the outside are the softest and neediest on the inside." They want to get to know us.
Tell them your stories. The Gospels are loaded with stories about the amazing things that happened when Jesus spent time with pagans. The woman at the well, Nicodemus, and Zacchaeus the tax collector were all changed because Jesus spent time with them. Our fellow believers need to know that the Holy Spirit still moves powerfully in the lives of unbelievers who have been sought out and loved by followers of Christ. Those stories offer compelling evidence of the need to engage the unbelieving world.
Pray for them. Separatist attitudes are usually rooted in years of suspect theology and practice. They usually aren't undone overnight. Pray for your Christian friends, that God would allow them to see a lost and hurting world through His eyes. Pray that they would be moved from giving you grief, to feeling God's grief for those who don't know Him.
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