The inadequacy of telling people you’re a Christian

I live in a cul-de-sac.  It was one of the top priorities on my wife’s checklist when we were looking for a new house  when we started Providence six years ago.  After living my entire 35-year-old life in suburbia, I can say with certainty that cul-de-sac living is just a little bit different.  The biggest difference is the knowledge you have about your neighbors.  It’s not that you don’t know your neighbors when you live on a regular street in a neighborhood, but it’s the level by which you know your neighbors.  In a cul-de-sac, there’s one way in, one way out.  95% of the traffic that drives by your house are the others who live in the cul-de-sac with you, so you know when they usually go to work, when they come home, and any other routines that families have in the rhythm of their lives.

As much as I know about my neighbors, I know that the opposite is true.  My neighbors know me and my family.  They see my family rhythms.  They know when we come and when we go.  They’ve watched my family leave early on Sunday morning and arrive back after lunch.  They know we have about 25-30 people at our house every Sunday night.  They know we occasionally have a bunch of women meet at our house on Wednesdays in the Fall and Spring.  Quite simply, they know we’re a church-going family.  Of course we have conversations with our cul-de-sac community, so they know I’m also a pastor as well, which can potentially be a huge problem.

It’s not that I don’t want my neighbors to know I’m a Christian, and even a pastor of a church.  I just think that when it comes to the responsibility of sharing Jesus, we stop short of doing that.  We compromise the Great Commission and justify in our minds that we’ve actually done that, when we really haven’t.  It’s like there’s something inside our mind that says, “I’ve done my duty of sharing my faith to my neighbors.  They know I’m a Christian.  If they ever want to know more, they know where to find me.”  Sounds pretty good, but it fails the missional test.  In all my years of growing up in suburbia, I’ve never had a neighbor come over and say to our family, “I know you leave every Sunday for church, so you must be pretty tight with God.  I’m having some problems in my life right now, and I just know I need God’s help. Can you tell me more?”  That’s a dream scenario if you’re a Christian.  It’s the “I found $20 in my pocket” witnessing moment, and chances are it will probably never happen.

We need to ask ourselves a question that might move us to actually be witnesses, “Am I content that people know I’m a Christian, or do I want them to know Jesus?”   No one is giving their life to Jesus by simply knowing that you’re a Christian.  I think we are failing Jesus’ command to make disciples when we allow telling people that we are Christians to be adequate.  It’s encountering Jesus that is so transformational.

Witnessing is not telling people you’re a Christian.  It’s not telling people you go to church.  It’s not inviting them to church.  It’s not sharing with others the moral standards in your home.  It’s not reading your Bible out in the open at work, or on your front porch.  All those are great things.  You should do them, but you haven’t actually shared the gospel with them.

Witnessing is talking to people about Jesus.  It’s talking about the cross and the resurrection.  It’s about sharing your story of being a sinner, lost and dead in your sinful rebellion against God, and then how you found grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  There’s power in the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  Let’s not forget that.  When people meet Jesus, they are different.

Imagine if we actually made sharing Jesus and His gospel the priority, and not just telling people we’re Christians.  It’s a change I need to make that might just change my own little cul-de-sac.

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