Three-Legged Stool of Outward Ministry
The Three-Legged Stool of Outward Ministry
Sharing the Gospel depends heavily on three priorities in a church: speaking, praying, and eating. These things can seem so common to us (perhaps with the exception of prayer) that we can underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit’s work through them. Christ’s earthly ministry was filled with important moments of speaking, prayer and eating. I’ll write more briefly on the first two, and then spend greater length on the third.
1. Speaking the Gospel
Words frame reality. Our ability to interpret our surroundings depends upon the language we’ve learned. Pediatricians often measure development based on how many words a child knows to speak. I remember being asked this question at a doctor’s appointment and scratching my head: how could I possibly know how many words my child knows? Probably better to ask moms! But an evangelistic and outward vocabulary is also essential for speaking the Gospel to the lost. We see the priority of speaking in Jesus’ ministry: his whole life was dedicated to preach and speak announcing that God’s kingdom had arrived. I did a quick search of the four Gospels and found the words, “And he said…” and “Jesus said” 431 times. Christ preached, spoke and did these things which helped us frame true reality. The rescuer had arrived to finally deliver his people from their sins. This was of no benefit to the world if they didn’t hear Christ announce his arrival. Actions are also essential for demonstrating to the world the love of Christ (Matthew 5:16), but how will they know and understand the Gospel, if we don’t follow our Savior's pattern of continually speaking about the reality of Christ’s kingdom in our midst?
2. Praying for Conversion
As we are reminded frequently at Harvest, God’s Word by itself does not effect conversion. God’s Spirit has to do that work (1 Thess. 2:13). Because it’s up to the Spirit, the church has always been called to support evangelistic work by praying that sinners would be converted. We might imagine that the apostle Paul, who packed many words in 13 New Testament epistles, might never be at a loss for words. But when it came to boldly speaking the Gospel, he said he completely relied on the Ephesians’ prayer. He asks that they pray continually, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel…that I may proclaim it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20). Isn’t that astounding? That Paul didn’t feel he could even begin to open his mouth to speak, until he knew the church was praying for him?
At our recent retreat and workshop, the witness ministry team spent about 40% of our time in prayer directed by the six chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I wish we had prayed more! One of the concrete resolutions we came away with was to gather a Harvest church list of non-Christian or new-Christian friends, co-workers, family members and acquaintances such that the witness ministry team could make prayer a core aspect of our work as we pray for both conversion and speaking to non-believers. Please look for a sign-up below as we would love to pray for non-believers the Lord has sent into your life. To echo Paul’s words: “You also must help us by prayer!” (2 Corinthians 1:11 & Ephesians 6:20).
3. Feeding Christ by Hosting Strangers
Christ didn’t only announce his kingdom, but his ministry in the book of John begins by his participating in a marriage banquet around a table (see the wedding banquet in Cana of Galilee in John 2). Christ often ate with those he wanted to welcome. The Pharisees even used this as an accusation against him: “this man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
In her Christianity Today article, Rosaria Butterfield chronicles the slow process of her “train wreck conversion.” She writes about Pastor Ken’s invitation: “He did not mock me. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted.” What is more disarming than an invitation? “Let’s have a meal together.” This pastor Ken and his wife, Floy, began a friendship centered at a table that lasted two long years. Eating and conversion were intertwined.
As Christians, we should be familiar with God’s furniture. He doesn’t merely preach to us through pastors behind pulpits on Sundays, he also feeds us as his children around the family table: the Lord’s Supper. Both furnishings, pulpit and table, are essential to Christianity. As leaders we carefully watch over who takes the Lord’s Supper because of how much we believe that God himself is feeding us and including us in salvation through the Gospel and sacraments. We rejoice so much in our children professing their faith, and taking the Supper for the first time, because it fulfills everything God has promised about them in their baptism. Promises and food always go together.
But before strangers can come to the Table of the Lord we should draw them around our home tables. One objection to hosting strangers is that it just seems too dangerous or uncomfortable. Doesn’t the Bible mainly focus on being hospitable to other Christians? Both the call to practice hospitality in Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9, and the qualifications for our elders (Titus 1:8) seem to imply that we are only called to be hospitable to others in the church. But Hebrews 13:2 clearly teaches that Christians are called to show hospitality to strangers: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some of entertained angels unawares.” Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony is not unique. Many of those whose negative impressions of Christians changed, were surprised when they encountered real Christians in the simple and seemingly mundane task of sharing a meal.
As simple as the call is to practice hospitality, it requires dramatic rearranging of our priorities. Plans have to be made, invitations extended, food prepared, houses (somewhat) cleaned and prepared, in order to open our doors to people we don’t know.
Please pray for the witness team as we begin a plan to open our homes to those who visit Harvest. Our goal is to have two Harvest families ready every Sunday (one to host, and one to support) so that we can use our tables to welcome newcomers. While this is not an easy ask, we would pray that every family at Harvest start to pray for an openness to use their homes as a location for Gospel witness. What is begun in a pulpit, often gets discussed and applied more richly around a table. Please consider signing up, when the call goes out, to become a host family for those who are new to our church or do not know Christ.
I’m always struck by the surprise of Jesus’ followers who didn’t even realize they were feeding him. They respond to his words in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” saying “When?!” His answer, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did unto me.”
What I’m reading:
Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael Graham: I cannot recommend this book enough. Miller’s ministry depended heavily on hospitality, and the church ended up renting a home, just so that more meals and strangers could be hosted. P&R currently has a special to purchase this book for $5 and I heartily recommend that our whole church read it!
Rosaria Butterfield. “My Train Wreck Conversion.” I am struck again, as I read Rosaria’s description, that conversion is something mysterious, otherworldly, that should lead us more and more to depend on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Rosaria didn’t want to become a Christian! But this didn’t stand in the way of ordinary hospitality and the extraordinary gracious work of the Holy Spirit.
Kristin Wetherell. "10 Practical Helps for Fighting Fear". For the month of November, Anchored youth is giving focused time to thinking about anxiety, memorize two classic New Testament passages, and it’s path toward growing our dependence on Christ. If you’d like to read Paul Tautges's 31-day devotional with us, let me know and I can work to get you a copy!