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Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles

I really appreciated Elliot Clark’s book Evangelism as ExilesHere are some of the things that stood out to me:

“Picture an evangelist. For many of us, our minds immediately scroll to the image of someone like Billy Graham—a man, maybe dressed in a suit and tie, speaking to a large audience and leading many to Christ. As such, we tend to envision evangelism as an activity—more commonly a large event—that requires some measure of power and influence. In communicating the gospel, one must have a voice, a platform, and ideally a willing audience. It’s also why, to this day, we think the most effective spokespeople for Christianity are celebrities, high-profile athletes, or other people of significance. If they speak for Jesus, the masses will listen. But this isn’t how it has always been. Not throughout history and certainly not in much of the world today” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

Elliot Clark gives six essential qualities of a Christian exile on mission:

“With the help of God’s Spirit, such believers will be simultaneously (1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful. They will be (3) humble and respectful, yet speak the gospel with (4) authority. They will live (5) a holy life, separate from the world, yet be incredibly (6) welcoming and loving in it. While these three pairs of characteristics appear at first glance to be contradictory, they are in fact complementary and necessary for our evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

From the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

Here is a long string of quotes I found instructive:

“over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God… “Knowing the fear of the Lord, ” [Paul] explained, “we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11)… The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed… our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

“In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God… Fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

“According to Peter, we’re to honor everyone. Take a moment and turn that thought over in your mind. You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

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10 Hospitality Quotes

1. “Engaging in radically ordinary hospitality means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God” (Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 13). 

2. “The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different… They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world” (Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 13).

3. “A cold, unwelcoming church contradicts the gospel message” (Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love, 100).

4. “If you are looking for ways to evangelize, opening your home is one of the best methods of reaching unbelievers” (Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love, 102).

5. “Some theologians go so far as to state that the growth in the earliest churches was wholly dependent on the meals and hospitality of the believers” (Verlon Fosner, Dinner Church, 24).

6. “Jesus does not have us here to straighten out our dinner guests’ thoughts and realign their lives, and it’s good thing, because their challenges are quite impossible at times. What Jesus needs most from us is for us to be their friends” (Verlon Fosner, Dinner Church: Building Bridges by Breaking Bread, 73).

7. “A lot of our language presents and reinforces the idea that church is an event… we talk about ‘going to church’ more often then we talk about ‘being’ the church” (Krish Kandiah, “Church As Family,” 68).

8. “Look at any church website and what is advertised worship services for us to enjoy, sermons for us to listen to, use provision for our children, and perhaps a small group that can provide for other needs. We post pictures of our smart buildings, of our edgy youth work, and of well designed sermon series; we invest time and money and brilliant branding and hip visual identity. This all serves to reinforce the idea that our churches exist primarily as events for consumer Christians to attend” (Krish Kandiah, “Church As Family,” 68).

9. “God’s guest list includes a disconcerting number of poor and broken people, those who appear to bring little to any gathering except their need” (Christine D. Pohl, Making Room, 16).

10. “Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a subversive countercultural dimension” (Christine  D.  Pohl, Making Room,  61).

And…

“We welcome others into our home, but generally those who don’t even need it. Our hospitality is only lateral and transactional. We host peers in a system that expects reciprocity, not one that displays free grace” (Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

The Hospitality of God and our Hospitality

First, what even is hospitality? What does it mean? It means “love for the stranger” or “to befriend a stranger.”[1] One definition says hospitality is having “regard for one who comes from outside one’s group.” That is exactly what God has done for us. God is perfectly holy and exalted and yet He has regard for us. 

The Lord God has regarded us—loved us—even welcomed us into the Triune fellowship (see e.g. Jn. 20:17), we who were sinners and strangers. And He did so with great cost to Himself.[2] And we see from the Gospels that Jesus was a friend (philos) of those we would expect to remain strangers and outsiders, people like tax collectors and other sinners (see Matt. 11:19), sinners like you and me.[3] And so Paul says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

When we understand the amazing hospitality of God we will find it easier to love and welcome people in. Understanding the hospitality of God is essential as we think about the hospitality that we are called to practice. Because, in one sense, hospitality is supernatural. It is certainly not natural to us. We need to meditate on the hospitality of God if we hope to be hospitable as we are called to. 

It is true, however, that even “secular people” who don’t know God’s love show surprising generous hospitality (cf. Acts 28:2,7[4]). So, how much more should Christians, who have been welcomed in by God with great expense, welcome in and love others?

The LORD has shown undeserved love to us in Christ may we show love to others (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 10:17-20).

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Things to remember from Timothy Keller’s book Center Church

1. “Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sin… But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude—new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration” (Timothy Keller, Center Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], p. 67).
 
2. “It is quite easy to assume that if we understand the gospel accurately and preach it faithfully, our ministry will necessarily be shaped by it—but this is not true. Many churches subscribe to gospel doctrines but do not have a ministry that is shaped by, centered on, and empowered through the gospel. Its implications have not yet worked their way into the fabric of how the church actually does ministry” (Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 28).

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Do the Work of an Evangelist

Timothy is exhorted by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist.” And work it is, as Paul knew well. The Scripture uses the imagery of sowing seed and reaping a harvest. The picture given in Scripture is not surprisingly an accurate one, and a labor-intensive one.

Sowing seed takes lots of work and lots of time. Further, we are never guaranteed a harvest. The Spirit blows where it wills (Jn. 3:8), though He does use means. We must be faithful to sow and cultivate all the while remembering that God brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We must labor on even when there is no sign of life. We can rest assured that the gospel is the power to salvation and if we are faithful to sow gospel seed a harvest should come. We must always remember that the seed we sow, the only one that can bring new life, is “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In the book of Acts, we see that the Word, when “planted,” continued to increase and prevail mightily. It is only when the word of truth, the gospel, is proclaimed that there is fruit and growth (cf. Col. 1:5-6).

We would do well to remember many of the prophets’ experience and realize sometimes the seasons are long and at times we may see droughts. In these seasons, when there seems to be no life, we must remind ourselves that God’s Word will not return to Him void but it shall accomplish its purpose (Is. 55:10-11). Though, sometimes God uses His Word to harden (cf. Is. 6:9-10; Matt. 13;14-15; Acts 28:26-27) we must continue to be faithful to go to the highways and byways and compel people to come to Him (Lk. 14:23).

We have a difficult task, ye impossible. Hear Spurgeon in The Soul Winner:

“We are sent to say to blind eyes, ‘See,’ To deaf ears, ‘Hear,’ to dead hearts, ‘Live,’ and even to Lazarus rotting in that grave, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (John 11:43). Dare we do this? We will be wise to begin with the conviction that we are utterly powerless for this unless our Master has sent us and is with us. But if He who sent us is with us, ‘all things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23).”[1]

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[1] C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kingston, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 157.        

Is Numerical Church Growth a Biblical Mandate?

Churches don’t necessarily have the mandate to grow but they do have a mandate to deploy all their resources to advance the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches must utilize all that God has given them to make disciples, it’s why they exist. It’s a matter of stewardship. 

Churches are not unfaithful if the chairs are not filled but they are unfaithful if those who fill the chairs are not working at telling the broken world about Jesus in word and deed. So what churches must evaluate is not merely if they are reaching the lost community around them but if they are even intentionally thinking in that way. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and He has called us to carry out His mission of making disciples. 

Winston Churchhill used to give out commands labeled “Action This Day.” These tasks were to be done with urgency and intentionality. How much more our Lord’s command?! It is labeled “Action This Day!” It is high priority.

So, is numerical church growth a biblical mandate? Not exactly. After all, it’s the Spirit who gives life. Yet, intentional discipleship and ministry of the Word very often leads to numerical church growth. So, we must work to intentionally love and reach people with the good news of Jesus but not merely for numerical church growth. 

The question churches must ask is not simply “how can we grow this church?” but “how can we best deploy all our resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the growth of God’s Kingdom?”[1] So, as we strategize about our church we must not forget about the Church

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[1] I have found Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements very helpful on this subject. 

10 Quotes from Greg Gilbert’s book *What is the Gospel?*

  1. “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship. It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ. The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship. The more you understand about it, believe it, and rely on it, the more you adore God both for who he is and for what he has done for us in Christ” (Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel, p. 21).
  2. “That I have rebelled against the holy and judging God who made me is not a happy thought. But it is an important one, because it paves the way for the good news” (30).
  3. “Nobody wants a God who declines to deal with evil. They just want a God who declines to deal with their evil” (44).
  4. “Since the very beginning of time, people have been trying to save themselves in ways that make sense to them, rather than listening and submitting to God” (102).
  5. “If we say merely that God is redeeming a people and remaking the world, but do not say how he is doing so (through the death and resurrection of Jesus) and how a person can be included in that redemption (through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus), then we have not proclaimed the good news. We have simply told the narrative of the Bible in broad outline” (107).
  6. “The message of the cross is going to sound like nonsense to the people around us. It’s going to make us Christians sound like fools, and it most certainly is going to undermine our attempts to ‘relate’ to non-Christians and prove to them that we’re just as cool and harmless as the next guy. Christians can always get the world to think they are cool—right up to the moment they start talking about being saved by a crucified man. And that’s where coolness evaporates, no matter how carefully you’ve cultivated it” (110).
  7. “Sins don’t shock us much. We know they are there, we see them in ourselves and others every day, and we’ve gotten pretty used to them. What is shocking to us is when God shows us the sin that runs to the very depths of our hearts, the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin—it is in us and of us, not just on us” (54).
  8. “It is only when we realize that our very nature is sinful—that we are indeed ‘dead in our trespasses and sins,’ as Paul says (Eph. 2:1, 5)—that we see just how good the news is that there is a way to be saved” (55).
  9. “Faith and repentance. That is what marks out those who are Christ’s people, or ‘Christians.’ In other words, a Christian is one who turns away from his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ—and nothing else—to save him from sin and the coming judgment” (73).
  10. “If you are a Christian, then the cross of Jesus stands like a mountain of granite across your life, immovably testifying to God’s love for you and his determination to bring you safely into his presence” (117).
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