This week’s resource again comes from a presentation I heard by Neil Hudson entitled “No Time for Mission? Cultivating a Missional Imagination for Over-Busy Christians” at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in April 2016. Learn more about Neil Hudson, the Imagine Church Project, and the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity in my previous post and on the LICC website.
My last couple posts have been focused on the idea of the frontlines we find ourselves scattered to throughout the week. Thinking about frontlines, as I’ve said before, leads us to consider where God has already positioned us to be used. [If you missed my original post explaining a frontline, you can read it here.]
As we go about our lives on our frontlines, we rub shoulders with a wide range of people. We have an opportunity to engage with them and build relationships. How do we do this? And what do we do when we begin to build a relationship with someone who isn’t a Christian?
We have a friend who is not a Christian who works with a lot of Christians. He recently confided in us that after many years working at this company, we were the only ones who had invited him into our home. (And then he texted us later to clarify that there had been one other couple who had extended an invitation.) It saddened my heart to hear him say this. How will someone like our friend discover what Christians are like without spending time with them and “doing life” with them?
The most effective means of “reaching” someone who isn’t a Christian, like our friend, is probably not simply to invite them to church. Instead, it’s inviting them into your life and building a relationship with them. The key here is an openness to relationship building and hospitality in the broadest sense of the term. I don’t see much room for deep and influential relationships if we aren’t willing to open up our lives and welcome others into them. As we extend welcome and friendship, we have an opportunity to show other people what Christ is like and the difference he makes in our lives. We also have the opportunity to learn from other people’s perspectives, coming to understand our faith more deeply.
Hospitality doesn’t require a fancy meal, and it’s much more inclusive than coffee hour at church or a dinner invite. Neil Hudson uses the picture of four tables: the work table, the coffee table, the dining table, and the Lord’s table. Imagine them as a succession, gradually inviting the person deeper into your life and into your Christian community.
This is “normal” life, with its ordinary everyday responsibilities. It’s sharing the space of the workplace (or a similar realm). It’s about conversations in the lunchroom or over the water cooler.
This is about sharing life in a neutral “third space,” like a coffee shop or a sports league. It’s about meeting with someone and letting them know who I am and getting to know who they are.
This is about sharing life in a more intimate setting and inviting someone into your personal space, such as your home. It’s about bringing someone into a circle of other Christians to see what we’re like together.
This is about inviting someone into an explicitly Christian space, to worship with you.
There is no formula for building relationships or for sharing Christ with another person. It’s an organic process which unfolds over time. These “four tables” are by no means a formulaic approach. They overlap, turn back on each other, and operate on different time tables. But this model does offer us a framework to think about how we can befriend others and invite them naturally into our community of faith.