A Nip of Newbigin: Working as Kingdom Agents

…the preaching of the Church carries no weight if it does not come from a community in which the truth of what is preached is being validated (even though always imperfectly) in the life of the community…

L. NewbiginIn this article, we are covering the third of five points for what Lesslie Newbigin calls helpful points for the re-evangelization of Europe (read: secularized cultures).

Christian communities that live by the other story AND engage their cities around them have a big job to do, in that, they have to disciple and empower their members to be Kingdom Agents first — before members identify themselves as an employee of such-and-such company. Then, as KAs, they need to engage all of their work and the sectors of society as a people with this sacred identity.

Newbigin explains:

It will be a major part of the work of such congregations to train and enable members to act as agents of the Kingdom in the various sectors of public life where they work. This kind of ‘frontier’ work is very difficult… It must become a part of ordinary congregational life that members are enabled to think through and discuss the ways in which their Christian faith impinges on their daily life in their secular work.

Here is where there ought to be a discernible difference in behavior between those who live by the old story and those who live by the story the Bible tells. It ought at many points to lead to differences in behavior, to dissent from current practice, to questioning. And this, of course, will be the place where the counter questions arise. The Christian will be asked, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you behave like this?’ Here is where true evangelistic dialogue begins…  [Lesslie Newbigin: A Reader, p. 235]

Again, Newbigin is spot-on. My guess is that we engage with others at least 70% of our waking hours through the means of some type of work activity. However, we live by the Story 100% of the time. We need to remember that this story includes both a resurrected and ascended Lord. Since this Lord is alive and in authority, we engage each sector with this initial reality in mind. So, we can ask, How does a living and holy Lord impact the way that this job is done, the means of how we do this job, and the reasons and results of what we do?

As a church, we are not so much coming in to each place and telling Christians how they can do their jobs better or more efficiently. We may not have the technical expertise for that. However, we are seeking to tell them how their job is better when their true employer has changed. And, we are striving to align our approach to work to the cruciform story of the true King.

Here’s a real-world example: One of our members owns a hair salon. Recently, the member was sharing with me that a “division of life” was inculcated in their thinking years ago. They thought on one side they had their private, religious life. On the other side, they had their secular employment and means of making money, and neither the two should ever meet. Talk about work as much as you’d like at a “church setting” but don’t ever talk about God in a “work setting.”

Now, they are discovering the refreshing liberation from this heavy dualism of life. The member said to me, “For the first time, I’m realizing that God sent me right into this hair salon as his representative. It’s right here where I lovingly share that I have found one, true answer to the troubles I hear on these chairs. His name is Jesus.”

The people getting haircuts are not just clients. They are people Jesus loves. I guarantee that they are being introduced to his love in ways that they have never heard or thought of him before.

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A Nip of Newbigin: The Local Congregation

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In this second part on evangelism in a secular culture, Lesslie Newbigin shares that it is not enough to try to impart evangelistic information to society, but rather, there needs to be a local and visible demonstration of the impact this Good-News-knowledge has had on real people. Therefore, the family of God becomes the best apologetic of the true story. 

The clue to evangelism in a secular society must be the local congregation. There are many other things of which one could speak — mass evangelism of the Billy Graham type, Christian literature, radio and television, study and training courses, and so on. These are auxiliary. Many of them can be very valuable. But they are auxiliary to the primary center of evangelism, which is the local congregation. The congregation should live by the true story and center their life in the continual remembering and relating of the true story, in meditating on it and expounding it in its relation to contemporary events so that contemporary events are truly understood, and in sharing in the sacrament by which we are incorporated into the dying and rising of Jesus so that we are at the very heart of the true story. The congregation that does this becomes the place where the new reality is present with its heart in the praise and adoration of God and in the sharing of the love of God among the members and in the wider society. And here, of course, an immense amount depends upon the leadership given through preaching, pastoral encouragement, and public action by those called to ministry in the congregations.

~ Lesslie Newbigin: a Reader, p. 234-235

I liked that part about the congregation becoming the place where the new reality is present with its heart in the praise and adoration of God and in the sharing of the love of God…

We need to emphasize that present, new reality. While contextualization is important, one of  the most compelling things about our gatherings (larger and smaller) is how serious and committed we are as a people to the true story. Rather, the focus is often on our “technique of doing church.”

The Gospel shared is the Gospel lived. So, to share that story in a radically attractive way (evangelism) will require us to ask, “How are we–together interpreting our world and responding to it by the truth of the Gospel?” 

When people begin to encounter other people who are walking by the Gospel, they might see forms of church that are familiar to them but they will be drawn to the story because they see others who have authentically entered it and are taking it seriously.

—–

Part one of this 5-part evangelism series can be found here: Living by the Other Story

Here below is a link to a very good article on communicating the Gospel in considerate and contemporary ways. It runs parallel with what I’ve shared above.

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A Nip of Newbigin: Living by the Other Story

 

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The word “nip” in its noun form means a “taste” or “swallow”. I had to come up with a word that complimented minestrone, you know what I mean? I hope you can digest my weak and enigmatic sense of creativity.

So, with that out of the way, I enjoy reading the writings of Lesslie Newbigin. If you haven’t heard of him before, he was a missionary-theologian from Britain to India during the mid-1900’s. Lesslie passed away in South London at the age of 88 in 1998 but left behind a plethora of insights on the church and mission.

This is the first of five quotes that Lesslie wrote about evangelism and the thinking of the “re-evangelization” of Europe. I think these nips would apply to any secularized, Western culture. They’re quite good and I wanted to share them here on HM. 

Evangelism is not the effort of Christians to increase the size and importance of the Church. It is sharing the good news that God reigns — good news for those who believe, bad news for those who reject. Evanglism must be rescued from a Pelagian anxiety, as though we were responsible for converting the world. God reigns and his reign is revealed and effective in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we grow into a deeper understanding of this fact, as we learn more and more to live by the other story, we become more confident in sharing this reality with those who have not yet seen it.

~ L. Newbigin, A Reader, p. 234

To nuance more of what Newbigin is saying, living by the other story is really understanding the active reality of the Gospel story in everything we do. The Gospel is the living word, daily impressing itself upon us, and the very light by which we see, interpret, and respond to our world. The more deeply we submerge ourselves into it, the more confidence we’ll have revealing it. 

I liked that line about a Pelagian anxiety. I was taught to live in that panic at one time. What I realized through living the other story was that you don’t have to sell the Gospel, you just have to say it.