Engage here third
Engage. It's one of the church buzz words right now. Of course, when it's used by the hip young guys in plaid shirts its usually about engaging the machinery of mission. You know, engaging the world around us. And, who can argue with that? Surely mission is a primary pursuit of his people. But, there's more to engagement than activating food closets, homeless ministries, recovery groups, and school partnerships. There are priority engagements that must come first.
For the pastor cohort, the vertical lines are priority one. My first engagement connection must be my personal communion with Christ. I cannot pass go without a deep and abiding fellowship with the one who created me, called me, commissioned me, and carrys me daily. Engagement two must be with my wife and then filter to the rest of my family. These two are generally accepted as the primary areas of preparation for just about anything we do.
Engagement three is open to some debate and I'll confess strong preferences here with the disclaimer that I could be wrong. But, in nearly thirty five years of congregational ministry, it was engagement three that either compelled us out of the building for mission or locked us in it for self- absorption. It's no secret. Engagment three was connection to the the congregation entrusted to my spiritual leadership and care. Engaging them was central to mission.
Well, duh! You already knew that. But, there are a few layers here these days that must be peeled back for a closer look. One of them is that we have allowed culture to establish a few no-go zones around certain topics that are important to the Kingdom, to civilization, and the people we lead. So, we've let the PC police or a some of the neo-conservative mentors put a muzzle on the pulpit about some themes that are central to our faith. Moderns have been convinced that politics is a no-no. Now, it seems we can't talk about sexual orientation, or even co-habitation. An article the other day warned evangelicals about Islamophobia, and a favorite of the left, being too judgmental about people outside mainline Christian thought, whatever that is these days.
And, you know what? People really want to know a well-reasoned biblical response to these troubling societal issues. This became clear to me recently when a young neighbor couple asked if they could come over for some advice. It was before the mid-term elections and they, being relatively new Christians, wanted to know how faith should interact their politics. They weren't political fire-brands or operatives of any of the candidates. They were young, inexperienced believers seeking to understand the real-life activation of their faith. They went to their pastor and he told them their church didn't discuss politics, party platforms, candidates, or anything touching the election. He's a cool guy, talks the jargon of the times, walks on the edge of what is decent, and pushes the envelope on sexual references, consumption of alcohol, and other hot topics. But, no politics. No guidance on abortion, biblical marriage, monetary policy, beliefs of the candidates, separation of church and state, universal health-care, labor unions, immigration reform, education standards, taxation, the war on terrorism, or laws about depositing used chewing gum on telephone poles. He disengaged them that minute.
People don't want cool, connected, cultured, humorous, clever, witty, or even courageous. They really want to know how their faith can be real and authentic out there in a world that will eat them alive if they are not prepared. That's what engagement three is about. It is teaching the truth of his word that will guide his people through the mine-fields of this hard life and these complicated times.
Jesus warned his disciples that he was sending them out like sheep among wolves. The image doesn't create a pretty picture. Then he added, "...so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves..." (Matthew 10:16). His people want to know how to live out their faith in real time.
And guess what? He sent us to tell them.