No I’m not talking about heading into the central business district of Melbourne and handing out tracts to corporate types. Rather I’m using the word ‘corporate’ in the same sense that people might use it if they were talking about ‘corporate worship’ – or worship that we do together.
One of the challenges we’ve felt God give us at the Living Room in the past year has been that ‘Evangelism’ is not just something for individuals to engage in in isolation from each other. Rather we believe it is something that we’re called to do together.
Now I’m not talking about going door knocking or handing out tracts ‘together’ – but instead am talking about building relationships with those outside our community as a group.
Let me attempt to explain using an illustration of an associate – Michael Frost.
Jesus called his disciples to become ‘fishers of men’. What does it mean to fish for people? When Jesus first said this people fished with nets not single fishing lines. They would take their boats out – throw out their nets and then draw them in towards the boat to be sorted.
What might a Net symbolize? Michael talks about how the net is like the relationships we have between one another.
I have a strong and growing relationship with fellow Livingroom member Rob. We meet each week to hear each others stories – to pray for each other – to learn together – to have fun and to build our friendship. Our relationship is like one of the strands of a net.
Both Rob and I also have growing friendships with Clare and Jane and others who are a core part of Livingroom. Again we meet together – we care for each other, we share life together. We are intentional about growing friendships that are deep and growing. When we symbolize these relationships with lines they form quite a ‘net’.
I also have another friend – Sam. I value my friendship with Sam in the same way as I value those with Living Room members. Sam is not be a member of our community and doesn’t call himself a follower of Jesus – but I still pray for him, I call him up and see how he’s going, I share life with him and am building a relationship. Not because I want to ‘convert’ him, but just because – he’s a good friend.
If I allow my worlds to collide and I introduce Sam to my Livingroom buddies and they are intentional about getting to know Sam and forming relationship with him then there is potential for Sam to become caught up in and even to become a part of the Net. He may not ‘convert’ but he actually can become a part of the community of relationships that we have. In doing so Sam will see the way Rob and I operate in our friendship. He will hear the conversations we have about our faith. He will hear about and even be invited to join in our gatherings. He will be exposed in numerous ways to the person of Jesus – both in word and action.
The choice remains his as to whether he will move towards Jesus through this process – that is his business and there is no forcing him, but rather its about creating an environment for building genuine connections, sharing life and building community.
What does it look like in practice? This will vary from community to community. For us it means going to each others parties, meeting in each others homes, visiting each others work places, having dinner parties etc. It was also the reason behind some of our thinking on Redemptive Parties – in particular our Christmas Party.
The statistics show us that in previous decades and centuries people believed in God before they belonged to churches. ie they got their heads around faith before they entered into communities of faith.
Things have changed. Today people come to faith the other way around. More and more people are coming to know Jesus after they already belong to a community of believers. It is out of multilayered relationships that they hear about and explore faith.
If we keep our worlds separate and see evangelism as the task of the individual we actually might be decreasing its potential effectiveness.
The other exciting thing I see about ‘corporate evangelism’ is that it allows different people to play different roles. Some of us are great at meeting new people. Others are great at making people feel welcomed and part of groups. Others have the ability to take things deeper in conversation and know how to ask the right questions. Others know how to help new Christians. If we do this together there is less need for us all to be all-rounders. Having said all that – the diagrams make it look quite structured and even orderly. This could not be further from the truth. In fact it is a chaotic, messy and unordered thing – as messy as any relationships can be.
The more I think about it the more I believe that smaller clusters of people are important in such a process. For it to be effective you need to have quality relationships with those in your community. Unless you’re pretty amazing relationally its difficult to do with with more than a few people. I think small churches or churches with good small groups are positioned ideally for this.
One final thought – People who fish with nets spend 90% of their working time repairing their nets and only 10% of their time actually fishing. If our relationships are the net we need to invest significant time into cleaning and repairing them. Its not something to enter into half heartedly.
Darren Rowse heads up a small team of people who are planting an experimental church in the inner North of Melbourne called the LivingRoom. He also works for an organisation called Forge who are a mission training network with the vision of birthing and nurturing the missional church.