As a church not for ourselves, we push ourselves to make Redeemer a safe space for skeptics. Because of my work with Questioning Christianity and Public Faith, I get a lot of pastors who reach out to learn more about Redeemer’s evangelistic culture. It’s so encouraging to hear from pastors all over the country striving like us to cultivate a culture where skeptics are welcome without watering down our christian doctrine.
Recently a pastor from California processed out loud with us, “Is the church first for the skeptic or for the Christian?” It’s a very good meta question. Here was Tim Keller’s response:
It seems like the question is, “Is the church mainly for building up Christians or mainly for witness to the world?” I don’t think I want to choose between the “build up one another” commands and the Great Commission. Let’s remember, the Great Commission was given to the church, not just to missionaries. I don’t think the Bible puts these mandates to the church in any kind of graded order of priority. It would be most theologically correct to say that the church is first for the Lord, and for his worship. But that worship both builds up Christians and also testifies to the world.
There is a natural link between evangelism and worship. Yes, at Redeemer we talk about sharing the hope of Jesus out of our gratitude for his love and rescue. Worship and gratitude is a natural motivator for evangelism but there’s another link that comes to mind. When I talk to Christians and pastors who have a natural bent towards evangelism, I notice they live their faith very publicly because evangelism is an act of worship. They get to see a glimpse of God’s sovereignty, his unrelentless love and pursuit of someone and they get to see the Holy Spirit do beautiful things in their midst. Lyn Cook, a Community Group Director with Redeemer’s East Side Congregation, told me one time, evangelism is one way God reaches into her heart and reminds her of his grace and goodness. He reveals himself to her by giving her hope and compassion as she prays, listens and talks with non-believing friends. God’s sovereignty and relentless love are the foundation for evangelism and the way that many Christians, like Lyn, experience God as they live out their faith publicly.
And yet, those who experience God this way are not necessarily “better” at evangelism or Public Faith, it just happens to align with their experience of God. And also, like Tim said, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 was given to everyone; not just those who are gifted in evangelism.
With the start of a new ministry year just around the corner, it is a great time to think through some of these questions. “What does it mean for me to live out my faith publicly?” “What does the Great Commission look like in my life?” “Who are the people God has brought into my life?” “What do I want my prayer life to look like?” “What did I learn about God in my most recent dialogue with _____?” Each week this fall, as we worship God and engage our friends, let’s pray that God would bring people and circumstances into our lives that lead us to live out our faith publicly. And that through his Spirit our hearts and the lives of our friends would be changed and renewed by the gospel.