In both church plants that we were a part of, I was constantly in trouble with Christians because we let “pre-Christian” friends join us in almost every aspect of our church life as well as our ministries outside the church. We let people serve on our worship team, work in our children’s ministry and even share the pulpit on occasion to share their story.
As we worked toward redemptive acts out in our city, we partnered with many agencies working for the good of the city. One time we were doing a “Day of Light” in downtown Denver, spending the day at a community center serving food, doing art projects with refugee families, etc. An old truck pulled up and a man stepped out. “I heard your church was here to help the community and I was wondering if I could help?” he asked.
He shared that his truck was a mobile bicycle repair shop and he loved to fix bikes for kids since it is their only transportation. He offered to donate his materials and give us a solid six-hour shift. I gave the man a huge hug and thanked him profusely for coming to serve with us.
He seemed curious about my enthusiasm. “Seriously, you want me to help you?” “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” I replied. “Well, I’m gay and my truck is sponsored by a gay-affirming organization. Every other church I’ve tried to serve with doesn’t seem to be interested.”
Sometimes we Christians seem to think that we own God and that he only works through church folk. Yet Scripture is full of stories where God used normal people—those considered on the outside of orthodox beliefs—to do his bidding in the world. Take Rahab the harlot who was integral in the deliverance of the Hebrews, or the Roman centurion whom God used to help Peter see that the church wasn’t just for Jewish people, or the 12 disciples of Jesus who were not even Trinitarian after spending three years with Jesus.
The way of Jesus was to include people in his life and then help them understand it later.
As we enter a new city and look to see God’s church emerge, we’re starting a neighboring movement in which we invite people to care for a 20-home section of a neighborhood and to commit to five tasks: beauty, safety, communication, party and story. We do not require that anyone share our belief system to be a neighborhood rep with us.
As we’ve processed this as a team, we have focused on two things. First, God’s desire is to cover the world with redemptive acts (Isa. 61). The more people we can mobilize to help with the practical and social needs of a city, the more we think God will give us the thumbs up. So the what of mission can be done by anyone, regardless of where they are at spiritually or why they want to help us.
The second aspect of redemptive mission is the why. We do this because of our faith in Jesus. He is why we do what we do. For others, their motivation may just be compassion or their religious upbringing in another faith. Do we hope people will someday have the same why? Of course, and we hope that our why will come up in conversation as we serve the heart of God in our city.
Other organizations take pride in limiting who can serve with them, as if in doing so they are sticking up for God. We see it the other way. We don’t believe God needs us to stick up for him. We think he wants us to represent him, and we do this by inviting others to join us as we do his redemptive deeds in the world.
Hugh Halter is the U.S. director of Forge America, an apprenticing community committed to training men and women to live as missionaries where they already are. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment. For more information: HughHalter.com