When it comes to incarnational, relational mission, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Each community (either a neighborhood or a relational network) is unique, and so are the people it comprises.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make when trying to share Jesus with a community is to go in all guns blazing, with all the “right answers.” Even the Son of God, who was perfectly capable of providing all the “right answers,” didn’t do that. Think about how many times Jesus asked questions as a way of engaging with others. And he entered our world weak, as a baby, and lived among us for thirty years before beginning his public ministry. He chose to be vulnerable and to engage in dialogue.
Sounds like a good example to imitate.
As incarnational missionary Craig Greenfield once tweeted:
Note to missionaries in a hurry…
Jesus spent 30 YEARS immersed in one culture before launching his ministry.
And he was the Son of God!
Drink coffee locally.
Learn the language deeply.
Study the culture intimately.
Invest time to build relationships.
— Craig Greenfield (@craigasauros) January 1, 2018
So one of the most fruitful practices we can engage with before even beginning to talk and share about Jesus is to simply Stop, Look and Listen.
We stand back, we observe, and we listen to what people are doing and saying.
Where do they drink coffee? What are they passionate about? What are the strengths of the community? What are the weaknesses?
When we’ve immersed ourselves in a community, when we’ve truly taken the time to Stop, Look and Listen, we’re in a much better position to know what might be good news to people. We’ll not only begin to see what people are passionate about; we’ll probably also begin to see where their pain is.
There are never, ever, any shortcuts to this. No silver bullet. Real relationships take time. Remember, Jesus took thirty years.
5Q as a Missional Lens
5Q can be a helpful missional lens in all this. All the APEST functions are grounded in the character and nature of God, as revealed to us in the Bible (take a look at the table below).
As we observe the neighborhood or network we’re part of and begin to see what people are passionate about, 5Q can help us see what aspects of God they might most readily relate to and identify with.
As we see where pain manifests in our communities, 5Q can help us identify what aspects of God are good news. Where does God want to bring redemption and restoration in that place of pain?
The God Who Relates to Our Passions
Take the community we live in, for example.
We live in an arty, bohemian, left-wing, community-loving neighborhood. It’s completely different to some of the inner-city areas we’ve previously lived in. We came here wanting to serve the community and to share Jesus in whatever way we could, believing that Jesus is good news for every part of life.
As we started to observe the people in our community, we noticed that many people are passionate about environmental issues and are concerned for the welfare of the disenfranchised or the disempowered. I love that about our community! It’s amazing. And you know why people are passionate about those things? Because they’re created by a God who is passionate about those same things. It’s the prophetic aspect of God.
I’ve found that when we introduce the prophetic nature of God, it’s a God whom many in our neighborhood can relate to. The God who defends the cause of the weak and the vulnerable; the God who shared his table with the poor, the weak, and the lonely. That’s a God they can relate to.
And so the prophetic is a key aspect of God that we choose to communicate in our words. And that’s the God we try and model, and encourage those in our community to join with us, by participating in community street cleans, by eating with the homeless, and by befriending refugees.
It’s the prophetic function of God in action.
The God Who Meets Us in Our Pain
Another key distinctive of our community is that many people move into the neighborhood because they are seeking community and a slower pace of family life. And yet, interestingly, we’ve never lived in an area where family and relationship breakdown is so prevalent. The very thing that people are seeking – community and good family relationships – is the very thing that is breaking down. And so in its pain, the good news to many in our community is God as Shepherd.
The God we introduce them to is the one who redeems and mends broken relationships. He is compassionate and comforting. He desires restored and reconciled relationships so much that he gave us his only Son. The shepherding function is particularly good news to our community.
And so we endeavor to share the good news of God as Shepherd with our words. We’ve tried to model that aspect of God by offering help and support for couples and families who are struggling in their relationships, pointing them to the ultimate Shepherd.
Does our community need to know about all of the fivefold aspects of God? Of course! Just as we do, as believers – that’s maturity.
But it’s extremely helpful to consider which of the five aspects of God can help unlock understanding and hearts to God. I’ve given a specific example from our neighborhood, but which of the APEST functions connect with the passions and pain in your community or relationships?
Maybe you live or work in a dynamic, entrepreneurial environment. And so those around you more readily connect with the apostolic nature of God. They might want to know more about the God who is the creator and foundation of all, or perhaps they’re intrigued by the man who started a worldwide movement through just twelve disciples. (Apostolic function connecting with a passion)
Maybe you know someone who is wracked with guilt, or someone who can’t even contemplate walking through the doors of church. Good news to them might be the evangelistic aspect of God – forgiveness for all sinners, salvation for the lost, and the God who, through Jesus, opened the doors to everyone.(Evangelistic function as good news)
Perhaps you’re in conversation with parents who are desperate for wisdom and ideas about how to parent their challenging children. They have no idea how to train or parent their kids in terms of discipline or decision making. Good news to them might be Kingdom wisdom applied to parenting. (Teaching function as good news)
How About You?
First of all, take some time to reflect on yourself and your own journey. What’s your fivefold base ministry? Which of the fivefold functions do you most identify with in God? What is good news to you in your place of pain?
How About your Relationships and Your Community?
Take some time to Stop, Look and Listen – either in your network or neighborhood, or with individual relationships.
Think about the people you know:
- Which of the fivefold functions particularly connects with people’s passion?
- Which of the fivefold functions particularly connects with people’s pain?
- How could you tangibly communicate those aspects of God to them in your words and actions?
- How can viewing your community through a 5Q lens help those you love to connect with the God who passionately loves them?
How can viewing your community through a 5Q lens help those you
love to connect with the God who passionately loves them?
Today’s post authored by one of our 5Q Team writers