I just returned from a three-week trip to a country that is persecuting Christians and Muslims, seeking to make itself a religious state by imposing that religion on all citizens. It reinforces my thoughts that faith is something that people are invited into, not something forced upon.
But it also showed me a church in action that is different than what I have seen in both Christian and post-Christian places. There is a passion and hunger in person after person that I met who called themselves a “first-generation Christian.” They didn’t need to be reminded that they are the Church from Monday-Sunday – they hungered for others to receive the love and the hope that they had found in Jesus. They are planting house churches, and as one leader said, they encourage pastors NOT to have church buildings but to continue meeting in homes. This leader said, “Once you have a church building, you go into maintenance mode – we want to stay in disciple-making mode – ever seeking and searching to establish new faith groups.”
While they are doing this, they are finding their workplace to be a natural place to share the love of Christ, as in these stories below:
1. He worked in a soda factory and didn’t like the work. He didn’t make much money, had no hope of change, and was suicidal. Then someone shared about the love of Jesus, and everything changed. He realized that many people in his workplace probably felt as hopeless as he did. He began to reach out to others and a church was eventually planted in the factory.
2. He was a carpenter and a first-generation Christian. He was asked to do some carpentry work in the home of a wealthy woman who served other gods. Because he did that work so well, she asked him to help build something specifically for the temple that she had on her property for these other gods. He wondered what he should do, and after praying, he decided to accept the job and ask God for an opportunity to share about Jesus with her. That opportunity came and over the course of time, they had a number of conversations about faith and religion. One day, close to the end of the project, the woman rushed to meet him when he arrived at work. Jesus appeared to her in a dream the night before, showed her His hands, and told her to “Follow me.” She did.
3. Two church planters had been trying to find an entry way into a village where there were no Christians or church. For three years, they tried unsuccessfully. They realized it was time to find a new approach and they decided to try to enter by finding a need the community had relating to business. This village was in a remote area, and no-one was selling cloth for clothing, so they began to bring cloth in to sell. However, they quickly realized that if they sold the cloth outright, they would only have one point of contact with the residents, and because this was a rural and cash-poor community, it might be good to offer the cloth to be paid in installments. This means that they could meet with each person four or five times. There were times when people could not make their payment and it gave the opportunity for them to pray with them, that God would provide for their needs. It didn’t take long for relationships to form and grow, and a new house church was formed.
Despite this hunger and desire to help others find the hope that is within them, that hasn’t stopped a sacred/secular divide to enter in. Many of the leaders we spoke to said that they had bought into the notion that work is only done for pay. Work can be done for mission. But that work itself is not mission. Many of them had left their businesses, believing that pastors cannot do “worldly” work of business. And now many of them are realizing that business is not only a means to doing work as worship, but it is also a way to fulfill the Great Commitment (Gen 1&2), Great Commandment, and Great Commission.
When all members are equipped to be the church every day of the week, you see the impact in places that might feel unexpected.
We thank God for these stories we heard in these past few weeks and will continue to process what the church can look like in a pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian environment!