She was visiting our Friday night group for the first time. People were everywhere, chatting in the kitchen, grabbing food off the buffet spread on the dining table, and playing games on the Wii in the living room. We sat on the couch in the corner, chatting and getting to know one another better.
Smiling at the guys’ antics while they played games, she turned and said, “You know, this is a pretty big crowd to get introduced to, but I’m glad I came. I feel really comfortable and accepted by everyone here.”
That comment absolutely made my night.
This Shouldn’t Work… Should it?
Like I’ve mentioned before, Friday nights for me are devoted to my missional community. On any given Friday, anywhere from 8 to 22 people come together for food, games, conversation and whatever else we have planned.
On the outside, we look like an odd group. I have yet to find another crowd that comprises different ethnicities, different beliefs (atheism, agnosticism, Christianity, Buddhism), different colleges, different professions and different backgrounds.
And really, this shouldn’t work. We shouldn’t all be friends, and yet we are. People who look at my group and hear our story are often surprised, asking “how did you do it?” And the only answer I can come up with is this:
It’s About Acceptance
When my best friend and I first decided to start up our missional community a couple of years ago, one of the first conclusions we came to (after much prayer of course) is that no matter what, we wanted our community to be a place of acceptance and love.
Contrary to what some people might think, college isn’t always the easiest place to find community. We as people can be superficial and judgmental sometimes, and not give friendship with someone a chance based on perceived impressions we have about someone without truly getting to know them.
But that isn’t biblical. And as Andre and I looked to the bible for guidance, one of the things that became very clear is that people were drawn to Jesus because of the love and acceptance they got from Him. He was after all, the guy who hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. (Matthew 9:10)
Mission Begins with Relationship
Some people hear the use of that verse, and balk. The contention is that if we hang out with the lost, then we’re neglecting our Christian duties to evangelize and preach the gospel. But here’s the second part to Jesus’ example. He didn’t condone sin either. In fact, He told them to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) And they listened.
I really think people listened to Jesus because He invested His time in them. He didn’t just preach and give instruction, he ate and drank with them, listened to their thoughts and opinions and valued each person as an individual. And out of those relationships, He then gently pointed them to God and living right and not sinning.
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that people are more willing to listen to what we have to say when we have demonstrated that we truly understand and care about them. This is why overseas missionaries spend so much time learning another language and culture, and why when it comes to missional communities, it’s important to learn about the people in your group.
Opening Doors for Ministry
The greatest example I have right now is of a guy in our group. Having had bad experiences with Christians in the past, he wasn’t sure he would even come back and hang out after his first visit to one of our Friday night gatherings.
But he kept coming back, made friends with me and Dre and others in the group, and every now and then would engage in conversations about spirituality and religion. And then this year we hit a milestone. One of the guys asked if he could pray for him, and he said yes. And they prayed right then and there in the kitchen.
He’s not accepted Christ yet, but if you’ve ever tried reaching out to someone who has a low opinion of Christians, you’ll know what a big deal this is. I’m convinced that if he hadn’t felt accepted as he was and built relationships with us, this would never have happened.
So today I share this to say: Keep at it. Building relationships and sharing Christ go hand in hand, and you are fully able to do it. Take some time this week and ask yourself, who can I build a relationship with? And what are the doors God has already opened for you to do ministry? And then? Get to it!
Kimberly Chung is the National Media Director for Campus Renewal Ministries, a ministry focused on forging partnerships in prayer to build missional communities that transform college campuses with the gospel of Jesus. She is a campus minister to The University of Texas at Austin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org