We live in a world which expects there to be a Return On Investment. ROI (from now on). An ROI is where someone puts money in and expects a certain amount in return. Ok, so when we are talking about savings that’s a really good idea, but actually there is a side to it which I believe has infiltrated our ministry with children and with adults. Lets deal with the adult side first so I can explain what I mean, and then deal with the children’s side.
In my pioneer ministry work I am supported, though stipendiary, from two charitable funding sources. They are brilliant and whilst they want to see fruit from the work, so that they can see that something is happening so that we aren’t putting effort into a bottomless pit, they give me the freedom to pretty much go where we feel God is leading.
However, usually when people give to projects in any meaningful way other than throwing in spare change in a bucket, they want to know that they are getting a result from it.
It comes from the ROI mentality…if you invest in a business you will want shares.
And if you are giving to a Christian charity which is based, lets say, on an evangelism model, then you will want to see some sort of ROI.
AKA…in many cases…bums on seats. Or at least, how many people are responding to the gospel.
Ok, so that makes some sense. But it goes further. Because it GETS IN THE WAY OF EVERYONE DOING EVANGELISM.
Jesus called us to go out into the world…making disciples (preach, baptise etc.). So because of this ROI model so deeply rooted now in our society, what this can mean is that if we take that seriously then our reasoning for making friends with people is to make disciples, and that’s it.
In fact, that risks going along with making friendships with people just to make Christians.
Its called agenda evangelism.
Years ago my wife and I were on the end of agenda evangelism from a sect. it was creepy and very strange. And it made me sit up and take notice and ask the serious question about my own passion for telling people about Jesus and making friends.
That also has an interesting affect on other people wanting and how they share their faith. Because it comes to the point of saying that if I don’t want to share my faith with someone then does the church, who I value, value my efforts with the friends I make. Actually, if they aren’t coming to know Jesus anyway, should I even be their friend? Hey…I’m not very good at bringing people to Jesus, so I think I will stick with the church people….
And so it goes that people then lose touch with those outside of the church. All because of the expectation of making Christians.
(this isn’t the only reason, but its one to consider).
I think the issue comes from the polarisation of Jesus sending out the disciples to go ahead of him, to find people of peace, and if a town rejects them to move on quickly. But that is REJECTION of the message, once they had seen the investment.
What investment? Healing.
Signs of the kingdom.
Love, joy peace.
If you show people that and they still reject you, then yes move on. But God, you see, wants to love everyone and offers his love to everyone.
Now Jesus spoke about this in terms of lending to people and expecting back. Luke 6.35.
Luke 6:27-36Good News Translation (GNT)
Love for Enemies
27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. 30 Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. 31 Do for others just what you want them to do for you.
32 “If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners do that! 34 And if you lend only to those from whom you hope to get it back, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount! 35 No! Love your enemies and do good to them; lend and expect nothing back. You will then have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God. For he is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.
Good News Translation (GNT)
Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society
Everyone always takes this part and speaks about forgiving others. Which is true. But take the bottom bit and you will see the ROI of the KINGDOM which I am talking about.
That is, give. And that’s it. And I’m not talking about putting in the church plate or the charity bucket. I am talking about what Jesus did for us…giving of ourselves.
Let me tell you what I have seen once I abandoned the method of making friends for the purpose of telling them about Jesus…
People started to become Christians.
They were more willing to listen to the message, because they had seen an authentic me.
So what exactly did I do?
I invested everything I could into other people…without expecting the ROI of them coming to know Jesus.
What did I share? My family…my dinner table…my skills (artist, magician, musician…) to teach them…even helping them to explore their dreams and passions.
And not expect anything at all back.
Of course within this I ALSO believe that to become the person who God intends you to be you must also get to know Jesus. So as I share my life with them, and help them, I tell them naturally about Jesus, because he brings life and life in all its fullness.
It’s as natural as anything. And if they don’t come to know Jesus? Doesn’t matter. Well it does of course, but it’s not my problem. I have done what Paul accepts: that God is calling some, and its our job to tell them that God is there. After that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to do the work. And I trust Him to do what He does. I desperately want everyone to know Jesus. I have friends who I would love for them to meet him, but I can’t MAKE that happen.
The one problem this raises of course is as to whether or not we should just be nice to people and that’s it? Well know, its about being intentional. I will intentionally look to help you grow into an amazing person. I will intentionally invest as long as you are willing me to. I will also intentionally look for the opportunities of telling you how a life with Jesus is amazing and will take you further than you can possibly imagine. And I will stay and keep doing that with you until you tell me to go away, in which case, at that point, I will.
Think I’m wrong? Well look at the early church…Acts 2, they enjoyed the favour of all people as the church grew! Not just inside the church, but outside as well! Jesus said, let your light shine!
Can you see how it works now? I’m sure you can find other verses.
There is a danger of course, and that is that you just end up doing what I call worthy charity. That is that you end up helping a person and there is no result ever possible of them knowing Jesus. The way I am working you see is to build a friendship relationship where I can have ongoing investment. What a charity does (often….do comment to show me other ways!) is to effectively plug a hole, and there is no relationship being built. It’s the difference I think between give a person a fish, and feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and they will eat every day. Teaching takes a lot longer than just giving.
So where does this leave us with our children’s work and children’s evangelism?
Again, what we look for with children is that they will come to know Jesus. So the work that ends up being done is all shaped with that in mind. This is dangerous because it can be both manipulative and destructive, and its very easy to influence a child.
I am a very personable person, especially with kids. I walk into the assembly hall and immediately the kids whisper my name. They will do anything for me. So, it would be highly inappropriate for me to do the classic ‘altar call’!
They would be responding without knowing why. I take a long term view. I want them to spend time growing in Jesus. I will be very careful to tell them about Jesus in the right way. But I will not look for conversions to give me validation for what I do…
And yes in my 25 years I have had church people say to me, ‘yes, but where are all the children coming to church?’ They are paying me…their ROI is bums on seats.
But I can also show you my facebook page with all the spiritual ‘children’ I have….and I don’t even know all the ‘grandchildren’!
In your day to day or week to week Sunday school or club or whatever do remember this. God loves the whole of a child, their loves and life. Their interests. Their delights. You have a role to love the whole of them too. How can you invest in every part of their lives, and encourage them to explore their hopes and dreams, just because like the Lord, you genuinely love them? Even if, in the end, they don’t come to Jesus…
What this does with this different attitude is to also broaden out what we understand as to evangelism. Suddenly you don’t need the specialist like me. Because if you have a Christian computer whizz….they can invest in a child (or adult) with the objective of helping the other person understand more about what they are struggling with on the computer…
If you are sold out for Jesus and every part of your life belongs to Him, then even your interest in computers will be under his Lordship. It becomes the most natural thing in the world to allow Jesus to seep through.
My unusual interest is in board games. I am just starting a boardgame pop up which we hope will become a games café. How does that help evangelism? Dunno yet! But there is an inkling of providing a space where I can meet people who don’t think quite the way other people do…boardgames are a great way of connecting people into normality because of the rules based social interaction. Through that I can learn what their other loves and passions are…or areas they want to grow into. What can I do to help them to achieve that…and as I do, trust me, because God owns those parts of my life I can show how my spirituality enhances that area! From magic to art to boardgames to music to writing….everything.
Gone is the need or drive to feel validated by how many people I’ve made into Christians. I can have friends without worrying that I am wasting my time with them. I can just love.
I can spend time having fun with the kids…to be able to show them magic. To teach them memory techniques….
I just got tagged today on Facebook from someone who drifted with his wife, somewhat reluctantly at first, into our fresh expression of church. He is madly dyslexic, and felt his life was useless. He felt he couldn’t learn, and that was his experience through school. I couldn’t bear to see that, so I started investing in him. Seeking no more that to see him grow to self worth, and see the worth that God had in him. Because I could see how much God loved him and even how God saw him.
This is what he said:
“Aced my exam this morning with mixture of good luck and visualisation/memory tricks taught to me by the rev Andy Gray a few years back”
A year after I started investing in him, and just chatting really…this happened.
So don’t expect an ROI…