For our May instalment of Sprachspielen, we’ll be continuing to look at our “Six-fold Incarnational Strategy,” or 6fis for short. This month we’ll be looking at the fourth element of the 6fis. Before I jump in with this month’s topic, I did want to remind you that if you’re new to this series of articles on the 6fis, I advise you to go back to the first part of the first instalment, which gives a pretty thorough introduction to the basic premise behind our 6fis. You can find it in February’s Sprachspielen.
Last month, I mentioned that the April, May and June instalments of this series are closely related to each other. We dealt with the third component of the 6fis in April, which was “the ministry of hanging out.” This month for the fourth component of the 6fis we we’re looking at “interests.” In thinking about the relationship between “the ministry of hanging out” and “interests,” we could think of the former as being about “sentness” and “presence” in a more general or generic sense and the latter more about “sentness/presence” with a purpose. It might be more accurate to describe “interests” as “sentness/presence with a purpose – Part 1,” because the June instalment of Sprachspielen will continue this theme.
In some ways, this fourth component of the 6fis, “interests” is probably the most straightforward of all the components, perhaps even more so than “the ministry of hanging out.” It really does “do what it says on the label.” “Interests” in general really needs no further explanation or illustration. This is because “interests” are so universal to our human experience at this point in history. All of us have things that interest us and engage us in some way or another. Whether they be hobbies, clubs, or specific activities, we all engage with our personal interests in some way. Varied interests seem to be inherent in human nature and an ineradicable part of human experience, whether in isolation or in community. I think that we could probably agree on this point. However, it also begs the question “why?” Why are our interests so much a part of our human experience and who we are as individuals?
Once again, I’m neither a sociologist, anthropologist, or psychologist, though I have at least a passing knowledge of and interest in these areas of academic thought. However, in spite of the fact that I am none of those things, I do have a couple of thoughts as to why interests seem to be so much a part of who we are, as beings created in God’s image.
First, I believe that interests help to meet a deep need in us to engage our imagination, creativity and discovery. As human beings we are a species that makes, builds, creates and discovers things. Granted, many of the things that we make are highly functional and even necessary. But we also tend to imbue even into the most mundane and functional things a flash of creativity and imagination that constitute a certain stamp that says, “this is mine.” Imagination and creativity are related aspects of just some of what it means to be created in God’s image. God of course is creator, and in His creation He demonstrates the immeasurable depth of his creativity and imagination. He invites us to “discover” Him in Christ first but also in His creation or “the works of His hands” (Ps. 111). So, when we indulge our interests, whether they be stamp collecting, singing in a choir, playing basketball, or building a model aeroplane, we are exercising this sense of imagination, creativity and discovery.
Second, I believe that interests are also a powerful means of meeting the deep needs of companionship, connection and community, which all humans share. Interests are a fascinating part of the development of any individual. However, add “mutual” to interests, and one has the real potential for friendship and companionship. Mutual interests bring people together in some fascinating ways, people who otherwise might never have a reason to spend time together, much less become friends in the process. Shared interests between people are often the first step to lasting friendships on different levels, which helps to meet that need that we have for connection and companionship. I particularly like how C.S. Lewis describes this phenomenon in his book, The Four Loves:
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).From The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Consequently, for the sake of argument if one were a missionary and he/she wanted to build friendships and connections with new people as a natural conduit for the Gospel, shared interests would be a time-tested way to go about it.
It would usually be at this point in my article that I would be outlining and drawing more of a Biblical basis for the 6fis component in question. For example, for last month’s instalment, where we were talking about “the ministry of hanging out” as the third component of the 6fis, I drew upon references to Luke 9 and 10 with the sending out of the disciples, as well as Luke 5 with the catch of fish and Jesus’ admonition to Simon that, “from now on you’ll be a fisher of people.” However, when it comes to “interests,” there is definitely a Biblical “elephant in the room.” Simply put, the “elephant” is the lack of any clear Biblical references to using mutual interests as a means of building relationships and sharing the Gospel. With that said, there would possibly emerge the feeling that if we can make no clear Biblical case for mutual “interests” being utilised in this way, then we should not pursue this course of action. However, I would submit that in the same way that aeroplanes and automobiles are not mentioned in Scripture yet they’re utilised on a regular basis by Christians, some common sense can be applied to see “interests” as a natural next step from that sense of presence and sentness that we’ve seen in looking at “the ministry of hanging out.”
After all, it could be said that interests are not mentioned explicitly in Scripture, much like most modern technology wouldn’t be, because they were not a common feature of society at the time the Bible was written. Mutual interests and shared hobbies are a regular part of our lives today. We spend significant time and money investing in these activities, including in groups, teams, ensembles, cohorts, etc. with other people. They are so much a part of our lives that we take them for granted and assume that interests, especially mutual interests, have just always existed. However, the freedom, finances, and especially time that is necessary to indulge our shared interests is actually pretty new in human history. For most of our existence, the indulging of interests was the domain of the wealthy and/or politically powerful. For them, the idea of interests or “pursuits” was inexorably tied to the concept of “leisure,” which afforded windows of time and opportunity to indulge individual and mutual interests. However, for the vast majority of people, who were working all of the time and all of their lives simply to eke out a meagre existence, the concept of leisure or interests would have been next to nonexistent. This doesn’t mean that the poor masses didn’t have an interest in things or perhaps even indulge some of their interests privately and in the few free hours that they might have in a day or week. Whether artistic carvings by sailors in their off moments or folk songs passed down over the generations, the God-given capacity in us to create and build and exercise our imagination has always found some way to make itself known. However, it is only with the purposeful creation of windows of time for “leisure” for the masses in the more modern era that we see our interests really come to a place of prominence in our lives and especially the concept of sharing those interests with others. For example, group sporting events can really only begin to become a regular part of our lives, if there is a concept of a “weekend” (as opposed to “weekdays”) that gives the time either to play in the game or watch it. Consequently, interests are not specifically mentioned in Scripture because our concept of interests and the importance of shared interests would have been completely foreign concepts to your average believer in the early Church of Acts and the New Testament Epistles. Accordingly, we must use a bit of common sense and reason to arrive at the use of interests in our 6fis, based more generally on those Scriptural sources related to sentness and presence that we saw with “the ministry of hanging out” last month.
Having established the importance of using our common interests as a way to make friends and share the Good News of Jesus with our new friends, I would like to close by sharing two principles that we use to help us determine what interests to pursue, with whom, when, how and where. These principles help us to be good stewards of our time in general, but particularly when looking at activating and empowering our interests for Kingdom purposes.
What we mean by this is to look outwardly at places to connect with people based on common interests. To be fair, using common interests is not a new idea among Christians and Churches. We often try to use interests as a “selling point,” but this is almost always in an attractional sense, and not in a missional sense – in other words, to get “them” into “our” buildings. At this point, you may be wondering what we mean by words like “missional” and “attractional,” since these words are batted about a good bit over the past 20–30 years. Rather than give a technical definition of this difference, I think a simple illustration would work better. It’s an illustration that I heard Neil Cole use at a training workshop that I attended many years ago. I can no longer remember it verbatim, but the gist was this:
‘Attractional’ is when a church decides to open up a coffee shop to connect with people, who wouldn’t ordinarily come to church. ‘Missional’ is to recognise that there are ten coffee shops in our area, and then go to plant a faith community in each of them.Neil Cole
To illustrate this concept in a different way, I’ll share the example that I generally use, when speaking on this subject in order to bring the point home. Imagine that we live in an area, where the primary interest is fishing (angling). The community at large is absolutely wild about fishing, and it’s all people talk about. There are numerous members of the local Church, who, like everyone else, love to fish. These Christians then think, “Let’s start a Christian fishermen’s club – we can invite our non-Christian friends to come, and they could hear the Gospel.” The only problem with this plan is usually if a Church starts a Christian Fishermen’s Club what they will probably get nine times out of ten is a “Christian” fishermen’s club, that is a place where only Christians come resulting in less contact with not-yet-believers, rather than more.
A missional take on this same scenario would not be to plan a “Christian” fishermen’s club but to say, “hey, there are four fishermen’s clubs in this county/city, let’s get a bunch of Jesus-loving fishermen from the Church to form small groups, join each of these other clubs in the community, and ‘infect’ them with the Gospel.”
Consequently, rather than starting an-interest based group, club, or event of our own (i.e., “come to us”), we want to be intentional about joining opportunities that already exist in our areas in order to use our common interests as a vehicle for relationship (i.e., “go to them”).
Much of my own thinking on this principle of the use of interests in our missional work comes directly from people like Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, whose books and speaking have greatly influenced me. When we talk about shared interests and even going to join “their” clubs/activities, often we see this as a solitary exercise, where we go and join as individuals. However, whenever and wherever possible, we like to emphasise the need for us to join interest-based groups and activities in groups of two or more people (sometimes the “more the merrier”). There are three primary reasons why going in pairs or better yet small groups to join in these interest-based clubs and activities is so important.
- When in groups, you have an automatic prayer support and network for any conversations and interactions that one or more members of the group might be having. In other words, while one person is in conversation, another believer in the group can be praying for him or her. Or, if in a conversation with a not-yet-believing friend, perhaps that friend brings up a matter or question for which another member of the team is ideally suited, he or she can be called over casually to enter into the conversation. (this is an illustration that I heard Michael Frost use, while speaking in Wales, and it stuck with me.)
- When an individual Christian on his or her own joins such groups or activities, even if very missionally intentional and with the most sincere heart, it is easy for the rest of the interest group to “like” this individual, while dismissing his/her Christian faith. That individual becomes the solitary “Christian friend” in the group, whom the group likes well enough, in spite of his/her “odd” beliefs. Also, if in the end someone in the interest group does begin to ask spiritual questions and want to connect to learn more, it’s hard (weird) for people to join a single person in those settings. When in pairs or small groups, (a) it’s much harder to dismiss their Christian faith as a “one-off,” and (b) it’s much easier to join a couple or more people, who are Christians in the group. (Again, this illustration comes from Michael Frost during the same meeting in Wales that I attended).
- Finally, by going in small groups to join these interest-based clubs or activities, we utilise an extremely powerful tool in our evangelism toolbox. It is the power of communal witness. We tend to focus very much on the power of individual witness, and of course this is very important. However, we sometimes forget how powerful the communal witness can be for not-yet-believers, who are seeking community and connection. They are able to view in microcosm the powerful witness of our faith in action and interaction with other believers. For example, some years ago a friend of many of us on the Team, who was an atheist or agnostic at that time told one of our group, “I don’t know what to do with you. You all work together, but you also go on vacations together and hangout together, even when you aren’t working, and with all that, you all really seem to love one another.” We can never underestimate the power of our communal witness to demonstrate the power of Jesus to transform not only individuals but society and the world.
To quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” I hope that this explanation will help you to understand why all of our folks are joining choirs, or hiking clubs, or all sorts of groups and activities. I also hope that this might inspire you to try to exercise the natural interests that you might share with others in a more missional and intentional way. Until next month!