"To exalt Jesus as we engage Henley with his good news, and equip disciples of every age to follow him."
Although I’m now a long distance runner, my sporting career began as an 11 year old prop-forward (those who know me will find that hard to believe…) Every time there was a scrum the referee would lead us through the same routine: crouch, touch, engage! At which point the two packs would crunch into each other.
The second part of our Trinity at Four vision is to ‘engage Henley with Jesus’ good news’. Why do we think this is so important? And what does it look like to do this as a church and as individuals?
You may be relieved to hear, not much like a rugby scrum...! Here are a few helpful pointers from the Bible on what it will involve.
Engaging requires meaningful contact
A scrum crashing together may not provide a comprehensive picture of the kind of engagement believers are called to in the world(!), but it does convey its most basic element: meaningful contact. Jesus calls his people to have meaningful contact with the non-Christian world around us.
Jesus famously said
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We should neither withdraw from the world around (a light under a bowl), nor simply ‘fit in’ (turning the light off). Rather we are called to be a positive light-shedding, life-giving influence in the world.
We are called to engage people with the good news in a way they can understand
Jesus’ call for us to engage goes further than just living distinctively as Christians in the midst of our non-Christian friends and culture. We are called to engage our friends and culture with the good news of Jesus.
The apostle Paul writes,
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Jesus is wonderful news with the power to save everyone. However, it’s easy for this good news to be obscured behind language that doesn’t make sense, ceremonies that are off-putting, or a set of concepts and ideas that seem a long way away from someone’s experience of life. So the apostle Paul does whatever he can to present the good news in a way that is as free from off-putting baggage as possible. He loves people enough to get to know them, and to speak the good news of Jesus in language they can understand, and a form they can engage with. Of course, he would never dream of changing God’s revealed truth. But he will be flexible on anything else he can be.
Engaging Henley with the good news means loving and knowing Henley people well enough that we can do the same as Paul: present Jesus in a way that our friends and culture can actually understand.
People who engage
Engaging like this is not a method to be mastered, or a technique to be learned. It’s a way of life we are called to grow in. It could include-
Being meaningfully involved in the lives of non-church people
Getting to know people you come across in the everyday routines of life (the school gate, the dog-walk, the local shop, your neighbours/street).
Loving Jesus well enough yourself that you want to share him with others.
Listening well to the questions and concerns of friends, and thinking carefully about how the good news of Jesus interacts with those questions.
Praying daily for opportunities to engage friends/colleagues with Jesus, and relying on the Spirit to point us in the right direction as we go through our day.
I’d love Trinity at Four to be full of people helping each other to grow in this kind of engagement.
Church gatherings that engage
There is an expectation in the New Testament that church gatherings are drawing in non-Christian people. In a discussion on the appropriate use of tongues in corporate worship, the apostle Paul pleads with the believers in Corinth to prioritise making their meetings intelligible for the unbeliever:
If the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgement by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
1 Corinthians 14:23-25
Whatever Paul may have meant by ‘prophesying’, his basic point is that it is intelligible, and understandable! And so the unbeliever can actually engage with what is being said. As that happens, God moves from being an unintelligible set of concepts to the unbeliever, to being a living reality to be known loved and worshipped.
It’s a passionate priority of mine to make church uncomplicated and easy for the outsider to engage with. To avoid Christian jargon that only makes sense to the initiated, to explain what’s happening clearly, to preach in a way that as well as building up the believer, addresses the questions and concerns of the unbeliever. To introduce people to the living God in a way that they can come to know him too. This is hard, but vital if we are obey Jesus’ call to engage.
What an exciting task we have been given! What a huge challenge! But with God’s help this is what we are aiming for: a church that ‘engages Henley with Jesus’ good news.’