By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes
I was recently visiting my son who is away studying at University, and we attended Sunday worship at a church near his school. After the service, quite a few people stopped us to thank us for showing up to church. The congregation was made up of mostly older members who seemed thankful, relieved, and overjoyed that people from a younger generation would show up to church. That is the way the church is supposed to respond when people show up to church, right? So why don’t more people show up?
In an age of increasing moral relativism, secularization, and skepticism, convincing those outside the Church to show up inside the walls of a local church to seek answers to life’s problems will only grow more difficult. Standing on the front steps of the church while yelling, wooing, or cajoling passersby (literally or figuratively) to come on inside is likely to fail. Rather, those who would seek to effectively share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ must move in another space.
Sociologists say that we live and move in three different spaces. The first is our domestic space: where we live, eat our meals, and spend time with our families. This is our most private space. The second is where we go to work/school. We build relationships here, but they are limited by the confines of the nature of our work environment or school situations. The third space is where we spend the rest of our time. This can be a coffee shop, restaurant, pub, park, or playground. It may be the gym, the athletic fields, or the shopping mall. Used to its fullest potential, the third space is where we do life together. It is where we catch up with friends and neighbors. It is where we are able to hear one another’s hopes and dreams. It is where we are able to talk and reason and learn from one another. The third space allows for an exchange of ideas in a reasonable and measured way.
Faith-sharing is important in all of these spaces. At home, families should worship and study together. At work and school, there is an appropriate way for one to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ who shares love and hope with others. However, it is in the third space where a great impact can be made on non-believers. When people come together around a common interest or on common ground then Christians find themselves entering into spaces where God works in some remarkable ways.
Consider the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 19 in which we see Paul living and working in Ephesus. In verse 9, we learn that for two years Paul and the disciples went daily to the hall of Tyrannus (an Ephesian third space, if you will). It was there that Paul taught any who would hear, Jews and Greeks, to the point where God did “extraordinary things through Paul” including healing people with the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched. Wow! Notice that it was not a cleverly devised outreach event where this happened. Rather, Paul deliberately and consistently moved out of the confines of his home and the marketplace of tent making and moved into a third space in Ephesus.
A mentor continues to remind me that in order to share your faith, you must show up and pay attention. Show up in people’s lives. Show up in the momentous and the mundane. Show up in times of joy and of sorrow. Show up for celebrations and for struggles. And pay attention. Pay attention to their hopes and dreams. Pay attention to their doubts and fears. Pay attention to their questions and curiosities.
Most importantly, pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing. When Christians show up in other peoples’ lives and pay attention to what is going on, the Holy Spirit will work in ways we could never imagine. As Wesleyans we know that God is calling each and every person to life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We also know that we have the privilege and responsibility to use our presence, our works, and our words to be a part of God’s invitation to others. So, pay attention to the promptings and urgings of the Spirit to speak words of comfort and hope. Pay attention to the nudges you feel about when to speak of your faith and when to remain silent and to listen more. Pay attention to the doors that open for you to declare with loving kindness God’s saving grace.
So, move out into your third space. Show up. Pay attention. Then, celebrate what the Holy Spirit does in and among you!
Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.