“The missional church avoids talking as if non-believing people were not present. If you speak as if your whole neighborhood were present (and not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighbors will find their way in or be invited…”
– Dr. Tim Keller, Redeemer Pres (NYC)
“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6
Paul wrote that the speech of a Christian should be ‘seasoned’ with grace, a beautiful culinary metaphor that reminds us that because words are something people consume we should be mindful of how people hear what we’re trying to say. Sometimes our words are so bland that people taste nothing enticing and beautiful; at other times they might be so spicy that people grimace in pain and break out in a sweat when they hear us. Gracious speech avoids both extremes and beckons those to whom we speak to ask for another helping. This is especially true when we are speaking with those who as yet have not come to know Christ. If our desire is to see them move from the place of unbelief to joyful entry into God’s Kingdom, then we should be wise in the words we use, both in private conversation and in public gatherings of the Church. This means we learn to speak ‘Outside In’, speaking not only in the presence of Christ and his Church, but also in the hearing of those who are skeptical of Christian claims for truth and faith. We need to be aware of their hearing, becoming masters of wise words that communicate clarity and compassion rather than misunderstanding and isolation.
Let me offer some guidelines for learning to speak “Outside In”, giving to others words of grace and life.
First, lets speak words of Gracious Love. Paul wrote that we are called to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4). Truth can only arrive at the destination of people’s hearts and heads when it is transported in love. There must be authentic concern for people and their lives where they are
right now, as opposed to a mere desire to win an argument.
Secondly, speak words of Gracious Hope. People arrive at an awareness of God’s activity in the lives in all kinds of circumstances. Don’t ask “What
church did you attend before here?”, or “Who was your Pastor?”, or express surprise that their lives reflect the shattering caused by sin and its effects, or be shocked that their thoughts are not aligned with what the Bible teaches. The first two questions reflect a presumption about people that isn’t always valid that they have a church background; surprise reflects a naive notion about the people already in the Church that they have it all together. Not so! No matter what a person’s background, receive them and offer them the hope of God’s love and mercy.
Thirdly, speak words of Common English. Avoid ‘insider language’ pithy phrases, church jargon, and theological words that are known only to those already on the inside. This includes even things like church architecture or Bible verses. Don’t say ‘Its in the Narthex’ and point the way if asked where the restroom is; instead say, “Let me show you” and lead the way. Don’t expect people to know the difference between John and Deuteronomy; show them with your Bible or an open app sometime.
Fourth, speak words of Personal Welcome. Look people in the eye; if they have children, greet them as well; ask what part of Franklin or Nashville
they live in; ask how you can pray for them in the next week. Ask lifestage questions school, studies, and so on. Love well with authentic questions
rooted in genuine interest and concern.
Fifth, speak words of Peace for our City. Franklin and Nashville are our home, beautiful and creative and powerful and growing. Talk about the good gifts God has given to people here in music and the arts, in academics and athletics, in technology and innovation, in concern for the environment and justice, and in so many wonderful churches. Welcome people to this beautiful area and speak of it as a place we desire to make even better. People should know that we see ourselves as part of the fabric of these green hills and that our desire is to see it flourish and be filled with God’s love.
Sixth, speak words of Peace not Politics. The Gospel transcends political parties and concerns and that should be reflected in our graceseasoned speech as well. Politics and policies are important, but Christ Community is not a church for ‘conservatives’ or ‘progressives’ as defined by the current culture. Its a church for all people who are seeking Christ and need his healing. Don’t base your welcome of someone on whether or not they agree with your political affiliation or the lack thereof. We are welcoming people to Christ’s Feast, not a voting booth.
Finally, speak with Gracious Kindness. Our conversations can often lead to opportunities for service. It might be that a newcomer needs help finding a doctor or the best grocery store; maybe they need prayer about their new job or a health concern; maybe they need a ride to worship or a time of fellowship. Let your conversation lead you to become the answer for that person, showing up in their lives in the days after you meet with a phone call or email that has an answer about a question, or an offer to serve.
People may come to church a few times because of the preaching and the music or because of spiritual hunger; they will stay only if they are loved. Moving people from the outside to the inside means learning to speak from the language of OutsideIn.
Lets do this!