Ways Missionaries Can Nurture Relationships With The Secular World. By Kevin E. Jesmer 12-28-15

       Ways Missionaries Can Nurture Relationships With The Secular World.

 By Kevin E. Jesmer                                                                                            12-28-15

Link to the essay series


There are ways missionaries can nurture relationships with the secular world.  Though, I cannot think of examples in the Bible, of Christians working directly with secular organizations to propagate the Gospel cause, there are principles could open the way for this to happen under certain circumstances. Such co-operating relationships can be fruitful, though we can not find such examples in the New Testament. Some principles in the New Testament can support this thesis, as we have explored. There are also lots of examples throughout the last 2,000 of years of history. We see Christians nurturing relationships with secular authorities to push ahead with the Gospel cause.


Co-operation is a symbiotic relationship. There is a relationship of that brings mutual benefit to all those involved. There are some common goals that secular organizations and Christians share. The well being of the community and the upbringing of the children are some area of common goals.


Working with the secular can take on three forms.  First, there could be direct formal co-operation. Second there can be indirect co-operation. This could include the believers and non-believers unofficially coming alongside to serve a common purpose. An example could be disaster relief, or serving the homeless. Third, a Christian placing themselves in situations where working relationships may develop. Examples of this would be working secular jobs or participating in the public school system. It could also involve making secular holidays missional, like reaching out to the neighbors at Halloween.


There are many ways that missionaries can nurture relationships with the secular world and still remain true to their faith. Co-operation with secular organizations can be pleasing to God. Christian Millennials realize this. They are very open to co-operating with secular entities in order to get a mission done. They do not mind, as long as the goal is achieved.


Control your thoughts concerning your prejudices about working with the secular. Everyone is not out to stop your ministry. There is no need to live under a siege mentality. Many organizations are more than willing to enter into some partnerships with Christians. I asked a friend of mine, “How will the leaders of remote First Nation communities in northern Canada perceive Christian missionaries coming into their community?” He stated that they leaders, even if they do not believe in Jesus, will welcome the missionaries, thinking that the coming of the missionaries will bring greater resources. They would welcome the partnership.


A team of missionaries to the First Nation people in Canada are nurturing relationships with the secular. They served the whole community and joined in community celebrations. In their first visit, they had a “meet and greet” session in the town hall. In subsequent visits they met with the chief and council. They also distributed fliers in every home, informing the whole community of their intent. On one visit they joined a volleyball game, organized a movie night and discussion, they visited homes, had a sledding day for the kids and entered a canoe race. Recently, they went to a Christmas Parade. They were very up front with everyone in the remote community about their mission.  A pastor and the founder of the missions agency, traveled over 1,000 miles to meet with the chief of a remote community to say “hi” and brought a gift. It did not matter if the chief was a Christian or not. They were nurturing relationships with the secular, building foundations on which Christ can build his church.


There was a church plant in a nearby Illinois farm town. The church planters had weekly barbeques/Bible studies in their home. They served at the local homeless shelter. They put on Christian praise concerts in the city park. They ran the street bonfire at a community fall festival. They put much effort into nurturing relationships with the secular community around them.


Last year, (2014) our church (KBC) celebrated their twenty year anniversary. I heard part of the story as to how they came to pioneer a new church in Sycamore. Some leaders of the church actually visited with several pastors to inform them of their intent and to make sure that they were not duplicating what someone else was already doing. They were nurturing relationships in the community. They were also showing respect for the churches and ministries that were already present.


There is a secular organization that I am very interested in. It is called, “Camp Power.”  It is a two month camp where kids from a low income neighborhood are served with sports, food, field trips etc. The university (NIU), partners with them to provided coaching, mentoring, etc. The police come along side. Different organizations and individuals, band together to serve a common goal. The goal is a secular goal but a good one. The participants are believers and non believers. Getting involved in such an organization, I believe, is pleasing to God and furthers the cause of Christ


Working a regular job is a way to nurture relationships in a community. Missionaries might be called to be tent makers, like Apostle Paul. Working a job is not for everyone. Some missionaries are full time and receive funding. But those who feel called to live as tentmakers will have a special connection with the secular community. Workers in the market place can bring integrity into business relationships. Healthcare workers can care for the people living in the margins of society. There can be jobs in the academic world, bringing with them leadership in the development of thought.  I work as a nurse and have done so at the local hospital for 17 years. This has allowed me to meet so many different people and nurture lasting fruitful relationships within the community. We are all part of God’s bigger family. Let us operate with a global perspective.


Churches may offer up their resources to secular organizations. Our church has a relationship with the American Cancer Society. They open their offices for their monthly meeting. They also host the yearly “Luminary Event” which is held in the office. A leader in the church has the privilege to deliver a message on the steps to the courthouse. They do this free of charge. It is a very symbiotic relationship.


Disaster relief is another road to co-operation. There are ample tornados and hurricanes to go around, allowing us to provide assistance. When a recent hurricane came through DeKalb County some of the people of our church organized themselves to serve in disaster cleanup. They were a great witness to those who suffered loss. The community turned out in droves. Secular people and Christians were joyfully working side by side, clearing trees, cooking food, etc.  It was a beautiful example of what humanity is capable of when tested by disaster. When I become an American citizen, the person interviewing me knew I was a nurse. He asked me if I would step up and help others in case of a disaster. I pray so. Doing so is part of loving your neighbor. It is kind of sad, when a church ignores providing local aid, when a major disaster passes through right next door, thinking it is not their ministry or calling. Disaster relief is a great opportunity for ministry.


Sending kids to the public school system may be a way for missionaries to nurture relationships with the secular world. What better way to meet kids and parents than to be immersed in the public school system? Being a parent of a student really opens doors for relationships to develop with the secular world. Supporting the schools, by joining committees is secular work, but at the same time, the work of God. It is missional. You are meeting people.  I do understand that in some communities, sending kids to the public school system is not possible. One missionary from an Asian country stated that if he sent his kids to the public school, they could be kidnapped for ransom. In some Central American countries the public schools are filled with gangs. Missionaries need to pray and apply God’s wisdom in their own unique situation.


Working a secular job and sending your kids to public schools are not directly nurturing relationships with the secular. You may not be able to declare outright that you are serving in Jesus’ name. But you will be able to make friends in the community. You can find a place in the community, laying the groundwork for co-operation with secular organizations. This will lead to opportunities to testifying about Jesus and even discipleship.


Developing relevant programs in the community is a way of nurturing relationships. Christian churches need to show their worth to secular governing bodies and potential donors. In the mission to the Northern Canada, a person, who is a secular historian, advised me about our mission. He told me to tell the missionaries to develop programs in the community that will benefit the people, especially the children…things like a breakfast program. He also said that the missionaries should document clearly what they are doing and show how their work is benefitting the community. They need be able to prove their worth. Some day someone will ask, “What good are you doing that is of value to the community?” The sad thing is that many churches don’t have much to show. Missionaries must nurture relationships with secular governing bodies and show their worth. The elders of the community need to see it. Future partners, both Christian and secular, need to be aware.


When Christians demonstrate their worth, then non-believers will respond. There is one person I have known for many decades. He is an avowed atheist. He doesn’t want to even talk about Jesus. But I was shocked when he told me, “If I would join a church it would be the Salvation Army. They do so much good.” He was actually imagining himself joining a Christian church. He was actually impressed about the charitable work of a Christian organization. It was all because that ministry showed its worth in the secular realm.


Some communities have laws forcing Christians to gain accepted by the community.

In Indonesia, a Christian ministry needs the unanimous endorsement of everyone within a certain radius. This is not easy when 99.9% of the people around them are Muslim. But, miraculously, the Christian church gained permission. The church served the immediate needs of the neighbors. It included a tennis court a spigot from a clean water source and an internet café for the community. They were accepted into a very unlikely neighborhood. A partnership reached. They nurtured relationships with the secular.


Even though a ministry may try to build relationships in the community, It may not be possible. One pastor and his wife, when they started a house church in one community, took fruit baskets to the neighbors. They introduced themselves and tried to make relationships. The neighbors did not respond to their overtures. The neighbors have been generally cold in their relationships to the house church over the decades since it first started. But I must give them credit for trying.  Christians must never give up trying to nurture relationships with the secular world as they seek to share the Gospel.


Part 4:  Conclusion


How sad that we miss the opportunities that God has put in front of us, as we claim to be holy and claim to be focused on our own “special” mission. We will operate in isolation and be very disconnected to those whom we are called to serve. The work of God will be hindered.


There are a myriad of ways that a missionaries can enter into co-working relationships with secular organizations. Lift up your eyes to see the incredible opportunities God is opening up for the advancement of the Gospel as Christians nurture relationships with the secular. The light of the Gospel will shine forth in ways that we couldn’t even imagine.


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