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Welcome to my world

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 02, 2014 1:28 pm    Post subject: Welcome to my world Reply with quote

For a number of years my wife and I worked in ministry settings that were explicitly and overtly "Christian." We served in churches and mission organizations that made no apology for bearing witness to Christ. It was clear in every piece of communication. Then we became resident managers of the International Fellowship House, a housing option for international students at any of the 100 schools in the greater Boston area. Started by believers, the IFH was meant to be "an expression of Christian hospitality" to students and scholars, the majority of whom were not Christians. We posted a non-proselytizing statement to assure foreign student officers that the IFH was a safe, non-coercive environment for anyone. We did offer lots of opportunities for our residents to hear the gospel, but it was always optional.

One of the catalytic moments in my own journey into biblical leadership took place at the IFH when a conflict erupted between a Korean Christian student and his Jordanian Muslim roommate. The Christian was offended that his roommate was praying to Allah in their room five times a day. What was so offensive was not so much the physical and vocal nature of the praying, or its frequency, but that "prayer to a foreign god was allowed in a Christian house." This comment sent me into prayer and theological reflection that weekend, including a conversation with missions professor at Gordon-Conwell, J. Christy Wilson - and his surprising response. He had ministered in a "closed" Muslim country and knew how to navigate these waters. Dr. Wilson mentioned that even in America he kept a prayer rug in his house for Muslim guests and would show them the direction of Mecca if they wanted to pray.

I ended up having a hard conversation with my Korean resident (cf. Susan Scott's book Fierce Conversations). To live in our open, non-coercive hospitality house, we needed to ensure that no one was forbidden to worship freely according to their tradition - even in this "Christian" ministry. By the way, this incident and this ministry transpired long before "tolerance" became America's number virtue and political correctness dominated the university campus. The mission of the IFH was established to create a model for community that many residents and alumni would affectionately refer to as a true "United Nations." In this context, all had a chance to witness the gospel in the lives of the few of us who were Christians and - this is especially pertinent - how we structured a safe and healthy culture for everyone. Think salt and light.

The turning point in my prayerful weekend was something I believe God spoke to my heart. He said, "Welcome to my world." As soon as I heard these words I realized that he does, in fact, allow people to pray to other gods - and do a whole lot of incomprehensibly evil things - on this earth. His characteristic response is to continue his benevolence: "He makes it rain on the just and the unjust." (Mt. 5:45) The IFH had a logo which pictured the world inside a house. If God sees this world as his house, then I could look to him as a role model for how to nurture a community that would model his values without imposing a faith commitment.

This biblical understanding of ministry in the world goes deeper than a phrase I heard in prayer or a line from the Gospels. Deuteronomy 4 was beginning to form the basis of my approach to ministry. God says to Israel in effect, "If you as a nation live by my Torah, then the rest of the world will perk up and say, 'Where did these rules come from and what God lives among them?'" YHWH was creating a model community that was a reflection of his character. When we get beyond the boundaries of the Church or Christian organization, this M.O. is all the more important. Can we infuse a work environment, an organizational culture, with biblical values that inform "rules of engagement" that help all people thrive?

As we continue the conversation about biblical leadership, I am thrilled to see God move among so many who want to bring the Spirit into the workplace - places that are not usually explicitly Christian. Those of us who express our leadership primarily in the Church ought to inspire those who spend their lives outside the Church to hear God's hearty words of encouragement: "Welcome to my world!"
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