he moving van was barely out of sight when, faster
than you can say evangelism, here came one of my new neighbors. I was a mess,
and the house was full of boxes (memo to self: next time weed through the junk
before the move).
Regina was full of smiles and friendly yakkity yak. I could see she was the
one to turn to for directions on where to get my new car tags and a
recommendation for a dentist. Soon she'd loaned me a book. Amazing, I
thought, returning to the unpacking, she figured out I love to
A few days later my garage looked like a box factory when Regina showed up
again. Could I use some help getting those boxes to the curb? Sure, I answered.
Before long her 14-year-old was skateboarding my driveway with armloads of
cardboard and packing paper. He piled them neatly by the mailbox, and
voila! the garbage people made them vanish.
And you know that parade of workers who show up right when
you're digging into the task? Refrigerator delivery folks, guys installing the
garage door opener, the electrician. Well, one day when I needed to be back at
work, Regina volunteered to be the traffic cop.
Next, she brought her husband to hang paper curtains in my bathroom. (Yes,
the moving industry has come up with these. Get 'em at your local home
By the time Regina showed up to help me hang pictures, she could have sold
me stuff I already owned five of. I was that grateful for her
enthusiastic brand of neighborliness. Funny thing is, yes, she wanted to be my
friend, but she also had an agenda.
Turns out Regina, bless her heart, is an on mission Christian. She
lives out her faith by being genuinely helpful and also by sharing the good
news of Christ with newcomers to our community. She considers it her ministry.
She and her family have moved so many times that she knows the stress and can
So when a moving van passes her house, Regina smiles and thinks, yep,
here comes somebody who can use my help.
She learned, of course, that she was dealing with a fellow believer (and,
boy, did I enjoy being the recipient of her evangelistic heart!).
But, as an on mission Christian myself, I noticed something useful
for the lifestyle I yearn to improve. I learned how vulnerable a person feels
in the midst of a move. Belongings in total disarray. Money evaporating like
crazy. Unfamiliar surroundings. Everything new and different. It's a formula
for massive doses of stress-s-s.
In fact, its a phenomenon that experts study. According to The Journal
of Occupational & Organizational Psychology (June 1, 1999): "More than
50 percent of relocators reported high levels of stress up to six months
following a move." And Stress Medicine, a journal published by the Texas
A&M University department of sociology, reporting on 17 life events (volume
13, 1997), showed that transitions such as promotions, beginning a new job and
earning more income are right up there with a cross-country move.
The point is this: Positive events can be as stressful as
negative events. We've all seen the lists that show the death of a spouse and
divorce as nearly off the charts when it comes to stress. Caring people come to
the aid of folks suffering through those negative life events. And, in addition
to helping them through these low periods, they often find a chance to show
non-Christians the love of our Savior and help them know Him, too.
But we also can discover abundant on mission
opportunities when we focus on times of great happiness and joy in people's
lives, because they involve change and change involves vulnerability and
vulnerability can be a time of openness to new ideas. Transitions such as:
Graduating from college
Starting a career
Beginning a family
Moving to a new area
Becoming empty nesters
We associate these mostly with cheers and hugs and handshakes and backslaps.
Oh, sure, sometimes a job change happens because a business went sour or a
downsizing occurred. And, becoming an empty nester means success as a parent
(the kids have become independent and on their own, just as you raised them to
be); yet getting used to a new schedule and a quieter house also involves some
By and large, however, these life events are positive. They are milestones
in our growth as human beings. And yet, by their very nature, these are times
when we ask questions, search for meaning, look for direction. On
mission Christians can help non-believers find the Truth during these
times of transition.
The college experience is ripe with opportunity for accepting Christ.
Recent grads don't walk around thinking: Wow, I'm in transition.
But they are, says Dan Miller, associate pastor of The Anchor, a Southern
Baptist church in Seattle that attracts students and graduates of the
University of Washington.
"It's a bizarre time. They've just come from being
seniors, at the top of their heap, to entry level employees. They're thinking:
I'm at the bottom again, starting over, just like when I was a freshman. Its
humbling. And yet they feel buoyed by the feeling of accomplishment, getting
through four of the toughest years theyve ever experienced. They feel confident
but at the same time unsure. They're a crazy mixture of cockiness and profound
"They've been blasted for four years with new ideas. They've been mixing
with people of different backgrounds. It's a clash of cultures. A guy who had a
strong faith in high school comes face-to-face at college with Muslims and New
Agers and still other people who think their ancestors live in rocks. He can do
the work of sorting through all that or grab the view that every religion is
right, and they all lead to the same place.
"While students are in college they can take big risks. They're being taught
to question and search. They can believe one thing for a while, then try on
something else for size. That process feels good, feels smart. When they get
out, they don't feel so smart. They're out of the protective bubble, wondering
about more practical matters like: Will I measure up? They fret. There's an
element of danger. They're happy but scared.
"Now, lets put into the equation an effective on mission Christian,
who can help a new graduate find his bearings."
"In the blink of an eye," writes Dr. James Dobson in his book Life on the
Edge (Word, 1995), "this next generation will inherit the businesses,
institutions and governments of the world. On their shoulders will soon rest
the burdens of leadership and authority. They will pull the wagonload of
humanity behind them." The psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family
advises young adults poised on the edge of their future where they face
critical questions about identity, career, life's meaning and, if they make the
transition with a Christian perspective, God's will for their lives.
"What makes this period even more significant is the impact of early
mistakes and errors in judgment. They can undermine all that is to follow.
A bricklayer knows he must be very careful to get his foundation absolutely
straight; any wobble in the bricks at the bottom will create an even greater
tilt as the wall goes up. So it is in life," writes Dobson.
Magazines for brides are now an inch thick. That's because the young
couple—riding on a wave of romantic love and perhaps a hefty line of credit—is
ready to grab and purchase most anything to match their joy and excitement.
Jewelry, gowns, tuxedos, flowers, limos, trips. It's a heady time of
Concerns about finances, career ethics and mature relationships drive young
adults to church to learn about biblical responsibility, say Dr. Jon Gustafson
and his wife, Lynne, who teach a Sunday school class for 20-somethings at First
Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky.
Heres what the Gustafsons learned about this group transitioning through
college, a career start, marriage and starting a family:
It's also one of the best times to introduce Christ. Engaged people want
everything to be perfect, to get their marriage started on the right
foot. And, although the non-religious world has done a reasonable job of
promoting the importance of marrying someone to whom we are attracted
physically and emotionally, only Christians and the Church will emphasize the
place of Christ in a successful marriage.
This message is so important that many pastors use
pre-marital counseling for evangelism (see "Saving
more than just marriages" ). Often a couple comes to counseling because
they want to use the church for their wedding ceremony and seal the deal
through a session or two with the presiding pastor.
But, for engaged couples who are using the church only for tradition or to
please their parents or for the grandeur of the setting, such counseling
sessions may be perfunctory. We can support the pastors message to the couple
that each should make a personal commitment to Christ.
Parenthood is jarring. Babies cause feelings of joy and fear and incredible
happiness and sometimes overwhelming responsibility. The process of raising a
family is complex and, just as some parents need occasional baby sitters, they
also require help from people with answers. The manuals never measure up to the
real school: experience.
Parenthood can also be brutal on the ego, but we can use this transition
too, writes Philip Yancey in Church: Why Bother? (Zondervan, 1998).
"Where can we take our minor scrapes and bruises, and our major fractures and gaping psychic wounds? We can go
But church alone is not the answer. As on mission Christians we can
encourage new parents not only to turn to God for help but to demonstrate a
God-dependent lifestyle for their children. Consider this statistic: 88 percent
of children who grow up in evangelical churches leave at age 18 and dont
return, but the figure drops to 5 percent when the mother and father have been
modeling their faith and are engaged in the harvest.
"The familys influence is greatest when the parents have a sense of Gods
calling and can provide an environment where the children can see the
reliability of Gods Word," says Richard Leach, manager of the family
evan-gelism unit, North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB provides a
resource, Family to Family, to help families live their life around
Gods purpose. [For more information about Family to Family, visit the
website at namb.net/family. To order Family to Family material, call
LifeWay Christian Resources at 800-448-8032.]
What John Naisbitt wrote in his classic Megatrends (Warner Books,
1982) has held true: "The decline of American industry and the rise of the new
information economy neutralized the pressure to centralize, and we began to
Not only do employers transfer their employees to various field locations,
but in todays economy it is common for people to have several careers in one
lifetime. Job changes are inevitable.
Major Ivery De La Cruz, an Army chaplain sent by NAMB and stationed at Fort
Leonard Wood, Missouri, helps soldiers transition from basic training to career
"The process is exhilarating but scary," she says, "because no matter how
much military people anticipate and prepare for change in their environment,
it's always a huge struggle to choose between personal priorities and
commitment to the high cause of peace."
Ivery De La Cruz
When I made a significant career change, I experienced a
greater openness in myself. I was willing to explore different options, to step
out in areas Id never tried, to look at new ways to overcome old problems. I
was highly motivated by a desire to achieve my career goals. I found a
warehouse of courage I never expected, but I also found myself proceeding
cautiously. The transition brought enormous growth.
I can relate to others in the same boat.
Besides ministering to recruits and the personnel they encounter such as
instructors and drill sergeants, she finds opportunities to share Christ with
family members of service people.
"They know they've signed on for years of transitions in their spouses
assignments, but they never quite get used to it. They're always searching for
roots, and only Christ can supply them," she says.
U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that nearly one in five employed
Americans moved last year. Most moves include an increase in job responsibility
With unemployment hovering around 4 percent, want ads beg for more
"Silicon Valley needs to fill thousands of jobs, both technical and
non-technical ... "
"Tool-and-die workers are scarce near Toledo ... "
"Opportunities abound for telephone workers at the 20 customer service
centers in Kansas City ... "
"Austins high tech businesses anticipate a need for 15,000 new employees ...
A job-rich market is good news, but the whole process of personal upheaval
is a mixed blessing. Theres uncertainty mixed in with the professional
Karen Mitchell of Flint, Michigan, whose family has moved six times, always
feels "weve been set adrift, free to explore new options but at loose ends
Pastor Mauricio Zarate, whose church is Mision Hispana El Buen Pastor
(Hispanic Mission of the Good Pastor) in Beaverton, Oregon, says of recent
Hispanic immigrants for whom the move to America is their catalyst for relating
to Christ in a personal way: "Theyre in a new location, far enough away from
their roots, out from under the influence of their mother and grandmother.
"Plus old traditions can set in. Maybe they had prayed to the Virgin of
Guadalupe, If you get me to America, I will go to a church and give thanks. So
they come [to my Southern Baptist church], and I have an opportunity to talk
about a personal relationship with Christ, a new concept for most of them. I
say: Wouldnt you like to talk to God directly? And I show them scripture. They
say Wow, Ive never been told that. Many of them accept Jesus Christ right on
A perennial optimist, author and humorist Barbara Johnson (Living Somewhere
Between Estrogen and Death, Word, 1997) likes to say: "Pain is inevitable,
but misery is optional." Some people welcome this period. Others dread it. The
healthier ones view this transitional time as the fulfillment of their goals as
a parent: raising their children to be independent, productive,
self-sufficient, and if the parents are leaving a Christian legacyGod-focused.
Many empty nesters say its a relief when their kids are out on their own.
Joe and Pam Estes waited until their kids were grown and out of the nest to
move to Indianapolis and start a church. Joe spent his 50th birthday in
seminary. They know the sense of freedom an empty nest can provide, and they
encourage others to use that natural time in their lives to be on
Like empty nesters, retirees can feel lost without their former routine of
employment, or they can view this transition as an enormous opportunity.
Theyre looking back on decades of hard work, maybe with a measure of
financial success, but a life without Christ can feel empty. It wasnt about
the money, they may be thinking, but just what was it about? Some
are also dealing with feelings of loss; their spouse may have died or their
health may be failing.
So a way to draw retired people into the church is to offer classes on
practical subjects like computer skills or even estate planning and writing a
Marie Jester, president of Womans Missionary Union at First Baptist Church
in Paducah, Kentucky, hasnt retiredor even slowed down much at 69. But she can
relate to the conflicts retired people experience:"They may be asking: For what purpose have I lived my
life? and How can I still make a valuable contribution? We can show them God
loves them for who they are, not for what they accomplished in their working
"When retirees do come to know the Lord and become a part of the church, I
recommend giving them mentoring responsibilities and combining the age groups,
so older and younger people can learn from each other. We have a contribution
to make at any age."
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On Mission.
"True Oak pays 14 cents per name for a mailing list of newcomers, a great
investment," says Paul. "We send monthly letters and also invite them
personally, one-on-one. Our church planting management system [from NAMB] helps
us capture and manage vital information on each name." [For information about
NAMBs church planting software contact Tom Cheyney at 770-410-6221 or email
email@example.com. To order the
materials call 888-749-7479 or visit namb.net/CPMS.]
True Oak newcomers are generally young and ambitious; the median age is well
below 30, and most have jobs in upper management. They long to feel connected,
to start putting down roots, so True Oak works hard to create a sense of
belonging: 1) by being friendly ("we greet them in the parking lot ... make a
point of calling them by name if its their second visit ... sometimes I pump
their arm near their car, then they look surprised when I go to the front of
the church and they find out Im the preacher") and 2) by careful use of
language ("we use the term guest instead of visitor to imply that theyre
wanted here ... we emphasize that its a relationship with Jesus, not a
religion ... we call our service a celebration to project a sense of
Not every evangelism idea works. Paul says a Super Bowl party didnt draw
people from outside the church, and a Sunday evening Easter service didnt pan
out. "We thought it would draw non-Christians who would go to church on Easter
and didnt want to get out on Sunday morning, but it didnt work."
What does this pastor look for in laypeople with on mission
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