Habits of Hospitality, Week 3 | SHARING OUR AUTHENTIC SELVES
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
We began this short series on “Habits of Hospitality” only two weeks ago. The first week, we talked about the commissioning of the disciples and the attitude in which they were to go forth to do their work of preparing people for the good news that was coming in Jesus. Last week, we looked at the beginning of the apostle Paul’s very first letter—the oldest book in the New Testament—to the Thessalonian church. We talked about the ways in which Paul showed even in this letter that he was starting by welcoming them and recognizing their gifts first, and then sharing a spirit of joy and enthusiasm that was made manifest, not only in Paul, but in the people in the Thessalonian church. And we talked about the people who have made that same Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—a living reality for our own lives.
This week, as we bring our series to a close, we are once again considering Paul’s words to the Thessalonians. As I mentioned last week, one of the hallmarks of this letter is its intimate and personal tone. He describes this intimacy in a memorable way, reminding them that when he and his missionary partners brought the gospel to the people in Thessalonica, it wasn’t about drawing attention to themselves. They weren’t seeking flattery or financial gain. They weren’t after praise or power or worldly fame. No. Paul says he and his companions had been “gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children” and “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
In other words, Paul was able to share his most authentic self with the community of Thessalonians. He did not feel any need to assert his right to call himself an apostle, as he did in other places, because they could see and feel the Spirit of Christ in him, and he could feel and see the Spirit of Christ in them. It was an authentic and mutual encounter, about which today we might say, “The Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you.”
Building these kinds of relationships, ones that are marked by authenticity and mutuality, are key components to sharing the gospel with people we meet in the world today. We have to bring our honest selves, including our doubts and failures, to the table of the world if we are to have any hope of reaching people who have written off the church of Jesus Christ as irrelevant for their lives.
Recently, all of us at Discipleship Ministries have been challenged by our General Secretary, Rev. Junius Dotson, to “stop fixing churches and concentrate on making disciples.” In the materials for the campaign, See All the People, Rev. Dotson focuses on building relationships as a key component of intentional discipleship and creating disciple-making systems in local churches:
Missional engagement entails the building of authentic, organic, and consistent relationships. Only relationships built on these three characteristics will lead to intentional discipleship.
AUTHENTIC: Merriam-Webster defines authentic as “of undisputed origin; genuine.” Is our missional engagement with people genuine? Does it start from a good place? Does it have good origins? As we grow in our faith as disciples of Jesus, we should become more selfless, having greater concern and care for the world and the people around us. This care and concern should begin to manifest itself in our relationships. As we develop relationships with people outside our churches, it is important that we check our motivations and make sure they are genuine. The more authentic and honest the encounter, the more effective we are in faith sharing.
ORGANIC: As we engage with others and begin to build relationships, these must be organic – they cannot be forced. Think about organic as being something that takes on a life of its own naturally. A young pastor shared with me that he and his wife decided to turn off their cable in order to save money. This action left him without a place to watch football after church on Sundays, so naturally he started going to a local bar to watch the game. Over the course of several weeks, something unexpected happened. He became friends and developed relationships with many of the people he would see in the bar each week. Over time, these encounters and conversations deepened, and suddenly they were talking about Jesus and faith. These conversations resulted in several persons accepting Jesus as Savior and many of them beginning to show up and help out at his church.
CONSISTENT: Any healthy relationship requires a consistent investment of time. Consistent means that our interaction is not transactional. We are not simply trying to get you to attend church. We have a real desire to know you as a person and are committed to being in relationship with you as our neighbor, even if you don’t attend our church. Consistent interaction can include a phone call, personal invitations to special events, or a simple acknowledgement that you have been prayed for by our church. You will be surprised by the number of neighbors who will become the biggest cheerleaders for the ministry of your church in the community even if they happen to attend another church. When engagement is authentic, organic, and consistent, we create the space necessary for people to share their faith. Engagement is not a program; it is an ethos that is deeply rooted in a congregation’s understanding of intentional discipleship.
(Junius B. Dotson, Developing an Intentional Discipleship System: A Guide for Congregations. Nashville: Discipleship Ministries, 2017, 35-37).
Paul writes “But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us (I Thess 2:7-8). I think Paul is talking about the same thing our general secretary is helping us to see. He is pointing to a sharing of the good news that comes from a place of not only deep personal experience, but from the careful building of relationships with others that is driven by authenticity, consistency, and genuine love.
This is not something we can fake. It can’t be done to please mortals. It can only be done to please God, who tests our hearts.
The good news is that the Spirit is with us in our work! The harvest is plentiful! All we have to do is be open, authentic, vulnerable, and real. All we have to do is open our hearts to be in relationship with our neighbors. All we have to do is seek God’s people and love them.
How can we empower and equip our members to share their faith story by inviting relationship, giving witness, and sharing their sheer delight in the life they have come to have in Christ? How can we help people to become evangelists for Jesus Christ in the way of Paul and his colleagues, sharing their authentic selves with others? How can we help the Christ in me recognize and connect with the Christ in all of you?