Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest
Not long after coming to the northwest my wife encouraged me to take up fly fishing again. She’s a good wife. Actually, she thought our son would love this Northwest sport. Plus it would be something we could do together. She was right on both counts. Now he out fishes me on any day. (Proof of such can be found on my Facebook page.)
As I was learning to think like a trout someone said, “You’ve got to fish the seams.” That was confusing advice at first, but I found it to be true. Fishing only calm waters produces few trout. It’s better to cast in a place where fast water and slow water converge, that is, a seam. Seams carry foam, bubbles, dirt, trash and muddy water in them marking the convergence of the two flows. Trout cruise alongside seams, and dart inside ingesting any bugs that are in the mix. And, there are usually more bugs in seams than most other places in the stream. Seams have the potential to produce trout for the wise fisherman.
The glowing lights and glitter of the Christmas season can mask the fact that God sent Jesus into the seam of this world. Under the sparkling veneer the world has been, and continues to be, a broken and trashy mess. According to the Scriptures, the world is under a curse and in desperate need of liberation. "For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay." (Romans 8:20-21) Jesus came into our dark world to bring the light of His grace and salvation. And, to free us from our bondage to sin and evil. But, to do this, he had to step into the muck and mess of this world, and die.
This is a shock to those who expected God to show up at the local religious club for some nice chit-chat. Jesus came to this world to save sinners, not the righteous. That’s why we find Him on the wrong side of the tracks. He came for the spiritually destitute. God, through His Son, invaded the seams of this world in order to save the world. Jesus indicated so with these words, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
As Christ-followers we are called to emulate our Lord. Jesus saves us, then deploys us. His disciples eschew huddling together with backs turned against the world. Rather, He sends His people into the world to serve it through the announcement of the Gospel accompanied with ministries of blessing (and, sometimes, vice-versa). Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.
For churched people like us, our best prospects for fishing will always be in the world’s seams. Jesus calls us to minister first to the un-churched, pre-churched, and de-churched. That is, we are to fish the seams before tending the aquarium. This goes against our natural grain, especially at the institutional church level. Too often we assume that the church’s business is to focus on church business. But, it isn’t. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time . . . It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.” This is why we have to constantly challenge ourselves to put feet to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment and obey both.
Missiologists inform us that the church is most effective when it emulates Jesus in this way: ministering in the seams; going to the boundaries. Church Growth 101 confirms it to be true. If a church desires to be effective in outreach it would be wise to Identify, and reach out to, the people who are most likely to be receptive. (George Hunter writing in The Apostolic Congregation, pg 64)
Studies have confirmed that the people most receptive to the Gospel are those who are living in a seam. These can be people who have recently lost their job, or secured a job. It can be people who have moved into the community. Or, it can be young couples starting a family. Or, singles who have just graduated from college and starting a career. Or, it can be people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling, and they are looking for a way out. Receptive people can be those who are grieving, the poor, the physically disabled…it simply takes willingness to identify them and reach out to them. That is, we have to follow the Jesus-way and wade into this worlds’ seams by discerning the needs and the possibilities that we find in them for ministry.
As we all reflect on the mystery of the Word become flesh throughout this Advent season let’s not lose sight that God invaded the seams of our world for His redemptive purpose. He calls His church to join Him in this work of liberating the world from the darkness of its sin and decay through spreading the Gospel of His Son, whom He gave. I’m so grateful that He did so. God bless you richly this Christmas!