I have been thinking a lot about the implications of what I heard from Erwin McManus while listening to him at our denominational District Conference about ten days ago. His first session was about some words from Acts 17 concerning Paul’s ministry. He said that Paul went to the synagogue, then to the market place, and finally was taken to the Areopagus to answer questions there. McManus used it as a launch pad to talk about ministry in three spaces.
The First Space, equivalent to the church for us who are believers, is where we go for fellowship and encouragement. It is an important space because it is there that we are nurtured and encouraged by fellow believers. And it is also a space into which we should invite those who are looking for true community. But the problem, from McManus’ perspective, is that Christians tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time in this space. The reason for this is that the First Space is a very comfortable place to be. And it appears the longer Christians spend in this space the more irrelevant they tend to become to people in the Second Space.
The Second Space is where we should aim to spend our time — seeking to build community with those who know very little about the First Space. We need to find creative ways to engage with people in the market place. Too often we are uncomfortable in the market place because we have spent too much time in the First Space. This is ironic since so much of our talk in the First Space is about reaching out to people in the Second Space. We should encourage one another to proficiency in this space so each can make an authentic contribution to the well-being of people who live there. Even the effort exerted, according to McManus, will gain attention. For it is credibility in this Second Space that will undoubtedly lead to opportunity for ministry in the Third Space — a place where people are asking important questions about faith.
This was a refreshing way to think about the relevance of the Christian message and what can be done to be more effective in God’s kingdom work. But the real value in McManus’ teaching for me had to do with ideas expressed in his book, The Barbarian Way. A reading of the Gospels at face value (i.e. without theological assumptions and presuppositions) will quickly lead to the conclusion that Jesus was actually opposed to religion. Religion has to do with form and ceremony and tends to uniformity. Religion is predictable and tame as well as being insular and exclusive. But the faith of Jesus, on the other hand, is about a moment-by-moment dependence upon the life and grace of Jesus for every need. It is a life extremely relational and inclusive seeking to build community in every sphere for the sake of God’s kingdom. The faith of Jesus leads to a life that is willing to take risks as opposed to playing it safe.
Most of us never signed on to the life of faith in Jesus merely to live a life of ease. What challenged us to believe and follow was the call to being and doing something significant for God. We wanted to make a real difference in a world that was full of corruption and deceit. But predictable distractions tended to steer us to the human default of mere religion in Christian dress.
Thank God for people like Erwin McManus who call us to a renewal of that radical form of faith that touched our hearts in the very beginning with the passion of Christ. May God help me/us to live our lives in vibrant daily dependence on Jesus instead of in the wearying routine of Christian religiosity.