National tragedy has struck again.
The fact that you can read that sentence and not know the exact tragedy to which I’m referring is telling. We live in a broken world wrecked by pain and spirally downward at a dizzying speed – this is an undeniable reality.
The silver lining is that places of pain are often points of healing for a disciple-maker with spiritual eyes. But a silver lining rarely grasped it would seem. We often seem more apt to leverage these opportunities in order to injudiciously rehash political opinion than seize the spiritual opportunities that lay waiting before us. We fail to survey our relational network and find strategic ways to use these incidents to winsomely present the gospel to longing hearts desperately yearning for good news.
Yes, we have a voice. Its just one that seems more familiar to hocking conservative opinions and demanding personal rights than one sacrificially giving up our temporal claims for eternal Kingdom advance. Like long fingernails dragged against a dusty chalkboard, our voice broadcasts a recognizable pitch that few seem anxious to hear.
For decades, many churches in North America have been able to purport positive quarterly returns based on the reshuffling of the evangelically predisposed to newer and easier forms of the Sunday spectacular. But where are the liberals? Where are the unchurched? Ostensibly they appear to be somewhat disinterested. As committed Foxvangelicals, we have cocooned, siloed and circumlocutiously self-talked our way into the cultural margins while our impact on a rapidly secularizing culture has become negligible at best, and at worst the source of its propelling fuel. For some reason, fewer and fewer seem concerned about what conservative evangelicals have to say.
So now, like a prepubescent boy trying to acquaint himself to his new, erratic voice, the church in North America must find a voice that is clear, compelling, and winsome. As Scripture has taught us (1 Cor. 9:19-23), how we enjoy hearing ourselves in not the primary consideration of a missionary people.
Many outside the church have been able to curate a life for themselves that relegates ultimate questions—such as the meaning of life or the existence of God—to the unnecessary margins of consciousness. Shared tragedy provides a space for evangelism. It forces to awareness the reality that our experience of life is penultimate. As the great wisdom writer Solomon proclaimed: Life under the sun is merely striving after the wind. It’s purposeless and fleeting unless one discovers a teleological aim that is larger than this life. And it’s here that God’s people are presented with opportunities to speak into the lives of several different types of people—should they choose to seize them.
Speaking to Those Who Are Personally Affected
There are those whose lives are rocked by tragedy first-hand. They are the family members who lost a child or loved one, the parents who never thought it would be their son, and the communities that assumed it would always happen somewhere else. In his wisdom, God ordains believers and faithful churches in these exact locations and positions them—through years of faithful ministry—to have the relational credibility to speak and show the love of God.
We can assume that anyone personally affected by tragedy is in unfamiliar territory as his or her spirit unaccustomedly questions, “Why?” This new openness becomes fertile ground for the gospel. A disciple of Jesus has a better answer to the why question than does any other worldview or secular philosophy. The why question will not go unanswered for long and those who are broken and hurting will find a way to cope with life sooner, rather than later. Why not use our voice to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ?
Speaking to Those Who Are Publically Angry
Modern society is fueled by an insatiable lust to get even, to make things right. The problem is that everyone has different, and often conflicting, definitions of what is wrong, much less what we should do to make things right. National tragedy puts our culture of anger on display for all the world to see. Social media, blogs, and unending comments give anyone and everyone a public platform for their fury-informed pseudo-solutions. Again, this gives a savvy missionary a God-ordained inroad to gospel proclamation. Most would be foolish to spend much time engaging in public banter, but we can—in fact we must—strive for private conversations with those we’ve worked to establish relational credibility with over time. We can’t change the transitory opinions of everyone, but we can eternally impact lives by pointing to ultimate solutions that can only be found in the Kingdom of God.
Speaking to Those Who Are Privately Fearful
A final category of people impacted by national tragedy is probably the largest group, made up of those who live on edge—silently fearful that life is spiraling out of control and uncertain as to how they can cope with life in an unpredictable world. These are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends who wonder if they, or their kids, are going to be the names on the next breaking news story to flash across their TVs or devices. This fear can easily be parlayed into gospel conversation, by demonstrating how the perfect love of God drives out fear. Disciples of Jesus are not immune to such angst, but we can describe the path to suffering with hope due to the sure future that awaits all who are in Christ Jesus.
There’s no shortage of challenges confronting the church in North America and foremost on that list has to be our malaise and ineffectiveness when it comes to evangelism. Our voice isn’t gone completely, but we’re losing it quickly.
May God retune his church to vocalize the gospel that brings beauty out of ashes, joy out of mourning, and praise out of despair.
A broken and skeptical world is waiting to hear some good news.