Erwin McManus spoke at the RightNow conference in Dallas 2008 and shared a great message that solidified some of the things I’ve blogged about in the past. Here’s my summary of his talk:
Acts 17:16 – “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”
21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”
Erwin points out that there are 3 different spaces described here.
The 1st space (vs 17) is where Paul goes when he is first troubled by the idolatry – The Jewish synagogue. Most church folks do the same thing. When they have a problem, they first discuss it with the people closest to them – people like them. We like to bounce ideas off of people who think, look, and act like us ’cause it’s a safe way to arrange and solidify our own thinking. This is the space we arrange, create, and maintain to help us feel safe. It’s home. It’s where we invite others to join us. Many churches use an “attractional” ministry strategy to get people into their 1st space. This is a great strategy as long as it continues into the 2nd space.
The 2nd space is also seen in verse 17 – the marketplace. Paul immediately, takes his concerns to the people outside the church too. This is the space that no one controls – where everyone is welcome. Unfortunately, most Christians rarely speak of faith outside their “safe” church walls. However, if they did, they might get invited into the sacred 3rd space.
The 3rd space is seen in verse 19. “Then they took him” describes the 3rd space. It’s the place that others control and create. It’s the place where they invite others. It’s in this space that Paul’s concerns are finally eased. In this 3rd space, he gets to talk to the main people he’s concerned about.
This 3rd space is truly where Christians can reach the world. Instead of waiting for people to come to church, the church should go to the world and express Christ’s love in such a way that they are invited into the 3rd spaces of others.
Another post with similar ideas can be found here: Welcoming or Welcomed?