One of the top 10 Christian bloggers, Frank Viola, has posted a very interesting challenge for Christians to try to answer. Following is his proposed scenario, with a specific question to answer (highlighted in red) after said scenario. My response then follows his question. Got it? Good, then check it out…
The following exercise is from the synchroblog at http://frankviola.org/2012/07/09/gospelforthemiddle
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?
The real issue is that these people suffer from what many, many Americans suffer from concerning their religion. Let me explain. The heart of the problem is that for whatever reason Christianity has become more about holding correct beliefs than about developing a personal relationship with Christ—specifically, a discipleship relationship with Christ. When I say discipleship I don’t mean a group that you sign up for for three months to keep you accountable about your sin life. What I mean is the foundational definition of discipleship to Jesus Christ, which looks just like it did in the first century—mainly, a disciple adhering himself to a master teacher in order to learn everything the teacher has to teach so he can become as much like him as possible. (See In the Dust of the Rabbi)
At first glance it appears the problem in the above scenario is that the Melishs live in a remote location with no Christian connections. But this is not really the problem. It never is. The root problem is what kind of foundation was laid for these people in their Christian conversion that set the stage for their Christian lives. From what we know of Fielding, it appears he has no real foundation except that he believes in God and Jesus; it appears he may or may not have actually received Christ for salvation; but he has no discipleship foundation whatsoever. He has a mental assent to the truth but it is not mature. From what we know of his wife, she is a believer who is solid on Jesus as Savior but seems to be deficient in understanding Jesus’ call to discipleship in her personal life. I am not “judging” her, but the facts given in the scenario reveal this to be true, though there is no place to doubt her sincerity and love for God. She is just deficient in understanding and therefore life practice of discipleship. She is doing the best she can with what she understands.
Because there is a difference between professing belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world and learning and growing in what it means to follow him as his disciple, Fielding and his wife suffer from what I call the discipleship deficiency—where the focus of Christianity becomes mostly about having the right beliefs versus understanding that God has called us into relationship with him, and specifically, a discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ (see What Is the Discipleship Deficiency?). This happens when the Christian conversion foundation lacks its two necessary pillars: 1. the belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and 2. the call of discipleship to Jesus Christ. Biblical conversion to Christianity does not only include receiving salvation, but also entering into a discipleship relationship with Jesus as the Master, or Rabbi. (See Three Ways to Understand Conversion)
Fielding does not have a proper Christian foundation, though he believes Jesus is who he said he is. His wife has half of a biblical conversion foundation properly laid in that she appears solid on receiving Jesus Christ and salvation though she is weak on discipleship. Only when the proper foundation is laid will Fielding’s and his wife’s situation change. This is the heart of the matter. This is why church becomes a thing you go to rather than who you are.
So, if I am Fielding’s cousin, the next time we meet I am going to lay a biblical conversion foundation in his life through Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am going make sure he gets founded on Jesus Christ as Savior and Master, or Lord. I am going to help him put it into practice (through ongoing phone conversations, etc). When Fielding responds to this teaching, he will not only have received Christ and salvation, but will have entered into a discipleship relationship with Jesus. This changes the entire path of Fielding’s life, and his family also, and his relationships, and his town…. The answer is in the seed planted in the Melish’s hearts.
Concerning Fielding’s reading level, if you tell a man his only source of food comes from what he tends from the ground, his farming skills are going to get really good really quickly. Same with spiritual growth concerning Bible study and prayer. He will grow and mature spiritually. He will follow Jesus and grow as a fisher of men. God will move in this man’s and his family’s situation. As far as the remote location and lack of Christian relationships–watch what God will do in the life of a connected believer. The remote local is not the issue. A proper conversion foundation including salvation and discipleship is the beginning of the answer, and the willingness to own walking after Jesus.