Mission always involves risk and risks misunderstanding. When approached with thoughtful, prayerful consideration, these risks are worth taking.
Paul took risks in his mission to the Gentiles. Jewish religious leaders followed him from city to city, charging, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13, cf. 21:27-31). Their attempts to put him to death were largely based on misunderstandings that Paul sought to clarify. But the risk did not inhibit Paul from holding fast to his preaching of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.
Consider the risks on the mission field. For decades the effort to take the gospel to Muslim peoples has been embroiled in debates about contextualization. Take for example the conversation a friend of mine had in a strictly Islamic community.
“You are American. Are you a Christian?”
“What do you mean by ‘Christian’?”
“I mean you eat pork, drink alcohol, and are sexually promiscuous.”
“Then no, I am not a Christian.”
“Then are you a Muslim?”
“What do you mean by ‘Muslim’?”
“I mean one who submits to God and seeks to please him in all of life.”
“Then maybe you could call me a Muslim who follows and trusts in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).”
This is a risky designation, yet such a risk is part of gospel mission.
Now let us consider a risk closer to home. On Friday, October 31st, we will continue our annual tradition of reaching out to our neighbors as they go trick-or-treating up and down Whitton Avenue. One risk involved in this outreach is that it will appear to be an endorsement of Halloween.
Halloween’s roots lie with pre-Christian Celts who believed that on October 31st the separation between the physical and supernatural worlds thinned. This allegedly allowed evil spirits and dead souls to haunt the living. Many modern Halloween traditions find their roots in these ancient beliefs. Of course, the American iteration of Halloween also justifies wearing immodest costumes and consuming large amounts of sugar. Whether ancient or modern, there is plenty about Halloween that should concern followers of Jesus.
So why do we take a risk by hosting an outreach to our neighborhood’s trick-or-treaters? Why not stay indoors or have a closed party? Many thoughtful, Spirit-led believers have taken these approaches and their convictions should be respected.
We are willing to risk because this is the one night of the year when nearly all of the families in our neighborhood walk by our church building; we want to be there to introduce ourselves. We are willing to risk because Jesus modeled ministry that enters the messy world of those who need him. We are willing to risk because the human fascination with death and the supernatural are addressed by the gospel we proclaim. We are willing to risk because we want our neighbors to be rescued from spiritual darkness to the light of Jesus’ kingdom.
If we are going to take these risks, then let us do it right. Let us show up prepared to serve with the joy and love of the Spirit. Let us initiate conversations with neighbors, listening to their stories and sharing ours. Let us approach this event with prayer, asking God to draw many to faith in his Son and fellowship with our church. As with everything we do, let us seek to glorify God in this outreach.