Over the last few years, I have had many opportunities to share parts of the work that my family and I are doing in Colorado Springs. Often, when I tell of passing out blankets to homeless camps or serving breakfast to the homeless downtown, I get the response, "well, giving to the poor is good, but that is not really the main mission, if you are going to call ourselves 'missionaries', then you need to make sure that 'proclaiming the gospel' is our number one mission".
Now first of all, I am pretty sure that I have not in any of these discussions even hinted that giving to the poor or helping someone in need is the mission. And secondly, what exactly does it mean to "proclaim the Gospel"? Most likely they are referring to Jesus statement in Mark's account of the great commission where the disciples are called by Jesus to "Proclaim the Good news to all living things", although it is also possible that they are referencing one of many other passages as well. Well, whatever they mean, it comes across a little vague, you see, there are any number of ways to "proclaim" something, and even among the best Bible scholars, there is little agreement as to exactly what constitutes a "gospel" message. For instance, some think that the message must always contain certain aspects of the story of Jesus, such as His humanity, His deity, His sinless life, His death, burial, and resurrection. Some even think His ascension or maybe substitutionary atonement should also be included. Some believe that we should tailor our message to the audience like Paul did , and only include those elements of the Gospel that we feel are necessary for the particular group to whom we are speaking.
So what about it, is the mission of His Urban Presence to "proclaim the gospel" wherever we go? Well, I guess it depends on what you consider to be proclaiming the good news. If you mean do we always have a bible study or message or at least hand out tracts with every coat or blanket or meal, then no, we don't do that. If you mean, however, that we make every effort to let the people know that we are handing out those coats and blankets and meals because we believe that God loves and cares for them, then yes, that is exactly what we do. You see, hearing about the death, burial, resurrection, substitutionary atonement, sinless life, and all of those things are part of the good news, but so is John 3:16, God loved the whole world so much He gave them the greatest gift anyone could ever give.
I guess when it comes to presenting the good news to someone, I lean more towards tailoring the message to a specific individual or group. I guess that I would say it is more than just tailoring the message though, it is really listening to the Holy Spirit and to the individual you are trying to reach. There are sometimes that we go an entire day without giving what would even be considered a summary of the gospel message. Sometimes, the spirit just calls us to give, and love, and listen, and thereby proclaim the gospel message without our words.
Let me give you an example of this. We work with a young lady who is pretty typical of young girls on the street. She was abused at home and told she was not worth listening to. After running away from home, she entered a world where her worth was determined by what she could contribute to her camp or to her street family. Throughout her life she had only heard how worthless she was and how her body or her money or her things were what gave her value and in fact, many of those presenting her with this message carried with them the title of "Christian". As a result, like many others we encounter, she had become closed to hearing about Jesus or the Bible. The good news that this young lady needed was that somebody does love her, not based on what she has to offer. She needed to hear that she is valuable to God and that he paid the ultimate price for her. Once she had seen this truth demonstrated, she was able to hear the rest of the good news, when she had been closed to it before.
So we do meet physical needs, and that is part of the mission, it is giving real, concrete proof that we love because we believe that God loves. We do proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Sometimes we do it by telling people what the bible says about who Jesus was and what He did, sometimes we do it without saying anything at all. I believe thet the gospel is more than a list of facts about Jesus, it really is good news, in fact, it is exactly the good news that each individual needs to not only hear, but also experience first hand.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
"Charity" on Incarnating Love: The Story of our Mission - Part 4
What Have We Found Here: The Story of Our Mission - Part 3
What Are We Doing Here: the Story of Our Mission - Part 2
How We Got Here: The Story of our Mission - Part 1