Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gospel for the Middle

Frank Viola, author of a number of Christian books, including "Epic Jesus: The Jesus You Never Knew", recently issued a "synchroblog" request for a blog post to answer a scenario he posed.  You can read his question, and my comment, below.


The following exercise is from the synchroblog at

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?

My comment:

Is the cousin praying fervently for the Holy Spirit to woo Fielding?  Praying for the Lord to “send laborers to the harvest”?  Has he perhaps enlisted prayer groups to pray for the family regularly?  Has he asked God to show him the right time to urge Fielding to surrender to Christ?

What’s stopping the cousin from being creative about ways to interact?  Has he just not thought of telephone calls or brief letters?  Or are there personal reasons for not getting in touch often?  It’s certainly difficult to try to be a godly influence on a once-a-year basis.  The cousin may be too timid, he may feel walls will go up if he “tries too hard”, or he may not know how to share more deeply, or to motivate Fielding into wanting “something more”.  He may feel Fielding isn’t ready for a deeper commitment.  (Has he even talked about the need to embrace a new way of life?)  Would the family welcome more contact, or are they too occupied with just getting through life?

It would be quite a challenge for people with no Christian background, no favorite Bible verses or great hymns of the church, no ongoing compassionate godly friendships, to see the point of making Christ King and Lord of their lives.  A witness might not be able to see quick progress.

I like the little spiral-bound table-tent calendars with a Scripture text on each page.   One sits on my dining room table.  I turn the pages daily, but if I find one that particularly speaks to me, I may leave it up for a month.  I may even half-forget to keep reading and re-reading the verse, but just looking over and seeing it’s there jogs my mind to remember God’s promise or to re-read the verse, or even memorize it.
If there is e-mail contact, there are free greeting e-cards, and if snail-mail, Bible verse stickers.

There is the Jesus Storybook Bible for kids.  Although some Christian tracts might be too much “in your face,” there are some catchy and logical ones.  What if the cousin gave a gift subscription to a devotional magazine such as the Upper Room, with a humble suggestion that it might be helpful to for Felicia or the 10 year old to read it aloud when the family gathers at mealtime?  Would Fielding agree to listen to audios or brief videos – gospel music, abbreviated teachings, simple statements?   If Fielding is uncomfortable with saying a “table grace”, would he accept Felicia initiating the habit?

Unfortunately, who will bring any of these into the Menich household if the cousin doesn’t take the initiative to either SEND them, or suggest strongly to the family that it’s worth their investigating these resources?

Has the cousin taught Fielding and Felicity how to pray simply, so the Menich family doesn’t feel intimidated by the idea that they ought to pray?  Perhaps (and perhaps not) it’s time for the cousin to remind Fielding that there are many times in life when we must take responsibility for our actions -- and the same is true of a decision for spiritual commitment.  If Fielding can hear this, then the next question would be – “Are you ready to make that choice?”  Then if the cousin knows how (and we don’t know whether he does), he could point out ways a busy, not-much-of-a-reader man might start building a relationship with Christ, or a role in the spiritual direction of the household.  If Fielding isn’t ready for this, perhaps the cousin can help Felicia think of non-threatening ways to share her faith with her family.  If the cousin isn’t capable of making this step, he can at least let them know how much he cares for this family, and that he always prays for them.  He might be able to suggest ways each one of the Menich family can make a choice to encourage one another while they’re waiting to find other believers.  One would hope the cousin could be inventive enough to tie his suggestions for the family, to their interests (nature, hunting, building, for Fielding; need for socialization and supportiveness for Felicia).

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