My wife and I, along with Pastors Andy & Lori Sparks, Willard & Phyllis Willard, Scott & Rebekah Becker (and family), Galen & Elsie Wiley; Wes & Allison Crenshaw, David & Del-Rae Rice, and Joan McCracken, were able to attend the national conference of our fellowship of churches last week in Toronto, Canada.

The theme of the conference was “Margins.” Its purpose was to explore the idea that as followers of Jesus Christ who are intent on sharing the good news, we must go to the margins of society in order to have a chance to be where most people in our world live.

Multiple angles related to this idea of “living in the margins” were explored.

Geographically, we must go out of the places that are familiar and comfortable to us in order to share the good news about Christ. In other words, if you don’t know anyone in your network who still needs Christ, you must branch out. Just saying “I don’t know any non Christians” is not enough. This is on you.

Ideologically, we have to live with the realization that the Church is no longer “the voice” that everyone listens to and respects. We must be content with being “a voice” in the marketplace of ideas and while there we have to be careful not to come across as having a “better than thou” attitude. So if your ears are to pure to hear heresies, if you tend to attack the messenger when hearing blasphemy, you may need an attitude adjust… or a surgically designed ear plug!

Practically, we need to remember that in a world of broken people, it is often the marginalized of our societies that are still willing to give us a listen. If we are afraid, embarrassed, or prejudiced in any way to go to them, we may be missing one of the few remaining groups whose receptivity to the gospel is still somewhat neutral because of their desperate personal needs. A church that goes out of its way to humbly serve the poor and marginalized will see growth from the harvest. But when we do go to them, we also need to make sure that our church spaces and our hearts are big enough to embrace them when they come with all the complexities of their biographies, which they freely bring and are not afraid to share. In other words: Remove the rugs, stuff will no longer be allowed to be go under them.

Theologically, we will need to find new ways to stay true to the Word of God while at the same time not being easily offended by those who hold disparate views. We will need to ask better questions, listen more, and engage in conversations that will allow people to come to the conclusion, on their own, that we have something they don’t. As one speaker put it, quoting a Christian author who has done a lot of thinking and writing on this subject, and I am paraphrasing here: “Live in such a way that people will ask you questions to which Jesus is the answer.”

When I go to these types of conferences, sometimes it takes me weeks, even months, to think through everything I heard and elaborate some conclusions. This time around, though, it was a little different. Speakers were talking about stuff I have been thinking about for a long long time and have already been incorporating in my life. I was humbled to hear some affirmations of things I “hear” the Spirit gently whispering in my ears.

And it all starts with the unmovable conviction that God is always dialoguing with people and our main task is to do everything we can to join the work of God, already in progress, so that Christ’s other friends will get a little closer to the God who created them and wants to have a personal relationship with them. And that’s the fundamental principle I bring to every thought and every activity in my life — I try to live so I can say that at the end of every day I brought someone closer to God.

Better yet, I have it as a most ardent goal to end every 24 hour period of my life having no doubt whatsoever that everyone I interacted with for that period of time was brought closer to God in some way. And I will say more: that’s NOT radical Christian living. Sure, it is supernatural living but not something strange to the Gospel. Rather, it is God’s plan for every follower of Christ, without exception. And some day we will have to respond to God when He asks us why we didn’t make a better effort to live this way.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA