Session 2b: Telling and Living the Gospel by Toby Gruppen

That’s a perfect set-up for some of the things that have been swimming in my head. One, I think we’re talking about the last 16 months as if only in 16 months we’ve experienced change. I believe the church has been going through a lot of change, even way previous to it. So in my background playing around with church planters and hearing their hearts, trying to explore how do we do church maybe differently to be right on those crossroads, one of the things that I’m grieving is that last year at about this time, we had to bring to close LifeQuest, which was a church plant that we embedded in a manufacturing center right here in the Holland/Zeeland area. The joy of that was that we had 17 languages spoken on the manufacturing floor. 

And when you think of Holland and Zeeland, you think white and Dutch. Not true. One of the things that grieved me most is people would hear, “You have a church in a manufacturing center. Can we come take a look at it?” And absolutely, I’d take people through tours and people would walk on the floor, and the first thing they would say is, “I didn’t know we had this many Asian people in our community.” Unseen people groups. So let me take you to a different story. 

A couple years ago, when we were able to travel, remember that? I had the opportunity to go with some church planters to the Netherlands. From some brothers in the Lord who said, “We’re trying to do a new thing here in neighborhoods that are less than 2% Christian. You all owe your Christian roots to us, can you come partner with us and help us out?” So we had this beautiful opportunity just to tour some of the things that were happening in the Netherlands. And I took a gentleman who was one of my youth group leaders. He was now a leader within the church plant that we were doing, and he’s 10 years my elder.

And we’re walking through the streets of Netherlands, and by the way, this whole area was Turkish because all these Turkish refugees moved into Den Hague. And we’re walking with this missionary and goes, “I go there to get my haircut, because I’m walking with this person. We go every Sunday, and we met here, because we’re building a relationship. We’re sending our kids to this school, because these are the people we’re walking with.” And finally, this leader, who’s been one of my leaders in the church my whole life, and here he’s walking, he finally threw his hands up in the air just like, “You’re on mission all the time.”  

And for us planters, we sat there like, “Yeah, isn’t that the point?” But for him, at 60 years old, it was a new concept. And he came back so transformed, and we adopted a phrase, “All the time on mission, ATOM.” What is your ATOM story? So when you went to lunch today, you were a missionary. How did you treat those who served you? How did you treat those around you? When you’re in the grocery store, when you’re in your cubicle, no matter where you are at, all the time on mission. Somehow, somewhere, the church forgot that. And we need to bubble those stories up and invite people all the time. Tell me you’re all the time on mission story. How did you see God? How were you aware? How are you having eyeballs to see those who are different from us? 

So that’s one, all the time on mission is how we’re trying to live into it. Number two, love the crossroads. I believe as the church moves into its next season, praise God, we’re going to become way more aware of the diversity. In God’s true heart, every tribe, every nation, every language. A good friend of mine, church planter here in town does a Spanish-speaking church, was just down on the Mexico border, Texas and Mexico, to see firsthand what’s going on. 

And he comes back, he’s only been back for about 10 days now, absolutely grieved with what’s happening there. His observation while he was there, and the organization he was working with, over 110 different nations were coming across the border. Imagine that. Grasp that. His heartbeat was this: We need to have people who love Jesus and love the Gospel greet people and welcome them, because so many, they are fearing are going to come into the United States, get handed money, get handed a phone, get a job, and they’re going to have everything they ever dreamed of having, so there’s no need to have God in their lives at all. That’s the urgency in their fear. 

When we were in the church planting context, in the manufacturing center, when we were walking with 17 different languages, all those different cultures, mostly Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, I mean, it was all there. My heartbeat was sharing I think God’s doing a reversal of Acts 2. Instead of persecuting the church and sending the church, he’s sending the world to us. Are we ready? Are we seeing it? Are we involved? Just yesterday, I was out on a boat on Lake Michigan. And as we were coming in, there were two pontoon boats going out with probably about 25 people each from the country of India. 

Have you noticed if you live in the Holland/Zeeland area of West Michigan, how many people we have from India we have living in our community? Tell me what church is reaching that. So again, I think we have to have an eyeball on the diversity of what God is doing. And really engaging all the time on mission and a strong heart of diversity. Here’s another thing as we talk. My context coming from a church plant now into an established congregation, that’s been a lot of mental gymnastics, to really get your mind around living so relationally and so missionally and engaged to a congregation that was Sunday-centric and program-centric to now help people start thinking, “How do we think of things differently and live differently into that?” One of the things that I hear quite a bit often is anxiety and fear. Somebody give me an amen. Come on, we’re in church, right? 

I think as we move into thinking about the Gospel, and really connecting, I think God has in our hearts a playfulness. I need more friends, and I don’t know everything about Larry, but there’s some things that I bet you I could learn about Larry that are just going to bring blessing to my life and bring mine to him as well. I think the church has lost some playfulness and joy and eagerness of meeting new people and just the curiosity. We used that word earlier. The curiosity of, “What are you doing here? And how are you shaping lives and intertwining lives, and just the joy to enter into that space?” 

I’m excited for this next season of Gospel-sharing, post-pandemic, Lord willing. Or current pandemic, but those would be my heartbeats that we’re trying to wrestle right now. All the time on mission, having eyes to see what’s going on in your community, the diversity and the different people groups that God is shaping and moving around, and just a joy to enter into it. 

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