Missionary living doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Fortunately, there are times when culture throws us a softball pitch that makes it easier to engage those far from God with the truth of Jesus. Hitting that pitch simply requires a bit of intentionality.
Holidays provide that softball for strategic missionaries. Our calendars have a time carved out for reflections on points of common grace. Consider Thanksgiving: each Fall we have a built-in time to reflect on our blessings. Clearly many in our society would not attribute those blessings to the hand of a benevolent God, but we who are in Christ know that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father (Jam 1:17). Even more, we know that every temporal gift is a mere shadow of the far greater grace that can be found in relationship with God through Jesus. Celebration of the lesser blessings is meant to cause us to lean into the greater reality. What better opportunity for the church to live on mission? But how? Consider these simple steps this Thanksgiving.
There’s always a welcoming, open seat at God’s banquet table, and so there should be at our tables as well. All around us are people who live isolated lives—even in a culture that fosters pseudo-connection with the swipe of a finger. Think about the myriad of people this Thanksgiving who silently grieve the loss of a loved one, a prodigal child, or an estranged relationship. What if the church were to intentionally invest and invite these people into their homes and build meaningful friendships? Yes, this will likely cause more chaos. It might even encroach on some of the unique family atmosphere that so many of us prize. Yet, as we invite outsiders in and to the table, we model the love of a missionary God and position ourselves for influence.
Consider the Nations
Most of our cities are filled with people who are living in the US but whose home is far away. There are hundreds of international students at area universities who can’t go home for Thanksgiving due to the distance and who may have never been in the home of an American. They know of Thanksgiving but may not understand the full story behind the celebration. It will take some effort and intentionality before Thanksgiving to foster relationships, but the holiday itself can allow for deeper connection with those who are already close to us but far from home, and more importantly, far from God.
One of the greatest challenges to meaningful engagement is that so much of what the church does is hidden from the world. Yes, we may have meaningful, gospel-rich engagement with our families behind the thick veil of our front door or closed garage, but what would it look like to move those same interactions into the public space?
Simple acts like taking a walk with your family and reflecting on God’s grace and goodness as you walk may open doors for interaction with those who are far from God but live next door to you. Or, consider hanging out in the front yard rather than the back or going to play at the public park after your Thanksgiving feast. You never know what strategic relationships God may have providentially prepared.
Simple, right? Spend time in prayerful conversation with the Father about those you meet. Ask Him to give these people eyes to attribute their blessing to the bountiful provision of God. Not only that, but one further step may open more doors than we anticipate—ask others how you can pray for them. It could be a waiter at a restaurant, a coworker before you leave for a break, or a stranger standing next to you in line. Is there a way that I can pray for you? The worst that can happen is they say, “No!” More than likely, they will mention a burden or crisis they are facing that can open the door for prayer and subsequent conversation.
Jesus tells us that the mission of the church is fostered as believers live in connection and love with one another. We model the nature of the Trinitarian God as we live in this way. The local church should become a family, in some cases even more vibrant and healthy than our families of origin. The family-centric nature of Thanksgiving provides a way to introduce outsiders to our church family and model the love we have for one another. We could do this through shared meals or experiences that allow others to see church as family on display.
Finally, we can find creative ways to serve those around us. Many have a little extra margin from work or school responsibilities, which allows us to steward time for serving others. A little time spent in observation will likely bring to mind someone around you in need this Thanksgiving. This could be a physical need, such as an elderly couple with a yard full of leaves they can’t rake or a neighbor who just lost a job and can’t provide for a Thanksgiving meal. Or it could be an emotional need, such as a friend who’s lost a loved one and faces their first Thanksgiving alone and needs company. Look out for ways that the Spirit can open doors to serve and see how He might use these acts of service to open doors for gospel conversations.
Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity for missionary living. Let’s lean into the holiday with expectancy to see what God might do.
Matt Rogers is the pastor of The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina, as well as the Assistant Professor of North American Church Planting at SEBTS and our Coordinator of North American Church Planting and Revitalization. He is married to Sarah and they have four children: Corrie, Avery, Hudson, and Willa. He has authored a number of books and articles and speaks around the United States on topics ranging from discipleship to church planting and missions.
Feature photo from the IMB.