This passage haunts me. “This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength on that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed.”
—2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10 (CSB)
Most people in Arizona seem to be spiritually lost and disconnected from Jesus. As one man in Tucson told me, “If the gospel is true, I want to go to hell when I die, because that’s where all my family and friends are now.”
I pray this makes you pause.
Jesus and the disciples spent time in temple/synagogue space and traveled within community space. A careful reading of the gospels shows they spent more time in community or life space than in church space.
Jesus is called a friend of sinners: (Luke 7:34 CSB) “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
The Lord entered the brokenness of Israel’s communities. How do you personally enter into the brokenness of Arizona’s communities and join Jesus in his mission to rescue the spiritually lost and disconnected? How can we follow Jesus’ model today? Let me suggest that you consider three spaces.
First space is your home and those we live with together. The second space is the workplace, and third spaces are public spaces where the community gathers.
Of course, ministry in our home or first space is key. We must practice what we preach and live godly lives, share the gospel in word and deed with those we love at home base.
Second space is our workplace environment. We are typically paid to work and ought to be the best employees. If you preach to people at work, you may find yourself looking for new employment. Be wise and salt conversations sharing how faith guides your life in second space conversations. Pray for fellow workers and watch how the Lord uses your life to enter conversations naturally at break times and work events and in third spaces.
Third space appears to be key in discipleship evangelism today. In our 21st century culture of North America, we need to learn to emphasize listening over talking, as you will be judged as to how well you listen (see James 2:19).
Notice in Luke 5 that Jesus walks in the community and has different conversations with both religious and nonreligious types. Studies show that people are more interested in hearing a Christian’s story of life-change than Christians are in sharing their stories.
Let’s approach our third spaces of community like we would the mission field. Identifying the six S’s in your community can help you grapple with third spaces, and this exercise works within rural and small town/city communities.
- Structures and Buildings: What structures, buildings, restaurants, and markets (old and new) are in the community?
- Signage and Art: What’s in your third space? Do you see a theme(s), and what does that tell you about the community?
- Spatial Dynamics: How is your community laid out? Do you have wide or narrow streets, free parking, bike lanes, public transit, places to play, rest and relax, etc.? Are the spatial dynamics designed for interaction or just traffic flow?
- Spirituality representation: GODISNOWHERE What formal places of worship do you see, and what activities and/or services do they offer? You may encounter postings and signage like the atheists’ groups, “In No God We Trust,” or nightclubs/ pornography/marijuana dispensaries. How does this inform your prayer life?
- Social Interaction: How do people travel in your community? Where do the people spend time in the community? Are there outdoor and indoor spaces for people? What yearly large events take place in your community? What is celebrated in the area?
- Story: What is the creation story in your community’s location? What is changing in the community?
Consider three connecting questions based on the above exercise:
First, what makes your community unique?
Second, what is the spiritual temperature in the community?
Third, where does the community connect? Think like Mr. Rogers for a moment and ask: Who are the people in your neighborhood? Who works at your supermarket, coffee shops/restaurants, flea markets, hair salons/barber shops, auto shops, doctors’ offices, golf courses, cycling groups, basketball, tattoo shops and the like? Do you know people’s names?
Are you a friend of sinners, those far from God, spiritually lost, and/ or disconnected? Brokenness has no socioeconomic boundaries. Wealthy people need the hope of the gospel just like everyone else. Your physical presence in a third space group leads to connecting conversations. In fact, your new friends may become open to your story of lifechange and a personal invitation to attend your Christian community.
Take courage, God is at work in your community and accomplishes His work through His people. Join Him.
“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9 (CSB).
— Edward Pearson is a Church Life Team Facilitator with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention