Missionary Skill No. 29: Take Up A Hobby

Bass boats, television series, politics, the local food scene. For God’s people it’d be easy to see these things as temporal, fleeting, worldly, distractions. Who has time to read a book, play a sport, or shop for a used motorcycle? We want to invest in these things matter!

Pastimes, hobbies, and entertainment may seem trivial, but to the people around us, they can be sources of influence, community, and even identity. Our friends and neighbors spend inordinate amounts of time (and money!) participating in things that occupy their time and energy. These are the things people enjoy doing, and they are opportunities for you to connect and make disciples of Jesus.

You may notice that for an increasing number of people, hobbies are becoming more than just hobbies. People often find community around their favorite activities. See, for example, the Talking Dead community around the popular AMC show “The Walking Dead.” What started as a forum for discussion about the show has grown into a full-fledged community with meetups, conferences, and viewing parties. Similar communities have formed around many other hobbies, comic book culture gathers around events such as ComiCon, diy home renovators and decorator now routinely make pilgrimages to Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia farm in TX, and the Good Guys car shows are basically family reunions of classic car enthusiasts.

Maybe it’s because we have more free time than ever. Maybe our connectivity enables it. But people increasingly find their identity in their hobbies. Our chosen areas of interest have somehow come to shape who we are (or, at least, how we see ourselves). You’re not a guy who rides a Harley-Davidson, you’re a biker. Star Trek fans are Trekkers (not “Trekkies!”). Political policy fans are wonks. It isn’t enough to do a hobby, you have to become a fan.

Unfortunately, the sense of belonging and identity people get from their hobbies can compete with the Creator for our affections. For many, hobbies have become socially-acceptable idols–the thing people orient their lives around. It’s important that God’s people maintain God-centered as they engage in hobbies so that these free-time activities stay just that!

Despite their potential for misuse, participating in a hobby is a key missionary skill. A hobby can provide connection, understanding, and communication assistance while helping God’s people be subculturally present with the people to whom we’ve been sent. Here are some things to keep in mind as you take up a hobby in your pursuit of God’s mission among all people:

Be a learner. As disciples of Jesus, we maintain the posture of a learner. When it comes to culture, we are careful to avoid the posture of consumer and instead study culture for the benefits of connecting and communicating with people. As learners, we should ask lots of questions and allow our assumptions to be challenged while we measure everything against the teachings of Jesus.

Choose wisely. All hobbies are not created equal. Some require great financial investments. Others take lots and lots of time. Some push you into isolation, while others may facilitate interaction. Hobbies that fuel pride or envy (some social media, ), arouse lusts (adult discussions, some arts), or glorify evil or violence are dead ends for Christians. Book and movie discussion groups, outdoor/sports activities, music-making, cooking/dining, and local community service are great places to start.

Join where you’re interested. God made you unique! What appeals to you may not appeal to everyone around you, but may certainly appeal to someone out there. As you consider all the things you might spend time doing, look for something that appeals to you. If you’re interested in the hobby, you’re likely to have more in common with others who share that interest. Your interest may also help you bring the gospel to bear on the perspective of fellow enthusiasts!

Be on your guard. Culture is not neutral, it actively tries to pull you into human-centered thinking and behavior. Songs and stories are powerful things that can have even subliminal effects on how we see ourselves and the world around us. As you deliberately allow yourself to be exposed to cultural influences, be on your guard: prayed up, informed, filled with God’s spirit, and ready to combat the lies of the world with the truth of God’s Word.

Don’t go alone. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. This means that our orientation is toward community. As you wade into the pastimes of those to whom you’ve been sent, take someone with you. This will provide an opportunity for discipleship, as you model how God’s people should relate to cultural influences, but it will also provide a certain level of accountability. God’s people on mission never go alone–not to the ends of the earth, not to the multiplex, and not to neighborhood association meetings.

Find bridges. Most cultural influences involve some level of narrative– books, movies, television, podcasts, etc. all include agendas of some sort. As you study the messaging, evaluate it compared to the truth according to scripture. Oftentimes, a neighbor’s commitment to fishing is less about the fish and more about getting away from the daily grind and being alone in the calm of nature. Movies can be an escape from reality or illustrations to help us understand real-world problems in new ways. Investigate what it is about these hobbies that attracts people, and there you’ll find a gospel application to the human condition.

As God’s people on mission to make disciples, we must look for ways to connect with the people to whom we’ve been sent. We actively seek out opportunities to join people where they are and call them to repentance and faith. As we take up hobbies, we can proclaim the gospel clearly and model it personally for others to see and respond to.

Missionary Skill No. 64: Empathy

The word, empathy means “entering into someone else’s feeling.“ It’s often confused with sympathy, (literally, “to feel with”), but where sympathy carries a connotation of pity or feeling sorry for, empathy is more about putting oneself into the shoes of another and feeling the same thing he or she is feeling.

When we feel what people are feeling, we can know how to communicate the gospel to them in a way that demonstrates God’s goodness, nearness, compassion, and love for them. The alternative is to stay at a distance from people, maintaining the disconnection between the message and its intended recipients.

What are people feeling? When we remember that those who are not in Christ are utterly dead in their sin, it’s easier to understand that they might be feeling hopeless, helpless, frustrated, angry, alone, lost, anxious, curious, self-righteous, put-upon, etc. To all these concerns, Jesus is the answer. But it isn’t enough to simply say that Jesus is the answer; we need to show it, too.

Empathy is a missionary skill because without it, God’s people remain at a debilitating distance from those to whom we’ve been sent. Our mission is to close the distance between ourselves (as Christ’s ambassadors) and the recipients of our message so that we can not only communicate the Good News about Jesus, but also apply that Good News to real life situations. We become like those who do not know Christ in order to communicate and demonstrate what life in Christ might look like in the cultures in which we find ourselves.

In the Incarnation, Jesus modeled this sort of missionary posture for us. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that our high priest (Christ) is able to empathizes with our weaknesses because he was tempted in all the ways we are. It’s important to note that though he entered into our feeling (empathy), he did not join us in sinning. Likewise, it is the job of a missionary people to join people where they are (in feeling, station, location, concern, rhythm of life, etc.) but not participate with them in sin.

To practice empathy, consider these steps:

  • Pray. God knows and loves the people to whom you’ve been sent. Pray that God would give you love, insight, understanding, empathy, and patience as you seek to empathize. Remember that the Spirit of God enables us to love even our enemies and to bless those who may even be antagonistic toward us.

  • Move close to people. Proximity is essential to sympathy. This includes physical proximity (being where they are, spending time in the same environments and conditions) as well as emotional proximity (connecting in a personal and emotional way). In every case, moving close to people requires action on our part- action that will likely be uncomfortable, challenging, and risky.

  • Listen and observe. We gain insight by paying attention. In order to empathize, we must do our best to understand were people are coming from. Ask questions, and listen to their answers with the goal of understanding. This allows us to address the questions people are actually asking (rather than the ones we assume they have).

  • Let your guard down. When we allow ourselves to feel what others are feeling, we become connected to them in ways that facilitate discipleship and community. In order to do this, we must suspend judgement, be slow to take offense.

  • Reflect. As you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (metaphorically and maybe even literally!), be sure to take time to stop and think about your own feelings. I recommend keeping a journal (or a private blog of sorts) that can help you record and process. Self-awareness will help you lean in to someone else’s pain because, lets’ face it– we all seem to have pain of our own, so joining someone else in their pain can be, well, painful.

  • Echo. Try to articulate the feelings of the other person in your own words, but in such a way that the they identify with. This will help them feel understood, and will help you know if you’re understanding.

  • Comfort with the gospel. Sometimes, when we join people in their pain, we try to comfort by minimizing their problems or with self-help solutions. But the ultimate comfort is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! Be sure our empathy points people to Jesus.

Missionary Skill No. 37: Identifying Community Challenges

Everywhere people live, you’ll find issues related to living well together. Investigating these can be a great way to learn the story of your city and have meaningful conversation with neighbors. But beware! Choosing to engage with one side of these challenges may negatively affect your ability to engage with the other side. Many well-intentioned Christians accidentally offend people before they even understand the implications of taking sides.

Here are a few examples from the U. S. :

A cab/rideshare driver can be a great cultural informant.

A cab/rideshare driver can be a great cultural informant.

Uber/Lyft vs. Taxis

If you don’t ever use these, you’re missing tremendous opportunities to engage with people in your town. But be careful which option you choose! In many places, traditional cab drivers are being put out of business by unfair practices.

Here’s a great article explaining the issues.

Supporting neighborhood schools can be a complicated matter.

Supporting neighborhood schools can be a complicated matter.

Public vs. charter schools. If you have kids, you need to know the issues around public and charter schools. Even if you don’t have school-age children, it’s a discussion that resonates with every citizen and goes way beyond the education system: should the government support alternatives to public services?

Here’s a summary of the charter school debate.

Public transportation. If you live in the U.S., you may not have the best public transportation system, but trains, trams, and buses help with traffic, pollution, and poverty. Those who rely on these don’t usually have the influence to improve them.

Wired did an article on this that’s worth reading.

Zoning laws. The local government decides how land in your city may be used: residential, commercial, industrial, mixed-use, etc. Oftentimes, zoning designation is arbitrary and may prevent a neighborhood from developing what it needs. 

Here’s a perfectly nerdy explanation.

Your community has many challenges like these. Investigate them with an open mind, and see what opportunities God provides! #mission #tradecraft #disciplemaking