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Turning Laypeople Into Lay Ministers – Part 1

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Tim Keller discusses preparing and equipping the people of the church to live missionally.

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The process often looks something like this:

1. Awareness: “I see it.” They begin to clear the ground of stereotypes and learn to distinguish the gospel from legalism or liberalism, the core from the peripheral. They make mini-decisions like these:

• “She’s religious but surprisingly open-minded.”
• “You can be a Christian and be intelligent!”
• “The Bible isn’t so hard to understand after all.”
• “A lot of things the Bible says really fit me.”
• “I see the difference between Christianity and just being moral.”

2. Relevance: “I need it.” They begin to see the slavery of both religion and irreligion and are shown the transforming power of how the gospel works. Examples of mini-decisions here are as follows:

• “There must be some advantages to being a Christian.”
• “An awful lot of very normal people really like this church!”
• “It would really help if I could believe like she does.”
• “Jesus seems to be the key. I wonder who he was.”

3. Credibility: “I need it because it’s true.” This is a reversal of the modern view that states, “It’s true if I need it.” If people fail to see the reasonableness of the gospel, they will lack the endurance to persevere when their faith is challenged. Examples of mini-decisions include thoughts like these:

• “I see that the Bible is historically reliable.”
• “You really can’t use science to disprove the supernatural.”
• “There really were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.”
• “Jesus really is God.”
• “I see now why Jesus had to die—it is the only way.”

4. Trial: “I see what it would be like.” They are involved in some form of group life, in some type of service ministry, and are effectively trying Christianity on, often talking like a Christian— even defending the faith at times.

5. Commitment: “I take it.” This may be the point of genuine conversion, or sometimes a person will realize that conversion has already happened, and they just didn’t grasp it at the time. Examples of mini-decisions include these:

• “I am a sinner.”
• “I need a Savior.”
• “Though there are a lot of costs, I really must do what Jesus says.”
• “I will believe in Jesus and live for him.”

6. Reinforcement: “Now I get it.” Typically, this is the place where the penny drops and the gospel becomes even clearer and more real.


A spiritual dynamic cannot really be created or controlled, but just as we need air, heat, and fuel to have a fire, certain environmental factors must be present for this lay ministry dynamic to occur. At least three factors must be in place: believers with relational integrity, pastoral support, and safe venues.


A message is contextualized if (1) it is adapted into a new language or culture so it is understandable and yet (2) it maintains its character and original meaning in its former language/culture. Here I’m proposing that Christians themselves must be contextualized “letters of the gospel” (see 2 Cor 3:1–13). In other words, we will have an impact for the gospel if we are like those around us yet profoundly different and unlike them at the same time, all the while remaining very visible and engaged.

So, first of all, Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined. In short, Christians in a particular community should—at first glance—look reassuringly similar to the other people in the neighborhood. This opens up nonbelievers to any discussion of faith, because they recognize the believers as people who live in and understand their world. It also, eventually, gives them a glimpse of what they could look like if they became believers. It means it would be good if a nonbelieving young man on Wall Street could meet Christians in the financial world, not only those who are his age but also those who are older and more accomplished, or if an older female artist could meet Christian women who are artists of her own generation as well as others who are not.

Second, Christians must be also unlike their neighbors. In key ways, the early Christians were startlingly different from their neighbors; it should be no different for us today. Christians should be marked by integrity. Believers must be known for being scrupulously honest, transparent, and fair. Followers of Christ should also be marked by generosity. If employers, they should take less personal profit so customers and employees have more pay. As citizens, they should be philanthropic and generous with their time and with the money they donate for the needy. They should consider living below their potential lifestyle level. Believers should also be known for their hospitality, welcoming others into their homes, especially neighbors and people with needs. They should be marked by sympathy and avoid being known as self-serving or even ruthless in business or personal dealings. They should be marked by an unusual willingness to forgive and seek reconciliation, not by a vengeful or spiteful spirit.

In addition to these character qualities, Christians should be marked by clear countercultural values and practices. Believers should practice chastity and live consistently in light of the biblical sexual ethic. Those outside the church know this ethic—no sex outside of marriage—and any inconsistency in this area can destroy a believer’s credibility as a Christian. Today, few people apart from those with strong Christian convictions live this way. Outsiders and non-Christians in the community will also notice how you respond to adversity. Being calm in the face of failure and disappointment is crucial to your Christian witness. Finally, they will notice if you are seeking equity—if you are committed to the common good of the community. Francis Schaeffer gives an example of what these countercultural values look like:

The Bible does clearly teach the right of property, but both the Old Testament and the New Testament put a tremendous stress on the compassionate use of that property. If at each place where the employer was a Bible-believing Christian the world could see that less profit was being taken so that the workers would have appreciably more than the “going rate” of pay, the gospel would have been better proclaimed throughout the whole world than if the profits were the same as the world took and then large endowments were given to Christian schools, missions, and other projects. This is not to minimize the centrality of preaching the gospel to the whole world, nor to minimize missions; it is to say that the other is also a way to proclaim the good news.(11)