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Monk, Missionary, or Chameleon?

How are we representing Christ to those around us who don’t know Him? Are we shining the light of Christ in truth and love or are we blending in like lamps hidden under baskets and as salt with no taste?

As believers, we are pilgrims sojourning in a world that is not our home, surrounded by people who do not have the hope that we have. So, how do we go about seeing God’s kingdom come to them? In “Monk, Missionary or Chameleon?” on the CDM Podcast, Paul and Rebecca explore three different mindsets Christians fall into when it comes to living out their faith in a world that doesn’t know Jesus.

Religion and Reputation

“Hang out with lost people long enough to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

This quote was posted on the CDM Facebook page some time ago and the result, somewhat unsurprisingly, was a brief and heated discussion in the comments section about its validity. Some argued it was needlessly divisive while others held it expressed an important truth about disciple making.

Regardless of whether each of us agrees with this statement or not, it presents us with a contrast worth thinking about — the difference between religion, reputation, and obedience to God, particularly when it comes to reaching the lost.

With that contrast in mind, we’re going to look at three different mindsets for engaging or, as we’ll also see, disengaging nonbelievers.

The Monk Mindset

Many of us who have been raised going to church are familiar with the phrase, “bad company corrupts good morals.” It comes from 2 Corinthians 15:33 and is often told to young children and adolescents by their parents to keep them from being around kids who are considered bad influences.

Of course, there can be warrant for this. Parents are stewards of the children God has given them and are responsible for making calls that they believe will be for their good and God’s glory. There is also wisdom in knowing ourselves and being wary of the circumstances and people that make us susceptible to act in sinful or foolish ways.

Where we go wrong is when we as Christians justify a wholesale avoiding of the world and nonbelievers, supposing that by doing so we can keep ourselves and our families safe, unspotted, clean and free from the lost culture around us.

We retreat behind our walls — to our homes, churches, Christian schools, etc. — and create a safe Christian bubble where we won’t be “corrupted” by lost people. Furthermore, we live in fear that if we choose to befriend nonbelievers or engage secular culture, our reputations as “good Christians” will be called into question.

We’ll call this the Monk Mindset, after those who live a life of religious asceticism away from mainstream society.

Before we go any further though, it’s important to clarify that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with attending a Christian school, homeschooling, living in a community with other Christians or buying from Christian-owned businesses. God has commanded us to meet with other believers regularly because He knows we need each other in order to be encouraged, sharpened and strengthened (Hebrews 10:24-25).

At the same time, we should ask ourselves and God, “Are we using our Christian institutions to protect ourselves from ever venturing out and being around people who don’t know Jesus?”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd:

[13] “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. [14] You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 5:13-16 ESV

It’s true that there are places and industries wherein it can be exceptionally challenging to work and be a Christian. Indeed, at CDM we like to say the hardest place to reach is where you are already, but if all we ever do is retreat and hide, how are we supposed to shine the light of Christ to anyone else?

If we live as monks, isolating ourselves from the world around us to protect our families, reputations and comfort, we will be as lamps put under a basket that give light to no one. What’s worse, we may even feel comfortable disobeying Christ Himself.

The Chameleon Mindset

On the opposite extreme from the Monk is the Chameleon.

Unlike the separatist mentality of avoiding non-Christian culture as much as possible, we get people who want access to a lost and dying world so badly that, once they get it, they won’t share their faith or the truth of God’s Word because they don’t want the door to close on them.

It’s not enough to just be in the same room as people who don’t know Jesus. Discipleship takes a lot of time and energy invested in getting to know them and allowing them to get to know us and Who we follow.

We get into the Chameleon mindset when we start believing the way to build and sustain meaningful relationships with lost people is to blend in with them and live as they live. We think that as long as we do what they do, or at least don’t do anything to upset them or make them uncomfortable, then they will like us and that will be our opening to draw them to Christ.

However, we run into the same problem as we do in the Monk Mindset.

By going out of our way to be acceptable to our lost friends and not rock the boat by living out our faith in noticeable ways, we are like salt that has lost its taste. The people we’re supposedly witnessing to have no clue that we follow a different King, because we either don’t make it known or we live the same way as they do.

Instead of being disciples worth multiplying who make disciples worth multiplying, we communicate to people by how we live that to be a disciple of Christ is indistinguishable in word, deed and lifestyle from those who don’t know Jesus.

So, while the methods of the Chameleon differ from those of the Monk, the result is the same — we become useless as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, like salt that has lost its saltiness.

The Missionary Mindset

Rather than falling into either of the two extremes (Monks who avoid the lost, or Chameleons who join them), we want to be a kind of middle person — someone who is a follower of Christ who can walk among those who do not follow Him without compromising our faith, integrity and beliefs.

We want to be the Missionary — a person who goes from one place into another to be with the people who don’t know Jesus and show them who He is.

“Be conspicuously spiritual without being obnoxiously religious.”

God has already put nonbelievers in our lives all around us in the forms of friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, employees at stores we frequent, and more! He is already on the move in people’s hearts, drawing them to Himself, and He wants us to join Him in that!

Some practical ways we can do this are:

  • Praying specifically for God to help us get involved where He is working already

  • Introducing ourselves to the nonbelievers around us and meeting their friends and families

  • Asking good questions and listening well to their stories, interests, cares, fears, hopes, dreams, pet peeves, etc.

  • Showing genuine love, care and concern for their well-being

  • Making time to spend with them where they feel comfortable

  • Being honest and open about our faith with humility

  • Remembering to be patient because discipling is a process

  • Praying for more opportunities to grow in friendship through casual, meaningful, spiritual and discovery interactions and celebrating the ones we’ve already had

Wisdom Is Justified by Her Deeds

As we’ve already noted, it's not uncommon for Christians to write off people and places as sinful and avoid them when, in actuality, it's only the sin we should be avoiding. It's this misunderstanding that can lead us to avoid nonbelievers and judge those who don’t, which brings us back to the quote at the beginning of this article. Should we “hang out with lost people long enough to ruin our reputation with religious people?”

If we are spending time with lost people as chameleons — as people who adopt their lifestyles, words, values and actions in order to blend in and be acceptable to them — then the answer is ‘No’.

For what value is there in being salt that has lost its saltiness? As Jesus says, such salt “is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13).

If we are spending time with lost people as missionaries — those who walk among them, love them and live out our faith conspicuously, but not obnoxiously, so we can point them to Christ as the explanation for every good and perfect thing under the sun, then ‘Yes!’

And if by befriending the lost our reputations are damaged by other believers, we remember that Christ Himself — who lived perfectly, loved the lost, and said all the right things at the proper times — still had his reputation tarnished by the religious people of His day. They even killed Him!

[18] For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ [19] The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” — Matthew 11:18-19 ESV

Since we are in such good company, let us therefore go boldly and joyfully into our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, cities, grocery stores, kids’ sporting events, game nights — anywhere there are people who don’t know Jesus — and intentionally engage and befriend them, “[letting] your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Learn More

There is so much more to talk about regarding this subject, so if you found this blog helpful and would like a more comprehensive look at what it means to engage the lost, be sure to check out the “Monk, Missionary, or Chameleon?” podcast here or via the CDM App in the podcast section. Thanks for reading!

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