The Divine Merger

Written by Nathan Amerson (Instructor at NHCC)

I recently read a book that has the power to change lives. As one who is not generally inclined to provide book reviews, I felt convicted enough to draw this book to your attention as well, dear reader. This book is written by Pastor Mark Strong, a long-time minister and face on the streets of Portland, OR. Entitled Divine Merger: What Happens When Jesus Collides with Your Community (IVP, 2016), this little book should be read by all believers, at least those in North America. Strong’s basic concept is this: Christians need to get outside the four walls of their churches and into the streets of their local communities. Only with that face-to-face connection with the people who live around us will we effectively minister the Gospel and care for the families of our neighborhoods.

Pastor Mark begins with a picture taken from the life of Abraham. When God called Abraham and by faith he left the land of his ancestors, God did not give him a specific destination. Abraham journeyed and pitched his tent, as Gen 12.8 tells us, between Bethel and Ai. Now Bethel means “the House of God” and Ai literally implies a heap of ruins. Thus, Abraham purposefully chose a place that was between destruction and God’s house, imagery Strong parlays into believers today living between the church and their community. Additionally, Abraham builds an altar to God there. Following this example, our worship should also be evidence of this commitment to our neighborhoods. Strong calls this strategic positioning and states, “Strategic positioning requires you to have your heart in the right place. Like Abraham, you can build an altar that gives a faithful testimony of Jesus Christ to your church and to your community” (p.21).

Many believers in America are content to go to church once a week, have a donut hole and coffee, chat with the pastor about his golf game, listen to the word and worship for no more than one hour, and then go about their week. Strong unequivocally states the failure of this mindset. This is not a mission-focused mindset; it is actually one of Christian laziness. People all around us have so many needs physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually; to fail to respond to our call to our neighbors is to fail the Great Commission.

Strong provides four basic, simple instructions on how best to go about this (especially for those believers who may not have thought in this context before). First, embrace a theology that requires a community witness. This is so important. Our theology drives our worship and our experience of God and ultimately should drive our commitment to our mission. Examine the theology you live out. Maybe it needs some focus. Second, discern in your heart the will of God. Not each of us will respond to our communities and the Great Commission in the same way, nor should we. God will use each of us in unique ways, according to our talents and resources. Be open to His leading. Third, live to worship God. When we are true worshippers, our love for the Father will spill out into our love for our neighbor, as Christ Himself taught. Build that altar between the two cities in a way that brings attention to true worship of God. Finally, be practical. God is not calling you to give away everything you own, leave your family, and become homeless to reach the homeless. Or is He? Only you know how best to respond to His call.

God will give you a passion for others if you ask Him. Pastor Mark goes on to inform the reader of some simple ways to approach God and ask what He wants you to do. Make the decision to listen. We do not always take time for God and when we do, we often forget to listen. Ask for God’s help to hear. The Holy Spirit will help overcome the noise and distraction so God can speak into your soul. Ask questions. If you seek Him, you will find Him, and He will guide your steps and decisions. Put yourself in places to be impacted. If we sit back in our homes or workplaces and do not seek the opportunity, it will never find us. Lastly, welcome a special call from God. This is where your life will be changed, Christian. As we follow Christ and obey the Great Commission, we cannot help but be changed more into His likeness and our response can only be obedient submission to His call.

Mark Strong concludes with four questions to ask yourself, an appeal which I offer you as well. What is your mission? As you define this you will find God’s will becomes clear to you. You may also find sacrifices you must make in response to His calling. What steps are needed to accomplish your mission? You may have to give some things up, you may have to save money or give some away, and you may have to learn new skills and increase your knowledge. Do whatever it takes to respond to God in your community. How will you hold yourself accountable? This is the key. We can easily begin a journey only to give up due to hardships. Making yourself accountable not just to God but to a Godly mentor will help you overcome yourself and the desire each of us has to take the easy way out. How will you evaluate your progress? Clearly defined goals and attempts to measure your success in reaching them is a common strategy in the public sector. Use the same methods to see if you are on track with what God has called you to do.

I urge each of you to read this small book. Read after asking God to show you what He wants from you. Read with an open heart and mind, looking at your communities with the new eyes of one who is called to witness within them. Read with commitment to the Gospel and to showing God’s love to your neighbors. Finally, be open to new things the Lord may have for you. Because of this book and others like it, I have personally been convicted to begin prison ministry, which is completely outside my experience and comfort zone. God is asking you to get outside your comfort zone, and the Divine Merger is an excellent blueprint for how you and your church can minister within your communities of need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *