When you enter a home, greet the family, 'Peace.' If your greeting is received, then it's a good place to stay. But if it's not received, take it back and get out. Don't impose yourself. Luke 10:5-6 (The Message).
The Person of Peace concept has become a significant strategy for entering into new communities with the gospel. It's particularly prevalent in US church planting and international CPM (Church Planting Movements) strategies. Sometimes the Person of Peace concept is presented like its the miracle bullet for evangelizing. Other times it is presented as a demand to make someone into your person of peace.
Here's some things we've learned about the Person of Peace strategy from ten years of mission work in Kenya and ten years working with Kairos Church Planting.
1. We meet Persons of Peace as we go on mission. Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out 70 disciples, 2 by 2 with a mission: proclaim "the kingdom of God is near!" These disciples were on a mission. They were going. As they went into these villages and towns they would meet people. Some of these people would turn out to be persons of peace. We need to be on our mission if we are to expect people of peace.
2. Persons of Peace are gifts from God. Jesus didn't say "think about someone you know . . ." His command was go, do your work, and as you do it some people you encounter will accept the message. I see people of peace as gifts from God. They encourage us. They connect with us. They resource us. But they don't really do these things because of the close relationship they have with us (though often the relationship does become close). They support us because they connect with the message! They are God's gifts of provision so the mission can be accomplished. We should pray for these gifts of God because we need them so the mission can happen.
3. Persons of Peace drive the mission forward. The idea that the person of peace is someone who likes you and whom you like is quite attractive. But I've worked with some persons of peace with whom I didn't really resonate. We could work together. We respected one another. But we weren't really friends. In spite of this, these persons of peace really opened up relationship networks for the gospel in their communities. Despite the fact we were not really friends these people propelled the mission of the gospel forward.
This week a church planter and I were coaching on networking strategies. How do you go about entering into a new community and finding those Persons of Peace?
Here's some ideas we came up with:
1. Ask people who know your community to help you understand it. These are people like realtors, school principals (particularly elementary schools), and police officers. Tell them who you are, what you are doing (this is your confession of faith as a planter), and how they can help you. If they agree they've begun to show signs of a person of peace because they are helping the mission.
2. Invite people to work alongside you in service events for your community. There are many good organizations, non-profits, and already existing activities in a community that always need help. You can become a resource for them (i.e., you're their person of peace). As you invite people into the activities of these already existing groups you also let them know you are doing this because you are starting a new church and you believe a church is a helping contributor to the community. When you do this you are building an identity and giving the people you invite the opportunity to connect with that identity. So, when someone asks, "Why are you here helping?" you want them to be able to say, "I was invited by Joe who is planting a new church here."
3. Organize special events that gather people, then let them know what you're doing as a church planter and invite them to next steps. The key, again, is to not hide anything. Be up front with who you are (a church planter, a Christian, a Jesus follower) and what you are doing (starting a new church). Take the mystery out of the picture. Give clear invitations to learn more. This provides people the opportunity to grow into becoming Persons of Peace.
My experience has been that most of the Persons of Peace with whom I have worked didn't come fully engaged. They learned about me and about my mission over time and with exposure. God gradually formed them into Persons of Peace.
I pray you keep your eyes open for those budding Persons of Peace in your community, your life, and your ministry. Receive them with joy. They are God's gifts to you for His glory.