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Activism is necessary for understanding

I remember encouraging the pastor of our white, upscale church in West Palm Beach to send members of the congregation with me to the nearby town of Belle Glade, AIDS capital of America. “What a great place to minister,” I thought.    “They aren’t ready yet;” the pastor replied, “they…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I remember encouraging the pastor of our white, upscale church in West Palm Beach to send members of the congregation with me to the nearby town of Belle Glade, AIDS capital of America. “What a great place to minister,” I thought. 
“They aren’t ready yet;” the pastor replied, “they need more teaching.”
Perhaps we did, but we also needed a lot more shoe leather on our faith. In retrospect, what we needed was to read and implement Philemon 1:6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding…”
More of us need to fake it till we make it. We don’t get to maturity tucked away in a cubicle or sitting idle in our living rooms. We grow in faith by doing stuff that at first may feel uncomfortable and hard to understand. 
A pedagogical question here might help: Where does understanding come from anyway? Many of our churches believe that it comes from a teaching. The logical conclusion: Because we need more and better teaching, the sermon is the center piece of the religious weekly calendar. “People need another download of information,” we think. 
But Paul’s letter to Philemon suggests that it comes through experience, through activity. Be active in sharing your faith and you’ll gain understanding. Of course Paul personalized this principal. As soon as he believed, he began sharing his own faith; he lived what he taught.
If you think about how you’ve gained understanding in your own life, you’ll probably see a combination of influences. Think of riding a bike, playing a sport, or driving a car. You received information about how to do it, and then you practiced, and then you reflected on and evaluated your effort.
Christianity is an activist faith. It grows when it is put into practice. This blog is of limited use – it’s like a sermon – a delivery mechanism for more information. To make it work for you, you need to put it into practice – depending on God in some fresh way.
He set us free so that we’d help others gain their freedom too. As we do so, we better see things from God’s perspective. We gain understanding about his kingdom and about how faith works.
Want to grow in faith? Want to understand more about it? Start stepping out.

Comments (21)

  • What is a simple way of stepping out? A very good, simple first step?

    This is coming from someone who is just recently annointed with the spirit of God and looking to change his life. He is a loner with no community or church and has only God and himself. He wants to give up his life and believe wholeheartedly in God but is confused.

  • Hey Emy, that sounds awesome! I appreciate you taking a step of faith to reach out to people like me 🙂

    God knows I’ve been asking Him if He could bring others along my path. I need to put an end to my old habits and past life. One of those endings is allowing others to come into my life. I’m trying to keep as open a heart as possible with God.

    How would I go about contacting Seth for this?

  • Ok so I’m reporting back with the results of my first adventure into this unknown territory.

    And, it’s good news 😛

    After I read your simple advice I prayed about it and went back to my normal day at work and tried my best to be on the lookout for whoever the spirit was going to lead me to.

    To let you know I’ve never done anything like this in my life. This is all new so I didn’t know what to expect or look out for.

    It wasn’t until around lunch when I started wondering how this was all supposed to work and if I might of already missed the person I was supposed to encourage. Well as I was thinking about this I felt compelled to give my Dad a buzz at work and explain to him my situation. I called him up and he ended up asking me who whithin my vicinity needs some encouragement.

    Well, there is this one coworker of mine who is sort of slow (almost retarded but he isn’t) and I figured I would give it a try and ask God about this man.

    Well, the second I started praying and asked God if I was supposed to encourage my coworker the spirit literally just flooded into me and felt like it was vibratiing inside of me. I actually had to catch my breath it was pretty quick and intense. I didn’t see any images in my head or hear any voice or anything, I just felt the spirit crashing into me, which felt great.

    I took that as a sign that God was saying yes to my inquiry.

    God wanted me to encourage him about how much of a good job he does at the warehouse. And he does do a good job, he is an extremely hard worker. While I was in the spirit (which happened all of a sudden just moments ago) I felt compelled to get up and go to my coworker and even though I stood up and was walking his way and felt completely empowered I went right up to him and then walked away…


    Well, lol, I’m not perfect.

    So I missed my first opportunity but nevertheless I went back to him at the end of the day and encouraged him and complimented his work at the warehouse. He got a big smile across his face and appreciated that I noticed his work and he was very happy and grateful. He left in his truck with a smile.


    I must say that this was very interesting, I had no idea about asking God to do simple things like this or how it’s supposed to look/feel. I do feel more aware now. It took coming out of some comfort to randomly compliment a person the spirit led me to encourage. I don’t typically just talk to someone and I can’t remember ever just throwing out encouragement like that to anyone. But, this worked. It was a very nice first step, nothing I couldn’t handle unless I wanted to be out right complacent. But God has made me well aware of the dangers of complacency.

    So Seth, I take it I repeat this process every day and learn how to listen to God? This must be like learning my spiritual ABC’s until I’m grown and have more authority in the spirit to begin doing bigger things. But I take it I could keep this going for the rest of my life. It takes keeping your ABC’s memorized to one day write coherent essays with them.

    This was a very exciting day to be able to do this and actively hear God.

    If I can also be honest, the fact that you did say to report back kept me somewhat accountable to go through with this. Had you not said that, I would have probably nodded at your advice and walked on, maybe never doing it, or perhaps I might have, I don’t know. Knowing that you expected a result gave me some determination to try this out and see what would happen. You seemed very confident in it and that made me confident.


    What’s next after I make this a habit?

  • Hello 🙂

    I appreciate all the encouragement.

    I stepped out and God led me to encourage one person yesterday and suddenly I get encouraged by 3 others. Seth, Kathy, and Emy (at least to my visibility). I guess even a small amount of giving in the kingdom nets you more in return.

    Kathy, I’ll be checking out your blog and will post up a comment. Your extension of friendship to me is greatly welcomed Kathy! As I told Emy, I have been asking God for people to come by in my life. Whether it’s from the internet or somewhere else, I’m open to it.

    I’m definitely wanting to change my faith from passive to active and I just happened to stumble upon Seth Barnes blog recently. I would say this is all a good start.

    Seth, I’ll be ordering your book, I appreciate the direction 🙂

  • Dear Anonymous,

    Ask the Lord to bring to mind one other person who needs encouragement today.

    Then ask him, “How can I encourage that person?”

    Then do it.

    That’s a start. Share with us the results and then repeat.

  • Great blog, Seth. Great advice to Anonymous, too.

    It is so true about just stepping out in faith to take action. That is when God can really begin to use us and to shape us to become more like Him. Sitting on a pew certainly has its place, but words/faith without action is dead. It’s good to stretch ourselves regularly to keep in condition and ready, in season and out.

    Keep up the good work. db

  • Yay Anonymous! Welcome to the family! It’s a great first step to start asking questions about how to deepen your relationship with God. Many people stay at the “freshly saved” stage rather than continuing to mature spiritually. Also ask Him to send you friends, mentors, a place/group where you can fellowship with believers who can help encourage you in your journey. I’ll be praying for you and your first step of faith, and that it will be a wonderful experience for you.

  • I hope you told him just what you said here in response–from Philemon, and the sentence just afterward. God’s people don’t need any more selfish critics…they are your family, too.

    You’re right, doing is learning…hope you did or plan to do what you’re preaching here: BEING faithful by LOVING this church and showing its leaders what Jesus says about serving. Then PURSUING them with those from the larger body of believers if they shrug off what you show them.

    If not, I think you owe them AND your readers an apology for modeling selfishness and building yourself up on the bodies of other believers that you were too prideful too Love as He did.

  • Anon – I’m not sure what part of Seth’s post you consider a “smear” ? Your reply seems harsh and without the love you proclaim.

    I do not know you but pray that you will stick around this blog for a while and witness some sacrificial loving from those in this community including Seth.


  • Your welcome, Anonymous. When I asked God for friends, right around the time I got serious in my Christ-walk, He lead me into a group of people who became my closest buddies in college, and our shared passion for Christ started me on a path of devotion to God and His will for my life.

    Even though we are complete strangers, feel free to email me if you have any questions or need encouragement. Yes, kind of random, but I feel lead to do this. I asked God for an opportunity to take a step of faith, kinda like what you are doing, so I figure this could be one. If it’s cool, ask Seth to pass on my email addy to you (rather than publish it online).

  • Correction: rather than “me” publishing it online.

    Hey Anon and Christine,

    Just my two-cents, I think Seth’s example of the white, upscale church was taken out of context. He didn’t elaborate on what happened afterwards, or what he did about it, so it is a bit much to assume that he thought rich, white people were fake and immature believers. Maybe he mentioned their ethnicity/social status because it was related to why he offered to take them on that trip to Belle Glade. I have seen first hand how ethnicity/social status create religious divides. Take a trip to Charleston, SC. Going to school there, I noticed how people stuck to their ethnic groups (except for a number of the college students). People get stuck in their boxes, so ministering outside of their comfort zones brings them closer to God’s truth and how He wants us all to fellowship as a united body in Christ.

    I can see why, though, you two feel that way. It would have been a good idea to include some details that would show why he mentioned that they were upscale and white, but details get left out when you’re trying to articulate a thought. Sometimes it’s necessary to remain concise. Like Brett implied, if Seth was being spitefully proud, this is a great opportunity to correct someone, harshly or not, with love and understanding rather than anger.

  • If you posted your email in the textbox when you added your comment, then Seth can send you an email. I don’t know if he is online right now, but I can email him myself to pass mine on to you. Hopefully, he’ll get to the message today.


  • Emy/Anonymous, it’s done. you’re connected. And thanks, Emy, for responding to Anon & Christine.

    Here’s what happened after I had that thought about our church needing to put its faith into practice almost 20 years ago:

    * The pastor did go out with me to visit Belle Glade.
    * I began doing mission projects there (have since taken hundreds of volunteers there and seen miracles).
    * We began getting members of the church involved volunteering in the community.
    * We began ministering racial reconciliation thru the local pastors’ association. Some wonderful things happened there.
    * One of the church’s elders came on staff with me and actually MOVED TO Belle Glade to do incarnational ministry there.
    * We began working with an abused women’s shelter – great ministry there.
    * The pastor eventually left the pastorate to focus his energies in missions in Central America.

    As to the criticism that I was calling out all churches or that I was storing up an anecdote, I apologize if it comes across that way. My intent was simply to make a point about the fruit of an activist faith.

  • That’s a great outcome to the story.

    You know, I just realized that the “teach first, then go” approach can also serve as a delaying mechanism. Being trained in something is important, but people can start using it as an excuse to stay hidden in fear. It can get to a point that people never feel ready because they frequently think that they’re lacking in something.

  • Wow! Great conversation and sharing. You know, to me this is community.

    Anonymous: I would also like to reach out and encourage you, and perhaps journey along with you for a spell.

    I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and only came to Jesus at the age of 41. I had plenty of people praying for me for salvation, but then the real work out of discipleship starts and there was noone to coach me, I am sad to say, even though I was attending a church with great teaching. I was just so on fire and type A for God I forged ahead giddy with passion. I sense that in you, but you’re so right, you don’t really know where to begin or how to do it…and we were just talking about this the other day in a sunday school class I am in that has been relocated to the truck stop across the street from our church due to lack of space, and we were praying about it and here you are. So I also would like to extend a hand of friendship.

    I blog and the story of how I met Jesus is on my website, please stop by and post a comment, and Seth can also send you my email.


    Much peace for the journey. It isn’t always peaceful, but it is full of peace.


  • Anonymous,

    This was fabulous! Well done!

    I’m going to ask the Lord about it and see what he says. But perhaps Kathy can help. I’ll pass along her email.

    Anyway, you encouraged me with the way you stepped out in faith and then obeyed. It really is that simple, just need to do it over and over again.

    Perhaps my book may be a help to you. If you can’t afford it, let me know and I’ll send you a digital copy free.

    As a final note to the people who shared their critique in the comments above – whatever other meaning you took away from the blog, this is what I think needed to come across. God wants us to do what Anonymous did and if we do, he’ll show up and help us to understand. Our faith will grow. And it can revolutionize our lives.

  • So super! I am encouraged too by this great exchange! I loved this blog – and found the comment exchange just as rich… Anonymous, you have already learned one great Kingdom principle – every little seed planted, good or bad, brings a much larger crop – keep on planting the good stuff!! Praying for you all….

  • How dare you smear some of your family for the sake of making an example. Not all churches are in the same place, and God clearly prepared you for that moment–to CORRECT your brother and set him on the right path. Not to save the instance for a blog topic to share as the WRONG way to walk with the Lord.

    YOU are emulating the exact opposite of what you preach! God calls us to love sacrificially! You had the chance to LOVE him there in spite of not understanding what his real motives were, but you instead decided to “wonder” and insinuate that rich, white people are fake and immature believers.

    If this comment makes you livid, good news: God has revealed the real problem..the spiteful pride of an unrepentant heart.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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