I recently heard a pastor who was talking about three spaces: the first space is where people are like you, the second space is where you have connections with others who may not be like you, and the third space is an environment where you have no relationships. He referenced the story in Acts 17:17 where Paul wanted to reach the Romans in Athens. The first place he went was to the religious. You might ask the question, how he was going to reach the Romans if he went to the church?
This first place he described was our comfortable zone or space being inside the church. This is the place where we can talk openly and comfortably about God and what he means, using the terminology and language that we use inside church without reference to actual meaning. This is the place we’re most comfortable where we don’t have to do anything different. We can be who we are in church and not be relatable to anyone else outside. This is the place where we use our Sunday language, and we don’t have to think of how that sounds to anyone else.
The second space he talked about was outside the church. This may be your place of work or among friends and neighbors. In Acts:17:17, “Paul spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.” In this place, if we still use our Sunday language and attempt to talk to others about God, people may not be that receptive to hearing. We are in a middle ground of their turf vs our turf. It’s a place where we can talk and discuss with people because of our relationships but people might not be the most receptive to what we have to say. We have to show them who we are by the way we live.
The third space is “on their turf.” This is the place where you are invited into uncomfortable ground, uncommon ground, in the other person’s comfortable space. This is the place that you’re invited too because whatever was going on in your life is attractive and exciting to someone else. For Paul, he “had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, ‘What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?’” (Acts 17:18 NLT) Yet, this is the place where the best opportunities are. It is also the most uncomfortable place for you. It’s uncommon ground, unfamiliar, and you don’t know what to expect. But you find yourself there because of something you said or did in the second space that got you invited there.
Too many of us stay in our comfort zones of the church or remain unrelatable in the marketplace, missing the opportunities to be invited into the third space – someone else’s turf – where people most need God’s touch. As Paul said, we must “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). So enjoy your comfort zone on Sunday, find ways to be relatable and build relationships in the marketplace, and when you receive an invitation to the third space, go and love them in their space.