There’s a lot of talk these days about how we need to work to see the gospel spread through “existing family and community networks.”
People are really working hard to keep disciples closely attached to their family and community connections. And these relationships are almost depended upon as the vehicle for the good news to spread.
But let’s think about this for a second.
While it certainly is wonderful when the good news spreads though existing relational ties, there is absolutely no reason why it should and always must be that way.
The gospel can (and often does) spread through totally unrelated, unconnected people. It quickly runs past and goes beyond family and community ties.
So, should we teach local disciples to put all their hopes and efforts into their existing relational connections?
Maybe they’re not supposed to worry very much about this at all. Maybe they’re supposed to quickly move beyond them and seek the lost in other circles or communities. Let them go!
God can push them into totally new circles, and create opportunities to share the good news with people they had absolutely no previous connection to.
After all, what was the hardest, most fruitless ground for Jesus’ ministry? His own family and community.
So why should we feel so attached to something that Jesus was very quick to move on from, or even ignore? (Matt 12:46-50)
Why should we be so locked in on getting fruit from the one area that seemed the most barren and fruitless for Jesus himself?
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)
When we live in situations, places, and ways that push us beyond our normal means of living, we learn to look to Him.
This act of looking to the Father, believing he’s real, and locking our lives and our hopes on him is really something like excercising the muscle of faith.
We look to him to protect us when we can’t rely on our surroundings or the law and order of some country to keep us safe.
We look to him to shield us from rumours, lies, and intrigues that might swirl around among a hostile or suspicious people.
We look to him for our daily bread when we don’t have any way of earning money, and we’re busying ourselves with making his name known.
We look to him to back up our words as we talk about him in a place where the things we say about Jesus are considered foolish, ridiculous, or even blasphemous.
We look to him to open doors and make a way for us to live and relate to people in places where we really don’t belong, and shouldn’t be able to go.
We look to him to take care of our hearts when we’re seperated from family and friends that understand us so well.
When we ‘put our hope in him,’ our expectations for provision, protection, life, and goodness are directed towards God himself. Often we’re kindly forced to “put our hope in him,” when we see our human strenghts or securities vanish before our eyes.
The Psalms are full of words describing this kind of looking… a kind of looking that your life depends on. He has to be real, because if he’s not our lives would be impossible and pointless. And that’s when we realize that he is our life.
And we get to see, firsthand, how incredibly beautiful, caring, and life-giving he really is!
When we walk among the lost we feel Christ’s compassion and love for them. When sit down and talk with them, we’re moved in the same way he is. When we see them hear and understand what he’s been aching to tell them, we feel his joy.
And so, naturally, we get to know Jesus more through the whole process.
After all, When we share in someone’s pains and joys, we get to know them better. When we share someone’s hopes and dreams, intimacy grows.
Evangelism is not always polished, efficient, and glamorous.
Often it’s wandering around a park for 2 hours longing and aching to get to talk to someone. Sometimes the conversations open up all over the place, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes one crucial contact happens after hours of persevering through nothing.
But this crazy act of us throwing ourselves out into a lost world, longing and aching to be able to make some contact and share some words of life, is a beautiful act of worship. When we spend hours doing this, aching for him to make himself known to the lost, we are saying he’s worthy to be known, and he’s worthy of our time.
I will often put myself out there in some place for 3, 6 or 9 hours at a time, often really doubting that anything worthwhile can happen. So often it feels impossible. But I pull away from the computer, from my home, and from whatever other things I’m involved with, and throw myself out the door. I get out in the park, in the market, near the people, and I long, ache, and pray for the gospel to somehow get to people who haven’t heard it before. Then, God gives me the desire of my heart, and it starts happening. Sometimes it starts happening right away in a flood, as one conversation after another unfolds. Sometimes it takes hours and hours before something worthwhile happens, and I only see a little trickle of opportunity. But it almost always happens somehow.
I remember some very good words that a much more experienced friend said. “If you go out once to share and nothing happens, go out again, and again, and again. Go out 9 times, and go out again, because on the 10th time you could get to share Jesus once.” That’s the attitude.
We have to decide that this is worthwhile.
The woman in Mark 14 could break an extremely expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet. And we can waste big chunks of our time, getting out among the lost, and aching for his word to go forward. Is it a waste? Isn’t there something better that could be done? No. Jesus is worth it.
Evangelism is also not about being super extroverted or a real people person. I rememeber seeing one of the most amazing evangelists, who was a real quiet, introverted guy, almost running after someone and trying really hard to talk to them, becasue he was driven by God’s love and concern for them. I was also told that I didn’t have what it takes, that I didn’t have the people skills necessary to connect with people and be an evangelist. But I had to try. I knew I couldn’t do anything else. And sure enough, the love for the lost God put in my heart pushed me over whatever personality barriers or deficiencies that I had.
Another one of the most powerfully used evangelists I’ve ever seen was a guy who had Asperger’s syndrome. He told me how when he was younger he literally had no meaningful interaction with anybody. It was just him and his computer. Then God worked him out of his shell and showed him how he could use him through and outreach. He still says that he is unable to read social situations because of his condition, but nevertheless, he somehow ends up meeting people and sharing the gospel all over the place. It’s beautiful. And as he says, “If I have any meaningful contact or conversation with anybody, that’s a miracle. So whatever happens through me (in terms of spreading the Gospel), I know it’s from God, and not from me.”
Exactly! And that’s the perspective that we really need. We’re not experts who’ve got the perfect evangelism techniques or methods figured out. We’re just servants fumbling around, really eager to somehow see him talked about (with people who’ve never heard) and honored. And God will use us, even us, to glorify his name.
Can the gospel be shared effectively in the most unideal of circumstances? I recently heard a story about a new believer in an unreached group that blew my mind and made me smile.
There was a guy who left his faith and started following Jesus. Naturally his wife and wider family would be upset, hurt, confused, and even angry. But he still told happily told his wife about the good news he believed, and she rejected it time and time again.
Until one day…
It was their anniversary, and sadly this guy completey forgot. Not a good move, forgetting an anniversary in the wake of bringing massive scandal and shame on the family. His wife would not be too happy. So what did he do? (wincing…)
He told her that he had the ultimate present for her. And then instead of pulling out some jewlery he had stashed away, or pressing go on some elaborate surpise plan, he told her the gospel. I know, not exactly the best way to get back in her good books, and definately not the best timing.
But she believed and was saved, right then!
There’s something something so right about the childlike faith and enthusiasm this guy had for the good news. Remember, in his culture the gospel is considered offensive, even blasphemous, and his new faith would have been the ultimate source of shame and grief for his wife. But he knew that it was good, good enough even to tell her on the day he forgot her anniversary!
In spite of everything that was messed up about that situation, he could stand there like an excited little kid and say, “Honey, I know I messed up and you’re upset, but I have the absolutely best thing for you!” He could say this because he knew how good the gospel is, and he knew the joy and peace it would bring.
We can share the gospel with people who hate us, with people who don’t trust us, with people who are prejudiced against us, even with people we’ve dissapointed. The gospel doesn’t need a perfect set of circumstances to come across with power. It’s good enough to save people who are angry with us, or suspicious of us, or are obsessed with their religion, or enthralled by their sin.
I know another guy who shared the gospel with someone who had vowed to kill him in revenge… and he believed too! But that’s another story.
The other night I was out in a park, wandering around and hoping to talk to some people from one of the most unreached people groups in the world.
I said a word or two to a guy next to me at a little canteen stand, and he kindly insisted on paying for my water I was buying. Then he invited me over to their 15 other friends sitting in a circle on the grass. I sat down with them and they welcomed me like an old friend. We all sat and talked for a long time, their faces beaming with a deep respect, interest, and excitement. We joked and talked about life, about funny, and serious things. They didn’t mind that I was some random dude they just met. They also didn’t mind that my language was faltering and weak. They were just happy to sit there and patiently talk with me.
These are also the kind of people who probably never get to meet a Christian ever in their lives. They’re from a people group that might have only 1 believer in every 250,000 people. And yes, they’re that easy to talk to.
We just need people to let go of their plans and take the time to sit with these people, learn their language, and share the words of life. Anyone up for this?
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
But not the kind of training that most people think of.
It takes a lot of training to learn how to live and move, and then speak and pass on the words of Jesus in a foreign land. There’s a million little things someone has to learn about how to ride the bus, say hello to people, sit down and stand up, go to the bathroom, let alone learning to talk, make conversation, and make yourself understood. And the only way to do this is by spending all kinds of time figuring things out, ie. ‘living’ in a new foreign land.
This is not a training that any school can give. It’s a training you get in the streets, living rooms, and everyday conversations you have in the land you’re wanting to reach. And it does take a lot of time.
Without doing this though, without getting active and accustomed in the new language and flow of life, a person can’t do much without becoming quickly exhausted or giving up.
I believe this is one of the more critical tasks that often gets overlooked.
When we live out in these far-flung corners of the world, we can get into some pretty tricky and stressful situations.
This could be difficulty in finding housing, or some rumor that you can’t control, or a whole host of other things…
Whatever it is, the enemy works to paralyze us with anxiety or despair.
But no matter how bleak or overwhelming any situation may look, we need to remember that our heavenly Father isn’t phased at all. In fact, he’s never phased by anything.
Think about that for a second.
He cares way more about preserving your life and opening the right doors… and now situation or trial, no matter how messy or un-solvable it may seem is beyond his power.
So we just need to look to him, pray, and then take whatever 1 or 2 steps you can. Relax. He’s got it and he’s not freaking out. Trust him.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)