Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Reaching People for Jesus

Part of my preparation for my second residency for my Doctor of Ministry degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is the requirement that I read the book, “Culture Shift: Communicating God’s Truth to Our Changing World.” It is written by David W. Henderson and it is the most practical book on how to reach other people for Jesus. If you are wondering why people do not care about your faith and your Jesus, then you will want to read this book. Henderson will go back centuries to explain the forces that have been at work to shape our current attitudes. If you are interested to know why we are self-centered individuals, then get the book.

The book is a wake-up call for Christians to seriously work hard at fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus. Matthew 5.13 and 14 that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How can we bring preserving flavor and light to our world? Henderson points out that because our culture has changed, the days of door-to-door evangelism, cold-turkey witnessing and leaving tracts in restaurants are behind us. Americans are individualistic; and they tend to be isolated from others.

Henderson writes, “Our brazen preoccupation with self ripples through every tributary of our culture. It shapes how we do business, how we teach, how we parent, how we vote, how we marry. Not surprisingly, our individualism and self-concern wash over into the way we approach matters of faith. In a supreme act of self-reliance, we decide for God what is true about him and his intentions for us” (pg. 97).

Thus, if each person decides what is “true” about God, then they will have little time or tolerance for those who claim to have the ultimate truth about a relationship with God. Back in the mid 1970’s when I was in high school; some of us after youth group would sometimes drive to the Westroads Mall (in Omaha here) and witness to strangers using “The Four Spiritual Laws”. We found out that most people were willing to listen to us as we nervously shared from the tract.

Now that we are in the 21st century, many people may not be as open for a total stranger to talk to them about their need for a savior. The problem just isn’t with the Christians sharing about Jesus. Self-absorbed individualism has allowed people to isolate themselves. Thus, the building of meaningful relationships becomes more and more difficult. As a matter of fact, many Americans are not very connected at all with other people. Three out of four Americans do not know the people who live next door to them. One out of seven people do not even know the name of their neighbors (pg. 103).

Henderson puts it this way: “Contrary to what you might see on a map of the United States, America is a land of islands. Disconnected and alone, we have forgotten the benefits of mutuality and life shared” (pg. 103). Of course, there are many “islands” in the church as well. We can see this with the superficiality of relationships and the lack of desire for many to be part of small group of fellow believers. No doubt, being part of a small group can be intimidating, but once relationships are formed and trust is found, then that is when authentic church life can begin.

So how do we communicate God’s truth and love to others? Well, there can still be a place for using a gospel tract, but only after a relationship has been established with people. And this requires the investment of work and time. Henderson writes that we must bridge the islands. Pastors must do that on Sunday mornings in the way they communicate God’s Word, and all Christians must do it in the way they form relationships with people who need Jesus.

Henderson urges Christians to put a premium on friendships and relationships. He writes, “A guarded, get-lost society requires that we approach people with the gospel in the context of a relationship” (pg. 113). How are we doing in the relationship building department? As followers of Jesus, we are to work hard at attaining loving and edifying relationships with our brothers and sisters within the church. Plus, we are to establish relationships with the people that God has put into our lives. I will close with one more quote from David Henderson:

“…it is crucial that we befriend non-Christians, winning our way into their distracted hearts and busy schedules. That means spending the kind of time with them that lets us get to know each other; having them over for a cookout, watching their kids play in a high school game; feeding their fish and collecting their mail while they’re on vacation, all while waiting and praying for the opportunity to comfortably and naturally talk about our faith” (pg. 114).

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