“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
What a remarkable situation Luke records. Jesus’ practice of spending time with sinners frustrated the religious leaders of the day leading them to ask: “Why would this man want to hang out with sinners?” I think another question hangs in the air for us: “Why did sinners want to hang out with him?” In our “Overcoming Evangelism Barriers” series I want to look today at connecting with unbelievers. As Christians we look to connect both relationally and spiritually, just as Jesus did regularly.
Sharing our faith evangelistically generally involves connecting both ways. If we only focus upon relationship, we will never get to the life-giving and life-transforming truth of the gospel. If we only focus on making a “spiritual” connection, that is sharing true spiritual claims with people, we risk our message falling on deaf ears for there is no context of shared relationship, experience, and trust that gives support to spiritual sharing. As Paul said to the church at Thessalonica: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thes. 2:8)”
Here are some things to consider to initiate or improve relational connections:
1) Consider the regular activities of your life
I suspect our lives intersect with far more people than we realize. Consider taking your children to the bus stop. Who else is there; could you plan on lingering before or after to get to know neighbours? How about various services: coffee, hairstyling, the car mechanic, groceries etc. What if you chose to frequent one shop in particular and endeavoured to be served by the same one or two servers, if that is possible. What about your hobbies and interests? If you are at the gym regularly how about developing a workout-partner relationship? I suspect all of us could do better at building relationships with the people we already know, let alone get better at building new ones.
2) Start conversations
Get to know people by name. We cannot expect to share something as personal as faith if we cannot get to relationship step one. One of the best evangelism openers is: “Hi, my name is Gary, what is yours?” Please use your own name. Ask questions to get to know them. Do you know the best way to influence someone to ask you a question? Ask them one! Keep in mind that to have someone open up to you and enable more serious conversation, you will have to be willing to do the same.
3) Share your life
This is a big challenge in our culture. We busy ourselves with too much stuff and activity that doesn’t include others. Set aside regular time that you will use to focus upon building meaningful relationships with others that will give opportunity for you to love and serve them. In such relationships I suspect God will amaze you with the opportunities you have to proclaim the gospel in both word and deed. Don’t be afraid to start small, in fact it is the best way to start when just getting to know someone. Offer to take them out for coffee – hospitality doesn’t need to be a nerve-wracking six-course meal!
Obviously, there is so much more we could consider. That is why I continue to encourage our Life Groups to engage in the kind of discussion and prayer that fosters growth in our evangelism faithfulness. If you are not in a Life Group now is a great time to join. Furthermore, Pastor Andrew and I will continue to look for opportunities on Sunday mornings, or through seminars, to better equip ourselves toward leading missional lives. One such opportunity will be Saturday morning on November 3rd when our friend Cory McKenna of The Cross Current will lead an evangelism seminar for our congregation. Stay tuned for details.
As we gather for Sunday worship, we want you to meet with God and be transformed by the Word. Prepare your heart by reading the passage and listening to the songs for Sunday.