Following the example of the Master
How do we create a lifestyle and culture that reflect the way Christ interacted with those around Him? Jesus felt so deeply for the needs of people that He did more healing and socializing than preaching. Those He came into contact with were left with a feeling of hope, value, and forgiveness. “His presence here made all the difference. He was not sending a word, He was the Word. . . . In the same way, the Christian community in the world not only carries that message, we are a message. We are a living demonstration of the reality of God in a fallen world.”1
If we expect to reach people for the kingdom, we need to embrace Christ’s way of reaching people. “The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good [Luke 15:1, 2]. He showed His sympathy for them [John 8:1-11], ministered to their needs [Mark 2:1-12], and won their confidence [John 9:1-12]. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’ [Matt. 11:28-30].”2
Christ went out into the community; He did not expect the community to come to Him. Since we believe that the message of Christ is still relevant more than 2,000 years after His death, His approach for sharing that message is also universally relevant today. Let’s look back to Jesus and see how He reached out to the people in His community.
Pray for the Unchurched
Prayer should permeate all our evangelistic efforts. Scripture assures us that God is at work redeeming the world. Jesus wept and prayed over the spiritual condition of the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He wants us to be sensitive to His activity around us.
Habitually pray for your neighbors, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances. Prayer should not be a one-minute brief acknowledgment. Earnestly pray for them by name. Establish prayer groups that meet for the sole purpose of praying for the unchurched in your community. Pray also that you will be open for opportunities to share the gospel.
Recently my wife and I were invited to a birthday party for a member of our church. When we arrived, we noticed that people were gathered in clusters, except one couple, who were by themselves. So I went and talked to them.
They were neighbors of the man who was having the party. Since everyone else was from the church, this couple did not know anyone. I introduced myself and asked questions in order to get to know them. This neighbor couple was not attending a church. While the man had very much enjoyed church growing up, he had drifted away as he grew older. The woman had never been to church; she was raised in a family that did not attend religious services.
After telling them a bit about how I became a Christian, the man asked if I could come by their house later that week to keep the discussion going. I agreed, and we started Bible studies in their home. It was not too much later that the couple—who were not married but lived together—decided to get married and give their hearts to God. We had a beautiful ceremony in which they were joined to each other in marriage and through baptism joined to God.
Before inviting the unchurched to church, develop a relationship with them. Get to know them over a meal or intimate social gathering. Look for similar interests. Find out where they come from and what their spiritual background is.
We see Jesus doing this with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-29). Pray for these new friends daily. Look for ways to minister, such as mowing their yard while they are on vacation, or helping them with house projects. Invite these friends to attend sporting or cultural events with you.
Helping the unchurched to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ is not a quick-strike operation; it requires a long-term commitment to relationships.
A few years ago I baptized a woman by the name of Sara. I visited her the following Sunday to cast the vision for her to reach out to her family with the love of God. I noticed that everywhere there were pictures of her husband, Roger, with his “catch of the day.” Roger was obviously an avid fisherman.
So I started reading everything I could about fishing. I also started to visit with Roger regularly and talked with him about fishing. One day I asked if I could go fishing with him and take my son with us. He was delighted. During the week before the fishing trip, I prayed that God would do something unusual.
We had a great time on the lake. My son caught two fish, and I caught seven. Roger did not get any. He was embarrassed and upset. He looked at me and asked, “How did you do that? This is your first day fishing!”
“I prayed about it,” I said.”
He responded, “Teach me about prayer.”
A few months later he was baptized.
In order to reach people, we might have to learn about fishing or crochet, auto mechanics or cooking. Developing relationships sometimes requires us to get out of our comfort zones.
Meet People’s Needs
Jesus always spoke to the needs of individuals. Whether it was the woman at the well or the leper by the Pool of Siloam, He met people where they were. He gave them comfort and hope. He invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Jesus’ model of practical Christianity is about relieving the burdens of others. Bible study must go beyond what happened thousands of years ago; it must be directed toward life application so that God’s transforming work can take place in people’s lives. And when people’s lives are changed, they share that good news with others.
People desire a sense of belonging; yet most churches tend to follow the formula of Believe, Behave, then Belong.
If the church is going to make a difference, it must become like Jesus in His love, grace, and redeeming power. When church is done right, it is a place of grace and hope that God uses to change people and make the world better (see Luke 4:18, 19; Isa. 61:1, 2).
Churches that reach their communities embody grace as lived out in the life of Christ. Ellen White wrote about Jesus: “Wherever He went, the tidings of His mercy preceded Him. . . . As He passed through the towns and cities He was like a vital current, diffusing life and joy.”3
Promote a Sense of Acceptance.
People desire a sense of belonging; yet most churches tend to follow the formula of Believe, Behave, then Belong.4 With this thinking we imply “First, you believe like us, then you behave the way we behave. You must talk, eat, and dress like us. Then once you behave like us, you can belong to our fellowship community.”
Historically, evangelism has begun with the sharing of knowledge or beliefs. We pray that they are then convicted of these truths by the Holy Spirit and begin incorporating them into their hearts and lives. After this they learn experientially about what it feels like to belong to our church community.
While this method is still valid for some, I suggest a new paradigm that fosters a sense of belonging on which an understanding of beliefs can rest. For example: you repeatedly share your Sabbath afternoons with friends, inviting them over for lunch, taking them with you for nature hikes, and maybe even inviting them to church.
At some point they will notice the joy and peace of the Sabbath in your life as they begin to experience it for themselves. This will lead them to ask about the principles and beliefs that guide your understanding of the Sabbath. There is now an opportunity to share with them from the Bible the truth of the Sabbath. Because they have already experienced what Sabbath looks like and what it can do in their lives, they have most likely been convicted of biblical truth before it is even formally presented.
Jesus took special care to spend time eating with and getting to know people of all classes and lifestyles (Mark 2:15-17). He even invited Himself to the house of Zacchaeus in order to show him that he was worthy of salvation (Luke 19:1-10). Once people feel accepted for who they are, they are more open to changing their values and beliefs. As they understand what God is calling them to be and do, they will change their behavior.
Will Christianity Work for Me?
Unchurched individuals want to know if Christianity will work for them. They ask, “Does following Jesus make any difference in your life?” “Does the Bible have anything to say about my problems?” Theargument today is not whether Christianity is real, but does it work? Let your life be the answer, showing that a relationship with Christ not only works but is practical and makes life worth living.
Christ’s way of reaching people started with touching people’s lives by meeting their needs and making them whole. It ended with Jesus calling them to follow Him and to have a relationship with Him. That is our mission today.
- Wayne McDill, Making Friends for Christ: A Practical Approach to Relational Evangelism, 2nd ed. (Maitland, Fla.: Xulon Press, 2010), p. 22.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.
- Ibid., pp. 19, 20.
- See Richard Rice, Believing, Behaving, Belonging: Finding New Love for the Church (Roseville, Calif.: Association of Adventist Forums, 2002).
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of Christian ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan.