How we approach people as we seek to be missional is important.
This simple truth reminds me of all the movies I’ve seen over the years in which a pilot is about to land their plane and they get ready to make their approach.
They have a checklist to go through, a way to be prepared.
And they know that if they do all that’s on that checklist, then they will be much, much more likely to land the plane safely than if they went about it all willy-nilly.
Why do we think being and sharing the good news of Jesus would be any different? Our approach matters too!
Sure, we might not have a checklist that we must work through each time…but there are some tried and true ideas to help our approach be much, much more likely to succeed!
Why Talk about Our Approach at All?
The response was what I expected. Several people were in agreement with me that being judgmental is a bad thing and that, among other things, it hurts the way we present ourselves to those who have yet to follow Jesus. And many, many more people were angered by the post, claiming that I had gone too soft or too liberal or had become too tolerant.
Despite the fact that I should have known better, I waded into the comments to duke it out with the latter group. In one particularly tense comment thread I found an unexpected ally, Sam. I don’t know much about Sam other than he seems to be somewhere on a path toward Jesus. I don’t know where he might be on that journey, but I’m pretty confident that he’s on it!
Sam decided to make his voice heard in a conversation where one commenter was saying that any preaching of the gospel should include an strong effort to convince the hearers that they are “wretched sinners.” And while an awareness of sinfulness and repentance is certainly part of responding to the good news of Jesus, it seems to me from a lifetime or reading and studying the New Testament that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and lead them to repentance.
This is where Sam stepped in. Here’s what he said:
I was impressed by what Sam shared! So I asked him if I could use his comments.
And Sam replied:
And he concluded with this zinger:
I was left more or less speechless by what Sam had shared! And from that day until now all I could think about was sharing Sam’s words on this blog.
So, there they are — the wisdom of Sam, highlighting the importance of having a proper approach when being missional!
Boiling Down Sam’s Ideas about Approach
So, how can we get the most out of Sam’s words? Well, I think it might be good to look through them and find the best nuggets. Here are the results of my mining efforts:
- We must have an audience that’s willing to listen! If our approach is too aggressive, too judgmental, too churchy, or too negative overall, then no one will listen. So if we are hoping to share and be the good news where we work, live, and play, then we MUST find ways for folks to listen to us!
- When we share we should be “positive and accepting.” This is going to feel like watering down the gospel to some folks. But stick with me for a minute. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” It follows logically then that we would want to have “good” things to talk about when we share the “good news”! And simply because we’re in proximity to or having a conversation with someone whon our church culture deems as a “wretched sinner” doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone whatever sinfulness that is present. Instead it means that we are trying our best to be like Jesus, who was infamous for being friends with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9.10-11, 11.19; Mark 2.15-16; Luke 5.30, 7.34, 15.1).
- Actions speak louder than words. Sam implores us to let our loving and selfless actions do the talking as we make our approach instead of talking about how others are evil for their actions. What kind of actions should we engage in? I love how Sam starts at a really simple level — just asking if everything is okay or if we can help in anyway. I’m pretty sure that all of us can take those two steps! And in so doing we will be more likely to move the relationship closer to Christ.
- Our actions in the community are noticed. Sam said, “It’s really hard to shut out any group who displays positive work in their community, who supports groups of people who are otherwise ridiculed and discriminated against, even if they don’t agree with them.” There it is, in plain English. How we treat people in our neighborhoods is a known commodity. People see us. They see us as individuals, families, small groups, congregations, and as the Church as a whole. So, wouldn’t we want what they see to be attractive instead of repulsive?
- Following Sam’s approach can lead to people feeling impressed, inspired, curious, and respectful. Aren’t these reactions much better than the way that people tend to think of us today, namely as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too political? And in so doing, wouldn’t the person we are sharing with be more likely to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom?
Our Approach Should Be Like Jesus’ Approach
But those of us who are Christians follow Jesus and not Sam! So how did Jesus do this?
Much could be written about Jesus’ approach but I only want to explore one little story here: the calling of Matthew.
A little background would be good. At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has gained a reputation for being a good teacher, a worker of miracles, and a friend of the unlovable. One group that was certainly unlovable by the vast majority of Jews living in Palestine in the first century was tax collectors.
Now when we think of tax collectors today we might think of IRS agents with their carefully pressed suits, calculators, spread sheets, and complicated tax codes. But Matthew was a different sort of tax collector. He was more akin to the member of a gang who shakes down local businesses for protection money. In other words, Matthew had more in common with mob muscle than pencil pushers.
And Matthew did his work publicly. Everyone knew who he was and what he did.
So when Jesus started his approach with Matthew, all of these things were true and everyone, Jesus and Matthew included, was aware of them.
Here’s how it went down:
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9.9)
Notice what Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t judge Matthew. He didn’t tell him to shape up before he would be able to follow him. He didn’t care much about the opinion of anyone other than Matthew. And he didn’t try to convince Matthew that he was a wretched sinner.
Instead Jesus just said “follow me.” Jesus asked Matthew to join his community, to become one of his traveling band.
Jesus’ actions certainly don’t line up with our typical approach. We tend to tell people that they have to behave and believe correctly before they can belong to us. But Jesus didn’t do that. He told people that they belonged and then taught them through his own life how to behave and believe!
Friends, let’s follow the advice of Jesus (and Sam) and let’s fix our approach to sharing the good news!
What do you think? How can we fix how we approach sharing the good news with someone who has yet to follow Jesus? Let me know in the comments below!