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Jesus’ methods

Befriending and relationships

Web Evangelism, indeed any form of outreach, should not primarily be 'cut and run' – the hope that a quick exposure to an evangelistic page, tract, or some other message is likely to communicate effectively on its own. Fruit from web evangelism does not usually happen this way. “Non-relational evangelism is a contradiction,” says Southern Baptist communicator Ed Stetzer. Check these stories – each involved a period of email relationships. Several research studies of lasting adult conversions have shown the participants reporting in retrospect that:

This suggests that any mode of evangelism which does not aim to draw people into real, trusting relationships with Christians, is unlikely to be very fruitful. And since such relationships can be costly and time-consuming, and Christians are so often busy with ‘ministry’, they may never even happen.

It is helpful to observe Jesus’ methods. We can see clearly several key aspects to His ministry: addressing felt needs, using the principles of permission evangelism and that of building relationships. While we cannot meet people face-to-face in online evangelism, nevertheless we can “eat with people” – sitting with them in digital space. This sense of community is crucial. We must also learn how non-Christians think.

If you would like to know how a relationship with Jesus could change your life, go here.

The following insights are excerpted with grateful thanks from Following Jesus by Dave Roberts, (Relevant Books, ISBN: 0-97292-763-8), with additional material by Gary Gibbs

Imagine for a moment that you live in the culture of Jesus’ day. World history doesn’t arrive via digital signals to screens in your living room or study. Books are not generally available, and you can’t listen to the tapes of your favorite speaker.

How did Jesus communicate, and what do His ancient methods have to say to our future spiritual life? How did He pass on His values and equip twelve men to start a church that would shape civilizations and attract billions of followers?

It’s tempting to think it was because He was a great orator. He clearly was. He sat in a boat and, using the acoustic properties of the nearby coastline, spoke to thousands. He taught more than four thousand people for three days on another occasion. But as you read the biblical record, you’ll find few long speeches or lengthy sermons. The Sermon on the Mount narratives don’t take much more than seven minutes to read out loud. So He must have been doing something else. If we are to follow Jesus and create counter-cultural communities, we are clearly going to have to do more than ensure that our Sunday services are finished by an eloquent forty-minute sermon, useful as that may be.

When Jesus spoke to or ate with people deemed unworthy by others He sent out powerful signals. Mundane behavior such as eating together spoke of acceptance, acceptance sparked trust, trust released hope, hope sought salvation. Author and speaker Ed Silvoso reminds us in Prayer Evangelism (Regal Books), that we often start our contact with the non-Christian with verbal declarations of our faith. Offers of healing prayer may come next. Eventually they may share the everyday normality of a meal with us before we ask God to bring peace to their home and family.

Jesus’ words to His disciples as He sends them out to prepare the way for Him are instructive. Consider the order in Luke 10:5-9. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ’the kingdom of God is near you.’” Part of the challenge of this passage lies in the order in which Jesus suggests things be done.

Declare peace

This formed part of a common greeting at the time. But it could be much more than a mere verbal punctuation mark. It was a prayer. Does it provoke us about our tendency to pray ‘against’ things when we begin to think about how to pray for our area, town, or street? Jesus is inviting us to invite Him to bring peace to that area. The mere announcement that God’s peace is coming to that place is a form of spiritual warfare that drives away destructive forces that may have strongholds there.

Eat with people

Eating together allowed discussion, signified acceptance, and was a redemptive act in its own right when practiced by Jesus with the social outcasts of the day. It reminds us to be with people in the ordinary rhythms of their lives, building friendship and trust.

Take as well as give

Creating strong friendships depends on mutual care. It’s OK for us to learn on our unchurched friends. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. He then gave her living water!

Pray for their healing

Jesus prayed for people to be healed. Some were deeply grateful and no doubt became part of His band of followers. Others, including nine lepers, expressed little thanks. In our culture people seem ready to be prayed for, even if not all acknowledge the healer who might come to their aid. Healing prayer seemed to be a gateway for the message of Christ’s life. It enabled trust to grow and readied people to hear the message of the Kingdom.

Declare the Kingdom

The story is told of a concert in an American city, featuring a militantly anti-Christian band. Their fans sweltered in the sun as they waited for the doors to open. At one end of the street, a church group held up banners proclaiming that God hated gays. Further down the street, another church group, noting the plight of the queue, made gallons of cold drinks and offered them to people as they waited. Hundreds of young adults had some of their caricatures of Christians – encouraged by the banner wavers – undone by a simple act of acceptance and help. A church group declared peace to the crowd and helped feed them. They were much more likely to get the opportunity to pray for their needs and declare the good news of Jesus kingdom to them.

Jesus didn’t send out His followers alone. They ventured into the wider world together. Jesus often met with those considered “sinners and publicans” in the company of several of His followers. We will not want to face some of the challenges of the culture we live in alone, but we will never change it by hiding in our castles and staging confrontational raids on the hearts of the lost via occasional street preaching or door knocking.

In towns and cities around the world, door knocking is starting to work again because its primary purpose is not to engineer a conversation but to simply make contact, offer prayer, or convey information about church events or children’s clubs. At first, you are given seconds at the door, but in time trust is built; people become your acquaintances and then your friends.

The message for us is this: Impersonal evangelism may leave the fingerprints of God on someone, but only the friendship that flows from genuine love for others will help this generation feel the embrace of God.

The challenge is this: Will we for ever regard the not-yet-Christian as ‘them’, objects of spiritual pity, rather than objects of God’s love? Will we be their friends whether or not they make an immediate response to our talk of faith? Are we prepared to enjoy life together with them on shopping trips, in the bleachers of a sports stadium, or relaxed around a late summer barbecue? Are we willing to connect with non-Christians and dare to believe that we can influence them for good, rather than them corrupting us? Do we believe that He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world?

As we consider matters of social justice, are we motivated by pity or compassion? Pity says, “I will help you because I feel guilty, or maybe because I feel superior.” Compassion says, “I will help you because you're human, made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, friendship, and aid.” Jesus was colorblind, status-blind, and gender-blind. He didn’t see the divisions we often see. He created a Church where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.

Jesus did not come with mere words of wisdom before scurrying home to a spiritual fortress. He lived among and ate with the ordinary people of His day. He was their friend as well as their Savior. Who are your friends? Will you follow Jesus in befriending the lost?

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