Reaching people who are not like me

GUEST BLOG: PAT HOWELL

“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”

C. T. Studd, 1860-1931.  English missionary to China, India, and Africa

I’ve been thinking about this little poem a lot lately. I first heard it when I read “The Chocolate Soldier” by Studd when I was a student with New Tribes Mission. You should read it.

I came to know Christ in the mid-70’s. I was a broken rebel. My Mom died of cancer in 1971 and my Dad was long gone. My sister and I were on our own. My older brother, an outlaw biker really did try to take care of us but as you might imagine (and might is the operative word here), while his efforts were sincere, it was a bizarre situation.

After a few months I took my sister and left. Mary went to a foster home and eventually lived with an Aunt. I was on my own. That was 1971. From 1971 to 1975 there was a lot of partying, a drug habit, an abandoned college scholarship, and a lot of stuff I won’t go into.

But there were also two Christian girls. There are two things I really want to emphasize about them as they shared Christ with me:

1. As they talked to me about Jesus, they didn’t freak out or run away or abandon the friendship or try to reform me or anything similar when I behaved in a way true to my nature, i.e., behaved as a sinner. Rebellious. Proud. Course. Etc. Sinful in every way.

2. And directly related to #1-They loved me. It was so evident. They cared about me as a person. I was not “an object of their theology.” They were sincere, caring, long-suffering. Their love for me didn’t depend upon how much or how well I responded to the gospel they were sharing with me…their practical, genuine, determined love spoke volumes to me about the reality of their own relationship with Christ…neither of them were great theologians, but mercy, they were very fine Christians and to this day I’m grateful for them both.

It was their testimony of both the gospel of Christ and how that gospel compelled them to live and reach out to others, not their theological acumen that compelled me to consider the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

Now, having been a Christian for 36 years and having been in vocational ministry for much of that time, I have some opinions.

My background is pretty conservative theologically and I’ve spent many years as a leader of one sort or another in conservative evangelical church culture. I know the drill, the buzz words, the right perspectives, the do’s and don’ts, the right teachers, authors, positions, and all the other stuff that composes conservative evangelicalism…and while I have my criticisms of evangelical culture, there is also much and many for which I’m very grateful indeed.

And I certainly recognize the critical importance of a sound Biblical theology, exegetically derived and systematically expressed. And I love expository preaching that is passionate, articulate, true to the text and directed toward the person in the pew, not the student in the classroom or the peer in another church, etc.

But here’s the thing. Amidst all the sermons, and articles, and blogs, amongst all the quotes and posts and repartee found all over social media and in conferences and seminars, et. al, ad infinitum, there is very, very little… precious little about reaching people… PEOPLE with the gospel, a gospel that is clearly expressed and clearly seen, or dare we say it, felt.

There are arguments about evidentialism and presuppostionalism. There are soliloquies and opinions on every possible topic discussed and position held by theological friend and foe alike. There is no end to quotations. The endless extolling of Calvinism and Puritanism or whatever -ism currently in favor, and one’s favorite preacher/teacher/author (and we are thankful for them as we should be), permeates social media and allegedly our consciences and our consciousness.

For several years now, I’ve been struck by how wrapped up we are in ourselves. Our theology (declaring it, defending it, arguing about it, and I do know, it IS important and I’m prepared both to proclaim and defend the faith once delivered); our churches, our fellowship, our schools, our ministries, our families and the list goes on.

Somehow, it seems to me that there is huge boat that we are missing. A mission we’re not fulfilling. A purpose by which we’re not driven. A passion we’re not embracing or expressing. A command we’re not obeying…

We just don’t seem to care about people who aren’t like us. All of our time and energies are taken up with the affairs of this life (understandably to a point) and church related activities. Where and when and how do we actually begin to intentionally develop relationships with people–as people–and not objects of our theology and outside the walls of the building in which the church meets?

Ok…at this point I hear friends, former colleagues and students saying…where’s the Scripture? Well, I guess one must read carefully phrases like “…and looking at him, Jesus loved him.” Scripture is replete with human experience in all its forms and the effort of God and His people and His Son, to reach out to people where they were–and as they were. Just read carefully.

God will save people. As the gospel is proclaimed, shared, expressed, explained and lived out before people, God will save people. But He has deigned to use means…and by and large, that’s us. Unless you’re fideistic in the extreme, you believe that God uses means. And if you think back about your own coming to Christ, in all likelihood people were involved. They shared the truth from Scripture, they explained it, no doubt you read the Word yourself….but people were involved. And you loved them and appreciated them and they were an important part of your life–and maybe still are. And having heard many 100’s of baptismal testimonies…it is evident that God uses people as means in the process of bringing His elect to Himself.

Here’s the point: You saw Christ in them and very likely experienced (dare we use the word) some form of human relationship in the process of coming to know Jesus.

So, I’m purposing to reach people…whether they are like me or not. I know that “but for the grace of God, there go I.” I know that at my best, I’m nothing and worthy of condemnation. But they don’t know that, because they don’t know God. Yet.

May I suggest you take some time and consider your own approach to reaching people?

A man came up to D.L. Moody after an evangelistic meeting and said, “Mr. Moody, I don’t much care for your methods.” Moody replied, “Neither do I. What methods do you use?” The man said, “I don’t use any methods.” To which Moody said, “Well, I like the way I do use mine, rather than the way you don’t use yours.”

What are yours? Relying on the sovereignty of God is a wonderful and blessed thing…but it’s neither a reason nor an excuse not to be intentional in what one is doing to reach out to all and every kind of people with both the message and the love of God as demonstrated in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Please pray for me. Like many of you, we’re battling on several fronts…but sure are grateful to be reaching out to people who are in need of Christ. Just like I was…just like you were. Please pray for the gospel to be both seen and heard through my witness.

By the way, do you want to live close to the church and luxuriate in blessings (not always a bad thing by any means), or, do you want to serve in a rescue shop a yard away from Hell?

Pat

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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