I have done an awful lot of really cool things in the name of evangelism in an effort to tell people about Jesus. I worked with a church that put our information on those coupon cards that travelling baseball teams sell and we told our members to give them away to everyone you see in the grocery store, or your place of business, or the gym. We thought that every time someone used that card they would see our information.
I had a friend introduce me to QR codes, those little boxes on the sides of products like vacuum cleaners and fishing bait. We designed a page on our website that invited people to our church and told them about us, and about Jesus. We put the code on white business cards and put them everywhere, from bathrooms in the mall to doctors offices.
We had bottles of water with our information printed on the label. During the hottest part of the summer we would go to the parks and hand out bottles of water and otter pops to families.
We had banquets for Firemen and Police officers and their families. We cooked steak dinners, celebrated them and their devotion to our communities, prayed over them, and gave them small gifts. We wanted to say thank you in a very tangible way.
We had block parties for the government assisted apartments that surround our buildings. We pulled out the grills and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers. We set up tables for folks to come and eat a meal with us, we blasted music, and played games for free.
We hosted a Trunk or Treat, complete with hay rides, giant inflatables, and hot chocolate. We made blessing bags for homeless people that had a toothbrush, deodorant, a disposable razor, granola bars, and a little card telling them about God’s love. We adopted the local High School and every month we would take every teacher and staff member a candy bar and a little encouraging letter. We did a prayer walk around the school and would take homemade cookies during their teacher meetings.
While we were busy and happier than we had ever been, there was something that just wasn’t right. Instead of people coming and learning about Christ we gained a reputation of that church who would pay your light bill, or give you a bag of food; we had become a place instead of a people. When people talked about us they talked about a building with stained glass or worse, we were reduced to a landmark: go down past that church and take the next left.
We were left scratching our heads wondering what was the next program or the next ministry that we could start that would give us the best opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We wanted to do something that would give us the best bang for our buck, and would be the best use of our limited resources. That’s when we made a decision to get out of the program and ministry business.
We spent some time in the gospels and we noticed something that had always been there but maybe we were so familiar with the stories we overlooked it. Usually, when we thought of evangelism, our minds went to Doctors or Lawyers with 3 kids who could make financial and physical contributions to the church. But, Jesus seemed to have a different attitude. Jesus went after a tax collector named Matthew, a woman who had five husbands and was living with a man that did not belong to her, a lame man, and ten men with leprosy. This was not just something Jesus did, it was what He told us to do. In Matthew 9:12-14 Jesus says, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”
I am intrigued that the Good News translates the word hamartōlos (har-ma-to-las) as outcasts. I am intrigued because the word outcast makes me uncomfortable. I mean from the very first day of Kindergarten, we live our whole lives trying to be on the inside, to be one of the accepted and popular kids. We began to think that maybe our problem wasn’t that we were not doing the right things, but that we weren’t seeing the right things.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20). God is an imaginative God. When God looked at the vast, dark, deep earth that had no form, He imagined the beauty of this life. God imagined you, and He imagined not only the penalty for our brokenness, but the payment of Christ’s blood on our behalf. If we are going to be successful in bringing the outcasts to the foot of the cross, then we need to start using our imagination to see the beauty in the lives of others as well.
If you want to be successful in reaching out to your community, then you need to see the single mother who works two jobs to support her kids as someone deeply loved by God. You need to see the drug addict who can’t stop his habit celebrating 10 years of being clean and sober. You need to see the young person who struggles with self esteem making a difficult stand for Christ in your community. You need to see the young couple who lives together and has never been exposed to the best way to build a home celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. You need to see the boy or girl that is really struggling with homosexuality or gender confusion reaching out to other strugglers to share the compassion and love of Christ. Because, that’s what Jesus sees when He looks at you, someone who is struggling in this broken world who desperately needs a Savior.
How would your church family change if you stopped asking your members to see folks as they are, and start imagining them the way that God sees and created them to be. How different would your church look if your members went out and actually met their neighbors? What if they committed to praying for them by name? What if we refused to spend thousands of dollars on the next big program and just taught our teens how to get to know the waitress at Waffle House. When if they spent their time praying for her, and they were truly concerned about what was happening in her life.
How would the climate of your church change if you got out of the program business because Jesus didn’t come to to establish programs and ministries, Jesus came to allow us the freedom to imagine how life will be in Heaven? When we allow our imagination to run wild, we stop looking at why it won’t work and focus on what God is calling us to. The church that Jesus built is a community of love and accountability where we give people enough time to become what we imagine them to be. The Kingdom of God is a place where imperfect and broken people can come together and share their struggles, to help, encourage, and uplift one another. The church that Jesus built is a place where we can see one another not as our worst mistakes, but as people created in the image of God and loved deeply. But, before we can take that step we have to imagine what that would look like.