In a spiritual world of quick fixes and vague emotion, is it crazy to believe there is still a place for insights based on simple, basic, theological understanding. I believe it is worth exploring.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Meeting People Where They Are
Scripture tells us to meet people where they are (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 19:9,10). But we need to be careful about about what we mean by that. We are to meet them where they are in order to help them out of their situation, not just to tell them what they want to hear. There is a difficult balance here. If we meet people as sanctimonious Pharisees, looking down our noses at them, they will not listen. But if we change our message to make it more palatable, we are becoming conformed to the world rather than helping others escape it (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:4). And it is much easier to take one of the wrong stances here than the right one. It is easy to not deal with those outside except to condemn them. It is easy never to tell people anything that might offend them. But it is hard to meet people where they are at in order to show them there is something better. How do we accomplish this?
We must avoid self-righteousness (Luke 16:15; 18:9-14; Matthew 6:1-18). The best antidote for this is to remember that we ourselves are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 11:6). We need to be particularly careful of this because people will tend to jump to this conclusion whether or not it is true, because it is the, unfortunately not totally false, stereotype the world has of us. A major part of what is involved here is we need to genuinely love people (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8) and not just see them as cases or notches in our evangelistic belt.
We also need to realize that the gospel is a stumbling block and not everyone will accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Romans 9:30-33). There is an idea, not uncommon in the evangelical church, that people just misunderstand us. There is some truth to this. There are people who reject some stereotype of what they think Christianity is or simply cannot get past our Christian lingo to understand what we really mean. But there are also those who do understand it and reject it because it does not fit their preconceived notions. We need to recognize it is the work of God in the heart that brings people to Himself (1 Corinthians 3:6,7; John 6:44; Acts 16:14). But if we go into the situation with unrealistic expectations or believing that everything depends on us and what we say, then we will be much more likely either to react with hostility or to water down the message if we meet with resistance.
Reaching out to people in a loving, yet firm, way is a hard thing to do. But I am convinced God requires us to reach past the easy alternatives to accomplish this.