Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

25 October 2017

Sharing Jesus… with the next town.

Considering how unsuccessful Jesus was in reaching his own hometown, it’s odd how we assume he wants us to nonetheless begin with our own.

Evangelists sure do like to quote this scripture:

Acts 1.8 KWL
But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”

Why so? Because they quickly follow it up with, “That’s Jesus’s game plan for evangelism.”

Presumably we’re to share him in…

  • Jerusalem, meant to represent our hometowns.
  • Judea, meant to represent our state, county, district, or otherwise surrounding area.
  • Samaria, standing in for the next state or nation over.
  • The end of the world, the rest of the planet.

Hence, evangelists claim, we need to quit sending people on short-term and long-term mission trips to other countries, unless they can first prove themselves with their neighbors. If they suck at sharing Jesus with their own community, why on earth would they do any better with strangers in a strange land?

I have two main problems with this claim. One from experience; the other from bible.

First of all. When I was a kid I had the darnedest time sharing Jesus with people. Mainly because I was a hypocrite: I was a rotten example of Christianity, knew it, and didn’t care to share Jesus with my friends and have ’em respond, “Since when are you Christian?” I settled for inviting them to church; I could do that much. Or that little. (It still totally counts though: If that’s all you figure you can do, that’s pretty good.)

Second of all, Jerusalem was not the apostles’ hometown.

Yeah, you forgot that for a moment, didn’tcha? Only one of Jesus’s 12 apostles came from Judea, Judas Iscariot, who died the same weekend Jesus did, a month before. The rest of them were from a whole ’nother province, the Galilee, which Jesus didn’t even mention in that verse. Even Jesus was from the Galilee; from Nazareth, remember? After Jesus got raptured a few verses down, and angels appeared to the apostles to tell them to get on with it, how’d the angels address the apostles? As “Galileans.” Ac 1.11 ’Cause that’s what they were.

Jesus didn’t send his apostles to evangelize their hometowns. Actually he kinda evangelized their hometowns, during his earthly ministry. But the mission he sent them on was to evangelize another province’s capital. And then a whole different province—one full of Samaritans, a tribe they didn’t consider neighbors, but foreigners.

I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t try to share Jesus with our friends and neighbors. Of course we should. But you remember Jesus tried to preach to Nazareth, and got driven out. He’s famous for commenting how prophets get respect everywhere… but at home, among their relatives, no they don’t. Mk 6.4 He knew from experience. There’s just something in human psychology which makes people take strangers more seriously than the familiar. Familiarity can be ignored. So it often is.

What’s more, familiarity can be extremely intimidating to people who are new at sharing Jesus. Don’t just use my personal example: Let’s say your church tells you to go door-to-door to invite people to some church function. (Like a free movie, a Halloween party, an Easter message, or just outright sharing Jesus. Hey, it’s been known to happen.) Wanna tackle it with your neighbors? Or do you immediately squirm at the idea?

Now, how about doing the door-to-door thingy for another church, in a town 100 miles away, where nobody knows you?

Actually, most Christians have no trouble whatsoever with that idea.

What is that? Well, I suspect it’s again something in human psychology—something Jesus deliberately tapped when he told his apostles, not to go to the Galilee and evangelize their neighbors, but go to Jerusalem and evangelize strangers. Because it’s easier to share Jesus with new people… and easier for them to accept the gospel from strange people.

How do your neighbors see you?

Back to evangelizing your neighbors. So, do they know you’re Christian? Or do they know you as the guy who runs the bloody leafblower at 6 a.m. on weekends, of all times? Or as the family with too many cars clogging the cul-de-sac? Or as the self-isolated, keep-to-yourself, possibly-cult-member family with the dead front lawn? Or more pleasant memories—hope so—but they’ve no clue what religion you are, ’cause you kept it to yourself, and balk at the door-to-door activity ’cause you don’t want ’em to think of you as that kind of Christian?

See, that’s what intimidates people away from sharing Jesus with their neighbors. It’s the irrational fear that they’re gonna alienate their neighbors—and they gotta live with these neighbors.

It’s an irrational fear because I have such neighbors. Got a Mormon family round the corner, and I know for a fact they’ve sent elders to my house to work on me. Got Jehovah’s Witnesses on the next street; they come door-to-door every two months or so. I have no intention of going to either of their churches, but I don’t care that they’re trying to share their gospels with me. I admire that they take their religions seriously. Wish orthodox Christians did.

I hope you see this as a wake-up call about how you present yourself to your neighbors. But you can see from this why a lot of Christians hesitate to share Jesus with them. It’s hard for many reasons. It’s why Jesus—yes, that Jesus—sucked at it too. Mk 6.1-6

So if you’re an evangelist, and you want an example from the scriptures as to how to evangelize, there’s a much better passage where Jesus sent out his apostles to do it. Right after that bad experience with his hometown, by the way. Possibly as a result of it.

Mark 6.7-13 KWL
7 Jesus summoned the 12 apostles and began to send them out, two by two.
He was giving them power over unclean spirits.
8 Jesus commanded them thus: “Take nothing on the road except a staff. No bread. No bag.
No coppers in your belts. 9 You can keep your sandals on. Don’t wear two tunics.”
10 Jesus told them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there till you leave the place.
11 Whenever a place won’t accept you, nor listen to you,
shake off its dirt from under your feet while you leave, as evidence to them.”
12 Those who went out, proclaimed that people ought to repent.
13 They were throwing out many false gods,
were anointing many sick people with olive oil, and were helping many.

In my experience, we can sometimes get Christians to try a little evangelism in their hometowns. Some of the braver souls. They’ll give it a try, come away with a few interesting stories, and be a little excited about the little successes they have.

But when you arrange a mission—when you take Christians to a city they’re not familiar with, stay there a few days, and spend those days sharing Jesus with strangers—they have a whole different attitude about it. They get bold. They get fearless. They come back all fired up. Just like 70 of Jesus’s students did once they came back from one of these trips.

Luke 10.17-20 KWL
17 The 72 students returned with joy, saying, “Master, even demons submitted to us in your name!”
18 Jesus told them, “I’m watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven!
19 Look, I give you the power to step on snakes and scorpions—
on every ability of the enemy, and nothing can harm you.
20 But about this: Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you.
Rejoice that your names are written down in the heavens.”

The strangeness of a new environment also presents us Christians with a challenge. But unlike evangelizing our hometowns, this is an easy challenge. One we’re up to. One nearly everyone will take on. And when Christians act in faith like that, of course God shows up and does stuff.

Locals, who ordinarily wouldn’t pay attention to some local evangelist, suddenly pay attention when a bunch of strangers come to town to share something with ’em. Particularly foreigners with interesting accents.

And this is exactly why Jesus has us Christians travel far, far away, to unfamiliar countries and people-groups. This is why we do missions. Even though it’s far from cost-effective. Even though it’s impractical—locals should know the culture better, the language better, everything better, so why use strangers? But Jesus knows how people think. He knows sometimes a stranger can get to people where locals just can’t.

So when your church decides it’s time to reach out to your community (as it regularly should) here’s an idea: Contact one of your sister churches a town or two away. Coordinate your outreaches. Swap evangelism teams. You go share Jesus with their town for their functions, and they come share Jesus with yours for your functions. See whether your outreaches aren’t a lot more effective.