Contacts Are Crucial
This is the third in a continuing series of articles on community evangelism by the local church.
Imagine an assembly located in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, with no permanent meeting place — not even a rented store!! No duplicating machine for printing letters to the community, no mailing lists, no tract distribution, no Gospel broadcast, and no newspaper ads. The believers have nothing to speak of in the way of Sunday school children’s meetings, or young people’s meetings.
How would you rate their prospects for successful community evangelism?
Were this assembly located in a typical North American community today, we would say the prospects were poor. But strangely enough, such an assembly did exist in Jerusalem 19 centuries ago and its program of community evangelism was eminently effective.
How do you suppose they managed it? We find the answers in the first chapters of The Acts.
First, they were obedient to the Lord and their efforts were initially concentrated in the immediate neighbourhood. Also the believers were united in love and prayer, and their message was centred in Christ and delivered in the power of the Spirit. (See Food for the Flock, December 1963, page 230, and January 1964, page 11).
These features are basic, but they are incomplete without good personal contacts and effective communications — essentials the Jerusalem assembly had in abundance despite the lack of modern machinery and media. The believers there were in touch with people and they communicated the Gospel to them.
This is not to belittle the facilities available to us today; let’s make full use of them as God leads and provides. The sad facts of the matter are that today we often fail to use the superior means at our disposal; worse still, we even fail to do as well as the early church did in making contacts and in communicating the Gospel.
Much more than the assembly in Jerusalem, we in the twentieth century are highly responsible for contacting needy people and for getting the Gospel to them efficiently and effectively. We have far greater resources in personnel and money, and much better means for disseminating the Gospel. But in spite of all this, few if any assemblies today are even beginning to do the job of community evangelism that the church in Jerusalem did in the first century. We seem to have forgotten that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Shame on us that the first church, with few of our resources and practically none of our facilities, should have done a job so vastly superior to ours!
Despite their greater accomplishments, however, the Christians in Jersualem had no mysterious secret of success. One of their methods was amazingly simple: they just made sure that they went where the people were; for example, “in the temple.” “Peter and John went up together into the temple.” “They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch” (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12). And what was the advantage of this? The Christians thus found themselves in the midst of large masses of the population to which the church was called to witness.
True, at this stage of church history, the believers were in a “transition period.” But this idea of a “transition period” can be pushed too far. Let’s not be guilty of throwing up this idea as a pseudo-spiritual smoke-screen, obscuring both the fact that the early church had numerous contacts with the masses and also the fact that often we have few or none!
But the assembly in Jerusalem recognized its responsibility to follow the example and teaching of the Lord. He was continually in touch with people; thus He was constantly finding opportunities to communicate to people “the things concerning Himself.”
On one occasion, we find Him a guest at a wedding, not just sitting “separated” in a corner by Himself, but participating actively in the proceedings (John 2). We often see Him at the centre of a throng, as when He fed thousands at a time (John 6). Through such contacts He could meet the needs of the people and thus draw some to Himself.
Jesus also appears in the temple and teaches (John 7:14), an example which the church at Jerusalem followed explicitly. He mingles freely with the people and ministers the Gospel to them. For the same reasons, we find Him in the synagogues, and also in the homes of interested people (including a Pharisee!) who invited Him as a guest (Luke 4:16; 7:36). Wherever He goes, He is in touch with people, He communicates with them, He ministers to them. True, He is separate from sinners, but let’s always remember, He receives sinners and He eats with them (Heb. 7:26. Luke 15:2).
All year long, we need to remember the lesson of the Incarnation. God made people and is interested in people. But in addition, He wants to be with people. So, as the Babe of Bethlehem, He entered our humanity that He might have better contacts with people, that He might be better able to communicate with people.
The apostles and the church at Jerusalem got the message; they followed the divine example; their community evangelism was unique! And they reached out to every level in the community, including even the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-8).
Are we doing anything to contact our leaders and to communicate the Gospel to them? How about the mayor and the town council? Do they know we exist? If so, do they know what we believe and preach? If not, they should, and we are responsible to get through to them.
If we’re erecting a new building, why not invite the mayor and some town officials to the sod-turning? They could also be given a personal invitation to attend the official opening. Elections present another opportunity. Send a personal letter to each successful candidate, assuring him that the Christians are praying for him. Send special personal greetings at Christmas and Easter, reminding them of the assembly’s continuing interest and prayers. Such contacts can lead to opportunities both for telling community leaders what the assembly believes and teaches, and for giving a tactful, Spirit-led witness at the appropriate moment.
And what are we doing to contact the ordinary citizens of the community? What about our neighbours and the people living near the assembly’s meeting place? Do any of these people know what we believe about Christ? What are we doing to make opportunities for mingling with them? Contacts are crucial if there’s going to be communication.
Do our lives in the community speak for Christ? Are we exemplary citizens and neighbours? Or are we better known for crabbing at other people’s kids for cutting across our lawns? Do the neighbours know us for our care and interest when they’re sick and bereaved? Or do we just go our own sweet way, minding our own business, and letting the world mind theirs? Do they ever get a card of sympathy, get-well wishes, or flowers, either from individual Christians or from the assembly? Or are we known simply as a group of otherworldly types who seem to be rather remote from the community and even semi-cloistered?
Do we live in the same community as the assembly, so that we can be constantly near the people we are seeking to reach? Do we learn the neighbours’ names so that we can greet them personally and effectively in the shopping centre or at the local garage? Do we accept invitations to hospitality in the homes of our neighbours? Do we ever invite them into our homes, for a chat or coffee? For dinner or an evening? And if we do, are we praying that soon we shall have an opportunity of witnessing about the Lord, in a friendly, inoffensive manner like His?
Somehow, somewhere, some time, we must find opportunities to be with the people, to show our love, our interest, our concern. And if we don’t like doing this, and if we’re not interested in trying to do it increasingly, we had better stop calling ourselves followers of Christ. He was with the people; He shared their interests, sorrows, cares, and need; He communicated the Gospel to people by showing His love and concern for them. And if we’re not doing the same, we’re not really following Him!
Many assemblies do make opportunities for mixing with people in the community. Sunday school treats, picnics, Christmas and Easter programs, parents’ nights — all are good opportunities, particularly for meeting the parents of young people in our Sunday schools and youth groups. There should be many more such occasions, and we should try for better turn-outs as well. A personal call at the home and a friendly invitation can do wonders for the attendance.
But Christians should also support these events, not only by attending, but also by mingling with the visitors. Do we do this? Or do we huddle together, leaving the visitors by themselves elsewhere? Do we welcome visitors as they arrive? Do we speak to them as they leave? If we don’t show our interest and concern for them as individuals, we might as well forget about winning them for Christ.
It is clearly our responsibility to be with the people, to go out to those who don’t come in, to contact them, to show them our love, to reveal Christ to their needy souls.
Can any of us claim we’re doing this as we should? How many of us can claim we’re doing it at all?