How are we to understand and relate to the lost around us, who increasingly live in a world that is light years apart from ours?
Recently one of my non-Christian friends asked me if I could help him find the famous hymn, "Old Black Joe." He remembered it from his childhood and wanted to get a copy. Somehow I never thought of "Old Black Joe" as a hymn. As humorous as that may seem, it illustrates the gap between the world of the lost and the world of the believer. Some months ago, I was playing golf with several church leaders who casually mentioned they had disassociated themselves from several golfing partners because of their foul language and dirty jokes. They were serious! The longer we follow Christ, the higher the probability of associating less and less with the lost. The result? A decreasing understanding of and effectiveness in reaching the very people whom we are commissioned to win to Christ. What are we to do?
Let me offer two suggestions
1 We need to catch the heartbeat of their culture.
That is, it is essential that we learn to listen to their longings, aspirations, hopes, disappointments and fears. One way to do this is through tuning into their conversation, literature, music, films, what they watch on T. V., their art forms; yes even how they glean their news. While its important to understand their culture – at least in a measure, we would be prudent to keep in mind St. Pauls word of caution, "I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil." (Rom. 16:19b)
2 We need to respond appropriately with the message of the Gospel in a manner that communicates to them:
In 1970 my wife and I returned from Asia to the United States to pioneer an outreach among students at an arch conservative university situated in a ranching community in the Southwest. The Viet Nam War was in full force, as was the "Free Speech Movement." After living several years in Asia we felt we were out of touch with the student population. So I resolved to go daily to the campus in order to sit with students and listen to them with my heart…By the hour! And to probe them with questions. All with the intention of getting inside their soul. In effect, I became a student of these students. As a result of tapping into their lives, fruit came out of that campus that reverberated around the world. Understanding their worldview and crafting the delivery of the Gospel in a manner that was relevant to them played a key role in the numerous students who came to Christ and multiplied their lives in others.
Consider Pauls approach on relating to the lost: "Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralizedwhoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christbut I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.") (I Cor. 9:19-23 Msg.)
Are you willing to compassionately and intentionally work at understanding the heartbeat of your lost friends, without prematurely passing judgment on them? If so, you may be standing on the edge of a ministry among them that is beyond anything you could imagine.
1Key thoughts adapted from Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism (Westminister John Knox Press) 2001, p. 159,160