While I am a full-time evangelist, there was a time in my life when I darkened the doors of the local dive bar more often than I did church. This particular bar was full of ruffians, alcoholics and shady associates; yet, it was a place I felt welcomed. The people knew my name and what was going on in my life, and they genuinely wanted to help me through my rough days.
When I got saved at 21 years old, I found myself seeking out fellowship with other believers. Sadly, I found out quickly that some of the most judgmental people were found in the Church.
When I think back on my experience, I realize that sometimes we, as the Church, don’t really know how to connect with and relate to nonbelievers. Matter of fact, I think this is something the world often does better than us.
In the Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16:1-14, Jesus commends the people who don’t follow him for the ability to understand the culture and the people around them. Specifically, in Luke 16:8, Jesus says, “People of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (NIV).”
As someone who travels the country speaking in and working with churches, I often question how well the Church – and we, as believers – are doing at connecting with individuals in the world around us who don’t know Christ.
Too often, we go to church where we speak Christian “language,” sing songs with flowery religious lyrics and attend programming catered to people who look like us, dress like us and live like us.
Yet, if we look to Jesus as the ultimate example of reaching unbelievers, we will quickly realize there are ways we can improve.
Jesus had humility. People knew Jesus loved them because he was the real deal. He didn’t act better than them. He went where they were – to the parties, the sketchy parts of town and the homes of men and women with bad reputations. Jesus wanted to connect with the common man.
So how can we follow Jesus’ example and reach out to those who need Him most? I think the answer is found through finding ways to connect with people on every level.
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
It is vital that we be “in the world, but not of the world.” In order to do this, we must understand the elements of the culture in which we live. For me, this means staying current on things happening in the news, on social media, at awards shows and in my community. I want to have my finger on the pulse of every element of culture, so I can not only understand, but be able to engage in dialogue about things with which nonbelievers are dealing.
Befriend People Who Don’t Look, Act or Believe Like You
We can learn an immense amount from people who are different from us. For this reason, I try and go out of my way to listen to diverse groups of people – people who don’t think like me, vote like me, dress like me, that aren’t my same skin color and that don’t even believe in the same God that I do. I want to ask them questions, because questions show people you care. I want to create what Jesus was excellent at – intentional interaction.
Finally, we must not judge. Yes, as followers of Christ, we are different but we aren’t better. Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus was perfect. He had every right to condemn, but he never did. Just like Jesus, I want to be sympathetic with people. I want to engage with people about what is going on. I want to understand the struggles they have.
There is a famous saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” While you will not find this mandate in the Bible, the Apostle Paul did declare a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he states, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some (NIV).”
Paul was not saying to muddy waters of truth or to bend on biblical beliefs, but he did know that if he was going to use his life as leverage to help people understand who the risen Christ was, then he was going to have to have an understanding of the culture.
If your mission is to use what we are called to do to let people know about the goodness of God and build His kingdom, then we have to do everything we can to do a better job “being like Romans.”
This doesn’t mean bowing down. It means showing love and compassion. Quite frankly, it’s not just a matter of what we are called to do, it’s the greatest thing we can do.
Jay Lowder is founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries and author of “Midnight in Aisle 7.” For information, visit JayLowder.com.