They will be missing from our churches next Sunday: that wide variety of individuals — the ‘down and outs’, ‘up and outs’, and all others in between.
But one thing is for sure, whether up or down, they are most definitely ‘out’; the majority totally ignorant of the real gospel, living with a blatant disregard for God and his commands. And they live near you.
There may just be a Pharisee lurking within us, wanting to scold these ungodly people for not seeking the Lord in his house on his day. However, like Adam, they are cut off from the life of God, are on the run, and simply doing what unbelievers do.
The fact that some, at least, may be found in our churches seeking the Lord does not relieve us of our duty to ‘go into all the world’ (Matthew 28:17), even ‘the streets and lanes of the city’ and into the ‘highways and hedges’ (Luke 14:21, 23), compelling them to be reconciled to God.
In other words, they are lost eternally, and, if our hearts beat with the Good Shepherd’s love, surely we should be earnestly seeking them. ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10).
Now there may be a number of reasons why we may be reluctant to reach out to these outsiders with wholehearted effort and passion.
People in their sin are not always attractive to those whose main aim in life is holiness. However, this did not hinder Christ in his pursuit of sinners — and sinners of the baser variety, so often.
This sometimes brought him misunderstanding, even cruel accusation. ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is, that she is a sinner’ (Luke 7:39), spat out the Pharisee hotly with ‘holy’ indignation.
Tragically, as a nation we have ‘sown the wind’ and therefore are now ‘reaping the whirlwind’. Having broken down the ‘God-framework’, we are now dealing with individuals whose outlook on life is totally man-centred and self-centred, and as a result are often showing all the signs of disintegration, no matter how presentable the outside image might be.
And people will come to us with all the ‘baggage’ which a life of sin will produce in time. I don’t know how many times during our years of ministering in Covent Garden I cried, ‘Lord, aren’t there any normal people here?’ It’s as if the reply would come, ‘No. That’s why I brought you here!’
We all live in this sin-cursed world, and perhaps God has allowed things to come your way, that might enable you to relate now to others who, as yet, know nothing of God’s grace towards the undeserving.
The great weakness in every fallen man or woman is that all are ‘suckers’ for love. Love will enter in where our words and plans fail. An arrow of truth dipped in love will pierce the heart. And we do have some hard and difficult things to convey, for the gospel is always bad news before recognised by sinners as good news.
However, we can bring the most cutting truths to a person if they detect in us a love for them, a love which is pure, consistent, unconditional. They have seen it nowhere else, because it is the unconditional love and grace which comes from God alone.
I remember a dear lady in a previous church enthusiastically reporting, ‘Pastor, I met a lovely (non-Christian) couple today. They would make ideal church members!’ If we are honest, we all are constantly on the lookout for those potential ‘ideal’ church members (an endangered species if ever there was one!) when meeting unbelievers.
We subconsciously think, ‘Will he/she instantly settle into our church with no hassles, listen to the sermons attentively, obey them implicitly, give generously and work unstintingly?’ The result is that we tend to become selective in our witness, giving a wide berth to anyone who does not already show promising signs, forgetting it was while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.
Yes, it is often quite scary having to approach and befriend those whose lifestyle is openly godless, perhaps even hostile. But it is for this reason Christ promised us the power of the Holy Spirit: ‘You will receive power … and you will be my witnesses’.
After the Pentecostal baptism, there were subsequent fillings of the Holy Spirit, so that boldness was given to obedient messengers of the gospel for each occasion. (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31).
If we never move out of the comfort zone of our Christian friends, we will have little need to cry out to God for help and it won’t be long before all the life, power and zeal has ebbed out of our Christian experience.
The old cliché is painfully true: ‘If we don’t evangelise, we will fossilise’. This can happen to churches as well as individuals. We must be calling out to God on a regular basis so that, in our utter weakness, he will equip us with all necessary compassion and courage.
Training and encouragement
Although we look to God to strengthen and furnish us for the task of sharing our faith, it really is good to receive help and training in how to practically go about it, in order to receive confidence and encouragement.
It has been a personal joy to have been connected in recent years with Outreach UK (OUK), an organisation which, for nearly 150 years, has specialised in one-to-one evangelism.
OUK offers training seminars that enable us to overcome fears and equip us to relevantly, winsomely and boldly share our faith in one-to-one opportunities. OUK’s training takes place in your local church (more information from [email protected] or 0300 123 1990).
All participants receive a training manual and teaching that includes practical sessions, where you can work alongside an experienced evangelist in a real-life setting. But it starts with a love for Christ, a burden for the lost, and a desire to actually do something!
Mike Mellor lives in Dorset and is involved in itinerant preaching, evangelism and evangelism training
OUK’s Spurgeon link
Charles Spurgeon founded the Metropolitan Tabernacle Colportage Association in 1866, and it was always his special care. At the close of 1891, around 96 colporteurs (colporteur is a French word meaning ‘one who carries something around his neck’, suggesting a pedlar or street hawker) were employed and nearly 12 million visits had been paid to people’s homes. In 1874, the Christian Colportage Association (CCA) was born. There were two major events around this time: the Moody-with-Sankey campaigns, where the CCA had bookstalls at all their London meetings and sold large numbers of Bibles and books, and the Keswick Convention (founded in 1875), where CCA bookstalls were a regular feature. The name has since been changed from the CCA to Home Evangelism; and then to Outreach UK, as it is known today.