This Week’s Sermon – I Don’t Know Anybody!

This is the second sermon in my “Me, An Evangelist?!?” sermon series. Hope you enjoy it!

SCRIPTURE – Luke 5:27-32
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

SERMON
Me, An Evangelist?!? Sermon Series
#2 – But I Don’t Know Who?
August 15, 2010

We continue our discussion of evangelism today with our second sermon in this series. If you remember, last week we talked about what it takes to be an evangelist, and our job description boiled down to one requirement: be yourself. We took our cue from Jesus’ words, as he told us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That’s who we are, so we just have to live that out in our lives to be evangelists.

But even the saltiest of salts is completely useless if it’s left in the shaker, so today we’re going to talk about how we can take the God-light that is inside each of us and begin to share it with others. Next week, we’ll talk about what we would say to those people. But today we’re asking this: On whom might we shine that God-light inside us? Who do we know that needs to hear the good news?

Let me put your mind at ease right at the start. Of all the people we’re about to talk about, none of them will be strangers. We aren’t required to approach someone we don’t know and begin reciting scripture passages or knock on doors to win converts. We also aren’t called to steal people from other churches. This is not a competition. If someone has a church home, then God bless them. Today we’re talking about people we know who don’t have a church or are struggling with their faith. The best people to hear what we have to say are people who are already within our circle of relationships.

In “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” Bill Hybels, who’s the pastor at Willow Creek church in the Chicago area, recommends making what he calls an Impact List, which is a list of people you know who don’t go to church. So who do we put on our impact lists? Hybels gives us four categories of people in our lives who might benefit from hearing our story. I believe that within these categories, we can each find at least one person we know who needs to hear some good news.

The first category is people you know. This is the easiest one, because, well, we already know them! This can be anyone with whom we already have a relationship – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. Hybels says the best way to reach businessmen is through other businessmen; the best way to reach retired people is through other retired people; the best way to reach teens is through other teens. A dentist friend of mine once told me that he liked to evangelize his patients by humming church songs while working on them. He said his favorite one was “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” We’re most likely to have the highest success rate with people we know because the relationship we share with the person is essential in our ability to talk with them about spiritual matters. We know them, they know us. We can speak to them out of the relationship we share.

I think this is why the door-to-door evangelism techniques are so off-putting. I don’t want to talk religion with someone I don’t know and trust. That has to be earned. As we build that trust and common ground, our relationship grows deeper and deeper until we feel comfortable enough to talk about things that are most personal. We all have those kinds of relationships with people, and if some of those people are not churchgoers, that’s fertile ground for evangelism.

The passage from Luke gives us one example of this. Levi the tax collector is so excited about being called by Jesus that he throws a big party and invites all his tax collector friends to learn about this life-changing news. He do go door-to-door; instead, he goes to his closest friends and colleagues. We go to parties, we share meals, we golf together, we go to our kids’ sporting events together. Those are perfect times in the midst of those relationships to stay open to the opportunity to extend an invitation.

Kevin is on my impact list. Kevin is my best friend in the world. He was best man in my wedding and I later officiated at his wedding. Kevin is one of the few people to whom I can tell anything, because I know he will receive it without judgment. Kevin is one of the first people I told about going into ministry, and despite his own lack of belief, he was 100 percent supportive. He had a negative experience at a church growing up, and refuses to go back. He says the only way he’ll go to church is if he wins the lottery and builds the First Church of Kory and I become his pastor. I told him my boss frowns on that kind of thing. I try to witness to Kevin simply by the way I live my life and the choices I make. Last week Kevin emailed me and asked me to pray for a family member of his. I believe there’s a mustard seed of faith there, and I pray God gives me the chance to talk more to Kevin about it. Kevin’s on my list.

The second category of people is people we used to know. This is a great way to reconnect with past relationships and social media like Facebook has made this so much easier to do. Are there people in your past whom you’d like to talk with again, people you’ve lost touch with over the years, maybe people who used to go to this church? This could be the time to track them down and let them know you are thinking about them.

Maria is on my impact list. I worked with Maria at the newspaper in Louisville in the 1990s. We got to be friends, but I lost touch with her after she moved to the Washington, D.C. area. Through the miracle of the internet, Maria and I have reconnected. When I asked how she was doing, she seemed less than happy and said she was considering a career change. I think she is going through a crossroads in her life. When I told her I was a pastor, she mentioned that she had started picking up the Bible again and she had a few questions. Maria is searching for something and who knows how God might work through me? I am simply trying to stay open to the opportunity. Maria is on my impact list.

The third category of people is people you’d like to know. These are people that you may have a passing acquaintance with, but would like to get to know better. Maybe it’s a neighbor, or a coworker, or the parent of one of your children’s friends.

When considering people you’d like to know, Hybels encourages using the “Barbecue First Principle.” He tells the story of a couple in his church that had some new neighbors, so after a few casual meetings and waving across the fences they invited the new couple to church. There was a weird silence as the couple looked at each other, and the man awkwardly said, “Um, well, maybe next time…but if you’d like to come over for a barbecue, we’d love to have you!”

The Barbecue First Principle means that before you can address a topic as personal as church, you have to spend some time together, you have to get to know them as people, not just potential church members. Hybels calls this paying relational rent. As we get to know more about them, and them about us, we move from the surface topics to things that really matter.

Rob and Teresa are on my impact list. Rob and Teresa are our new neighbors. We’ve ran into them a few times out in the yard. I don’t know if they go to church; our conversations haven’t gotten nearly that far. They are a young couple and it turns out they are expecting their first child. When the baby comes, who knows what chances we may have to help them out, to extend hospitality and care? Rob and Teresa are on my list.

There’s one more category of people, but it’s a harder one to define. It’s people you don’t know, or at least don’t know yet. There’s a big question mark on my impact list because I have no idea who this will be, who God might send across my path. This one is also the hardest one personally for me, because I’m not always as open as I should be to meeting new people. It’s a lot easier to bury my nose in a book or act like I have a really important text message rather than engage someone in conversation. We put up barriers as if we exist in our own little gated communities, only coming out when we want.

But I don’t think that’s who God called me to be. He didn’t give me the light of Christ to hide it until a basket. He didn’t make me salt so I could lose my saltiness. So after reading “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” I tried an experiment. I decided that when I was around people I didn’t know, I wasn’t going to close any doors or put up any barriers. I might even be so bold as to strike up a conversation.

A few days after that, I was waiting while my car was being worked on, and another guy walked in and sat down across from me. I said, “Hey.” And he said, “Hey.” And we ended up talking for about 15 minutes. He was a home builder in the area, and most of our conversation was his profanity-laced tales of bad building experiences. We never got around to talking about me, which was fine, because after his word choices I was afraid to tell him I was a pastor! We never talked about church or God or anything like that. We just talked.

I’ve been try to do more of that lately. Just talking with people. You never know when you’ll have that opportunity to be a good-news sharer. May not happen for several years. May happen tomorrow. Who knows when the time will come and the opportunity will arise and talk will turn from the weather and the kids to something more meaningful? Who knows when God is going to bring us into someone’s life for the express purpose of being a beacon of light for them? We have to be on the lookout, because who knows?

I pray for Kevin. I pray for Maria. I pray for Rob and Teresa. I pray for that unknown person. That’s whose on my impact list. Who’s on yours?

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