Get Uncomfortable: Reaching Those Who Don’t Look Like You
Let’s face it, we are all guilty of it. We are quick to put labels on people, whether good or bad, based on our assumptions of them. But what if those labels stop us from reaching out and sharing the Gospel with them? Do we really understand how much the Lord values each soul, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”? (2 Peter 3:9 )
Let’s look inward to address the attitudes of our hearts and remember that our response has eternal significance.
What characteristics make someone look different than us?
There is no denying the sense of comfort one gets when they are around people who are just like them. Conversations flow smoothly, the fear of accidentally saying something offensive is diminished, and a sense of relatability is widely apparent. However, when around people who are different, the opposite feelings ensue. So, what characteristics determine whether a person is different from us and how does that make them unreachable?
For starters, I think it is safe to say we compare others to ourselves. Among other things, we look at one’s demeanor, approachability, social, financial, and religious status, cultural and language differences, lifestyle choices, and political affiliation. The list is seemingly endless.
Our perceptions of where people fall under these categories influence our first impressions of them. Are they reachable because they are approachable? Do you perceive them as those who are open to hearing the Gospel? Or are they unreachable because their differences intimidate you? Do their choices make you uncomfortable? Are they “too far gone”?
Labels are sticky, and if we are not careful, they can cause us to believe a person is fixed in their ways, that their entire identity is made up by the very labels we’ve imposed on them. When a label is placed on a person and their readiness to hear the gospel is prematurely decided, we do a disservice to them. There’s always more than what meets the eye, especially when it comes to talking about people, who are all inherently made in the image of God. Each person must have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel for themselves.
In what settings do we find ourselves doing this most often?
Consider the places where you spend most of your time. The Holy Spirit might be leading you to share the Gospel with someone you come across often but have never considered reaching out to.
Here are some questions to help you begin taking stock of potential evangelistic opportunities.
Are you a student in college surrounded by peers in a lecture hall and do you typically gravitate toward people who seem similar to you? Is there a coworker in the office whose lifestyle reflects worldly ideals? Are you a parent attending your child’s sporting event, and do you actively avoid talking to other parents who seem unapproachable? Or do you notice someone sitting alone and you are hesitant to talk with them?
Be prayerful as you step into your life-specific settings and watch for opportunities to connect with people you typically wouldn’t and see how the Spirit guides your conversations.
What are the Biblical dangers of labeling a person as unreachable?
The story of Matthew calls to attention the danger of labeling someone as unreachable. Matthew was a tax collector and a Jew, who was working for the Roman empire and guilty of pocketing the taxes he collected from his fellow Jewish neighbors for personal gain. His reputation probably made it difficult to sustain any type of a good-standing relationship with anyone. Society saw a lost cause, but Jesus saw a man who was in dire need of a Savior.
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 )
If we are not careful, we can find ourselves having a mindset similar to that of a Pharisee. If we allow self-righteousness to seep into the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts, to the point that we have convinced ourselves that we don’t need to share the gospel with those we decided are unreachable, then our understanding of the gospel becomes flawed. Salvation by those measures would be based on works and not the grace of God.
Jesus, on many occasions, condemned the teachers of the Law for considering themselves better than others because of their knowledge of the Torah and their ability to practice the religious rituals precisely. Jesus was not impressed by their heartless sacrifices but called for mercy. Jesus had mercy on Matthew, and he went on to author one of the four gospels!
If we choose to only reach certain types of people, we could be missing out on what the Lord is doing and wants to do through us and others! As followers of Christ, we are all called to live out the Great Commission as we take the gospel to all nations. It’s the Father’s desire that all will come to know and trust in His Son who promises eternal life with Him.
How should we respond?
Look to Jesus as the perfect example. Every interaction he had was purposeful. Remember the leper, the Samaritan woman, and the Apostle Paul. Each one of these people had a story, a label that made them “unreachable” but that did not stop the power of gospel from transforming their lives.
Jesus pushed back on labels, drew close to those who seemed so different from the rest, and used them for Kingdom purposes. Even among Jesus’ closest friends, the 12 Disciples, there was a zealot, a tax collector, and several fishermen. Imagine the disputes that arose from their differences. They probably would have all agreed their most significant commonality was Jesus and that they were called to follow Him.
We must ask ourselves, “Do I truly believe the Gospel is powerful enough to work even in those who I think are unreachable?” If you hesitated to answer that question, remember how the gospel transformed and continues to refine your life. So, initiate that first conversation. Get to know the person by listening to their story. Be merciful by building bridges and not creating gaps, and when differences arise, seek to understand. I’d even encourage you to be ready to share your testimony.
Most importantly, ask the Lord to change the attitude of your heart to look more like His as you carry the gospel to those around you. It is our job to introduce Christ to people and it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring them to Himself.
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