In the more than 15 years I have lived in Seattle, I have never met anyone who has never heard of Jesus. In my travels to numerous places around the United States and the Western world, my experience has been the same. Everyone knows something about Jesus. Before you think, “This dude needs to get out more often,” I want to reassure you that I get out plenty. I understand the importance of engaging culture. Heck, in addition to being a pastor, I also run a community café and music venue in Seattle.
Most people have heard something about Jesus and, truth be told, whatever they’ve heard or seen has given them ammunition to form an unpleasant understanding of Him. Their perception or limited understanding of Christ is distorted and blemished.
We can all agree that Christianity—and subsequently, Jesus—has an image problem. So how will outreach and evangelism impact and influence this cultural context over the next 10 years? Numerous answers and possibilities exist, but here, I offer a truly essential one: real human relationships.
Why They Matter
Relationships matter because they help debunk and break down fears, stereotypes, caricatures, myths, pain and anger. The answers that will speak to and deeply engage the dis-churched, overchurched, unchurched and never-gonna-step-into-church kind of people aren’t buildings, more conferences, more theology or even more doctrine. While these all have important value and purpose, something is so simple and profound about the power of human relationships.
The story of God, leading up to the time of Jesus, became very confusing and inaccessible to everyday people. The message was blemished by sin, deceit, legalism, abusive power and false teaching. What changed? The story of God became truly accessible through the power and mystery of the incarnation. One of the most profound and irrational Scriptures is recorded in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message).
The future of outreach and evangelism will take many shapes, forms and turns. This is inevitable because change is constantly taking place and at a pace more rapid than at any point in human history. As our churches continue to weave through this inevitable path of change, we need to remember what can be accomplished through the power of real relationships.
• What happens when our churches move out from their buildings to engage the community?
• What happens when we embrace our neighbors as part of our great calling?
• What happens when we share time with our neighbors and learn their stories?
• What happens when we drop our routines and deadlines and focus on relationships for the sake of the mission?
• What happens when we start eating with sinners, once again, like Jesus?
What happens? That’s what we need to find out again in a fresh way. Remember, God calls us not just to be a light to the light, but a light to the world. Let’s enjoy our churches and Christian communities, but let’s not forget to move into the neighborhoods and, in doing so, point people to Jesus by the way we live our imperfect lives by God’s grace.