McRaney’s comments on our efforts to communicate and our effectiveness using the methods he described were in his chapter on communicating the gospel within our current context, largely within the context of American society. He is asking if we are so internally focused that we are just preaching our answers to others without first listening to their questions. He implies that our best, first approach should be to love one another, to model the behavior of Christ. This is the best method to prove that we today are still his disciples and show that he is really God. I could not agree more with his assertions.
Jesus ministered to the woman at the well, ate with tax collectors and healed a leper. (John 4, Matthew 9, Luke 17) The examples of his servant leadership, filling the actual needs of others as a way of showing his love are many. He was truly hands-on in his ministry here on Earth. No place was too messy or dirty for him to visit. No person was too sick or socially-unacceptable. He gave us direct examples to follow. He clearly communicated his message while also listening to their questions, both spiritual and physical.
Dr. Wheeler was very clear in his lessons this week on servant evangelism. “Servanthood evangelism is intentionally sharing Christ by modeling biblical servanthood.” (Video Teachings this week) To model the behavior of Christ is our highest, ultimate calling. Jesus went to where people needed help, both spiritual and physical. He was uniquely qualified to fill any spiritual need as God’s son. We are enabled by the Holy Spirit to model that same behavior toward filling spiritual needs. But if a person is hungry, they are not very likely to listen to a gospel message. If their roof is leaking or their house is not livable, they are unlikely to listen. If their life is instable and they are struggling to survive, they are unlikely to listen. If we can help fill any of those physical, tangible needs they are more likely to listen to the message. Jesus modeled that behavior by ministering to the woman at the well. He showed he saw himself no better than a tax collector by having a meal with them. He did the unthinkable and touched a leper. He went directly to the physical and real needs of others. That is an example to follow for sure.
Earley and Wheeler are clear that the intent of Jesus in his servant evangelism was to spread the gospel. He did by stepping out of his comfort zone to start conversations, crossing social and economic barriers, carefully listening staying focused on his purpose. (Earley and Wheeler, 121-127) His servant evangelism with the woman at the well was to publicly spend time with her. I’ve heard this called the ministry-of-showing-up. It is not a spiritual gift but is behavior modeled by Jesus. For us, showing up can be visiting or joining someone in a hospital waiting room who has no other family or doing so with them and their family and offering a prayer because you know no one else there will do so. It can be showing up with groceries when you know they are needed. It can be cutting the grass of a neighbor, picking up their paper with you know they are out of town or dropping by to check on them if you haven’t seen them in a few days. Making yourself the servant, modeling the behavior of Christ, opens the doors.
Servant evangelism opens the door when your arts are intentional. (Earley and Wheeler, 151) Simple acts of kindness are low risk to the servant, feel natural to most people and are even fun! (Earley and Wheeler, 152-153) Jesus modeled this behavior, putting the obvious, practical needs of others first even on the cross. “Today you shall be with me in paradise” is an obvious filling of the most pressing need present at that moment for the listening thief. (Luke 23:43) He looked at the man, saw an immediate need and filled it. In an few hours all of the needs of that man had been filled.
If we truly seek to model the behavior or Christ, communicate the gospel and lead others to him we cannot everyday walk past those in need with no response. To intentionally fill a practical, physical need of another in an intentional way is one of the most effective ways possible to open to door to sharing that gospel with that person. It doesn’t matter how loudly or at what pitch we shout our answers, if the objects of our communication do not first see us a loving, models of behavior different from their own and different from the world, the gospel will not be heard.