By Nathan Gast
As I look around my neighborhood, I see a variety of things. I see economically burdened people, physically stricken individuals, broken relationships, hurting children, hatred among friends, destroyed families. But the thing that I see the most is Christless people. People who are living their lives, going about their daily activities and schedules, not even realizing that they are on a path to damnation, for eternity without Christ. People who have not heard the good news of the gospel as told in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5. We are surrounded by people who have not understood and believed that Christ died, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures for our salvation. So whose privilege is it to tell them? Ours.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to go. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Following that command, believers have passed down that directive from generation to generation, to today when it has been handed to this generation of local churches.
The question then arises, “What are we going to do with it?” Are we, like so many other churches, going to take this charge from Christ and overstep it as many other churches are doing with other portions of God’s Word, or are we going to obediently obey the mandate and practice it in our churches?
We have been called to reach our communities for Christ regardless of who they are. Christ calls all people to repentance, and so should we (2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 18:14). Whether they be people of small significance in the world’s eyes or an individual of great strength and power, God loves them all, and so then should we (Acts 26:22).
As a child growing up attending church, I remember singing the Child Evangelism Fellowship song in Sunday School, “Be a Missionary.” The song said, “Be a missionary every day; tell the world that Jesus is the way. Be it in a town or country or a busy avenue, Africa or Asia, the task is up to you! So be a missionary every day; tell the world that Jesus is the way. The Lord is soon returning; there is no time to lose. So be a missionary, God’s own emissary, be a missionary today!” Many reading this might remember that song, and the importance it stressed on being a missionary to even those individuals around us.
Yet I fear the choice of many churches today is not to reach out to our own communities, but to look at foreign lands, neglecting our own mission fields. Please note I have nothing against foreign missions, and strongly support those who are called to the mission field. Praise the Lord for those following His call upon their lives, but I also believe every missionary would also agree that as local churches we are called to be witnesses to those in our own neighborhoods as well.
Christ instructed His disciples before His ascension back into Heaven in Acts 1:8 to “be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He was instructing His disciples to stay in Jerusalem, to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power and establish the first local church there, stabilize it, make it effective in the community and then go out to Judea. Many churches today are skipping the personal evangelism aspect that Christ has given us and have chosen to focus on foreign missions rather than “backyard” missions. As we look to the future of growing our churches and starting other churches in our areas of ministry, we must look to our own mission fields and take the gospel to those who are hurting right next door.
The Bible tells us that we are called to be lights in a dark world (Matthew 5:16) and to be salt in the earth (Matthew 5:13), but if the light is put under a basket, and if the salt has lost its flavor, they are good for nothing! If the gospel of Christ is meant to be shared with all people, and we are refusing to share it with those around us, how is that helping further the cause of Christ? We are instructed to be ready at all times to given an answer or a defense to our beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). Are we able to do that?
Christ has called His church to be a lighthouse, a beacon of hope and love, if you will, to their local communities. We are called to share the gospel with every living creature, yet so often we restrict ourselves by the fear or embarrassment of what others might think or say about us. It is vitally important that we remember that Christ is always with us (Isaiah 41:10, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:58). I firmly believe that is why at the end of Matthew 28:20 Christ admonishes His disciples with the simplest of words: “and lo, I am with you always.” He was encouraging His disciples to realize that they were never going to be alone. Some of them were going to die for their faith, others were going to be placed in prison, others were going to face great persecution—yet nevertheless Christ was going to be with them, just as He is with us still today.
How do we reach our communities for Christ? We share with them that Christ loves them and so do we. A number of years ago during a time when the people of our nation were more spiritually sensitive, this was done through tent revival meetings, evangelistic conferences, Friday evening “singalongs,” and other avenues. Sadly in the day of Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, satellite radio, television, MySpace, blogs, texting, and other modern advances, we find ourselves living in much more seclusion than in the days when people used to sit on their front porches. For many today, to get up and answer the door is a hassle. To answer the phone when we don’t recognize the caller ID number is bothersome. To be invited to a revival or evangelistic meeting is just a waste of time. Please note again, I find nothing wrong with these avenues of evangelism, but I also believe that we need to expand our base of outreach techniques.
We need to understand that the speed of the world has increased incredibly with technological advancements, and a huge variety of cultures, traditions, heritages, and lifestyles have moved into our communities. To reach those individuals, we need to adjust our methods. Remember the methods change, but the message does not. We need to find new ways to invite people to church, create new outreach opportunities to meet people, and reach out in ways that we might just find a little “out of the box.”
My church has done fair booths at local community fairs, an October Trunk or Treat outreach for children in our community, Vacation Bible School every year (which by the way is intended to be an outreach tool), a “Free Garage Sale” where everything was given away for free, an after school Bible study in our local elementary school, and many other things. Recently my church held a Men’s-Only Pine Car Derby where men and their friends built pine derby cars and raced them. We’ve also held women-only events.
Some churches have used interests such as quilting, scrapbooking, hunting, car mechanics, book reading, food pantries, gospel-tract distribution, Frisbee-golf, golf, flag football, soccer, softball, and even food to reach out to their communities in different small groups. Whatever you enjoy doing, there is a fairly good chance that others in your community enjoy the same hobbies. Use your interest for the glory of God, and be a witness through it!
It is not my desire to tell you how to reach your Jerusalem for Christ, but it is my desire to show you why. If Christ was willing to lay down His life for you, what are you willing to do for Him? Are you willing to reach out to the community around your church, or are you satisfied to watch as your neighborhood goes on living the way they have always lived?
I’ve often wondered how many people in my community know that our little Baptist church exists on the corner of 11th and Douglas, but even more so I wonder if those people know what that little Baptist church on the corner of 11th and Douglas believes. It is our directive from Christ to share with those around us the message of the gospel. Are we willing to take it?
Nathan Gast is pastor of Fair Haven Baptist Church, Kansas City, Kansas.