This is Part One of an exerpt from my book 'Follow'... We can discover the answer to the question of what evangelism is, in looking at how Jesus related to people. In my study of the gospels, I have found it very helpful to realize that there were patterns of how Jesus related to three different categories of people: the crowds, seekers who approached Him to learn more, and those He invited to be His disciples. I summarize these three groups in this way:
- Crowds - those that gathered spontaneously or at Jesus' instigation.
- Community - seekers and followers who responded to Jesus - some out of curiosity and some who were sincere.
- Core group - disciples who chose to follow Jesus - those Jesus invited to follow Him and learn from His way.
Let's go over these three groups in a little more detail, because each of us as a follower of Jesus has the same three groups of people in our lives.
We may not heal people like Jesus did, but we all have a good sized group of people we know and interact with, including neighbors, people at work, family, etc. Those people are our 'crowd'. Just as Jesus did good deeds and shared good news with all those He encountered, so can we. On a 'crowd' level, Jesus did not try to accomplish what could be done only through personal relationship; He did reach out to people in order to influence them and was intentional about reaching people – but with distinctly different approaches. My estimate is that He spent far more time interacting with small groups and individuals than He did with crowds, perhaps spending 75 percent of His time with His disciples. I think Jesus saw interaction with the crowds as a way of 'planting a seed' in people's hearts (Luke 8:4-18); a way of arousing spiritual interest, and also a way of finding potential spiritual seekers and disciples to teach.
In every instance where Jesus interacts with large groups of people, He responds in one of seven ways:
- He taught them and shared the good news with them – usually by speaking loudly so the entire group could hear Him.
- He had compassion on them.
- He healed scores of them.
- He fed them – He didn't hand out the food Himself, but He found a way for them to receive food.
- He brought certain ones to life who were dead among them.
- He defended them from the religious leaders who mislead them.
- He inspired people to imagine life the way God intended it to be.
If you made a list of everyone you have in your cell phone and email list, those are all people you have connected with. From this group of people, God wants to give you a few that you relate to more personally.
The one thing Jesus consistently did not do in all His interactions with large groups of people was that He did not pressure them to become one of His disciples. He did not invite people to join Him as one of His close-up followers – He did that one-on-one. He did try to arouse the spiritual interest of people. He did speak to stir up their dreams and expectations for what could come from their lives if they sought after God and we should do the same.
From a big-picture point of view, Jesus was aware and intentional about making sure that the people in certain regions knew about Him. He sent His disciples ahead of Him to all the towns and cities He planned to visit (see Luke 10:1). That is not an uncommon phrase or sentiment in the gospels. These verses are examples of the deliberate attempt by Jesus to spread the good news of His Kingdom far and wide:
- Mark 1:38
- Matthew 9:35
- Mark 6:6
- Luke 13:22
One thrust of the great commission that Jesus gave to His disciples was to take the good news everywhere. He told them to "go into all the world", and to "make disciples of all nations".
How do you apply the 'crowd' idea to your life situation? Jesus wants every person in your sphere of influence, in your relational and family network and in your geographical setting, to hear the good news. He especially wants you to be aware of those around you who suffer. That does not mean you are personally responsible for each of them, but you will never fully know your part in taking Jesus to the people in your 'crowd' if you are not praying for them to hear about and experience the love and mercy of God, found in Jesus. That includes those at your place of work, your university, your neighborhood, your village, and in nearby disadvantaged communities. God has placed you where He has placed you for a reason. You become that person by being a listening ear, someone to debrief with after a hard day, a safe person to talk to when burdened with life. Visit neighbors, walk around during coffee breaks at work, or take time to hang out with fellow students in your school, college or university. Jesus wants to reach each person in your 'crowd' – through you.
'Community' and 'Core Group' to follow in Part Two