How Jesus Related to People

Part Two...  2.  Community

From the crowds, came the seekers.  One senses in reading the Gospels that there were people in and out of Jesus' life who were actively seeking to know more.  Some of them are made known to us in the gospel accounts, like Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, or the Roman centurion.  There must have been many more who were actively interested in hearing His teachings.  They were people who had listened to Jesus speaking, seen Him perform miracles, or had heard about Him and wanted to know more.  Different people had different reasons for seeking Jesus: some were sincere, others wanted to find fault with Him, and still others were motivated by curiosity.  Some were desperate for help.  Jesus' response to seekers was very different from His response to large crowds.  He was more personal, but not always more friendly.  He was probing, questioning, and He almost always asked or demanded something costly from seekers.  Jesus tested them, but in a pro-active and loving kind of way.  He would give them something to do, a step to take, to show they were prepared to pay the price necessary to actually follow Him.  Jesus did not continually dispense truth to seekers if they did not show that they were willing to obey what He had already taught them.

Jesus modeled for us how to arouse the interest of people through telling stories and doing miracles.  But we also learn from Him how to ask seekers to go beyond spiritual curiosity or the miracle they have experienced, to hearing and obeying His teachings.  If they took one step, Jesus led them to the next.  Because we have the advantage of knowing the parable of the Sower, the seed and the soil, we know that Jesus understood that the hearts of people were all different.  Some were hard, some were responsive; and of those that were responsive, not all were genuine or lasting.

There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus' interaction with this group of the not-yet-committed as He invites them to be obedient disciples:

  • Matthew 8:18-22
  • John 6:60-66
  • Luke 5:4-5, 27-28
  • Luke 8:19-21
  • Luke 14:25-33

For Jesus, evangelism was disciple-making.

Personal Application

Our 'community' is people we have personal contact with.  They are people who show spiritual interest, or who will show interest, if we pray for them and take time for them.  Make a list of people who you know personally who don't know Jesus.  Those are the 'seekers' God has placed in your life that comprise your 'community'.

3.  Core group disciples 

The core group disciples were those who were attracted to Jesus, who subsequently crossed a threshold in their lives and decided to trust Jesus.  Understanding grew gradually in the hearts of the disciples of what it meant to obey Jesus.  Jesus deliberately selected some of His followers for more responsibility.  It says in Luke 6: 12 that from those who were with Him, He chose twelve for apostolic responsibility; that is, to be set aside, fully ready to obey Jesus.

At this point terminology can fail us.  There seem to have been many of Jesus' disciples who were not fully in or fully out.  Jesus left it purposefully that way.  He did not draw up a list of rules like the Pharisees of His day, and decide – based on strict adherence to His 'rules and regulations' of discipleship – who was 'in' or 'out'.  Jesus invited people to be His disciples by drawing them to Himself, rather than by establishing an 'in or out' closed society.  But there was no question about whether He wanted obedience from His core team – that had to be absolute, because He stood at the centre of the new community He was creating.  There were people who were called disciples, but who had not counted the cost of following Jesus all the way – "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:66).  Jesus asked the twelve whom He had appointed to share leadership responsibility with Him if they, too, wanted to leave Him.  Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

Personal application 

Understanding the paradoxes of discipleship is crucial to this process of moving from crowds, to a community of seekers, to a core group of disciples.  This is not a hard and fast method, but a process to follow in order to find people in whom we can invest our lives.

Sharing Jesus is partly about discerning the 'crowd' in our lives, building relationships with a 'community of seekers' and then selecting a core group of potential disciples to invest in.  Sharing Jesus – what we typically refer to as evangelism – cannot be separated from a process of finding those who are responsive to Jesus.

Jesus taught and modeled the way in which to discern how open people are to the good news (Luke 8:4 and following).  He respected people, but also challenged them to go further in their search for God.  In the parable of the Sower, Jesus compared the good news to seed sown into the soil of people's hearts.  The 'soil' represented four different types of people's readiness to hear His message.  Jesus told this story to His disciples to help them to discern the soil condition of people's hearts.  In Luke 8:11, Jesus explained to them that the 'seed' is the message from God to people.  Luke begins chapter 8 by saying that "Jesus. . . began a tour of the nearby cities and villages to announce the Good News concerning the Kingdom of God. . ."  In His parable, the 'sower' of the seed is the disciples themselves.

 

How Jesus Related To People

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:

  1. Crowds  -  those that gathered spontaneously or at Jesus' instigation.
  2. Community  -  seekers and followers who responded to Jesus - some out of curiosity and some who were sincere.
  3. 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. 

  1. Crowds

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:

  1. He taught them and shared the good news with them – usually by speaking loudly so the entire group could hear Him.
  2. He had compassion on them.
  3. He healed scores of them.
  4. He fed them – He didn't hand out the food Himself, but He found a way for them to receive food.
  5. He brought certain ones to life who were dead among them.
  6. He defended them from the religious leaders who mislead them.
  7. 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".

Personal application 

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

Attention Distraction Disorder

There are many tasks a leader must do, but one stands out above the others. Leaders must focus the attention of their followers. To do that, he or she must focus their own attention. There is a constant battle for the energy and attention of leaders. If a leader does not master the challenge of “attention distraction disorder” they will not lead well. The problem is one of concentration. Christian leaders must be able to maintain focus on three things simultaneously: focusing on yourself and your relationship with God, focusing on the wider world – specifically that part of the world you are called to reach, and lastly, focusing on the “immediate” others in your life –those you serve with.

Focusing upward – maintains your emotional and spiritual well being

Focusing inward – maintains your connection relationally to your natural and spiritual family

Focusing outward – maintains your passion for those you are called to reach

Every leader needs to cultivate this “triad of awareness.” Failure to focus upward leaves you rudderless, failure to focus outward renders you lost in a haze of busyness, and failure to focus on others around you leaves you clueless relationally.

An unfocused leader will be blindsided. An unfocused leader who does not cultivate abundance and balance in the “focus triad” will run in circles, impressed with their own busyness and unaware that others are not truly following them. Or sadly, if their followers are following, they are being misled.

Seven skills and character qualities to overcome “attention distraction disorder”:

1. Determine three to five priorities in your life in order of ranking, and proportion your time for each one accordingly.

2. Set aside time each day for personal reflection and renewal. Cleanse yourself through prayer and confession of negative emotions and reactions to others.

3. Learn to say no. The more responsibility you have the more often you have to say no – so you can say yes to the main things. Do a time map for your week to evaluate how you use your time.

4. Cultivate people around you who are able to say no to you. Find ways to hear the voices of people who are not afraid to express disagreement or differing points of view. As leaders grow in position and power their ability to maintain diverse personal connections suffer – unless they have gathered people around them who will be honest with them.  A wise leader will recognize valuable counsel from people of every social rank within their community or organization. Without such deliberate shift of attention, the natural inclination of senior leaders is to listen only to other senior leaders in their inner circle.

5. Learn self-restraint. When confronted by problems, effective leaders are those who have cultivated inner “traffic lights.” They recognize red light, yellow light and green light signals. They calm themselves under pressure, take time to think about how to respond, and then do so with a clear plan. Leaders who learn the quality of self-restraint shift away from impulse driven behavior to deliberate purpose-driven behavior.

6. Practice creativity and innovation. Do some things differently. Think out of the box. If you want new results you will have to break away from old practices.

7. Turn off notifications on your devices. Put your phone on airplane mode during your personal reflection time. A wealth of information can create a poverty of attention.

Focused attention is the basis of the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organizational and strategic intelligence. The constant barrage of information and the speed of decision making in today’s world makes it crucial for leaders to maintain attention and to direct the attention of those they lead.

* I am grateful for the the inspiration and many of the insights for this article to Daniel Goleman in an article he authored titled, The Focused Leader, from the Harvard Business Review, page 50, December, 2013

Mindfulness

“When you’re mindful… rules, routines, and goals guide you - they don’t govern you.”  Ellen Langer (Harvard Business Review, March, 2014)

The skill of “observation” is a lost art for many leaders.  Observation, or “mindfulness”, is the art of actively learning new things from our daily experiences.

Mindfulness makes you more sensitive to context and culture.  Mindfulness is intentional, but not stressful or exhaustive.  It comes naturally once you develop the skill.

Why is mindfulness important?  You can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. The rules you have been given are the rules that worked for the person who created them. If someone says, “This is the way we do it, learn this until it is second nature”, bells should go off in your head.  If they are speaking about values, that is one thing, but if they are speaking about methods, that is another thing entirely.  Principles never change, but methods always do.

Benefits of mindfulness:

  • You learn to observe what others are doing, how they are feeling, and what they are communicating non-verbally
  • You pay attention more easily
  • You ask better questions
  • You learn by listening and observing
  • You become more innovative
  • You are more fully present
  • You are able to take advantage of opportunities when they are available
  • You become less judgmental about others
  • Mindfulness alleviates boredom