Some of you will remember Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers. Considered one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of football and a member of the pro football Hall of Fame, you would think he came from some legendary college football powerhouse. But he didn’t. He played for the Mississippi Valley State University Delta Devils, in Itta Bena, Mississippi.
Rice was once asked, “Why did you attend a small, obscure university like Mississippi Valley State?” Rice responded, “Out of all the big-time schools to recruit me, MVSU was the only school to come to my house and give me a personal visit.”
The big-time schools recruited through cards, letters, and advertisements, but only one came to meet him and showed Rice personal attention. It makes a difference in this world to meet people eye to eye and invite them to be a part.
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, the scriptures say, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea. He approached them and invited them to be a part. He went a little further and he saw two more brothers: James and John. He went up to them extending the same invitation and they followed. It is the personal touch which attracts us, is it not? Cards and letters are nice and they’re meaningful but they can only do so much. And advertising is so impersonal. But a shake of the hand and a personal touch, it makes the difference.
How can we reach others for Christ?
First, meet people where they are. As I get older I tend to spiritualize the stories of the bible less and less. I see the practical side to Jesus’ teachings more and more. The spiritual interpretation would point out that Jesus calls them out of the world. The practical interpretation would want to add that Jesus meets them where they are. He talks to these fishermen in a language they can understand, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Effective evangelism is not impersonal, but personal, the personal touch of meeting people where they are. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were moved by a God who spoke their language.
The Chevy Nova was a relatively successful American car for many years. Many of you know I had one back when I was in college, a white 63 four-door with a little 6 cylinder. It was a great little car – just put that leaded gas in her, along with a quart of oil per week, and she hummed right along. Plus, friends and neighbors always knew where I was going – they just followed the giant exhaust cloud that billowed behind me for several blocks.
You know how some cars have sunroofs so you can look up at the sky? Well, my Nova didn’t have that. But it did have an opening in the floorboards between the driver’s seat and the foot pedals. The floor had completely rusted out over the years, leaving a great view of the pavement underneath the car as you sped along. This innovation also allowed for the exhaust fumes to waft up into the cabin, which meant I always drove with the windows down, even in the New Jersey winters.
Well, encouraged by U.S. sales to folks such as me, Chevrolet began to market the American Nova throughout the world, including Latin America. But Chevy soon discovered a glitch. In Spanish, Nova means “no go.” Not exactly what Chevy was trying to communicate.
The business world is full of such stories. For example, when Perdue Farms, the poultry company, converted its popular slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” into Spanish in hopes of expanding its chicken business, the results were less than desirable. That’s because the Spanish translation was “It takes a virile man to make a chicken affectionate.” Not exactly what Frank Perdue had in mind.
So how can we reach others for Christ? We can do it by speaking their language, understanding their jobs, taking an interest in their hobbies, speaking to them about their families, meeting them where they are.
Second, we should not use canned soul-winning tactics. If there is anything that is impersonal it is a religious person who tries to coerce someone into a conversion experience. I don’t like the approach where you introduce yourself to someone and then seek to save their soul.
When Jesus introduced himself to these fishermen he asked them to follow and he would make them fishers of men. He didn’t say they would be fishers of men. They were slowly made into disciples over the course of 3 years. It does not happen overnight. It takes time for the Teacher to educate the student. It takes time for the Master to convey his skills to the apprentice. It takes time for the Lord to make these fishermen into disciples. The personal touch takes time.
You will find that the best witnessing happens in passing moments of conversation. In other words, you will do the greatest work for the kingdom in relatively minor ways. I think of a woman who was playing tennis with her good but quite secular friends. In a conversation between sets she referred to something she had read that morning. It would have been easier for her to say, “I read something this morning.” Instead she simply introduced one more word into her conversation. She said, “In my devotional reading this morning.” It was not a major soul-winning moment. But it was a true sowing of a seed. By a simple word she made a small motion that opened the door for further conversation.
Unfortunately we have been convinced that we have to say some dramatic far-reaching thing to save someone’s soul. So what do we do? We say nothing. And we miss the moment when we could have used a personal touch and said some small, potentially significant, thing.
How can we reach others for Christ? First, meet people where they are. Second, use the personal touch.
Third, you can reach others for Christ by finding your calling. Not everyone is called to be a missionary in the Amazon, but all of us are called to minister to one another whenever and wherever we are.
An Andrew today might be asked to pick up his nets and serve Christ in his boat. Another Peter today might be asked to stay and do his work in the market place. You might be a James or John whom God asks to stay in the corporate world and make his name known.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is where Jesus tells a man who he has healed to go back home. The man begged Jesus to let him go along with him, but Jesus refused, saying, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
I cannot tell you the value of a ministry like that. That one man helped change that town for Christ. He was sent back to be a vivid, walking, living, demonstration of what Christ can do for us.
So how do you know what your calling is? Your calling can be found at the corner of where your desires and the needs of the world intersect. It’s an age-old question but a wise minister gave an answer worth pondering. Frederick Buechner, in his book, Wishful Thinking, says that our mission in life is usually
That’s your calling. Buechner says that if we really get a kick out of our work, we have probably met requirement A, but if that work is writing TV deodorant commercials, chances are we haven’t met requirement B. If our work is being a doctor in a leper colony, we probably have met requirement B, but if most of the time we are bored and depressed by doctoring, the chances are we have not only bypassed A, we probably aren’t helping our patients much, either.
Buechner concludes: “The place God calls us to, is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
So how do we share the good news in the 21st century? It’s meeting people where they are. It’s the personal touch, speaking simple conversational words in soul-winning moments. It’s finding our calling. That’s how Christ reached the fishermen. And that’s how we can reach the world for Christ.