Go Therefore and Mingle
Most able-bodied 4-year-olds demand assistance opening doors that are too heavy, picking up the host of toys they dumped all over the house and purchasing more of said toys for further dumping in aforementioned house. However, my 4-year-old will stand at the top of the stairs and cry for aid in order to be able to walk down the stairs.
As I said, she is “able-bodied,” meaning there are no psychological or physical barriers preventing her from walking down the stairs. She’s done it for years. However, for whatever reason, we are in a season of stairway intimidation, and unless she finds someone to make the journey with her she will, technically speaking, “freak out.”
This is a heavy burden to bear when, as a parent, I have sat and/or lain down upon the sofa with a cool drink and something to snack on, have begun to make supper or have started any number of other activities that don’t want to be interrupted by walking up a flight of stairs … only to walk right back down.
Sometimes evangelism feels like this. Our approach is often asking people to “come up” to where we are in order to walk with us. We hold meetings and events with charts, or we make pointed political/spiritual posts on Facebook, with the expectation that people will drop whatever is going on in their lives, suddenly become interested in what we are interested in, and effortlessly embrace our lifestyle.
Except the great commission tells us to “go,” not “tell people to come to you” (Matt. 28:19). And even when Jesus told people to “come and follow,” He first spent time with them in THEIR context. Ellen White’s classic statement continues to have an elusive element for many Christians: "Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.'"[i]
It’s that “mingling” part we struggle with. We don’t mingle — we call, exhort, teach, rebuke, mail, PowerPoint, and maybe greet and potluck if we are especially feeling social — but mingle? Save that garbage for churches that have the nerve to serve coffee between services.
On a recent trip for a speaking engagement in South Africa, I had the opportunity to see how “mingling” makes way for deeper ministry. Between speaking appointments, I was able to participate in some outreach with the conference attendees. One of the activities involved visiting an “informal settlement” — essentially a shanty town populated by the poor.
Our van arrived without Bibles, prophecy charts, sermons or literature — but we did have footballs, soccer balls and candy. Upon alighting from the van, we watched shoeless children materialize out of the shacks and fields with grins and palpable excitement.
Let the games begin.
For more than an hour we played ball and gave away candy — which may not seem very spiritual in light of our usual calls to “come follow Me.” However, as I played catch with a boy who only spoke Zulu, we shared an incredible moment. His laugh and smile let me know that, despite language barriers, and a game that wouldn’t reverse his economic situation, he felt loved. People had taken the time to enter his world full of mud, wandering goats, bare feet and poverty in order to play.
Interestingly enough, the act of playing with children opened the doors for some in our group to share a few thoughts from Scripture with adults — and even pray with a local witch doctor. Jesus entered our grubby little planet in order to reveal eternity to us — He didn’t tell us to walk up a stairway to heaven.
I believe He did it because He loves us — and genuinely likes to spend time with sinners. Which brings up another issue: Sometimes our evangelism is laced with a selfishness rooted in numbers, tithe dollars and creating people in our own image so they fit within a religious subculture. While Jesus spoke to great crowds, He also took time to understand individual needs in order to restore them — some received healing with a touch, others were told to stretch, and some were spit on.
Jesus doesn’t seem to do as much mass evangelism as He does mingling — and I tend to think its His ability to mingle and meet needs that created the stories that attracted the crowds. What if we took a genuine interest in the individuals, their worlds, their interest and their needs? What if we focused on creating individual stories and, as a result, crowds began to gather on their own without the benefit of mass mailings? What if we played with people more? What if the key to our witness was less formal and more organic?
Even though it’s inconvenient, I, as the mature (most of the time) parent, understand that my job is to enter my daughter’s bathmophobic world and walk with her. As followers of Christ, let's practice more incarnation than exhortation, enter the world of others and walk with them until their fears are replaced by faith.
[i] Ellen White, Gospel Workers, p. 363.