I was recently reminded of the simple but profound fact that “people are someplace.” People live and function within a particular context, and we would do well to consider this in our efforts to reach them with the gospel.
For example, people are at a particular level of spiritual maturity. Not everyone is as familiar or conversant with the Bible as are we, and some may be much more so. In our current American culture, more and more people have a secular view of spiritual matters, and often know very little truth concerning heaven, hell, or the spiritual battle raging around us. Before we can have a meaningful conversation with them about the need to be saved from sin, we are going to have to convince them that there is such a thing as sin! Why would people have any interest in learning God’s plan of salvation, when they are not sure that God even exists?
In speaking with others about the Bible, we sometimes jump to the conclusion that they understand fundamental spiritual realities. The fact is that more and more Americans have been led to believe that the physical, temporal world which we see with our eyes is all that exists. Many are consumed with the daily pressures of paying bills, finding a house, buying a car, and many other material matters. They see no need for the church because they are living at a very low level of spiritual awareness. If we are going to succeed in reaching them with the gospel, we are going to have to meet them where they are. We are going to have to show them that the gospel message is relevant in their lives.
Meeting people where they are sometimes requires us to leave our comfort zones. If we are serious about carrying out our Lord’s Great Commission, we must realize that worldly people are not going to march into our church buildings and sit down on the pew beside us in order to hear the gospel. We are going to have to get the gospel to them. We are going to have to meet them where they are. As the apostle Paul would say, “I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some,” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Another example involves reaching out to people of other cultures. You may have noticed that we are being inundated with immigrants, migrants, and people with differing cultural backgrounds from us. If you haven’t noticed this yet, you probably will, because the pace is accelerating. Many of these people have no meaningful Bible background, and are clueless with respect to the gospel. What are we going to do? We can ignore them and pretend like we have no responsibility toward them, or that they will go away. Or, we can recognize them for the great opportunity they are – an opportunity to bring the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to people who are literally being delivered to our own backyard.
Offering food, clothing, and other physical benefits to these people only goes so far. It only touches upon the outward condition, and may never address the deeper, spiritual void. It must be used as an opportunity, a door to the real need, not an end in itself. Meeting people where they are involves taking them by the hand and leading them forward. It’s not enough to make a delivery to them, and then leave them where they are.
Christians are compassionate people, and we naturally want to help others. But in our desire to help, we must never lose sight of what people really need. They need the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and they need it where they are, on a level they can reach and understand. They need us to come to them, because they cannot come to us.
People are someplace. They are there because of their unique life experiences, their background, their culture. They speak their language, they associate with their friends, they go to their places of interest, they read their own books, and they believe what they have been taught to believe. Reaching them with the gospel involves breaking into their world.
I fear that we are going to have to think much more seriously about these matters. The gospel is relevant to all people, but the sad fact is that many do not know it is relevant. They do not realize it is urgently needed in their life. Our job is not to make the gospel relevant, but to show other people that it is relevant to them! Our job is to meet them where they are with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.