How Jesus Connects with People
excerpt from Where Jesus Leads: Helping Christian Communities to Follow, pages 160-161
Jesus shows us how to truly engage people. First, he genuinely shows that he loves them. He doesn’t ask them to first believe a certain way or to do certain things (like going to church or doing things for the church or giving money). Jesus goes out and meets them where they are and truly cares for them. He does this in infinite ways, and we can also begin to do this by remembering to ask three questions that Jesus asks people he meets.
First, Jesus asks the individuals he meets what they are going through. When we experience people asking what we’re going through—without judging us or offering quick solutions—we have this miracle of someone who truly cares. This kind of listening goes far beyond superficial conversation (about the weather, sports, jobs, children, vacations, etc.) and into deeper conversations (about hopes, dreams, aspirations, challenges, grief, suffering). These deeper conversations require vulnerability on our own part and the other person’s. This is the level where we may begin to share the stories of our lives and to talk about Jesus. Through our caring, another person may begin to experience that God also cares. This is what is revealed to people like Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46–52) who are surprised that Jesus is paying attention to them.
Second, Jesus asks individuals he meets what they want him to do for them. For us, this is really the same as asking, what we need to pray about. At a deeper level, we connect closely, develop trust, and can introduce God into the conversation, asking “May I pray for you?” Making time for sharing and praying for one another’s thanksgivings and concerns makes room for a deeper intimacy and revelation.
Third, Jesus asks the groups of people he is with, “Who isn’t here who needs to be here?” Jesus is not exclusive, and he keeps inviting and welcoming others into relationship—especially, of course, the ones other people see as outcasts or “sinners.” This openness or permeability seems to be hard for most groups because people are hesitant to add new people to groups they feel comfortable in. They naturally feel that they cannot trust others and be vulnerable in their conversations. But members of successful groups discover this just is not true. They continue to invite others into relationship. A group that continually invites and welcomes new members continues to grow and to create strong relational connections and ultimately may need to replicate and divide group ministries to continue to grow.
If you look at some of the examples where Christian communities are engaging new people in different ways today, you’ll notice that they include these important elements of loving relationships and that they often are involved in purposeful ministries or tasks. The actual activities that groups or communities choose differ depending on particular needs they’re trying to meet. In some places, we see a new focus on activities going on beyond church walls, like pub theology or community gardens or knitting ministries or grief groups or social justice or outreach teams. But at the heart of each new group or community, they first help create close, deep, and caring relationships. We intentionally develop deeper relationships with others by asking:
“What are you going through?” (listening, caring, deep conversation)
“What do we need to pray about?” (prayer)
“Who isn’t here who needs to be here?” (openness and growth)