When Jesus invited Levi to follow him, everything changed. This tax collector was transformed by the savior’s call. In order to express his gratitude and love for Jesus, Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor. He’s so thankful for Jesus that he gathers all of his tax collector friends and other sinners to come recline with Jesus and his disciples. This quite the party! Here is Jesus the son of God eating and talking with the social outcasts—the sinners. The shock of this scene is difficult for us to fully understand in our culture. Reclining at someone’s table was a mark of friendship, intimacy, and love. It was the place of community, long conversations, and fellowship. It mattered who you ate with in Jesus day, similarly to how it matters which table you sat at in the high school Cafeteria. By eating with people you were identifying with them. No one wanted to eat with these tax collectors and sinners because it meant socially demeaning yourself to spend time with them. Yet, these are the sorts of people Jesus hung out with. He was a friend of sinners.
Jesus’ Evangelistic Strategy
It is here that we see Jesus’ mission strategy. It’s a complicated, super difficult strategy that takes years to master. It’s a strategy that all the church growth experts out there have yet to figure out yet as they develop new ministry program after new program. You ready to hear what Jesus’ missionary strategy was? He ate with people. That’s it. He ate dinner with people. His work of evangelism and discipleship always took place around the dinner table. As Jesus tells us in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking.” Meals are community creating events. Meals unite us with other people. Even today, food and drink connects people together. Why else to people gather at bars and restaurants? People go for community and fellowship. There is a reason everyone feels awkward eating alone in a restaurant. God has designed our meals to be times of connection and friendship with one another.
Now Christian’s are known for lots of things, but perhaps what we are best known for is our covered dish dinner. But, while most of our meals at church are with other Christians, look at the company Jesus kept at his meals! He eats with sinners and tax collectors! Now it is good for the body of Christ to come together and fellowship and eat together, but we have to ask the question, how have we strayed from Jesus’ own missions strategy? We’ve so secluded ourselves in the Christian bubble, that we only surround ourselves with Christians. In fact, we’ve intentionally designed our lives so that we have as little interaction with non Christians as possible. We do Bible studies where everyone there is a Christian. We swing the golf clubs with other Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian handymen, Christian dentists, Christian coaches… you get the point. All of our friends are Christians and the only people we eat with our Christians. We only eat with people who are like us—Christian.
The American Church Has Killed Off Evangelism
No wonder the American church fails in the task of evangelism—we aren’t friends with anyone who isn’t a Christian! Indeed, we design so much of our programs in the church to reinforce the Christian bubble. The church becomes the Smörgåsbord of programs and activities that lead to the cul-de-sac of the Christian bubble. We have Christian golf tournaments, Christian Senior Adult activities, Christian choirs, Christian basketball leagues, Christian baking clubs. Again, you get the point, and I’m aware that I’m striking at nerve at Forest Hills, because this is exactly they way we program, and I think it’s well intentioned, but severely misguided. We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ simple missional strategy of eating with sinners. We’ve swapped it out with hundreds of activity that all keep us busy but ineffective in reaching the world for Christ. So we can have a busy week at the church with activities, outings, and all the while never speaking once to someone who is not a Christian. I believe the American Church has unintentionally structured itself to kill off evangelism. After all you can not evangelize to non-Christians if you don’t know any non-Christians. Instead of mobilizing Christians to mission, the church has only entrapped them in the Christian bubble.
Eat With Sinners
So what would it look like for you and I to adopt Jesus’ mission strategy? What would it look like if our church began to declutter our programming to free you up to live like this? I hesitate to make such specific application lest I stumble across a sacred cow. So rather than critiquing church programming, I’d rather challenge you as an individual to live like Jesus. Do you want to be a more effective evangelist? Do you want to make an impact in the kingdom of God? What if I told you that you don’t need any formal training or certification and that its as easy as eating a cheese burger? Here is the challenge: eat one meal a week with somebody who isn’t a Christian.
We all have to eat anyway don’t we? On your lunch break at work, invite a co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord out eat with you. One evening invite your unbelieving neighbors over for dinner. Go grab a cup of coffee with a friend in your aerobics class who doesn’t know Jesus. It really is that simple. Be friends with non Christian people. You have to eat, so why not eat with other people who don’t know Jesus?
I’ve failed at this a lot personally over the course of my life, and I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve done my best to keep my lunches booked during the work week. It often means that we have to budget extra in our family budget for restaurant eating, but so much of my ministry is done over conversations with other men over a meal. It is there in those deep conversations with mouths full that encouragement is lavished, admonishment is given, and evangelism happens. So the challenge this morning is simple—who is one person you can invite to a meal this week who doesn’t know Jesus? In your community groups tonight, share the name of that person with your group for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. Work it into the rhythm of your life that you eat with other people, particularly with those who do not know Jesus.
Reevaluate Your Priorities
This may mean you need to re-evaluate your weekly calendar. Most of us are sinfully too busy. We pack our calendars so full with activity that we don’t have time to be intentional in building relationships with non believers. You may have to say no to some other commitments so that you can encounter new people on a regular basis. Use your hobby as a bridge to relationship. Love golfing? Join a group of guys and go golfing with them on Saturday. Love knitting? Join a sowing group in town and meet new friends and share your testimony with them. Love working out? Meet some people at the gym and invite someone out to coffee after your morning workout. Love basketball? Invite your co-worker over to your house to watch the game on Friday night. You get the picture. Evangelism isn’t always just going door to door. Though there is nothing wrong with doing that, but often the most effective evangelistic opportunities we have come through the trust of personal relationship. Be hospitable, friendly, and welcoming to all people. Build friendships with those who don’t know Jesus and through those friendships live out and share the Gospel. Missions isn’t an event and it isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be. It’s simply every day Christians doing every day things with Gospel intentionality.
As you are intentional with the Gospel and build those friendships with non Christians, the Spirit will work in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation to open hearts and provide you plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be like Jesus. Be a friend of sinners.