A few years ago a telephone company filled the airwaves with the message “Reach out and touch someone.” They, of course, wanted to boost long distance phone calls in order to increase their profits. The need to be wanted and needed is universal. All of us need others to befriend us in new situations. We as Christians should be keenly aware of our opportunities to reach out to others. Often we seem to be self-absorbed with our own needs, concerns, and friendships and fail to recognize opportunities the Lord gives us to reach out to the lost.
In Colossians 4:2-6, we read what could be considered the Soul Winner’s Prayer.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert to it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Notice several important points. Paul was asking the Colossian brethren to pray that God would open doors of opportunity for him to speak the gospel. He asked them to pray that he might speak clearly. He exhorts them to conduct themselves, that is live the proper kind of lives before outsiders and thereby make the most of each opportunity. He exhorted them to speak with grace so that their speech would do what salt does for foods, add flavor. He exhorts them to pray so that they would know how to respond to each person.
Jesus taught in John 13:34-35 that we have a new commandment, to love each other as He loved us and that by this the world would know that we were His disciples. This love is also to be extended to non-Christians in order to reach out to them. Jesus taught His followers that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:39-40). The love demonstrated in the fruit of the Spirit is the antidote for the works of the flesh as seen in Galatians 5:19-23.
We are taught in James 2:1-9 to be careful to welcome all equally without respect to their socio-economic level. This seems to be a struggle against human nature even now. We need to remind ourselves, and each other, to reach beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort level with a spirit of love. We must take the emphasis off our wants and think of each person representing a soul of equal value, one for whom Christ died.
Where would we be if someone had not extended the gospel to us? We need to be grateful to the apostles and pioneer preachers who endured great hardships in order to keep the words of Christ alive in each generation. Jesus gave us all the responsibility of teaching the entire world (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
As a way of reaching out to others, I have a few practical suggestions. We all need to get into the habit of looking for visitors at the assemblies, making them feel welcome, and encouraging them to return.. It is all too easy to reach out to our own friends and forget our responsibility of first welcoming new people. It takes great courage for them to come into an unfamiliar place, and if ignored will most likely not return. By their presence they are showing a willingness to listen to the gospel. Let’s not lose our opportunity with them.
Following up on visitors with an encouraging note and home visit offering a home Bible study is only possible if we seek to get a written record of their attendance on a card or guest book. A few years ago, the Columbine congregation in Littleton, Colorado lost a former elder and founding member. Before his illness he was the one person visitors most remembered because he was always in the lobby before worship watching to be able to greet them as they entered. He made a wonderful impression of reaching out in love. He was nearly always mentioned by the one who had visited our service, when we visited in their home.
Your congregation might want to adopt the assigned greeters idea and post two or more members to greet visitors at the door with a bulletin, tract, or visitor’s card. In addition, the Columbine congregation hosts a planned monthly luncheon after worship to welcome visitors and new members. For many years this was a weekly event carried out by rotating luncheon groups. These have been very effective to show that we care.
Do we pray for the Lord to send us opportunities to serve but then fail to recognize our daily opportunities? We have opportunities to serve within our own neighborhoods. Do we have new neighbors with whom we can try to share the gospel? Since we are such a mobile society, many of our neighborhoods are ever changing. Our own neighborhood in the Denver suburbs sprouts “For Sale” signs each spring.
After being in our house for over twelve years, we had just finished remodeling it to our satisfaction just as the rental next door was sold to a family with six children ranging in age from ten to sixteen. No longer did we have a quiet neighborhood on a dead-end street. With all windows open in the summer heat, we did not need a telephone connection to be very closely connected. After a great deal of anxiety and soul-searching, I decided to make them my mission project.
The three girls and another new neighbor girl across the street seemed very receptive to friendship and looked to me for friendship and attention. Among the first approaches was trying to get the teens involved with our youth group where we worship. Our teens and their parents came to our home for a recent backyard cookout in order to meet these new neighborhood teens. The youth group was great about recognizing and responding to the opportunity and need to welcome them and invite them to class.
Often our teens, who are so easily touched by the gospel, do a better job than we adults do of inviting and teaching their friends. This year one of our teen girls has brought two friends who have been baptized. One of these new Christian young ladies did an especially sweet and mature job of befriending my neighbors during the devotional. Another of our teens came by to give a ride to Bible class to our neighbor girls. Friendship needs to be extended by all Christians.
Another opportunity to reach out into our neighborhoods is to invite our neighbors along with a core group of Christians, to a small group Bible study in our homes. Our favorite night has been Thursday nights. We meet for a one-hour topical study followed by a time of refreshments. We borrowed this idea many years ago and have found it to be successful in locating those with whom we can have a more personal one-on-one study.
Let us remember to put the focus on others, recognizing them as souls who need to hear and obey Jesus. God has given us the opportunities to serve. Let’s recognize these opportunities and “reach out and touch someone” with our attention.
by Louise “Weezie” Burger
Weezie and her husband, Wayne, serve with the Conifer church of Christ near Denver, CO. She is an instructor in the Bear Valley Bible Institute women’s program and enjoys her three grandchildren.