Home Outreach Leaders He Gets Us: Offending (Some) Christians While Reaching the Unchurched

He Gets Us: Offending (Some) Christians While Reaching the Unchurched

He Gets Us
He Gets Us campaign logo. Courtesy image

 

“She was scared. Her parents thought her boyfriend was the father, but the baby wasn’t his… Jesus was born to a teen mom. He gets us. All of us.” 

No, this is not from a new reality show or a new docuseries on Netflix. Instead, it is from a video ad produced by an outreach campaign called He Gets Us. Since it was posted on November 29, 2021, the video has surpassed 5 million views on YouTube alone. It is a unique approach, to say the least. Other content produced by He Gets Us contains statements such as, “Jesus suffered anxiety, too” and, “If you’ve ever had relationship problems, you’re in good company. Jesus did too.”

Statements like these can make some Christians uneasy or even upset. Yet, they seem to be extraordinarily impactful to those who are skeptical, but curious about Jesus.

Approaches to connect with the unchurched may actually offend Christians.

But here’s the thing: sometimes the best approaches to connect with non-Christians will make some Christians uneasy. Why is this the case? Because approaches like the one above break the mold of what most Christians think of when they think of evangelism. In fact, the term evangelism sometimes has a negative connotation because it conjures images of people who are so focused on the truth of the gospel that they don’t empathize with the hearer of the gospel.

When some think of personal evangelism, they may picture a Christian talking to someone they don’t really know, presenting Jesus to them as briefly as possible—and with great urgency—and immediately asking them to make a decision. They’ve done their part if the person responds (and thankfully, some will!). 

And if the person doesn’t respond immediately, they move on. 

This approach that savors strongly of ‘closing a deal’ isn’t the pattern of sharing faith that we see in the New Testament. Still, many who talk about Jesus with others are driven more by the truth they tell than by a love for those listening. But when communicating the components of a message becomes more important than how we share, we’ve lost sight of the good news of Jesus’ life, and ultimate death, for all humanity.

It’s true that if you invite people to meet Jesus frequently enough, you will see some people come to Christ. I am for that—sharing Jesus’ story broadly and in many ways. But, I also think that helping people have conversations about Jesus can ultimately lead to productive conversations. 

And, that helps us see that we need more than one approach.

When you focus on empathizing with, and hearing the stories of those who are skeptical about Jesus, some Christians will be offended—you aren’t “standing for truth” by giving them the whole story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I get it. 

Yet, on the other hand, if you focus solely on getting out a “full presentation,” non-Christians can end up feeling treated like another potential notch on a Belt of Truth. They may feel it’s safer to turn away from the beautiful love story of the Bible, instead of drawing closer. In only “standing for truth,” Christians can be seen as having a lack of genuine interest in people and the reality of their life circumstances.

But research from Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, outlined in their book I Once Was Lost, show that building relational trust with a Christian is often the first and most important step many people take in a process toward developing a personal relationship with Jesus. This sort of relational rapport happens, not primarily through hearing a speech on a milk crate on a street corner, but through time and proximity with followers of Jesus.

Again, we need more than one way. 

He Gets Us is starting conversations about Jesus

The best way to share the story of Jesus is one that, well, will help someone engage. We want people to want to talk about Jesus, knowing that most don’t, and one way is to help people find common ground in His life and ministry. Sharing the love of God can be done in a variety of different ways, but the law of love is key.

When this law guides us as Christians to share the good news of Jesus with others, we will approach people as friends we genuinely desire to know rather than receptacles of information we desire to impart. The difference is in the starting point. The starting point in Jesus’ own approach is the other person and their story, much like Paul did when he spoke at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31). 

But be forewarned—when you dare to lead with love and show patience with people as they consider the life-altering implications of Jesus’s life and teachings, you’re likely to unnerve some Christians. You can be accused of being “soft on truth” or lacking urgency. And you just might be offensive to some believers in your desire to be gracious to those who are skeptical. 

But that is precisely the risk Jesus calls us to, and one He modeled Himself (Luke 7:34).

A Lesson from a Shoemaker

Samuel Moor Shoemaker III (1893-1963) served in New York City and was considered one of the best preachers of his time. Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church from 1925-1952, Shoemaker was one of the early supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous. Calvary Church offered refuge for alcoholics, and he showed great care for the people who were often rejected by others. 

Shoemaker wrote a poem near the end of his life called “I Stand By the Door” that epitomized his ministry:

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like those who are blind.
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it . . .
So I stand by the door.

We need a generation of Christians who stand by the door, caring for people, loving those often ignored or dismissed, and walking with them as they seek answers. 

Some practical ideas

Here are three ways to help people meet Jesus, and be there for them as they are ready to hear and explore more:

  1. Host a community event at your church or home, like a cookout or dessert night. Whether you are a lay leader or are on staff in ministry, get your community involved. Go to your neighbors’ houses with an invitation in hand, knock on their door, and invite them personally to your event. At the end of the first event, plan a second and ensure people are invited before they leave. This will discipline your community members’ schedules to make time to build authentic relationships with the people in your proximity. You don’t have to drop the entirety of Jesus’ life on them on the first visit. Show them Jesus’ values through your hospitality, empathy, and kindness, as you get to know them and listen to the Spirit.
  1. Spend time meeting people where they live, work, study, or play. This might mean shifting some of your daily rhythms, like moving non-sensitive staff meetings to a coffee shop for example. Between meetings, you can stop and talk to the barista. Or, go to the same restaurant consistently, get to know the wait staff, and tip well. When coming home, park outside of your garage and make a point to speak to your neighbors. On weekends, do your outdoor chores during a time when your neighbors will be outside, making it a point to dialogue with them about their lives. It will take more intentionality to change your usual routines, but the opportunities to engage with people about Jesus will multiply.
  1. In your conversations, anchor in values that Jesus’ life represents. You’ve been on the journey yourself—meeting and discovering Jesus for who he really is. As you interact with others, see yourself as a translator of the values and teachings that Jesus embodied. If a friend is surprised by how well you tip, for example, you could share that the generosity flowing from you, also came from Jesus in the way He lived and ultimately died for others. If someone you know tells you they have anxiety, you might share the story of Jesus, who at one point in His ministry became so anxious that His “sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). It’s a great way for us as Christians to revisit Jesus’ life and ministry and ask ourselves, what did Jesus experience in His life that relates to the challenges we experience every day?

He Gets Us is helping people find the door

Jesus is the door, so how can we help those who want help finding that door? 

We need to think more about whether we are helping people discover Jesus—fully and for themselves—and less about whether the way we do it will impress the Christians who are already near to Him. 

As for me, I’m willing to risk offending some Christians if that means helping more people know and develop for themselves a personal, transformational relationship with Jesus.  

That seems in line with the life and mission of Jesus. 

To learn more about He Gets Us, visit hegetsuspartners.com.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.