Last week I attended a revival meeting and learned a fairly shaking statistic: according to recent research conducted by the United Methodist Church, only 27% of people living in Russell County claim to be Christians. (Remember: this is a rural area in the Bible Belt South.) In our own day-to-day lives, the number might seem higher, and we may want to dispute it. How often, though, do we regularly spend time with people who don't go to church anywhere? Being solely among church folk is an occupational hazard for me, but my clergy status doesn't mean I don't need to get out among unbelievers. In fact, not only is it my job -- and yours, too -- to go out and reach that other 73%, it's the model Jesus gave us.
For a man known as a rabbi and miracle worker, Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners: tax collectors, the sexually immoral of all stripes, and those simply just listed as "sinner." He also spoke to Gentiles, touched lepers, and boldly proclaimed a message of salvation to each of them. The average Christian doesn't do that sort of thing often. Call it herd instinct, paranoia, or hypocrisy, we shy away from being seen with addicts, drunkards, and strippers. We also stay away from Muslims, atheists, and people who cuss too much. And if they come to us -- like, say, the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses -- we bar the door and pretend we're not home.
I say this as one who does the same thing and needs forgiveness for it.
The mission field is ripe for harvest right here at home. If 73% of our neighbors don't know Jesus, we need to step up our evangelism game. Try new things. Be bolder. Get our hands dirty. Feed, clothe, love, and share the gospel of Jesus, who came not for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.