Meet people where they are to offer the hand of fellowship.
Luke 19 shares the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector. After an introduction to Zacchaeus we get the setup to the event. Jesus is walking through Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him, but being short in stature he could not see over the heads of the crowd who had gathered to see Jesus. So Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree along the lane and waits for the arrival of Jesus.
Zacchaeus is what we used to call a “seeker”. Someone who is interested and curious. Someone who has reached out to learn more about Christ. Today you would find this person doing some internet investigation and perusing the church websites. They might even ask to join a Facebook group or follow a Facebook page. A seeker today may ask some questions of church-goers, but we’ve learned not to hold expectant breaths hoping to see them in church that following Sunday.
We are in a new era and a new culture has arisen. The old ways of church doesn’t work. It used to be a cultural norm that a family attended church regularly. Our society even formed around that sacred Sunday. That time is long past. Today only an average of fifty percent in any of our Kansas counties claimed that they claimed affiliation with a church according to the last census. It could be discouraging, especially if you are holding out on those old practices of church. An example would be the “build it and they will come/field of dreams” mentality of spectacular buildings and programs. The unchurched are often numb and unimpressed. Is it the death of the church? Only as we have known it to look like these past one hundred years.
But the world needs the transformative power of the Gospel. The world needs the hope of Jesus. The world needs to know the steadfast love of God. And the world needs Truth more now than ever.
Now let’s look at verse 5: “When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Where did this transformative moment happen for Zacchaeus? Not at the Temple. Not at a synagogue. No, it happened along a public walkway at the foot of a sycamore tree. This speaks to the Accessibility of Jesus. Encounters with Jesus nearly ALWAYS occurred out where people were, often in public areas. A woman at a well. A gathering of 5,000 on a hillside. A crowd along the shore of a lake. A woman in a crowded street. A blind man along the path. That’s where you meet Jesus. And if we are going to truly “follow Jesus” guess where we are going to encounter people? Exactly in those same places.
The church needs to become accessible just like Jesus. I call this a “Front Porch Perspective.” The Front Porch is where we commune with neighbors. Recently we even renovated a building here in Pratt and named it The Front Porch. And at this place we meet people and build relationships. And more importantly, we introduce people to Christ. We shouldn’t be discouraged at a changing culture. We should recognize that we are in the midst of many seekers who are interested but intimidated by the church. Let’s extend a hand of fellowship to everyone in our community. Let’s make a straight line to the sycamore trees and offer friendship and fellowship. Get out of the buildings and build some front porches.
Scott Powell is the pastor of Abundant Harvest Church of the Nazarene in Pratt.