YOUR SOCIAL WEB
by Jack Little
It’s a fact that most people begin a relationship with Christ because a friend of family member shared the gospel. This was the New Testament pattern, and it still works powerfully today!
When I first got saved, I led a lot of people to the Lord. Gradually, however, I got drawn into the Christian ghetto. After a while I was not leading anyone to the Lord, because I was not spending much time with non-Christians. Many of you have probably had the same experience. It indicates how the church has withdrawn into the Christian ghetto and isolated herself from the harvest fields. And it explains in part the popularity of impersonal evangelistic programs–they are often the only times the church rubs shoulders with the world. How do we change this?
I believe the effectiveness of new Christians in evangelizing their family and friends illustrates a vital kingdom truth. God’s love advances most effectively through relationships, especially through those already-existing relationships that form our personal social web.(*) A social web consists of people who share:
1. Common kinship–extended family
2. Common friendship–friends and neighbors
3. Common association–special interests, work relationships, recreation, etc.
While witnessing to strangers is certainly a part of God’s design for evangelism, it is not the whole design, nor is it even the main design.
The idea of social web comes from the Greek word “oikos,” which in the New Testament is usually translated “house” or “household” (Luke 19:9, Acts 18:8, I Corinthians 1:16, and II Timothy 1:16 are representative examples). In the New Testament we see the gospel spreading and the church growing primarily through people’s social webs. Indeed, a number of scholars have noted this fact. Thomas Wolf writes:
An oikos is a social system composed of those related to each other through common ties and tasks. The New Testament oikos included members of the nuclear family, but extended to dependents, slaves and employees. Oikos members often lived together, but always sensed a close association with each other…The oikos constituted the basic social unit by which the early church grew, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. (“The Biblical Pattern for Effective Evangelism” in The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook Vol. I)
Michael Green adds:
The family, understood in this broad way as consisting of blood relations, slaves, clients and friends, was one of the bastions of
Graeco-Roman society. Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the Gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness…[We are, then] quite right in stressing the centrality of the (oikos) to the Christian advance. (Evangelism in the Early Church (1970:210))
If this was the method used by the apostles, it might be a good idea for us to consider it as well!
The New Testament contains numerous examples of social web evangelism. Several of Jesus’ disciples came to him through their social web. First, two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus, who was John’s cousin. One of these two disciples, Andrew, brings his brother, Simon Peter. Then their friend Philip brings his friend Nathaniel (John 1:35-46). Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10, brings his relatives and family to hear Peter, and they are all converted. The Philippian jailer brings his “oikos” to Christ in Acts 16:27-34.
Social webs, then, are like veins of gold to us. Sharing with someone who knows and trusts us is more effective than collaring somebody in the street and telling them to repent or they will go to hell. Many unchurched people need a credible witness, someone they know personally. Hearing the gospel from someone they know can make a difference–an eternal difference.
Busted by God!
My wife Susan found a girl in a drainage ditch whom we had known several years before. Her parents were going to lock her up in juvenile hall. You name it, she had done it, and they just did not know what else to do with her. She had run away from home and was living in this ditch, so Susan brought her to our house. We called her parents and asked them if she could live with us for an extended time. They were delighted because they didn’t really want to lock her up.
We made a contract with her: no drugs, she had to attend school, etc., which she agreed to. She had a knapsack full of her clothes at a guy’s house, so she and I drove over there and got her stuff. As we were driving home the Lord gave me a word of knowledge–I saw a picture of a bag of marijuana in the right pocket of the army jacket she had on.
“Nancy, do you have a lid of marijuana in your right pocket?”
“Did my friend tell you I had this?”
“Well, then how did you know I had it?”
“God told me, and I want it now.”
She thought about it for a moment, then said,
“Is God going to bust me like this all the time?”
“I don’t know–but he loves you–and he’s giving you a chance now. Give it to me.”
She pulled out all of her drug paraphernalia and we held a little ceremony during which we flushed some of it down the toilet, burned some, and threw away what we couldn’t flush or burn. Then she asked the Lord back into her life.
Later, two of her friends came by the house, and she told them what happened. They were part of her social web–I knew these guys somewhat, but she knew them very well. They were so amazed they took the drugs out of their pocket and said they wanted to get saved, too. So, we had another ceremony, and they met the Lord! Through her social web, I became a credible witness because she was a credible witness.
Designing a social web
It’s also possible to design a social web. If you don’t have a social web with any pre-Christians, make one! In my line of work I am with Christians all the time. For a number of years I rarely talked to a pre-Christian unless he or she came to “my turf.” I began to plan ways to get out of my Christian ghetto and meet pre-Christians. That gave me new opportunities to share the gospel with people, care for and pray for people.
When punkers were popular a number of years ago, I realized I didn’t know any punkers. But some of the college students in my church had friends who were punkers. Punkers were part of their social web, and thus indirectly part of mine as well. I asked some of the college students in my church if they could arrange for me to meet some punkers–at their house, on their turf. I didn’t want to argue with them or try to convert them, I just wanted to ask them questions so that they can teach me what they believe, think and feel.
The students set up the meeting, and I went…terrified. (Whenever I’ve gotten involved in something like this, fear is my first response. But I’ve also learned that you just go anyway.) When I got to the meeting I asked them, “You know, a lot of your music is violent. It talks about killing your parents, killing authorities, killing yourself–it is really hopeless. What is all this about? Do you really mean that?”
Their answer was revealing. “There’s no hope in anyone or anything in the world. Nothing can help. Society sucks, it stinks. Because we want to communicate to people that the situation is hopeless, we say very extreme things in our songs and slogans.”
Their answer surprised me–my first response was “Hot dog, that’s a great point,” because I saw in that attitude an opening for the Gospel. Then they asked me what I thought about what they had told me. So I told them.
Two of them came to church the next week. We had sown a little seed and reaped a little harvest.
There are a number of practical things you can do as you seek to share Jesus with people in your social web. A good starting point is the people in your social web who are receptive. Look for those who show an interest in the meaningfulness of your life in Jesus Christ. Look also for those who are sick, suffering, oppressed or hurting, whom you can pray for.People who are going through dramatic transitions in their lives are also often receptive.
Key transitions include the following:
– immediately following a marriage
– after a divorce or marriage separation
– the birth of a child
– death of a spouse, child or family member
– a lay-off from work
– a marital reconciliation in process
– child-rearing (help needed)
– an employment change
– a change in work responsibilities
– foreclosure or bankruptcy
– sexual difficulties
– a need for marriage enrichment
– a new arrival in the neighborhood
Once you have sensed those people in your social web who are receptive to the gospel, there are a number of things you can do. First, pray for the ones God is focusing you in on. Make a list to help you remember. Plead with God for their salvation. Ask the Holy Spirit to remove blindfolds, soften hearts, and draw them from sin unto God. Contemplate their lost state, their Christless eternity.
As you intercede for them, ask God to show you his timing about when to share your testimony of how God made himself real to you, or when to invite them to a relevant event. Here are some examples:
Seminars: “Healing” “Divorce Recovery” “Reparenting” “Marriage Rebuilding” “Marriage Enrichment” “How to Study the Bible”
Celebrations: Music, worship and healing.
A home Bible-study group for new believers and interested inquirers (coffee or tea-cup Bible studies, team of two strong Christians).
Kinship groups for fellowship, worship and ministry.
Sunday morning worship.
Special counseling of some kind.
Besides interceding, strengthen your relationship with them. Begin by making sure that your heart is right toward them: full of forgiveness, acceptance, love and caring. Then think of tangible ways to bless them. Invite them over for dinner or videos or just to talk. Go shopping or to the park with them and their family. Write notes of encouragement, consolation and comfort when appropriate. Seek to develop the same love for the people in your social web that Paul had for the Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).
This is also a good time to employ “the friendship factor.” Make it your responsibility to help these individuals bond with others. Make introductions, invite others along on your outings. The greater the number of relationships formed with Christians, the greater will be the likelihood of this person meeting Christ and growing strong in him.
Without the Lord, without the power of the Holy Spirit, this too could become just another technique. But if our motivation is a passion for the Lord and compassion for people, then he will make us messengers of his light and life to our dark and dying world. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28,29).
The challenge to us as Christians can be summarized as follows:
– Exchanging our “come ye” commission for God’s “go ye” Great Commissioner
– Being willing to run the risk of failure while we are learning to minister with power
– Taking the gospel first to our own social web
The Apostle Paul had a passion for Jesus and compassion for people.
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:17-19).
Let’s seek to become messengers of Jesus, leading many to obey God by what we say and do–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit!
(*) I’m indebted to Steve Robbins, pastor of VCF Channel Islands for giving me the theoretical foundation for this concept.
Jack Little pastors the North Coast Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Oceanside California. He has planted several Vineyards in California and Florida, and frequently speaks at Vineyard conferences.
This article was originally published in “Equipping The Saints,” the quarterly magazine of Vineyard Ministries International. For
a one-year subscription (four issues), send $8.00 to Vineyard Ministries International (VMI), P.O. Box 68025, Anaheim, CA
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