Business experts agree that for any endeavor to find lasting success it must have a compelling mission, effective strategy, and a specific target audience. Doing something for everyone often means you end up doing it for no one well.
The Kingdom of Jesus has a compelling mission and effective strategy. But what about the target audience? Jesus said it was anyone and everyone (“make disciples of all nations”). Yet since none of us can do that alone, he gave us a hint for discovering our own target audience. More specifically for us, he indicated that our personal target is where we are (in the Greek, his Great Commission begins with “as you go…” or “as you are going…”).
So, who is your target audience? Who are the people around you? And not just in your church. Pause and ask who lives around you, works with you, interacts with you. “As you go,” whom do you see? Are your eyes open to see them?
If we’re not careful, our target audience can, without intent, become a collection of people who look, act, and think just like us at the expense of those who don’t. I understand the temptation. The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I find I naturally want to just be with other Christians. And praise God for the joy of fellowship in the family of God.
“If we’re not careful, our target audience can, without intent, become a collection of people who look, act, and think just like us at the expense of those who don’t.”
Yet sometimes because of this comfort, we can end up maintaining disciples and not making new disciples, especially ones who are not like us.
If we pause to look around at where we are, we’ll find we’re surrounded by people who are stuck in destructive lifestyles. Greed, lust, anger, resentment, pride, rage, sexual exploration, substance abuse, dishonesty, and more. (And yes, these can also describe people within the church—which underscores the need for everyone to be discipled.)
As you obey Jesus’ Great Commission, you won’t get very far into the “going” before you meet people who are truly suffering under the weight of great sin. In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus shows us what it looks like to live the mission in a messy context.
It all begins with his presence. Jesus is deep in turmoil with his countrymen. It is a hostile time for him, yet he is still in the temple making himself available to teach people. Notice that Jesus isn’t kicking down doors, but he is waiting and watching for doors to be opened. While his world is pressing in on him, he remains present, aware, and available. So, when the religious leaders bring to him the woman caught in adultery to get his verdict (would he condemn her as the Jewish law said?), he is fully present—with eyes open to their corrupt agenda, to her value as a person made in God’s image, and to the opportunity for teaching important truth.
“While his world is pressing in on him, he remains present, aware, and available.”
Earlier in John’s Gospel, when Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, the disciples were caught off guard (why was he, a Jew, talking to a Samaritan woman?). Turning their confusion into a teaching moment, he told them, “Lift up your eyes” (John 4:35). They had likely passed this woman and missed seeing her. Paul would encourage us to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside…” (Col. 4:5).
When we are present, available, and have our eyes open, mission moments will come.
Presence may give us an opportunity, but posture empowers it. When they brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, he did something unexpected with his body (8:6). With her before him, he bent down to write something on the ground. As they continued to press him to condemn her, he stood up. His body posture demonstrated to her his mental posture. It’s as if, to the broken, Jesus kneels to serve, whereas to the accusers, Jesus stands to defend. That’s his heart posture.
For so long we’ve gotten this backwards. Fair or not, the criticism is often, “They think they are better than me, holier than thou, as if they never sin. All they do is judge.” In his interactions with broken people, Jesus disarmed that criticism at the cost of being labeled a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19).
Jesus took on a posture of serving and protecting the woman, embodying the conviction that she had dignity. Made in the image of God, she received Jesus’ love, service, and mercy.
“Jesus took on a posture of serving and protecting the woman, embodying the conviction that she had dignity.”
It is one thing to find those burdened by sin. Even more important is to love and serve them. Even still, those are not sufficient if we are trying to carry out Jesus’ mission and example. We must proclaim the message of the gospel. In this story, Jesus had a powerful message consisting of two points:
Your future triumphs over your past.
What did Jesus write on the ground when he bent down? We don’t know. But we do know that, when he stood back up, he told the accusers, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). Shamed, they dispersed, leaving Jesus and the woman.
He then told her, “Go!” Move forward. Look ahead. Leave sin behind you. Your sin may be less than an hour old, but that’s not the focus. Moving forward without your sin is. As Jesus said, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11b).
Disciple makers, this must be our message as well. There is a better future for you without sin weighing you down. Even if it is a fresh sin, it needs to be forgotten. Your future is not tied to your sin.
“Disciple makers, this must be our message as well.”
But how that future is found is key. Hyping someone up with a Tony Robbins-style speech is like sugar to the diet of a soul. There is a shock of energy, but no nutrients. We need something more. Hence, Jesus’ second point:
You are not condemned.
This is the message that unhitches us from our past. The guilt and shame that drives us to the world can’t be forgotten without being forgiven. Those words are so powerful to a soul: you are not condemned.
And this is where we get to share the good news of the gospel. At this stage, be prepared for a lot of unlearning as well as new learning. We all have a concept of God, morality, and how that our brokenness is fixed. Many even have a concept of Christianity, with varying degrees of accuracy. Yet very few, even among some who call themselves Christians, have a full concept of the gospel. There’s no more beautiful story nor more transformative truth than the gospel.
“There’s no more beautiful story nor more transformative truth than the gospel.”
These moments, where you have been present, humble, safe, and serving, will set you up for times to teach the truth of the gospel and make a disciple. And when you do, you get to sit back, celebrate with Jesus, be grateful you were included in the mission of God, and know you hit your target audience.