See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of My Father in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save the lost. What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the 99 on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, I assure you: He rejoices over that sheep more than over the 99 that did not go astray. In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish”.
Several weeks back, I visited the Fredericksburg battlefield in Virginia and came away incredibly disturbed. Atop Marye’s Heights, the focal point of the Civil War conflict, were thousands of graves marked only by a small granite marker and a number chiseled into it. 1230, 1231, 1232, 1233 … the markers continued along the hillside as far as I could see. I couldn’t help thinking about who these people might’ve been. Young men with great dreams, plans for the future, desires to make something of themselves in the 1860s. All of it ended in the howl of bullets and shells on a grassy hillside in Virginia—without even a mention of their names to mark their sacrifice.
As leaders of young adults in churches, many of us spend a majority of our time focused on numbers, not individuals. We set goals for how many people we hope and pray will come to our Easter services. We set markers for the numbers of people we hope to attract to Sunday School or our small groups.
Multitudes and numbers tend to dominate our discussions, and I understand that mindset. We work hard on the big events that will deliver the big bang. And there must be some way of measuring whether spiritual transformation is happening in churches, so we focus on the people who will come. We focus on the crowds. We focus on the 99 already following, rather than the one who is harder to reach.
I don’t believe that’s completely a Jesus-focused thought process. To be sure, He spoke truth to the masses, He fed them, and Scripture tells us He had pity on the multitudes. Yet, most of His ministry was focused on the individuals who were lost. He focused on them each day.
Even more astounding, though, He focused on the toughest of the individuals. The demon-possessed man. The rich young ruler. Zacchaeus. The woman caught in adultery. The woman at the well.
He never gave up on anyone. They weren’t too lost. They weren’t too afflicted. They weren’t lost causes. He went out of His way to find them and minister to them. And Jesus never gives up on anyone today, either.
I wonder if we as leaders maintain that same focus. Do we spend most of our time with the people who come to us and are pursuing their own spiritual growth? Or are we willing to step out and pursue “tough” people who others in society may have given up on?
For me, it’s a matter of faith. If I’m only seeking out people who I believe I can help grow spiritually, then I’m dismissing and minimizing the power of the great God we serve. When God puts a “tough” person in my path, I know from the very beginning of our relationship that this person will only be saved if God directly intervenes, saves this person, and grows him or her into His image. It doesn’t matter how mature a believer I am, how charismatic I may be or how strong a leader I am. The “tough” person’s salvation and growth rests on God, not me.
There are plenty of “tough” people among young adults today. There are people who are completely antagonistic toward any mention of Jesus Christ. There are people who walk in incredible daily pain because of addictions to such things as prescription drugs or pornography. There are people in prison. There are people who have been so wounded in relationships that they’ve sworn off the entire idea of unconditional love, and with it, hope for a Savior. There are plenty of people who have been so scarred by churches focused on religion instead of relationship that their hearts seem to be nearly impenetrable.
Everywhere we turn there are “tough” people desperately in need of relationships with Jesus. It’s just too easy for us to look the other way and ignore them.
As leaders who are responsible for the spiritual development of others—especially others in the “tough” category—what should we do?
- Pray that God would open our hearts so that we would see each person we interact with as valuable to God. Pray that God would send “tough” people into our lives and that we actively would seek them out.
- Understand that there are no “lost causes,” and try to see each person as God sees him/her—with great potential and great promise—no matter where he/she might be spiritually.
- Throw away the notion that a Sunday School class or a small group of three, five, or six people isn’t worthy of our time, focus, or effort.
- Focus on the power of God to change lives and stop thinking we can do it ourselves.
- Infuse the mindset of steps one through four in every person involved in your ministry.
Matthew 18:10-14 was a message Jesus intended for the church. It has never been more important for us to follow it than right now. No person is too big a challenge for Him. No person is too lost.
Seek out the one.
Editor’s Note: This fall Threads will be hosting “Intervene,” a conference created to equip leaders to better understand and engage the life struggles of young adults. Our hope is to provide an opportunity for leaders to (1) learn more about some of the difficult issues young adults face such as abuse, addiction, disorders, depression, etc.; (2) gain practical training and insight for ministering to young adults experiencing crisis; (3) network with other leaders of young adults; and (4) find encouragement and hope in the challenges of ministering to this generation. Event details and registration will be available soon on threadsmedia.com/events.