In 1 Corinthians 9:20-23, Paul writes:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
When Paul wanted to reach a particular group of people, he did it by using empathy, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” As we read, we discover Paul worked to see things from another point of view, a view other than his own, and to see the point of view of the people he was ministering to. By doing this, I believe he laid out one of the most effective methods for connecting with people.
The genius of Paul’s approach is he became like the people he wished to reach. This meant he had to listen to them and he’d have to study them, get to know them, take them to Chipotle, hang out with them and do life with them in order to see the world their way. And I believe people value this. People have an inherent need to be heard, to be known and to be understood.
As an introvert, I struggle with connecting with people. I have such a difficult time that I can sometimes come across as cold, unapproachable, distant. I remember one time I actually called a friend and read my Myers-Brigg’s personality profile over the phone to them to convince them I was just an introvert and different, not a total jerk. But is that a valid excuse to not interact and connect with others? Is it a valid excuse to close myself off, to not talk about what God has done in my life? To not share the gospel?
I believe what God has called us to do He has also graced us to do. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies” (NASB). And I hold onto that last part: by the strength God supplies. For some of us, operating in empathy doesn’t come naturally. But the rad thing is we have been given help. We can depend on His strength, the strength He supplies, and we can operate in that strength.
What are we doing to become more like other people? Can we connect though empathy? Or are we stuck in the rut of our own style? Can we push against professionalism and run toward relation, intentionally seek people out, listen to them, understand them, hear them out?
My hope for us is that we would operate out of a true passion to meet people where they’re at, to connect with them, share in their feelings, build relationships and ultimately lead them toward the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.