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Scratching Where People Itch

13 May 2012 4 Comments

Recently I heard someone (Joe) say that to win the lost we must scratch where people itch.

For example, if people are lonely, offer friendship; if hungry, food; if hopeless, give hope; if sick, offer healing, etc.

The thought this person was conveying to me was that evangelism (i.e. proclaiming the gospel to someone) didn’t scratch where people itch because people were not looking for God or desiring Him.

He told me that the most effective way to win the lost was to discover their felt need and meet that need.

What should we make of this? There is truth and error here, which is always how darkness tries to infiltrate the Church. The devil includes just enough truth to ensure we swallow the error.

The truth is we ought to meet the physical and emotional needs of people.  To do so is critically important in the process of drawing non-Christians to Christ.  To meet their needs is to love people in a practical way.

To meet their felt need is to plough the soil of their heart to make it ready to receive the seed of the gospel.

Jesus talked a lot about the importance of this. e.g. Matthew 25:41-45.  When we do this, we certainly scratch where people itch.

(Don’t forget though – many non-Christians and secular agencies want to (and are) meeting the felt needs of people.  Doing good works does not distinguish us from everyone else. Hold onto this point. I am going to refer to it later.)

Unfortunately, there are several errors in Joe’s argument.

First, meeting someone’s felt need doesn’t communicate the basic content of the gospel which is:

  • Why we must be saved
  • How Jesus can save us
  • What we must do to be saved
  • The cost of being a disciple

Second, engaging in social action without giving the gospel message inevitably leads people wondering who we are and why we are doing what we are doing. Don’t forget, every other religious group in the world engages in good works. How will non-Christians know were are not one of the others?

Third, not proclaiming the gospel as we go about doing good can and does give non-Christians a false impression of Christianity. They come to see us as simply ‘do gooders’.

Next they reason “Well, I do good so I must already be a Christian. I don’t need to go to church to do good so I won’t waste Sunday mornings going there. When I die I will go to heaven because I have been doing good all my life.” And so on and so on.

Fourth, it is a grave error to think that people are not looking for God.  In my experience, they all are. Deep down, everyone on the planet, either consciously or sub-conciously is seeking God.

This is because God has made people with eternity in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Furthermore, through conscience and creation, God is constantly speaking to people (Romans 1:20).

Yes, some people are anti God but usually this is because of bad experiences with the church or Christianity or they have been conditioned through the media to think as such.

Atheists like Christopher Hitchens (right) and Richard Dawkins are fighting what deep down inside them they know to be true : there is a God.

There is yet another flaw in Joe’s argument.

If we insist on focussing on meeting people’s felt needs through good works, we can quickly forget their spiritual need. This is their greatest need.

Ultimately, according to Jesus, meeting a person’s spiritual need (i.e. their need to be reconciled to Jesus through repentance and faith) is much more important than meeting the physical or  emotional needs.

For example, he said that if we lose our soul we’ve lost something more valuable than the value of the whole world (Mark 8:36).

He said that if something causes is us to sin, chop it off, for in retaining the cause, we might forfeit eternal life (Mark 9:47).

What’s really interesting is that a certain percentage of non-Christians (say 20%) know they have a spiritual need. They are consciously thinking about it a lot.

As I have been out giving the gospel to non-christians over the last 25 years, reaching now thousands one-on-one, I am literally amazing how people have an in-built understanding of heaven and hell, and of the existence of God.

Here’s the thing though. For the majority of non-Christians, their need for God is sub-conscious. It’s there deep within them, but they are not thinking about it all the time. If you like, it’s dormant.

Therefore, it needs to be brought from the sub-consious to the conscious. It needs to be awakened.

How does this happen? God works through the gospel message to do this. This message was designed by God to do this. When non-Christians hear this message, they start to itch for God. In other words, we need to create the itch.

This is a bit like bringing a sunken ship to the surface.

Sure, the bible says of the lost they are ‘dead in their trespasses and sins’(Ephesians 2:1).

Through the gospel, He “calls up” their need for Himself from their sub-conscious to their conscious minds, like He called Lazarus up from the dead.

The Holy Spirit scratches the itch to bring people to faith.  Often conversion doesn’t happen immediately.  But when we proclaim the gospel, and the person listening understands it conceptually, their journey towards salvation is put on turbo.

People who share the gospel are God’s itch creators. This is essentially what the Great Commission is all about.

It’s about the whole Church going into the world and creating an itch for Jesus in everyone they meet.

God has formulated the gospel in such a way that it creates an almighty itch (Romans 1:16).

And where do people with an almighty itch run? Straight to the doctor for a remedy. You get the idea.

The bottom line is this – if we only meet the intellectual, physical and emotional needs of people, and they end in hell, then really, what’s the point?

Ultimately, we will have failed (Luke 19:10).  Jesus didn’t come just to seek the lost.

He specifically said He came to seek them for a purpose – to save them.

This is what separates us from all the non-Christian agencies who are running around doing charity work and good works.  They couldn’t care a toss about reconciling men to God.

This is why to evangelise the earth is the priority of the Church.  No one else on the planet but us has any desire or interest in creating this itch.

To put it another way, non-Christians want to feel the itch, and we need to be the ones creating it.

Please think about this. It’s a crucial truth.

How much of our time, and the time of our church, is dedicated to:

  • funding
  • promoting
  • walking in
  • preaching about
  • exercising this great truth?

When was the last time to went to a non-Christian to create in a non-Christian an almighty itch for Jesus through proclaiming the gospel?

Application: Find out what the message of the gospel is, learn how to communicate it, and make a start.  The people in whom you create the itch will be eternally grateful for the love and care you showed them.

And most important of all, you’ll put an almighty smile on the face of Jesus.

Now there’s a challenge……






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  • john Cromarty says:

    I go to church after church and all they do is meet peoples felt needs and are their any converts after years of doing this? No! Why? Not because christians dont know the gospel and dont want to know the gospel. Yesterday I was told of a church outreach program. I was assured it was very good. It included free broadband, free meals – good stuff are all low key and very gentle, how does anyone get convicted thru low key and gentle? I told them I dont do low key and gentle. I do gentle and direct.
    Low key church outreach programs don’t work.
    John C.

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Hi John…I have to say I agree about the effectiveness of low key outreach programs. Without the gospel message being shared, it seems to be of little value. Keep up the great work my friend. Julian

  • Brett Walker says:

    But is the gospel how to get a clean soul or how to go to heaven when you die. And aren’t such things are also attempting to meet an itch (even if it is not one felt by many today (imho)).
    Maybe another way we can talk about Christ and his work that is connected with peoples more conscious needs is to talk about the what it takes to be working with God and not against him (the kingdom of God). This might connect with their need for meaning or purpose or… When Jesus started preaching the gospel it was the gospel of the kingdom. How come we don’t do that? (unless you use the outline by Matthais Media “2 ways to live” or something similar). Or we could simply talk how to know God personally or have a relationship with God.

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Hi Brett, there need not be any confusion about the difference between ‘the gospel’ and ‘the gospel of the kingdom’. To enter the Kingdom of God, and become a citizen of this kingdom, a person must enter through the narrow gate. The narrow gate is Jesus and His offer of salvation by grace through faith. When a person enters the kingdom of God through this gate they are ‘saved.’ ‘The gospel’ simply explains to a non-Christian 1) why they need to be saved 2) How Jesus can save them 3) What they must do to be saved 4) the cost of being a disciple. ‘The gospel of the Kingdom’ describes life IN the Kingdom. ‘The gospel’ describes how to enter the kingdom. One comes before the other.
    Jesus’ first priority is that people become citizens of the Kingdom (Luke 19:10). “Evangelism” is simply explaining to non-Christians how to enter the Kingdom and become a citizen of the King.

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