One of my fundamental convictions is that everyone is winnable. “How unrealistic,” many of you would say. I’ll reluctantly agree with you. But so what? Why should I value being realistic over considering people winnable?
In John 4, we see Jesus “wasting” his time on a Samaritan woman. She wasn’t just a Samaritan woman; she also showed signs of being on the margins of Samaritan society. Surely Jesus, committed to realism as he was, would spend his time with Jews. As a man who knew his own culture, he’d also skip women altogether. Men weren’t supposed to associate with unrelated women. Much better for him to spend his time with Jewish men. At least they’d be winnable.
Surprise of surprises, Jesus wins the woman. That’s not the end of the story. By winning the woman, Jesus wins her whole town.
One of the most depressing things about contemporary political discourse is that partisans (of both parties) tend to act on the assumption that the other side isn’t winnable. They’re “stupid” or “evil” – or something like that. They’re to be mocked and derided, put in their place, rather than won over.
Too often we Christians aren’t much better. We look at various populations and mark them off as unwinnable. Consider ISIS – no, let’s not go so hard core – let’s just consider average Joe and Mary Muslimperson. Oh, they’re unwinnable, we assume, so let’s just keep our distance.
I could ask, How do we know they’re unwinnable, but let’s try another question. What is God’s attitude toward them? If what we read in the Bible is true, if the basic claims of the Christian tradition are true, if Jesus died for the sins of all , that is, what would God say about their winnability? Obviously too tough? Those pagan ancestors of ours, the ones who martyred the first generations of Christian missionaries, they were winnable, but not these folks now? I have trouble imagine God saying that.
So what do we do if we come to believe all are winnable? Here’s what I do:
- I assume that God calls me to love my neighbor as myself. If Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” from his parable of the Good Samaritan is taken as the standard, then the neighbor I am to love is the one who stands in need of love. Not much boundary there, is there?
- I have to treat people with respect. This can be tough, since respect is understood differently from culture to culture and even from individual to individual. If I’m going to treat people with respect, it means they’ll be more than objects. I’ll need to converse with them and get their feedback. If I discover that the way I am acting is perceived as non-respect rather than respect, I may have to change my ways. At the very least, I’ll have to become a better communicator with that person.
- I have to take things for the long haul. Some people will be won over easily and quickly. Some can take years – even a whole lifetime (or more). The weightier the matter in focus, the longer it may take. If I love people – and consider them winnable – I’ll have to take the time.
- I need to be part of a team. For me, the most important “thing” I want to win people to is allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom. Other things – politics, sports, cuisine – these things matter to me, but not enough to let them get in the way of the more important thing. I’m not a good enough communicator, I’m not spiritual enough, I’m not good enough – to do it all on my own. I need people on my team who share my allegiance to Jesus and seek to join in my disciple-making efforts.
- I final thing I need to do: I need to change. John Wesley, the chief guide of the Methodist movement, wrote of a continual need for “repentance in believers.” I can’t be happy with my current state, but need to continually submit myself to the work of the Holy Spirit. More painfully (sometimes), I need to submit myself to the work of the Holy Spirit through other people, maybe even people I don’t want to listen to.
What about you? Do you think other people are winnable? Is anyone willing to serve on the team with me?