5 Ways to Engage People the Way Jesus Did


Looking for ways to connect with new people, organize them for action, and lead them to a deepening commitment? Joe Daniels and Christie Latona remind us of five basic practices Jesus used to organize and engage people.

Jesus put energy into connecting people and pulling individuals together for the common good. He did so persistently, intently, and sometimes effortlessly even when he was in the presence of those he didn’t know very well or who didn’t like him very much. Jesus organized people so simply and succinctly around five basic practices to deepen commitment.

1. Jesus spoke to people’s hearts.

Jesus observed people and listened to people so intimately that it did not take long for him to discern what really mattered to someone. From discerning Simon Peter’s deep frustration from the empty nets of a failed night’s fishing expedition to a foreign woman’s embarrassment and shame at a well because she somehow couldn’t shake the problems or pain of her past, Jesus could connect with the heart of anyone and then heal that heart with a simple word or command.

We must rekindle this gift in the church today because connecting with people’s hearts is critical to organizing people. Jesus shows us that when we get to know someone’s heart, we can invite that person to organize around great purposes.

2. Jesus called and equipped people, then modeled for them what he wanted to see in the world.

Once he spoke to their hearts, he often called them to something profound. The fishermen at the Sea of Galilee discovered this one day. After a miraculous catch on the lake following an empty fishing expedition, Jesus called them to a greater vision, which was to catch people with the message that broken lives can become whole again. Then he spent three years in an intimate relationship with them, encouraging them to follow him everywhere he went and modeling for them how to heal people, cure people, save people, lead people, and connect people for a change. (He even modeled the importance of spiritual disciplines as a critical part of organizing.) The church needs to get back to the basics of calling, equipping, and modeling.

3. Jesus organized people through caring for people’s individual needs.

A tax collector named Zacchaeus who was shamed because of his career found Jesus removing his shame, liberating his home, and compelling his heart to go out into the community and restore fortunes to people he’d previously taken advantage of. A demoniac with mental and emotional issues found himself clothed and in his right mind because of an encounter with the Master. Soon thereafter, Jesus told him not to travel with him but to stay in his community to organize the people around the good news — the message of healing and wholeness. When we focus attention on caring for people’s individual needs, we can mobilize and connect people for change.

4. Jesus communicated to people something greater than themselves.

Sometimes he did that one-on-one, and sometimes in crowds, as in the Sermon on the Mount. He began by laying out a way of living that leads to a blessed life. Then he exhorted the crowd to understand their divine role in the world — why we are here. Then he talked about why he was there and centered the crowd in the foundation of the good news: love that finds us in our brokenness and leads us to wholeness. After soaking them in this rich communication, he began teaching how wholeness can play out in their everyday lives, using real-life scenarios about character building, forgiveness, adultery, divorce, and loving one’s enemies — life experiences that many people face. Finally, he organized people by communicating a better and greater way of life that exceeded what they assumed they could ever attain. As Eugene Peterson translates it, “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow Up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (MSG, Matt. 5:48).

5. Jesus coordinated systems to have full organizing impact.

One of the best examples of this is found in Luke 10 as he organized the seventy-two. He sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals and do not greet anyone on the road.”

He then went on to lay out a specific strategy for what they were going to do and how they were to behave in ways that allowed them to discover that they, too, had the power to heal, the power to cast out demons, and the ability to withstand all types of trial. He transformed those with low self-esteem to experience divine confidence, and he positioned them to evangelize cities with the gospel and to expose neighborhoods to his good news through some of the most unlikely vessels.

We often see these five practices play out simultaneously. For example, Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand is an expression of implementing systems that met people’s needs, even in the most impossible of situations. He took the complacency of the disciples (“Master, send these people away to buy their own food, it’s getting dark”) and moved it to commitment (“You give them something to eat”), which inspired courage in them to take what they had and what they could find and organize people for the common good. Jesus was so good at this type of organizing that in the feeding of the five thousand people had leftovers!

The church today can learn a great deal from Jesus about deepening commitment to organize people for the holistic common good. When we commit to speaking to people’s hearts, calling and equipping them to model the holistic life that the world yearns for, caring for people’s needs, communicating to people something greater than themselves within systems that can transform, the church will truly be the catalyst that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This material is excerpted from Connecting for a Change: How to Engage People, Churches, and Partners to Inspire Hope in Your Community (Abingdon Press, 2019) by Joe Daniels and Christie Latona. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Dr. Joseph W. Daniels is Lead Pastor at Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, and the founder of the Emory Beacon of Light, Inc., the mission arm of The Emory Fellowship. Daniels was Pastor Daniels was a cofounder and cochair of Washington Interfaith Network, a social justice organization in the District of Columbia and is a former district superintendent. He teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary and his books include Connecting for a Change: How to Engage People, Churches, and Partners to Inspire Hope in Your Community (Abingdon, 2019) with Christie Latona, available at Cokesbury and Amazon; Walking with Nehemiah (Abingdon, 2014); and The Power of REAL (Not Just A Curtain Puller, 2011).

Christie Latona is director of connectional ministries for the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She is co-author of Connecting for a Change: How to Engage People, Churches, and Partners to Inspire Hope in Your Community (Abingdon, 2019) with Joe Daniels, available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.