NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“When I ask directions, I feel like I have a bag on my head saying, ‘Hello. I’m lost and I’m stupid,'” John Kramp told students during a continuing education conference on relationship evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kramp, who estimates he has been lost thousands of hours, has made being lost a sort of professional pursuit he calls “lostology.”
He defines “lostology” as “the study of being lost and what that experience can teach Christians about evangelism.”
In a seminar based on his book, “Out of Their Faces and Into Their Shoes,” Kramp introduced the concept at NOBTS Jan. 27-28, sharing experiences and knowledge he gained as a church planter and pastor in Portland, Ore., from 1988-92. He now is associate director of the Baptist Sunday School Board’s discipleship and family development division.
“Out of Their Faces and Into Their Shoes,” published by Broadman & Holman Publishers in 1995, sparked national curiosity about “lostology” and was a finalist for the 1995 Gold Medallion Award given by the Evangelical Publishers Association.
Teaching Christians how to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is spiritually lost by relating personally to the experience of being physically lost, Kramp told how understanding the way lost people think and feel can help Christians give lost friends directions to God.
“It’s helpful to know that discovering you are lost is progressive,” he said. Although a person technically becomes lost by taking a wrong turn, Kramp said, he first begins to acknowledge the reality of the situation when his surroundings are not what he expected.
The uncomfortable feeling accompanying realization will eventually drive a person to overcome pride and fear to seek help and ask directions, he said.
Kramp drew a comparison to the realization of being spiritually lost, emphasizing the importance of clear directions for the lost person seeking God.
At the times when a lost friend is wondering, “Where did I go wrong in life?” a Christian has the opportunity to explain how knowing Jesus gets a person headed in the right direction, whether the desired destination is forgiveness, emotional healing, better behavior or hope.
Kramp first developed the “lostology” concept when he was a church planter at Portland’s Westside Baptist Church.
“It was the first time I had been in that kind of secular environment,” Kramp said. “I was expecting people to be antagonistic to Christianity, defending their atheism. They were not antagonistic, but neutral.”
He was surprised to discover “many people who are lost are having a great time and don’t even know they’re lost.” New Age was the fastest-growing religion in Portland. Most people he approached with the gospel message had a polite, but indifferent response, often saying, “I’m not interested (in Christianity) for myself, but I’m really glad it’s working for you.”
The challenge to share God’s love became discouraging when no one seemed interested in spiritual matters, and Kramp did not feel he could relate to people outside Christian circles.
Once he realized being lost, or searching for a lost object, is an experience all people hold in common, he discovered he could relate to the feelings and frustrations of being lost, even though he could not always relate to the lifestyles of the people with whom he wanted to share God’s Word.
As God moved Kramp out of his comfort zone, he began to develop friendships with people who did not know Christ. He accepted their invitations for social activities and became involved in community organizations. His uneasiness in some of those unfamiliar surroundings helped him realize the feelings and thoughts experienced by someone coming to church for the first time.
Balancing commitments to church members, lost friends and his family is not always easy, he said. Kramp and his wife, Lynn Marie, help perform the “balancing act” by reprioritizing the various components of life. “We try not to both have real intense external focus at the same time,” he said.
He also learned to value the process of “search and rescue” evangelism, recognizing obedience to God and the love invested in the relational evangelism process is its own reward.
“Jesus was going to launch the ultimate search and rescue mission,” Kramp said, teaching from the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son in Luke 15. He described how Jesus made a connection between a physical experience to which the crowd could relate and a spiritual reality.
“As Christians, we sometimes forget what we are capable of without God’s grace. Apart from God’s grace, we can make a desolation of our lives,” Kramp said, adding people who grew up in church tend to forget what it’s like to see the gospel as confusing or go to church for the first time ever.
He explained the importance of learning to clearly communicate the gospel to people unfamiliar with the Bible and the vocabulary of the church. “Thinking as an outsider,” he asked, “what can we do to make it clear to unbelievers how they can know Jesus Christ?”
Communicating these directions requires a longterm commitment, Kramp said, adding it can be difficult because some lost people are afraid they will be rejected and will try to shock Christians to test their sincerity and acceptance.
Kramp learned not quitting reveals God’s persistent love to a lost friend and shows something about faith and faithfulness to the believer.