“Well I’ve heard it all before, cranky people at my door
With their pious smiles and frumpy clothes that made my eyes sore
Well they said I must repent, wasn’t quite sure what that meant
But I need someone who will help me with my life,
Someone who can sort out my boss, my debts, my wife.
I need someone who’ll understand what I’m going through
Not some crazy myth that comforts you.”
© Julia Bradley
Over the years, the Activate Your Life team have aimed to include issues in our weekends away that are relevant to today’s woman; issues that many women would express the need for help and support with.
Recently, I came across an article that I feel effectively explains why this is so important.
Below is an extract. The full article can be found at http://www.internetevangelismday.com/felt-needs.php
Felt needs: A biblical way to open closed minds
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
The concept of ministering to people’s ‘felt needs’ is sometimes misunderstood. “Surely we should be speaking to their real spiritual needs?” is a potential criticism and valid question. But what are ‘felt needs’? A felt need is something in any area of my life that I perceive as a need. They can include loneliness, managing relationships, relationship breakdown and divorce, family and parenting, money worries, debt, finding fulfilment, coping with stress and worry, workplace problems, unemployment, physical or mental illness and bereavement.
Evidently at any one time, about one in three people are feeling a moderate to severe level of pain. For many people, there may be no specific answer. For example, a family worried about a serviceman or woman serving in a war zone is not looking for answers, just love, support and understanding.
The Bible speaks from beginning to end of God’s compassion for those who are hurting. Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 is an appeal, and a promise, to those who are struggling with any life issue. The yoke imagery is about no longer pulling your load alone, but having a second haulage animal harnessed with you. For many lasting adult conversions to Christianity, the trigger that started them on their spiritual journey was a life crisis.
None of the needs listed above may be what we might call ‘core spiritual issues’: sinfulness, fallen human nature, rebellion against God, and the need for salvation, though many of them are impacted by sin and our self-centred nature. But they are precisely the amplifier that God very often uses to begin a process that ends in conversion. Felt needs can then be seen as a way in, a first step on the road. At a later stage, the full and balanced Gospel can be shared.
Is it biblical?
If we look at the different encounters that Jesus had with people, in almost every case he first addressed a felt need. In many situations, the overwhelming need of sickness was met by healing, often followed by ‘spiritual’ advice (even though that was not always apparently taken). His starting point in spoken evangelism was never scriptural exposition except when preaching in the synagogue. Instead, he used the medium of story-telling.
How did Jesus treat the woman at the well? First, he asked for a drink. This was the beginning of an interesting conversation. Following a brief discussion about living water, Jesus put His finger on both the need and problem area of her life. Without judging her in any way He told her that He knew she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband and that she had already had five husbands. Jesus knew this woman’s deepest need – her need for acceptance – and when He met it she believed in Him. Whether a person’s need was physical, social, emotional or spiritual, Jesus always met each individual where he was in terms of his or her spiritual understanding and always started at their point of felt need.
Some Christians may still feel concerned that starting with felt needs is somehow promoting a ‘me-centred gospel’. And we should be rightly concerned about any presentation of the gospel which is merely, for instance, “Come to Jesus and be a more successful business-person.” Or, indeed, the dishonest and untrue “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be instantly solved.” A balanced and biblical presentation of the gospel contains a number of strands, and as someone gets closer to a point of commitment, will include what God-centred discipleship really means.
One problem many Christians struggle with is that they feel we need to minister to a person’s real needs, which they usually interpret as being a spiritual need. This is to ignore the fact that God is interested not only in a person’s spiritual life, but in his total person (James 2:14-17). It also fails to understand that the felt needs or perceived needs are at the conscious level of a person’s mind while his real needs spiritual or otherwise – are usually at the subconscious level.
Therefore, an effective way to reach the real needs, whatever they are, is through the felt needs. It is the felt needs that lead to the real needs. As the conscious felt needs are faced and met, other needs will rise to the level of awareness and in turn become felt needs. As these are faced and met, eventually the real needs will surface to consciousness and in turn become felt needs. Then they can be dealt with and met.
To ignore a person’s felt needs and aim at the other may well keep the listener’s mind closed to our message. If they sense that we don’t have the answers to their felt needs, their mind may close again to us and they will probably look elsewhere for a solution.
Felt needs as a starting point for compassionate sensitive evangelism is a biblical strategy, and an effective way of reaching people for Jesus.