Speaking the Gospel in a Changing World

The pastor asked his evangelism team, “How well do we share our faith with unbelievers?” The team’s response was that our missionaries do it well. The pastor then clarified his question, asking, “What about us? How do you and I do in sharing the gospel?” General silence followed, without any specific responses, making it clear that personal, local evangelism has not been a high priority even though the church is strong and provides exemplary missionary support. Perhaps this is an issue in your church as well.

In our church and community, we are seeing a shift. In our traditional Dutch community, nearly everyone was always believed to be a Christian, or at least a church attender. Now surveys show that only about half of the community members attend church regularly. Particularly in communities that were once mostly Christian, church members are beginning to see the pressing need to live and speak the gospel to those nearby, not just via our missionaries overseas. We live in a mission field.

How do we adjust to this shift? One of our first steps is mobilizing our church members to share their faith with those around us. Our church has hosted one class on this topic, and another is planned. We don’t need a big program or budget for our church to do evangelism. Often the best way to reach local unchurched people is to help them, befriend them, and speak to them as we encounter them in our everyday lives.

“Organic Outreach is all about sharing our faith in a way that is authentic, real, and feels natural to the people around us,” Kevin Harney writes in his book Organic Outreach for Ordinary People (Zondervan, 2009). We can initiate spiritual conversations even with skeptical people, asking them to tell us about themselves. This can sometimes lead to us being asked “to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).

One suggestion for staunch Calvinists: No matter how strongly you believe in predestination and election, never ask yourself if the person you are considering reaching out to is one of the elect. I have heard this question raised, and it is irrelevant in terms of who we evangelize because only God knows the answer. It’s pointless to consider it further.

Those in the church are starting to ask how to share their faith. Let’s challenge each other to learn how and make it a priority to speak our faith while we continue to do good for those around us. The pressure for results is off. Only God through the Holy Spirit can bring people to God; we just have to be God’s willing tools.

About the Author

Robert King is a retired corporate manager and a member of First Reformed Church in Zeeland, Mich.

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Comments

Thanks, Robert, for sharing your concern in regard to sharing the gospel in a changing world.  It is true that our world or Western culture is shifting into a post Christian society.  Christianity, as well as other religions, seem irrelevant to every day life.  Christianity is based on teachings about the devil, demons, angels, temptations by the devil, a sinful humanity, and redemption by a Jesus who came to earth miraculously from heaven.  This, and so much more seems to be part of a superstitious world view that makes little sense in our rational world today. 
So it is little wonder that everyday Christians feel awkward and out of place talking to non Christians about their sinfulness and need of a Savior, especially when the Christian solution involves a Jesus who lived thousands of years ago.  So your suggestion, Robert, to befriend and help non Christians makes sense.  But as soon as the conversation turns to Jesus, things get a little weird.  “Believe in Jesus and you’ll go to heaven, but disbelieve and you’re going to hell.”  That’s superstition, pure and simple.  Increasingly, in our present day culture, people don’t welcome such attempts at evangelism, even with your suggested “organic outreach.”  Just as evangelism approaches by those of other religions are seldom welcome, Christian evangelism is increasingly seen in the same way.  Christianity is more and more becoming a hard sell.

I believe Roger G. has hit on some of the exact problems in our thinking on evangelism. If “the good news” is telling people to believe in someone who lived 2,000 years ago, in response to a problem they’re not sure they have, in order to avoid an unreal outcome, then that’s really superstitious and is harmful to our neighbors. However, if the universal problem of the Human Condition is rooted in moral  death in relation to our Creator, and our Creator’s solution is rooted in faith and trust in the Word of God sacrificed for us – who lives today and can be known – then you have a God-given message of grace that speaks to the eternal need of every person we know.

The fact that many consider these truths irrelevant and are not moved to faith didn’t stop Paul, or John, or Peter, or Jesus from living in the Spirit of God and declaring faith in the Son of God for the forgiveness of sins. Thank God it didn’t stop my high school friends, either. I had friends who knew that their sin problem was also my sin problem. They also knew that the same Christ who rescued them could rescue me, too – whether I believed it at the time or not.

It might be that our problem with evangelism is not other people’s unbelief, but our own.

       Thanks, Michael, for your take in regard to the relevancy of the Christian message.  I can only suggest what is obvious to those outside the Christian church.  Christianity makes little common sense and is irrelevant to people today.  Christians claim that people, unlike all other living creatures, have been created in God’s image.  To most, that simply means that humans have the ability to reason and use common sense, unlike all other living creatures.  And so, in nearly all aspects of living, people use reason in their daily lives.  But not so, when it comes to religion, as well as Christianity, because Christianity is unreasonable.
       Christians claim that the devil (a cosmic anti-hero) in the form of a snake tempted the first two humans to sin, at the beginning of time, and thus cause the fall of the entire human race (as well as all of creation).  And now all humans, as a result, have been given sinful natures.  Well, obviously, this story simply does not hold up to reason or common sense.  Or Christians believe that God is a three person being, the second of which came down to earth from heaven and became a human baby that was fully divine and fully human at the same time.  This doesn’t make common sense either or stand up to reason.  Or that Jesus performed a bunch of miracles, including feeding 5,000 people from a child’s lunch which seems very unlikely.  Or that Jesus was raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven where he reigns over the world and the church.  There seems little or no evidence to support a reign.  Again, common sense dictates a “no.”  So much of the Bible’s story, to those outside the Christian church, is unreasonable.
        I believe, as you have suggested, that even Christians in our secular society, find the Christian story rather unreasonable and even unbelievable.  The story of the Bible is just as bazar, maybe more so than the teachings of other religions.  And because the Bible’s story is so bazar, even Christians find sharing such a story embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for non Christians to be subjected to such stories, but maybe more so for Christians to tell such a story, as though it is absolutely true.  And that, as I see it, is why Christians are hesitant to share the gospel in our changing world. 
       The idea that Jesus came to earth to pay the price that sinners (even the worst of sinners) deserve to pay for their sins doesn’t make sense either.  Under such a plan, even such an evil person as Adolph Hitler could confess Jesus as Savior at the end of his life and be forgiven the murder of six million Jews and get a free pass to heaven.  And fellow sinners in heaven would rejoice that Hitler is now in heaven enjoying eternal bliss, along with all other sinners that confessed Jesus.  Justice doesn’t excuse or forgive sinners just because someone else, other than the sinner, is willing to pay a price.  Justice demands that the sinner pay the price for one’s own sin.  Common sense would never allow such a system of justice, because it isn’t just.  You commit the crime, you pay for the crime.
       Or that God’s system of justice expects people to be perfectly good (sinless) to merit his acceptance (without Christ).  People are not created as Gods that they could ever possibly be perfect.  Only God is perfect.  Why would he expect of humans what is not humanly possible?  Again, this doesn’t make common sense.  Is it any wonder in our Western and post Christian society that Christianity falls so short in making common sense?
       I apologize for such a lengthy response.  More could be said, but I think this, at least in part, answers the original question of Robert King’s article, why Christians find it difficult to share the gospel in our changing world, as well as why non Christians find it difficult to believe such gospel.  Thanks for a listening ear.
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