In our last ecommentary we looked at some of the challenges to evangelism that the church faces today, especially for our young.
I am particularly indebted to an article by James Chambers that points out how our usual pitch for the gospel may sound to today’s young.
Let me ask you two questions that reframed the way I approach reaching millennials. First, what are the most common components of the gospel message you hear when it’s preached?
I asked this question to evangelists while leading a seminar on “The Gospel & Emerging Communication,” and they responded with the components you’d expect: “God will forgive my sins; I will not go to hell but to heaven; God will make my life better; God wants to change my behavior; I can be individually reconciled to God.”
The follow-up question I asked next is the second question I’d like you to consider: “If a millennial (holding the seven values mentioned above) heard you preach these gospel components, what thoughts, questions, and responses might be elicited?”
Just then, the evangelists had an epiphany about how the common gospel message could be interpreted by millennials. Here were their responses:
- This gospel is selfish. It impacts people on an individual level, reconciling them to God and improving their personal lives.
- This gospel is naïve. We’re portrayed as escapists who just want to get to heaven, producing no earthly good beyond moralism.
- This gospel is impotent. It doesn’t acknowledge the needs of our society or offer any solutions.
We need to take these challenges seriously and give our young, and indeed all of us, real help in doing evangelism today. Our starting point must be the Scriptures but we also need the unchanging truth of the Bible to be in dialogue with the questions of the day. Here are a number of convictions about God that can guide evangelism today.
1. The God of Salvation
The primary problem of human kind is that we are sinners estranged from a holy God and that the only solution to the problem of sin is the gospel of Jesus Christ,
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23–25 NIV)
Whatever challenges we have in sharing the gospel today, we cannot not preach the gospel. It is at the heart of biblical faith. Humankind is lost in sin and death but God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son so that those who believe in Him can have eternal life. We must share the gospel humbly and sensitively but we must share the gospel.
2. The God of Justice
We also need to say and show that the same God who offers salvation is also a God of justice. Therefore His people must be reaching out and helping those in need. We notice that in the book of Galatians which primarily defends the purity of the gospel, Paul reports that the Apostles in Jerusalem reminded him to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). Jesus Himself fed the hungry and healed the sick. In this way He not only preached the gospel, He demonstrated the heart of the God of the gospel. Indeed, there are times when we need to be involved in advocacy, to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves (Proverbs 31:8–9). God’s will for His people is stated clearly in Micah 6:8.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
When followers of Christ are committed to justice we are not caving in to the social justice agenda of the day. It is an expression of what has always been on God’s heart. People need to see that the Christian faith is not an escapist faith that has no relevance to the pressing needs of the day.
3. The God of Creation
Similarly, the church needs to be concerned for climate change because we are committed to creation care. The Bible begins with a material world in Chapters 1 and 2. Indeed the human calling was to care for creation. The Bible ends in Revelation 21 and 22 where we will be living in the new heavens and the new earth. In the meantime, we need to care for the created order as best we can till the day God ushers in the new creation. So it’s not just “This World is Not My Home”, but also “This is my Father’s World”. We must continue to be on the lookout for an incipient Platonism that sees the spirit as more real and more important than matter. Caring for creation is a Christian concern.
4. The God of Community
One of the key attractions of the early church was that it was a community where people sacrificially loved one another. The depth of the love in the Christian community was one of the key reasons why people were attracted to the faith. The power of a community that provides true belonging is still a key way we flesh out the gospel, especially in a world where conflict is everywhere and so many are lonely.
The world doesn’t need the church for big, flashy events, but we hunger for true belonging. The gospel reaches out to individuals but it is not individualistic. Evangelism is not just offering people a ticket to heaven when they die. A decision to follow Jesus puts us in communion with God and into a community today, where there is deep and real belonging.
5. The God of the Resurrection
To evangelise, a Christian must know why he/she believes in Christ. This is especially true of second- and third-generation Christians. First-generation Christians would have gone through some crisis of conversion when they had to choose to forsake a previous belief system to follow Jesus. They would have had to be clear as to why they believed in Christ since many would have had to pay a price to do so. But their children and grandchildren may not have gone through a conversion experience.
The New Testament is clear that the Christian faith is built on a historical reality — the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Christianity does not call for blind faith. No one dies and comes back to life. It was a unique proof for a unique claim. Maybe the first step in helping our young to share the gospel is to work through with them the reasons why we believe in Jesus.
6. The God of Welcome
Finally, in this age and indeed in any age, evangelism must start with the offer of genuine friendship to people we want to reach for Christ. We see Jesus having many meals especially with tax collectors who were seen as the worst sinners of the day. In many cultures, having a meal is the first step of welcome and the extension of the hand of friendship. Are we friends of all or do we demand that people pass some ethical/theological/cultural test before we have a meal with them?
At some point, Jesus would call for repentance, which is not just to stop doing naughty things but a radical reorientation of one’s life to a direction where we trust and obey God. The Bible is clear that salvation is a gift of grace received through faith, but the gospel call is a call to repent and follow Christ. The call should come from one who extends loving hospitality.
Older Christians are clear about the urgency of preaching the gospel. But we don’t preach the gospel in a vacuum. The gospel must take seriously the context where it is preached. And the contexts for the different generations are different. We do not compromise the gospel to preach it, but the challenges of evangelism in different generations may force us to return to the Scriptures, find what it actually teaches, and be what we should be as a gospel community.