I have talked to many young pastors who say that to preach the simple message of salvation is outmoded and ineffective in our Post-Christian culture. Some say that no one will ever “come down to the front of the church” to confess their faith in Jesus or to get baptized publicly. I understand the argument that the message of the Gospel has too much “Christianese” language that is hard for the unchurched person to understand, but how do we preach to a pagan, secularized culture? I am from the older generation and I want to understand. What do you think?
Let me start by saying that being a pastor is a daunting task. It is a high calling. They are on the front lines of a spiritual battle. Pray for your pastors and support them in every way you can. I know how hard it is to be in their shoes.
I’d like to use Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 to begin my answer.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…”
Pastors, here are my reflections:
THE LIE: Sharing the gospel today in a post-truth, post-Christian culture is more difficult then sharing the gospel in the first century.
THE EXCUSE: We don’t want to offend the seeker when they come to church. It’s hard enough to get them through the door anyway.
THE TENSION: How to clearly preach and teach the Gospel and reach those who have no understanding of God, biblical truth or moral values.
Let’s begin with THE LIE.
Is the culture of today really that different from biblical times? The Roman world was incredibly perverse and godless. Christians were crucified and incinerated. Every kind of sexual immorality was practiced: homosexuality, bestiality, pornography, prostitution and child molestation. The list goes on and on. The ancient world was completely pagan. Christians were considered to be traitors to the Roman Empire, freaks and destroyers of the Jewish faith. They were also considered crazy for believing someone could return from the dead.
Our current society is much the same as its ancient counterpart.
I often explain the process of leading someone to Christ as a continuum. 1 is complete ignorance of the Bible or spiritual concepts. 10 is a committed, mature disciple of Christ. Generations ago, most non-Christians had a cursory knowledge of the Bible, were nominal church attenders and had a westernized view of God. They were considered to be a 5. Now, most non-believers are at negative 10. They don’t know any Bible, they have no idea of who God or Jesus is, and they certainly don’t know words like “sin, salvation and repentance.”
Preaching to today’s non-believer often must begin with 1. But if we don’t reach 10, we have failed our mission, and our Savior.
The excuse: We don’t want to offend the seeker when they come to church, or alienate our non-Christian friends.
Greg Stier, student evangelism pastor, poses an intriguing question:
“Why are we so afraid to share our faith? I t’s like sharing with a person who is broke that they just won the Lottery (only better!)
It’s like sharing with a cancer victim that you just discovered the cure for cancer (only better!)
It’s the greatest love story in the history of the world!
It’s like telling an orphan that they’ve been adopted into the family of the richest person in the universe (well, that’s exactly what it is.)”
What Good News!
But let’s not be naïve. Just because we preach the Good News of Christ does not mean unbelievers will accept it. The Bible teaches that people will reject the message of Christ because Satan has blinded their minds. We wage war for people’s souls.
“If the Good News which we tell is not clear to some people, it is because they are lost. They do not believe.” 2 Corinthians 4:3
David Kinnaman, president of Barna.org. relates his insights from their research:
“We must persuade younger Christians that evangelism is an essential practice of following Jesus, The data show enormous ambivalence among Millennials, in particular, about the calling to share their faith with others.”
“Cultivating deep, steady, resilient Christian conviction is difficult in a world of ‘you do you’ and ‘don’t criticize anyone’s life choices’ and emotivism, the feelings-first priority that our culture makes a way of life. As much as ever, evangelism isn’t just about saving the unsaved, but reminding ourselves that this stuff matters, that the Bible is trustworthy and that Jesus changes everything.”
THE TENSION: The current “seeker-friendly” church philosophy is this: bring a seeker in the door, get them into a small group and then share the message of Christ with them in the context of personal relationships with believers. There are three possible problems with this philosophy. The first, most attenders never go to a small group, so they leave church never knowing the gospel. Second, small group leaders are not always equipped to lead and disciple others. Third, Christians today seldom know how to lead a person to Christ.
My wife and I often teach a Navigators 2:7 group in our church. I love this program because it teaches a new believer how to grow and culminates in “on the job” training to share the message of Christ with others.
Shepherds, our church “flock” must be carefully and intentionally trained to make the hand-off. They must understand the Gospel to take their lost sheep from 1 to 10.
Also the Bible clearly teaches that a new believer must give a public confession of faith.
Jesus’ final commission to His disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19.
Baptism is a public profession of faith in Christ. It is designed to picture the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ before men. Many churches are making baptism a private experience just with the family, much like christening was in the past. Larger churches may eliminate this practice because service time is limited, so baptism before the congregation isn’t feasible. Others don’t baptize because few attenders have come to Christ.
I have attended many creative churches who hold their baptism services in an atrium, nearby swimming pool, or plan baptism services in the sanctuary at a time other than Sunday morning. So many creative options. Jesus was baptized in a muddy river. Baptism is public! Professing Jesus before men is not optional. I also love when the new Christian actually gives his or her testimony before being baptized.
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33.
Let me be clear. I have many dear pastor friends who live in closed countries. Professing Christianity openly can be a death sentence. Yet they preach courageously, God works powerfully and the church is flourishes.
The moment we think we must improve, modify or preach God’s Word selectively is the day we should step out of the pulpit. No amount of humor, stories (although I think they are essential to engage the listener) or technology will substitute for teaching and preaching the Bible. The Word of God changes lives.
We cannot be ashamed of the Gospel.
Pastor Brandon Hilgeman writes:
“Preaching the Gospel in every sermon is far more than something we tack on to the end of a sermon with an altar call; it is the very foundation of Christian belief. The Gospel is the key to interpreting Scripture. The Gospel is the central theme of the apostles’ preaching. The Gospel saves us from the trap of works righteousness. The Gospel applies to every area of our lives and will never get boring. No sermon is complete until the Gospel has been preached.”
“Preach with authority. The authority for us is the Word of God. Preach with simplicity . . . Preach with urgency . . . heaven and hell are at stake. Preach for a decision.”-Billy Graham