Are you a good person?
If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?
What is your purpose in the world?
Christians for the past three decades have been trained to use these questions in their strategies to evangelize their communities. However, in a recent study conducted by the Center for Missional Research, 44% of people polled stated that they never think about their place in eternity. One out of four said that it never occurs to them to wonder about their purpose. (1) Is it possible that it is time to re-evaluate our presentation of the gospel?
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, may agree that there was a time and place in which such tactical questions were helpful. In his Confessions of a Reformission Rev., Driscoll points out that traditionally the church has preached the gospel of forgiveness to a culture that understood sin and was familiar with the life and death of Jesus Christ. The church today, however, has shifted from preaching forgiveness to embracing a message of fulfillment, essentially ignoring missio Dei in place of having God join their own personal mission. Driscoll rejects this self-fulfilling gospel and believes that the church that is now emerging needs to re-evaluate its presentation of the message in light of the culture that is emerging. And what this culture needs, according to Driscoll, is freedom. At the fall, man destroyed his perfect relationship with God through his rebellion. Since then, he has been enslaved to sin and self-destruction. The gospel of freedom reveals that it is only through Christ that man can “be brought back into [God’s] original intentions for us: worshiping God instead of ourselves, serving the common good, making culture, and through his grace, helping to right what has been made wrong through sin.” (pp. 23-25) This is the biblical truth that speaks to today’s generation that is biblically-illiterate and tired of the self-absorbed lifestyle of their parents.
The church must be aware of the culture around them, engaging it, loving those in it, finding ways to be relevant in it. Ed Stetzer, of Acts 29 and the Center for Missional Research, answers the title of his article “Why Is Cultural Relevance a Big Deal?” with “If we [are not relevant], the message of the gospel gets confused with the cultures of old. The unchurched think that Christianity is a retrograde culture rather than a living faith." The church, instead of removing all stumbling blocks but the cross of Christ, has itself become a stumbling block to an understanding of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 1:23)
How can the church begin to adjust its promotion of the message of redemption without sacrificing biblical integrity? Stetzer suggests in another article titled “Beginning a Conversation about Christ” that the church must start with being where people are, understanding them, listening to them, relating to them, letting the gospel of freedom permeate every action and deed, walking beside the lost, leading them to the “a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”
Driscoll’s reformission concept as laid out in his book The Radical Reformission requires the church to forsake its focus on self and turn to community of true faith in Christ. Within this community, unbelievers are welcomed in relationship with those whose lives have been transformed by the work of Christ. “Reformission insists that evangelism is more about a lifestyle for all of God’s people than just a ministry program or department for some of God’s people, and that the gospel is made clearest by honest words and open lives of those who have been transformed by grace." (p. 74)
This radical shift in engaging the lost in relationship rather than grasping to old methods or gimmicks of evangelism is essential for the church to reach the surrounding culture. Many churches foolishly cling to their traditions and programs, repelling the lost rather than relating to them as Christ related to the tax collectors, the adulterous women, and the untouchable with truth and compassion and relationship. Let the church’s example be Paul who entered Athens and took in his surroundings, observing the culture, engaging it in a way that they would understand.
Today’s culture yearns for relationship not pamphlets or strangers approaching them with questions they view as irrelevant. It is reeling in the pain of its bondage to sin in the midst of broken families and broken lives. Today’s churches must enter God’s mission for redeeming the lost for his glory by purposefully entering their communities with the intention of showing the truth of God’s salvation through their everyday lives and conversations. This is a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-dirty faith. It is a lifestyle free from bondage and free to glorify God that the church offers the world. Let the church live that lifestyle before others in everything they do. Let that be the church’s evangelism, rather than a few culturally irrelevant questions.