The Gospel – The Cutting Edge

As Christian ministers, we intuitively know that the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the cutting edge of church planting and renewal.  We believe the words of Paul in Rom. 1:16:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (NIV).

“It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him” (The Message).

The reality, however, is that most of us are hesitant to speak this message to those in Western culture who think religion is a matter of personal conviction and private interpretation.   Our culture has a tendency to render us to silence!

Last week I was at our monthly Dallas-Ft. Worth Church Planter Forum.  As is our custom, we each selected questions from a Forum Guide on either Ministry or Spiritual Formation.  One church planter chose the questions “How often do I share my faith?” and “Do I leave time for relationships with non-Christians?”  This articulate church planter transparently expressed his fear of proclaiming Christ to searchers on the journey and questioned his gifting as an evangelist.  He told of a searcher in his community who has been attending for two years but has not yet been taught the distinctive way of God in Jesus Christ. 

During a coaching session last month, I asked a church planter currently coming through our equipping labs how he taught others the way of Jesus.  He responded that evangelism begins with relationship.  He waits for people to invite him to tell the story of Jesus.  The reality was that he was not actively communicating Christ to the many searchers in his life. 

I spend approximately an hour in telephone conversation with each church planting family who comes through the Theology Lab helping them tangibly move from theology to practice.  One question I ask deals with the application of Randy Harris’ teachings on Atonement: “How would you explain to searchers reconciliation to God through the life, suffering, and death of Christ?”  Some have responded, “In our tradition we have done this by explaining the process of hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized, but we know this is inadequate.  Salvation is more than human activities.”  Paradoxically, the ability to tell the story of redemption through narrative and metaphor, with deep application to life, has been lost!!  Our task thus becomes learning once again the lost art of sharing the Gospel of salvation in transformative ways that connect with searchers within our ministry contexts.

In a very real sense speaking the Gospel is the very lifeblood of the church.  As the body cannot survive without blood, so the church cannot grow without mission shaped by the Gospel.  Without blood the body dies; without mission shaped by the Gospel the church dies.  As the physical body becomes weak without sufficient oxygen-carrying red blood cells, so the church becomes anemic if it does not express the Gospel.  The church establishes her rationale for being—her purpose for existing—while articulating the story of the Gospel.  An unexpressed faith withers.  A Christian fellowship without the Gospel has lost its core identity.

Our ministry must mimic the ministry of Jesus, who came “proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom.”  He taught, “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:14-15). 

What is the Good News?  How is it expressed?   How does God in his Holy Spirit lead us forward as the proclaimers of this Good News? 

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Facilitator of Church Planting,

Mission Alive

34 thoughts on “The Gospel – The Cutting Edge

  1. Great post. I’m challenged by it – because I tend toward the “build friendships and share gospel within those relationships” approach. But that approach can sometimes be used, even by myself, as a cop-out for not speaking up about the good news of the kingdom.

    The great challenge of evangelism in our day is finding language that helps people make sense of the good news in a way that actually seems like good news to them. One coach of mine says, “What are the great problems / struggles / issues of the people you are working among?” Then “How does the gospel answer or address those things?” I think the intersection of contextual brokenness and gospel is where we’ll begin to find language for speaking good news into people’s lives.

    A question I have: what is the place of “bible study” in contemporary evangelism? At want point to we invite people to look more deeply at the story of God found in Scripture as part of their journey to faith? Mark Virkler contends that the Bible does not mention much about being “studied” (with the mind) as much as being “meditated upon” (with the heart). What would that look like in the lives of people searching for God?

  2. Good post, Gailyn. I share the struggle others have felt. My training as a “gospel preacher,” ironically, has not prepared me for the task of evangelism in this culture. But neither, I might add, have the variety of church planting conferences I have attended in recent years. Lots of theory and methodology about missional living and/or “church” planting, but not much practical help about how to move conversations to from friendship to redemption. I don’t think I’d have much trouble with a true seeker who was attending a spiritual gathering. The challenge is with the conversations at the pub and coffee shop and backyard bbq.

    • Thank you, Rob, for this reflection. I came to a similar realization when writing this article. My confession: When we reconfigured the Strategy Lab around Communion, Community, and Mission, the emphais on evangelism waned. The opposite should have occurred: Communion with God leads us to live out the Gospel. Community is a fellowship of the Gospel. By it very nature, there cannot be Mission without Gospelling. We are in the process, once again, of reconfiguring the Stratey Lab and will need your help and guidance.

      Two book are helpful: Brian McLaren’s very practical “More Ready than you Realize” and Brad Kallenberg’s “Live to Tell” Evangelism for a Postmodern Age.”

      Gailyn

  3. Very good question, Charles. I am skeptical of the role of traditional bible study as a path to introduce people to Jesus. However, I would also question whether what the Bible means by meditation will have much role in the life of an unbeliever either. It seems to me that meditating was something a believer did who was already committed to the Word of God as a source of authority and truth in his or her life. Yet, somewhere (early?) in the journey of a seeker, it does seem to me that they could/should be taken to the Scriptures to explore the life and teachings of Jesus and other witnesses to God. Thought-provoking question.

    • We have traditionally organized Bible study at a certain time and place. While these gatherings are useful and may be the preliminary gatherings of a missional community, Jesus seemed to teach along the journey in the context of relationships and experience. Thus he was always using contexual illustrations. Can we also continue to learn to teach along the journey?

      • Gailyn, I think this is an interesting subject to explore. I agree that much of Jesus’ teaching of disciples was done along the journey (or Luke would say, “on the way,” i.e., to Jerusalem) in the context of his relationship with them and the events and encounters they had as they journeyed. But I think that is less true of his teaching of others. Most of what we have in the gospels seems to be in crowds. Which, interestingly, is inverted from modern church experience in which we teach disciples in crowds and teach the unchurched/unbeliever/seeker in “personal evangelism” settings. I’m not arguing any point here one way or the other. Just mulling over what we see Jesus doing.

  4. Having just moved to a neighborhood and no longer being in a role where i’ll be identified as “the preacher,” yet still working in a very Christian environment, I’m going to have to discover how to relate to my neighbors in a whole new way. I like Charles’ coach’s question about looking for their challenges/struggles, but the reality is, I don’t know yet. Maybe just asking them would be a good place to start.

  5. Thanks for these reflections. I have also struggled with our cultural marginalization of things religious or spiritual in conversation. I believe that understanding that all topics are intrinsically spiritual — because spirituality cannot be divorced from the matrix of life — helps us. Simply acknowledging that “this is God’s world; he created it” opens immense areas of conversation. Jesus did integrate God-allegiance into the fabric of conversation from the inception his relationships. Thus his ministry was summarized by the phrase “Jesus [came] proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come. The Kingdom of Go is near. Repent and believe the good news.” The kingdom message seemed to form the basis of the relationship rather than one that came later out of relationship. We can learn much from Jesus: How did he ask questions? Tell parables? Pray over people? Do social justice? I wonder the degree to which Jesus was culturally appropriate and culturally challenging.

  6. I appreciate your blog Gailyn and I have enjoyed very much the comments. One of my problems is overthinking things. I do crossfit workouts at a gym owned by one of our new members that did not grow up in C of C. My experience with him is he just goes pretty directly to things about Jesus and doesn’t worry or overthink. When I am with him and nonbelievers it is easy to talk about faith because Ray has no fear of opening the door. For me it is the beginning that is the hardest.

  7. I am interested in the comment: “. . . evangelism begins with relationship.”

    I appreciate that we are gravitating to a form of evangelism that tries to honor relationships with people so that the essence of the gospel can be experienced both in our words and our actions.

    At this point, I would say evangelism starts with relationship, but not with people. Evangelism starts with a relationship with God. Not a nominal relationship in which we cognitively believe we are saved, but in which we live in communion (complete oneness) every day with God.

    When God is alive and present in my life, evangelism flows out naturally and brings life to all. When God is out there and evangelism is some form of duty that depends only on me, evangelism will always feel a burden and a question and ultimately bring a form of death to all. (possibly an overstatement 🙂

    If God is not present and leading in the process of evangelism then it is up to our persuasion and gimmicks. When God is present, He persuades in a way that brings true life. There is no more question of whether the person is truly loved or if they have a meaningful identity. When we have true encounter with the Lord that leads to ongoing relationship we become naturally loving and courageous to live into our identity and fulfill our destiny.

    • Thank, Hobby, for your reminder. Our terminologies too frequently reflect human initiative rather God who in leads forward us on His mission. I believe the person in the post who made the statement, “evangelism begins with relationship,” is maturing to realize that God is the source of mission. Your reminder led me to reread the post to discern the degree that my writing (and thinking) reflects mission Dei. You help me along the journey. Thanks for your prophetic voice.

    • Hobby, good points and a helpful reminder that the Spirit of God in us is and must be at work or this is just our own best efforts. However, I don’t think I could assert as strongly as you seem to that a living relationship with God will make evangelism flow naturally out of a disciple. At least, that’s not what I have observed historically. It seems to me that pietistic movements, monastic movements, and holiness movements have historically focused intently on the spiritual life, but without strong evangelistic outcomes. In theory it makes sense that a life filled with the Spirit would inevitably lead to joyful sharing of the gospel in ways that transform others; but, for whatever reason, I just don’t know that it works out that way in reality.

      • Yeah, I hear you Rob. I’m having some experiences collide that are reshaping this sense within me. We have had two different experiences with our people. The first, we tried to teach them how to be missional-incarnational people showing them how to target relationships. They wanted it and spoke the language, but the reality was that they couldn’t figure it out. Then, we released them to do what the Lord is telling them to do and they were instantly sharing their faith with their neighbors and becoming more attentive. That was the first shift in my thinking to give me permission this direction. Then, I started looking at revival history and charismatic movements (a debatable topic I’m sure in light of our heritage). I’m buying in to what I see in those movements. There is more evangelistic fruit in those movements than any other and I believe it is because there is a focus on the Holy Spirit and the overflow that emerges from that. So, my observation is that true attentiveness to the Holy Spirit will produce a type of fruit in gathering. My position at this point would be that if when making oneness with the Father our aim, if our awareness is never raised toward engaging others with the gospel, then something is faulty in our hearing. Further, I think something is at stake if we promote an evangelistic approach that is of ourselves rather than functioning out of the leadership and partnership with the Holy Spirit. I think the way of our own initiative will ultimately lead to death. My assumption is that this is why so many Christians fear evangelism at this point. What we are finding is that to partner with God gives us new courage, new desire, and makes it more natural to connect with people around the real good news of wholeness in God now and future.
        Rob, you are a strong presence. I pray blessings on your work. Thank you for your leadership.

      • Hobby,
        Sometime I’d like to hear more of your group’s experiences in being set free to share good news in a more spirit-led way. I’m sure the stories would be encouraging and helpful as we all are thinking throug these matters.

        And I tend to agree with this statement:
        “My position at this point would be that if when making oneness with the Father our aim, if our awareness is never raised toward engaging others with the gospel, then something is faulty in our hearing.”
        And would further note that I think something has indeed been faulty in our hearing of the gospel in churches which believed we were drawing people closer to God and yet never seemed to spur them to mission.

        You said, “I think the way of our own initiative will ultimately lead to death.” I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I wonder if it might be a little strong. If Christ-followers who walk by Spirit take an initiative, is it possible that this initiative is itself shaped/motivated/influenced in some way by the Spirit? And even if the initiative comes more from their own thinking then from a direct initiative of the Spirit, is “death” necessarily the product? Perhaps there may be something of a spectrum here rather than a life-or-death alternative.

        “Rob, you are a strong presence. I pray blessings on your work. Thank you for your leadership.” Thank you for the kind words. I hope the “strong presence” isn’t too strong! And God’s blessings on your work as well.

        Rob

  8. Thanks, Rob, for this reply to the above post:

    Gailyn, I think this is an interesting subject to explore. I agree that much of Jesus’ teaching of disciples was done along the journey (or Luke would say, “on the way,” i.e., to Jerusalem) in the context of his relationship with them and the events and encounters they had as they journeyed. But I think that is less true of his teaching of others. Most of what we have in the gospels seems to be in crowds. Which, interestingly, is inverted from modern church experience in which we teach disciples in crowds and teach the unchurched/unbeliever/seeker in “personal evangelism” settings. I’m not arguing any point here one way or the other. Just mulling over what we see Jesus doing.

    If what you are saying is true, what are some contemporary applications. Is it possible that as we pray over different neighborhoods, schools, apartment, etc., God will stir our imaginations to intentionally each teach in groups, that is, do soft, intentional, God-driven meetings of those who gather?

  9. Again, good questions Gailyn. I have been searching for the answer to that for some time. Most premodern cultures have had public assembling as part of the fabric of society. The modern west no longer has that in large part (at the risk of sounding like a preacher) due to the immense impact of TV on our way of life. I had some hope that the internet would provide a contemporary forum for public dialogue–but I am less and less hopeful. What passes for public dialogue on the internet is usually too brief, too rude, too reactive, and too shallow. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I just haven’t hit on an idea which I’m confident will work. I have an idea or two I’d like to try though, if I can figure out how to experiment with them.

  10. Thx for the post, Gailyn, and the great discussion from all of you. This whole topic poses a great challenge to me. I, too, am one of those who find it hard to “get started.”

    I think Hobby’s comment about it flowing naturally out of a relationship with God is correct…but it doesn’t match my experience so far. I’m hoping that I’m on a journey toward the kind of ease that Hobby describes.

    When my son Brett and I took up whitewater kayaking many years ago, every experienced kayaker we talked to told us that it was very easy to role your kayak if you should flip over…that it was not a matter of strength or prowess…instead it was a matter of letting the water do the work for you and learning how to “go with it” when you felt yourself flipping over. To be sure, there were some techniques and principles, but the key was in learning to re-train your initial survival instincts into a new set of instincts that are shaped by the water itself. I threw myself into learning how to role. Unfortunately, it always led to lots of thrashing around, exhaustion, choking, and (yes!) discouragement. Then, after many frustrating trips down the river (much of it while upside down!), by some mysterious process, I “saw it”…I could role my kayak, and it truly was as easy as pie! In fact, sometimes it even felt like I didn’t have to do anything… the kayak seemed to role itself!

    I see now that my “thrashing about” time prepared me to really learn…to rethink my survival instincts…to make sense of other kayakers’ moves on the river, to truly “feel” the water and current on my boat and paddle. I don’t think I’m alone here…many kayakers have had a similar experience.

    I may be wrong here, but my point is I’m hoping Hobby’s claim is true…but I’m having to learn that “easy way” through lots of thrashing about, exhaustion, frustration, choking, etc. The key is for me to stay in my boat…to go ahead and try it….to listen and reflect on my conversations…to watch others…to listen to God’s voice has He teaches me through such experiences.

    • Thanks, Mike. I hear you say that we need to develop the instincts of participating in the mission of God like a new kayaker learns to flow with the currents rather than react by his/her own instincts. Participating in the mission of God is a new spiritual instinct of incorporating the mission of God into our hearts, minds, and relationships. We tend to thrash about in learning to participate with God in His mission. Very good!

  11. I too feel convicted. Getting started is difficult for me as well. In a conversation with some co-workers a month or so ago, we were talking about expressing opinions. Two in particular have absolutely no problem telling you exactly how they feel about this or that, whether its religion politics or whatever. And they both observed that I usually hold back on expressing myself, and it was true! I naturally am more of a listener and a question-asker, which can definitely be good. But when I am honest with myself, it is often fear that keeps me from speaking up. I guess that is more of a confession than anything else. I long for the spirit that Hobby describes. 🙂

    When I think of what the gospel means, I tend to think that it centers on love and relationship. It is “good news” because we have redemption in Christ that empowers us to renewed relationships with God and others. So, when I think of what evangelism means or how we are to “proclaim the gospel,” I believe it starts with living out the effects of the gospel, namely loving that person unconditionally as Christ does. This is contrary to the common tendency of getting the means and the ends out of line when we think about evangelism. In our hope to accomplish something great – to share the gospel – our “evangelism” morphs into a self-serving enterprise. Conversion becomes the end goal and love is demoted to simply the means to that goal. We build relationships and love others in order to “share the gospel”. Can that be true? I would argue rather that we share the gospel by loving others. Love, renewed relationship, and people then remain the end to which we aspire rather than the forgotten ladder that we climb in building our own towers to heaven.

    So, I guess I would ask, “what does it mean to love?” before asking “how do we evangelize?” But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse to remain silent (as I often do). True love encompasses telling in words the story of God revealed in Jesus.

    Your thoughts?

    -nate

    • Good news Nate, ask and you shall receive. I’m a listener/question-asker as well. I find that questions are often much more powerful than propositions. I hope you find peace in knowing who you are as the Lord tells you. It is in that place of confidence and security that you will join into gospel conversations.
      I would challenge you with an experiment. When you are in conversation and you have a burning question that you sense may be from the Lord (even though it seems like it is just in your imagination) or that may get to the heart of something important, throw it out there in the conversation and see what happens. Take the pressure off of yourself to make it happen, but be hopeful that the Lord will use it. I’ve found it to be kind of fun because there are so many great surprises from the Lord in the experience.
      If you try it out, I would love to hear some of your results–clayformation@gmail.com
      Grace and Peace Brother.
      Oh, I wanted to mention, I really like how you reframe the question of how do we love as a priority before how do we evangelize. If love is not deeply rooted in our sense of what evangelism is then we are in trouble 🙂 Isn’t love at the heart of the gospel? Great framing question.

  12. When you meet someone and say something that really resonates with them, you know it. Their body language tells you that you’ve connected with a “sweet spot” (sort of like those rare golf shots when you strike the ball on the middle of the face of the club–it has a sound and feel that lets you know). Make it your practice to interject a snippet of a spiritual discussion into every conversation. Like the beginning kayaker, it will feel awkward and “thrashing,” because it is. But he would never have learned to “feel” the roll anywhere but in the water. Do not say anything else spiritual in this conversation until you get permission from the person. Even then keep your next comment brief.
    One problem we all have is we know too much and we overwhelm people. We’ve done it enough to be afraid of doing it again. Keep it brief. Wait. But do it at some point in every conversation. When you hit the sweet spot you will know. That gets you started, but there is much more we must learn.

    • Thanks, John. Well said. Some of us are afraid to speak and say too little. Some of us are so urgent and passionate that we say too much and overwhelm.

    • John, this is well written. Have you written an article about this. I am quoting this in a Strategy lab for church planters and church leader in our ReVision (renewal) ministry this week. Thanks!

  13. I’m sorry, I haven’t read the other comments but I wanted to respond to the article. I too struggle with articulating the gospel in one on one conversations with non-Christians. I am reminded Paul’s advice to Timothy “we do not have a spirit of timidity”…
    My struggle has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of material. There are several tools out there that have a very healthy approach to the gospel. The postmodern and more kingdom-community centered presentation that takes the place of the modern “the Bridge” diagram (or 4 spiritual laws) is True Story by James Choung (check his book out at Intervarsity Press). A great couple of Youtubes demonstrate the approach, here (part 1): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCVcSiUUMhY&feature=player_embedded and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4V60n6KiB8&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL
    But over the years, I have learned the message. We all could tell the story of Jesus, we can explore the ramifications of it. But I think we fear coming across as contrived and manipulative. Years ago I was a salesman and I hated other salesmen who pressured people. I think we instinctively wish to avoid “selling the gospel” or doing anything that smacks of a “strings attached” relationship. Our hearts are right, we want to love people without manipulating them to accept our message. But at some point I have to swallow hard and share the message. The question for me is not how, but how to overcome my fear.

  14. Oh, and on my good days, my best practice has just been to share a Jesus story that fit a situation. For example, to a teenage girl who slept with her boyfriend and was experiencing guilt I shared the story of John 8 and she responded well. It helped her struggle. Many times it is more appropriate to share an incident in the life of Jesus than anything else–these become miniature gospels because they embody Jesus’ identity, his grace, and his mission in the world.

  15. I find that I can find something to say in a bank line that is funny. But what do I say spiritually in 10 seconds (my bank line moves quickly). I wonder if we need different ways of thinking depending on the time available, 15 seconds / 10 minutes / an evening / a work mate …..
    His last plan was to make disciples, to baptize, to go on teaching. There needs to be a seed sown, and we never know the depth of the sowing.
    And there is the dichotomy between salvation and improving our lives (“Take my yoke upon you….”)
    And there is the problem of divorce/remarriage; Maybe 40% of married people we talk to have been divorced and remarried. After they’ve been converted will someone then try to kick them out of the body?

    • Do people still fight over the divorce/remarriage of unbelievers? If we are part of a grace oriented body, I do not see how anyone brought to Christ as a divorced/remarried person has anything to be afraid of.

      • Oh, yes. I’m in the middle of one here in Ontario, but fueled by conversations at a lectureship in Tennessee. I suppose that each of the 3 000 on the day of Pentecost was quizzed about their marital history. 🙂
        In fairness, this is about a divorce / remarriage that happened after conversion.

  16. I do think that sometimes we have too high expectations of our efforts. And I don’t mean to dumb down or give an excuse. But for all of my life I had viewed the evangelist as a “salesman for Jesus”. Our business models of the 60s gave that impression (in the 90s evangelism morphed into a marketing model). Perhaps we need to focus more on conversations than conversions–and storytelling. One thing I have decided to try is just to talk about what I am reading (biblically) with others. Not devotional material. But just to be able to say to my friends: “Hey, I was just reading this strange story about (Judah & Tamar, Job, Balaam, Jesus…insert biblical story here). Isn’t that something? What’s your take on it?” I am an avid Dean Koontz reader and I have no problem talking about Odd Thomas or The Darkest Evening of the Year. Why can’t I talk about what I’m reading in the Bible? I think people will respond to these stories and they open the door for further discussion ala woman at the well (I don’t think she was changing the subject and I think Jesus was answering her question the way she asked it). What if our goal is just to get someone “one step closer to God’s presence”?

    • Dary, I think Hobby’s statements are fundamental in this blog. We seek unity with God in his Spirit and discern what God is leading us to say to this person. We become a spokesperson of God speaking the message of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. Every conversation is a spiritua conversation because the fabric of reality is spiritual.

      • I agree with much that Hobby says. In fact, when I shared the story of the woman caught in adultery with a teenage girl a few years back (see my earlier comment above) I truly believe God is the one who led me to that direction.

        Certainly, all conversation is spiritual because as you say “the fabric of reality is spiritual”–after all how can you cut spirit from body or spirituality from physicality without violent results? Even so, while all conversation is spiritual not all conversation necessarily leads toward the gospel. (I feel I may be missing your point, so please correct me).

        It is when we are centered on the Spirit’s direction that we may see more and more opportunity to engage. But I also have to echo Rob’s objection to Hobby– to suggest conversation from our own initiative leads to death is a bit strong. After all, how do we know what is from our own initiative and what comes from the Spirit? I know some people with whom “the Spirit” always seems to agree (even when “the Spirit” leads them down the path of division and selfishness).

        To trust the Spirit’s direction doesn’t necessarily mean that we avoid taking initiative does it? Otherwise would we have any conversation about anything? I think we naturally converse about what is important to us. Whether or not that is Spirit-led I cannot say with certainty. My father was always talking about God and about following God because following God was the most important thing in the world to him. Was this being led by the Spirit? Well, he may not have had a prompting, but I believe he was truly led by the Spirit in his conversation (Romans 8).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s