No Silver Bullets
By Daniel Im
I remember walking through my college cafeteria with the Four Spiritual Laws in hand looking for people who might be interested in having a spiritual conversation with me. Sometimes I’d open up the conversation with, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?”
Or I’d ask, “On a scale of 1–10, how interested are you in spiritual conversations?” I was often rejected. Other times, I was met with skepticism. And on the odd occasion, I was actually able to share the gospel and see that individual discover a new life in Christ.
While evangelism strategies that rely solely on the verbal proclamation of the gospel still have their place, they are definitely waning in influence. The solution is not necessarily to swing the pendulum the other way and just live out the gospel and love people to conversion, either. Tim Keller frames it well: “If the gospel were primarily about what we must do to be saved, it could be communicated as well by actions (to be imitated) as by words. But if the gospel is primarily about what God has done to save us, and how we can receive it through faith, it can only be expressed through words. Faith cannot come without hearing.”
Since the gospel is more about what God has done than what we can do, it needs to be proclaimed through words. But since crusades, street preaching and spontaneous evangelism are waning in their effectiveness and influence in many parts of the West, we need to figure out different ways to invite non-Christians into the types of environments where they can hear the gospel proclaimed to them.
This is why we need a both/and approach to sharing the gospel! There needs to be something different about the way Christians live that forces non-Christians to ask questions. If a non-Christian looks at your life and sees the same fruit, or lack thereof, as theirs, they will see your faith as mere empty religious behavior. Isn’t that why Peter urges us to live as “foreigners and exiles” and “to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11)? We need to live as outsiders and be distinctly different from society. We need to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12)!
It’s important to understand that this is not a solo effort. Though Western culture is staunchly individualistic, the Scriptures aren’t. In 1 Peter 2:12, Peter isn’t talking to an individual; he is talking to the church corporate. We know this because he uses the plural form of “you.” It’s like Peter is saying, “Now y’all live such good lives …” It’s the same way with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is saying, “Y’all are the salt of the earth, and y’all are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13–14). I guess living in the South is rubbing off on me …
Seriously though, this plural use of the word you has massive implications for the way we need to live out our faith. Since these passages are written to a community, rather than an individual, you cannot actually live these out alone! God has intended for the gospel to be lived out and proclaimed together in community. Isn’t that why we have the body of Christ, rather than the individual of Christ? “For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14).
I’m convinced that the early church saw the results they did because they both preached the gospel in word and lived it out together in deed. The early church understood that when they functioned as God intended them to, they would be a living demonstration of the gospel. Lesslie Newbigin put it well: “The only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.” In other words, a congregation that believes in the gospel and lives out its implications together as a community is the way the gospel comes to life. A healthy church is how the gospel takes on flesh today! A healthy church is how this lost world will actually “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). And it’s precisely through experiencing the gospel lived out through healthy churches that this lost world will want to hear the gospel.
So practically, what will it look like if your church functions as a hermeneutic of the gospel and lives out its identity as a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God? Well, the next time you see your neighbor while doing yard work or picking up your mail, instead of having the same old conversation, you might share how the gospel took on flesh and came to life in your church community. Let me share a few stories.
When one of my community group members got into a car accident, her husband posted on our Facebook group and asked for help. Immediately, a few of our members responded. While he went to go help his wife, others picked up their children from daycare and took care of them. The rest of the group prayed.
Another time, when the mother of one of our group members passed away, a few of us would take turns watching their children whenever they had to tend to details, in addition to the entire group providing meals for them.
Whenever group members or neighbors had to move, a bunch of us from church would always go over to help.
By regularly sharing stories from your church community to your non-Christian neighbors, you are helping them see the gospel lived out tangibly. Not only will this give you opportunities to have spiritual conversations with them, it will also provide you with opportunities to invite them into your community so that they can personally see, feel and experience the gospel lived out. So invite them to wherever your community gathers, such as one of your group meetings, a block party, a service opportunity or to your church service. When they enter, they will not only hear about the power of the gospel that is working in and through your lives, but they will experience the gospel through the love that you show to one another. After all, “evangelism is best done out of the context of a gospel community whose corporate life demonstrates the reality of the word that gave her life.” Church communities that are a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God put flesh on the gospel and make it tangible for our world today.
Excerpted with permission from No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that Will Transform Your Ministry. Copyright 2017, B&H Publishing Group.