Once, I was talking to a young guy in India about Jesus. I explained to him his need to be saved, showing him where Jesus said, "You must be born again..." (John 3:3). However, I noticed that although my friend Ramesh was sincerely trying to comprehend what I was talking about, his facial expression was saying loud and clear, "I don't get it."
It was then the Holy Spirit seemed to tap me on the shoulder and to give me some insight, "Danny, he is a Hindu. He already believes he's been born again a couple of hundred times! Use a different word picture." I then proceeded to get on my hands and knees in the dirt and draw a picture of two roads - one that led to eternal life and the other that led to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). A spiritual light bulb seemed to go on in his head and shortly thereafter proceeded to give his life to Jesus.
The problem with using the "born again" pathway into Ramesh's heart was that it didn't communicate the good news of the gospel because of his belief in reincarnation. To him, to be born again meant more suffering and a need to work off more "karma". When I changed my approach, the truth of the gospel was able to penetrate his heart. Jesus promised in the above parable when someone hears the Word and understands it, it will produce fruit. When Ramesh "got it", the crop began to grow.
My friend evangelist Greg Laurie says, "Our job is not to win people to Christ. Our job is simply to make the gospel clear and let the gospel, which is the power of God (Rom 1:16), do its mighty work."
The key issue in evangelism is communication. Are we effectively communicating the gospel? Are we doing it in a way that helps remove the blinders off the non-Christian's mind so that they can see the light of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4)? The gospel is the power of God. We just need to find ways to clearly communicate it.
Back to the Future of Evangelism
Eventually all evangelism has to come down to the proclamation of the simple gospel. In other words, we need to preach, but we first must find out if our explanation of the Gospel is being understood.. We must allow the truth to set us free from caricatures of Gospel preaching that bring to mind beady-eyed Bible bangers on street corners that seem to be in a bad mood and take it out on the poor sinners that are passing by!
The Bible tells us that he who wins souls is wise (Prov. 11:30). What will wise evangelism look like in the next 50 years? As I gaze into the future I would suggest the following characteristics. It will be:
That is, a combination of the old with the new. Jesus indicated that people who wisely point others to the Kingdom pull out of their storehouse both new and old treasures (Matt. 13:52). This old school/new school approach takes into account that "the faith was delivered once for all to the saints" (Jude 1:3), but realizes that new wine must be put in new wineskins (Matt. 9:17). We must know what we believe, why we believe it and why it matters but also encourage young creative minds to discover exciting and innovative ways to make the gospel relevant to emerging generations.
Personal evangelism is effective in every generation because we serve a personal God who wants us to offer the world the good news about a relationship with Him. Our high-tech age has produced a generation hungry for relationships as they drift in a sea of information.
Research indicates that while future generations will continue to text, Facebook and Twitter away their time they will be desperate for "chill time" to dial down and hang with friends much like their tribal forefathers did when "talking story" around the campfire. Tomorrow's witnesses will offer them this companionship as they embody ad proclaim the Good News (think low-tech, high-touch).
Keeping in mind the human touch of being personal, we certainly want to use all means we can at our disposal to reach the world. History shows that Christians have always made use of new technologies. Martin Luther used the printing press to help launch the Protestant Reformation. Billy Graham used television to spread the Gospel, while today Ipods can download evangelistic films that can be viewed anywhere on earth. Tomorrow's outreach will need to keep pace with technological advances.
The apostle Peter's interpretation of Joel's prophesy of the outpouring in the end times included "...your sons and your daughters will prophesy..." (Acts 2:17). As the fires of fervent, believing, intercessory prayer are stoked up in spiritual furnaces around the world God will come through on what He has promised. This includes an emphasis on youth (sons - young men, daughters - young women, servants - young men and women) who will not be afraid to speak prophetic truth to the Pharaohs and Herods of their generation. Many will be called upon to give their lives as the ultimate sacrifice.
21st Century evangelism will not only answer the age old question that Pilate asked, "What is truth?" but will along with that ask, "Does it work?" Former generations, sometimes without thinking, would proclaim, "It doesn't matter if it works. It matters if it's true." Today's generation, however, says, "If it doesn't work it must not be true." During the next 50 years of evangelism, witnesses for Christ will boldly proclaim that Jesus not only works (the Way), but that He is true (the Truth) and also that He is the only source of life (the Life).
Issues like the AIDS crisis, human trafficking, the plight of the poor and systemic evil will arrest the attention of younger Christians and propel a new generation of witnesses for Christ. They will aspire to be like Jesus who "went about doing good and healing all those that were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:36). Philosophical brick walls that have for centuries created unbiblical boundaries between secular/sacred, individual/social, eternal/temporal and word/deed will be knocked down as tomorrow's witnesses seek to reach their fellow spiritual travelers with the gospel of the Kingdom.
Although God has and does use evangelism fueled by less-than-pure motives (Phil. 1:15-18), tomorrow's witnesses will be motivated by a fervent desire for God to be glorified in every nation. As the Lord ratchets up the spiritual intensity of our worship, lesser methods of fear/threat (Frankenstein evangelism) and hope/bribe (Santa Claus evangelism) will be supplanted by a white-hot passion to see Jesus glorified in the earth.
Go Into All the World and Communicate the Gospel
Evangelism is communicating the heart of the Great Communicator we know to those who don't know Him. This is our destiny. This is why we live.
As a Creator, God comes up with all kinds of creative means to get through to us. He personally wrote His laws on tablets of stone and later wrote a scary warning on a wall to an uppity King. He communicated through songs, scrolls, prophets, poets, angels, clouds, pillars of fire, a burning bush, a whale's belly, a talking donkey and even the jawbone of an ass!
God's obsession with communication can even be seen when He sent His son into the world and called Him the Word (John 1:1). Jesus was the ultimate communication medium in person - the exact representation of God himself (Heb. 1:3). Being a communicative chip off the 'ol block, Jesus became the medium and the message. In His birth He communicated that He, born in a cold, stinky stable, was one of us. In His miracles He communicated God's power and compassion. In His teachings He used history, metaphor, simile, figures of speech, repetition, irony, hyperbole, and humor. He told stories about fishing, farming, baking bread, selling pearls, finding treasures, giving birth, using money and growing trees. In His death and resurrection He demonstrated the art of living dangerously and that our biggest enemy, death, had been conquered.
Reaching Your Generation
Michael Green has said, "When men have a will to speak of their Lord, they find no shortage of ways to do it." The church has always communicated both by word and deed: Some estimates are that as many as 10 people were converted in the ancient coliseums for every Christian that was martyred. In medieval times it was Christians who cared for those stricken by the plague and buried their dead.
During the Reformation a Dutch Anabaptist named Dirk Willems was being chased by a persecutor when he turned to see his pursuer had fallen through the ice and was drowning. Instinctively Dirk returned to save the man's life and was immediately re-arrested. He was later executed for his faith. Many came to Christ as a result of his communicating the Gospel by his example.
The Salvation Army used raucous beer-drinking songs form the London pubs, substituting Christian lyrics to reach the down-and-outs for Jesus. When their leader, William Booth, was criticized for the Army's version of creative evangelism, he simply quipped, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?"
Francis of Assisi once said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Use words if necessary." Francis trained his disciples to live the gospel as well as proclaim it. He also traveled from village to village proclaiming the gospel on street corners gathering his converts into small groups for discipleship and Bible study.
People will always matter to God. We will be successful in evangelism to the extent that we listen to His voice and do what He says. He is a Creative Communicator. Let His creativity flow through you to reach your world for Jesus.
In short, 21st Century evangelism will be the unchanging truth of the Gospel, but with diverse, creative ways of communication as we encounter new generations and cultures that need Jesus.
(This article has been edited with permission.)