(The Information & Edification Series – Batch 2)
I opened an old flash drive I found in an old purse recently and found a written assignment I had done for a three-month Christian Women Study Group I once attended at the home of a sister from my Church, named Carolyn. I have decided to share the questions the group was asked and what I wrote in response, as I believe that it is of relevance to those who wish to obey the commission to reach the unsaved for Christ and to improve their evangelism efforts.
If you are a Christian that understands that Jesus commissioned all of his children to go into all the world and preach the gospel of salvation, then please read on.
Drawing from a wide range of Biblical examples, why was the salvation message shared, never identical? What reasons could you give for this? What conclusions can be drawn when sharing the gospel message with the unsaved?
(A) THE SALVATION MESSAGE DEFINED
The salvation message otherwise referred to as the gospel message is at its most basic, a good news message of salvation in Jesus. Essentially, it is a message that is comprised of three (3) necessary truths:
Firstly, it is a message that informs man of his present condition.
- He is spiritually sick with a hereditary and terminal disease called sin (Psalms 51:5; Romans 5:12 & 14; Romans 3:23)
- He is estranged/ostracized from God as a consequence of his sin (Isaiah 59:2)
- He is destined to die a spiritual death in hell due to his sin (Romans 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
Secondly, it is a message which informs man of God’s provision for his redemption.
Given the severity of man’s pathetic condition, God in his mercy, devised a rescue plan for his redemption, so as to enable mankind to be cleansed from his sin and thereby, to be reconciled with God who is holy. God provided Jesus Christ his son, who paid the price required for our sin and served as both our Physician and THE antidote for sin (Colossians 2:9; Luke 5:31-32; 1 Peter 2:21 and 24).
Thirdly, it is a message which informs man of his opportunity for healing and restoration.
Although Jesus, as man’s Physician, diagnosed his condition and also paid the price for his sins, Jesus’ actions did not lead to man’s automatic healing. Jesus is also THE antidote by which man now has the opportunity to freely accept for his healing (Romans 6:23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).To administer the antidote and thereby be saved from death, mankind must (i) believe with the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (this makes man righteous) and (ii) confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord (this results in his salvation) (Romans 10:9 -10)
(B) SYNOPSIS OF SOME BIBLICAL EXAMPLES
The way PHILLIP shared the gospel message with the ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH – Acts 8: 26-35
When in Jerusalem, an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip telling him to get up and go toward the south unto the way that went down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip immediately obeyed and when he arrived, he was then directed by the Holy Spirit to go and join himself to a particular chariot. Philip again obeyed eagerly by running to the chariot, after which, he heard a man who was an Ethiopian eunuch, reading the prophet Esaias. Philip enquired of him whether he understood what he was reading. He responded that he did not and extended an invitation to Philip to come up and sit with him in the chariot. Philip obliged and the eunuch then questioned him, as to the identity of the person being spoken about in the scripture.
Philip then used the opportunity created by the Holy Spirit to witness to the man about the Lord Jesus. As a perfect launching point, he simply “…began at the same scripture and preached unto him Jesus.” (vs. 35)
The way PAUL shared the gospel message with the ATHENIANS – Acts 17:16-34
While Paul was waiting on his brethren in a place called Athens, he felt a stirring within his spirit when he observed that the people there were devoted to idolatry.
Having received the prompting from the Holy Spirit that there was an opportunity to reach these people with the gospel, he then positioned himself strategically in the synagogue and in the market on a daily basis, where he disputed with the Jews and with the devout persons there that met him. This positioning resulted in him being taken before the highest Court in Athens, where he was given a further audience.
The people were keen to hear him due to their love of debate and always hearing or telling something new. Having first invested time to carefully observe and study the practices, belief systems and core values of the people, Paul realized that, although they were highly superstitious, believed in a God that created them, that he was worthy of their worship and demonstrated a desire to know who he was, they admittedly did not know him.
He also noted that they were observers of times and seasons and loved debate, poetry and philosophy. Paul then used his knowledge of their culture to his advantage, by incorporating certain aspects of their already held truths, into the gospel message. He started from the point, not of their sin and condemnation for same but simply and gently by making a neutral statement about what was already widely known and accepted: their religiosity.
Due to his knowledge of their desire for debate and of their love for poetry, he presented the gospel message in a customized, contextualized manner, that appealed to their sense of reason and made references to sayings from their own poetry, to translate the message in a way that they could relate to and identify with.
He demonstrated patience, wisdom and self-control in his approach and throughout his entire delivery, although he was very disturbed by the level of idolatry he had observed.
The way PETER shared the gospel message with THE JEWS AND DEVOUT MEN on the day of Pentecost – Acts 2:1-41
On the day of Pentecost, approximately 120 disciples of Jesus (who were all Galileans), assembled in one place when “…they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (vs. 4).
At that point in time, there had been Jews and devout men from every earthly country or nation, dwelling at Jerusalem. When they heard therefore that the Galileans were speaking all of the native languages of each of the Jews, this captivated their attention and caused them to be:
- “…all amazed and (they) marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and the dwellers in Mesopotamia and in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues, the wonderful works of God” (vs. 7-11).
It was not the declaration of the wonderful works of God that enthused the multitude and piqued their interest but it was the use of the variety of languages and specifically, their native languages, from men that were known to be Galileans, that grabbed their attention and left them awestruck and dumbfounded. Without a doubt, this was a supernatural occurrence and they were eager to understand it.
Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Peter saw beyond the fame and popularity that the occurrence could potentially bring the disciples, to the opportunity that lay within. He perceived or discerned that the perfect stage had just been set whereby he could use the situation to connect with these unsaved men and promote the gospel message. The timing was right and he seized the opportunity.
There was a challenge posed though, in that, the people, while amazed, were prepared to dismiss the supernatural occurrence so as to appease their consciences, as merely the effect of men who were intoxicated.
Peter was however, not daunted and rose to the challenge. He could have easily taken offence by the allegation of drunkenness, especially if he had considered himself as one of those whom Jesus had personally selected as one of the apostles and therefore superior to the unsaved Jews and especially given his usually hasty and emotionally unpredictable personality type.
Notwithstanding, he did not charge it to their account, demonstrated humility and servitude to God’s divine purpose, avoided being overly-sensitive (which demonstrated some growth in his character since the arrest of Jesus) and kept focused on the main goal, which was to get the gospel message heard (vs. 14-15).
As Jews and devout men, Peter had knowledge of their beliefs and customs and tailored or customized his message to suit his audience. He then presented the gospel message in such a manner, that it was within the context of what they already understood and the beliefs they held dear. His message was bold and unapologetic but culturally sensitive and therefore appealing to his audience.
As Jews and devout men, they were versed in the Old Testament scriptures and had detailed knowledge of the prophecies of God. With knowledge of this, Peter started from a place of commonality in terms of what they already knew to be true. He did not immediately and prematurely talk about Jesus, who they had just crucified. This would have been too sore a point to introduce from the very beginning.
Although Peter’s message therefore, appeared to be unapologetic in nature and forceful in delivery, he was still aware that timing and strategy of delivery were important, so as to not risk rejection from the very onset. He secured and maintained a listening audience by coming across, not as superior but as someone to whom persons could relate. He used the supernatural cultural occurrence whereby God was glorified in customized languages, as a starting point or launching pad.
He informed them firstly that what they had just witnessed was a manifestation and fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel (which they were well acquainted with), where God had said that in the last days he would pour out of his Spirit upon all flesh and that people would prophecy and that he would show wonders in heaven and signs on the earth and that whosoever called on the name of the Lord would be saved (vs. 16-21).
Careful to cushion the potentially shocking effect of his message and not jeopardize an abortion before completion of delivery, he then subtly and neatly introduced Jesus in his presentation, not as Lord (which he was) but as Jesus of Nazareth, a fact which they could not deny (vs. 22).
Appealing to their sense of reason, he stated that, the signs and wonders which this Jesus of Nazareth had also done and which they could not deny that they had witnessed, had also been approved by God. Since God had approved of Jesus’ actions, it followed that they were wicked in crucifying him (vs. 23).
He then quickly introduced hope, by telling them that, despite the awfulness of what they had done, God had raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 24) and to be persuasive, he drew again from their frame of reference, by referring to the Old Testament scriptures of David. He reminded them, that David had prophesied of the coming and resurrection of Jesus and then informed them that the same Jesus who God did miracles and wonders through was elevated by God to Lord and Christ. (vs. 36)
Peter did not over-saturate them with information but paused on at least one occasion for all that he had just said, to seep into their consciences. Although he knew that they were in danger of the judgment and needed to repent, he did not allow the urgency of the situation to cloud his judgment or obstruct his strategy. While he was bold and delivered some harsh truths at times in his presentation, it is not my view that he was overly aggressive in his approach and he did not try to force their need to be saved down their throats. Instead, he exercised patience and used wisdom by waiting until, them being convicted in their own hearts by the Holy Spirit of sin, asked him what they needed to do to be saved (vs. 37).
The way PAUL shared the gospel with KING AGRIPPA AND FESTUS (Acts 26:1 -28)
Whilst being a prisoner, Paul was given leave to speak in his defence before King Agrippa and used it as an opportunity to share the message of salvation.
He did not immediately talk about the Lord Jesus but instead, chose to use himself and his story of transformation, as a personal testimony of the power of God and the authenticity of his son the Lord Jesus.
Given his knowledge that King Agrippa was a man that was expert in all customs and questions, he knew that he could relate when he told him of his privileged, authoritative and religious background (vs. 3-6) and he knew that King Agrippa was a man who knew quite well of his past reputation, as a persecutor of the saints (vs. 26).
He then told of how, him being a Pharisee, he had done everything within his power to wreak havoc on the saints and undermine the name of Jesus of Nazareth (vs. 9-11). He admitted to having punished them and relentlessly pursued them even unto strange cities and then of how his whole outlook had changed as he was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of the saints (vs. 12).
He spoke about seeing a light from heaven which was brighter than the sun, falling to the earth along with those who had been with him and hearing a voice saying in the Hebrew tongue, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (vs. 14). He then stated that he enquired of the voice who he was and he said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” and that he was then given a commission by Jesus to go and minister and witness of what he had seen and of what he would in the future see, so as to open the eyes of people to the truth that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, so that their sins could be forgiven (vs. 15-18).
The way STEPHEN shared the gospel with the ISRAELITES (Acts 6:5, 9-10;7)
Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Ghost, so much so that when he spoke, those who wished to dispute with him were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6:5-10). They therefore framed Stephen by having false witnesses accuse him of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God and he was therefore retained and brought before the council to answer to these accusations (Acts 6:11-13).
Having secured an audience, he used it as an opportunity to reach them with the gospel message.
Given that his hearers were Israelites, he started his message by referring extensively to their rich history from Abraham’s journey to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph and Pharaoh and Egypt, to Moses, to the children of Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness, to David, to Solomon and finally to the present day Israelite audience.
In referring to their disobedience and sin, Stephen was direct and somewhat harsh with his choice of words, referring to them as “stiffnecked”, “uncircumcised in heart”, “betrayers” and “murderers”.
His message of salvation through Jesus had to be aborted however, as he was attacked in the middle of it and stoned to death. However, before the stoning began, he looked steadfastly into heaven, saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God and he took one last opportunity to complete his message by pointing his audience in the direction of Jesus. He audibly stated, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Then, when they stopped their ears from listening and began to stone him, even then he did not remain silent but called upon God and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
General assessment of the different biblical examples
Although they all shared a common purpose, the approach taken by the early biblical evangelists at each point of witness varied. The ‘WHAT’ factor remained the same in that the message was consistently and uncompromisingly about leading lost souls to salvation through Jesus Christ. However, the ‘HOW’ factor, in terms of how they chose to go about it, was always unique to each case. It is my view that there were indeed some common threads of similarity in their techniques while proclaiming the gospel but no two approaches were identical in all respects.
(C) POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE DIFFERENCE IN HOW THE GOSPEL MESSAGE WAS PRESENTED
1. No two situations encountered were identical
The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/challenges encountered by the early evangelists in each scenario in which the gospel message was shared differed and so did the specific circumstances which surrounded and gave rise to or served as the impetus for its presentation. What this meant was that the starting point in which the gospel message was to be introduced, could not be based on some pre-prepared and rigid formulaic approach but had to be flexible enough so as to take cues from the reality of the situation encountered.
2. The need to be relevant
For the message to be truly effective in reaching and connecting with each target audience presented in each biblical example, the person sharing the gospel was mindful that the gospel had to be perceived as relevant and had to relate to the present day needs, interests, desires and problems of those listening. Given that relevance is subjective, it was essential that the gospel be regarded not just as a solution to a generic problem of sin but that it be a personalized message with which people could identify in their specific circumstances. In each case therefore, the biblical evangelist customized his presentation in such a way, so as to ensure that the target audience could identify and relate with what he was saying.
3. Differences in the personalities and backgrounds of the early evangelists
The personalities of the early evangelists differed and in my view, this had an effect, to some extent, on the approach they took to sharing the gospel.
It was to be expected that their personality traits, historical backgrounds and experiences would in turn have had some bearing on their preferred evangelistic style and the approach they ultimately took in each situation.
For example, it is evident that Stephen’s personality was that of a confident and passionate man of God with a strong will and bold and fearless approach. He was not afraid of opposition and he was prepared to relentlessly fight for a worthy cause, even if it meant death. In Acts 7:51-52 therefore, he was unapologetic in his somewhat harsh form of delivery of the gospel message to the Jews. Without apology, he accused his listeners who were Israelites, of being “stiff-necked”, “uncircumcised in heart”, “betrayers” and “murderers”. So forceful were his words that the Bible states that “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart…” (Acts 7:51-52).
It would appear from the scriptures that Peter, who was a fisherman by trade (Matthew 4:18), had an impulsive, confrontational and unapologetic character and was a bit rough around the edges, so to speak. When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, Peter, ready to fight, acted boldly and instinctively by drawing his sword and violently cutting off an ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). Having followed Jesus to the palace where he was taken and hoping to go undetected, Peter began to curse and to swear in response to the third allegation made by observers, to the effect that he was one of the disciples that had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:74).
This impudent personality of Peter, perhaps shaped to some extent by him having been a fisherman and not having gained any form of notable education, contributed in turn to his bold, sometimes harsh style, of presenting the gospel message.
Acts 4:13 states, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled…”
Also, in Acts 2:23, it appears that Peter made very little attempt to find a nice way of preaching the need for repentance. He did not seem at all concerned or too preoccupied with a need to avoid offence with his words but was committed to the bold declaration of the gospel message. In the said scripture, he accused the Jews and devout men on the day of Pentecost, of having crucified Jesus with what he described harshly as “wicked hands”. As if this was not enough, in Acts 2:36, without apology, he saw it fit to remind them again (without much care as to whether they took offence or not), of their abominable act, by telling them a second time that they were the ones that crucified and therefore were responsible for the death of Jesus.
His presentation style appeared to have been so harsh, bold and forceful that the Bible states that, “…when they heard this…” they were not merely convicted of the need for repentance but “…they were pricked in their heart…”
Contrastingly, Paul’s personality and background was quite different to that of Peter and this in turn resulted in a very different approach to the way he presented the gospel message. He was a well educated man who had been accustomed to leadership, respect and authority. He was a Jew and became a Pharisee, him having been schooled as a child under the tutorship of Gamaliel, a Pharisee who was well reputed as a doctor of the law (Acts 22:3; Acts 5:34; Acts 26:10-12). Apart from him being a Hebrew, he was also a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 38).
Paul’s diverse background resulted in a personality that was capable of relating to different people from various cultures and backgrounds, in a way that was usually careful not to give offence to varying belief systems. Additionally, because he was well-educated, versed in the Old Testament scriptures and accustomed to leadership and authority, he usually sought to present the gospel message strategically in a manner that challenged people to think and reason and can therefore be said to have had an intellectual style of evangelism.
In Acts 17:1 and 2, it states that when Paul came to the synagogue of the Jews at Thessalonica, “…as his manner was, (he) went in unto them and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures…”
The strategy of reason was also used by Paul when he proclaimed the gospel message to the Athenians, a people steeped in idol worship, very superstitious, religious and lovers of philosophy and debate (Acts 17:22-31). Paul’s style of evangelism was therefore very apt to the people of Athens, as they loved to think and to analyze and to reason.
Given that he was versed in the Old Testament scriptures, Paul often made more detailed and extensive references to it when preaching the gospel message to the Israelites, than Peter did. When Peter preached to the Jews and devout men on the day of Pentecost, he made references only to the prophet Joel and to King David. However, in speaking to the Jews, Paul was able to refer chronologically and in detail, to the experiences of the Israelites from the time of Egypt to the time of David and to quote relevant scriptures to substantiate his arguments (Acts 13:16 -22; 33-35).
4. Diversities in the culture and background of the unsaved
The early evangelists witnessed to different people from different nations, from different backgrounds, occupying different positions in society with varying belief systems, religions, traditions and values. It was therefore necessary for the early evangelists to tailor or contextualize the gospel message (without changing its divine truths), so as to ensure that the people would willingly listen, understand and be convicted of their need for repentance.
Due to the fact that the people being witnessed to were coming from all walks of life, a one size fits all approach would have been counterproductive and defeat the purpose. Instead, the message, which required a personal response from each individual, also required a personalized approach.
Whereas the Jews and devout men could identify with Old Testament scriptures and this therefore served as an effective starting point to the spreading of the gospel, the people at Athens had no such historical background and to have mentioned such scriptures would have been lost on them.
Instead, Paul referred to their religiosity as a starting point. He used their own poetry and applied it to the gospel message and he appealed to their sense of reason with his arguments, given that they were poets and philosophers.
He exercised more patience with them than with the Jews and was more careful to manage their perceptions, given that these people did not even know who God was. He presented the gospel message to the Athenians in a way that was still true to his evangelistic style but at the same time, he humbled himself so as to present it in as simple a manner as possible. He saw the need to be versatile in his approach due to him being culturally sensitive. He therefore used his knowledge and observation of the group of people he was about to speak to, to guide him as to where to pitch his argument, at what level and in what way.
Despite his simple approach with the Athenians so as to reach them based on their frame of reference, he deployed quite a different approach with King Agrippa in Acts 26, based on his knowledge that King Agrippa was an “…expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews.” (Acts 26:3). With this in mind, he did not appear to see a need to overly simplify his message.
Paul’s eagerness to present the gospel message effectively to diverse groups of people from all walks of life, positions and backgrounds was summed up aptly by him in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he stated that:
- “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews, I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without the law, as without the law…To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
5. God requires and endorses the use of diverse methods and the Holy Spirit is unpredictable
God is ever resourceful and not restricted or compelled to use one or a few methods in reaching people with his message of salvation. The early evangelists operated under the guidance and prompting of the Holy Spirit which endorsed a variety of methods, strategies and approaches to the sharing of the gospel. Given that the early evangelists who shared the gospel message had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord, after Jesus died and rose again, he sent them the Comforter, to indwell and guide them.
In John 14:26, Jesus stated, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
The early evangelists therefore who were submitted to the Holy Spirit, did not preach in their own power but as they were enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Even if they devised a strategy in reaching the specific people they were presenting to, this strategy was first pre-approved by God. He was able to use them in creative ways and give them creative ideas as to how to relate and connect with the specific people they were witnessing to.
The Holy Spirit is also unpredictable. On the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the gospel message, he had not anticipated that the Holy Ghost was going to fill all of the disciples and cause them to suddenly speak in the native tongues of all the Jews and devout men who had been gathered in Jerusalem out of every nation (Acts 2). In such a situation, Peter perceived with the help of the Holy Spirit, that God was eroding the language barrier and using this aspect of culture so as to create an opening, opportunity or platform, whereby the people willingly gave audience for the gospel message to be preached.
It is my view that it was the Holy Spirit therefore that prompted Peter to start the gospel message from a point where he compared the signs and wonders the Jews and devout men had just witnessed with the signs and wonders prophesied in the Old Testament and then to make the connection with the signs and wonders done by Jesus.
In Acts 6, Stephen was described as “…a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost…” (vs. 5). Him being empowered by the Holy Spirit, his form of witnessing included the doing of “…great wonders and miracles among the people” (vs. 8). His style of proclaiming the gospel message was so guided by the Holy Spirit that those who disputed the authenticity of his message “…were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (vs. 10).
In Athens, Paul was also prompted by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel message, although he had not planned it. It is my belief that the Holy Spirit also guided him as to how to present it. In Acts 17:16 it states that, “…while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”
In Acts 8, as the eunuch from Ethiopia was sitting in his chariot reading Esaias the prophet, the Bible states that “…the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot.” (vs. 28-29). In immediately obeying, although at the time, Phillip had no idea why he was being so instructed, he heard the eunuch reading the prophet Esaias and was then strategically positioned to ask him if he understood what he read and to share the message of salvation with him. Given that he did not understand and had absolutely no prior exposure to God and the rich history of the Israelites, Phillip kept it simple and guided by the Holy Spirit, he “…began at the same scripture…” (which consisted merely of two verses) “…and preached unto him Jesus.”
It is also the Holy Spirit that guided Peter to Cornelius the Gentile in Acts 10 and 11. In Acts 10:19-20, it states that “…While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold three men seek thee. Arise therefore and get thee down….for I have sent them.” Peter also states in Acts 11:12 that “…the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting.”
The same Spirit that created these opportunities whereby the early biblical evangelists could witness to the unsaved, was the same Spirit that worked in them, to guide them as to the method that was most appropriate in each circumstance.
(D) WHAT CONCLUSIONS CAN BE DRAWN WHEN SHARING THE GOSPEL MESSAGE WITH THE UNSAVED?
When sharing the gospel message with the unsaved, as Christians, we should:
1. Be aware that the gospel message, while unwavering in content is versatile in delivery.
That is, it can be presented in a wide variety of ways. Whereas a direct and bold approach may work with one set of people (for example, the Jews and devout men to whom Peter witnessed who were already versed in the scriptures), a more gentle and subtle approach may be required with another set of people (for example, Paul and the Athenians who did not know the Old Testament scriptures or even the God of the Old Testament scriptures.)
2. Note that a method or mode of delivery does not have to be widely accepted or conventional.
The Christian who wishes to be effective in presenting the gospel needs to always be thinking of innovative and flexible strategies to reach different groups and individuals, as opposed to the adoption of a rigid, pre-prepared formula.
3. Be culturally sensitive.
To be culturally sensitive, as Christians, we should:
- (i) Take into account the belief systems, traditions, values etc. of the target audience and then use this information to come up with a strategy that will enable us to best connect and relate to our audience. If we are in a position to prepare, we should not do so necessarily by creating a script of what we are going to say but use the time to observe the practices of the people we wish to witness to, understand their customs and gain knowledge of their beliefs;
- (ii) Carry out a SWOT analysis – We should conduct assessments or research if possible, of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (challenges) of the people we are considering witnessing to. This is especially applicable where we intend to witness to people of other nations. We should be asking ourselves questions like, What aspects of this country’s culture may pose a threat/challenge to me connecting with the people? Are there any common areas of beliefs between their religion (e.g. in a dominantly muslim nation) and the truths of God? If so, how can I capitalize on this? How can the situation I meet be used to the advantage of the gospel? The situation that Phillip met (the Eunuch reading the scriptures) was one which presented an opportunity to witness and he used it to the advantage of the gospel. What are the weaknesses, fears or insecurities of the people which may affect the reception of the gospel message? E.g. If witnessing to a group of people in Somalia who have not eaten for days, they may not be receptive to the gospel message until they see love in action and get their needs met. Perhaps catering to the physical needs of the people first, if possible, may be best;
- (iii) Gauge with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what approach would constitute the best fit with the particular people and circumstances encountered. Phillip did this with the Ethiopian eunuch.
4. Be prepared to contextualize or customize the way the gospel message is delivered, to fit the people being witnessed to.
The disciples on the day of Pentecost, declared the wonderful works of God but not in their conventional Galilean language. Based on the intervention of the Holy Spirit, they glorified the living God, in different, customized languages, based on the nationalities of the listeners. This secured the interest of the unsaved hearers and they willingly listened to what Peter had to say.
5. Know self and learn of others.
That is, as evangelists, we should try to become familiar with our own personality and preferred evangelistic style prior to our outreach efforts. If we understand ourselves better, we would better be able to control the weaknesses in our temperament and know how best and where best to use our personality strengths. As a result, we are more likely to make a more effective witness.
Additionally, we should get to know the relative strengths and weaknesses of our fellow evangelists, especially where we witness together. Whereas we are called to go into all the world and preach the gospel, we can capitalize on or leverage each other’s strengths. For example, my personality and evangelistic style may be predominantly confrontational and this may not be suited to a particular group of unsaved children in their early teens.
6. Exercise patience.
When witnessing to the unsaved, we ought not to expect instant reformation and must not come across as too hasty, impatient or forceful. Phillip waited patiently until the eunuch invited him to sit with him in the chariot and then waited on the eunuch to first ask him a question before he commenced the message of salvation. When Phillip initially met him reading and had simply asked if he understood what he read, the eunuch said: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” The role of the evangelist therefore, is to gently and patiently guide the unsaved unto the right path, not seek to force or manipulate them quickly unto it.
7. Practise humility.
When witnessing, we must expect doubt, opposition and accusation. We must therefore prepare ourselves for those who will ridicule and jeer at us or exploit us. To do this, we must not be quick to take offence or be too sensitive but we must instead demonstrate humility, forgiveness, servitude and keep focused on the divine purpose.
When Stephen was falsely accused by certain witnesses of blasphemy, he did not take offence and fall into the devil’s plan of remaining silent. Instead, he humbled himself for the sake of the cause, kept focused and capitalized on the opportunity when giving his defence, to continue to spread the gospel message. When on a subsequent occasion they “gnashed on him with their teeth”, the Bible states “But he…looked up steadfastly into heaven…” (Acts 7:55).
8. Be able to relate.
We cannot preach the gospel message with an air of superiority and we must be careful not to give unnecessary offence through arrogance and perceptions of our self-righteousness. Interpersonal skills are therefore important and people must feel that we are talking to them horizontally and not vertically.
Had the Ethiopian eunuch felt that Phillip’s approach was condescending or too forceful, he would never have invited him to come sit with him in the chariot or felt comfortable to ask him a question. We must therefore exercise wisdom, understanding, love, respect and self-control and not allow the urgency of the situation to cloud our judgment or obstruct our purpose. That is, we must not be so eager to get people saved that we destroy the opportunity to connect with them, by us coming across as too aggressive, condescending or judgmental. In such a case, all people see is us and the message gets lost because sadly, we, (not the gospel) have been rejected.
9. Always be on the alert for opportunities to spread the gospel and perceive/discern when the Holy Spirit has set the perfect stage or opportunity for us to connect with the unsaved and promote the gospel message.
The early evangelists all availed themselves of the opportunities that sometimes clearly but sometimes subtly presented themselves to be used.
10. Expect the unexpected.
The Holy Spirit could move at anytime, night or day and we must be ready.
To be truly effective in delivery, the content ought to remain the same but we must be in a position where we can be suddenly and unexpectedly used by the Holy Spirit to reach the target audience, in a way that we had not envisioned or anticipated or ever expected.
This in turn speaks to the issue of submission. Peter did not expect that the Holy Ghost would have fallen on the disciples on the day of Pentecost or that they would have suddenly been speaking in the native tongues of the Jews and devout men from different nations or that there would have been an opportunity created on that day and at that time, to share the salvation message with the unsaved.
Phillip did not expect that he would suddenly be told to go join himself to a chariot where the Ethiopian eunuch was sitting reading, nor did Paul expect that he would be spreading the gospel message with the Athenians.
Peter also did not expect that he would be directed to go visit and teach a Gentile called Cornelius. In expecting the unexpected therefore we must rely fully on the Holy Spirit to guide us as to what to say, where to start, what to use and how to reach.
11. Determine the best point of contact.
We should think carefully as to how and where to start our message and what we should use as a stepping stone or launching pad. We may have the opportunity but at what point should we commence?
Talking about Jesus and hell and damnation may not be appropriate starting points although they are necessary ends. Phillip wisely decided to start at the very same scripture that the eunuch had been reading and had asked about, to preach the message of salvation through Jesus.
Finding common ground is also important. Furthermore, we cannot expect to start from the exact same point with every unsaved group or individual. What proves to be effective with one group may not be effective with another. For example, if Paul had started to speak to the Athenians about Israelite scriptures and David and Abraham, his message would most likely have been lost on them, as they would not have been able to identify.
12. Understand the importance of timing.
Timing is critically important to our delivery strategy. An opportunity could be lost if we delay.
Phillip would have lost the opportunity to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, had he tarried when the angel instructed him to go to a particular place toward the south and had he not run immediately to join himself to a chariot in obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Conversely, an opportunity could be lost if the evangelist moves too quickly. When Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch reading, he did not immediately start preaching to him the gospel message but asked him simply whether he understood what he was reading. He then waited on his response and waited until the man invited him to come sit with him. After sitting, he again waited for the man to ask a question before he started his presentation.
Additionally, an opportunity that requires preparation, research or observation before delivery, could also be lost if the evangelist prematurely and hastily approaches the unsaved without the necessary preparation. That would amount to wrong timing. Also, God would have us wait on the right timing for years with some unsaved persons (e.g. in friendship evangelism with a Hindu), before we approach them with the message of salvation. Poor timing could destroy the opportunity.
13. Completely submit to and obey the Holy Spirit.
A submissive relationship to the Holy Spirit is important to discern opportunities when they arise and to act on them in ways that will yield fruit. The Lord knows what approach will work best and therefore we must listen for his promptings.
14. Expect to suffer and to make sacrifices.
As evangelists, we must not expect that in fulfilling the commission, everything will be easy and comfortable for us. We may have to give up our dignity on occasion when exploited, ridiculed, insulted or opposed. We may have to give up other demands on our time and forgo self-serving opportunities with our money.
When Phillip was directed to go toward the south, it meant he had to give up whatever he had been doing and immediately obey. Paul also did this when he was instructed by the Holy Spirit to immediately go with the men who were to take him to Cornelius.
Sometimes obeying the Lord will also mean physical detriment to self. In Acts 14:19, Paul’s message was aborted prematurely, due to the people taking the decision to stone him. Paul was injured to such an extent, that the Bible states that they “…drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead” (vs.19). Spreading the gospel may even cost you your life. Stephen suffered an even worse fate than Paul by actually being stoned to death because without wavering, he presented the gospel message (Acts 7).
15. Be prepared for disappointment.
No matter how good a method the Christian uses, everyone will not accept the message of salvation.
In Acts 14, the people to whom Paul had begun to speak, rejected his message soon after he commenced his presentation.
When Paul spoke to the Athenians, some accepted but there were those who “…mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” (Acts 17:32). When he spoke to King Agrippa and Festus, King Agrippa said “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28) but still, he did not come to that necessary place of repentance.
Even where no one accepts what we preach, we ought not to stop or let our disappointment deter us from future opportunities. We ought not to feel insignificant, a failure or unduly question our spiritual relationship and closeness with God. We also ought not to guilt ourselves into believing that the method used must have been a poor one. Even if this may be true, it is good to evaluate how we have done, so as to make amends and improve in the next situation.
(Written on 10th October, 2014)
Dear Reader, if you found the above Article to be informative, edifying or beneficial, you may also be interested in the following:
- Note 109 – ‘Dear Christian, Is God Calling You To Do Something?’
- Note 111 – ‘What I Have Learned About Obeying God’s Call In Ministry’
- Note 169 – ‘The Christian’s Mandate – Go’