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About this series
Not Beyond Reach
How to Share Jesus with the Young, the Deconstructed, and the Non-Religious
Are you – as a parent or grandparent – concerned about the spiritual health of your kids? Do you sense they’re drifting from the Christian faith they grew up with? Or have they perhaps already outright rejected it? In this series, guest teacher Aaron Pierce – from an international missions organization called Steiger – has some hope and direction for us. He’ll unpack a sequence of intentional conversations you can use to better understand and reconnect with your kids, and lead them to Jesus. Learn why today’s young people are prime to hear the saving message of the Gospel and how you can share it with them.More from this series
How do I communicate Jesus and the message of the cross that will connect with people I’m talking to? It goes back to understanding: what are the false assumptions that they have about it? How do I challenge those? How do I remove those things so that they can really see who Jesus is?
And the thing about contextualization is it’s not about popularity or compromise. It’s not about being loved, it’s about clarity, right? When I communicate in a relevant way, in a contextual way, then I’m understood. And as we know from reading the Bible, reading the book of Acts, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be loved. I mean, Paul experienced riots. Jesus was crucified.
You know, the message is not always going to be loved, but it’s going to be understood. And that’s what we want. Because there’s nothing worse than communicating but no one is reacting because they don’t even get it. Like, what’s the use in that? And so, that’s why we want to contextualize the gospel.
And we want to avoid using Christian language that is weird and foreign and strange to a secular culture, because Jesus used words and imagery that was very relevant to His time. When He spoke of, you know, fishing and, you know, sheep and things of that nature, it was because that was the context and the people He was talking to.
But if I go to Minneapolis and I talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, people might conceptually kind of understand, but there’s not a lot of sheep running around in Minneapolis, right? It’s not powerful imagery that connects to their context. Political activism of our day is actually very powerful language you can draw on, using your life for something that matters. For sacrificing my needs for the sake of others.
Often, we are using good, biblical language that isn’t connecting at the heart. And so, we are not applying the principle that Jesus was showing us when He used that kind of language.
One key principle about this that can get a little challenging for us as we think about being, you know, faithful to the Bible, is that we want to use the Bible as an argumentative authority. And frankly, a lot of our gospel scripts are based on Scripture that we share as if that is going to say, “Ah, okay, because the Bible says it, therefore…” Right? And we kind of have that kind of language.
And the reality is we have to understand that for a lot of secular people, the Bible is not an authority. Many of them question it. They question, you know, how it came to be and also what it says. That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t true – and it is, and we’ll talk about that – but I can’t assume that when I use Scripture, somehow that’s an argumentative proof. Right? It’s not. And so, part of that is we need to understand how culture sees the Bible. So, take a look at these guys.
Interviewer: So, when I say the word “Bible,” what does it mean to you? What comes to your mind?
Person 1: I mean, it’s a very well-selling book. I mean, it, I don’t know, it’s something that I feel like gets talked about a lot and people reference it a lot without reading it.
Person 2: When I think of the Bible, I think there’s a lot of things that are really outdated now in the Bible. So I think I tend to have more of a negative view that way just because of the way they, like, talk about slavery or, like, gays or women in the Bible. Like, I think a lot of it is pretty outdated and it doesn’t really apply now, but…
Person 3: So, I’m not Christian so I come from a different place anyway. But, like, it’s an interesting work of fiction that sort of, like, it has moral messages and, like, it teaches stuff, like, how you should live your life. But that’s all it is. It’s just, like, it’s a moral base that you can, you could build your life around. And for some people that’s good. But, like, it’s not something to be taken literally or anything.
Stop there. Good communication is about knowing people’s assumptions. And so, if I’m talking to someone that takes the Bible seriously, then I can use it as an authority. But if I’m talking to someone who doesn’t, I can’t.
And so, here’s the challenge, or the principle, or the way to go after it is that we can leverage the truth of the Bible that is experientially verifiable, right? So, we can even say, “Hey, the Bible says this,” but we can connect that to something that they experientially feel to be true.
And so, often that means using Scripture in a different way. So, I’m going to show you a video, this is another one of our “Is There More?” Spiritual Conversations videos in which we basically begin to draw on Scripture, but not doing it in an authoritative way, but in an experientially verifiable way. So, take a look to give you the example I’m talking about.
Narrator: It seems like the most self-destructive, suicidal people in our culture are celebrities.
Newsperson: “EDM star Avicii has died.” “The death of Robin Williams.” “Chester Bennington, dead of an apparent suicide by hanging.”
Narrator: And yet, they have it all, right? For all the stuff we chase, the things we consume, does anyone actually get to the point where they finally have enough? Some of you have rejected the consumerism of your parents’ generation and instead focus on experiences and a lifestyle, but the second the thrill of a new experience dies away, you’re like the person who discovers that their new house or car left them feeling no different than their old one. The dictionary definition for delusion is this: a false belief held despite strong evidence against it. There is overwhelming evidence that what we consume will never satisfy us and yet we continue to do it anyway. It’s not that we haven’t reached the prize at the top of the mountain. Our problem is there is no prize at the top of the mountain. So what do we do? It seems cruel to have a hunger that this world cannot satisfy, but maybe this is trying to tell us something. Thousands of years ago, there was a king named Solomon. He was the richest, most powerful person in the world. No one’s life compared with his. And yet, when it was all said and done, he said this, “I have seen all things that are done under the sun. All of them are meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” Maybe that’s our problem. We are stuck looking under the sun. Could it be that we aren’t finding satisfaction in this world because we were made for more? The author C.S. Lewis wrote this, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Our science teachers tell us that we are the result of the Big Bang and evolution. We live in a purely material world. And all of us one day will be gone. But what if that’s not true. Consider whether God made you and I and everything around us and that our deepest desires are satisfied only by knowing Him. Now, I can’t tell you what to believe, but from what I have seen, until we look beyond the sun, we are left with what is under it. And like Solomon, sooner or later we will realize that no matter what we get, it will never be enough.
So, you see how Scripture was used there in a way that it’s experientially true, right? Like, I know that’s true. And so, it’s drawing on the authority of the truth of the Bible without saying, “Hey, the Bible says it, therefore it is.”
And there’s a lot of biblical basis for having this approach. The apostle Paul was a brilliant example of this, right? In Acts 17, he’s in Athens. Right? And he’s speaking to these sophisticated Athenians, who have all these different gods and they are very intellectual. And he uses, he communicates the gospel without once referencing Scripture.
And you contrast that to Acts 13 when he’s speaking to these Jews in the synagogue and he uses Scripture to defend and make the case for the gospel. So, he knew his audience.
He knew what connected. So, if you read Acts 17:23 and 24, what you find is first thing he does is he compliments. Remember, we talked about affirming truth that people have, even if they don’t know that that truth is biblical.
So, we look for ways to affirm truth that people have. So, he compliments [the] Athenians on their interest in the gods. That’s a good thing, because they desire something beyond themselves. They desire the supernatural and, in fact, often you can find that today where people desire spiritual things and you can affirm that in them. So, that’s what the apostle Paul does.
The second thing he does is that he begins to reference their culture and their context. And he begins to speak truth from their context.
And he referenced and unknown god, right? And he quotes one of their poets. Like, today that’s like taking a pop song and taking lyrics and using that as a way to connect with someone. Right? So, he was very intimately aware of their culture, their context, and he drew on that to speak the truth, right?
And then he summarizes the whole biblical account of creation without referencing Genesis. He doesn’t say, “Well, in Genesis 1 it says…”
He summarizes the truth, right? Which, by the way, was in contradiction to their view of creation. But he summarizes it.
And then he calls his audience to repent. So it’s not like a soft message in which he kind of, like, is all happy and everything. He calls them to repentance.
and then he preaches, as we have talked about, he preaches Jesus. He doesn’t actually say the name “Jesus” but he absolutely preaches Jesus and the death and resurrection.
And then he invites people to respond. And what happens? Some rejected, some wanted to know more, and some believed. Basically the options we’ve got, right? You know? And so, it’s a perfect example, a biblical example of how Paul contextualized the gospel for his audience. And so this is the culture we are in. And this is the model that we need to follow.
The way you get to know the culture is you are with people, you know people, you understand them and then the Spirit gives you the wisdom to do it right. An Acts 17 approach to preaching the gospel clearly, inviting a response, showing them what that looks like.
The good thing also is when you have relationships there’s also the grace that you’re not going to say things right, but you build up enough credibility to work around that anyway.
And let me be clear, this is something you learn, you practice, and the Spirit works in your life. But the point is you can grow in your ability to communicate in the context that God has called you to.
And it’s going to look different. If you work in a corporate culture, there are different things that you’re going to be able to draw on and challenge as you speak the truth in your context. Or with your kids or at school, there are different contexts; it’s not all the same. It’s about knowing your audience and knowing how to communicate the gospel effectively where you’re at.
Alright, so, last point is that there is power in your own story. And this is probably the biggest thing that you should be prepared to do. It’s interesting, even the word “testimony” is a very religious word. And so, we tend to communicate our stories in very religious ways. And so, the challenge is can you practice sharing your story using the relevant language of the context you’re in? Because, and what is so cool about this is as you’re engaging in relationships, and asking people, “Tell me your story,” inevitably they’re going to ask you, “What’s yours?”
Or as you go through stuff, we talked about this, as they ask, “Where do you get the hope that you have? And you just heard that you have cancer. How is it that you are peaceful?” Can you tell your story - short, non-religious, that includes Jesus and the message of the cross?
And I would say you need to practice this. Write it down. Talk to, go with a friend or a spouse. Share your story, because it can be awkward, but if you’re not ready to tell your story, and, but not in the kind of churchy testimony way but in a natural, non-religious way, then there’s a problem. You need to be ready. So, this is a great opportunity and it also plays into the culture today where people are open to your story, right? It’s kind of the relativistic, “You believe what you believe, but…” so you’re able to draw on that. So, be prepared to tell your story.
And then the last key point is that you have to take a risk and invite a response.
This is often where we fall short. And this often why we’re not seeing the fruit is because we are actually falling short at the last moment. Anyone that is in sales will tell you you’ve got to give people the chance to say yes or no.
And, by the way, if they say no that doesn’t, that’s not the end of the relationship. So, at some point and at various points probably, you need to give people the chance to say yes or no to Jesus.
I’ve been in moments where I kind of, like, as a last resort said, “Well, do you want to receive Jesus?” And they say, “Yes!” And you’re like, “Oh! Okay then.” You know? And so, you’re kind of surprised. But I don’t think we offer people the chance to say yes or no to Jesus enough. And it’s another one of those cliff-jumping, risk moments. But I would encourage you, give people the chance. Give people the chance to say yes or no and then when you give people the chance, then you need to walk with them.
Now, discipleship relationship is critical. And we talked about this in the beginning, the whole idea of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, which says, “We loved you so much that not only did we share the gospel of God, but our lives as well.”
And what is really cool about a discipleship relationship is that it doesn’t start the day the person commits to a local church. It starts the moment they meet a follower of Jesus. And this is about an accurate definition of what is the Church? Because the Church is not just a group of people that meets together once a week on Sunday. It’s a group of people out in the world. And so, when they meet you in the world, they are meeting the Church and that’s when discipleship relationship starts. And it doesn’t even start necessarily after they made a commitment to follow Jesus. Often it starts before they make a commitment, because the idea is that you are intentionally walking in relationship with them, moving them closer to Jesus. That is what a discipleship relationship is. And so, you can do that with people even before they made a commitment to follow Jesus. We bring discipleship, which often means exposure to the Word of God and to prayer and to Christian community in their context so that they can continue to be an influence in their world.
The whole kind of context of this training is adopting a missionary mindset. And the missionary mindset is about being intentional about what we do and how we live. So, we guide people purposefully to see spiritual growth, make the most of every opportunity, and it should lead to multiplication, that you’re teaching people how to be disciples and to make more disciples. And then that’s the context that we are in.
And what is beautiful about that is that you might have three discipleship relationships, but the impact that that can have is exponential as they in turn have impact with others. And so, the liberating thing is that I don’t have to worry about reaching everyone. I can just reach those one, two, three people that God has put in front of me. And I can actively build that discipleship [relationship] with them, starting with a friendship, engaging in spiritual conversations, and introducing Jesus and the message of the cross. That’s the process.