Australian evangelist John Smith questions whether many of the methods the Church uses in evangelism work today.

John Smith
John Smith

There is no question in my mind that the Church still believes people in our post-Christian era have an underlying understanding of the foundations of the gospel. Evangelism continues to be a repeat of old-world style images to audiences which very often are the minority expression of our culture.

Most evangelistic meetings are made up of people who have church contact, or have had it in the past. The vast field of our pagan community is not touched by most conventional forms of evangelism. Let me list what I believe are some of the reasons.

- In general, the Church and evangelists are simply not going where the people feel at home.
- The accoutrements of evangelism, such as music and story forms, are not suited to the increasingly secular nature of people to whom we minister.
- American evangelists, and to a lesser extent our own, have ministered in such an extremely right wing vein that the other half of our society does not take them seriously as a thinking and relevant part of our culture.
- Very few religious figures are seen as people with whom the average person can feel confident or comfortable. It is worth remembering that, even though Jesus was crucified, in general during his days of ministry "the common people heard him gladly" (Mark 12:37, KJV). The style of New Testament apostles was such that they enjoyed "the favour of all the people" (Acts 2:47). It tended to be those who had power and privilege in both the time of Jesus and the apostolic era who sought to undermine the confidence of the common people in these leaders.
- In a society as fragmented and broken as ours, I seriously doubt that any form of evangelism will be taken very seriously in the future unless it demonstrates, in social and observable ways, the power of the gospel it proclaims.
- There are a number of significant groups in our society that have been virtually overlooked by methods of evangelism in my lifetime. These include artists, the labour movement, the rock generation, teenagers, social and politically dissident groups, the top strata of business management, politicians and so on.
- The Church has not taken seriously the significance of the media. It has failed to produce a presence and a content which is acceptable in both quality and relevance, particularly for TV and radio audiences.
- By and large evangelism has evaded the hard work of intellectual inquiry in developing an apologetic which is tough in its mind but tender in its heart, and translatable into the language of the ordinary people.
- Until the last decade or so, there has been a lack of relationship between evangelism and social care. Evangelical organisations may have affirmed the need for prison ministries, for caring for the homeless, for compassion to AIDS victims. But mostly they have not been marked by either adequate intellectual critique of our society or practical responses to those in need. The consequence is that our converts have been un-biblically privatised in their worldview and have failed to sense the social consequences of the claim to new birth.
- In preaching the Church has failed to find linguistic patterns and images that show sympathy for people's aspirations and culture.

Acts 17 is a classic chapter in understanding the need to have an adequate understanding and application of the gospel to the anthropology and sociology of the people to whom we minister.

The movements I have been associated with over the last 20 years have developed their approaches by battling their theology through in the context of everyday life. God has called us to a wholism in the gospel that demands hard work, diversity of methodology, creative risk and development of models which earth the gospel and express it in concrete forms.

The world needs to see evangelists who are going to the places where the alienated are, who are involved somehow in concrete expressions of love and who are able to articulate in the public forum -whether it be radio, television or the print media - that the gospel makes sense in a world that isn't making much sense. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.