In this edition of Beyond Words (Take 6) we will limit our observations to the recipients of our message— the billions of “normal people” across our country and world who span the gamut from cursory familiarity with the gospel to complete cluelessness about anything Christian.
To communicate our message to the diversity of people around the world we need to know their language, their cultural underpinnings, their mores and beliefs. Most missionaries know this. We need to know the extent to which their religious beliefs affect their daily lives. Some may adhere to a particular religion but hold no dedication to that faith whatsoever.
We especially need to know about peoples’ past experiences with the Christian faith— both positive and negative. Some people have had truly terrible encounters with our own “jerks4Jesus” set. Their prejudice seethes deep within. Others were raised in the church and have come to doubt the trustworthiness of any so-called Christians. Still more have had great encounters with Christians and have not ruled out Christianity as a viable guide for life, but…, not just yet.
Then there are differences in the way people perceive life; logical, artistic, as a responsibility, as a game, as a calling, etc. Science prone individuals are not going to put up with a simple gospel; for them, life is full of order and complexity. An artist will want a gospel with vibrancy and life to it. A mother of three— a gospel with some relief and rest. A builder will need to hear a Jesus who is practical that makes common sense.
So if you are asked “What is the gospel?” the correct initial response should be “For Who?” Not that you have to BE all these kinds of people, but at least you should LISTEN to them to understand their world a little better.
Peoples’ life experiences play a huge role in how they will respond to Christianity as a faith, and to individual Christians they may know. They may have already developed their own predispositions to who we are and what we say. To ignore their life experiences is to place your agenda of the gospel over against what God may have been doing in their lives for a long time.
The Truth never changes; but our job is to offer the crux of Christ’s message within the context of their life experiences, where they are on their journey…, not ours. Never forget that.
For what it’s worth,