I’ve been concerned as we have been training in various locations. We have been training people in how to share the Jesus story, Creation to Christ stories, the basic gospel message. I’m quite shocked at the number of pastors, church planters, elders and local believers who seem to have little understanding of what the gospel is. Many are not able to easily and clearly share a simple gospel story. Some of those unable to do this have been through credible Christian training and discipleship programs. This is worrying.
Many things contribute to this problem, but the main root of this problem is the model these dear ones have seen. The gospel they have heard, the style of evangelism they have seen modeled, is one where people are told that if they become Christians, God will bless them. God will heal them. God will help them. Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but this is a very incomplete gospel. If this is the foundation of the gospel on which we try to make disciples, we can only expect weak and conditional faith. We can expect to be accused by opponents of Christianity of trying to convert the simple minded with enticements and manipulative methods. What they say, if this is all the gospel we share, will indeed have some truth to it. This situation is cause for grave concern and serious efforts to bring about change.
In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles…”(NIV). If our gospel presentations do not include Jesus crucified, risen and coming again, we are not sharing the gospel. The message we communicate must be about Jesus; why he came, why he died, how he rose and what it means for us today. We must speak about sin, repentance, and how Christ’s death on the cross paid the price for us to be restored in our relationship with God. We must share about how His sacrifice made a way for us to know God, have our sins forgiven, and to become spiritual children of God. This seems obvious, yet in many, many places, this is not the gospel message that is preached, nor do ordinary believers in the churches we have planted know how to share it simply and effectively.
God’s love and goodness, His power to heal, deliver, provide, free, protect …this is all part of the good news. I’m not saying leave those out, they are definitely part of the message! We can not give in to the temptation, however, to leave out the vital message of why Jesus had to die in order for us to be saved. Yes, its hard to communicate about sacrificial death to a high caste Hindu or a Buddhist. It may take time for them to understand it. This was true for the Gentiles of Paul’s time as well. For the post-modern American, it may come across as cruel and they may question why a good Father would ever dream of asking His son to die such a terrible death. Its still the message we must share. We can not…we must not..remove the cross from our message. To do so, will not lead to more true disciples, it will lead to fruitlessness. I can’t say this strongly enough.
Contextualize, adapt, pray for the sick, cast out demons, and heal people! By all means do! I long for more outpouring of God’s power through every team I train and in my own life as well. People need to see demonstrations of the Kingdom, of God’s goodness and love! They also need to hear the gospel in ways that make sense in their cultures and worldview. I long for every team and church planter to have a great understanding of the language and culture of the people they are reaching. I pray for more of both of these things (better understanding of culture and greater anointing) in my own life every single day.
Just don’t remove the cross. In the message of the cross lies the greatest and most foundational truth of the gospel. Lets share it and train everyone we disciple to share it clearly and simply as well. This message, to those who are being saved, will be “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18 NIV).