This article is a contribution from Daniel Im, who you can meet at Praxis 2017 by signing up HERE. Prices go up on 8/23.
I remember walking through my college cafeteria with the Four Spiritual Laws in hand looking for people who might be interested in having a spiritual conversation with me.
Sometimes I’d open up the conversation with, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?” Or I’d ask, “On a scale of 1–10, how interested are you in spiritual conversations?”
I was often rejected. Other times, I was met with skepticism. And on the odd occasion, I was actually able to share the gospel and see that individual discover a new life in Christ.
While evangelism strategies that rely solely on the verbal proclamation of the gospel still have their place, they are definitely waning in influence. The solution is not necessarily to swing the pendulum the other way and just live out the gospel and love people to conversion, either. Tim Keller frames it well in Center Church:
If the gospel were primarily about what we must do to be saved, it could be communicated as well by actions (to be imitated) as by words. But if the gospel is primarily about what God has done to save us, and how we can receive it through faith, it can only be expressed through words. Faith cannot come without hearing.
Since the gospel is more about what God has done than what we can do, it needs to be proclaimed through words. But since crusades, street preaching, and spontaneous evangelism are waning in their effectiveness and influence in many parts of the West, we need to figure out different ways to invite non-Christians into the types of environments where they can hear the gospel proclaimed to them.
This is why we need a “both/and” approach to sharing the gospel!
Learning to Walk and Talk
There needs to be something different about the way Christians live that forces non-Christians to ask questions.
If a non-Christian looks at your life and sees the same fruit, or lack thereof, as theirs, they will see your faith as mere empty religious behavior. Isn’t that why Peter urges us to live as “foreigners and exiles” and “to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11)?
We need to live as outsiders and be distinctly different from society. We need to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12).
We Are Not Lone Wolves
It’s important to understand that this is not a solo effort. Though Western culture is staunchly individualistic, the Scriptures aren’t.
In 1 Peter 2:12, Peter isn’t talking to an individual; he is talking to the church corporate.
We know this because he uses the plural form of “you.” It’s like Peter is saying, “Now y’all live such good lives….” It’s the same way with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is saying, “Y’all are the salt of the earth, and y’all are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13–14).
(Y’all… I guess living in the South is rubbing off on me.)
Seriously though, this plural use of the word you has massive implications for the way we need to live out our faith.
Since these passages are written to a community, rather than an individual, you cannot actually live these out alone! God has intended for the gospel to be lived out and proclaimed together in community. Isn’t that why we have the body of Christ, rather than the individual of Christ? “For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14).
I’m convinced that the early church saw the results they did because they both preached the gospel in word and lived it out together in deed. The early church understood that when they functioned as God intended them to, they would be a living demonstration of the gospel.
Lesslie Newbigin put it well in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society: “The only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.”
In other words, a congregation that believes in the gospel and lives out its implications together as a community is the way the gospel comes to life. A healthy church is how the gospel takes on flesh today.
A healthy church is how this lost world will actually “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). And it’s precisely through experiencing the gospel lived out through healthy churches that this lost world will want to hear the gospel.
How can you live in a way where the gospel comes to life?
Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is director of church multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay and author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (B&H Publishing), from which this article was adapted.