Providing a Relevant Witness
By Peter Amsterdam
Certain principles or concepts that have been accepted as bedrock in the West for the past half century are no longer as solid as was supposed. Principles such as “If you have a good education and work hard, you will get ahead” don’t apply in the same manner they did years ago. Many people feel insecure about their future. They have much less trust in governmental, religious, and educational institutions, or in the veracity of what they read and hear in the news and media. Even saving money has increased risk, as many financial institutions have failed, and whole countries are teetering on the brink of economic collapse.
Today’s cultural, societal, intellectual, secular, and moral environment, fused with widespread questioning, skepticism, and rejection of what have been accepted standards and values for years, has brought about a fundamental shift in many people’s values, ethics, worldview, relationship to authority, and their interactions with other people. For many it’s much more difficult to know what one can place trust in. While for some, conditions of the world and society may draw them to the message of the gospel, for others the environment of today’s world makes it much more difficult for them to relate to it, much less believe it or receive it.
This presents those of us who are committed to sharing the gospel with numerous challenges, not least of which is that we are called to bring a message about a man who lived and died and was resurrected 2,000 years ago—with the claim that this is the most important message they will ever encounter. No doubt Christians of the past have had challenges in their time periods as well, but today’s world is our challenge.
We are faced with the challenge of how we present Jesus in a manner that resonates with those we interact with, especially when in many countries non-Christians may hold values which cause Christianity to be seen as irrelevant to their lives and worldview. It can sometimes be difficult to bring up the topic of God, let alone Jesus, because widespread secularism, materialism, and intellectualism have supplanted belief in God and made Him irrelevant to their belief system.
Each person in every country or culture deserves and needs to hear the gospel. As Christians, we are commissioned to bring it to those in the country, culture, and community in which we live, in a manner that resonates with them. The message needs to be explained to those it is shared with in a manner that they can most easily understand and accept. This means that the delivery of the message, the tone, which aspects are presented, how it’s packaged, and the speed at which it is delivered will be different depending on the country and culture you live in, as well as, of course, the individual you are speaking with.
While the underlying fundamental message of the gospel is the same, the means by which it’s given—the way the story of Jesus is told, the aspects of the message that are highlighted, or in some cases minimized—is important to giving a relatable and understandable delivery of the gospel.
Part of the challenge is to find the delivery method that fits those you witness to. Many people today are wary of the messages they hear, and why wouldn’t they be? Every day on the Internet, on television, in the news, in advertisements, they are bombarded with messages that they need this, that, and the other, that this is the right way to think, the right position to take. To them the message of the gospel might seem like another advertisement telling them what they need, how to live, what will make them happy. People are often not inclined to trust such messages, because their experience is that many messages contain little or no validity. People are searching for answers, but many are cautious regarding where they place their trust.
Of course, what will attract some people to the gospel message in some places may put people off in a different place or situation. This is where the principle of becoming one that the apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 9 comes into play:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20–22)
This is an important principle which applies to cultures as well as to individuals. Paul was saying that it’s necessary to be relatable, to understand that people as well as cultures are different, and that to win them it’s important to recognize what relates to them, what’s important to them, and to meet them in that sphere of their interest or culture. Before they will show interest in what makes you different, they need to recognize those things that you have in common with them, to see that you are relatable and not disconnected from the issues they care about.
To reach the people in your city or your country, or those you work with in your job, or your neighbors and acquaintances, it starts with understanding them, their culture, and what they value. It’s important to relate to them, so that they can come to trust you as an individual, and in trusting you they can be open to hearing what you tell them about God, about His love, about His Son.
The world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. To be effective in reaching others with the gospel, it’s necessary to adapt to these changes, and to deliver the message to others in a way they can understand.
It pays to learn to understand people’s culture and relate to them within their culture. What are the people where you live or work talking about? What are their passions, worries, and concerns? What motivates them; what makes them tick? What principles do they hold? What are their value systems? What is their personal world like?
Seek the Lord about how you can both show and tell the story of His love for those around you in a manner they will understand. It’s helpful to periodically pray about whether your current delivery methods are relevant and effective in reaching people. Ask Him to show you what actions, what symbols, what words you can use that will make it possible for them to comprehend the love God has for them.
Similar to Paul, certainly one of Christianity’s greatest witnesses, let’s be able to say, “I have become as one of the people of the country I live in, in order to win them. I have learned to understand them, to sympathize with them, to live like them to the point where I can say I am one of them, that I may win them. I have become one with the people in my workplace, my school, my neighborhood, my club, in order that they may get to know me; and in knowing me and feeling the Holy Spirit within me, they can get to know Him who gave His life so that they may have life eternal.”
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