In the past, when the culture, school system, and world view was Christian, when you talked about Jesus and accepting him as your personal Savior, most people knew what you were talking about. They may not have believed it, they may not have thought it applied to them, but part of their cultural worldview was a Biblical view of the historical Jesus. Again, they may not have accepted it personally but they knew the facts about who and what they were rejecting. It is very different today.
Now, when you mention Jesus, you need to be very complete and clear what Jesus you are talking about. Are you talking about:
- A Jesus who is in every person, a sort of divine spark, which is what many new-age folks believe?
- A Jesus who was a first century Jew and who did good works and taught ethical precepts, but was not the Messiah, as Jewish people believe?
- A prophet, but not the prophet, as the Muslims believe?
- Or are you talking about the eternally existing second person of the Trinity, who came to earth, died, was buried, physically rose from the dead, and who is coming again, which is what evangelical Christians believe?
This is just the start of what you need to completely communicate about Jesus: his life, substitutionary death, his physical resurrection, his intercession for us today, his coming return. All of these truths are not part of most people’s current world view. You cannot assume that people have any knowledge of them when they come to your church. You can’t ask them to commit to a savior if they don’t even know who he really is.
A practical example of the dangers of incomplete communication about Jesus
Imagine it is Christmas and your church hosts a Christmas concert: wonderful organ music, uplifting choir pieces, moving poetry, and Bible passages all as background to a moving Christmas pageant. In the beautifully designed program (that the church communicator worked for hours to create and that cost a small fortune to print), is the statement:
If you have not accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, we trust that the joy of the music and message will so fill your heart that you will accept the true peace and joy of Christmas and become a Christian.
I do not want to be cynical, the Spirit can move in any way he desires, but if a person would then check on a card that he or she responded to this message, what does that mean? Does that person have any idea of the complete gospel message? Of the Jesus of history and not just the Jesus of beautiful hymns? Of cross-bearing and the crucifixion of Jesus and not simply Jesus the tiny baby in a manger? You may feel that you shared the gospel, that you challenged people to become Christians, but if someone responded to this incomplete gospel presentation, what really happened?
The early church required that potential converts go through a lengthy teaching time of many weeks and in-depth instruction before they were allowed to publicly proclaim their faith and be baptized. If we are not careful to completely proclaim the Christian gospel and completely teach people what a response to that gospel involves, we may be responsible for souls who think they have become a Christians but who are tragically, completely wrong.
Beyond the details of events and the essentials of salvation
The need to be complete goes beyond being certain we have all the details of events in place, though this is very important if we want to connect people with life-changing events. Being complete also moves beyond being certain people understand what it means to become a Christian, though that is the essential starting point.
We must also be complete in preparing our people to defend the faith. If we don’t take the time to completely explain, defend, and teach in depth about our faith, our people will be unprepared for those who oppose the Christian message, but who take time and care to completely put forth their false teachings. Though this component of effective church communications is most emphasized in Step 4, INSTRUCT; we must keep it in mind in every step of our communication ministry.
The challenge of those who do not believe the biblical, Christian message are sometimes more complete in their communications than we are.
The enemies of our faith are complete in their attacks. For example, a New York Times best-seller, Misquoting Jesus, the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman, has been weakening and destroying the faith of many for years. Ehrman, who claims to have been a believer at one point in his life, drones on and on and on for 218 pages, in complete (though often distorted) detail, about why we cannot trust the Bible. His book is not difficult to refute, as his logic is faulty, his conclusions dubious, his seemingly shocking statements about supposed biblical inconsistences hardly news to any reputable biblical scholar. In addition, for any so-called scholarly author to use himself and his books, again and again as a primary citation of the truth of his facts, as Erhman does, is ludicrous.
But he is complete in a rambling, false, repetitive way and for a casual reader the simple volume of his argument is persuasive. I am not recommending his method, but it is effective.
Why his volume of distortions convince people
We somehow assume that if an author or authority takes the time to expound on a topic in detail and depth that it is important. Conversely, if we aren’t told about or taught about an important topic in depth it is easy to assume it is not very important. Consider the above two examples:
1. A Christmas gospel presentation of one paragraph.
2. A lengthy book detailing why the Bible can’t be trusted.
Based on the sheer volume, number of citations, seeming care and time taken to explain each topic, it would seem that author of the book about the Bible took his topic much more seriously, that he obviously cared enough to research and write about it in more detail. An uniformed seeker might consider it more true because of its completeness.
In contrast, a challenge to consider an eternity-changing decision presented in one brief, emotional paragraph, doesn’t have the same apparent importance. You may protest that a Christmas program is not the place to do into a lengthy, apologetic discussion of the Christian faith and that’s true. However, the lack of space in the program does not mean we should not explain the plan of salvation in its completeness.
Here is where the communication tools we have today and the ability to do multi-channel communication can be useful. We don’t have to put the complete details about salvation in the Christmas program. Keeping in mind the multi-channel resources we have, in the Christmas program, could be a short statement like this:
Becoming a Christ-follower is a decision that will change your eternity and the way you live the rest of your life on earth.
Don’t make the decision lightly. To explore what it means to be a Christian, please check out our website at www.churchwebsite.com.
There you’ll find answers to questions, links to explore the faith, and email addresses of folks waiting to interact with you. Not wanting to go there? Call 555-5555 and there will be someone to talk to.
We need to take time to be certain the messages of our church and the gospel are presented in completeness. Yes, setting up a complete web links, finding and training people to interact through email and the phone is difficult and time-consuming. But, if the enemies of truth can take the time to do this, we can do no less. Even if you can’t go into this much detail, at least including a well-done tract would be useful, but without anything more than a brief mention to consider Jesus, it’s hard to take the challenge to consider Jesus as Savior and Lord seriously.
One more note: An in-depth, complete critique and series of articles showing the falseness of Bart Erhman’s thesis is available on www.equip.org, the Bible Answerman’s website. In addition, one of the most complete apologists of the Christian faith is Lee Strobel and his book, the Case for the Real Jesus, deals with Erhman’s and other current critics of the Bible and Jesus and provides in-depth answers to their false claims. I highly recommend both sources and have used them prior to Christmas to do a series of lessons on Why Jesus is the Reason for the Christmas Season.