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As followers of Jesus we are given a good news message to share with the world. Whether that is through messages as part of a church service or whether it is through the conversations we have with our friends, family and colleagues. The message hasn’t changed in 2000 years and yet the way it is delivered is constantly changing. So how do we convey the good news of the gospel?
When we fail to communicate the gospel clearly to our secular world we risk good news becoming irrelevant news.
Recently I have been preaching through the first couple of chapters of Acts, looking at the start of the church. As we came to the message of Peter on Pentecost I discovered some keys for sharing the gospel in a way that is relevant and powerful to our audience.
In our desire to be biblical Christians, we sometimes fall for the trap of simply lifting specific messages from the text, without doing the extra step of examining the underlying principles.
So here are 3 keys to communicating the gospel in our secular world – all from Peter’s message to the crowd in Acts 2:14-41. It would be worth reading this passage for a fuller understanding of what I now share.
1. Know Your Audience
Peter as he stands up on that Pentecost is aware of the crowd gathering around. He knows who they are. He begins his address “Fellow Jews…”.
So Peter pays attention to his audience. He knows them so well because he also is a Jew. He understands the questions they have, the doubts, the history and their outlook on life. He is not so different to them.
So he begins by affirming his understanding and identification with these people.
He recognises that Jews, particularly at that time, under Roman occupation, are awaiting the Jewish Messiah. The one who will come and save them from this occupation. By explaining to this audience why Jesus is in fact the one that they have been waiting for, he connects with a storyline that is dear to them.
He speaks of events that they themselves have witnessed – Jesus’ ministry and death.
He uses the Hebrew scriptures which they are familiar with to build a bridge and help them understand what is happening. He references King David multiple times, someone who the audience greatly reveres. By using David he lends himself some authority. It is like he says:
“If you don’t trust me, at least trust David”.
By connecting with, and understanding his audience he is able to create a convincing argument that Jesus is the Messiah they have been awaiting.
So Peter, masterfully leads the audience to a response by understanding who they are.
When we today share the message with the people around us, it is unlikely we will be speaking to the same audience!
So we must understand who we are speaking to and adjust accordingly.
When speaking to our secular culture for example it is unlikely they will be familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, or the bible at all. It is also unlikely King David is someone they respect and look up to.
We can’t assume people know the bible, believe it or even respect it. We can’t assume they have even a basic understanding of what God is like and often we will have negative reactions to what they term “religion”.
Were we to stand in our town centres and give Peter’s Pentecost message – it is unlikely we would see Peter’s response!
It is vital that we get to know our audience. The people we are trying to reach. What makes them tick? Where do we have points of connection? What questions do they have that Christianity speaks to?
2. Answer The Questions People Are Asking
Peter’s message on that Pentecost wasn’t a pre-planned event. He hadn’t been using the time of prayer and waiting in the upper room to brush up on his sermon notes. Rather as the Spirit arrives with all it’s strangeness and wonder Peter and the other 11 disciples find themselves simply responding to the crowd.
The message begins with Peter answering the question that the crowd are asking. “Are these people drunk?”
I love that this was his open door in – to share with the thousands who would gather. He simply answers the question by giving the back story to what is happening.
For us today this remains a helpful way in. Are we prepared to answer the questions that people are asking?
Sometimes in our desire to share the gospel with others we get caught up answering questions we wish people were asking, rather than answering the questions people actually have.
If we want to connect in a way that is meaningful perhaps we should start by answering the questions our secular world is asking?
For example – I suspect very few people who live in your neighbourhood are up at night asking the question – is the bible relevant to my life?
Rather the sorts of questions that are being asked might be:
- How can I find peace when life feels so busy?
- How do I parent my children?
- How do I overcome anxiety?
- How can we make the world a better place?
Think what you like of these questions, I suspect they resonate with our culture. Our faith in Jesus also has a lot to say on these topics and more.
So perhaps if we are willing to answer the questions people are asking it will become a doorway to the deeper questions that lead them to respond – to repent, be baptised and receive the Spirit, as Peter put it.
If you are really not sure what people are asking perhaps go and find out. Alternatively, like those first disciples, live in such a way that questions become inevitable from those around you.
Whichever way let’s answer the questions people are asking.
3. Anchor The Message In The Resurrection
Whilst much of Peter’s address on that Pentecost were about him engaging the audience, the crowd in front of him, the core truths directly apply to us today.
Peter speaks bolding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In his context these events were only weeks in the past – the people present would be aware of them to some degree.
Today we are called to do the same. The whole of our faith stands upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul puts it, if Jesus is not raised our preaching is useless and so is our faith.
Everything we believe stands not on our bible, as important as that is. Everything hinges on the event that is the resurrection. This is not just a picture or a metaphor for something other worldly. This is a historical event that happened and the gospels are books that confirm this.
There is much evidence surrounding the resurrection and if you haven’t studied this it would be worth reading some books to arm yourself with knowledge (This is one of my favourites on Amazon – The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus*).
As strange as it might seem to our secular, post Christian world – we preach about Jesus who died and came back to life. It is why we have hope!
So however we adapt our communication, the way we connect with our culture, we never lose the centre piece of the resurrection of Jesus.
Every generation has had to wrestle with how we best convey the good news of Jesus to the world around us. What have you found helpful as you’ve tried to make these incredible truths relevant?
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