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Moving from a modern to a postmodern age requires a change in our approach to evangelism. When I began fulltime ministry back in 1985 I found that my evangelism efforts required three main components. First, I had to work to define the soul. Second, I had to demonstrate a deficiency in the soul (sin). Third, I had to present a solid argument and defense for Christianity and provide what Josh McDowell called the “evidence that demands a verdict.”
Today I find that the majority of people under age 40 believe they are spiritual beings and possess a soul. They believe there are forces that cannot be explained and are open to the supernatural though most have a negative inclination toward Christianity and are suspicious of the institutional church.
The societal change has required that I move from skilled debater trying to win the argument to open participant willing to engage and challenge others to consider the claims of Christ. I believe this is more like the age of the apostles than the modern age.
Today’s preChristian tends to belong, become and then believe whereas the generation past first believed and then changed behavior and then was welcomed into fellowship. This sets up a fair amount of conflict for moderns who are largely unwilling to have messy people in their midst. They want them to come to Christ but are often unwilling to allow them the time they need to process what that means.
A welcoming community helps them first belong. It welcomes them and loves them and walks beside. As the pre-Christian finds belonging he begins to adjust behavior and then comes to a place of fully believing.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means allowing the seeker the opportunity to get involved before he has inked his contract with Christ. It means changing our paradigm to recognize entry points that have traditionally been reserved for Christians only. Contracts and applications do little but erect barriers between the under 40 crowd and the opportunity to enter in and observe believers in action. Clearly some positions must be reserved to be filled only by people who have committed relationships with Jesus but are there others where we have been to aggressive in listing qualifications?
Ministries that profess wanting to reach kids with the gospel often send a clear message to kids that they are not welcome to participate until they change their behavior. No MP3 players, no smoking, dress codes, no cell phones, no skateboards and the list goes on. What does that communicate?. I think we are clearly communicating that they must first change their behavior before we will even give them the opportunity to hear the gospel.
I believe ministry is messy. I believe it was messy in Jesus’ day. Imagine a place where people extend grace and are more concerned about people than how they dress and whether they have tatoos or not.
Yes, I am a bit of a noncomformist. I pierced my ear for awhile a couple years ago (at 43) as an experiment. Sadly, I discovered biases that just about sunk me. Some were downright rude. My worth and credibility changed because of a stud in my ear.
People outside the church usually see us as a pretty uptight and self-righteous bunch. Why? Because we are.