George has been pushing me to answer how to tell his friend about the gospel. He’s not quite happy with my answer yet, but that’s OK. I’m suggesting that the best way to do this is to first grasp the Gospel in all its fullness and not settle for the bullet points. I realize that this doesn’t seem like the most practical step to take. We’re all busy and we live in a Coles or Cliffs Notes world. But if we’re really serious about communicating the biblical message, we’d better learn it first. It’s not that we have to tell everyone everything we know. As Ron Martoia writes, to communicate well you always have to be a couple of levels above the level of the material you’re communicating. “You have to have knowledge at level seven to communicate well at level five.” My doctor knows much more than he tells me when I visit him. At least I hope he does, or I’m in big trouble. So that’s the first part – getting to know the rich, expansive, multi-layered story of God better. Hard to argue against really. The other practical thing we can do is to work hard at sensing how people’s lives and yearnings connect to the God story. This is harder to do if your God story is only a few bullet points. In Static, when a couple pushes Ron about what they’re going to say to their friend about the gospel, Ron surprises them with his response.
“Yeah, but, Ron, what do we tell Marty?” Jess was nothing if not persistent. We were a mile away from Outback now. She was feeling that the impending encounter was just minutes away, and she was trying to hasten us along. “How about nothing?” I asked. “What?” Jess stopped tapping on the dashboard and slapped her hand on her knee. “How about listening for the ‘hints’ in the conversation? How about a commitment not to tell Marty anything for a while? What if we decided to learn how to ask good questions first? And what if we decided to listen carefully? What might happen?” …Jess let out a sigh. “Isn’t that really just giving up, Ron?” “Or is it really learning to love Marty?” I countered. “Learning to appreciate him? Learning to discover who Marty is? Is it learning to look for God, who is already at work in Marty’s life? Is it really the more difficult work of connecting a real person–with his own issues and problems, emotions and pet peeves, challenges and potential–to God? Okay, I admit it, Jess. It’s not easy and quick. It doesn’t fit on a napkin. It’s not a sound bite. But it may be what’s required. If we don’t do that, then we may miss what God is doing long-term in Marty’s life. We may miss the variety of ways in which God wants to connect to all the different ‘Martys’ he has placed on Main Street, in Jackson, or wherever.”
I saw this happen last year. My role was more of a bystander (midwife?) to what God was doing, rather than salesman. I’m pretty sure that canned gospel presentations aren’t the best way to connect people to the God story. Getting to know the story, and then helping people connect to it in a way that’s in line with how God is working in their lives, is far better I think.