As Christ ascended skyward into the heavens, he left his apostles with over three years of ministry experience, a central commandment to follow, and in awestruck wonder. Christ did not give his apostles a ten step program in how to develop the Early Church. No true structure was in place for leadership, neither was there was a ministry manual for them to get direction from. Once the Holy Spirit came down, the Church gained great power and breathe in its sails. The Church was a grass roots movement lead by the Holy Spirit. Unexpectedly, the Church rose from a small group of followers into a powerful force that turned many major cities within the strongest empire in the Western world on its head. Sadly, modernity has grasped its hands against the passions of believers and in so doing has stifled any action toward a similar movement of the Spirit. The Church has thrown its birthright of immeasurable promise to the dogs in exchange for finite pleasures.
Nevertheless, the Children of Light can regain their stature if they would only remove their lamps from underneath their well-worn couch from binge watching Netflix. Every major movement comes from the people; revolutions happen within the populous. When it comes to a societal change for the kingdom of God, it wont come strictly from the pulpit as much as it will come from those in the pews becoming conduits of Christ to the world around them. Therefore, a proper theology of evangelism must include cultural relevance, measurable character, and multiplicity.
Countercultural and yet Culturally Relevant Christianity
Whether Millennials choose to be misunderstood by nature or by rebellion, Millennials have sought for progress in many aspects of society. This has forced the Church to rethink how it should approach this generation. Evangelizing to Millennials does not mean that the Church should become more secular. Instead, people go to church for a reason. They are not looking for more of what they are receiving from the world. They are searching for something different. Christians by nature are countercultural; the Church has always been rebellious to the things of this world. For example, the Apostle Paul and his followers in Ephesus instigated an uproar in the city because they were causing a decrease in the worship of Artemis (Acts 19:21–40). In other words, they refused to go along with the status quo.
In much of the same way, the Church does not need to advertise itself as a parody of the things that entertain the minds of Millennials. Rather, the Church needs to be countercultural by staying true to the Word of God and the Spirit’s guidance. Concerning what it means to be countercultural, David Kinsman writes “[b]eing countercultural means bringing good faith—a vision for what is orderly and right, abundant and generous, beautiful and flourishing with life and relationships—to the broader culture” (Good Faith, 76). When the Church brings order amongst chaos in the life of the lost, that is when the Spirit is moving and winning hearts and souls for the kingdom of God. Making things right in the souls of the lost is much more impactful than making sure the Church has all new Apple devices to flash on stage in order to give a semblance of relevance.
A theology of evangelism requires believers who are willing to be relevant to the lost around them by learning how to live life with them. Believers must be willing to open themselves up to new friendships, to listen to the lost, to love on them in times of need, and to rejoice with them in times of prosperity. By building this type of relationship, believers are practicing the greatest commandment, namely loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:39). Evangelism flourishes when hospitality grows through inviting unbelievers into the believer’s space, not only for a Bible studies, but sometimes for lunch. Writing on hospitality, Kinnaman helpfully notes that “[h]ospitality creates households of Faith where every person can belong” (Good Faith, 139). Being hospitable to the lost allows them to be familiar and less guarded against Christians. This gives the lost the needed comfortability to see the abundant life. So, then, cultural relevance finds its place in evangelism not by the Church moving closer to the chaotic culture, but by its people breaking outside the bubble of familiarity and crossing into the culture to show the difference between love and chaos.
Morality, the World, and the Church
Morality is built within the framework society. Without morality, society would crumble under the weight of anarchy. Churches have always been the place in which morals are taught. However, in contemporary culture, morality finds its standard within the subjectivity of society. This type of morality is by nature divisive and finds its battle ground in Facebook posts. Millennial’s are heavily driven on social media; it only takes moments for them to make a moral judgement by simply “googling” it. If the Church is going to impact this generation, it must clean up its act. Since the Church is made up of fallen people, there will be sins that come into play within the Church. Although the Church is not perfect, it can perfect discipline within its walls, especially for people and leaders who fall into sinful behavior. If the Church is able to show that it is capable of handing its own immoral behavior, this generation will be more inclined to accept the Church’s faults. This is a very important aspect of what evangelism is because Millennials are strongly involved in movements of morality—whether its something to do with recycling to save the environment or becoming a vegan so they don’t have to consume animals. In sum, Millennials continue to show that they are aware of their morals.
Being relevant to the culture finds its partnership with having a Church that has measurable morality. Measurable morality means transparency within the walls of the Church, especially when it finds itself in need of repentance. This gives the secular world the sense that the Church is honest. In practicing true morality, the Church will be able to create a contrast to the world. Timothy Keller writes “[o]ur contemporary culture has a schizophrenia about moral commitments, has no good way to impart them to our children, and does not even have a good explanation about why we have such convictions.” (Making Sense of God, 184). Keller knows that the contemporary culture has no standing on which to impart morals to the next generation. Words like “good”, “evil”, “right”, and “wrong”, have no standing unless there is a true good that comes only from God. Having an anchor of truth to hold onto will only shine the light of Christ brighter in a world of subjective moral anarchy.
Multiplicity and the making of Disciples
Once relevance is established, and morality again has its anchor, the Church’s influence will grow and multiply. At the heart of evangelism is the outcome of gaining followers for Christ. Even when the Church goes out to evangelize there is a large gulf between those converted and those discipled. Speaking on this point Alan Hirsch writes “[w]e have not been successful at the task of making disciples, and therefore we were not fruitful in mission.” (The Forgotten Ways, 42). For all the gimmicks that the Church has come up with to garner people’s interests there is a lack of sticking power. For many churches it can be about the numbers they bring in for Christmas and Easter services. However, once the seasonal swell has gone the Church remains the same. True evangelism is when the work moves from introduction to conclusion. Evangelism is not just an introduction to Christ and then conversation; it is a life long task of the evangelist to ensure that those they convert grow and have a sustaining connection to Christ and the Church.
Discipleship has more sticking power than any other Church growth program. Countless sermons have been preached on the need for discipleship, yet for all the talk, action has been lacking. Hirsch again writes that “we built the model of the church on a consumerist model and in the end, paid the price.” (The Forgotten Ways, 42). The revenue has come in a form of numbers that is in the end fool’s gold and the price paid is genuine discipleship. Some Church leaders think that because numbers are up an impact is being made. Millennials see through this type of shallowness. They want to be involved, and they want to grow and achieve great things for the kingdom, but they need a chance to grow their roots. Once Millennials are engaged and equipped by the Church there will be a multiplication.
When Relevance, Morality, and Multiplicity Come Together
Patience is the essence of evangelism. There are moments in which a great harvest of people will come to Christ and then afterwards the patience of living with them and guiding them deeper in Christ happens. For the vast majority of evangelism, the patience comes in the form of gaining trust with those closest to the Christian. Living with those they love, showing christian character day in and day out, this is the hardest form of evangelism. Timothy Keller writes about the reason for belief, “the reason even the best possible world goods will not satisfy is because we were created for a degree of delight and fulfillment that they cannot produce” (Making Sense of God, 90). Christianity alone has the power to give the best possible satisfaction to the human heart. The Church must be able to make a concerted effort to give this gift away. The theology of evangelism is simple: be engaged with the world by living among them, be authentic in character, and be patient in multiplication. When the Church does this, the gospel will go out and reach the world for many generations to come.
Written by Cory Rocha