HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)’s 33rd General Assembly is being held this week in Colorado. The theme “In Christ Alone” was emphasized throughout the day on June 19 with a pre-assembly equipping workshop on evangelism and an evening concert of praise.
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey J. Jeremiah, stated clerk of the EPC, kicked off the pre-assembly equipping workshop with a reminder of the EPC’s GA priorities, which are:
- “Conducting the business of the national church, and
- “Investing time in equipping churches for the effective proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our communities, nation and around the world.”
He noted not only the expected record attendance at the General Assembly but also the overflow crowd at the pre-assembly event before introducing the presenters from The Institute at Cherry Hills, a ministry of Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Mark Mittelberg, co-director of The Institute, led off with a presentation on “understanding the secular landscape” in which he offered a visual presentation of how in addition to the sin chasm between the lost and God which is bridged by Jesus’ death and resurrection, our neighbors today also face an immense cultural chasm. We must bridge that chasm through relational apologetics, going into the culture where they live and no longer expecting them to come to us to meet needs they do not even recognize they have.
After laying the groundwork for his message through a series of powerful stories, Mittelberg offered seven “key elements that will equip and motivate us to better reach our world for Jesus Christ.”
1. People matter to God. Mittelberg noted that “Jesus’ motivation was the love of God for people, real people. If your evangelism is fueled by something other than love you need a new mindset. The fuel that is pure that will bear the right kind of fruit is love. Amy Grant had a song entitled ‘Love Will Find a Way.’ If we could really care about people the way God cares about people – Eph. 5:1 — then we would go and do anything and everything — and love would find a way.”
2. People are lost. Mittelberg admitted that saying so is politically incorrect but that the statement is true. Jesus came because people are lost. We go because people who matter are lost. He said, “No matter what happens, no matter what resistance we have, we are going stay true to the Scriptures and our calling.”
3. Christ alone. Mittelberg said, “All that come before, all the other alternatives, all others come to steal, kill and destroy. Yes, I know this is very politically incorrect — but if we get fuzzy on ‘nothing but the blood of Jesus’ then we start preaching a social gospel that does not lead to salvation. We must keep before us Romans 1:16: ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel’ because that’s where the power is!”
Throughout his presentation Mittelberg was adding to a pictogram, and the reality of the secular landscape began to come into view. The sin chasm that separates fallen humanity from God is now accompanied by a gaping culture chasm that moves them further and further away from the idea that they need a relationship with God at all. That culture chasm, Mittelberg said, is growing ever wider.
“There was a time when evangelism was an event. Times have changed. The culture chasm is now very wide, and evangelism is now a very long process,” he said, continuing to reveal the elements for equipping and motivating.
4. Answers to their questions and objections. Mittelberg began talking about the re-emergence and importance of Christian apologetics. He said, “Intellectual roadblocks have been erected over time, and those questions are real.” Questions like the veracity of the Bible, the exclusivity of Jesus, the presence of pain and suffering and evil, the apparent contradictions in the Bible. People are not willing to check their brains at the door. They want Christians to hear their questions. “Our calling,” Mittelberg said, “is to demolish arguments and strongholds that have set themselves up against God and then take every thought captive to Christ in obedience to Him. We have to learn how to answer real people with real questions about the real God.”
5. Community. Alluding to the Trinity, Mittelberg said, “We are made by a relational God for relational connectionalism.” He then acknowledged that people, no matter who they are and how they live, “will look until we find it — even if we have to find it in the wrong places. The Enemy is all too ready to rush in and give alternatives. The world’s substitutes take people further away from Christ.” Seeking to provoke those present to embrace their calling, he said, “We know the One who is the way, and we need to introduce people to Him — through community that takes people toward God. But to get there we have to invite people into the community BEFORE they are believers, before they are disciples.” Noting that most Christians only “know” other Christians, the call to include non-Christians in community is a personal and corporate challenge for the Church.
6. Relevancy. Mittelberg said, “People need what we’re presenting to them in ways that are relevant to them.” He quickly added that ,”I am not talking about compromise. We are not softening the truth nor watering it down — but we must learn to speak the language of the culture so that we can communicate so clearly with such relevance that when we’re done, they know they’ve been offended. People need to see the stumbling block, and we have to speak the language that people are speaking in order to bridge the culture chasm that must be dealt with before we can ever help people see the Way over the sin chasm.” He reminded those present of Paul’s willingness to “become all things to all people so as to reach one” and Hudson Taylor’s willingness to become as Chinese as he could become in order to reach people for Christ.
Mittelberg reminded his listeners that “we live in a foreign culture. We need to learn the language and not subject them to our language.” He went on to warn against the use of Christian jargon as well as the use of relevant illustrations and music. Learn to think this way, “I don’t like that music, but I love the people who like that music, and they are the ones I’m trying to reach with the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
7. Time. All of this takes time. Mittelberg said, “The further the culture moves away and a person moves away with it, the longer it takes for them to come back. They need time to weigh it, measure it, get mad at it, count the cost … evangelism in an increasingly secular world is a process. The time it takes today may require years of consideration before conversion.” Then he asked the question to the church, “will we be patient and tenacious — showing them love and concern — present Christ along with answers and community where they are invited to participate through ups and downs – for Christ to use in bringing them to Himself?”
In closing, Mittelberg said, “In order for this to happen, we have to move first. The Great Commission starts with the command to go and that is Jesus’ command to us, His disciples today.” Referring to the pictogram he asked, “When you look at this — do you yell across the chasm and call them to come to you? They don’t even hear us! But what if we over here who hear the voice of God respond to Him and actually GO into the world — ready with a defense to everyone who asks, prepared to demolish strongholds … and walk them back to the One who came that they might be saved?”
For more on this subject and to equip yourself and your church to reach secular people today, read and utilize the Contagious Christian book and resources.
Mark Mittelberg is a leading Christian strategist in evangelism and apologetics. After years of ministry at Willow Creek and Saddleback, Mittelberg now co-directs The Institute at Cherry Hills Church (EPC) in Highlands Ranch, Colo.