Evangelism: How Long Does It Take? (Part 3)

In the last post in this thread (read part 1 here and part 2 here) I shared some observations about sharing the Gospel with Chinese people. Thinking of evangelism in China as ‘fast’ or thinking of it as ‘slow’ are both inadequate and potentially harmful to formulating a healthy missionary strategy. Granted, then, that (1) a Chinese person must understand the Gospel message in order to respond to the Gospel, and that (2) it usually takes a Chinese person a longer time than unbelievers in some other cultures to understand the Gospel, what should our sharing of the Gospel with Chinese people look like? In other words, since it’s going to take a while for them to understand the Gospel, what shoud we do? Here’s five answers…

We should give the Gospel to Chinese people…

1. As clearly as possible

As was mentioned in an earlier post, Chinese people do not readily understand many of the concepts and terms that we are accustomed to using in our explanation of the Gospel of Christ. It is so important that a Gospel preacher weigh his every word to be sure that his audience hears the message in a way they will understand. Please note: ‘in a way they will understand’ should not be read as ‘in a way they will agree with.’ Far too much of cultural adaptation aims to spin biblical truth into a form acceptable to the hearer in their unregenerate state. In case you’re wondering, you can so dull the blade of the Gospel that it no longer wounds a Chinese person – and consequently no longer saves a Chinese person, either. If our presentation of the Gospel elicits no more than a shrug and a disinterested ‘okay-sure-I-could-accept-that-I-guess,’ then our message has simply not been understood. The Gospel, faithfully communicated, is either the aroma of life or the stench of death!

2. As often as possible

I have no idea what the real number would be, but suppose that it takes five hours of teaching for the average Chinese person to be able to explain the content of the Gospel back to you. If that were the case, and that Chinese person came to church once a week, it might take them a couple months to reach that level of understanding. Which naturally leads us to conclude that we might want to meet with them outside of regular church services. Meeting with someone several times a week would enable you to reach that critical hour much earlier. This becomes even more obvious when you realize how much dialogue is required to ensure that an individual’s questions are being addressed adequately. In reality, while one-on-one conversations and church services are both valuable in moving a Chinese person closer to understanding, one or the other may be more useful at a given point along the path. One thing is clear: settling for half an hour a week is not the way to go.

3. As much as possible

Meaning, with as many different people as possible. If you are aiming to plant a church in China and hoping to gather a core of believers, it is best to have as many fishing lines and nets in the water as possible. If it takes Chinese people longer to understand the Gospel, and if a large percentage of them will finally decide to reject it (as they will), then it would not be wise to concentrate all our energies upon teaching any one unbeliever. Nor does our Commission leave us much room to do so. This does not mean that we should make large gatherings the main focus of our evangelistic effort (though they will certainly play a part). It does mean that we should meet as many people as possible, develop friendships with as many as possible, introduce Christ to as many as possible, and study the word with as many as possible. Too often a missionary will focus all his efforts on the handful of unbelievers that he happens to know at his moment. To fulfill our mission, we must constantly look towards the millions we don’t know yet.

4. As urgently as possible

This is not an exhortation to ‘close the deal.’ If someone does not understand the message we proclaim, there is no place for pressure. But when someone does have all the facts of the Gospel in front of them, and no significant questions remain unanswered, a call to respond to the Gospel is certainly appropriate. There is a certain ideal among some who have a particular distaste for deceitful evangelism tactics that believes no call to repentance and faith should ever be issued. While it is true that some people come to faith in Christ spontaneously as they hear the Gospel (a la Cornelius), it is equally true that the preacher can hardly call his presentation of the Gospel complete without a call to respond in the only proper way: repentance and faith. While we should not pressure unbelievers with our personalities, it is right and proper to make them feel the great weight of the truth we’re communicating. After they have heard the Gospel clearly, urge them not to trifle with the staggering import of the cross of Christ, but to save themselves from a wicked world! This doesn’t mean we impose a crisis upon them – leave that to the Spirit – but it is to appeal to the truths of the Gospel, imploring them not to hear in vain.

5. As confidently as possible

What hope do we have of a Chinese person coming to Christ? None without the power of God! But the power of God is exactly what we can count on to accompany the faithful proclamation of his word! This is the significance of Paul’s declaration in the last chapter of Acts. He denounces the Jewish people’s rejection of the Gospel and states that this great word of salvation has therefore been directed to the Gentile peoples. And they will hear (28:28)! Meaning, unlike those Jewish people at Rome who were hearing, yet rejecting, the Gospel, there would be many among the Gentiles who would hear and receive the grace of God. Paul certainly didn’t mean that every Gentile was going to believe the Gospel, but he did mean that he fully expected there to be many who would respond in faith to it. Thus, no missionary should expect his preaching to be met with perpetual, wholesale rejection. If I shared the Gospel with a hundred people yesterday in China, and every single one of them rejected the Gospel, that tells me absolutely nothing about the likelihood of someone believing the Gospel tomorrow! That is easy to affirm; terribly difficult to live by! When we meet with unbelieving Chinese people, our hope for their salvation is not found in any particular disposition of their culture, but in the unrestrained power of God to save! Hence Spurgeon’s opinion that a preacher of the Gospel ought to be disappointed if no one is converted after the preaching of a sermon. We know he has the power. We weep, pray, and wait for him to use it!

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