Have You Felt The Shift?
Canada, like most Western countries is shifting toward a post-Christian society. Upcoming generations have been jaded by the tradition of institutional church. And with a rising immigrant population, Western Christianity is being challenged.
We must evaluate and adjust our techniques in order to continue reaching the lost.
These thoughts stem from my journey, reading through Carey Nieuwhof’s book, Lasting Impact. Last week, I worked through Conversation 6, “What Cultural Trends Are We Missing?”
As I thought of Carey’s insight on cultural shifts and trends, the Apostle Paul came to mind. He was a cultural chameleon! He provides us with an excellent testimony and instruction on maintaining Gospel focus while shifting with culture.
Here’s a couple of techniques stemming from Lasting Impact, Conversation 6, but affirmed in Acts 21, as we listen to Paul publicly share the Gospel.
1. Earn Trust, Before Claiming Authority
- Lasting Impact, Ch. 6, “Cultural Trends Church Leaders Can’t Ignore (But Might)” principle 6 of 12: “Declining trust in authority.”
A riot has broken out in Jerusalem. The angry mob wants Paul killed for being a disciple of Jesus. The Roman Guard takes him captive for his own protection.
Here’s what happened next:
“37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’ 39 Paul replied, ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.’ 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: (22:1) ‘Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.’ 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.” (Acts 21:37-22:2a)
Paul balanced his authority with both the Roman Tribune and the angry mob.
First, the Tribune.
He could have stated his authority as a Roman citizen, demanding a charge be laid against him or demanding a forum to speak. Instead he submits to the Tribune, which seems to be a great strategy, leaving the Tribune in wonder.
- The Tribune doesn’t find out about Paul’s citizenship until later, explained at the end of Acts 22. At that point, the Tribune was quite nervous that he arrested a Roman without a formal charge.
Then Paul connects with the people.
This is really where his technique shines.
- He starts by speaking their Hebrew language. (Maybe even with a Jerusalem accent?)
- Next, he finds similarities, connecting with their city and a well-known teacher.
- Then he communicates his understanding of their beliefs (or perhaps, their right to believe).
- Finally, he describes his past authority within their context.
Note that Paul stated his authority comes last. Just like with the Tribune, the focus was on connecting with the people before laying down any sort of established authority.
This technique is just as crucial for us, as we share the Gospel in our shifting culture.
2. Transfer Authority, Pointing To Greater Purpose
- Lasting Impact, Ch. 6, “Cultural Trends Church Leaders Can’t Ignore (But Might)” principle 9 of 12: “Desire for greater purpose.”
Once Paul has established his authority within their worldview, he lays out his testimony with Christ.
“And he said: 3 ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 22:2b-8)
Any and all authority that Paul had was transferred completely to his Saviour. He begins to shift their legalistic system toward the New Covenant under Christ. He points them to the greater purpose of the Gospel.
Some accept the truth and some reject it.
This will be our experience as well. Connecting with our culture is an important strategic technique. But eventually, we must shift the focus onto Christ. This is the final technique, transferring the connection we’ve made into the Gospel, leading them to Jesus.
And we will witness the same mixture of accepting and rejecting that Paul experienced.
I want to make sure I give credit where credit’s due. Over the past couple of months, much of my content has stemmed from thoughts that Carey Nieuwhof introduced to me through his book, Lasting Impact. If you’re in ministry full-time or as a volunteer, order it today!
Join the Conversation, Leave Your Thoughts
In your opinion, how should we be sharing the Gospel within this post-Christian cultural shift?