I gave my book, Evangelism in Everyday Life, to a Hispanic man and asked if he thought it should be translated into Spanish. He kindly informed me, “It won’t work for my people.” He went on to say what I suspected to be true, “Evangelism must be culturally specific.” Good news is good news, but how we communicate God’s offer of forgiveness and relationship must be relevant to the hearers.
Years ago, when people used Evangelism Explosion, a biblically-based outline that explained the gospel, hundreds of adults accepted the Lord. Teens and young twenty year-olds were not as moved by the mini-sermon on “Heaven is a free gift.” The creator of this gospel presentation suggested adaptations in order to become relevant.
We now recognize the cultural differences between generations. At this point in my ministry, I recommend Christians look for innovative ways to share their faith. But I would suggest one method that seems to span cultures, languages and generations (I retain the right to change my mind due to feedback or changing times).
Tell A Story.
Oh, the power of a story! All generations and cultures pass on their history, values and religion through stories. This observation came from pastoring a multicultural congregation in San Jose, California. I listened to the stories of Ethiopian people who told how the military randomly killed people in their home country from which they fled. Southeast Asians recounted how the communists brutalized educated and influential people. Their stories of escape and their thanksgiving to God moved me to tears. American Blacks recalled oppressive times and lingering prejudices. They expressed hope for fair treatment, acceptance and safety. Their hope and prayers increased despite accounts of suffering and injustices. Hispanic people shared their salvation stories- -how God had forgiven and empowered them. They recited how God had made His presence and power known to them. These cultures expressed their identity, grief and allegiances through stories.
God also communicates through story-tellers. The biblical writers recalled the stories of God, His work and His will. Jesus, a masterful story-teller, teaches us about God through intriguing stories filled with surprises. Three times in the Book of Acts, Paul’s conversion story is told. These memorable stories greatly impact the hearer.
In Matthew 28, the word “tell” appears several times. The angel tells the two Marys to tell the disciples that Jesus is risen. A short time later, Jesus appears to them and tells them Himself. Meanwhile, the chief priest concocts a story about the disciples stealing Jesus’ body. The soldiers who guarded the tomb are told to tell this contrived story. (Someone will always be telling a story.)
Jesus then meets with His disciples and tells them to inform everyone what He has told them. At Pentecost, Peter, obeying the Lord, tells thousands of people about Jesus and His resurrection. John, another disciple, understands Jesus’ expectation to tell the story. He says in I John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
by Lyle Pointer
professor of Evangelism
Nazarene Theological Seminary