This is a great time to be a Christian. Not an easy time—but an exciting one. I know it doesn’t look that way. Spend a few minutes on your social media feed, and you’ll see just how lost and broken we are right now. Ours is a world full of contradiction and confusion. And it’s not a great place to be a Christian: We’re now seen by most of the world as intolerant and irrelevant. Yet, while the end of Christendom may surprise and scare many us, that’s not true of God.
Our culture is changing every day, leading to an endless list of new challenges and questions for the Church, but here’s the thing: God isn’t phased by it. He’s not sitting back wondering how this “post-Christian” thing is going to play out. He’s still the same, and His plan hasn’t changed. I don’t know if you’ve checked your Bibles lately, but Matthew 16:16-19 tells us that nothing—not even the gates of hell—shall prevail against the mission and people of God.
And in a time so confusing, so transient, so difficult, God is calling us to be bold and strong—to have courage. He will accomplish His purposes. He will carry out His mission. And He is inviting us to join Him in making disciples of Jesus Christ among all tribes, tongues and nations despite the social climate. Though our world is changing, our purpose hasn’t. He has put us in this time and place with a purpose, and our world is as ripe as ever with opportunity to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. After all, it’s on the margins, in the trenches, where the Church has always thrived the most.
Yet, as exciting as this opportunity may be, we still have to answer the question: OK, but what does evangelism, what does making disciples, look like in our post-Christian, post-modern, post-truth, post-everything world? Put simply, how do we share the Gospel in the age of unbelief?
It All Starts With Hospitality
In all times and places, but perhaps even more so in this current cultural climate, I believe that evangelism almost always starts with hospitality. That might sound strange, especially seeing how this idea of hospitality got hijacked by Martha Stewart and became less about a way we live our lives and more about how we decorate and prepare meals for the seasons. But when you look at the Bible, you see just how serious God is about hospitality—real, genuine, biblical hospitality.
Looking at the whole of Scripture, this idea of hospitality is everywhere, and it’s usually tied to loving and welcoming those who are considered aliens, strangers and outsiders—anyone outside your circle of friends. It’s about opening your life and your home to men and women who don’t think like you, look like you or act like you. That’s biblical hospitality, and it’s all connected to the reality that God is hospitable. Even when we were living as his enemies, God came and saved us. He opened the door and invited us into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.
As we show others the same welcoming love God showed us, we reflect our Creator and model what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. But it can also create an entry point for living out the Great Commission and evangelizing our neighbors, especially in the age of unbelief. It’s not the silver bullet for doing evangelism in the 21st century, and it’s our calling regardless, yet I’m convinced that our cultural context and political landscape, this sort of biblical hospitality will take some folks by surprise and open up the door for opportunities to make disciples.
Finally Sharing the Gospel
As we strive to be the people of God living out the mission of God in our cynical, polarizing world, showing hospitality where we love the outsider, engage and welcome everyone we meet, and invite them to dinner, we will have opportunities to not only show the Gospel but to actually share the Gospel. Because at the end of the day, we can preach the Gospel with our lives, but words are ultimately necessary. There comes a point where, out of love, we must be bold and courageous to sit down with our neighbor and tell them about the good news of the Gospel.
Here are four ideas on how we might go about that as we seek to make disciples amid these new, challenging times:
Find Common Ground
Even though we’re living in a world where many people are leaving the Church and don’t consider themselves to be Christians, I really don’t think there are many staunch atheists out there. Yes, our world is disenchanted and secular, but I still believe people are searching for something. They are eager for more. This means, when we approach these conversations, we don’t need to assume that everyone hates God or hates Christians. Now they probably have some serious problems with our faith and perhaps some deep wounds, but I find that they are often open to talking about spiritual, meaningful things. They have many of the same questions and concerns that we have about God, life, evil, suffering and so on. It’s helpful to identify and hold on to those places where we relate and connect.
Share Your Personal Story
We are narratival people, drawn to and shaped by stories. It’s a part of our DNA because, well, we’re all caught up in God’s bigger story. And because our culture today is so story-laden and driven, it’s important that we share our personal stories. Over and over, we see in Scripture the power of testimony, and the book of Acts tells us to be prepared to give a defense of our faith. This is Paul’s exact approach in Acts 26 before King Agrippa: He starts with his personal story before preaching the Gospel. Where people might be turned off by Christianity and the Gospel, I still think they’re open to hearing our personal stories.
Share the Actual Gospel
We’ve always been called to preach the full Gospel, but there was a time where handing out a tract out or focusing on a very specific part of the Gospel worked. I’m not knocking those methods. That’s how so many people in my life were saved. Yet, I’m not sure how well they work today, especially in the West. No longer can we ask someone if they think they’d go to heaven or hell if they died today because they may not have a framework for those things or may have a very different framework because they’re a different religion.
More than ever, our Gospel presentations need to include the explicit Gospel, what I call the Gospel in the air and the Gospel on the ground. We need to tell people both about the grand narrative of the world: creation, fall, redemption and restoration and the bigger story of the kingdom (the Gospel in the air). But we also still need to tell people about how they can play a part in that narrative, about personal salvation and forgiveness of sins (the Gospel on the ground).
Pray, Pray and Pray
We’re called to be people of prayer, casting our cares and needs upon the Lord and asking Him to redeem, heal and move by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in a culture growing increasingly hostile and noisy, where we have less of a voice and less credibility, I can’t highlight enough the need for prayer. Where we don’t get opportunities, we can pray. Where we don’t feel heard, we can pray. Where our story and presentation of the Gospel are dismissed and deprecated, we can pray. After all, there’s nothing we can do in our power and might to save ourselves—much less anyone else. Only God can save, and His arms are not too short to save the greatest of sinners, which means we must keep coming back to Him in prayer, begging and pleading for salvation.
I’m not saying by doing these things, you’ll be saving people left and right—as if we could save anyone by our own efforts—or that you’ll have the perfect strategy for discipleship, specifically evangelism, in the 21st century. But I do believe that, coupled with a warm dose of hospitality, these simple approaches give us a helpful shot.
Back to Courage and Hospitality
As dark and dire as the landscape may appear right now, as vast and venomous as it feels, we know that the battle has already been won—and that means we don’t have to fight. This age of unbelief looks big and intimidating for the Church, but it’s simply a small subplot in a bigger, better story—the greatest story ever told.
And, in a truly spectacular paradox, there’s a yawning chasm between God’s story and our stories. What I mean by that is that, while we know there are spiritual realities at work and significant things at play, we are called to simple, everyday faithfulness that works itself out in lives marked by hospitality. In some ways, it’s the big, flashy acts—the kind of stuff we photograph, slap a filter on and show all our ‘friends” online—that go most noticed yet require the least of us. In other words, when I think about evangelism in this current cultural climate, I’m convinced it looks more like inviting a group of strangers into your home for dinner than the attractive, successful ideas we have dreamed up in our minds.
These sorts of things actually require courage because they force us to rely on the Lord and His strength—and not our own. When we open up our homes and build friendships with those who don’t look like us, believe like us or act like us, we open up our lives and make ourselves vulnerable. We risk getting hurt and making enemies with those who don’t think the way we think or act the way we act. Yet we can do it because of the hope, strength and, yes, courage that we get from the Lord!
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in March 2018.
Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of teaching at the Village Church, a Southern Baptist church in Flower Mound, Texas, and the President of the Acts 29 Network.