Strategy & Marketing

The Sweet Spot of Sharing the Christian Message

We’re seeing a lot of criticism recently of pastors, writers, speakers, filmmakers as well as others about how they share the Christian message with the outside culture. Some are criticized for making it too easy – they lead with the “grace” message, and are hesitant to talk about tough issues like sin, hell, or punishment. On the other side, those who preach a more serious message about tough subjects are labelled as “out of date,” “insensitive” and “hard core.” I know the debate well because over the years, I’ve had friends and clients on both sides of the argument. But here’s the problem: It’s the wrong argument, and here’s why:

Today we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world. There’s more competition for people’s time and attention than ever. Which means that if you have an important message, your FIRST priority is to get that message heard.  I’ve said many times on this blog that no matter how great your message, if no one’s listening, you’ve failed. Getting a person to walk in the door of a church, turn on a radio or TV program, buy a book, or find you online is absolutely critical. Without that, there’s no impact, and no transformation.

That’s where having a bit of openness and grace comes in. I’ll give people a wide berth when it comes to getting folks in the door.  Will contemporary music help? Fine. How about a more professional presentation? Great. Valuing people’s time by keeping the service moving? No problem. Having hipper graphic designs or video presentations? I’m all for it. After all, why drive them away before you have the opportunity to present the message? It’s not about bait and switch – it’s simply creating an atmosphere and environment other people (not necessarily us) want to experience.  And we start by not making choir robes, drums, concert lighting, music styles, or the pastor’s wardrobe a theological or doctrinal issue.

So while I obviously wouldn’t excuse everything, the bottom line is – let’s do our best to get them in the door. Jesus was brutally honest (the woman at the well), provocative (when religious leaders caught the woman in adultery), unafraid of the spectacular (the loaves and fishes), outrageous (with the money changers in the temple) and amazing (when he healed the sick). He was a master at communicating and preparing people to hear his message.

But when it came to delivering that message, Jesus was unafraid to speak the truth. He did it with sensitivity and discernment, yet showed us that we do no favors by pulling punches. Study after study indicates that this generation is serious, they want to find purpose in their lives, and they want to make an impact. Social media is filled with millions of people pursuing great social and humanitarian causes. Rarely have we ever had audiences so interested in hearing about reality. Which explains why I’ve seen no proof that avoiding the hard questions hurts your message.

Don’t drop the ball on getting them ready to listen, but then don’t drop it when it comes to delivering the Truth.

It’s not about either/or – it’s about both/and.  Unless it’s taken to excess of course, it’s rare that either side is completely wrong – however in most cases, they’re only half right – because slanting either way ultimately undermines your impact and your message.  But the right balance is what it will take to change people’s lives and impact today’s culture.

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11 Comments

  1. Great points! As we seek to share God’s love with everyone it is vital that we don’t deny biblical truth. Truth without love is harmful. However, love without truth is as well. In trying to not offend the gay community we can wind up denying the Bible. If we neutralize a biblical sin, we have done injustice to the Word.

  2. Good stuff, Phil. Thanks. Your take reminds me of a parenting discussion I recently had with several friends about a mom who was tender, gracious and on the lenient side, making sure the children knew they had a safe place at home; and a dad who expressed and showed love yet was more strict and tough, pushing the children toward excellence. Each parent thought the other was taking the wrong tack. Which one was right? Easy: BOTH. Kids need both aspects: grace and high standards, love and spurring, mercy and truth. Ditto for the church’s approach to introducing non-believers to the Gospel. We need to be safe and welcoming, but also unafraid to speak the stark truth.

  3. Another option is to go where the people are, develop relationships with them in their world, sharing the radical truths of Jesus, and then, when you’ve earned their attention, bring them to your world–the church.

    1. You took the words out of my mouth Cindy. Jesus did not tell us to do whatever it takes to get them to come to a building. He told us to GO make disciple. How about we put all this time, energy, and technology into outreach instead of in-reach.

      1. That sounds very noble, F.L.. Jesus didn’t tell us a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. I don’t care where your audience is or who you’re witnessing to – indoors, outdoors, in the office, in church, wherever. My point is the same. If you can’t get them to listen, you’ve failed.

        1. Phil I understand what your saying. However, what is your definition of failure? One person listens make your message a failure. A thousand makes your message a success? Most people didn’t listen to Jesus. Does that make His message a failure? A planted seed sometimes takes a while to germinate.

          1. Well let’s see – we could nit-pick this all day, or actually reflect about the principle. Bottom line – strike the right balance between speaking the truth and getting that message heard.

          2. We both agree there should be a balance. However the success of which can not always be determined over night. “We walk by faith not by sight.”

  4. Finding ways to legitimately relate to the people you are communicating with, is an acquired communication skill. Those that have never consider or though about this aspect of communication will have a hard time understanding what you are talking about Phil.

    Early in my Christian walk I was hyper sensitive to how others reached out. Especially when I was in that “fish bowl” called Bible School. But now, when I experience a Reggae brother with all his dreadlocks and tattoos sharing the gospel in his vernacular, I smile and thank God for being so forgiving and loving to such a diverse bowl of fruit’s (me being included…well…me being included most of the time). 🙂

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