Telling the Jesus story

Published 10:38 pm Friday, May 13, 2016

By Rev. Chris Surber

Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped, “Eloquence is the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom you speak.”

In other words, the way to measure the beauty of our words is not in terms of their poetic value. It is to evaluate the extent to which they effectively communicate the ideas in our minds to the mind of the other person. Did they “get it”?

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Times have changed in the society. We all see and feel the effects of the seismic shift in society during the last couple of decades.

Among these changes is the perception on the part of most of the unchurched or marginally churched crowd that the preaching coming from pulpits and the talk coming from pews isn’t relevant to their lives.

If you’re a longtime church guy like me, I already know what you’re thinking: “Of course they think it’s irrelevant! Preaching calls men to repentance, and that’s the last thing this godless generation wants. They are like the ‘faithless and twisted generation’ Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:17, when he asked, ‘How long am I to bear with you?’”

Maybe that’s true for a segment of society. But maybe there is something deeper we need to consider.

When I minister in another country I only have two choices. I can either learn the language or use a translator. This generation is speaking a different language. Imagine how much has changed since 1970. They don’t think like old-time Christian America and they don’t live like it, either.

Expository preaching doesn’t reach them, because they know nothing of the Bible. Doctrinal preaching sounds like Latin to them, because they know so little of the historic Christian faith.

We’ve first got to get them interested in the Jesus story before they will become interested in the Jesus way.

The idea of a “Christian America” as a social civic norm is gone and may never return. As far as I’m concerned, that’s OK, so long as we use that as a wakeup call to get serious about telling the Jesus story in ways people can grasp. It’s a good thing if it pushes us further than civic religion into serious following of Jesus.

Simply tell His story. Jesus lived. Jesus died for sin. Jesus rose again. His love and grace are available to conquer sin. We need him, because we are sinners.

Simply live His story. It should be obvious that He lives in us. Prove we’re not the hypocrites they say we are. Take the resurrection seriously in our lives.

We have to stop acting like we are the mission field, and the pastor is the missionary. The pastor is a player-coach, and the game is out there. The unbelieving world will never take Jesus any more seriously than we do.

An eloquent complicated version of the good news isn’t going to cut it with this generation. We need to simply tell His story.

Chris Surber is the pastor at Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk. Email him at Thurman Hayes’ column will return soon.