Gospel Leaflets Don’t Correspond
To Growling Stomachs
Strategy is often treated with ambivalence by Christians.
It isn’t difficult to understand. Strategy simply refers to the plans we make for reaching specific goals. A good strategy keeps you focused and efficient. We all understand that. It’s a good idea.
The rub comes because we worry that planning on a human level may be at odds with planning on a divine level, and we don’t want to interfere.
So I let’s take a look at the concept of strategy and answer a few questions:
- Should we be strategic?
- Is being strategic the same as being biblical?
- Is being strategic spiritual or is it just mechanical?
- Is human strategy by nature in conflict with divine strategy?
The short answer is make a plan and work it as well as you can without forcing it. Circumstances have a way of guiding us through the process.
But the answer needs more detail and to find it we need look no further than the Apostle Paul.
Paul The Strategist
By his own admission, Paul was a strategist.
As a traveling evangelist he ministered in many different cities and often enjoyed great results. One of those cities was Corinth. There were many converts to Christ in that city but there were also many problems.
Corinth was very much like the world we live in today. It was multicultural!
- It was a major sea port, which is a collecting point for people from many different countries.
- And it was rebuilt or reorganized in 44 BC using indentured servants from many parts of the Roman Empire.
Any country doing trade by sea would have influenced the cultural, moral and political fabric of Corinth. Indentured servants would have brought a big mix of languages and religions to the city.
It was the proverbial melting pot.
There was also the usual variety of good and bad character. Some worked for the greater good. Others were opportunists.
The ebb and flow of Corinth’s mores changed rapidly and often. It was the city of the self-absorbed.
The whole city buzzed with so many different cultures living shoulder to shoulder and jostling for prominence. You can imagine the conflict.
When all these different people came together in a church setting there was bound to be friction, and sure enough, Paul spent more time dealing with problems in the Corinthian church than in any other.
The two letters Paul wrote to Corinth – which happened to be the second and third largest letters in the New Testament – are studies in cross cultural sociology. The phenomenon, of course, isn’t rare. Every time one person marries another they each bring a different family culture to the mix.
But it was extreme and pervasive in Corinth.
What you find is that Paul’s letters were very practical, as opposed to mystical. It was first century psychology.
At one point the Corinthian church questioned Paul’s credentials and motives. He was different to all the other Apostles.
- He was single rather than married.
- He did secular work to support himself.
- He traveled with a team whose support and loyalty couldn’t be swayed.
- He was the first to preach the Gospel of equality.
- He wasn’t particularly personable.
Nothing on that list qualifies Paul as questionable but it did make him different, and human nature doesn’t treat “different” very nicely.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul answered some of the questions and in the end of that chapter he focuses on his strategy.
It’s almost like Paul is changing the subject. Instead of sitting around throwing darts at each other, he’s encouraging them to focus on where they are going and how they should get there.
Here is what he said:
Don’t you know, that of all the people that run in a race only one receives the prize? Therefore, the point is, you should run in such a way that you have a chance of winning. And everyone who competes is also limited by the same need for discipline. No one has a chance without it.
Now the people who compete in athletic events do so to win a perishable crown, but the work we do for God is done to obtain an imperishable crown, one that lasts forever. Therefore, when I train and compete, I don’t do so with uncertainty and ambivalence. I don’t work like a boxer who throws wild aimless punches and only hits air. Instead, I work by a well planned strategy so I won’t be embarrassed by a lack of results. (1 Cor. 9:24-27 – my interpretive translation)
Based on Paul’s work, here is what a good strategy might look like:
Open Yourself Personally
Don’t put on fronts, act as if you’re special or assume privilege. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be you!
Religion has a way of herding everyone into isolated corrals. Everyone in the corral looks and acts the same. Avoid this! It breeds a demeanor that says, “We’re in, you’re out” to everyone not in the corral.
Yes, Paul did play the comparison game briefly (2 Cor. 11:21-27) but he had no choice. The Corinthians started the game and he only did enough to make his point: He was more than equal to those with whom he was compared. He also apologized for playing the game.
Don’t put on the air of religious perfection. You will make mistakes. Admit they’ll happen before hand. Don’t wait the damage is done and then make excuses.
Christians are forgiven not perfect. They are better off than non-Christians but they aren’t better.
Make your mistakes and be honest about them. Mistakes make us approachable. Denial makes us unbearable.
Don’t affect a condescending tone or a privileged air. Be honest, open and approachable.
Open The Gospel Widely
Or, in other words, be accommodating. The Gospel is a great opportunity for everyone everywhere. But the way we present that message may camouflage that truth.
How we handle the Gospel determines whether it is good news or a demeaning insult.
There are several ways to make it good:
- We share the Gospel, we don’t force it.
Give the Gospel to as many people as you can without making demands. We present the message and move along.
If one person shows no interest, then we respectfully and graciously move on to someone else, without making demands. It’s a matter of respect and numbers.
We respect individual choice and we tell as many as we can.
- We represent the Gospel as opportunity not ultimatum.
Hearing the Gospel is a first step. Don’t treat it like a final notice. It may take time to sink in.
Never assume that a person’s hesitant response to your presentation of the Gospel means never. It may be they just don’t like you.
Every person and journey is different. We deliver a message of hope not a last chance.
- We present a door that is open not closing.
The rule is, always leave the door open. You never know what God has or hasn’t done in a person’s life or what He’s going to do next.
Give them space. Allow them time. Never forget that God is always working.
Will the door ever close completely? Traditionally, that is what we’ve been taught, but new thinking says maybe not.
Open Up To Different Methods
When it comes to evangelistic strategies, there are two basic problems. One problem is too many ideas. We spend so much time sifting through the different possibilities we never get anything done.
It’s like a hardware store. Too many tools to choose from.
That’s one problem but it is by far not the worst. The second problem is too few ideas. Methods should be relevant.
The method we chose should:
- Suit our abilities and skill set.
- Be agreeable to the culture in which we live.
- Be effective.
- Be relevant.
Giving a desperately hungry person a Gospel leaflet is not a good strategy, even if they can read.
If all that is true, then God is happy. There’s no specific set of do’s and don’ts for the strategy you follow. Morph you method to fit your situation.
We don’t live with the same problems of previous generations or different cultures. Eating meat offered to idols isn’t a universal problem.
Be practical. Be relevant. Don’t speak to issues that don’t apply. Deal with the situation at hand.