The Bible itself allows for considerable latitude in how the good news message of salvation is shared with others. The apostle Paul adapted his methodology and communication style to different audiences. (For example, compare his addresses to three very different audiences: Jews in Pisidian Antioch – Acts 13; rural pagans in Lystra – Acts 14; sophisticated Greeks in Athens – Acts 17.) The Bible’s most significant concern seems to be that the good news message itself is not adulterated. Thus it seems fair to ask how that message can be communicated in a given cultural setting so as to be most intelligible to the recipients of the message.
I tried to establish in the last post that evangelistic preaching in large scale mass meetings is likely to be a foreign experience to Latter-day Saints, since for them, conversion happens through face to face instruction and a private encounter with God.
The LDS Church has ovcr 50,000 missionaries deployed around the world. Most serve for a 2-year term, and spend most of their time cultivating contacts and sharing their message individually with investigators. Members of local LDS congregations, called “wards”, are encouraged to make friends with prospective investigators. Those friends who show interest are handed over to the full time missionaries. The missionaries meet several times with the investigator to go through a series of lessons, which are designed to press the truth claims of the LDS Church and to lead the investigator toward a decision to join the Church.
Missionaries encourage the prospective convert to read and pray about the Book of Momon, seeking a subjective personal witness from God as to its truthfulness. Once convinced, the action step is to join the LDS Church. This decision is actualized through the practice of public baptism.
The LDS message is communicated through faithful members, by their own lifestyle and testimony, and through the structured lessons used by the missionaries. There is no experience even remotely analogous to the large scale evangelistic meetings commonly held by evangelical Christians in stadiums and arenas.
What’s more, a travelling evangelist of this sort is less likely to understand the unique use of religious language by Latter-day Saints, who use many of the same terms as evangelical Christians, but with often very different meanings.
At the church where I pastor, we are trying to implement an approach to evangelism that takes these cultural expectations into account. We train our members to share their own faith stories, and to use key stories to communicate the basics of the salvation message. But we have also added to our staff an individual who is gifted in personal evangelism, who can play a role similar to the LDS missionaries. When our members need help communicating the message or moving a person toward a decision, they can call on that pastor to come alongside and provide whatever resource is needed to move that relationship further along evangelistically – in partnership with the church members.
I’m excited to find out how this strategy works!