David Fitch asks, “was our Gospel too big?” in an article published by Christianity Today. I appreciated David’s book, “The Great Giveaway,” and his contribution to the discussion on recovering mission for church in North America. In this article he explores the challenge of communicating the Gospel and inviting people to respond to Jesus when their capacities for “hearing” and “processing” the gospel are marginal. He writes:
“As we planted the first seeds of our church in this place, I was repulsed by the expectation to turn the gospel into something that could fit people’s schedules or provide immediate, quick-fix spiritual benefits. But in response to the sins of suburbia, I went to the other extreme. I became phobic about our church becoming a supermarket-like pseudo-community providing spiritual goods and services to all comers. With too much self-assurance, I preached sermons on how the church must define its very existence as the extension of God’s mission in the world. Drawing on the great formulations of missional thinkers Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch, I proudly taught that the church was an extension of the Trinity, gathering the world unto himself. The mission of God would be our very identity, and its cosmic scope would dwarf the forces that seek to shrink our vital gospel into some banal conformity. My intentions were good, and Bosch and Newbigin still sound as good as ever. But how does this gospel become comprehensible for those lost…”
Now you may notice that I pulled the quote above before the modifier of the words “for those lost.” The reason being is that he raises the question in respect for those “lost in the suburbs.” I do believe the suburban challenge for creating community and thus the space for a missional journey toward and with Christ is huge. But I must add that even in my urban experience in Vancouver the challenge is also huge for anyone who would communicate the gospel with a bent toward and in expecation of the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion and transformation.
The communicator’s challenge in respect to the Gospel remains to create places for people to grab a hold of the message and where they understand that Jesus is grabbing hold of them. To capitulate to Jesus as Lord is a response to the message…usually one part of it, not the whole thing. It seems to me that Jesus did this for people all the time; he gave them a piece of the Gospel that was keen for them in the moment so that they could enter into the whole life of His Kingdom. Jesus spoke of living water, bread of life, “catching men,” a Kingdom that had come, a pearl of great price, a treasure in a field, light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the gate, the shepherd… the list goes on. Each of these standing alone in no way communicate the whole gospel–but they do create a place, much like a climbing wall does, for people to grab hold of the Gospel and Jesus. At Cityview we call it “the Gospel in an acorn.” An acorn can be held in your hand, but the promise of what it creates–and oak tree–is often bigger than our own lives. Part of my job as a communicator of the Gospel to my friends is to make it accessible to them. With the Holy Spirit I search through the web of the Gospel and tie it into their daily lives; in that way Jesus intersects their lives and invites them further into His life. I agree with David, that teaching this type of communication is not easy and does not package as well, but I think it is necessary.