By Rick Jones
When I Google, “Do methods change the message of the Gospel?” nearly every site quotes an important Christian leader making the not so profound assertion, “Our Methods change but the Message does not.”
Many of them remind us that in the old days the Gospel was messaged by mass meetings, and then it was by mass media (i.e. radio and then tv), but today we have entered the mass digital age of the internet. In the good old days preachers were circuit riders on horseback, but today’s preachers are “YouTubers.” Obviously, the logical conclusion is that it’s the substance not style that matters.
Every form of music, every style of artistic expression, every kind of technology, and every mode of communication is sanctioned by some professing Christian somewhere.
We have everything from Christian hip-hop, to pole-dancers for Jesus, to the popular “Bibles & Beers” at local bars. After all, so long as our stated message is “Jesus Saves,” our method does not matter.
Or does it?
In recent years doctors and hospitals have made great strides as they have implemented “Evidence Based Practice.” Care plans for patients are created using the “best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.” It turns out that when it comes to healing bodies, there are specific strategies and methods that have proven statistically and clinically effective. Those who implement Evidence Based Practice zealously insist that every intervention is Evidence Based.
Conjecture (“I wonder if…”), convention (“We’ve always done it this way…”), and incomplete data (“We saw a few cases where this worked…”) are inadequate rationales for Evidence Based Practitioners.
“Evidence Based Practice” specifically asks, “What heals this disease?” or “What solves this problem?” Outcomes are the final determinant.
EVIDENCE BASED MINISTRY
And here is the crux of the problem with the “any method” approach to Gospel ministry. Not all methods heal hearts, solve the sin problem, and produce disciples who love the life of holiness.
Look at the evidence and see for yourself.
Has the replacement of Biblical preaching and teaching with practical “How-To” messages, and the “Power of Positive-Thinking” mantras deepened the spiritual commitment of our converts?
Has the entertain and dinner-tain the audience approach whetted the appetites of our people so that they “hunger and thirst after righteousness?”
Has the elimination of the mourner’s bench and the prayer meeting generated more regeneration or less?
Has lowering our Scriptural and historic expectations inspired greater dedication and more careful discipleship among our people or less?
Has messaging our Gospel via technology proven transformational? How many people make better spiritual choices, live more careful Christian lives, and enjoy the atmosphere of heaven because they received or sent a text, a tweet, or a snap-chat?
Has Casual Church proven the best at producing consummate Christians—a thoroughly holy people?
Have the newest forms of worship and styles of church increased the influence of the church on the culture, or has it muted our impact?
We used to say we adapted so that we could draw a crowd. But the evidence is in: Adapting our church to fit the times is demoralizing and diminishing the loyalty of our congregations. It’s not surprising that church attendance has declined to the lowest in our nation’s history.
We adjusted our requirements so that we could keep our young people. But the number of young adults who are leaving the faith is greater than ever. The American church is following in the footsteps of the church in Europe where fewer than 5% attend on any given weekend.
We rationalized that we adopted the messaging technique of our times so that we could reach the masses. But the evidence shows that we are not even reaching our own membership with the claims of the Gospel.
Here’s my point: We must apply “Evidenced Based Practice” to every method we adopt. We need to seriously ask ourselves:
Does our method produce conviction for sin, or does it mute or blunt the Spirit’s call?
Is our method drawing sinners to Christ, or to ourselves or our organization?
Is our method inciting more love and obedience to Christ, or are our followers less inclined to accept the disciplines of discipleship?’
Messaging matters in the work of ministry. And methods matter too. Some methods produce fans of Christ. Other methods produce devoted followers of Christ. We’re all out for followers.