By Bob Smietana
Evangelism isn’t just for the unchurched. Even folks inside the church need to hear the gospel, says Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Highland, Texas.
Otherwise they risk taking the gospel for granted.
Chandler, author of The Explicit Gospel, says it’s easy for preachers to think everyone in their church already understands the gospel.
So they move on to preaching about Christian living and forget to preach about Christ’s death and resurrection. He calls that the “assumed gospel.”
It’s as if the gospel is a doorway you pass through and forget about.
“You believe it—you pass through it—and then you don’t need it anymore,” Chandler says.
At the Village Church, Chandler says every sermon revolves around telling the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.
“Why do you preach the gospel to people who have already accepted the gospel?” he asks. “Because we are prone to forget it, and we are prone to replace it with something else.”
That can lead to pews filled with people who are faking it when it comes to faith.
They try to be good people but don’t have the power of the gospel to help them follow Christ, says Chandler.
So they end up “pretending to be Christians, but having no real relationship with the Lord,” says Chandler.
The gospel for those who never knew
Chandler says he first noticed the assumed gospel early in his ministry at the Village Church. Most in the congregation were in their 20s and 30s. Many had grown up in church and been regulars in youth groups.
But a surprising number of them asked to be baptized at the Village Church.
Their stories were almost always the same, says Chandler.
“Their testimonies were they’d never heard the gospel,” he says. “I would just sit there and say, ‘surely that cannot be true.’”
He suspected they’d heard the gospel but just hadn’t understood or accepted it. He started quizzing them about their experiences growing up in church.
If they’d kept old copies of their study Bibles or journals from youth group, Chandler asked them dig them out and read through them.
“I told them, ‘I want you to go back and tell me whether or not the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were really not preached to you while you grew up at church.’”
What he found was that most of their notes were mostly about being good kids—avoiding sex, alcohol and R-rated movies. Very little was about Jesus, he says.
Chandler says young people in his church were pretending to be Christians but had no real relationship with God. He began convincing them the gospel doesn’t mean being nice and going to church.
“Going to Sunday school, not cussing or not watching R-rated movies isn’t saving anyone,” he says. “In everything we do, the gospel must be explicit.”
That’s a lesson he learned from reading the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Most of them, he says, start with the story of the gospel and of what Christ has done in His death and resurrection.
“In fact, Paul preaches the gospel primarily to Christians in the New Testament,” he says.
“I think that idea has been lost…. You don’t ever move on from the gospel.”
Equipping others to share the gospel
Chandler offers four practical suggestions for teaching Christians how to share their faith.
1. Get the gospel right.
Strategy doesn’t matter if churches don’t get their message right. And people can’t share the gospel if they don’t know it.
“Get the gospel message right,” he says. “And then be confident in that message. Not in your delivery but in the message. Here’s what we do—we love well and we share the gospel.”
2. Admit your faults.
Self-righteousness is one of the biggest turnoffs for nonbelievers, says Chandler. Don’t pretend being a Christian makes you superior to other people.
“If you really understand grace, it’s not us and them,” he says. “It’s us. The ground at the cross is flat. The gospel of Jesus Christ has set me free to not pretend that I am perfect in front of you.”
3. Don’t try to scare people into following Jesus.
Chandler’s not afraid to talk about hell. He says it’s an “awful reality” that can’t be avoided. But avoiding hell isn’t the main message of the gospel.
“If hell is how you are trying to motivate people toward heaven, then you have missed a key component of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ,” he says. “Namely He has justified us, sanctified us, and is adopting us as sons and daughters. You have missed the entire delight piece—where God delights in those He has rescued.”
4. Focus on the gospel instead of arguments about non-essentials.
Chandler tries to steer clear of arguments over issues like creation, evolution or the age of earth, where he’s not an expert.
“If you think you don’t have all the answers,” says Chandler, “Just say ‘I don’t know. But here’s what I do know—Jesus changed my life.’ A passionate belief in Jesus Christ that has changed your life is still the best apologetic.”
Remind people their job isn’t to save non-believers. Instead, they need to share the gospel and let God do the work.
“I have tried repeatedly to lay out the reality that it is God who saves,” he says. “God saves. That takes the pressure off of people.”