Earlier this year, I went to a two-day training session for church leaders, and when the evangelism subject surfaced, they asked each table to discuss the process they used to reach unbelievers. Of course, I love these conversations! But I bit my tongue, and tried to listen to what others were doing and thinking. As we went around our table, one leader put a big emphasis on someone making a clear gospel presentation. I have heard this value articulated often. As you might have already guessed, it caused me to chime in with an alternative thought!
Clearly, there is nothing wrong with the notion of clear communication. Paul, in Colossians, asks his readers to pray that he would communicate the gospel with clarity (Col 4:2). It is biblical. Yet, from someone who does postmodern evangelism full-time, I offered my supplemental, divergent take.
When it comes to gospel lucidity, the question we need to ask is: Clear to whom? I have often made or have heard others make clear presentations that sounded solid to me (as a believer); but later learned that it had not translated at all. Clear presentation has a place, but it’s not the coup d’état answer that the traditional telling-paradigm espouses. The telling approach makes a critical fundamental error by starting with us and not them. Concepts that appear as crystal clear water to us—may very well be murky to the unbelieving soul.
In his book, Radical Outreach, George Hunter notes why John Wesley advocated dialogical evangelism. One-to-one interchange (which Wesley sometimes called “close discourse”) is the method he used to “get within” people, “to suit all our discourse to their conditions and tempers.” In the throes of real practice, Wesley uncovered wisdom, saying, “For, after all our preaching, many of our people are almost as ignorant as if they had never heard the gospel . . . I have found by experience, that one of these has learned more from one hour’s close discourse, than ten years’ public preaching.”
Do you really want gospel clarity? Then realize that that road passes through intimate discussion. Methodologically, it is the only surefire way, to get to the critical heart issues. Real communication takes place, when we go over to their side and discover what they really heard and think. Dialogue ushers us into the skills of soul whispering—where we get to the heart—so that we can actually help them forward.