“Consumers don’t understand what they want until they see it.”
This quote from Steve Jobs (former founder and CEO of Apple) reveals much of his innovative business genius. Jobs didn’t give a lot of time to market research. He was confident in his ability, and that of his talented team, to design amazing consumer electronic goods that would resonate with the public and stimulate them to respond with, “THAT! THAT is what I want/need!”
It seems there’s some Kingdom truth in Jobs’ business instinct. Is it possible for the Church to communicate the good news of Jesus in such a way as to evoke a response from people that causes them to say, “THAT is what I now realize I’ve been wanting/needing in order to make sense of this life!”
Back when Steve Jobs was still trying to work his design philosophy into a profitable business model, a former British missionary to India observed this principle at work in the responses to the Gospel in the early days of the church.
“It is a striking fact, moreover, that almost all the proclamations of the gospel which are described in Acts are in response to questions asked by those outside the Church. . . In every case there is something present, a new reality, which calls for explanation and so prompts the question to which the preaching of the gospel is the answer.” (Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society)
Time and time again, in my own ministry experience over the years, I’ve seen people come to Jesus in just this way.
Consider the following example. A young woman in Ireland volunteered with Serve the City during a week-long summer service initaitive. She was so moved by the Irish team and by the joy-filled, sacrificial service of a visiting team of Americans, she gave her life to Jesus. She openly admitted that before her experience serving alongside those Christ-follwers, she had just assumed “religion” was irrelevant and meaningless. What she saw in the Serve the City team evoked a question within her for which the answer was a simple explanation of the Gospel.
During my years in youth ministry in the Pacific Northwest, I remember young people coming to Jesus when they got involved in our ministry at the invitation of other young people in our group. Often the testimony of these new young Christ-followers would sound like, “Before I became a Christian, I thought …. But what I saw in this group completely changed my understanding of who God is and what faith is about.” What they saw in the exceptional young Christ-followers in our youth group evoked a question for which the answer was provided in a simple explanation of the Gospel.
But here’s the critically important feature of both these stories and of this principle in general: The new followers of Jesus saw the transforming Gospel at work outside the walls of the church buildings and programs.
In the story of the community service event in Ireland, the leadership was primarily made up of Christ-followers, but we were inviting people who were far from Jesus to serve out in the community. When we were done serving each day, we would invite everyone to a meal in rented space to celebrate and take conversations further. A simple explanation of the transforming nature of the Gospel made that much more sense.
In the second case, the young people who became Christ-followers were seeing God’s Kingdom demonstrated in the consistent character and leadership of our church’s young people on their school campus, Monday through Friday. When they arrived at the youth program on a Wednesday night, they got a fuller understanding of what they were seeing in their Christian friends. A simple explanation of the Gospel made that much more sense.
So what do you think? Is that consistent with your experience of church and/or with sharing your faith? Do you have any examples you can share?
Is there a better way of understanding the positive tension between demonstrating and announcing God’s Kingdom?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!