Monday, May 10

Do they really understand our message?

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"Esteban" is a good friend and fellow IMB missionary serving in South America. He has written the following in a prayer letter that caught my attention.
...Jesus gives us divine insight...when he says in Matthew 13:23b “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it.” Jesus also says in Matthew 13:9 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. Really and truly UNDERSTANDING the Word of God is essential and absolutely necessary for those who will finish the race and for those who will bear and yield fruit.
Many times I have scratched my head trying to figure out why a church plant fails, why things start to crumble, or where people get their crazy ideas! Could it be that it is as elemental as their simply not understanding the word? Does the evil one really snatch away that good word which has been sown simply because they have not understood it? Wow, that is something to think about!

We assume people are understanding just because we have said the right words and they have smiled and nodded their heads. What has taken us a lifetime to understand and grasp, we expect those we are sharing the Gospel to instantly comprehend. Is it really a surprise when they don't?

The reality in many cases is something quite different than we intended. I have seen this over and over again. People tend to hear what they think you are saying, not necesarrily what you are saying.

Another aspect of this is our tendency to believe people need lots of information before they can really "get it." Often, little of what I am trying to communicate is getting across. All my words are filtered through their own world view, experiences, prejudices, upbringing, etc. How nice it would be if there were a way to get inside someone's brain and see what is really being understood!

Our message is also suspect in that our listeners often question or are confused by our motivations. Why are they here? Why are they telling me this? What do they really want out of me? What's in it for me if I accept their message?

Anyway, I think I'll go back and meditate a bit more on Matthew 13. A key missiological feature is the need for people to clearly understand the Gospel message. It is our responsibility to communicate that message clearly.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you have answered this question in previous posts. Especially the one shaped like a triangle showing that a monologue is the method that people retain the least information and that video, discussion, hands-on learning are better for retaining what is taught.
Wouldn't the best way be to share life and God's love in a relationship of brother/sister in real time, facing troubles and joys together as God's beloved children?
I have learned so much from your discussions here and pray often for your community in Ecuador.
Elvera

GuyMuse said...

Elvera,

Thanks for your kind words. We pretty much stay continuously on a sharp learning curve. Just about the time we think we have things figured out, we find out we still have a lot more to learn. I agree with your statement that "...the best way to share life and God's love in a relationship of brother/sister in real time..." But sometimes this isn't always possible due to logistics and accessibility to the very people we would want to have those kinds of relationships with. THANK YOU FOR PRAYING for us here in Ecuador!

jjchristian said...

"A key missiological feature is the need for people to clearly understand the Gospel message. It is our responsibility to communicate that message clearly.” Guy, I believe you are right on the money about “what” and “how” we share the Gospel. So often the Gospel is preached that God loves you and people respond because of what is on the Master’s table (peace, joy, love, hope, health, direction, wisdom, etc) but not really because they want the Master. They do not understand WHY they really need God because the Gospel is preached frequently without a clear presentation of repentance. But when the conscience of the individual is penetrated and someone repents, they run to the master NOT because of what is on the Masters table, but by His grace for forgiveness, first and foremost. Often the Gospel is preached “for all have sinned” and everyone agrees, but many still believe they are not as sinful as someone else. When I talk to individuals about Jesus, they tell me they tried that once and even said the "sinners prayer" and IT did not work. The Gospel gets watered down and individuals still consider they are good enough because we fail to prick the conscience of the individual to personalize sin (why they truely need Jesus) because we fail to "preach the law to the proud and grace to the humble”. There is a ministry call Way of the Master that offers some videos online (free) and they are now producing materials in Spanish. They have a website: www.wayofthemaster.com Keep the faith!!

Jerry Brown said...

I hope this doesn't come across as harsh, because it is certainly not meant that way, but if people in a church plant don't understand the Gospel, might that suggest that the planters either don't fully understand it in a multi-cultural context, or that perhaps things were a bit rushed, and not done on God's timeline? I would rather see 2 disciples made than 20 shallow believers who never really were. You say that you don't always have the opportunity to share life and God's love in a relational way, yet what you are doing is, by its very nature, relational. Maybe you're really asking yourself, "Am I Pushing Too Hard?"
I pray that you wrestle with the question before God, and that you are attentive to what he says. And I pray that one day I'll find myself down in Ecuador as well, I loved the country when I visited back in January.

GuyMuse said...

jjchristian,

Thank you for your comment. I hear what you are saying about people's falling away "because the Gospel is preached frequently without a clear presentation of repentance." What I am saying is that many times we DO say the right words and have the right meanings, but THEY are hearing something different as it is filtered through their existing understanding. We think they are understanding our message because we are saying all the right words, but they are interpreting those words through their own world view. It takes many years of living amongst a people and understanding their thought patterns, belief systems, and values to be able to effectively communicate the Gospel in a way that coincides with their understanding. I am not saying we change the Gospel to fit their beliefs, but we do need to contextualize our message in such a way that the truths of the Gospel are communicated in the same way as Scripture represents them.

Thanks also for the links, but I was unable to find any Spanish materials. Can you give me a direct link? Thanks!

GuyMuse said...

Jerry,

Welcome to the M Blog! I appreciate your thoughts on this matter. You ask, ...if people in a church plant don't understand the Gospel, might that suggest that the planters either don't fully understand it in a multi-cultural context, or that perhaps things were a bit rushed, and not done on God's timeline?

The short answer to both questions is yes. I tried to explain a bit about this in my above comment to jjchristian. As foreigners coming from a different cultural background, we have a world view that often doesn't match that of our target audience. So when we use terms like "sin", "repentance", "salvation", "church", etc. our understanding of these terms comes from our background and upbringing. But the same is true for them as well.

As for the second question, probably all of us have wanted to rush ahead of God and do whatever is necessary to "get that decision" for Christ. After 20+ years as a missionary, I no longer even count these kinds of decisions because they mean very little in the long run. Just because someone prays a prayer with you (sinner's prayer) does not mean at all they have understood the Gospel witness shared with them. Just being an American and their wanting to please you, and not hurt your feelings, they will pray with you and say anything you tell them to. Often people coming down for short-term missions trips are amazed at how easy it is to get people to accept Christ and return home to report the hundreds of decisions that were made during the week. We prefer to count baptisms. Here in Ecuador when a person is baptized, you can be fairly certain they have made a solid life-transforming decision. We often say, "Baptism doesn't save, but until they're baptized, they're probably not saved."

Interesting about your having been in Ecuador in January of this year. If you come back down, give us a ring. Would love to visit with you in person!

David Rogers said...

Many explanations of the parable of the sower and the soils give the impression we must just "sow the seed" and leave the results in God's hand. If people don't respond, believing the gospel, it is because they are just not good soil. However, the reading you reference here leaves some responsibility in the hands of the gospel-sower to make sure the message communicated is truly understood. I think there is a good balance here. Yes, there are different types of soil. And, some will not respond with faith because they are not predisposed to it. But, it can also be because we, as sowers, have not done a good job at helping them to understand.

I also think there is a good point here related to contextualization. Good contextualization helps people to understand the gospel better. Bad contextualization detracts from a good understanding of the gospel.

GuyMuse said...

David,

Yes, I do believe we have the responsibility of contectualizing the Gospel message so that it is clearly understood by our hearers. It seems to be a cop out to just "preach the Gospel" and if they get it, great. If not, it's their fault for rejecting the Gospel.

A few years ago we had a Stateside "evangelist" come down who would stand on the corners and in a loud voice cry out Romans 10:9-10 in his broken Spanish. He would then stumble through a couple of phrases of "raise your hand if you want to accept Jesus" and raise his as an example as he peered over the curious crowd of gathered bystanders. Needless to say, many would raise their hands and smile back at his encouragement to raise their hands. He would glow and turn to his partner and say write down 8 more professions of faith! They would then walk to the next corner and repeat the process. In the evenings they would tell me all about the wonderful experience of leading people to Christ in our city and wonder why we weren't getting the same response!

Was my American friend communicating the Gospel message? Yes. Were the words he spoke understood by his hearers? Sort of. Was his message accurately understood by those listening? No.

As you point out. Balance is key.