Different Strokes for Different Folks

An incident yesterday got me thinking about how we do evangelism.

A message was left on the church office's answering machine from a woman who uses our food bank. She was upset. Part of the program of the food bank involves a hot meal and a Gospel presentation. This gal had been offended by the Gospel presentation and called to express her complaint.

We know that the Gospel is often offensive to those who hear it. Paul wrote: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…" —1 Corinthians 1:18,

When I returned this lady's phone call I discovered that, at least in part, she had been offended to hear that her efforts to put her life in order would not be sufficient to gain her entrance into heaven. She was offended by the Gospel. That part of the conversation didn't concern me greatly because we know, as Paul says, that those who are perishing will not understand.

The part of the conversation that did concern me was the fact that the woman was offended as well because of the manner of the speaker who presented the Gospel. Now THAT'S a different story altogether. After we had our conversation, I got to thinking about the importance of our approach to people if we really want them to hear what we have to say.

When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, whose self-righteousness glowed in the dark, he did not mince words. He called down woe on their heads, condemned them, called them "whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones." They needed to know they were sinners and that God would judge them severely if they didn't repent. And Jesus did not hesitate to give them both barrels from his spiritual shotgun.

On the other hand, Jesus dealt very differently, for example, with the woman caught in adultery and with the Samaritan woman. They already knew what they were. They had already lived as close to hell as anyone can without being there. They already knew about judgment. Criticism was part of their daily diet. What they needed to know was that God loved them and freely offered them that love along with his forgiveness, healing, and a new life.

The woman at the food bank didn't need any more condemnation or what appeared to her to be heavy-handed self-righteousness. She already knew what she was. She needed a different touch than what would have been given to a Pharisee.

One size does not fit all in evangelism. While it is true that this woman would have gone away offended by the Gospel anyway, the real stumbling block to the message was not the message itself but the manner of the messenger in delivering the good news that Jesus Christ loved her, died for her, and could give her what her own efforts to clean up her life will never be able to provide.

Lesson: the nature of the audience doesn't dictate what the message will be, it will only dictate the order in which the elements of the message will be presented.


  1. Good thoughts and advice. I have found that often being a friend first is the best way to witness. They need to trust you and respect you before they will listen. No..it doesn't make for a large number of converts, but it seems to be a gentler approach.


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