Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
reprinted from the December 2001 edition of Essentials  

Evangelism through the Kaleidoscope
of Human Creativity

  It may never have crossed your mind but evangelism and tennis have a lot in common. In evangelism it is the lenses of God's Sovereignty and Biblical Integrity, which act like the umpire, lines and net of a tennis match. They set the parameters and boundaries within which the game is played. Whereas the Human Creativity lens is like the players, who while operating within the boundaries and rules of the game, 'play' with their own particular style, skill and flare. Some players (evangelists/witnesses/local churches) will have the audience gasping for breath at their prowess, while others will appear, by comparison, to be just beginners. However, since conversion is God's sovereign ministry (1 Cor 3:9) each person or church's effectiveness is not ultimately measured by the imaginative skill, inventive strategies nor numerical results but by their faithfulness to gospel communication in all its facets. However, there is no excuse for the unimaginative 'we've always done it this way' styles of evangelism. We shall see that this third theological lens is absolutely essential if Christians are to obediently fulfil their responsibility in proclaiming Christ to the nations. Stephen Abbott works part time as the EFAC Vic Training Officer and part time as lecturer at Ridley College
  Logic Demands Evangelistic Creativity  
  In a pluralistic, cosmopolitan, multi-faith, multi-cultural context such as we experience in Australia people's background's, spiritual understanding and life experience are amazingly diverse which effectively demands that the 21st century believer embrace the apostle Paul's principle 'becoming all things to all people so that he might win them to Christ' (1 Cor 9:19-23). It is surely logical as well as biblical that in an environment marked by rapid change Christians ensure that their faithfulness to the changeless God and his changeless gospel is matched by their capacity for adaptability and creativity in building bridges to and communicating with the lost. The agents of the gospel are not merely passive automatons, who mechanically employ stereotypical approaches in sharing Christ. Far from it!  
  Creative Image Bearers  
  The Lord's creativity is self-evident in the wonders of creation (Ps 104; Job 38-41). But no less evident is the creativity of his image bearers whether it is the special skill of architects, artists, composers, gardeners, novelists and inventors or the more modest activities of personal craft and the home handyman. People are not clones and therefore each person will have their own God-given talents and skills, and their own capacities for creativity and imagination (Ps 139:13-16). It is interesting to note that in the construction of the Tabernacle and the building of the church the Lord has enabled people with varying abilities and gifts (grace-things) to creatively fulfil his will (Ex. 31:1-11; Eph. 4:7-16). Surely we ought to be using all of our 'image of God' bearing abilities, not least our creative and imaginative skills and gifts in ways, which align with the advance of the gospel of the kingdom, for this, above all things lies at the centre of God's eternal purposes.  
  Imagination, Creativity and Evangelism  
  Unbelievers have the perception that Christian activity is monotonous and God is bland. We should weep that many of our traditions and technologies employed in mission are long past their use by date. If there was ever a generation, which needed the Christian community to be imaginative from start to finish in all aspects of the disciple making process, this is surely it. Packer issues his own strong challenge for the creative use of our imagination in evangelism when he writes, "We are all under orders to devote ourselves to spreading the good news, and to use all our ingenuity and enterprise to bring it to the notice of the whole world. The Christian, therefore, must constantly be searching his conscience, asking himself if he is doing all that he might be doing in this field."1  
  The Apostle Paul's Commitment  
  Paul operated on the basis of such a comprehensive commitment and he articulated this as a ministry principle to be embraced by all Christians, "I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor 10:33-11:1). Note how the Apostle understood the importance of his own concrete example but ultimately directed Christians to the true and perfect pattern of such a commitment, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. If we want creative communication of the gospel we find it in the public ministry of Jesus.  
  The Lord Jesus: the Master of Creative Evangelism  
  Even a casual reading of the Gospels reveals Jesus' ability to relate the good news with amazing dexterity and versatility. There was no one packaged presentation, which was dumped on each person or audience regardless of their circumstances. People from all stations and situations in life, from outcast tax collector to High Priest, from pork eating gentile to law keeping Pharisee, and from a harlot to his own mother Mary were challenged to follow Him. Yet, in each case it was delivered with a particularity and appropriateness, which gave evidence of our Lord's creativity, imagination and compassion. Read through the accounts of Jesus' conversations with Nicodemus (John 3) and the Women of Sychar (John 4) and you observe our Master probing and challenging these two individuals to grasp the truth of His person but in language and categories which were relevant and necessary to them.  
  Unlike John's dialogue style the three Synoptic Gospels have a more narrative action format stringing together many more incidents and encounters without the extended dialogues and commentary. Yet a similar picture emerges of the Lord Jesus who is able to come alongside people in incredibly diverse circumstances and engage them with the gospel of the kingdom. We can see Him engage a distressed Centurion whose slave is seriously ill, a grieving widow whose son has died, Simon an inquiring Pharisee, a terrifying demoniac, a desperately ill and unclean Jewish woman and Jairus a distraught Jewish ruler and father (Luke 7-8). There they are, engaged in the stuff of life with all its uncertainty and tragic circumstance, when their lives are intersected by God's man and Son. But each is met where they are and confronted with the need to believe in Him. The Lord's response to each was contextually appropriate and relevant to their particular emotional state and situation in life. Here is the Teacher of teachers, the Evangelist of evangelists.  
  The Challenge for Today  
  We have noted then that the incarnate Christ was an artist in evangelism bringing to bear an agile imagination, brilliant creativity and a sharp, resolute mind to the task. No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). In Jesus we have a model par excellence of creative evangelism. The Lord's example throws out a challenge for us to employ the Human Creativity lens with both diligence and thoughtfulness. William Abraham's comments are instructive, What matters is that the good news of the kingdom be transmitted with flair and in culturally fitting forms .… It is artificial to limit proclamation to formal acts alone or to some hygienic act of preaching, fashioned according to some standard mode, although there is an obvious place for the well-planned, formal heralding of the good news in appropriate public places.2  
  Three Key Points  
  In the above discussion, three core reasons for the implementation of imagination, creativity and flexibility in mission stand out:  
  1. The Particularities of the Audience - This means the careful observation, listening and study of culture in order to bridge the cultural gap with knowledge and sensitivity. Notice I am not suggesting a consumer-driven gospel but a consumer-driven love along with a consumer-sensitive package so that the lost may be found.  
  2. The Specific Situation and Circumstances - The packaging of the gospel necessitates a degree of flexibility depending on the venue, which may involve adapting the style, structure and length of message. What one says and how one says it will need to be crafted differently when the setting moves from the casual chat at a Coffee Shop to the Hospital bed of the terminally ill.  
  3. Christians are Different - Every believer brings to the Lord's mission varying skills, temperaments and life experiences, which it would be extremely foolish to ignore. Clearly not every method and style of evangelism will suit every believer. Some people will find it easy to memorize verses and illustrations, others will not. There are people who can sketch and speak at the same time, so a draw and talk gospel presentation may sit well with them. Christian leaders ought to ensure that they acknowledge this reality when equipping Christians for witnessing and not project their own personal tools and preferred styles on to everyone else.  
  There is not time to explore the implications of these realities for creative church planting and church services except to say we should be quicker to celebrate and learn from, than criticise and condemn, those who have experimented (although not always successfully) in an endeavour to reach the unchurched with the gospel of Christ.  
  Before bringing this discussion to a conclusion one further issue should be noted.  
  Creative Evangelism Teamwork  
  It probably goes without saying that all aspects of Christian ministry will be more effective and creative when they are conducted within the context of teams. The New Testament abounds with examples of gospel ministry being exercised within the cooperation of interdependent relationships. Jesus established his twelve into a team of ministers such that on the day of Pentecost they were able, along with others, to communicate the gospel effectively to people from all over the world in their own languages (Acts 2).  
  The apostle Paul, throughout his missionary journeys, never ministered without a number of people including such partners as Barnabas, Saul, Mark, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquilla, and many more. These fellow workers of Paul's apostolic team enabled a great deal of flexibility for the spread of the gospel and the building of Christ's church.  
  Teamwork Isn't Easier Just More Effective.  
  It is my firm conviction that the most effectively creative Christian leaders are those who encourage and enjoy the participation of their fellow team members in both shaping and achieving the particular biblical vision they are together convinced God has called them to fulfil. They celebrate the wonderful difference, creativity and synergy which exists within the team they are called to lead, knowing that the effectiveness of the whole, when it is fully utilized, is greater by far than the sum of its independent parts.  
  Corney provides a fairly comprehensive list of the benefits of establishing teams in gospel ministry but the following selection are especially relevant to our present discussion of human creativity,  
  • Different personalities reach different people and so a wider range of people will respond to the ministry.  
  • Teams that include both men and women will broaden and enrich the effectiveness of the ministry. They will reinforce the concept that ministry is to be shared by everyone in the congregation.  
  • A team that is working well has the great advantage of a variety of ideas and options. Creativity is enhanced as people stimulate and energise each other."3  
  A ministry team can of course be made up of personnel who are ordained, lay, paid, volunteer, full or part time, male, female, retired, youth, well educated, uneducated, extroverted, introverted, in other words anyone who is willing and gifted to do so. The concept of teamwork can be broadened even further, for the Body of Christ reminds us that there are many creative members we can interact with although they may not be physically present. The Lord has so arranged the Body in our generation that through books, journals, phone, email and the Internet we can access tremendous resources which can stimulate creativity and imagination in our ministries, while we continue to establish a local team.  
  The Spirit's Creative Partnership  
  Drummond correctly points out, "when we talk about the Godhead in evangelism, we must give proper space — particularly pragmatic space — to the work of the blessed Spirit."4 In our concern to advance the gospel and build Christ's church using all our human resources of imagination, creativity, intellect, strength and teamwork we must not neglect the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the ultimate team leader. Paul gives expression to this dynamic relationship between the human and divine elements of gospel ministry, "To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." (Col. 1:29). May we embrace the apostle's resolve and give our best energies and efforts to the advancement of the gospel. Let us study the Scriptures to know the Spirit's truth. Then let us also pray seeking the wisdom and creative genius of God, attentive to the specific leading of the Holy Spirit as we explore that insightful and inventive edge which will make our gospelling especially engaging to our generation and the particular cultural group we are addressing. In presenting this challenge we are effectively declaring that we need to bring all three theological lenses into play as we obey the Great Commission of Christ.  
  The Three Lenses in Action  
  The choice of describing the three theological concepts addressed this year in Essentials as lenses was deliberate in order to convey the notion that they provide for believers a way of looking at the whole of life and in this particular series of articles are a way of viewing gospel ministry.  
  The first two primary lenses should be understood as operating like the lenses of our eyes, which, when functioning normally, operate in dynamic harmony enabling us to see things clearly. The two lenses of God's Sovereignty and Biblical Integrity should be employed in dynamic harmony enabling the Christian to examine human existence from God's perspective. Like our eyes these two lenses when used properly will enable us to observe the wide landscape of God's purposes and how the various aspects of God's truth are integrated to make up the whole scene. Yet they also allow us to bring into sharp focus particular elements of theology (for example: the atonement or evangelism) and life (for example: marriage or mission). Of course our capacity to use these lenses will increase the more we employ them just like the trained lifeguard becomes skilled in discerning between the playful swimmer and the distressed one.  
  However, what of our third lens? The Human Creativity lens acts like a kaleidoscope providing colour, shape and variety to the focus of the other two lenses. This lens enables us to take the truths already discovered by looking through the first two lenses, and work out how to communicate and implement them in a way which is clear, relevant and even entertaining, without destroying or tampering with each truth's integrity. This lens declares there is a human responsibility to translate the eternal truths of the Bible into language and ministries, which will be intelligible and appropriate for each generation and culture.  
  A Final Word  
  The present generation cries out for relevance, hence the world and language of corporate commercial enterprise has become common currency within the life of both denominational headquarters and the local church. National church life surveys are conducted, market research studies are carried out, descriptions of the target audience are formulated, vision and mission statements are written and distinctive logos are designed. Much of this has been extraordinarily helpful but there are dangers, which ought to make us hasten slowly. I agree with Loscalzo's strong word of caution,  
  "Marketing the church must be done with integrity and authenticity. I hear ministers talking about all the latest ways they 'meet the needs of the boomers.' The real danger in these methods is that evangelism turns into a smorgasbord approach. Church becomes a cafeteria line where people pick and choose parts of the gospel in order to be evangelistically successful. But because the gospel is sometimes hard to hear, evangelism cannot be consumer-driven. Envisioning contemporary contexts for the evangelism and proclamation requires ministers to find creative yet authentic ways to speak to an ever-changing, ever-complex world. Remember, God is also the God of the future. We don't step into the unknown alone."5  
  If we are to avoid these and other traps of doing church by the numbers we will need to have a clear theological and biblical framework. It is in this context that this three-lens tool provides a valuable resource for personal and local church analysis and reflection.  
  Paul predicted that a period would come, "when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3). Such periods have been a characteristic quality of each generation since the first century, and ours is no exception. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity that churches be doctrinally sound, as the unshakeable, timeless truth of Scripture declares, "God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:15).  
  It is my great desire that the church will continue to encourage and foster an entrepreneurial spirit among Christians so that we will have both contemporary and creative evangelism and disciple making ministries with which to address the ever-changing landscape of our complex world. However, in promoting such endeavours we must not abandon our love of the Bible's doctrine. I propose that 'The Three Lens Tool' can provide a way of looking theologically at the disciple-making mission of the church, which provides an authentic biblical balance of sound doctrine yet marked by contemporary creative flair.  
  May each of us play our part in ensuring our churches be characterised by authentic evangelical ministries which are both uncompromisingly true to Scripture and authentically relevant to our society.  

  HOME Index of Articles  


1 Jim Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 26-27.

2 William J. Abraham, Logic of Evangelism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 171-172.

3 Peter Corney, Team Torque, (Sydney South, NSW: Aquila Press, 1997), 2.

4 Lewis A. Drummond, The Word of the Cross. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 171, [my emphasis].

5 Craig A. Loscalzo, Evangelistic Preaching that Connects, (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 23.