5 Tips for Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures (Part 2)

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In Part One, I mentioned a few exhortations for evangelism in honor-shame cultures. In Part Two, I’ll mention three more.

1.  Let Your Light Shine

Here’s Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16). Of course, I could easily point out the necessity that a Christian’s life must not only proclaim the gospel with words, but also by their own personal obedience to God. But that’s not the point of this point. Rather, I want to focus on what Jesus focused on when he spoke these words: the church. Jesus is addressing his disciples not merely as individuals but as a collective.

Just as a tired traveler looks up at the night sky and sees the shining lights of a city as a hope of refuge far away, the church adorns the gospel in such a way that it becomes a tangible picture to a weary world of the nature of the God in whom we worship. This is the same idea as what Jesus says in John 13:34–35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” To borrow a phrase from Mark Dever, the church is the gospel made visible, particularly as we sacrificially love one another.

The Apostle Paul picks this up in Ephesians. After explaining how God has brought together various ethnic and cultural backgrounds together as one new people (Ephesians 2), Paul says that this culmination of God’s mysterious plan for the Gentiles in Christ has a purpose: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9–10). Did you catch that? Our little local churches are the means through which God intends to display the greatness of the glory of his wisdom in our salvation!

Why is this a crucial aspect of evangelism in honor-shame cultures? These cultures emphasize and tie together family duty and worship. As a result, they say that Christianity is just another immoral aspect of individualistic Western culture. It calls young people to throw off authority and community in favor of personal salvation. But in the church, we see that our personal faith actually binds us to a community of people, and that community isn’t merely those with whom we have the most in common but often those with whom we have the least in common.

Christ died for a wide array or people. The church displays that salvation. And we see that God doesn’t save the most likely candidate; in fact, he saves those we might least expect. Because of this, the church is marked by a sacrificial love for all that far surpasses the religious systems and traditions within the culture. This helps those who are ready to agree with every aspect of the gospel but they are struggling with fear of the fallout. But even if their faith leads to a fracture with the family, they have another family that is there to love, support, and stand with them in their trials.

2.  Let the Question Burn

Have you ever noticed that Jesus often ended his parables open-ended? For example, take the famous parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11–32. Jesus addresses two audiences throughout this chapter: the tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes. As we read the passage, we realize these audiences have very different responses. The tax collectors and sinners “draw near to hear him.” Perhaps they loved hearing a story about the joy of God in sinners who repent and return to him. The Pharisees and scribes, meanwhile, “grumble” (15:2). They can’t believe Jesus sits with sinners and eats with them.

I hope you see how the parable of the Prodigal Son is not abstract. And if you return to its conclusion in Luke 15:25–32, I hope you’ll see that the story isn’t primarily about God’s mercy. It’s actually a rebuke to the Pharisees who think they know God. Consider the father’s final words: “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The unspoken implication here is terrifying: the older brother does not truly know the father. If he did, he’d join the feast and not stand outside the kingdom.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t then turn to the Pharisees and explain all of that. Nor does he say something like, “Therefore, I say unto you, if you don’t come into the feast you’ll be cast out into outer darkness.” Now there are times when he does this, but not always. Sometimes Jesus just lets the implications burn into the heart. As some evangelists describe it, he has left a tiny pebble in their shoe.

What’s my point? In honor-shame cultures, it’s incredibly important to “save face.” This can be detrimental to our evangelism because some hearers will respond positively out of a desire not to cause you shame by saying “no.” This gets amplified during evangelistic services and “altar calls.” Though well-intentioned, these practices create an internal desire—not to come to Christ, but to not bring shame upon oneself, their friends, or the preacher.

So should we avoid calling for a response in our evangelism? Absolutely not. But we must exercise wisdom and patience. We need to trust the patient power of the Holy Spirit through the ordinary means of grace more than we trust our one-time techniques. 

After reading the Bible and reviewing the gospel message with someone, I usually ask them, “What would keep you from believing this?” At this point, even if they’re not ready to decide, they’re thinking about this question. This not only puts the ball into their court, but it gives me the ability to talk through felt obstacles so that they have wrong assumptions corrected or right assumptions affirmed and worked through. This can happen after a one-time-conversation, but this often happens best after the questions and realities of the gospel have had time to percolate in their heart and mind.

3.  Let Joy Be Your Aim

Finally, we need to remember that the end goal of our evangelism isn’t to scare someone away from hell. I 100% believe hell is real and horrible and it is unloving to not try and direct someone away from spending their eternity there, but if that’s our only aim then we fall short. John writes in 1 John 1:4 that the apostles “write these things so that your joy may be complete.” Knowing God in salvation is about experiencing the joy of relationship with God.

New Testament writers expected us to know joy from knowing God even in this life. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” Being “awake” or “asleep” means being alive or dead. So whether dead or alive, the goal is to live with the Lord. Jesus himself makes this point in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life doesn’t not merely refer to life after death, but to a restored relationship with God through Jesus—a restoration of the joy-filled life that Adam had with God in Eden!

As we share the gospel in honor-shame cultures, we need to remember that most people are not thinking about heaven and hell. In fact, most people are doing all they can to make it through the day. While heaven and hell must be kept in view in evangelism, so too must the present realities of hope, joy, and peace that can mark a restored life with our Creator. Our gospel is far more than just “heavenly life insurance.”

Conclusion

There’s more to be said. But if we keep these five exhortations in mind, then we may find ourselves with a greater abundance of joy in our own evangelism.

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