The New Challenge of Reaching the Secular-minded

Dear Brethren, Shopping is distasteful to me. When I go into a store (with the exception of Bass Pro Shop) I have a purpose in mind and want to get out as fast as I can, but that is not always easy. It was relatively easy to buy “tennis shoes” when I was young. Even if you did not play tennis, that’s what everyone called athletic shoes. There might be two brands and all you had to do was find the right size. Today, there are a multitude of brands, styles, colors, prices and considerations: running shoes, walking shoes, basketball shoes, cross trainers, etc., etc., etc. Does this one or that one pronate inward or outward? I need help, but that is when a salesman is never available!

Now don’t go away, because there is a purpose to all this! My wife, on the other hand, loves to look, and that is mostly what she does. She can spend ten minutes smelling different brands of coffee before choosing one. I guess that is why we always have good coffee in the morning. One thing that turns her off is a sales representative who is too helpful. “I’m just looking, thank you.” But, she is gone if the sales person hovers around her too much.

Have you considered that the Church, in a way, is in the sales business? We have something to “sell”—the truth and a better way of life. Of course, we are not salesmen in the traditional sense, since what we have to “sell” is FREE. God counsels all: “Buy the truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23). Yet how can people “buy” it if it is not available? So, we reach out to the world with the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, a kingdom they can be born into for all eternity; but we also warn them that, if they reject this better way, pain follows—a reality for many! We are seeking to give the entire world the opportunity to “buy” this truth, free of charge!

It is difficult to “sell” to someone who finds your “storefront” distasteful. Different stores and different approaches work for different people. We know we have the right message, but how we present it is important in a world where professing Christianity is an ever-shrinking population.

We have a difficult challenge. Consider Matthew 28 and Mark 16—take the gospel to all nations and baptize all whom God calls. Consider that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations” before the end comes (Matthew 24:14). It WILL be done! Consider the warning given in Ezekiel, that we will be held accountable to warn the house of Israel to repent.

How do we do this among the Israelite nations filled with “shoppers” who have no interest in anything religious? The overwhelming majority are skeptical of, if not hostile to, our message.

We learned at Ambassador College that the first rule of public speaking is to consider your audience. The Apostle Paul gives us the same advice in 1 Corinthians 9:19–22. He wrote that he made himself, “a servant of all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul considered his audience. He did not approach the Gentiles as he did the Jews. He spoke in the Hebrew tongue when addressing a hostile Jewish crowd. He began with the story of his conversion and they listened to him until he mentioned the word Gentile (see Acts 21:40 to 22:22). It went downhill from there, but he got them to “come into the store” and see what he had to offer.

The overwhelming majority of our world reacts the same way to our telecast, except that they never “come into our store.” Let us be honest. Only a tiny fraction of our populations has any interest in religion. They come across the religious hour, see the “storefront,” and are gone!

Stephen knew his audience and drew them “into the store” with a history lesson. They did not buy what he had to sell, but they listened—up until the punch line, when they killed him. However, he had their attention long enough to give God’s warning message.

Paul spoke on Mars Hill to a very religious Gentile audience (Acts 17:22). He did not review his conversion or Israel’s history. He began with something they could relate to—the “unknown” God—and he challenged them by saying they were worshipping Him ignorantly (v. 23).

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was a master communicator. He understood his audience. Most in his day had some sense of God, many regularly attended “the church of their choice,” and many read the Bible. He knew how to challenge them concerning their beliefs about the Bible, often provoking them to “prove him wrong,” only for them to discover that they were the ones who were wrong! But, when he went to “non-Christian” emperors and kings, he spoke to them in terms they could understand: There are two ways of life—give and get. He also spoke of the need for “a strong hand from somewhere” to solve man’s intractable problems. Had he come to them as a televangelist with a non-mainstream message, he would never have gotten through the front door!

How did Mr. Armstrong come to visit so many world leaders? King Leopold III of Belgium was introduced by someone to the beautiful 1965 Ambassador College Envoy. The King was so impressed by what he saw that he wanted to meet the man responsible for building three magnificent campuses, not only the buildings and grounds, but the faces of well-dressed, happy students. That is how it all began! That is how the door was opened to preaching the gospel to scores of world leaders!

So how do we attract people to walk through the door of our “store”? We must never forget that we have something unique. The real gospel of the Kingdom of God and the true Jesus Christ is radically different from anything found in professing Christianity. It is the only hope for this very troubled world. This is our message, but as with Paul and Stephen, we must capture people’s attention. God told Ezekiel to portray a siege against Jerusalem as a sign to the house of Israel (Ezekiel 4:1–3). Jeremiah wore a yoke of wood around his neck—something that would garner attention and make a point (Jeremiah 28:10–14). Read through the prophets and see the many ways God got the attention of rebellious nations.

Ecclesiastes advises us, “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

We must continue to preach to those who are most likely to listen—professing Christians—but we must also gain the attention of a skeptical, secular world. Most will not “buy” God’s truth, but we must get them to look in the storefront window by offering common ground. An example of this is the Canadian-produced Viewpoint video, “Where Do the Celts Come From?” It is not overtly religious, but at the end advertises the booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy. As of this writing, it has more than 68,000 views, more than 20,000 during a two-and-a-half day stretch, without advertising during that time.

Who would guess that subject would bring people “into the store” to look? Whether they pick up the free literature inside is yet to be seen, but we turned their heads and got their attention for a few minutes, and maybe more!

And we will continue to explore ways to grab the attention of a hurting world, that we may warn them of the coming time of trouble ahead and give them the good news of Christ’s coming to save us from destruction. Please pray that God will show us how to best do this.

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