“Gospel messaging” is all about effectively communicating the eternal, powerful, life-transforming message of Jesus to various cultures. While the gospel is always the same, each culture influences its peoples’ ability to hear and understand it. Each culture also presents unique opportunities as well as unique barriers to receiving the gospel once it is heard and understood. We need to translate the good news across these cultural divides, which is what we mean by gospel messaging.
What was Paul doing in Athens?
One of the best biblical examples of gospel messaging is the apostle Paul’s speech before the Areopagus* on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34). Paul was in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy, and as he took time to immerse himself in his surroundings, he became “greatly distressed” by what he saw. He alludes to this process in verse 23 where he says, “… as I was passing through ...” The Greek tense there indicates that Paul took multiple strolls through the city. He made it a point to experience Athens, to drink in the sights and sounds, and to hear from the people he was trying to reach. He engaged with Jewish people and Gentile “God-fearers” in the local synagogue, as well as with various people in the marketplace, and finally, with various Greek philosophers.
Paul’s observations and interactions prepared him for the ultimate message he would deliver before the chief philosophers and political leaders at the Areopagus. He was able to use what was familiar to his audience—even quoting from one of their own poets—to explain the totally new and unfamiliar gospel message.
Jews for Jesus has been operating on this cross-cultural level since the beginning, but now we are greatly expanding that effort.
Why ministry to our own people is cross cultural
You see, the Jewish people do not comprise one, big, unified culture. Even within each of the 12 countries where we currently minister, there is more than one Jewish culture. Take New York, for example, where one team member might be speaking with students at New York University in Greenwich Village, while another is having lunch with a Jewish-Gentile couple on the upper east side of Manhattan, and still another is reaching out to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in Brooklyn. Each will require a different approach with different gospel messaging. That’s why one of our ministry-wide goals is to develop and implement compelling gospel messaging for each of our key audiences.
Once we identify our key audiences, we work to have a deeper understanding of how they think and communicate, and what their hopes and fears are. Whether it’s attending events offered by people in our audiences, reading materials they are reading, or just listening to what they have to say, the process called “immersion” helps us know how to explain the timeless truths of the gospel within a given cultural context. And that’s what Paul was doing from the moment he arrived in Athens.
Four years ago, we went through this process with 10 different teams of staff and volunteers in Jerusalem, all in preparation for our Behold Your God Jerusalem campaign. That helped lay the groundwork for one of the most successful of the 78 campaigns we held over the entire Behold Your God project. Our recently established Jerusalem branch grew out of this effort.
We are now going through that very process on a global scale as we consider how best to reach key audiences throughout Jews for Jesus.
We want to encourage you to apply these principles in your own witness.
- Like Paul, we should be deeply concerned or “provoked in our spirit” by what is going on in the culture around us.
- Like Paul, we should not allow our concern to alienate us from the very people who need Jesus, but rather, we should take time to listen and understand the culture and circumstances of the people we are trying to reach.
- Like Paul, we should be ready to practice sharing the good news with as many types of people God brings across our path, and learn from those encounters.
We are so grateful to you for standing with us as we share the gospel, and we want to affirm you as you do the same. Thank you for helping us fulfill our calling, and may God bless you as you fulfill yours!
* The Areopagus was at times the gathering place for the politicians and the city council, a court of law and debating forum for Greek and Roman philosophy.