Discussion Forum, IMB Version: What Is a Gospel Presentation?

by Ethan Moore on January 25, 2013 · 33 comments

Annually, the IMB gathers statistics and data from missionaries around the globe.  The proper departments in Richmond count and collate and conjugate and calibrate and masticate and all other sorts of other excitingly geeky verbs.  They analyze the information and produce reports that allow trustees and SBC churches to know and understand what their missionaries have been doing between coffee breaks.

One subsection relates to the following question:  How many individuals received a gospel presentation?

Simple enough, eh?

Define for me, if you will, “a gospel presentation.”

When people (and select SBC animals) out there read the reports and stats, what do you think they envision when they see the phrase “…a gospel presenation”?  What do you think are the rock-bottom, most basic elements of a gospel presentation; elements that, if missing, cause the presentation to be not good enough to achieve gospel-presentation status?

If I tell someone about sin, death, eternity, Christ, blood, the cross, and resurrection, is that enough?  Do I have to include baptism?  The trinity?  Heaven and Arminianism?  Hell and Calvinism?  End of the world?  The Devil?  Adam and Eve?  The symbolism of Christ’s sacrifice in the prophecies of Isaiah?

Well?

1 Bruce H. January 25, 2013 at 9:13 am

I do not think we can have a “standard” presentation for all people. I look at the four soils and see a variety of individuals. Maybe a basic presentation would be targeted at the soil trodden down that will not receive the seed of the gospel. They simply should hear that there is a Creator, man fell in sin which has a penalty and the Creator chose to make provision for His creation to be redeemed. The other three soils would show an interest which would allow the Christian opportunity to elaborate more fully the gospel presentation. I have met few fertile soils in my lifetime and it was well worth the privilege of expanding on the gospel presentation.

2 Christiane January 25, 2013 at 10:58 am

of all the ‘announcements’ made to the world by the early Christians, this is the one that caught fire among those who heard it: ‘Christ is risen.’

from Trevin Wax’s blog, this proclamation by John Chrysostom:

“Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for pardon has shown forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the Savior’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell,
He made hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.

It took a Body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
Amen.”

3 Christiane January 25, 2013 at 10:59 am
4 Greg Harvey January 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

Rich topic. My first thought is this: “Remember how David got in trouble with God for taking a census?” God knew David’s heart and in his heart God knew David would use those statistics as a proxy for the strength of the nation, specifically the number of fighting men.

God wanted David to instead view GOD as the strength of the nation. I think the comparative lesson is that we need to be careful about depending on something we can “count” to “quantify” either God’s participation or our honest effort on his behalf.

But there is this basic concept that if something is important, it’s worth measuring. Those who remember the offering envelopes, the Spiral, and the Super Spiral remember collecting statistics that were thought to be indicative of basic measures of at least spiritual preparation. In retrospect, some of that–I’m speaking specifically of the envelopes–seems pretty silly but it was kind of fun to ‘secretary’ at the time.

Which is to say, as a kid doing secretarial duties for my class roster, I had fun tracking it off of the envelopes and into the roll. And it was my first exposure to tracking metrics and statistics. Which, of course, fascinated me.

Without a standard definition, of course, accumulated statistics are merely counts and don’t really represent anything other than someone accumulating them and compiling them. When presented on the floor of the convention at the Annual Meeting, I think it does provide a SENSE of accountability for what most Southern Baptists think of as a key missionary activity. But those of us who are wise regarding numbers immediately start dividing by the number of missionaries. And then wondering “is that the best we can do?”

The answer to that, of course, is “no”. We can always do better. But the better question is “are we being clay in the Master’s hand?” For the individual missionary, that is the question each day that he or she needs to answer honestly. And I’ll offer that the answer to that question isn’t a number.

5 Jeremy Parks January 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

Great answers, guys, and insightful. However, the question remains: when you examine the notion of a gospel presentation, what do you envision?

Bruce, you mentioned the need to avoid a cookie-cutter approach, varying the way we present the gospel from person to person. I agree completely. What, then, makes our message a gospel proclamation? If I say, “Jesus loves you and gave his life so you might not die!” is that enough to qualify my message as a gospel presentation? Regardless of presentation style and form, it would seem that certain fundamentals are needed.

The question remains: what are those fundamental ideas?

6 Max January 25, 2013 at 11:53 am

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association provides “rock-bottom, most basic elements of a gospel presentation” in its “4 Steps to Peace” … http://peacewithgod.jesus.net/

7 Bob Cleveland January 25, 2013 at 11:57 am

Max, the “Steps to Peace” tract from Billy Graham was the one on which we learned to share the gospel, in SHAMGAR Training in 1969-1970. Still remember and use those verses.

8 Bob Cleveland January 25, 2013 at 11:56 am

If you’re talking about presenting the Gospel to lost folks, consider the following:

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV)

So how CAN you present the Gospel to someone who can’t understand Spiritual things? Well, you can, by dealing with things God says lost folks can, or may be able to, grasp:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV)

So EVERYONE is able to see God exists, and understand somewhat of His nature. Then, Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, Whom He was about to send:

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8 ESV)

So lost folks may be able to perceive about sin, righteousness and judgment. If the Holy Spirit had convicted them of same (without arguing about whether He convicts everyone, or only the elect).

To me, those are the only Spiritual things we know that the lost may be able to perceive. Go beyond that, and we’re speaking a language the lost can’t understand.

9 Bruce H. January 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Jeremy,

My dad has that inbred gift of evangelism. He carries tracts with him all the time and hands one to everyone he meets. His first questions is, “Are you going to heaven?” then his follow-up question is, “Are your 100% sure you are going to heaven?” He believes when you win someone to Christ that you teach them how to win souls for Christ and take them soul winning. That is how the SBC of his day encouraged them to spread the gospel. I have resisted that method and still do, although I use those probing questions sometimes.

I like your question about what I envision. I think envisioning is similar to how wisdom would work. I am sensitive to the “compassion” that would come in me like it did the Good Samaritan. When I am in a conversation with someone I tend to plot my course as the information is presented. I want what I say to fall on “good” ground in order for it to sprout and grow. Wisdom is very important in our approach. Saying the right thing at the right time to produce the most effective response when presenting the gospel is critical. For me, envisioning the persons situation is very necessary, then plotting a course. We have to present the bad and good in a way that influences the person to recognize that what you are offering is “good news” to his/her situation or life. The Good Samaritan addressed what was bad first, which was the race barrier. Then he was able to address the condition of the wounded man. When the fear was removed, trust began between them. Once you are credible in the candidates eyes and you are wise in your approach, you will not only be successful but the person begins their new life on the right foot.

As we mature, we use the language of the Kingdom in our gospel presentation. If the Spirit of Grace is upon the heart of the candidate he/she will be receptive and you will know it. If not, you will discover that as well.

10 dean January 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Jeremy, I believe a Gospel presentation is one that has to confront an individual with sin and judgment and introduce Jesus as the only redeemer for man’s sinful condition. I am grateful for our missionaries and trust that whatever you report with a clear conscience is good enough to count as a Gospel presentation. I pray that these type issues will never steal a missionary’s zeal. As a member of the SBC, let me say, we trust you guys, believe in you guys and are truly sorry when we behave in a way that makes you feel we don’t. You give’em heaven in Ecuador!

11 Jeremy Parks January 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Oh, these are not bad issues, or even issues. I do not ask the question because it is a hassle or a chore to keep track of these things.

I just know that lots of people have a slightly different definition of the phrase “a gospel presentation.” I’m just curious as to how readers of this site, largely SBC folks, interpret the phrase.

thanks for interacting.

12 Steve January 25, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Surely a Gospel Presentation would include a declaration of personal sin, that sin separates from God, that God has made a way of reconciliation through Jesus, who is Son of God/God Incarnate, was sinless, died for our sins, rose again, AND will save those who believe.

Steve in Montana

13 Jim Pemberton January 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm

The gospel:

God created man (male and female implied).
Man sinned against God and was separated from God.
Without reconciliation with God man is eternally dead (hell, judgment).
Everyone since the beginning sins and needs to be reconciled.
God became man: Jesus.
Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to.
But Jesus, being Creator God, is greater than death and was raised back to life.
So if we trust in this work, we can be freed from our sin, both in the sinning and the eternal consequence of it. So our bodies may die, but we will be raised up on the last day just as Jesus was and we will live with him forever.

Now, the tautology can be altered to fit the situation and often these things need some explaining or the veracity of it argued from different angles. But this is the essence of the gospel. If I remember correctly, studies have shown that it takes hearing the gospel an average of 6 times for someone to come to faith – if they come to faith. So it bears repeating by different witnesses.

As for whether this is enough, there are two directions I want to go on this:

1) Some people have difficulty understanding this much. I don’t believe that faith requires a full understanding of the complete gospel. For some people, understanding they have a need and that the need is met by God is enough to trust him where their cognitive faculties are impaired. Whether we can say that such a rudimentary understanding warrants baptism is certainly debatable and the jury is out for me on that.

2) After someone comes to faith, it is incumbent on the community of faith to see to their spiritual growth and development. That means that understanding the gospel is only the beginning. Training in deeper areas of theological truth as well as how knowing God affects our lives is vital to every believer. So we run into important doctrines such as the Trinity or the virgin birth. Someone who truly has faith will have no problem accepting these things. They will also learn of some of the more debatable areas and they will have the opportunity to understand the issue so they can believe one or the other opposing doctrines from a position of understanding – not just because they were told by a minister to believe something. In this fashion, the gospel is only a starting place and the true believer will grow in wisdom and knowledge. A failure to do so is the stagnation that marks a nominal Christian.

14 Bruce H. January 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The more I think about it, what makes our gospel presentation is this:

Black backdrop
Light
A diamond

When the righteousness of Christ is applied to the believer, the diamond reflects the light of Christ.

15 Greg Harvey January 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Something tells me that isn’t quite the level of specificity Jeremy was looking for…

16 William Thornton January 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm

You asked: “If I tell someone about sin, death, eternity, Christ, blood, the cross, and resurrection, is that enough?”

For reporting metrics, yes, that is enough for me.

17 Jon January 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I think the Gospel can be presented in many forms, some of which are nonverbal. When done verbally the possibilities will still vary. To attempt to standardize it would shortchange it in the long run, since we would risk reductionism. The best presentation is one that reflects the accuracy of the Word yet is Spirit-inspired and contextualized.

18 Jeremy Parks January 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Great answer!

Now….which parts of the Word? All of them? Just certain parts?

And if just certain parts – which ones?

19 Jon January 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Jeremy, I tried to answer that but I should clarify my response. I don’t think we need to worry so much about which parts or how much of it we communicate. I think it’s more about where the person is at and what they need to hear. We are God’s hands and feet in the world, but he has a way of picking up where we leave off and finishing up the job. I’m reminded of the hymn ‘O Master Let Me Walk with Thee,” particularly the the line that goes like this: “Help me the slow of heart to move by some clear winning word of love.” And that, I think, will result when we are scripturally informed and Holy Spirit-inspired. From our angle it would be synchronistic and from theirs hopefully serendipitous. Does that seem like an adequate answer?

20 Andrew January 25, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Scot McKnight makes a compelling case that the gospel is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ – citing 1Co 15.

I would suggest that we need to talk about 15 things (I didn’t pick that number just because of that bible reference!):
Creation, Fall, Law, Prophets (the indwelling Spirit), Promises (Messiah)
Christ as God, as Man, as True Teacher, as Great Prophet, as Messiah
Our Need, His Death, His Resurrection, His Ascension, His Return

By the way, I have worked up a mnemonic for this, using your hand, and am in the process of connecting Bible storying to the points. Jeremy – or anyone else – I would be happy to send this to you for your consideration. My church is planning on using this as part of our evangelism method.

McKnight’s book, for those who are interested: http://www.amazon.com/King-Jesus-Gospel-Original-Revisited/dp/031049298X

21 Jon January 25, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Love McKnight. Read his The Blue Parakeet.

22 Dave Miller January 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Good post today, Jeremy. I didn’t have much time to interact, but this was a worthy topic.

23 Greg Buchanan January 25, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Jeremy –

I appreciate your question in light of having known missionaries living in the 10-40 window who did their best, but according to the bean counters, they didn’t lead one person to Christ and were therefore failures. They actually had to have a documented notch on their bible-belt here in the States before they could be reassigned… silly i think. We can’t make people believe and can’t fail at sharing unless we REFUSE to tell others about Jesus death on the cross to take away our separation from God (which is our guilt and sin).

I understand your follow up questions as well since they, and the presentation itself, is unquantifiable and uncatagorizable so as to fit neatly onto a spread-sheet.

What everyone needs to remember is that when a person comes to faith in Jesus, they only know enough about Him that they’d agree to drive to Vegas to be married to Him by Elvis. The new believer doesn’t know if He squeezes the toothpaste from the middle or which way He likes the toilet paper to roll off the holder on the wall.

How can we know the “what” that will tip the scales on a person’s life and make them want to say “Vegas Road Trip” at the top of their lungs? I think a “gospel presentation” starts with prayer, ends with prayer, and is filled with as much as you can share about Jesus death for sin and resurrection for life when your audience is listening.

24 Dave Miller January 26, 2013 at 9:41 pm

I wrote on this a couple of weeks ago, but as I have been studying and teaching Acts on Sunday nights, two things have struck me:

1) The death of Christ for our sins was always referenced, but the focus of gospel presentations was the resurrection and Lordship of Christ.

2) The confrontational nature of the gospel presentations. They got in people’s faces with the truths concerning Jesus.

25 Christiane January 26, 2013 at 10:32 pm

In Rome, when the Christians preached ‘Christ is Lord’,
it WAS extremely confrontational because the phrase Romans were used to hearing in proclamation was ‘Caesar is Lord’ . . .

‘Christ is Lord’ is the proclamation of a new King with a new Kingdom, so you can imagine how this inflamed some of the emperors to persecute those they considered to be a threat to their own power.

But not even the emperors of Rome could bring people back from the dead . . . and that is why ‘Christ is Risen’ was so powerful a proclamation, giving tremendous hope to people who thirsted for it. No one had ever come and given them that kind of hope before (or since).

A new Kingdom, a new Ruler, a new order . . .
this had to be tremendously confrontational to the status quo.

26 Mack Nine January 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

On the 2012 (which reported the year 2011 numbers) report form it appears the Annual Statistical Report uses the term “Gospel Witness” and not “Gospel Presentation. This to me seems to open the door to ANY part of the Gospel that is communicated to be counted as a Gospel Witness. So if you meet a Deaf person at the park and before he catches the bus to go home have an opportunity to present any part or all parts of the Gospel Presentation, that would count as one person who “heard a Gospel Witness”.
http://public.imb.org/globalresearch/Documents/2012%20ASR%20Annual%20Summary%20(Public).pdf

27 Bob Hadley January 28, 2013 at 9:50 am

I like using the Roman Road… It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who has not sinned. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives. “No one is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death;” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God.

Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins.

Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are trusting Jesus Christ and Him alone for your salvation.

The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I am a sinner and that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Your Word says that Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. I ask You to forgive me of my sin and make me part of Your forever family.

Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

><>”

28 Les Prouty January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Bob,

I have used the Roman Road many times. Thanks for sharing this.

29 Greg Harvey January 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I was actually going to suggest to Dave that he commission Bob to convert this into a “ReadMeFirst” kind of link for casual visitors to SBCVoices. But I don’t know if that fits Tony and Dave’s vision for the site. I do know I was extremely appreciative when the SBC literature started consistently including the plan of salvation.

30 Bob Hadley January 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I read, “Define for me, if you will, “a gospel presentation.”

Now, as to what people THINK when they see gospel presentations on some report… who knows WHAT they think… those filling the reports out and those who read the reports…. and for that matter seems like the popular trend today is to not fill out the reports in the first place… Go figure!

Hope all have a WONDERFUL week!

><>”

31 David Rogers January 28, 2013 at 11:20 am

The whole concept of quantifying what “counts” and what does not “count” as a gospel presentation reminds me of the time I spent at Mid-America Seminary, where they have a policy that all students and faculty have to report an average of at least one gospel presentation per week, either to stay enrolled (if you are a student), or to stay on payroll (if you are faculty). At MABTS, at least when I was there, in order for it to “count,” you had to lead people through the plan of salvation in a sufficient manner for them to understand what they needed to do to be saved, and give them an opportunity to either accept or reject the gospel.

Many people who have gone to Mid-America say that this requirement helped them to learn an evangelistic lifestyle, and thus enthusiastically support it. For me, though, it always seemed like I was under the gun to find someone to take through a gospel presentation in order that I could turn in my “witnessing report” for the week. I really battled internally, asking myself what was my true motivation for sharing Christ with the folks with whom I went through the gospel presentation.

Also, I think defining “gospel presentation” this way has a tendency to lead some to jump the gun and press for a decision for Christ when people are not ready. I wrote a post several years back called “Keith Green and Spiritual Abortion” that talks about this:

http://loveeachstone.blogspot.com/2006/06/keith-green-and-spiritual-abortion.html

I think the Engel’s Scale is helpful in this respect. For those not familiar with the Engel’s Scale, I will give a link in the next comment since I don’t think I can post two links in the same comment.

In any case, a lot of times we try to bring people from, say, minus 7 or minus 6 on the Engel’s Scale all the way to Ground Zero–the point of conversion–in one 30-minute gospel presentation. I believe in many cases it may be more fruitful in the long run to bring them closer to Ground Zero one step at a time, i.e. from minus 7 to minus 6, then next time from minus 6 to minus 5, etc. From this perspective, some would only “count” the conversation that brings someone from minus 1 to Ground Zero as a true gospel presentation. But, personally, I think the entire process is an ongoing gospel presentation.

In the end, though, I don’t believe it is generally helpful to quantify it, and to try to define what “counts” and what doesn’t “count.” It is better to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and continually seek to bring everyone with whom you come into contact, wherever they may fall on the Engel’s Scale, one step further along in their Christian growth (be it pre-conversion, or post-conversion).

32 David Rogers January 28, 2013 at 11:21 am
33 Dave Miller January 28, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Good stuff as always.

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