If we only have 3–5 minutes, can we still contextualize the gospel? I think we can.
(This and the next week, I build my previous post “Evangelism or “Elevator Pitch.”)
What gets in our way?
Two obstacles get in the way of contextualizing the gospel even for a 3–5-minute conversation.
First, many gospel presentations are contextualized for the wrong person––the speaker. Why? In a time-crunch, we default to sharing whatever we understand best. As a result, our message is tailored to our preferences and are limited by our lack of forethought.
Second, everyone wants to contextualize the gospel… as long as they can do it quickly. As I explained previously, people are too content to give “elevator pitches.” Therefore, this tendency confuses being clear with being concise. Modern Christians usually share whatever method is most efficient.
“Elevator pitches” can be helpful only if we remember their purpose–– to get more of their time and attention to share the gospel. Don’t confuse evangelism with an “elevator pitch” as if the message of an elevator pitch is sufficient to convince a person to go from 0 to life commitment in 3 minutes.
Quick pitches are efficient, but they aren’t effective for making disciples.
Mapping the Message
We can overcome these problems with a little forethought.
Forethought enables us to have flexibility to adapt our presentation in any context. If we don’t think ahead, we will not be ready to share the gospel in a way that is biblically faithful and culturally meaningful. Without intentionality, we will compromise the gospel be settling for what we’ve always done before.
A very simple tool can help us in two ways. One–– contextualize our message for the sake of our listener. Two–– plan ahead so that we can make the most of those brief minutes we have with others.
Government and business professionals sometimes use a process called “message mapping.” Message maps help speakers focus on the main ideas of their message. In case it helps, I’ve linked a short video where Carmine Gallo, a well-known communication coach, summarizes how to use a message in a business context.
A Contextualization Map
How might the “message map” idea help us contextualize? I’ve adapted the idea to create a “contextualization map.” We need to think about various factors that shape contextualization. These include cultural, historical and biblical contexts.
Therefore, a contextualization map is not a formula. Rather, it provides a flexible framework to guide our thinking.
I’ve made 6 contextualization maps under the following headings. They each take a different angle on our task, depending on one’s needs.
- Three Gospel Questions
In One Gospel for All Nations, I explain the four main questions that gospel questions answer.
- Who is Jesus?
- What does he do?
- Why does he matter?
- How do we respond?
The response to the gospel logically is not part of the gospel itself, even if it’s important to presenting the gospel. So, the template only focuses on the gospel message itself.
(The example below shows the prompts included in the linked excel template)
Where are you? What theme from the culture, subculture or context will you use? For example, if you are in China, we might focus on any other these themes: “face”, relationships, job, money, tradition, marriage, family, collective identity, among others.
What biblical theme will frame your message ? A few examples include: creation, covenant, kingdom, holiness, temple, promise, purity, sacrifice, honor-shame, among many others.
The gospel fundamentally answers “Who is Jesus?” So, we might ask ourselves, “What aspect of Jesus’ life, character, or mission do you want to talk about?” We have multiple answers to choose from, like King, Healer, Shepherd, Priest, along with other possibilities.
- Conversation Partner
Perhaps you work with a certain group of people. Although every individual has different experiences and personalities, people within groups usually have a number of things in common.
What is an important issue or theme for the person with whom you are sharing? This should be specific to a person or group of people. Do you want to share with students, parents, business profession, farmers, others?
Click the following links to access the contextualization maps.
Excel template (dropbox link): This is the best format to use as it includes prompts to guide you through the planning process.