Let me share a fictitious story about two missionaries and their approach to missions.  These two missionary couples are not real.  Their stories however are very real and reflect a variety of common missionary situations.

To add simplicity (and a small degree of good-heartedness) to our story, let’s talk about the make-believe Umpa Lumpa Tribe of South America (no offense intended to you Willie Wonka fans!)

The Umpa Lumpa is an un-evangelized tribe in South America.  They have never heard the Gospel, and follow primitive pagan rituals.  They have no knowledge of the Bible. In this tribe, deception was the highest virtue.  They worship many gods.  Their livelihood is very basic.  They live in grass huts with thatched roofs.  They have no doctors, nurses or hospitals and few have every seen the world outside of their own village and its surroundings.

JOE and WENDY are good church members who heard about this tribe and are burdened to reach them with the gospel.  They ravel to Umpa Lumpa Land and live with the Umpa Lumpa people.  They begin by meeting people and sharing “the four spiritual laws,” just like they did when they evangelized in the USA.  They build a small church with expensive wood boards brought in from the big city, even though every other Umpa Lumpa building is a hut with a thatched roof.  The church looks out of place in Umpa Lumpa land, however, it looks just like a small version of their church back in America!
Church services are held every Sunday at 11, rain or shine.  Joe and Wendy are very proud of their hymnbooks, even though the Umpa Lumpan’s have never seen a book before.  A donor from the US was very generous to provide these hymn books, and very insistent that they be used to help the new church.  Joe and Wendy teach the Umpa Lumpans how to sing the same songs that they sang in their church in America, in English, of course.  However, they get discouraged because no one comes to church.  They return to the USA before the end of their first term.

In contrast, let’s consider Jerry and Linda, another missionary couple with the same burden to reach the Umpa Lumpa people.  Jerry and Linda spend a great deal of time studying the culture, language and history of Umpa Lumpa.  They don’t build a church at first.  Instead, they invest their energies in spending time visiting people in their homes, working with them in their fields, and learning how they live their lives.  Since the Umpa Lumpan’s do not have a concept of God as creator, Jerry and Linda tell the story of creation, sin, Adam and Eve, and the Old Testament sacrifices. They take time to explain metaphors that the Umpa Lumpan’s do not understand, like a Lamb (there are no sheep in Umpa Lumpa land), and sin being “whiter than snow.”  After 3 years of getting to know the people, a few Umpa Lumpan’s trust in Christ. Jerry and Linda continue to teach the new disciples, and they begin to share with other friends.  They build a church, but it looks pretty much like other buildings in their village. They sing songs of worship, but they sound similar to the music that the Umpa Lumpan’s sing, and of course, they are sung in their language, not in English.  Into their second term as missionaries, Jerry and Linda are excited to see an Umpa Lumpa congregation, led by Umpa Lumpa disciples, sharing the gospel with in their village and the other nearby villages.

If you were going to be a missionary, in a different culture, what plan do you think is more likely to succeed in making the gospel clear?  It is not hard to see why Jerry and Linda’s plan makes more sense. Without realizing it, Joe and Wendy were really focused on making a particular kind of disciple – one that looks like an American Christian rather than just a Christian.  Missionaries work very hard not to fall into this trap.

Jerry and Linda made the Gospel understandable to the people that were listening.
Joe and Wendy took the ideas that worked in one culture and transferred them to a new culture.

Understanding your audience is important!  But while it is EASY to see this in MISSIONS, we fail to apply this to evangelism!

There are TWO CULTURES in America today.

The CULTURAL CHANGE between a BIBLICAL WORLD VIEW and SECULAR WORLD VIEW is as great as someone from America going to a tribe in AFRICA.

Bible-believing Christians are guided by Scripture to a biblical world view.  We see clearly issues such as being pro-life, supporting a normal definition of marriage, having moral absolutes, valuing and emphasizing personal responsibility.  Those values were once widely embraced by the vast majority of Americans, whether they were devoutly religious or not.  America was once a nation that predominantly held to a Christian world view.

But today, the typical American has little knowledge of the Bible, and has a world view that has been highly influenced by the secular media.

The CHANGE has taken place quickly.  Take for example, the change in opinion over gay marriage.  The FIRST time Gallop ever questioned Americans on their view of gay marriage was in 1996.  Then, only 27% believed that gay marriage should be allowed.  Today, that number is 60%. www.gallup.com/poll/183272/record-high-americans-support-sex-marriage.aspx
in just 20 years, the opinion over homosexual marriage has been completely inverted.

A Barna Research, survey dated this year indicates that from 2013, to 2015, the percentage of Americans who qualify as “post Christian” rose from 37% to 44%.
To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals had to meet 60% or more of the following factors (nine or more). “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of these 15 criteria).
1.Do not believe in God
2.Identify as atheist or agnostic
3.Disagree that faith is important in their lives
4.Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5.Have never made a commitment to Jesus
6.Disagree the Bible is accurate
7.Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8.Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9.Agree that Jesus committed sins
10.Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11.Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12.Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13.Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14.Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15.Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

AMERICA is now a mission field.

Don Lough (Executive Director of Word of Life) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) tell us, “Evangelism in America today is much more like Acts 17 than Acts 2.”  https://answersingenesis.org/gospel/evangelism/acts-17-evangelism/

So, HOW DO YOU REACH PEOPLE?  The same way that you would if you were a missionary going to a foreign culture!

The BEHAVIOR and VALUES in our world today causes Christians great concern.
But CHANGE comes through the gospel!

Can the gospel change lives when the culture has turned away from God?  YES!
–    Hearts are still empty without God
–    The difference between the Church and the World is made clear
–    The Love of Christians can be seen through persecution
–    False believers will not stick around and face persecution for something they do not truly believe.

Acts 17:16-34

ATHENS had passed its former glory.  John Polhill writes,
Athens was but a shadow of its former glory ….. in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Corinth was now the leading city of Greece commercially and politically. Even Athens’ native population had dwindled, estimated at some 5,000 voting citizens. But this was considerably augmented by the nonnative population, particularly the artists, the students, and the tourists. ……  This is not to say that Athens was no longer an important city. It was still considered the cultural and intellectual center of the Roman Empire,
John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 365–366.

1.    A burden for the Lost. Acts 17:16  “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”

2.    Paul Engaged people’s minds. Acts 17:17  “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

3.    Paul started with observation, not attack.  He observed their city!  Acts 17:22–23  “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. ” “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

4.    Paul turned the conversation on something with which they were familiar. Acts 17:23  “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

5.    This sermon differs from Acts 2.
Begins with Creation
No direct quotation from the OT
No invitation
Quotes one of their poets

6.    Paul was in for the long haul.  He continued in Athens.

7.    Paul was willing to adjust his lifestyle so that others could hear the gospel.  1 Corinthians 9:20–23  “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. ” “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. ” “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. ” “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Rather than fulfilling his own personal dreams, Paul sacrificed for the sake of others.  He willingly surrendered his privileges and rights so that the gospel message would shine to others and not be hindered.  It didn’t matter to him if the thing that hindered people was silly.  It didn’t matter to him if the Jews should have been more patient, or the Gentiles more knowledgeable of Old Testament history.  Paul laid aside his prerogatives becuase presenting the gospel clearly to people was more important.  He demonstrates the exact opposite of the slogan that we hear so often today, “Be True to yourself!”  That slogan is a lie!  We need to be TRUE to GOD and honor others above self!

APPLICATION: America, 2016 is very much like ATHENS in Acts 17.
People do not know about God
They will listen, but we must make the conversation about the GOSPEL
As Bible believing Christians, we don’t like the change.  But whether or not we like it, this is the world in which we live, the world that God has called us to present the gospel.

For us, this is hard.  America has changed in our lifetime. If you are over 40, you grew up in JERUSALEM.  Most people had a world view highly influenced by our Judeo-Christian heritage.  But that has changed.

We grew up in Jerusalem, but we now live in Athens!
And the people of Athens are different than the people of Jerusalem!   If they think that CHRISTIANITY is essentially about rules, they will not listen.  We cannot put SANCTIFICATION before JUSTIFICATION


Let me illustrate this change, and two different ways of dealing with it with the following illustration.  The story is real, but I have changed the names.

Dave and Sue lived in a suburban neighborhood.
They didn’t know how to approach the situation of having a lesbian couple living next door.  To make it worse, the couple had custody of a child that belonged one of the women.
Dave and Sue befriended the couple.  They invited them when they had neighborhood events.  They babysat for the daughter and let their children play with her.
They invited the couple to church.  And they loved it!
They continued to come, even though this was a gospel preaching church and although knew the church’s position on homosexuality, they felt loved when they came.
The pastor and his wife invited them to dinner, on more than one occasion.  The pastor found out that one of the women was being abused by the other, but didn’t know how to get out of the relationship.
THEN, Dave and Sue sold their house to someone from their church.  Dave and Sue were excited that their witness in the neighborhood would continue, but wondered why after they moved, they didn’t see either of the two women neighbors in church.  They contacted one of the women they were closest to.
“The very week your church friend moved into your old house, she came over to see us.  She said wanted to make it clear that God hated what we were doing.  Homosexuality is sin and she didn’t understand why we were coming out to church.”
Calls from the pastor and his wife could not undo the damage done by this church member.  They never visited the church again.

Did the woman speak the truth?
Did she speak it in love?
Who was more like Jesus, the pastor and his wife, or the woman who explained God’s condemnation of homosexuality?

We need to be focused on the Gospel, because only the gospel can changed lives.  Yes, we know what God says about homosexuality, the sanctity of life, honesty, personal responsibility, caring for the poor and host of other commands.  But moving people in their thinking and behavior cannot come through legislation, accusation or lecturing.  True change can only come through the gospel that changes the heart and mind of the sinner.

To connect with our world, we need to love the people of our world and see them as souls that need the gospel – a gospel that will change their hearts and lives forever.