How to Preach the Gospel in Liberal Churches

Tuesday is for Preaching

Old stone Church

This may upset some people.

Jesus went to synagogues. Paul went to synagogues. All the evidence is that the apostles all took the gospel message to synagogues first. Jesus went to the open fields, to boats, to houses, to wells, stopped in the midst of crowds. Paul went to river sides, to places “where he was supposing some people to be,” (Acts 16), to Mars Hill.  But both Jesus and Paul went first to the synagogues of their time.

There are theological reasons for this (Acts 18:15; Romans 1:16, 2:10), but I think there are also strategic and pragmatic reasons as well. At the synagogue, Jesus and the apostles knew that there was a core of people who had a worldview formed by a lifelong exposure to the Scriptures.  It may have been corrupted and crowded by rabbinic midrashic commentary, but there was still a kernel of revelation upon which gospel narrative could be built and understood.

Many liberal churches today are similar.  In fact, in many of them there is more Scripture read in the services than is typically read in more conservative, supposedly Bible-believing churches. There will typically be a call to worship from the psalms, an OT reading, a NT reading, a gospel reading. True the message may be filled with much that undercuts the authority of the Bible but the word of God still is heard and has power not fettered by the speaker.

Many ‘liberal,’ mainline churches are a 21st Century equivalent to first century synagogues.”

If the hypothesis is true, …
  • how can modern evangelists and announcers of the kingdom get an audience in 21st century “liberal” churches and synagogues?  
  • Is this an avenue that church planters and churches have not attempted, simply because it is hard?  
  • If it was the model of Jesus and Paul, how can we dismiss such a strategy without much prayer and thought and significant biblical warrant?

2 thoughts on “How to Preach the Gospel in Liberal Churches

  1. Hi Marty. I just saw this post linked on Facebook, though now I see that you wrote this in 2010!

    Anyhow, here’s a true story: I walked into a liberal church’s Sunday School a few years ago one morning. The average age was 120 (just kidding). I told them exactly who I was–that I was a pastor of a church that meets Sunday evenings, and that I love to talk about the Lord and the Bible, and I asked if I could join the class that morning. “Sure!” They were reading some really bad book, but I did my best to interact with the 9 or 10 folks (there was lots of dialogue) and bring the Bible into the discussion. At the end of the class, the older lady who was the teacher said, “Would you teach us next week?” That began 3 years of teaching that SS class.

    Eventually, we purchased large print Bibles for them in the same translation. I typically taught through books of the Bible. They would read a chapter several times a week, and then the class was a dialogue on the chapter–of course, I always came with something to say, but I tried to help them become Bible readers. They heard the gospel again and again, and perhaps two of the ladies became believers.

    I eventually brought in an intern, and then it was handed off to another young man in our church when I was over two home congregations instead of one (I think you know our church structure), one that met in the morning and one in the evening.

    We’ve had other men in our church going into liberal churches well before my attempt, and it still goes on today. One of our elders (you know him) taught on this concept many years ago at a conference, but the audio messed up so there is no recording. Sunday School seems to be the best place to have a dialogue. The liberal church’s view of “tolerance” says they have to at least let you participate. Sometimes the classes aren’t structured for much dialogue, so it’s wise to move on and try another class at another place. However, it’s also possible just to go to the “service” and to try to become friends with the pastor. That has happened in our context, also.

    Well, this is a worthwhile subject to consider! Jim Elliff touched on this subject, especially the evangelism in the synagogues in Acts, many years ago in an article titled “How Should we Get a Crowd for the Gospel?” It’s found here:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for the link and the great story. That’s the kind of things I hoped this post would generate in 2010. I have a couple of churches in mind and will send out some of the men I am mentoring to do exactly what you suggest.


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