Tuesday morning I awoke in my hotel near Atlanta to find a copy of USA Today at my door. I picked it up, scanned the headlines, and went about my day.
Back in the day not too long ago people read the daily newspaper-daily. Picking up a copy from the driveway and reading it over a cup of coffee marked the start of a lot of people’s days. Still does for my parents, and it did for me years ago as well.
When you look at a newspaper the first thing you see is the headlines, the subjects deemed by the paper to be of chief importance, or newsworthy. We see the same thing today on the TV or the Internet: whether we watch Headlines News, the Weather Channel, or go to foxnews.com online, the headlines grad our attention first.
Most folks growing up in a newspaper culture had a system of reading the paper: headlines, local news, sometimes the sports page next or for some the wether map, and eventually, the cartoons and the advice columns. You know, Dear Abby or Ann Landers.
Advice columns may be helpful or not, but one thing is clear: they do not rank in importance anywhere close to the headlines. But I fear that in the church today, and particularly in student ministry, we have a tendency to think of evangelism, or the teaching of the Word in general, more as an advice column than as news.
Let me remind you as I remind myself that the gospel is NEWS. The word Evangel means “good news” or “good message.” it carries the weight of an important announcement. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to tell them of the Savior’s birth, they announced it as good news. In Acts we read again and again of the gospel being told personally or corporately as news of the most urgent nature. It is not only news, it is special-edition, one-of-a-kind news.
The gospel is the Headline of Christianity, not advice. The Bible declares, in fact it almost screams from its pages a glorious announcement of a great God who has done something remarkable to rescue us from the worst news one could imagine. The Bible does not at it’s core offer advice; it declares news.
When we turn sharing about the good news of Jesus into advice, we create a preaching culture devoted to felt needs. But in our own witness several things happen as well.
First, we feel as though we have to experts in a lot of areas to help people. Advice columns deal with a lot of subjects, after all. But the headlines simply require the reporter to be good at finding and telling the story. As a believer you do not have to be a genius or a Bible scholar to be a witness, you have to speak of the things you have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). That is why a brand new believer may not be ready to teach Sunday school and certainly is not ready to be a pastor, but can immediately be a witness. Remember the astonishment evoked by Peter and John came not from their genius, for they were ” unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13). They astonished people because they had been with Jesus, and that was news.
A second result of seeing our witness as advice more than news: we lose a sense of urgency. An advice column on one subject or another may be helpful or important, but it is not urgent, so there is no need to rush. News like the gospel, however, requires urgency.
The third problem that comes from seeing the gospel as advice more than news is this: we can trivialize its importance. Advice columns are helpful and are in fact popular. They are also typically located in the same pages as the cartoons. They are thus not to be taken as seriously as the headlines. This is a particular problem in student ministries that spend huge amounts of time on telling students not to have sex or use drugs, or to be forgiving or offering advice on other important topics, but failing to keep before students the one thing that can help them with all the above more than all else, a life surrendered to the glory and story of God.
Maybe the problem is we sometimes believe more in our advice than in the gospel’s power.
Every week your people can use advice. Do not read this to hear me say advice is unimportant. And we need scholars, biblically deep believers. But before we give people advice we must give them news. And every believer can tell this news. And we have no better news, and no better advice, than the saving power of the gospel. The gospel is news, not advice. People should never confuse us with Dr Phil or Oprah, but they should not be surprised at our urgency. They should never doubt that the thing we are most passionate about is the news of a Savior who loves us and gave His life, rose again, and is enough, whether we get advice on a secondary matter or not.
We have good news to tell, why not tell someone today?