by Tom Steffen
To maximize the potential of this powerful evangelistic tool, we need to do our homework first.
As an evangelistic tool, the "Jesus" film is finding its way into the far corners of the globe. According to the April, 1993, report of the Jesus Film Project, Campus Crusade for Christ, more than 503 million people have seen the film, and of them more than 33 million have indicated decisions. "Jesus" has been shown in 197 countries and used by more than 380 mission agencies. People in 51 countries have seen it on television, The film is now available in 241 languages, with over 100 translations in process. It is being shown by 320 film teams, including 100 teams in the project’s "million population target areas."
How does all this activity affect longer term church-planting ministries around the world? In the May 18, 1992, Christianity Today, Anita Deyneka said, "The ministries that are most respected by the Russians are those that are carried out with humility and respect for the country and culture, ministries that will help evangelize the nation, even if it means little direct involvement, credit, or publicity."
I believe it is time to re-evaluate how we use the "Jesus" film. To maximize the film’s effectiveness, I suggest that we prepare people to view it and provide them with lasting assistance after the film is gone. This may mean not showing the "Jesus" film for evangelism until six missiological prerequisites are in place.
1. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you are well acquainted with the foundational myths and world views that drive your target audience. Those preparing to present the film should know how the audience is likely to construe it Viewers will interpret every incident through their mythologies and world views. For example, some from Latin America took Jesus’ statement about his coming to set the captives free as an endorsement of Liberation Theology. The Sawi identified Judas as the hero of the gospel story. Some Mongolians believed Jesus to be a Buddhist monk. We must do our homework and take nothing for granted.
When those showing the film do so, they will then know what points or to add to the discussion so that the film will have a more direct impact on viewers. When showing "Jesus" to the Ifugao of the Philippines, for example, beginning with a genealogy would provide credibility to the ensuing cellulose images. These people would also be highly interested in any stories pertaining to wealth, health, long life, and the spirit world.
2. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you have earned the right to be heard. Effective evangelism calls for much more than providing information (whatever the medium). It calls for building solid relationships and a life that demonstrates transformation. Many people around the world must see a model practically applying new information before they can comprehend or apply it for themselves. This takes time, of course, but people deserve to see their friends demonstrating Christianity in action. Such character tells the community to not only watch the film, but to follow the film’s message-a message confidants have already demonstrated among them.
3. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you have earned the right to be heard by the right people. Not only must those showing the movie earn the right to be heard, but to assure long-term results (which are necessary for church planting), they must be heard by the right people, at least initially. Every group has a culturally appropriate way of introducing new information into the community. Some individuals are the gatekeepers for such information, and wise evangelists seeking long-term impact will take whatever time they need to find them and try to earn their confidence first
4. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you understand how the group makes decisions. Traditional Western evangelism often calls for individuals to repeat a certain prayer, raise a hand, walk an aisle, and so forth. But how will the audience members understand these forms of decision making? Do they prefer to make individual decisions, or multi-individual, mutually interdependent group decisions? If the latter, how much time will it take for family members to discuss the pros and the cons? Does a raised hand signify a new follower of Christ or an individual who does not wish to socially offend those showing the film? Does repeating a certain prayer indicate a new believer, or a new ritual to earn favor with a new god? For many people the world, decision making is a group event done over a period of time. So that "decisions to follow Christ" might be genuine, our decision-making forms should conform to theirs.
5. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you know how to incorporate new believers into churches that can provide lasting teaching, nurturing, and accountability. The ultimate goal of evangelism is making disciples capable of reproducing themselves. The New Testament portrays the outcome of effective evangelism as communities of believers joyfully meeting to worship, study the Bible, serve believers and nonbelievers, and begin new communities of believers, both inside and outside their own cultures. Those showing the "Jesus" film can afford to do no less.
6. Don’t show the "Jesus" film until you provide those who will watch it with a significant foundation for the gospel. Have you ever picked up a book and started reading it from the middle? You have to make a number of assumptions (which may not be the author’s) to try to figure out why things are as they are at that point in the book. Similarly, the "Jesus" film begins God’s message in the middle of the Book. People who don’t have at least some knowledge of what happened before the life of Christ are sure to miss much of the film’s meaning. We must ask what Old Testament background the audience needs to know before seeing the film so that Jesus’ story makes sense in the way God intends it. Why did Jesus come to earth? How did the conflict of the ages between God and Satan begin? Who are the main protagonists? What are the main issues at stake between the warring factions? How do these issues relate to the life of Christ? To the moviegoers? We need to provide significant Old Testament background before turning on the projector so that Christ’s life completes the story God has already begun.
All this, of course, takes time, often much more than many Westerners wish to give. The crisis-oriented evangelism we sometimes use finds little time to listen or, as Anita Deyneka points out, demonstrate humility to the people we wish to reach with the gospel. But these basics are required for church planting. Because of the "urgency of the moment," we tend to overlook our need to learn someone else’s world view, provide foundational background for the gospel, earn the right to be heard by the right people, work with existing decision making forms, and facilitate adequate and lasting teaching, nurturing, and accountability so that new communities of faith can spring up.
In light of this, we need to remember that before God showed his own "Jesus" film without projector or (i.e., the Gospels), he spent significant time preparing people to grasp the full meaning of the Good News. Can we do less and still expect more? time to "prepare the way" for the "Jesus" film will no doubt maximize its potential.
(We invited the following response to this article.-Eds.)
Campus Crusade for Christ, Tbilisi, Georgia. Professor of theology and apologetics, Donetsk Bible College, Ukraine.
In spite of his provocative title, Tom Steffen clearly does not oppose using the "Jesus" film for evangelism. One can hardly question the film’s value in introducing people to Jesus Christ. Instead, he argues that evangelists should not show the film until after a number of previous steps have been taken.
I concur with Steffen on the importance of the six measures he advocates, bat I do not think it is necessary for Christian workers to do all of them before showing the film. Instead, I believe several of them should form the basis for an ongoing ministry after the film has been shown.
First, I would like to emphasize the three points on which I completely agree with Steffen. I, too, believe that we should not show the "Jesus" film until we have, to some degree at least, learned the world view of the audience. I, too, believe that we should not show the film until we have identified the appropriate authorities for introducing new information to the community. I, too, believe that we should not show the film until we have established a means of incorporating new believers into churches. Our goal should be to have a team of believers ready to follow the film’s showing with further instructions. Our training sessions on how to use the film emphasize this most strongly.
However, I would like to offer alternatives to Steffen’s other three points. He says we should not show the film until we have earned the right to be heard. It is true that people need and deserve to see models of Christianity in action. But it is not always necessary for them to see these role models before they learn anything about Christianity.
If a person sees Christian love modeled in the life of an evangelical, and then learns the basis for that love by watching the film, then the film will likely make a great impression. Conversely, a person could receive a similar impression by learning of Christian love through Christ’s life (by watching the film) and then by seeing that love reflected later in a Christian’s life. The film is a marvelous tool for identifying people who -are interested in learning more about Christianity, people with whom we can work more closely and to whom we can model the love which is the heart of the gospel.
Steffen writes that we shouldn’t show the "Jesus" film until we understand the audience’s decision-making methods. Granted, a raised hand often accompanies something besides a genuine decision to follow Christ, but this does not mean it is insignificant It usually indicates at least an interest in Christianity and a willingness to discuss it further. When we meet someone who has responded to the invitation, we will have the opportunity to share Christ not only with that person, but also with other family members and friends. We will have ample time for them to learn about Christ and to make decisions, either individually or together, as is culturally appropriate.
Finally, Steffen writes that we should not show the film until the audience has a sufficient foundation for the gospel message. The question is whether we want the film by itself to have the greatest possible impact, or whether we use it as one of several tools in evangelism. If people are to understand the gospel fully when they watch the film, they need to have significant background information before the showing. However, we can also use the film to expose people to the message of Christ and to whet their appetites to learn more. After we show the film, we can give interested people the necessary background to understand the full story completely. Of course, we must supply the foundational information, but I believe we can do this after we show the film as well as before.
At the heart of these issues lies the question of whether showing the "Jesus" film is necessarily the culmination of our evangelism. Steffen seems to assume that it is, but I would like to suggest that showing the film often constitutes simply the first step. It is a way to expose people to Christianity and to engender among them a desire to learn more about Jesus Christ. We do want people to understand the film’s message as well as possible. Nevertheless, it is not essential that they it all at the film’s first showing, since our crucial ministries of answering questions, offering further explanations, and allowing the group’s decision-making structures to operate can take place later on.
Therefore, my response to "Don’t show the ‘Jesus’ film" is "Don’t just show the ‘Jesus’ film." More precisely, don’t assume that simply showing the film is all that is necessary in evangelism. True, many people do come to Christ at the showings. But there are many others who do not, yet who would if they were given further opportunities to learn about Christ Evangelism is not simply a matter of showing a film; it involves the time-consuming work of which Steffen writes. I believe this work can be just as effective after the showing of the "Jesus" film as it can be if it precedes it, but the work must be done.
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