Unintended Consequences of Message Efficiency
Several weeks ago, I started writing in this blog about the choices we make over how much content to include or not include as we share the gospel. The term message efficiency refers to streamlining gospel content with less information about who Jesus is, what Jesus did, who we are, and how to respond. (See “Message Efficiency vs. Message Expansion” from 7/23/2018)
The Gospel Story-arc Project promotes message expansion, telling more about who Jesus is, what Jesus did, who we are, and how to respond, and leveraging the science of story to do it.
I would never say that message efficiency is always bad.
Still, there are consequences, many of them unintended, but consequences nonetheless.
Several examples come to mind, each of which I’ve faced in the last month or so. But today I’ll write about just one.
No efficiently packed gospel presentation I know of calls people to believe in Jesus in response to his return. As a consequence, we lose one of the most powerful ways to motivate people to apply Jesus’ story to their lives.
I grew up during a time when pastors and preachers placed significant emphasis on Bible prophecy and end-time events. Now not so much. Ask yourself, when is the last time you heard a Sunday morning sermon on Jesus’ return, and on the judgement that precedes it, and the restoration that follows it?
Jesus’ return, along with the events immediately before and after, form the resolution of the gospel story-arc. The resolution of a story is the part that reveals the fulfillment (or not) of a main character’s goal.
In my reading on the science of story, I’ve learned that research shows a story’s resolution is essential to an audience’s ability to figure out whether and how a story applies to them.
In spite of this, not only have so many stopped preaching and teaching the resolution of Jesus’ return in their churches, many would never even think of including it in a gospel presentation.
Some might wonder: Are there any examples in the Bible of gospel messages that include the resolution of Jesus’ return?
The answer is a most definite YES!
In Acts 17:30-31, the Apostle Paul told his audience in Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
By the way, in response to Paul’s summary of the resolution to Jesus’ return, several men, and at least one woman, became believers.
Many other mentions of the resolution of Jesus’ return also show up in other gospel presentations found in Scripture. Jesus himself often called people to believe in him in response to his teaching on end-times.
So, in our pursuit of message efficiency, when we give up on including Jesus’ return in our tellings of the gospel, we’re moving away from Jesus’ example, and from Paul’s, and we’re giving up a powerful ally to motivate faith.
There are at least two other unintended consequences that cascade from turning away from the resolution of the gospel story-arc. More about these next time.