Communicating the other 90% of the gospel message

  • Nathan Dempsey
  • 18 March 2019

Experts tell us that communication is only 10% verbal; the other 90% of meaning is conveyed by how we hold our body and the tone in which we speak.

This has huge implications for evangelism. If body language and tone convey more meaning than our words, then they will lead people to either pay attention to our message or ignore it. If they don’t convey the enthusiasm, joy and peace that we claim to have from the Spirit’s presence and work in our lives, people have no reason to believe us and we become the worst kind of salespeople.

Yet I don’t think any good will come of our now becoming anxious about whether our body language and tone are effectively communicating the 90% of the gospel our words don’t. Rather, I think we should resolve to watch our lives more closely to ensure we throw off every weight and sin so that we become more mature believers. If our lives are characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, that will persuade people to listen to our message.

We can do this by making sure we remember God on a daily basis so that, consequently, we’ll also remember our neighbours and our fellow Christians.

Remembering God

The idea of ‘remembering’ God probably seems weird. After all, we know we’re called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If we’re doing this, aren’t we doing what we’re supposed to?

Well, yes. If we’re actually doing this.

Deuteronomy 8, however, especially verses 10-18, shows exactly why I think we need to be concerned with remembering God. If God warned the Israelites about entertaining the idea that their own efforts had produced all they would enjoy in Canaan, how much more should we be concerned about doing the same when we have easy access to luxuries that our own parents and grandparents would never have imagined! I think it can be painfully easy to forget God when we drive the car we purchased to the comfortable home that we’re renting or mortgaging to turn on the TV/pick up a book/listen to music to relax.

If we are to be faithful to the greatest command, we must remember God. We must deliberately turn away from the world’s many luxuries in order to intentionally pursue intimacy with God thorough the Scriptures, prayer and church. As we do this, the Spirit’s presence in our lives will become more evident, and we’ll communicate to people around us that knowing God was worth giving up everything we once cherished.  In the process, we’ll also become faithful in remembering our neighbour and our fellow Christians.

Remembering our neighbour

Loving our neighbour and enemy as ourselves is crucial to communicating the other 90% of the gospel. Honestly, though, I struggle mightily with keeping this command. I’m far more likely to love my neighbour to the extent it’s convenient for me rather than to love my neighbour the way I love myself and would want my neighbour to love me.

If we want a great example of what it actually means to love our neighbour as ourselves, I think all we need to do is modernize the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, as you may know, takes the robbery victim to an inn, where he proceeds to care for the man himself during the night. The next day he gives the innkeeper money to continue caring for the man and promises that, if it isn’t enough, he’ll make up the difference when he returns. Perhaps today the Samaritan would take the injured person to the emergency room and cover the hospital bill himself—even if it meant paying everything out of pocket. Recently, a Chicago woman named Candice Payne lived this parable out by using $5000 of her own money to get motel rooms for Chicago’s homeless so they could survive the polar vortex.

As I said, I struggle with obeying this command, and I think the reason I struggle with it is because I struggle to remember God. Sure, I’m good at getting to church and so on. But in my private life I struggle with maturing in Bible study, prayer, and the other disciplines that will help me grow—because I’m enjoying the earthly treasures I’ve accumulated over the years. In fact, I think this is probably the main reason any Christian is going to struggle with actually loving our neighbour as ourselves: we’d much rather enjoy the comfort of our own homes. If, however, by God’s grace we start deliberately sacrificing comfort for the sake of loving others, I believe the good we do them will soften at least some of them to the message of the cross.

Rembering our brothers and sisters

Finally, experiencing the full life Jesus promised and sharing it with others requires us to grow in faithfulness to Jesus’s command to love one another as he first loved us. This requires us to not just view but also experience the church in the way God wants: as a family. Sadly, it’s all too easy for us to experience it more as a social club—developing friendships with fellow believers without establishing the relationships of father, mother, sister, and brother that God wants us to share.

Growing up, I never doubted my parents loved me because they provided me with both my needs and some wants. Additionally, they disciplined me when required so that I learned right from wrong, developed a strong conscience, and didn’t become a reprobate (mind you, I’m talking the civil law here—not God’s law!). They also spent quality time with me, whether by attending school events, taking me fishing, or going on vacation. Now, as a father and husband, I try to do these same things for my own family, and my wife and I have hard conversations with each other and our kids so that we’ll keep growing and our kids will understand the sinful condition of their hearts.

The Bible shows us in many different places that this is exactly how God wants his church to function: as a family in which the members sacrifice to provide for each others’ physical and spiritual needs, helping each other let go of this world in order to be together with Jesus in the next. Yet this can’t happen in the way God intended if we aren’t willing to become at least as close with our church family as we are with our biological family, if not closer. Doing so will demonstrate the gospel’s ability to transform both our relationship with God and our relationships with others.

Like I said, I don’t think we need to be overly fretful about whether our body language and tone are communicating the 90% of the gospel they must communicate for effective evangelism. Whether they have or haven’t doesn’t matter; what matters is ensuring they start communicating their portion. If we recognize how similar our situation is to that of ancient Israel and be careful moving forward to remember God, then I’m confident we will also remember our neighbours and fellow Christians. Then, even if our body language and tone haven’t been conveying the joy and peace that come only from the Spirit, they’ll certainly start, and we’ll become more effective in advancing the kingdom.

So let us throw off any sins or hindrances we’ve allowed to linger in our lives so that we can live the abundant life Jesus promised—the life that will make others want to become alive also.