How to Have an Effective ‘Missionary Encounter’ with Culture

Tim Keller | May 26, 2017

Early Christians before Constantine were highly persecuted for being too exclusive, narrow, and strange, and yet at the same time they were fast growing, especially in the urban centers. (See, for example, Alan Kreider’s chapter “The Improbable Growth of the Church” in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.)

This has been called an effective “missionary encounter” with Roman society. There was both offense and attraction, confrontation and persuasion. Christianity didn’t adapt to culture in order to gain more adherents, but neither did it remain a small, withdrawn band. Christianity confronted and critiqued the culture, and believers suffered for it—yet the faith also convinced many, attracting growing numbers of converts daily. 

What Can We Learn?

It’s obvious in Western societies that Christians are again seen as too exclusive and narrow, and that they too may soon be excluded from many government, academic, and corporate jobs, and be socially marginalized in various other ways.

What can we learn from the early church so that we can have our own effective missionary encounter?

First, we must avoid thinking that faithful witness will mean either fast, explosive growth (if we get the ministry formula just right) or long-term dwindling with little fruit or impact. First Peter 2:11–12 gives us…

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