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The Lost Keys

A true short story

Most of us have a lost key story. In English, we sometimes use the word ‘key’ quite loosely, for instance ‘keys to improving your garden’. The implication is an optional addition to a reasonably successful effort. But with real keys, it is all or nothing. Without a key, you are powerless, stymied, stuck.

My recent key-losing episode concerned the hire-van which I use every three months to collect outreach papers for our ministry. Picked up the van the previous evening. Loaded it with other material for shipment. Then out for the evening with my wife for a wedding anniversary trip into the surrounding countryside.

Next day, ready to go. No key. Anywhere. Could we have dropped it in the churchyard of the historic 800-year-old church we had looked at the night before? (Cue: spiritual parallel here?) Finally manage to collect a spare key from the hire van depot, losing two hours from a day’s schedule that did not actually have two hours spare in it. Then open my travel bag. The one place we did not look because I would never have put it in there. Key safely in there all the time.

Then have to take a further 10 minutes putting air into a badly under-inflated wheel. And first air-machine is defective. Cue: further spiritual parallel – ruach (Hebrew) means both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’.

Keys to evangelism

There are a range of keys to evangelism, and like multiple key-holders for a safe, we need more than one. Let’s take as given the need for biblical orthodoxy, the power of the Spirit, and prayer. And no, there are no quick fixes or magic witnessing systems. Fallen people have the seemingly closed minds described in 2 Cor. 4:4 and elsewhere. (See Torrey’s study on spiritual blindness.) []

But in a rapidly changing secular world, what are the strategic keys to engaging with others, getting their attention, and then starting them onto a spiritual journey? Is there a hidden key that is right beside us, indeed part of our own lives and experience?


What activity do humans spend a considerable percentage of their leisure time in doing? They watch TV and films, they read books, they play music, and they also pursue other hobbies and interests.

When a missionary goes overseas, she (and yes, two-thirds of all overseas missionaries are women) will take time to not only learn the language but also if she is wise take time to understand the literature, music and other arts that help to define the host culture. Those of us in the West are now also in a missionary situation. Society no longer concedes any special position to the Christian faith. There was a tipping point in many countries, around the turn of the 21st century, when mild indifference and even hostility replaced benign if grudging respect. As one strategist has advised, “Christendom is over, and we need to get over it.”

We contend that popular culture is a vital ‘way in’ to meet with people as a first step in evangelism (both online and offline) because:

We are in any case ‘hard-wired’ for story (and music too). I am always amazed how a child can play-act and demonstrate imagination and understanding of story, almost before it can speak. Truths embedded in stories (true or fictional) are vastly more memorable and understandable than abstract propositions. In his evangelism to non-religious people (ie. when not preaching in the synagogue) Jesus’ method was story-telling, as well as meeting felt needs (another key to unlock hearts).

John Stott urges us to use this approach. He calls it ‘double listening’: “I have sometimes called this ‘double listening’. Listening to the voice of God in Scripture, and listening to the voices of the modern world, with all their cries of anger, pain and despair.”

Felt needs

About one person in three at any one time is going through life problems which they perceive as moderately to severely stressful. A research study has shown that a life crisis was a major factor in a majority of adult conversions.
More on felt needs

Incarnational relationships

That same research study shows that ongoing relationships with Christians over a period of time were the most important factor in the spiritual journey leading to majority of adult conversions.
More on relationships
Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Bridge the gap & Using culture menu links
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