I was first introduced to this saying as a teenager at a gospel meeting. I don’t recall anything else about the sermon, but when I heard this saying I liked it and wrote it inside the back of my Bible. Through the years I have heard numerous brethren, young and old alike, repeat it as they give instruction about evangelism. As I have reflected on this saying I have begun to question, “Is this a valid saying and does it reflect the tenor of the gospel?” What once struck me as a profound saying has begun to raise serious concerns in my mind.
As stated above, the author of the saying is unknown. Credit is often given to Theodore Roosevelt, who popularized its usage but likely borrowed it from another source. President Roosevelt used the phrase in a political context, meaning that before people will listen to what you have to say, you must first win their attention by meeting their felt needs. I suppose the catch-phrase may ring true within a political setting, but how about a Christian and evangelistic setting? Doo people truly not care what we know unless we fill their felt needs? Should we first minister to people’s needs before presenting them with the gospel?
Catering to people’s felt needs in order that they might listen to the gospel message is the definition of the Social Gospel. The notion that the only way evangelism will work is by packaging it with a social stimulus package runs counter to teaching of Scripture.
In Romans 1:16 Paul boldly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”. The gospel, not charity, is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel does not need man’s ingenuity to help it along; it contains within itself the personal power of God.
When the apostle Paul arrived in a new city to preach the gospel, he did not first begin a charity organization to soften the people to the gospel. Rather, he went into to the synagogue straightway and began conversing with the religious minded of the city in order to win their minds to the Lord (Acts 18:4).
Though it is true that both Jesus and his disciples healed the sick (many of whom were not members of the church), the purpose of their miracles were to confirm their message rather than generate public sympathy. For example, in John 6 the Lord fed the 5,000 in the wilderness to demonstrate his power as the Savior and New Moses, yet when the people ignored the sign and asked for more bread the following day, Jesus turned them away. In fact, it appears from the context that one of the main reasons Jesus fed the multitude was to set up the next day’s sermon. Though Jesus could have provided food for the entire world as God did for Israel during the Exodus, Christs’ mission was not to bring physical bread, but the Bread of Life.
Do not misunderstand me; I am not advocating rudeness on the part of the Christian in presenting the Gospel. Nor am I denying the need for Christians to engage in charitable works on an individual basis (Matthew 25:31-46). What I am arguing is that our focus in evangelism must be on the Word, not the person. The concept that “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” should never become the church’s motto for evangelistic work.
Though I disagree with most of what he teaches and do not recommend his material by and large, John MacArthur did hit the nail on the head when he stated,
“Making the Lord the object of ministry obviates the need for compromise. Those whose goal is ministering to people will be tempted to compromise to achieve that end.”
The church’s number one mission is to preach the Word, not serve tables (Acts 6:2 – Note: these were Christian tables that should not interfere with the preaching of the Word). God expects the church to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) and He expects people to respond to the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15), not soup kitchens.
When people and churches replace the preaching of the Word with social services they are expressing shame for the gospel and doubt about its ability to change people’s lives (Romans 1:16). Why on earth would you want to trade the power of God’s salvation for temporary physical relief, or even worse, pleasure?
It is time the church stopped worrying about how she is perceived in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) and started unashamedly preaching the power of God. Never, ever, ever apologize for God’s Word. If His Word offends people, so be it. If it causes people to stumble, let them lie. If by preaching the gospel we are called fools, preach on (1 Corinthians 3:18; 4:10). May the church strive for God’s approval, rest in His might, and proudly wear His name (Romans 16:16).
In short, if people don’t care about what you know when it comes to the gospel, keep looking until you find someone who does (Matthew 10:11-15).