“Benign indifference.” That’s what one author calls the apathetic response to religion that is spreading throughout Europe. It’s the general trend away from religious ideology, values, traditions, and specifically organized religion that spurred his comment. And across Europe, more and more people are claiming no religion at all.
As we make disciples in Europe, we must remember two things that make our context unique. First, there are lost generations of Europeans who had no gospel influence. In many cities and communities across Europe, there has been little to no gospel influence or proclamation for generations.
Second, organized religion in Europe is viewed with skepticism and often mistrust. Though Christianity has been present in Europe for a long time, it has seen various forms such as Orthodox or Catholicism. These varying forms of Christianity make it difficult for Christians to proclaim the biblically based, Christ-centered gospel to a people who have heard different messages in the name of Christianity for centuries.
“The gospel can and will transform the lives of those who claim no religion.”
If most Europeans are apathetic toward religion, how Christians make disciples in this context becomes a big question. Just as the gospel transforms the lives of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and animists, the gospel can and will transform the lives of those who claim no religion as well.
Jesus Is Our Model
The reality is that there isn’t much difference between engaging someone of another religion with the gospel as engaging someone claiming no religion. We must faithfully proclaim and model the gospel, making disciples of all people as we are commanded in Matthew 28:18–20.
Jesus modeled a simple way of engaging people with the gospel. He continually met people where they were and constantly probed them with questions about their lives, purpose, and salvation. For instance, when Jesus met Levi, the tax collector, Levi left everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:27–32). Jesus showed him a better life—one filled with hope, salvation, and truth. The religious people were shocked by Jesus’s association with sinners, but Jesus came to bring salvation to the lost (Luke 19:10; Mark 2:17).
Jesus also addressed religious people. He questioned their hearts—why they performed certain duties in the name of religion (Luke 6:6–11; Luke 11:37–54). He came to demonstrate for us what it means to obey the Father, commanding us to do so by following him.
Though many Europeans claim to be Christians, that is far different than actually believing that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Many Europeans have never met a true Christian—one who actually believes the Bible and loves Jesus. Christians in Europe must keep this in mind as they purposefully explain the gospel to their friends, coworkers, neighbors, family, and others who most likely have never heard the gospel.
Making Disciples Long-Term
Making disciples doesn’t end with an evangelistic method or decision to follow Christ. It’s about a life transformed from sin and brokenness to a redeemed relationship with God. Making disciples is not simply telling someone about Jesus, but continually teaching, instructing, counseling, reading the Bible, praying, and walking with them through life.
Gospel proclamation among Europeans may have some immediate impact but no lasting effect because those listening don’t fully understand the message being proclaimed or what it practically means to follow Christ. And, unfortunately, many Europeans don’t know a single Christian, so unless Christians in Europe purposefully and intentionally proclaim and live out the gospel, their nonbelieving friends will never hear the gospel.
Sharing the gospel takes time. It takes time for Europeans to trust the message that we are proclaiming, and it takes time to model what living out the gospel means.
Relational disciple-making is key to engaging secular Europe with the gospel. Relational or life-on-life disciple making flows first from a relationship with God, which fuels our disciple making efforts through our relationships with others. These relationships continue throughout life, not just a one-time event or prayer. It is loving God and loving others (Deut. 6).
“We must boldly proclaim the truth and make disciples, trusting that the God who saved us can save our friends in Europe.”
Jesus chose normal disciples to impact and change the world through simple, relational disciple making. Jesus is calling all Christians in every context, in every country, and in every community to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Disciple making is not just for an elite few who are leaders, pastors, missionaries, or Christian workers.
The Gospel for Europe
If we are going to see a resurgence from apathetic Europeans toward faith in Jesus, then Christians must make disciples among them. One of the easiest ways to make disciples anywhere, but particularly in Europe, is by relationally living out the gospel with those around you by both verbally proclaiming the gospel and modeling it to them.
The actual proclamation of the gospel is crucial (Rom. 10:14–17), but we must also demonstrate and teach others how to follow Jesus. We do this by teaching the Bible and helping others read and understand the Bible for themselves. We must also model what it looks like to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, which means resisting sin and seeking to live godly lives.
As Christians, we must present the secular world with love, hope, compassion, truth, joy, service, kindness, and above all, the gospel. We must share our life with the nonbelievers around us so that they may know the gospel and salvation through Jesus Christ.
What Jesus accomplished by living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead gives mankind the opportunity to live in a right relationship with God (1 Cor. 15:1–49). Jesus is the Son of God who gives salvation to all who believe, including Europeans who may currently be indifferent to his presence. We must boldly proclaim this truth and make disciples, trusting that the God who saved us can save our friends in Europe.
Shane Mikeska serves with his wife, Lindsay, and their four sons in London, England. They engage students, young professionals, millennials, internationals, and families with the gospel. Shane has a doctorate of intercultural studies from Western Seminary.