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Are You a Great Commission Church?

Asking if your church is a great commission church, or not, stirs up many emotions.  The question even being asked may anger some and then the response might be, “Well, of course we are!”  The reality is that we must examine the facts and not be overly driven by our emotions. Churches tend to have aspirational values because they know that value is in the scripture but then they do not follow through on implanting that value.  Take a deeper look at your church and your ministry and ask if you are actually carrying out the great commission daily!

Paul, speaking to the churches in Galatia, says this in Galatians 3:8, “All nations will be blessed through you.”  In focusing on God’s mission for His people and His church we need to take a closer look at the Great Commission as given to us in Matthew 28:16-20.  Our mission is to be completely devoted to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and persuading men to become followers of Christ.  John MacArthur points out four elements for effectively fulfilling the church’s mission.  Three of these elements are attitudes and the fourth is the action that must be taken.

The first attitude is Availability!  Matthew 28:16 says, “The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.”  Don’t miss this truth that His disciples were where He had told them to be.  Is your church where it needs to be in being available to Him to do whatever is takes to reach the lost in your community? Have you become so overly focused on Christians who need spiritual renewal that you have forgotten about unbelievers who desperately need regeneration?  We must be exactly where the Lord wants us to be in our availability!

The second attitude necessary to effectively fulfill the great commission is Worship! Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped.”  Isaiah 6 makes it clear that it is out of worship that we can arise out of the dust of being on our faces before God and that we are ready to follow and serve the Lord. It was out of Isaiah’s brokenness that he responded to God’s request and said, “Here am I Lord, send me!’  When He is not truly worshiped He cannot be properly served no matter how talented, gifted, or well intentioned we might be.

The third element is Submission!  Matthew 28:18 tells us that Jesus has all authority.  Submission is evidenced when our greatest desire it to give all that we are and have to Him.  In the context of the Great Commission we see that He is the sovereign Lord, but it also clearly speaks to the believers’ responsibility in their response to His rule.  In Romans 12:1, Paul refers to this as our reasonable service and that is giving Him our true worship from our hearts by offering ourselves up as living sacrifices. Have you become a missionless church?

The fourth element for effectively fulfilling the Great commission flows out of the right attitudes and it is Obedience!  In The Unstuck Church Tony Morgansays, “It’s that stubborn attachment to the past, though, that leads to the church’s ultimate demise.  Traditions win over life transformation.  Personal preferences crowd out sacrifice and full devotion to the gospel mandate.”  He goes on to say, “It’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work God has called you to do.”  Acts 1:8 makes that work clear, “And you will be my witnesses.”

Remember that Galatians 3:8 says this will happen “through you.”  The world’s population is now right at 7.7 billion and increasing by almost 75,000 people a day.  We are told that only 10% of the world’s population are Bible-believing Christians. There are two sides, potential and danger, to these findings.

  1. We can see the potential of these people winning others to the faith.
  2. We see the danger because of congregations and Christians becoming inwardly focused and simply trying to occupy themselves.

Your church and my church is to be a task force with a job to do that has been spelled out by our Lord and King.  This is why we speak of advancing His Kingdom so that more and more people bow to His authority and submit to His rule and reign. Church, we must accept our responsibility to represent our King and share Him with other nations just as Abraham was instructed in Genesis 12.

  • Have we become so infatuated with maturing our own faith that we are not interested in winning others to the faith?
  • Are we still committed to helping people to find and follow Jesus?

Make sure that you evaluate how you are doing at effectively fulfilling the Great Commission.  Here are some great questions to help you.

  • Are you seeing people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
  • When is the last time someone made known their decision to make Christ Lord of their life?
  • What are you going to do to change that?
  • What intentional steps are you willing to take to pray for the lost, build relationships with the lost, and train your people in how to share the gospel with them?

We must move past good intentions and practice intentionality.

How do we do that?  David Hesselgrave suggests several things but these three will get you started.

  1. Understand the task!  The mission is clear beginning with a desire to reach more people with Jesus.
  2. Analyze the task in the light of research and experience.  Get to know the people you are trying to reach and learn what makes them tick.  Look for helpful insights into how you can more effectively communicate the truth of the gospel.
  3. Make an overall plan to accomplish this task.  Begin with the message of His word and be ready to share it!

Are you a Great Commission church?

LEADING WITH MISSIONAL PURPOSE

It was the day after Christmas in 1979 when my wife and I arrived at my first pastorate in Marion, Illinois.  To say that I was excited as we unloaded the U-Haul would be an understatement.  The parsonage was small, but big enough for us as we focused on our new ministry with West Blvd. Baptist Church.  The next day I took my one box of office items to the church.  The office was a tiny nook above the foyer area with a very steep stairwell.  I had my “license” to preach and my freshly signed ordination certificate to hang on the wall.  The rest of the box contained a name plaque my brother-in-law, David, had given to me to make me “official” and about ten books to place on the book shelves.

It took about 30 minutes to get all set up and then I sat down in the chair behind the small desk thinking, “What do I do now?”  I was overwhelmed with the realization that I did not have a clue on what to do next. The irony was that just a month earlier I had decided to leave Central Baptist College to go into the pastorate because my youthful zeal had convinced me that I was ready.  Side note: STAY IN SCHOOL!  The adrenaline high did not last 48 hours after arriving on assignment.  The goal was to preach the word and shepherd the people but I did not have any plan or strategy beyond the first Sunday.   There have been many ideas through the years, some good and some not so good, that have started strong but lost steam quickly.

This is where “Entropy” enters the door.  It is defined as “a measure of the disorder that exists in a system.”  It is a physics term that describes how energy decreases because of the loss of heat and slowly but surely you no longer have the get-up-and-go you once had.  In Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeirodescribes entropy as “the gradual decline back to a mediocre lifestyle defined by a habit and reaction.”  It is the opposite of the abundant life and we must realize that unless we have an intentional plan to remain fresh and on fire, entropy is the “natural” outcome. How do we keep entropy from setting in? How do we lead others to live with a purpose for their lives that does not diminish nor lose momentum?

There are three ingredients very important to remain fresh and on fire.  All three are necessary if we are going to lead with purpose.

First, take care of the spiritual. Leaders must lead by example in the area of their spiritual walk.  Any gathering of God’s people must involve His word and prayer.  We are not meeting just to meet but as Philippians 3:10 says, to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Second,take care of the relational.  We must focus on authentic relationships that hold one another accountable and move past the shallow friendships our culture endorses.  The need is great to have people in our lives that can speak the truth to us when we’re out of line and challenge us.  Then we need to be mature enough to listen and accept the challenge.

The third item is the one most often neglected.  We must be missional.  We must have a plan and strategy to lead others to live with purpose.  Many Christians and churches are good at being spiritual and relational but drop the ball when it comes to leading people to live on mission.  The spiritual and the relational cannot be underestimated, but when leaders do not lead to intentionally live on mission, entropy will set in with mediocrity and apathy not far behind.  We must lead others to be missional in their personal lives, church family, and associational cooperation.  When we focus on the spiritual and relational but ignore the missional ingredient we become inwardly focused and neglect our purpose.

What could you, your church, or your local association do to lead others to live with a purpose beyond themselves?  What would happen if we were the friend of sinners that Jesus was and is?  In their song, Jesus Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns say it well,“Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away.  We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.  Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see. The world is on their way to you but they’re tripping over me.”  Maybe people are not rejecting Jesus Christ as much as they are rejecting the lack of compassion they see in us!

J.D. Payne says this, “Missional Living Requires…Both actions and words are requirements for missional living.  Kingdom Citizens are to “let their lights shine before men that they may see the good works and praise the Father Who is in heaven.”  But Kingdom Citizens must also “preach the gospel in season and out of season.”  We cannot do one without the other.  While some situations will require that we spend most of the time living out the Kingdom Ethic before unbelievers (e.g., 1 Peter 3:1-2), we must proclaim the gospel.  Missional Living Occurs…when Kingdom Citizens live according to the Kingdom Ethic in the world.”

Leading with purpose and intentionality means we have a holistic approach of carefully giving attention to our flock’s spiritual growth, relational dynamic, and their missional involvement with their circles of influence. We refuse to accept the thinking that, “two out of three ain’t bad” and remain dedicated to reaching outwardly to those who are far from God.  It is not only loving people more but also focusing on loving more people.  Let’s live missionally – on mission for God and with God!

Should We Have A Strategy?

Some seem to think that having a strategy or planning out our ministry is unspiritual. We just need to pray, trust the Lord, follow His leadership, and allow Him to work out the details.  Certainly, we can sometimes lean way too heavily on our plans, methods, and strategies but God has always had a plan from the very beginning.  The word strategy is a military word that is used to refer to large-scale planning and directing of operations toward a certain goal.  A method usually refers to a scaled down way of going about a task. Studying Paul’s life we see that he did have a strategy as well as a complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

We must be very careful of not organizing Christ right out of our ministry, planning, and our churches.  Dynamic Church Planting International gives an excellent perspective for making sure we proceed with prayerful planning.  This training stresses 12 Biblical principles. The first is  “The BOSS Principle.” Christ is the Lord of church planting and
He has a vision for your new church. Christ has a vision for the church that He wants you to plant. Your job is not to
invent a vision. Your work is not to appropriate a successful vision from another church planter and church.

The second is “THE POWER PRINCIPLE” that states prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting. As often as possible, emphasize the need to prayerfully seek God in all stages of the church planting process and not to move to the next stage until you have a clear vision from God for the new church plant. Your job is to prayerfully discern the vision that Christ has for your church.  We should be strategists and tacticians and applying biblical church growth principles can help us. Good research is essential. Learning good leadership skills is crucial.

The right kind of practical church training and planning is vital but the message of the gospel will have impact only through prayer. Unless the gospel is proclaimed, no one will be saved. But without prayer, hearts will remain closed to the transforming power of the gospel. Prayer is as essential to the harvest as preaching the gospel.  DCPI gives great advice in their training on how to have the proper perspective about strategy and methods with the goal to always be driven by principles and not models.  While it is almost impossible to remove all models from any training these principles are pretty universal.

A Time Driven Approach
 means moving forward in your planning based on pre-set dates, no matter what progress you’ve made in building your team and planning your strategy.  In this approach, the calendar rules and you must keep moving, but sometimes we need to wait on the Lord.  You may be pressured to move ahead, ready or not.  You have a group of people eager to get going and you may feel pressured to start your project before you feel fully prepared.  There definitely are some challenges to taking a purely Time Driven approach.  The reality is that your timing might not be God’s timing

An Objective Driven Approach means moving ahead based on reaching objectives and goals you have planned for.  Paul’s plan was to go into Bithynia and reach the people there but the Lord had a different plan.  Have you communicated the vision to all of your team well?  Have you answered their questions and do they understand what your expectations are in reaching the goals you have agreed upon?  Even though you have a plan that was agreed upon, you need to make sure that everyone has “bought” into the vision and they are ready to execute the plan and carry it out.  There must be team buy-in.

A Spirit Driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is by far the best approach.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 ESV).  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always “written in pencil” so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!

  1. Herbert Kane puts it this way, “We might begin by asking: Did Paul have a strategy?Some say yes; others say no.  Much depends on the definition of strategy.  If by strategy is meant a deliberate, well-formulated, duly executed plan of action based on human observation and experience, then Paul had little or no strategy; but if we take the word to mean a flexible modus operandideveloped under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to His direction and control, then Paul did have a strategy.”  It is wisdom for us to learn from the 2,000 years of trial and error as churches have tried to plan and effectively reach people with the gospel.

David Hesselgrave says it this way, “church planters and planners should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents.  In every phase of both planning and planting they should both give themselves to prayer and exhort coworkers and converts alike to do the same.  Little or nothing will be accomplished without prayer!  Little or nothing will be accomplished without thinking and working. Ask the apostle Paul.  Consult the biblical record!”  Yes, we should plan our strategy as we seek His face and ask for Him to direct, guide and help us is in every area!

Mission – Why we exist?

Vision – Where are we going?

Strategy – How do we get there?

Team – Who will do it?

PRAYER SYSTEM

Systems are important for sustaining initiatives in your church as simple as finance but as complex as assimilation.  My friend Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  We understand the significance of systems because our bodies require a healthy respiratory, circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and other as well.  Properly functioning systems are critical for a healthy body. 

            I Corinthians 12:12 reminds us of who we are, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body: so also is Christ.”  That picture of your church should cause you to realize the priority of systems.  They are essential to complete tasks in a detailed manner so that the rest of the body can function properly.  They rely and depend on one another.  Church systems are crucial because they put the processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

The one system that is often overlooked is the prayer system.  Maybe that happens because we know that every system, every team, and every aspect of our ministry needs to be bathed in prayer but it would be wisdom for you to intentionally focus on developing a prayer system in your church.  Jonathan Edwards, the great leader of the First Great Awakening observed: “we need explicit agreement and visible union among God’s people in extraordinary prayer.”

Those three elements (explicit agreement, visible union, & extraordinary prayer) are key and they stress the need of intentionality in building a prayer system.  We plan single prayer events but we must also seek ways (a system) for a sustained movement of prayer.  There are great benefits to providing ways to call your people to times and seasons of prayer.  There are several resources available for 21 days or 40 days of prayer but most important is for you and your leadership to pray.  Ask God for a plan that will facilitate explicit agreement, visible union, and hopefully, extraordinary prayer.

First, consider making a chart of every church ministry that needs to be covered in prayer.  Brainstorm on everything from the nursery to the youth to the Sunday services.  Do not be stingy but strive to list every age group, every ministry, and every event. Also, make sure you include missionaries, offsite community ministries, churches in your area, and those who have not yet been reached with the gospel.   As you begin, focus on groups and then later list people by name such as staff members and ministry team leaders.

Second, identify at least four immediate prayer needs in your church or ministry.  You could then pray over each one specifically over the next four weeks. The first week you should focus on the item God called to your attention as the biggest priority.  Recruit a prayer team to cry out with you on behalf of this need every day and as the week progresses more and more needs will come to your mind and be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit.  I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all you care upon Him; for He careth for you.”

Third, begin to build a prayer ladder.  The focus here will be on a system that will teach everyone how to “lift it up” in prayer.

  1. The first rung of the ladder is the prayer need and you must make sure that you clearly define the specifics of the need.
  2. The next step is to determine the prayer leader for this prayer initiative. Which ministry leader is the best fit? Who will be in charge of and responsible for the fervent prayer and intercession occurring for this particular area of ministry?
  3. The third rung of the ladder represents your focus on building a prayer team. Who will the team leader recruit to be a member of their prayer team?  A verbal commitment that they will join the team is not enough but rather they must pray regularly and fervently.
  4. Now it is time to determine your prayer method.  There is no right or wrong here but you must decide what this prayer effort will look like.  Will it include the entire church, small groups, individuals, or will it be a strategy that utilizes all of the above?
  5. The last rung of the prayer ladder is a prayer schedule.  When will you designate a time for focused intercession on behalf of this particular team and ministry?  What day will you meet?  Will you meet daily, weekly, or monthly?  Will there be a time that is set aside as “the time” to pray?  Some have suggested praying every day at 10:02am for God to provide laborers.  This idea came out of a desire to start a prayer virus based on Luke 10:2 by setting your alarm and stopping when it goes off to pray what Jesus told us we should pray for, more workers.

Third, plan your system out by using the prayer ladder and then carry out the plan.  Good intentions will not be enough.  You must be committed to actually praying.  Jesus said in Mark 11:17, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”  Think through how you will develop and maintain a rhythm of prayer.  Your goal is to organize a sustained prayer focus that will continually offer the aroma of your cries to God whose ear is inclined toward your pleas.

In building a prayer system you are developing a culture of seeking God’s presence and power in every decision, every initiative, every ministry, every leader, and every aspect of your ministry.  You are inviting God to manifest His presence in your midst by admitting how desperately you need Him.  May we be captivated to pray intentionally, faithfully, and without ceasing!

The Why Comes Before the What

The why means everything in anything you attempt to do but especially in the work of the ministry.  Most people can explain what they do and how they do it but many struggle when they are asked to explain the why.  Simon Sinek says this about the why, “Its goal (Start With Why) is not to give you a course of action.  Its goal is to offer you the cause of action.”  The shepherd boy David said it well when he could not understand the army’s reluctance to go out and face Goliath, “Is there not a cause?” The why is far more important than the how or the what!  You must not underestimate nor devalue the significance of motives!

We make a huge mistake when we raise our children always asking what they plan do when they grow up more than stressing “who” they will become in Christ.  “What” is certainly important but there are a multitude of “whats” that anyone can do for the honor and glory of God.  It is much easier to determine and identify the job and skill sets an individual has to make them successful.  Personal ability and knowing the right “stuff” can be learned by anyone who is interested and willing to be instructed. The harder areas are knowing ourselves and walking with Christ.  Make sure you know who you are in Christ!

We figure out what we want to do and then we also discover how to do what we want to do.  Most people know what they can and cannot do but they can also explain how they do it.  If you are having difficulty with what you want to do with the apps on your phone just hand it to a 12 year old and they will be happy to show you how.  All too often we as a church get so wrapped up in what we do and how we should do it that we forget why we are doing what we are doing.  Hopefully, we do what we do for Christ and how we do it so that He receives all the honor and glory.  Never forget that motives matter!

Church, why do you exist?  Are your values aspirational or are you acting out the values you say you have?  This helps to ensure that we are not just focused on results but being faithful to the One who has called us.  Remember, who you are is far more important to Him than what you do!  It is not, first and foremost, about a job description but rather about a personal daily relationship with Him.  When you really understand why you do what you do that is what gets you up in the morning, gets you through the difficult seasons, and keeps you energized.  We continually are asking, “Lord, am I being who you want me to be?”

Sociologists are telling the church that we have lost at least two generations and points out some common characteristics these generations have.  At best, we know we now live in a postmodern and some say a post-Christian culture.  Tolerance is valued at all costs and there is no absolute truth anymore.  Be who you want to be and decide who you are instead of bowing in submission to the creator who designed you and made you who you are.  Is there not a cause with these lost generations?  Are we not here to tell them why they are here and why Jesus died for them?

We are told by O.S. Hawkins that these lost generations are:

  1. Searching for meaningful relationships!
  2. Seeking immediate gratification!
  3. Wanting something for nothing!
  4. Desiring guilt-free living!
  5. Searching for prosperity!

Only the church holds the answers in the word of God and can meet all five needs of these lost generations.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Why do we do this?  To share the truth of God and allow that truth to set people free.  It is the only truth that can provide true freedom and we have been entrusted with that truth.

  • Why do you study to show yourself approved and faithfully preach the word of God week after week?  Hopefully, it is because you know the power of the gospel and believe with every fiber of your being that it is the only answer for all of man’s problems. You believe that it has the power to break the chains of bondage with which the devil has enslaved so many. Why do you read it every day and meditate on it?  Because you believe it will not change you in a day but when you are in it daily it will change you!
  • Why do you pray and cry out to God? Hopefully, it is because you believe that prayers do make a difference.  You believe that even if it does not change your situation it does change you and causes you to become who He wants you to be.  You know that God inclines His ear toward those who call out to Him.  D.L. Moody said it well, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  John Bunyan challenged us to realize, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”  The why is answered in that we seek to lean into His presence longing to know Him closer and better.
  • Why do you share your faith?  Hopefully, it is because you believe in the power of the gospel to save all who believe.  You believe in the why so strongly that you know that someone trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior does not rely on how great of a salesman you are.  You share His word, you cry out for the Holy Spirit to do His work of regeneration, and you trust in the power of the gospel. Why do we faithfully share the gospel through our lives and with our lips?  Because we understand that is why He saved us!

The why is all about God’s glory and that is what gives us the passion, purpose, and perseverance to continue to be who He called us to be. Then we can prayerfully determine what He wants us to do and how He wants us to do it!

Are You An Aircraft Carrier?

Jesus clearly told us that He would establish His church and that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16).  Gates are a defensive protection from those who are attacking. It seems today that the opposite is true of so many churches and Christians.  We appear to be “holding the fort” and protecting our territory instead of invading, attacking, and reclaiming territory that the enemy has taken.

C.T. Studd said, ““Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop,within a yard of hell.”

Unfortunately, many have adopted the opposite mentality of the comfort and security of staying within the walls of the fortresses we have built whether they are real brick and mortar or self-imposed boundaries.  Paul was passionate to make the gospel known to all who so desperately needed to hear its truth.  Paul makes this very clear in Romans 1:14, “I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.”  The word there for obligated literally means we are debtors and our life no longer belongs to us but to Him!

Paul’s message is that the completely unmerited favor of God placed him under severe obligation to the grace of God.  Acts 20:24 states Paul’s obligation this way, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”  That obligation meant he willingly and joyfully took the gospel wherever the Lord led him and allowed him to go.  David Platt has said, “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every unsaved person this side of hell.”

In his book Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear describes churches as three types of ships.  These images help us to see what the focus and vision of our church might be.

  • The first church is the Cruise Liner.  This church is focused on meeting the needs of those who have decided to go along for the trip.  The focus is on programs for everyone and making sure that you offer everything people are looking for.  Someone has said they will come because you make a better hamburger than everyone else.

The question that must be asked is…what will happen to the members if someone starts making a better hamburger?  We must fight the temptation not to be overly judgmental about churches that seem to have it all.  There are many that are using the best of everything and are reaching people for Christ but we must also fight the temptation to build a ministry of consumers focused on comfort and competition more than on the advancement of the Kingdom!

  • The second church Greear describes is the Battleship. This church is more focused on the task at hand of representing the cause of Christ well but everything functions from the deck of the ship.  The battle is real but it is waged from a distance.  We do our work on the ship and we make plans of how to defeat the enemy but we launch our attacks from our battleship/fortress and we never really get to know those we need to reach with the gospel.

We must go to them, get to know them, and then demonstrate the love of Christ.

  • The third example is that of the Aircraft Carrier.  The goal of this ship is to make sure there is never a battle on its deck. They resource, train, fuel, and equip the planes and pilots to go where the real battle is taking place.  The church is the training center and the sending agency.  If our churches are not going where the action is then we are not doing our jobs properly.  Jesus never said, “Come and grow with us!” but He did say, “Go and tell!”  It is easy to forsake His mission because we settle for becoming a nice, comfortable, ordinary cruise liner.

How do we go about the training, resourcing, and equipping?

First, train your people in building networks through the relationships they already have.  Begin by intentionally helping them to see the lost people they already have in their lives in their families, at work, at school, neighbors, hobbies, and other networks.  Help them to think through how they can begin building bridges to them through loving and caring relationships.  We must move away from a temple mindset (gathering) back to a network (relational) mindset.

Second, give them a pathway to intentionally build relationships.  Dave Ferguson talks about how to B.L.E.S.S. others.

  • Begin by praying for them.  Think of 2-3 people in each one of your circles of influence and begin praying for them daily.
  • Listen to them as you get to know them.  Ask them questions about the things that interest them and allow to feel free to share their heart.
  • Eat with them so you can fellowship through a meal or cup of coffee.
  • Serve them by building a relationship and discovering their greatest needs.
  • Share the gospel with them and the love of Christ.

Third, train them how to share the gospel.  Yes, listen to their story, share your story, but then share His story. I was trained as a teenager to use the Romans Road by putting tabs on a small New Testament so you could find the verses quickly.  There are phone apps that will lead you through a presentation of the gospel.

One method that our church uses is from the Navigators on how to share the gospel using one verse, Romans 6:23. You can find that on their web page, navigators.org and click on the Evangelism tab.  There you can see the presentation entitled One-Verse Evangelism: How to Share Christ’s Love Conversationally and Visually.

Greater Things

Jesus clearly promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” than He did.  Here in North America we desperately need “greater things” to happen in our hearts, lives, and our churches.  We need a movement of God that would fit His description in John 14:12-14 of “greater things.”  We need revival in our established churches and a recommitment to a church planting movement.  A newly released Barna Report has reinforced some of the concerns about our culture here in America moving farther and farther away from God.

Mike Huckabee recently gave this summary of that report:  “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview. The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out as the most shocking and troubling is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.”  That is the polar opposite of what Jesus meant by “Greater Things.”  How can that happen right here in the United States? How can this extremely disturbing number of increasing atheists occur right here in our own backyard?

Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.”   The greater things Jesus promised became a reality as the early church experienced a miracle of “spontaneous expansion.”

Dr. J.D. Payne recently shared with several of us in the missions department that as of October 2017 there are 282 Unreached People Groups here in the USA with 167 in Canada.  Even more alarming is that there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here.  According to him this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time.  Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves; “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Is this promise of “greater things” still available to us as individual believers and to our churches today?  Absolutely, because Jesus is still Lord (and always will be) and He is still sitting on the throne.  But there are some elements that will be required for us to see a movement of “greater things” in our cities and communities.  There are at least two necessary ingredients for us to witness an extraordinary movement of God again today.  First, there must be an extraordinary practice of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38).   Second, there must be an extraordinary commitment to evangelism (Acts 1:8).

We never would have believed that it would be so easy to reach so many nations without ever getting on an airplane but it is happening.  The world is coming to us and we, God’s children, are to be His light.  We must be ready to reach all nationalities and people groups with the gospel.  Isaiah 49:6makes it clear, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Thankfully, the churches, church revitalization, and church planting efforts are impacting the multitude of immigrants who are flocking to the United States.

It is truly a blessing to see churches and church planters ministering to many different language groups and people groups. Many are making a gospel difference in the lives of these uniquely diverse ethnic people groups.  All to often we see contextualizing the gospel as reaching our neighborhood, but it is much deeper than that.  The better questions are; how do we become the church in our neighborhood? And how do we evangelize so that we are not just reaching part of our neighborhood but everyone that lives in our neighborhood?

Joe Gustafson tweeted this about an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, ““Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to Himself. The contemporary Church would do well to go back to the future and embrace this same approach to evangelism.”  Stetzer’s article points out the need to make some shifts in our evangelistic efforts which are really a return to our biblical roots in the book of Acts.  He says “churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network will be more effective at evangelism” and also that churches “must shift from an attractionalmindset to an incarnationalmindset.”

Let me remind you of a quote from last week’s article where we are challenged to embrace both approaches.  In the book Kingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks two questions.

  1. “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  2. “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Hey Church – Are We There Yet?

Is your church any healthier today than it was at this time last year?  Have you taken effective steps toward the preferred future you envisioned? Recently I heard that the reality is that after –

  • Speeding up the music!
  • Spicing up the sermons!
  • Sprucing up our buildings!

…our church health and overall spirituality is no better off. You have to know that it is not easy to take the steps that need to be taken for your church to be what God desires it to be.  There will be challenges that will tax you and there will be challengers that will push you to your wits end at times.

  1. You should expect there to be some resistance. Not everyone will like your ideas or suggestions and to be completely transparent some will hate them.  In this process of accepting the reality of resistance you should determine the level of resistance.  Are they hostile, resistant, passive, cultivatable, receptive, or ready?  These have also been described as never-adopters, late-adopters, and early-adopters. Realize that some need time to process and there needs to be a balance between going too slow and not slowing down enough.
  2. With whom do you need to have a conversation? The temptation is to avoid and stay away from those who seem to always oppose innovation and change.  The reality is that you should pull them in close, listen to them, and see if you can discover why they are against your proposal.  Yes, there are some (the never-adopters) who will just be against it.  They can even be hostile toward change but that is actually the exception and not the rule.  Do not allow one person to hold you hostage and see if there is a way you can move forward with your team.
  3. Make sure that you are clearly articulating the vision and changes you believe need to be made.  Ask several to share with you what they are hearing and see if they are close at all.  The communication curve is sometimes very steep and is always a challenge.  Be willing to consider ways you can make the vision and message clearer.  Ed Stetzer says, “People are willing to sacrifice in the present for something better in the future.”  Make sure you cast a vision for the end result and goal and not the changes that need to be made.
  4. Develop a prayer strategy.  Listen to what Samuel said to the people in I Samuel 12:23, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.”  It is hard to remain mad at someone you are praying for regularly.  Take time in your meetings to pray out loud for one another. Get in groups of three, ask what you can pray about for them, and then take turns praying for one another.  The work of the Lord requires much prayer.  We say we know that but we must make sure that we are intentional and strategic in implementing this prayer strategy.
  5. Determine what needs your attention first. Do not be overwhelmed by all that you have to do but instead focus on what you can accomplish and where you can make a difference.  As you look at a particular ministry, program, or area of your ministry start by asking what is working.   Then you must ask, what is missing and what is confusing?
  6. Consider thinking through the necessary steps for the change you desire to occur.  Learn from others.  An excellent resource is John Kotter’s Leading Change.  One aspect of his process is to create a guiding coalition.  Make sure you have prayer partners who are willing to speak into this process honestly and with transparency.  The team concept is biblical and it provides you strength in numbers because it gives you a system of checks and balances.  Make sure that you always remain a good listener and that you have a teachable spirit.
  7. Brace yourself for opposition because it is coming at some point or time.  Everyone will not like your ideas and they may hate some of them, a lot.  Get ready because the attacks that seem very personable sometimes are not.  They point the blame at you and the attacks are often founded upon the thought that they didn’t have the problem until you brought it up.  I recently heard it said that if no one is upset you probably are not doing enough and need to get busy.  Certainly, our goal is not to upset or anger people but when you lead it will happen.
  8. Make sure that you practice patience. The change you propose and lead your church in will not happen overnight.  We already made reference to this but you must acknowledge that some people are just going to oppose you.  Prayerfully consider what the real issue is and what questions you may need to answer for them.  We usually cannot accomplish all we want to in one year but normally we can accomplish far more than we imagine in five.  Develop a five-year plan and then begin taking the necessary steps to make it a reality.

Leadership can be lonely but remember that He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.  Knowing that He will never abandon us as we obediently follow Him allows us to never give up, never give in, and never give out as we depend upon Him daily.

The Missing Element

Three necessary ingredients for a healthy church are to be biblical, relational, and missional.  Most churches that I am familiar with handle the biblical and relational elements pretty well.  They understand and have dedicated themselves to being a theologically sound church and strive to teach the whole counsel of God correctly.  The relational element is normally handled well also.  Churches know the importance of unity and are focused on protecting their harmony.

After blogging my article The Three P’s of Evangelism, this is what a friend commented, “Isn’t it amazing that so many are identified as evangelicals yet so few evangelize.”  That statement seems so sad and yet it appears to be so true.  In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.”  The natural inclination of any group is to become inwardly focused on who is already a part or member.

The Southern Baptist Convention just held their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.  They reported that worship attendance in their churches had increased by 119,772 or 2.3%. During the same time the total number of baptisms decreased by 26,651 or 9.49%.  Please do not think I am trying to make them look bad or that I think anyone else is doing any better.  There are many godly people in the SBC who are burdened and praying for this to change. This trend of “growth”, while baptisms continue to decrease, describes most churches that are not declining.

In Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First (in my opinion a must read) he addresses this trend.  He states, “Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.”  He reminds of the calling for any church striving to be obedient to the Great Commission, “The Kingdom-centric new church (applies to any church new or old) holds as its highest value the redemptive mission of God.”  Andrew Murray said these convicting words, “There are two classes of Christians: soul winners and backsliders.”

Jeff challenges us to take a hard look at how we are growing and is that growth actually expanding the Kingdom of God or are we just shuffling the Christian deck?  Here is more of his convicting conclusions, “It should be troubling to a potential gospel-centered church planter that far too often his colleagues, while claiming to be gospel centered, build their new churches on foundations of the already evangelized.”  Many churches are convinced that they are superior to the other churches in their area as they “compete” for new members.

A church promotes “better” fellowship or “better” music, or “better” programs or “better” preaching.  Jeff states, “Neglecting the lost sheep, we tirelessly work to gain our fair share of the prepenned ninety-nine.”  Is our strategy to create a spirit of discontent in the other sheep pens?  Some great advice I received years ago was, “What makes you think you can make them happy if they have not been happy somewhere else.”  Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character.”  Is our focus the redemptive mission of God?

Are our methods increasing attendance or are they also expanding God’s Kingdom?  Jeff challenges church planters with this thought but it applies to all churches, “By gathering the sacred pieces that will take us on the shortest route to self-sustainability, we may simultaneously be gathering the pieces that will lead us to evangelistic sterility.”  When we do focus on the “prepenned” sheep we must be aware of the possibility that “eventually the discontented will gather together and demand that their prophet lead them back to Egypt.”

The temptation is to always default to what we know how to do and what we have learned to do well.  We have learned to “do” church far better that actually “being” the church.  When you ask the average church attender what is in their life that verifies the Christ and the gospel they represent they will often “default” to, “Well, I go to church!”  We are thankful that they do attend but anybody can do that in a country where there is freedom of religion.  So, what evidence of my faithfulness to God do people see?

Jeff continues to challenge us by describing what truly characterizes Kingdom-centric churches.

  1. “They are convinced that good deeds and good news cannot and should not be separated from any orthodox understanding of the gospel. The good news always clarifies, and good deeds always verify.”
  2. “Kingdom-centric churches believe ministering and serving are natural expressions of everyday living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Yes, we must clearly and correctly articulate the gospel message but we must also verify it by our good deeds.

In Kingdom First, Jeff offers one of his most haunting and convicting observations, “First-century results rarely come from twenty-first-century priorities. What made the first-century church so potent was its absolute disinterest in itself.”  Are we more consumed with our own personal preferences and agendas than we are concerned for the lost who without Christ will die and spend eternity in hell?  Luke 15:4, “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

Evangelism is the missing element is far too many churches!

More of the Right Things

What do we measure that really matters?  Having previously discussed changing the scorecard in churches has created a desire to put together an evaluation system that gives us biblically healthy metrics to gauge ministry.  The church health and church growth tension will continue (I personally think it can be a good tension) but there are some biblical standards that must adopted and followed.  For example, we can ask if people love the church or do they love lost people but it really begins with do we love Jesus!  That was the bottom-line question He asked Peter.

There are many things very important to us that can cause us to place too much focus on the wrong things.  Several of those are the size of the congregation, the buildings, the programs, and a host of other significant things but are not the most important.  We know the church is not a building nor is it just a numerical statistic.  It is to be the local body that represents Christ and displays His glory.  The pendulum of what’s of the greatest value can swing too far either way when it comes to methods and measurements.

  1. Is your church cultivating a heart for God? Does your church really care about the lost and dying world around it?  Here is the reality we must face.  We say it is important, but is there any proof in our actions that shows up not only in our beliefs but also in our behavior?  In what ways does your church’s heart break over what breaks the heart of God?  We say we are burdened for people who are far from God but what is your church doing to reach them?  Are people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ benefiting from knowing your members?
  2. Is your church developing a disciple making culture?  Are more and more disciples growing and being transformed daily?  We talk discipleship but very little actual discipleship is taking place unless we intentionally develop a pathway for disciples to grow. That begins by equipping and training disciples not only to follow Christ but to also disciple others.  As you look at discipleship it would be good to ask what is working, what is missing, and what is confusing?  There must be a clear “next steps” pathway that can be clearly articulated by all of your disciples.
  3. Develop a prayer strategy.  This is not necessarily to be third on your list but must permeate every area of your church culture.  It is not enough to just say we need more prayer (we certainly do) but to also train and show people what being a prayer warrior looks like. How can you help to deepen the prayer lives of your leaders?  Let them know that our purpose in observing spiritual disciplines is not to demonstrate our spiritual strength and superiority but rather to demonstrate our weakness and our need for Christ.
  4. Commit to multiplication in every area of your ministry.  We state our mission statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  That means that everything needs to multiply and if it is healthy it does.  All too often we place all the emphasis on more people and getting bigger but that does not ensure spiritual success.  Are we multiplying prayer warriors, Bible readers, worshipers, disciple making disciples, small groups, serving team members, and people who are consistently sharing their faith?
  5. Build a spiritual awareness and discernment of the spiritual battle you are in.  You will face obstacles and you will face opposition.  Here are some excellent questions from my good friend, Dave DeVries, in this area.  What spiritual blockages are you currently facing?  What strategies will you have in place to counter spiritual blockages?  You must expect them to happen and be ready to address them when they do.  You must remain spiritually sensitive to the attacks of the enemy and this is why training and resourcing a team of prayer warriors is so vitally important.
  6. Find a way to measure and track how many more people are actually doing more of the right things such as praying more, reading their Bibles more, discipling other disciples more, and sharing their faith more. The best way to do that is through intentional accountability.  The missing ingredient in so much of our discipleship is the obedience mechanism.  Develop groups of 3-4 who meet not only to disciple but to also hold one another accountable by asking good questions such as, with whom did you share your faith this last week?  How did that go?
  7. Teach your people to focus on two very important ingredients of spiritual growth.  The first is listening to the word of God.  That means listening with an interest because we have a heart’s desire to hear what God is saying.  The second is that we must then obey what He says.  We really aren’t interested if we are not ready to obey what He says. Teach your people when they approach the word of God to ask what is God saying and what does He want me to do about it? Jesus made it clear, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Take each one of these seven areas and evaluate where you are and how you are doing in each one of them.  What is working, what is missing, and what is confusing? How can you help your people to do more of what is really important?  What strategies will you develop to make sure it happens in the hearts and lives of your people?  The true metrics are not size but the transformation of people’s lives and seeing evidence that they are being transformed and becoming more and more like Jesus!

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS!!!