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Three P’s of Evangelism

Evangelism seems to be taking a back seat to almost every other kind of activity in churches today.  Several authors have expressed concern about how even church plants can grow and do well but not reach the people that need to be reached the most, the lost.  One recent survey was shocked at how many in full time ministry say they do not have the “gift” of evangelism.  In John 4:35 Jesus said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

In The Evangelism Handbook Alvin Reid says, “The church growth movement influenced many in the latter half of the twentieth century.  It offered a three-tiered look at the process of evangelism. The three components are these:

  • P-1, Presence. For example, agricultural, medical missions.
  • P-2, Proclamation. Presenting the gospel in an understandable manner.
  • P-3, Persuasion. II Corinthians 5:11 encourages hearers to respond.

An analogy for this definition is a house.

In presence evangelism, people’s needs are met; they see a demonstration of the gospel, and, therefore, a foundation is built on which the gospel can be communicated.  Because the church growth movement began on the mission field, its importance is obvious.  Cross-cultural issues must be considered in a viable presentation of the gospel.  Increasingly, in a post-Christian or even an anti-Christian culture in America, presence evangelism has a place.  Servant evangelism (covered later) fits in nicely in our context.

Proclamation evangelism,to continue the house analogy, allows the light of the gospel to penetrate through the windows.  People not only need a foundation, but they also need direction. The gospel can never be presented by a demonstration only; there must also be a proclamation.

Persuasion evangelism leads people into the relationship they need with Christ. One can live in a house and not be family; by persuading people to follow Christ, we are inviting them to join God’s family.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this definition.  The weakness comes when believers define evangelism at the P-1 level only.  We must build bridges, but we must also do more.  Still others stop at the P-2 level.  This definition is complete when we see it as a whole.  That being said, it is positive in that when we are stopped short of a complete presentation of the gospel, we know we have at least provided some aspect of the gospel that the Holy Spirit can use.  In other words, we should always seek to present Christ through presence, proclamation, and persuasion; but when we cannot, we can be thankful that on some level we have presented Christ.”

Reid defines evangelism as, “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”  One problem is that many see the term “evangelize” as the work of the evangelist and the preacher proclaiming the good news in a formal setting. While that is true, it is also simply sharing the good news one on one.  It is every child of God telling others the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for them.  Every believer on this side of heaven owes every non-believer on this side of hell the gospel!

The gospel is the good news.  It is not bad news and we need to share it with those God has placed in our circle of influence.

Here are three things to do:

  1. Pray for those you know who are not followers of Christ.  Do not underestimate the power of prayer.  You can share the good news but only God can transform a life.
  2. Ask God to show what you could do to build a bridge to them through an authentic relationship.  People are farther away from the cross today which requires patience and starting with the very basics.
  3. Be willing to do whatever God shows you so that you might be able to share the good news with them.  Once you have gained their trust they will then allow you to speak into their lives because they can see who you are, not just what you are saying!

Remember to be ready to listen to their story, share with them your story, but always be ready to share His story.  We must pray for boldness and be ready and proactive in sharing the gospel with others.  If we will begin our day by asking Him for an opportunity to share His love with someone He will provide that open door.  Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost and now we are His messengers!

Men’s Discipleship

Much is being said today about a vacuum that has been created by the missing father in the home and rightfully so.  We see a leadership shortage not only in the home but also in the church. There is a great need to raise up godly men of courage who will step forward and be who God has called them to be. It should sadden us to know that all too often if we ask men in our churches to tell us what it means to be a man of God they struggle to give a clear and concise answer.  Churches need discipleship but maybe they need men’s discipleship the most.

Robert Lewis, one of the founders of Men’s Fraternity, says that if God were giving out the 10 Commandments again there would be eleven.  The eleventh would be, “Thou shalt raise up godly men!”  He reports that a study revealed several years ago that if you reach a child you have a 25% chance of reaching the entire family.  If you reach the mom you have a 29% chance of reaching the family but if you reach the dad you have a 95% chance of reaching the entire family. Churches need to make sure their men are going beyond the normal surface relationships.

Solving the problem of the absentee father begins by training up men to be the spiritual leaders of their families.  For that to become a reality they must have the spiritual walk that is necessary to be who God wants them to be.  A life of godly integrity challenges us to have a one-to-one correlation between our Bible, our beliefs, and our behavior.  The key is making Jesus Christ the priority of your life through devotion and study of Him.  Pat Morley describes a life of devotion as loving Him more and more while a life of study is getting to know Him more and more.

InSeven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror Morley says, “There is a God we want, and there is a God who is.  They are not the same God.  The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.”  Are we willing to spend the time necessary in devoting our lives to Him and discovering who He actually is?  That commitment to a closer relationship with Him is required but well worth the effort and the journey.  The question must be asked, “What do men need?”  Robert Lewis offers six things men need for them to be able to be God desires for them to be.

  1. Men need a “safe place” where they can discover someone understands them, and they are not alone.  The temptation is to go it alone and accept a Lone Ranger approach but that is not the focus of community in the word of God.
  2. Men need is clear and compelling vision of biblical manhood they can take hold of.  Men need a discipleship process that challenges them beyond their comfort zones.  Safety in the brotherhood is crucial but it must also address the need to risk and step out in faith.  We must be willing to practice a tough love.
  3. Men need time with other men to effectively process their manhood.  All too often discipleship has an event focus but we need much more than just a pep rally. Who will make sure you follow through on your commitments at the event you attended?  Who will hold you accountable?  Event driven discipleship takes men to the mountaintop and exhorts them but does not provide the most needed component for actual growth, which is time with other men that make sure we do obey.  We need other godly men speaking into our lives.
  4. Men need the practical how-tos of tasting success in our progress as we grow.  There must be an implementation plan for men to grow and learn from the successes and failures of other men.  Nothing encourages us like success.  When we step on the scale and have lost weight that encourages us to keep working on it.
  5. Men need other men cheering them.  Do not underestimate the importance of finding 2 or 3 other men who will affirm their accomplishments and cheer their godly efforts.  There are not many cheerleaders out there for godliness and noble things.
  6. Men need sacred moments in a solid discipleship process.  They need to know when they become the man God wants He wants them to be.  Those moments can be some kind of ceremony at big moments in their lives at a certain age, graduation from high school or college, marriage, or some other worthy accomplishment.  Your band of brothers can develop very simple ceremonies of “manhood” that can take on a very epic proportion.  What accomplishments are deserving of a ceremony and what might that ceremony look like?
  7. Men need godly mentors.  (I know this is #7 but had to add it)  Look for other men who have a heart to put Christ first in their lives, desire to make that journey with other men who have that same passion, and want to hold one another accountable to that journey.  Pat Morley asks this question, “Have you really wanted to know God, or have you just wanted Him to know you?”  The difference can determine whether we see ourselves in charge of our lives or that God is in charge.  Unfortunately, all too often, Christians seem to have a respect of the scriptures but no knowledge of their contents.

Men’s discipleship should seek to study the word to discover the God who is not just the God we desire.  The focus must be to make Him King of our lives as we seek to advance His kingdom.  The kingdom of God can be defined as what the world looks like when King Jesus gets His way! It is surrendering to His rule and reign in our lives!

Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

Innovation and experimentation should not be seen as bad things when we are trying to “Break the Missional Code” of the community we live in and as we are focusing on reaching the people of our city. In I Corinthians 9:23 Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  While an “anything goes” approach is not what we are talking about we must also have a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel.

Tim Keller describes contextualization as “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may or may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”  The importance of a proper exegesis of the word of God is paramount but you should also do the same with the culture.  It will better enable you to understand the people God has called you to reach.

In MultiChurchthe authors say, “While the gospel itself needs and permits no innovation, the means by which it is communicated always demands contextualization.”  They continue with this wisdom, “While contextualization is certainly wrought with difficulties, neglecting contextualization is simply not an option for churches that take the Great Commission seriously.”  Much has been said negatively about contextualization and exegeting the culture but it seems that it has usually surfaced out of a lack of understanding what it actually is and what it is not.

In How to Exegete a CommunityBarry Whitworth says,When exegeting a community you are observing and conversing with the people in their cultural context. Your goal is to form an opinion to whether or not there is an evangelical presence that will foster spiritual transformation in that community…There are four areas to focus on when you are exegeting the community. The social, economic, physical and spiritual climateof the culture will communicate the need for a new church.”  Knowing the uniqueness of any community is a valuable asset in reaching it for Christ.

There are three things you want to focus on in each one of the four areas mentioned.

  1. You want to observe with your eyes.  What do you notice and see about the community that makes is distinctively who it is?
  2. Begin conversations with people and ask them good questions.  What is that you hear that makes them who they are?
  3. Think implementation as you develop a plan of what to do to reach them.  Certainly, they all need the gospel but knowing who they are and their history can enable your message to be communicated more effectively.

Exegesis normally has referred to the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture, but the term has never only referred to the Bible.  It can refer to many types of literature and even to better understanding why an individual acts the way they do.

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

It certainly can and should be used to help us to better understand the culture we live in and how we can more effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ed Stetzer says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Exegeting your culture is learning who lives in your community.  Once you know who they are then you can begin to prayerfully discern how you can best reach them.

You need to ask:

  • Who are the lost people in our community?
  • Where do they live?
  • How can you reach them?

This enables you to go deeper when walking through the community and using your observation skills.  Stetzer goes on to explain, “Good culture, combined with good strategy, is powerful.” I Chronicles 12:32 states that the Issacharites, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

Three key steps to a proper approach of contextualization and exegeting our community:

  1. Make sure you are doing what God wants!
  2. The way He wants it done
  3. At the time He wants it done.

It is a missionary task that is described in the scriptures and seems expected.  We see these principles and strategies in how Peter spoke to the Jewish audience on Pentecost.  We also see it demonstrated by Paul in his approach to the peasants of Lystra, and a totally different strategy with the philosophically sophisticated Athenians.

The Gospel Coalition describes it this way, “The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization.  If we over-contextualize it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture.  This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel.  If we undercontextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub-culture too much.  This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.”  This gives balance by remaining surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, submitted to the authority of God’s word, and sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with a totally pragmatic approach is that biblical success is not doing whatever “works.”  Pragmatism is not a stable foundation for any church.  The reality is that what is currently working successfully changes as the culture changes.  This can render models and approaches ineffective and unsuccessful almost overnight.  This requires that we seek the Lord’s face as we begin to better understand the culture we are in and how we can best reach people for Christ.  That is more important than models or methods and programs or projects.

Be open to innovation and be willing to experiment with different strategies that might open more opportunities to communicate the gospel more clearly.  If all it required was the right formula and packed approach then we would be tempted to applaud our efforts and not be as sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our context and in our culture!  If you would like a more detailed plan on how to exegete your community email me at larry@bmaam.com.

“We would do well to adopt a learning posture for the sake of the harvest!”  Kingdom First -Jeff Christopherson

Reproduction System

We know that God is a God of systems because of His design of the universe (solar system) and of the human body. Is there a system you would be willing to live without for one day? You couldn’t make it without the circulatory system because you would die without your heart beating and pumping your blood to keep you alive. If you gave up the skeletal system you would just be a blob in the floor and survival would be very short lived. Without the respiratory system you would not be able to breath and without air your life would be over in minutes.

There is a time to get to get our bodies scanned to see whether they are healthy or not. There is much debate and difference of opinion over whether the benefits of a full body scan is greater than the danger of the radiation used while performing it. Could it be that many churches are afraid of what a full spiritual scan of their body of believers might reveal? It would be good for all of us individually and corporately to lay back on God’s examination table and allow Him to expose our areas of sickness, disease, and unhealthy practices.

There is one system you could survive without and that is the reproductive system. You could do well but only for one generation. When you did finally die there would be no one else to carry on. Maybe this is a picture of many churches today. We have focused on all of the systems to care for who we already have but have forgotten about the importance of reproduction and multiplication. The church can get by for a period of time and even thrive at times but it will not reproduce the fruit that God has challenged us to multiply.

We need this spiritual examination to expose any areas of darkness to His light. Ephesians 5:13-14 says, “Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light.” We should go ahead and submit to this body scan now because I Corinthians 4:5 tells us that one day He will bring to light what was hidden in darkness and He will reveal the intentions of our hearts. Why wait? Schedule this scan of your body of believers now and determine how well you are reproducing disciples, leaders, and churches.

Creating systems and using God-centered techniques will ultimately expand your capacity to care for your people and reach out. Good systems save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. These systems should follow a process that enables them to be gospel-centered and effective as well. In the area of outreach there can be much frenetic activity while seeing very few results. We know the Bible says one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase…but how should that impact the system we develop?

  1. We should build our systems firmly on the foundation of what the scriptures teach. We are commanded to share His glory with all the nations and to be fishers of men.
  2. Then we need to determine if that is really something we truly value. Does our lifestyle show that we are committed to reaching unbelievers with the truth of the gospel? When is the last time we shared the gospel with anyone or even invited him or her to church, a small group, or an event in order to bring him or her closer to Christ? If it is a value it drives us to do something about it.
  3. You begin with a biblical principle that leads to a value, which becomes tasks and habits. These are the things you do to make the value a reality in your daily life. What could you improve on in order to have a better opportunity to share the love of Christ with unbelievers? Matt Perman puts it this way, “To be productive means to get the right things done…To be effective is to get done what God wants done.” Our tasks and habits should be focused in order to maximize the opportunities we have every day.

Systems are designed to enhance our effectiveness. It is the way we organize the tasks we are performing. These are focused on the goals we have which should be in obedience to the Great Commission and doing everything for His glory. Reaching that goal is what brings fulfillment by having discerned what pleases Him. The missing ingredient is strategies, which are the actual action steps needed to find that fulfillment. Many develop systems and the reality is that all of us function within a system whether it is a good one or a bad one.

Strategies are what connect the system to the goal but they must be driven by a desire to be obedient. Matt Perman continues, “If we aren’t abounding in good work, the problem is likely not a lack of opportunity but a lack of desire.” Do we not have opportunity to share the love of Christ everyday? When we are in the store and the salesperson accidentally gives us the wrong information how will we respond? When the waiter is forgetful and takes too long on our order how will we react? Will we be able to talk to them about the love of Jesus?

What strategies do you have to be a light for Christ daily? You don’t have to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or go on a mission trip to be a witness. Here is a full proof strategy; be ready to arise and shine for Jesus every single day knowing you will have the opportunity to either to bring people closer to Christ or push them farther away. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we can display that in very practical ways every single day in very ordinary ways. Maybe the real problem is that our daily ordinary is far from God’s plan?

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers 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.”

He continues, “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 shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. 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?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he 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.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Lessons From the Shepherds

At Christmas we are once again introduced to programs, cantatas, and musicals that have all the familiar characters of shepherds, magi, and the manger. We are use to seeing boys dressed up in a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around their head, and holding a staff in one of their hands. They are absolutely adorable but they are far from what the shepherds were actually like at the time of Jesus birth. The shepherds were hardened men who lived lonely, obscure lives and were scorned by most people of that day.

The shepherds were the people group who were given the privilege of being the first to know about and be told the good news of Jesus birth. They were very uneducated, untrained, and unskilled laborers. They were smelly, rough characters and probably the most unlikely people of that day to be invited to the party. These shepherds offered a meager but necessary service of watching over the herds believed to contain the sacrificial lambs being raised for the temple and the Passover.

Shepherds were not trusted by very many people back then. They were not allowed to testify in court even if they were eyewitnesses. It is quite ironic that the very men who were not permitted to testify in court are chosen by God to be the first to testify of the virgin birth. Yet, when the Pharisees referred to the tax collectors and the sinners the shepherds were most likely at the top of their sinner list. Wow, what a God that announces the birth of His Son to the poor, uneducated, despised shepherds.

What can we learn from these shepherds and their involvement in the birth of the savior?

  1. This Bible story makes it very clear that God loves the outcast. God always reaches out to those who will come to Him no matter what society may say or think of them. Those who the world sees as the least important are the first that God seems to be interested in. Even the religious elite of the day wrote shepherds off as unclean and pagan but God chose to reveal the truth of Christ’s birth to them.
  2. God reminds us that following Him requires sacrifice. Jesus did not come to just make slight alterations to our lifestyles but has called us to live for a completely different Kingdom. We are commanded by Him to die daily and to take up our cross and follow Him. The shepherds knew what it meant to sacrifice for their sheep as they cared for them day by day. They understood that the sacrificial lambs they helped care for were a picture of the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
  3. The shepherds and the manger scene remind us to never interpret God’s love based on our circumstances. Jesus was not born in a palace with a silver spoon in His mouth but rather of the most humble beginnings. You would think the creator of the universe should of made sure that Joseph and Mary had a reservation for a room in the inn but they didn’t. Just because God does not provide for us the way we think He should does not mean He does not love us and have our best in mind.
  4. The manger and the cross settle forever how God feels about you. He loves you and you should never doubt that truth. Whenever your circumstances make you wonder where God is you must remember that He has already proven how much He loves you by dying for you. Even when He does not answer every prayer request the way you think He should you should be very careful of ever trying to use Jesus to get what you want more than you love Him for who He is. As the good shepherd He always has your best in mind.
  5. The shepherds teach us that Jesus invites all to come to Him. He invites those who are poor, uneducated, despised, and outcasts like the shepherds.   He also invites the rich educated, respected, and well thought of like the Magi. John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 reminds us of God’s invitation to everyone because “whoever believes will have eternal life” and “whoever calls on His name will be saved.” Whether they are outcasts or the uppity ups Jesus invites all to come to Him.

The shepherds teach a lot about the heart of God for the lost, the last, and the least. Most people of that day were unaware of the shepherd’s existence because they did not see them nor were they around them. They never gave shepherds a thought nor would they have given them the time of day. They had no desire to get to know them personally; but God did! Isn’t that just like Him? He pursued a relationship with them and sent angels to invite them to worship Him.

The shepherds show us the heart of God. He takes the initiative to invite those considered last on the social ladder to be first on the heavenly invitation list. J.D. Greear in his gospel prayer says, “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” The shepherds teach us that God’s love is not based on our earning it or deserving it but rather totally based on who He is; a God of love. Oh, that we would learn first hand with this truth the shepherds experienced that first Christmas morning.

May we testify of his greatness as they did of His in Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.”

PRAYER AND WORSHIP

Worship exists for God. He is the only one worthy of our praise and adoration. We want His fame to spread throughout the world and for Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. Prayer is an essential part of our worship and should reflect this adoration and praise. Our prayers during worship should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music or any other offering we bring. That does not mean praying in our “God voices” but making sure that our hearts and minds are pure and focused entirely on Him.

In Matthew 21:13 Jesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves!” Someone has said, “If you really want to know where a person’s heart is – listen to his or her prayers!” Gary Rohrmayer says, “Our prayers can be a window to our souls that reveal our deepest motives, desires, and passions.” Here are some prayers we should all be praying from our hearts faithfully every day:

“Father, break my heart for the world you are seeking to save!”

Remember our prayer challenge from the beginning of this year, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me Your heart for lost people.” Since God loves all people, desires the salvation of all people, and died for all people we should be praying fervently that He gives us His heart for the lost.

Missionary David Brainerd wrote the following words over three hundred years ago.   “I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I have to endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.”

“Father, give me a bigger picture of You and Your work in my life!”

Ephesians 1:18-19 says, “I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.”

We should pray that we keep our eyes on Him and see the “weightiness” of whom He is. When we do that, the “weight” of other things will no longer pull us down nor be able to control us! J. D. Greear says, “When we see the size and beauty of God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken!”

“Father, pour out a spirit of generosity in my life!”

One of the qualities and marks of spiritual maturity is that of a generous spirit. Acts 20:35 says, “In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Pray that your church will be a church that is dedicated to helping others and being a blessing to your community. God blesses us not so that we can have and accumulate but so that we can bless others. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, I assure you: whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Father, help me to empower and release others into your harvest field.”

Our vision is to have a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches. It begins with a discipleship process and developing a leadership pipeline out of that. If we are going to release people into the harvest we must first be reaching and winning them out of the harvest.

How much time are you spending developing leaders? If you say you value leadership development then there should be evidence of that on your calendar. Are you pouring more into your leaders weekly so that they can be leaders of other leaders? The natural flow comes out of our discipleship as we observe those who desire more and we focus on the three out of the 12 as Jesus did.

“Father, help my prayers during the worship service to be of the best kind.”

In Next Steps, Gary Rohrmayer writes, “Pastors and worship leaders must read and study Solomon’s blessing and prayer in II Chronicles 6:3-42. One of my concerns is that all too often public prayer in our contemporary service is added on at the end of a worship set or simply used as a transition between the different elements of the service.”

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Let me therefore, very earnestly caution you, beloved brethren, against spoiling your services with your prayers: make it your solemn resolve that all engagements of the sanctuary shall be of the best kind.” We simply should come with clean hands and a pure heart crying out to God to do whatever is necessary for His presence to be known in our worship.

Matthew 6:5-6 says, “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.

The Sacrifice of Worship

J.D. Greear emphasizes the importance of worship, “When we see the size and beauty of the God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken! The way we will stop sinning is not by being told over and over to, ‘Stop sinning!’ but by seeing the majesty and glory of God in our hearts. As we see the beauty of God and feel His weightiness in our hearts, our hearts begin to desire Him more than we desire sin. Before the Bible says, ‘Stop sinning,’ it says, ‘Behold your God!’”

When we have seen the beauty of God and felt the weightiness of God’s majesty in our soul, sin’s power is broken over us. The problem is not that our desires for other idols are too large; it’s because our desire for God is too small. Lesser urges can only be expelled by stronger ones. Our affections for idols are brought under control only when they are taken captive by a stronger more enchanting affection. You will only hate sin when you start to love God!

That occurs through worship, as we desire to see Him high and lifted up more than anything else going on in our lives. Remember, idolatry literally means “weight” and it is anything that we assign and give more importance than God. Worship enables us to see God as “weightier” than any sin in our life and we cannot imagine life without Him.

Worship has been described as “worthship.” You worship what you give worth to…those relationships or possessions or goals that you supremely value. Worship has always involved sacrifice. The Apostle Paul uses sacrificial terminology and outlives for us four tangible sacrifices we can offer God as an act of worship.

First, is a Surrendered Life. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” The essence of worship is found in yielding our lives to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing hinders personal and corporate worship more than lives that have crawled off the altar and have chosen not to surrender themselves to the care and control of Jesus.

Second, is a Sacrifice of Praise. Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore through Him let us continually offer up the to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.” A big part of worship is offering words that acknowledge God’s character (who He is) and thank Him for His goodness (all that He has done for us). Worship is not a spectator sport but rather requires our participation as we pray, sing, and listen to the word of God.

Third, is our Service and Generosity. Hebrews13:16 , “Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.” From the greeters to the safety team to all others who come early to serve in some capacity, please realize that your worship begins when you show up! Through your acts of service and your willingness to be generous with your time you are offering a sacrifice to God (worship), which is pleasing to Him.

Fourth, is our Financial Gifts. Philippians 4:18, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked them for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Giving to the Lord is an act of worship not just an act of stewardship. Is what I am giving to the Lord and the spirit by which I give it pleasing to the Lord? When it is, it is worship!

Everyone involved in making sure that the worship service gets up and running needs to see themselves as priests before God. An attitude of service and sacrifice is key for providing a holy atmosphere for people to encounter a holy God. We must have our hearts prepared to worship God through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. During a worship celebration God is to be exalted with a focus on His goodness and eternal mercies.

Our worship services exist for God. He is our focus. We want His fame to spread throughout the world. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. The sole purpose is to meet with God because He is the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. Our public prayers should reflect this adoration. They should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music does. Does this mean we need to pray in our God voice? No, it simply means we get our hearts and minds ready for leading people before His throne of grace.

The leaders must be spiritually focused to guide God’s people in worship. They must have their hearts prepared to worship Him through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. There should be a celebrative atmosphere during the worship service. Music sets the tone of our worship and whether it is hymns or choruses there must be an inspiring aspect that lifts God’s people out of their ordinary lives into the presence of God.

There must also be a clear emphasis on the character of God. The sole purpose is meet with God, the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. He alone is the one who is worthy of our praise, adoration, and worship. Any sacrifice of our time, effort, or energy that we give Him is well worth it. When the motive is right, these offerings are well pleasing in His sight!

Pslam 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.”

LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!