Tag Archives: evangelism

How to talk about God (and how not to)

26 Oct

Image result for conversationA friend of mine was at Park City, the big mall here in Lancaster, at a department store jewelry counter.  Just down the counter stood a couple girls looking at crosses.  One of them wanted to get a cross necklace.  My friend overheard one girl say to the other, “Oh look, this one has a little man on it.”

It was a moment of awareness for the girl (some crosses have a little man on them), but much more so for my friend. He knew that some crosses have little men on them. They’re called crucifixes, and they are depicting Jesus on the cross.  For my friend, this was a moment of awareness for a different reason.  It was an “aha!” moment that our culture has moved farther and farther away from an understanding of the Gospel.  Years ago you could assume that most everyone knew about Jesus.  No more.  It is highly likely that at least some of your neighbors and co-workers have no idea what the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is all about.

During the month of October at Faith Church we’re talking about the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation because this month marks the 500th anniversary of that world-shaping era.  The Five Solas we have looked at are Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and this week, Christ Alone.  My posts so far this week have focused on whether or not God is fair by mandating that in Christ alone is found salvation to abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven.  But I think there is something even more important than that discussion.  What could possibly be more important than that?

We know the story of Good News in Jesus. 

We can get so focused on God’s fairness to those who can’t hear the Good News.  But let us remember that we already know the story.  And here is the kicker, we also know there are people who have never heard the story. In other words, the story of Good News has a missionary impulse behind it.

That should fill our hearts with excitement.  There are people who we could share that story with.  Yes, I am talking about tribal people, and I am talking about translating the Bible in languages so people can access the story of Jesus.  Yes, I am talking about taking the Good News to Muslims.

Maybe you would take a step of faith and seek becoming a missionary yourself. We have a story of amazing Good News to tell, and perhaps God is calling you to step out in faith and take the Good News to people who might otherwise not be able to hear. Maybe it is a one-week trip.  Maybe it is a one-day trip.  It doesn’t have to be to a jungle tribe or a Muslim country, but it could be.  It also could be to an city neighborhood.

It could also be right here in Lancaster.  It could be in the community where you live. I am talking about sharing the story of Good News of Christ Alone with our neighbors and friends.  We have a message of incredibly good news, but are we sharing it?

Imagine that vasts deposits of gold were discovered underneath your neighborhood.  A mining company wanted to purchase the rights to dig deep under your property, as they did with all the other properties in your neighborhood.  All the neighbors are so excited, getting huge sums of money by selling digging rights, paying off their debts, helping those in need, and even purchasing new vehicles or upgrades to their homes.  Now imagine if no one told you about the gold or the lucrative digging rights.  How would you feel if many of your neighbors were walking around in newness of life, while you were left in the dark?

Not everyone will agree that what we think is good news is good news to them.  We Christians (and especially evangelicals are guilty of this) have been too quick to try to force feed our good news to anyone and everyone.  Years ago I worked in an office with cubicles, and if you have ever worked in cubicles, you know that everyone in the cubicle grid can hear what everyone else is saying.  No privacy on the phone.  No privacy in cubicle to cubicle conversations.  No privacy on what music is being played.  People didn’t even try for privacy.  You would sit at your desk working on your computer, and if you wanted to talk to a person four cubicles down, you just started talking to them.  Everyone else could hear.  I tended to play lots of music, but at one point I started listening to podcasts from one of my favorite speakers, Ravi Zacharias.  That dude is incredibly smart and engaging.  I encourage everyone to listen to him, just because he is so interesting, and also because he is perhaps, in our era, one of the best communicators of Good News.  I remembering playing his lectures, and playing them loud.  There was no doubt other people in my cubicle grid could hear them.  But did they want to?  I was not so subtly attempting to share the Good News with them.  One day, after hearing what I considered to be a particularly compelling lecture by Ravi Zacharias, I said out loud, knowing exactly what I was doing, “Anyone who doesn’t believe that would have to be stupid!”

I’m sad to admit that I had what I considered (and still do) very good news, but I was trying to shove it down my co-workers’ throats.  Jesus once called that trying to feed pearls to swine.  In other words, though it is valuable to me, it won’t nourish the people.  I took good news and turned it into something offensive.

My point in sharing these stories is that too often we have either kept the Good News to ourselves, which leaves people wondering if we really care about them, or we have tried to abruptly force it on people, turning it into bad news.  And that is so sad, because the good news of salvation in Christ alone is actually really, really wonderful.

The message of Solus Christus, salvation in Christ Alone, is a message that God is love – more loving than we could ever imagine. It is a message that God is just – fairer than we could ever imagine.

God’s love is so clearly seen in Christ. Consider these verses:

  • John 3:16 says it so well, and that’s why it might be the most famous verse of the Bible: “For God so loved the World that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
  • Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 says that “God desires all men to be saved.”  Doesn’t mean they all will choose him. But that is the scope of God’s heart of love.  The whole world!
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Again, not all will repent.  But God wants all to repent.

God loves all, and he has gone to such great lengths to show that love in Christ alone.  The story of Jesus is a story of incredibly good news.

You know what that means?  Let us not be silent!  Let us share the story of Jesus with gracious gusto so that all may know. If you are thinking, “Yeah, I have people in my life that need Jesus.  And I want to share the story of good news in Jesus with them.  But I don’t know what to say or how to say it.”  Or maybe it feels a bit scary or awkward, and you don’t want to be offensive.  If you feel that way, please don’t keep that to yourself.  Talk about it.  I know that I myself often feel guilty or like a failure, thinking that I could do so much more to share the good news about Jesus to my friends and neighbors.

To rectify this situation, one very practical step I would encourage you to take is to begin praying for the people that God has placed around you.  Pray that God would break your heart for the spiritual lives of those around you. Ask yourself whether you have a callous heart when it comes to the salvation from sin of the people in your life.  If so, ask God to break your heart.  Pray for a tender heart.  Finally, pray for God to give you opportunities to share about Solus Christus.

We had a wonderful training here Saturday a week ago.  It was discipleship training, but it was all about the outreach part of discipleship.  Disciples reach out.  Disciples make more disciples.  Disciples tell the story of good news.

At the very end of the training, I was so encouraged by what some shared that God was speaking to them about being disciples who reach out.  Here were some of the comments:

  1. I want to get out of the pew and go.
  2. What neighborhood can I reach?
  3. Be yourself. I am too worried about what other people will think.
  4. I want to make time to walk the neighborhood.
  5. Wait for God’s timing.

Who are you praying for?  What will it look like for you to reach out to them with the love of Christ?

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 at 9:30am as we seek to answer these questions.

A post for Christians: how to stop treating people as projects – Part 1 – The Problem

2 Oct

If you’ve read this blog for even a fairly short amount of time, you’ve heard me talk about about making disciples. It is the mission of God’s Kingdom, and yet I have heard many at Faith Church talk about how you can feel very frustrated about making disciples. You agree that it is important, you believe in it, and you really, really want to be a part of it, but most times you feel defeated before you even start.

According to recent stats, our country’s population has gone from 96% Christian in the year 1900 to 73% Christian in 2015. You and I have a great heart and desire to see people become followers of Jesus, and yet so many aren’t interested.  That can create fear and frustration in our minds.

I think of one person who has reached out to a family member countless times, and that family member has responded with “Stop talking, I don’t want to hear another word about this religion stuff!” That is painful to hear, especially because we love our family and friends.  But perhaps despite our good intentions this family member has begun to feel like a spiritual project?

Or you and I might have a desire to reach out to neighbors or coworkers, but our lives are crazy busy, so that there is hardly any time left after we’re done with work and our family schedule. Most days we finish that up as the clock strikes 10pm, and we’re exhausted. Who has time for reaching out?

How many of you would love to reach out, but you feel like it is next to impossible? You wonder if it means quoting Bible verses, winning theology arguments, and praying out loud with people. And all of that leaves you feeling sick in the stomach, and defeated.  You know people don’t want to be your little religious project.  And you don’t want them to be a project either.  You want real relationship.  You’ve found this amazing thing that Jesus offers, and you want to share it.  But it seems to come across as a program.

How would you feel if I were to tell you that Jesus says that his mission is so different from that? How would you feel if there was a better way? A way that fits within the ebb and flow of your real life.  A way that treated people as they ought to be treated, as real people.

In our next section in Luke, Jesus teaches us that better way.  Read Luke 10:1-24 if you want a preview!  And join us at Faith Church at 9:30am to learn more.

That time I accidentally said “fart” in my State of Faith Church sermon…and some other things as well

20 Nov

As I mentioned last week, this past Sunday I gave my State of the Church address.  You can listen to it here.  As you’ll read below I talked about discipleship and simplicity, but also farts.  Yeah, you read that title right.  Farts.  But I didn’t talk about it on purpose.  Fast forward to minute 19:00, and listen in from there.  Right in the middle of a discussion of discipleship, I let it slip…  Let the hilarity ensue. If only you could have seen how many people were snickering, smiling from ear to ear, red-faced and shaking. It was crazy! Oops

And now back to the State of the Church.  I did say “fart” and a bunch of other things too!

I started by mentioning our church mission statement: Loving God, Loving People, and how we express that four ways: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship and Outreach.

Notice the logical flow in them? Most people make their point of first contact with the family of Faith Church through worship on Sunday morning. Doesn’t have to be that way, but it usually is. And we would be remiss if all people did was enter our doors, sit in a pew and worship. Instead we desire them to go deeper, to become a part of the family. That requires the next step, Fellowship.   We want to see people build loving relationships in the church. That will happen primarily through Care Groups. But Jesus calls us to go deeper yet, to answer the call to discipleship. That means studying the Bible and learning how to implement it in all parts of our lives. When the Discipleship Commission asks “what does it mean to be a disciple-making church” we’re talking about this. Finally, disciples will want to serve, to reach out, to make more disciples.

Where are you on the four steps? We want to see you progress, grow, mature, moving from a worshipper to a disciple who is reaching out.

I also talked about a couple of our Core Values that we need to focus on: intentional simplicity and passionate spirituality. We need to be a church that practices “less is more” philosophy.  In our society “more is more”.  But maybe there is a scary downside to “more is more” philosophy.  What do you think?  Could it be better to focus on doing a few things well?

What should it look like for Faith Church to simplify?  Feel free to share your thoughts!