Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gospel presentations of Jesus #2

Jesus was at the temple and already teaching when some chief priests and other religious leaders arrived and came up to him. . .

Jesus continued “Tell me what you think about this. There was a man who had two sons. He went and told his older son, ‘Today, I want you to work in my vineyard.’

The son replied ‘'I do not want to,’ but later he had a change of heart, so he went and worked in the vineyard.

Now, the father also gave the same order to his younger son. This one said ‘Yes sir,” right away, but he never went to the vineyard.”

Jesus the asked them, “Now, which son did what his father wanted?”

The religious leaders replied, “It was the older son.”

“I can assure you that this is an absolute truth,” Jesus said. “Tax-collectors and prostitutes are entering into God’s kingdom ahead of you.”

-- Somewhere in Matthew 21

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Visitation Outreach (Part Two)

Visitation ministry most often goes wrong by being impersonal. The bigger the church, the bigger the problem, usually. Often ministries stop being ministries and become assembly line programs one step away from the tactics used by political organizations. Once a church has become comfortable sending unknowns to visit unknowns, it’s all over.

One first big step in getting back to being personal and real would be to eliminate all prospect cards and those little registration cards that get passed out on Sundays. Honestly, if no one in a church organization cares enough about a visiting family to meet them and talk with them, to learn their names, find out why they came and maybe trade phone numbers, why would one expect that these families are going to be open and excited about receiving a visit from some representatives of the church a week or two later?

Speaking of visitors cards. Why are those things so painfully detailed? Do we really think we are going to help ourselves by having all this information about someone we don’t know? My wife and I have collected a few of these cards during our visits to the States just to laugh at them. We’ve actually seen cards like this:

Civil Status
_Student _Single _Married _Divorced _Widowed _Remarried _Separated _Engaged

_High School _Some College _Bachelors _Masters _Doctorate

“Ok, Bob. Here’s your prospect card. John and Louise Tucker, divorced, remarried, 3 children, one his one hers and one adopted. She has a Master’s degree. He has some college education, but didn’t finish college, evidently. They both work full time and they are both in their early forties.” Isn’t that putting the family at a disadvantage when meeting people they don’t know? If churches are going to use these cards, they ought not put anything but name, address, phone number and a place for comments. If you want to know more about visitors, get to know them. Don’t survey them.

Eliminating visitors cards can also lead to greater outreach involvement by the congregation. As it is, often times church members think that it isn’t necessary to approach visitors because the visitor cards are there and the “church” will make sure they get a visit and a gospel presentation. Without the prospect-card safety net, there will be more personal involvement… and it will be personal.

Gospel presentations of Jesus #1

A master of the religious law stood up to question Jesus. What he wanted to do was find some evidence to use against Jesus in order to accuse him. He asked, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What do the scriptures say about that? What do you understand of them?”

The man answered “You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. And also, love the next person as much as you love your self.”

“That is the right answer!” Jesus affirmed. “Do this and you will live.” - Somewhere in Luke 10

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Visitation Outreach (Part One)

Nearly every church I’ve been a part of had some kind of visitation program. Usually it was to visit those who had recently attended a worship service. Occasionally it was to check on inactive members or homebound members. Sometimes it was just some form of cold calling, like knocking on doors with “surveys.”

The program I participated in most before moving to Brazil was called FAITH. We would have visitation on Tuesday nights, and it was usually in a format of meeting together for 45 minutes to learn the FAITH outline and how make better visits, then going out in groups of 3 to visit “prospects” for about an hour. After visiting or attempting to visit the homes assigned to us, we would return to the church for a 15-minute sharing time.

Visitation is often a backbone of the outreach strategy of many churches. It has been used to varying degrees of success. Unfortunately there is an awkwardness about it that makes a great number of church members choose not to participate. It’s hard to disagree with them. In evangelistic visitation, ninety-nine times in a hundred, you are visiting someone you don’t really know.

It is very hard to develop any kind of real and meaningful relationship with the person in a twenty to thirty minute visit. This is even more true when a primary goal of the visit is to make a gospel presentation and call for a response. Add to that the courtesies of explaining who you are and why you are visiting and your time is about up. The visit is often concluded by giving the family an information package about the church, including its address and phone number and maybe a list of Sunday school classes.

There is an awkwardness to this kind of evangelism. It feels superficial, and it often is. Follow up is even more awkward. If the person made a decision, the visitor wonders if it was genuine or not. He has no way of knowing because he doesn’t know the person. Often when a person responds favorably to an evangelistic visit, their card is sent to a Sunday school teacher or some other person in the church for discipleship.

Its almost as if the message given is “Your decision is important to us. Our church cares about you and wants to help you in spiritual matters. We personally don’t care, but our organization does.”

There is a better way.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Out of sight, out of mind.

It was the Sabbath day and Jesus took his disciples to the synagogue in Capernaum, where he taught the people. All the people that heard him were amazed at his teaching. They were even more amazed when a man overcome by an evil spirit began to shout at Jesus, because just as soon as he started, Jesus silenced the demon and freed the man. The whole city began to talk.

Later Jesus and the disciples went to Simon Peter's house. Peter’s wife’s mother was sick in bed with fever. Jesus touched her and she was healed. After sunset, people from all over Capernaum began to carry their sick and lame and demon-oppressed to the house where Jesus was. The whole city turned out and crowded the house. Jesus healed a great many of the sick and lame, and freed people from demons.

The next morning, before sunrise, Jesus had already left the house and gone to a quiet place outside of the city to pray. His disciples found him later that morning and told him that everyone was looking for him.

But Jesus replied, “Let's go to these other villages, now, so I can announce the gospel there too. That is why I have come.”

a loose telling from somewhere in Mark 1

This is an amazing day in the life of Jesus.

After everything Jesus did during that day, he could have remained at Peter’s house and established a mega-church at Capernaum that the whole city would attend. Instead, the next morning Jesus is nowhere to be found. When his disciple finally catch up to him, he basically says “There are people beyond this crowd who need me. We don’t know them yet, so let’s get going.”

Had Jesus chosen to stay put, I can imagine the disciples hard at work, organizing schedules and talking about renovating the house to accommodate more people. “Good thing you’re a carpenter, Jesus.” There would be a great many things to take care of. How many times a day would Jesus teach? When would be the specified healing times? When would they close up for meal time. What about cleaning? Bathroom space for all the people? Would the noise bother the neighbors. Maybe they could buy the neighboring houses and expand a little?

The disciples could have done a lot of work, good work, but that wasn’t what Jesus had called them to do. He called them to become fishers of men. Their calling was to mission, to leaving the 99 to find the one. So, bringing the light of the gospel to the ones still in the dark was the work that Jesus had them do. “Come, let’s go to other places now.”

Simon Peter’s house continued to be a ministry outpost.

In the next chapter, his house is full of people again and having its ceiling torn open for a paraplegic. Our modern church buildings are and should also be ministry outposts, but to be effective in reaching out to a lost world, we need to learn a lesson from Mark chapter one. The meeting place was incidental, secondary. The real outreach was being done outside its walls and with no thought given to its prominence or status. People were first.

  • Are our churches really putting people first today?
  • How much of your church budget is spent on the meeting place and its upkeep?
  • How much is spent on people you haven’t yet met?
  • Can you see the point?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What are we really trying to do? (Part 2)

The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. --C.S. Lewis

How many times have you heard someone say that their church needs a song leader, or an organist, guitar player, secretary, janitor, web designer, sound man, business manager, nursery worker, youth leader, accountant, security guard, pianist, or a director for the family life center? Note how quickly the church mobilizes itself to act when it has been determined that there is a need in the organization. Resume collection, search committee meetings, interviews, tryouts and the like begin to fill the schedule of the church organization as it seeks to meet one of these needs.

All of this work gives the illusion of progress and growth, but it is really all about building and maintaining an organization. Is this what the church is really called to do? Of course not. The church is called to bring the fellowship of Jesus to the lost. Somehow, though, it has entered into the subconscious of many that the church must maintain its stability and structure as an organization. Once that has been established, a terrible prerequisite is placed on evangelism and outreach. It must only be done in a way that preserves the organization.

Part of the problem comes from confusing the church with the organization called, for example “First Avenue Church.” The church are those who are united together in one body by being united to Jesus and who belong to one another (Romans 12:5). First Avenue Church is an organization, run like a business, that represents the church in legal matters, owns property, and often has rules and a constitution.

These two work together, but they are not the same thing. If the non-profit organization called First Avenue Church bankrupts, loses its land, and dissolves as a legal entity, its members don’t cease to be a church. In the same way, if over the course of time the membership of First Avenue Church is no longer made up of people who are united to Christ, it may continue to be called a church, but is is most certainly not a church.

If the church were to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus and his apostles, it would be announcing the gospel to the lost and bringing salvation to sinners without regard to the cost to the organization. After all, Jesus did say “Whoever clings to his life will lose it, but whoever gives up his life for my sake will find true life.” Is that any less true for churches?

What are we really trying to do? That is the question that must be asked over and over again. Are we serving the needs of the organization that represents the church, or are we following the commands of Jesus with abandon? Is it okay to have a well-run, pretty and financially stable church organization, even if it means only a few will come to Christ through it? Would it be okay to bankrupt your organization, lose its property and dissolve its legal status if it meant that a great many would find King Jesus? It’s not always either-or, but only one of these should even be an option.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What are we really trying to do? (Part 1)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23

The first church I ever pastored was a small country church in a small, small town. I was a youth minister and college student at a Baptist university when they asked me to preach in view of a call. The church only had a handful of members and could only pay gas expenses for me to get there and back on Sundays. The building was nice and new, not very big, but more than adequate. They needed someone to preach and I needed somewhere to get preaching experience. It was a good fit.

We would meet on Sunday mornings at ten o’clock, all nine of us. We always divided into two groups for Sunday School, then we came together for the worship service. We would sing three or so hymns and pass an offering plate. Sometimes, one of the two young girls would provide the special music. Then, of course, I would stand in the pulpit and preach to the eight. We would sometimes sing a hymn of invitation and then the service would be over. That would be it until next Sunday.

Once we as a church had found a rhythm and a good flow to our services, we began to grow. Well, not really, but we did double and triple our worship attendance. I can tell you it wasn’t growth because there was a small layer of accumulated dry dust in the bottom of the baptistery. It had not been used in years. However, as inactive members began returning to our services, the sanctuary began to fill up with enough people to warm the building. The extra envelopes in the offering plate meant that the burden of paying the bills was being eased.

We never did baptize anyone during my few years there. Though it bothered us, it didn’t sting too much. Now, that is a terribly unfortunate statement, but there is some truth it. We had the illusion of progress. Things were changing and improving. In all of that we had accomplished something that made us feel . . . comfortable. We succeeded in what we were really trying to do.

Truth be told, I was always just a visitor there in that little town. The church had been there long before I arrived and planned to be there long after I had gone. It was, and wanted to be, a perfect picturesque fit to small town religion. These people love God, but it was culture that defined the church, and it was culture that set its priorities.

The unspoken non-negotiables of the church mandated that there be a building with a steeple and that its worship service be held on Sunday mornings. The service was to last an hour and included comunal singing and a lecture. The church had to be registered as an organization with several national and state entities and have regular business meetings.

With these cultural prerequisites, our outreach was reduced to seeking people who were willing to come and be a part of what we were already doing, on our schedule, in our way, on our property. This was not Kingdom building, it was organization building. What mattered most was building and maintaining the organization. This is what we were trying to do, and that is all we ever did.

This is why every church must continually ask the question, “What are we really trying to do?” It probably isn’t what we think. No wonder so many churches are stagnant and dying.

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