Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons from Methodists – Part 3 of 3

John Wesley’s disciples, called Methodists, methodically sought to obey the Lord in all areas of their lives by observing three main rules:

1. Do no harm.
2. Do as much good possible.
3. Use every means of grace that God has given.

This simple, small-group discipleship saved souls, transformed families, and changed British society.

The first post in this series looked at the outcome of the first area of change in the lifestyle of Wesley’s disciples: “Do no harm.” The second post focused on the second area change: “Do as much good as possible.” This final post in the series will look at the third area: “Use every means of grace that God has given.”

They Lived up to Their God Given Potential.

Rules one and two are relatively straightforward. Rule number three doesn’t communicate well nowadays. We just don’t call things a means of God’s grace anymore. For me “means of grace” brings up the image of sacraments. Simplified, however, a means of grace is just a way God has made it possible for us to experience Him. Reading God’s Word might be an example.

For the Methodists, this was one means of God’s grace that was identified as neglected among many Britons, because of their inability to read. Reading is a learned skill, but it is something that God has given us the capacity to learn to do. God’s word had been made available in print and so, it was means of grace. A means which was unavailable to the illiterate.

In their small group meetings, besides encouraging one another to abandon sinful habits and do good works, Methodists read the Bible together and sang hymns. John Wesley’s brother Charles had written thousands of hymns. They were taught line by line, by rote, singing them and having them sung back. The hymns were published sold cheaply. When Methodists sang with their hymn books, they were teaching themselves to read by matching the written words with the ones they knew and sang by heart. It was a very effective method.

This new-found literacy gave Methodists the ability to do more than they ever could before, they communicated better, found better jobs, did business transactions for themselves and more. What they learned from reading scripture gave them the wisdom to live well. Combined with the changes in character of doing no harm and doing much good, seeking God through reading made the lives of Methodists much better. They were no longer living in poverty, but attained for themselves a dignified life. As a group, they created Britain's middle class.

Man’s Accomplishments or God’s Grace?

The Methodist motive for embracing literacy provides a good lens through which to view technology in general. Advancements in travel, communication, health, and the like can all provide better opportunities to both proclaim God’s glory and to seek it. While the world would use technology as a modern day Babble tower, Christians and churches should be proactive in utilizing all available technologies as a means of grace, helping others to know God worship him.

For a long time I followed a podcast called Geeks and God, which focused on how computer and internet technology can be used to benefit the church and spread the gospel. I have a friend, a son of a missionary, who dedicated a couple of years of his life to exploring how to create gospel communities through online social networks and massively multiplayer roleplaying games. Michael Card worked with a number of others to create Godly expressions of Art available on the Internet, seeking to call others to go and do likewise.

Can you think of a dozen ways your church is either embracing technology as a possible means of grace? Can you think of a dozen ways it is missing an opportunity? What needs to change? Following the example of the Methodists, there is a lot at stake.

I hope you enjoyed this small series.

Notes

This series of posts and the information with respect to Wesley’s revival contained therein is mostly a summary of an excellent piece written by Charles White and Robby Butler for Mission Frontiers outlining the impact of Charles Wesley’s ministry. The full article is available for download as a PDF file by clicking the picture below. I highly recommend it.

john-wesley-cpm

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The E-Scale

the e scale

Ralph Winter was one of the best when it came to explaining the missionary task of world evangelism. One of the simple ways he helped categorize the situation was by the use of the E-Scale and P-Scale.  These graphs simply showed the cultural distances between the announcers and hearers of the gospel and what it requires of each.

I want to look specifically at the E-Scale in this post, and the P-Scale in another.

The E-Scale represents the cultural distance that Christians go, or need to go, when sharing the gospel.

E-0 Evangelism

E-0 evangelism is evangelism that takes place within the church. This is reaching out to those who already attend or participate in local church activities. Examples of this kind of evangelism in local church practice would be Sunday school evangelism, Christmas cantatas, and perhaps follow-up visitation.

There is no need for the Christian to move outside of his own culture or cultural boundary, as the one he is seeking to reach is already a part of it. It’s greatest focus is renewing wayward Christians and bringing those who participate, but haven’t yet believed to the point of a personal decision.

E-1 Evangelism

E-1 evangelism is evangelism that takes places outside of the church, but to the same culture. This is reaching out to those who do not participate in any local church activities, but otherwise have mostly similarities with respect to cultural views and practices. A good example of this in local church practice is personal evangelism.

There is very little need for the Christian to move outside of his own culture, as the one he is seeking will already fits in pretty well with the church culture. It’s greatest focus is on reaching lost family members of Christians, their co-workers, and others with whom they may already associate outside of church.

E-2 Evangelism

E-2 evangelism is cross-cultural evangelism into a similar, but different culture. This is reaching out to those who may or may not speak the same language, but certainly have different backgrounds. The best example of this in local church practice is probably church sponsored short-term mission trips.

Here there is a need for the Christian to stretch himself and become aware of his own cultures additions to biblical practices, as the one he is seeking will often find them to be hindrances to faith. It’s greatest focus is not on bringing people into the church, but rather bringing the church to a new place.

E-3 Evangelism

E-3 evangelism is cross-cultural evangelism that takes the message of Christ to cultures very different from that of the messenger. This is reaching out to those who have never heard of Jesus or who have a culturally instated resistance to Christianity. There are usually no examples of this in local church practice, except in the commissioning of career missionaries.

Here there is a need for the Christian to radically strip off his own culture from the gospel message and identify the barriers, gaps, and bridges to faith that exist in the unreached person’s culture. It’s focus is exclusively on bringing the church to a new place.

Most churches today never go beyond E-Zero evangelism.

Though I go off topic from time to time, the reason I started this blog and named it “Beyond Outreach” is for this very reason. The outreach of most churches is E-0 evangelism, with occasional forays into E-1 evangelism.

Churches need to go beyond this kind of outreach.

In a future post I will break down the P-Scale as I have done here with the E-Scale. Then, in subsequent posts I will look at the reasons churches get stuck at E-1 and delegate the rest to “the missionaries.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“I’m Thinking ‘I’d Rather not Talk to You.’”

Andrew Makes a Good Point Regarding Evangelism.

In American culture today many see Christians as bad. To them, they are hypocrites. They are self-righteous. They are prejudiced. They are closed-minded. They are naive. They are out of touch. They are mean. The list goes on.

True followers of Jesus are none of those things. Even so, American cultural Christianity has produced a number of people that fit that description. Unfortunately, this has become the cultural stereotype of the Christian. Many people today just don’t like self-proclaimed Christians.

To that end, proclaiming oneself a Christian on the outset of a conversation can quickly end the possibility of meaningful dialog. It is like announcing you are a Republican or Democrat to someone who holds some degree of disdain for your political persuasion. They’ve got you labeled and assume that you’ve got them labeled from the get-go. Both sides will either dig in their feet to defend their position or just avoid meaningful conversation.

I think this is what Andrew was touching on in his comments on my earlier post “That awkward discomfort of sharing faith.” I wrote in my suggestions for making evangelism a daily habit, that people ought to mention something they got out of their daily devotional to five people each day. Andrew advised that this idea needed some rethinking to apply in the US context.

He said that this approach would more than likely come across as arrogant, and would not appeal to people in this day and age.

Trying to come at people here with "well, the Bible says" is a sure way to have them stop listening, no matter what the context is. If you can't demonstrate actual changes in your life, tangible effects, people in the US just don't care.

Andy is right.*

Religion is usually bound up with cultural identity.

The gospel often expands within a community but does not normally “jump” across cultural boundaries between peoples, especially if boundaries are created by hate or prejudice (from either side). In other words, religious beliefs do not easily transfer from one group to another. So, a Christian declaring a truth held dearly by his own culture does not make it heard-as-true by members of another.

Traditional western Christian culture has identifiable and predictable boundaries and behaviors. It tends to be a somewhat insulated culture. What I mean by that is that the great majority of those who are a part of it do not have many, if any, meaningful relationships outside of it. More so, they can’t visualize how one can even be a disciple of Jesus outside of this culture.

This cultural baggage that is placed on the gospel, while useful to those within the culture, is a hindrance to those who aren’t. It is a barrier to faith. The gospel preached isn’t, “Jesus is the way.” Rather it is “Jesus, and the way we do things here, are the way.” 

People should not have to adopt your culture to believe.

The Bible records the dispute between Paul and Peter on this very issue. Jewish believers were insisting that non-Jewish believers adopt Jewish culture and custom. Paul called it “another gospel.” See Galatians 2.

Here is where I really differ in approach from traditional pastors. For me, disciple making should not be irrevocably tied to joining a new culture. This is what can happen when discipleship is bound to the platform ministries of the local church.

Often a church will reach others from within their community with the gospel and these people will fit into the church quite easily. Sometimes, however, there is enough of a cultural barrier, that neither side knows how to proceed. The new believer (or seeker) just doesn’t “fit” the church. The solution is to release discipleship from the established structure and start a new work more appropriate to the situation of the new believer.

As Vincent Donovan put it:

Evangelization is a process of bringing the gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be… When the gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the gospel is the church in a new place.

This is getting away from the topic at hand, and I will write about establishing the church in a new place in future posts. For now, let’s get back to the initial evangelism suggestion.

Searching for an opening.

I did not communicate the point of sharing with five people a day very well. The key is not to just indiscriminately proclaim a Bible promise to five people a day. Spamming the gospel can do more harm than good. The key is to watch for openness.

Saying “I learned something interesting about God today,” is just one approach. The point is to take something of your spiritual walk verbalize it in a way that gives people a way to ask for more. Discernment and practice will guide the your method and technique. What you’re doing is watching for interest, not lecturing. Watch for permission to share. When it is there. Share.

I suggested this putting out of a trial balloon five times a day, because I believe Christians need to be methodical in sharing Jesus. This doesn’t require haphazard, indiscriminate preaching, but certainly requires consistent proclamation. There occasional situations where sharing Jesus is a perfect fit, but Christians should not be limited to sharing only during those times. We must also find ways to create those appropriate opportunities.

Churches in America are only baptizing an average of two people a year, with the exception of the occasional highly evangelistic church. If everyday Christians do not become intentional and methodical about sharing their faith, there will be no revival.

Notes

*Full disclosure:  Andrew is a friend of mine from my college days. That’s why the nickname “Andy” popped out in this post. It’s worth noting that that time, he was working hard to reach youth in a church that was not. He has seen, first hand, the damage done when people wear the Christian label, but act  like the stereotype in my opening paragraph.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Lessons from the Methodists–Part 2 of 3

    wesley_thumb14John Wesley’s disciples, called Methodists, methodically sought to obey the Lord in all areas of their lives by observing three main rules:

    1. Do no harm.
    2. Do as much good possible.
    3. Use every means of grace that God has given.

    This simple, small-group discipleship saved souls, transformed families, and changed British society.

    The first post in this series looked at the outcome of the first area of change in the lifestyle of Wesley’s disciples: “Do no harm.” Today’s  post will focus on the second area of change: “Do as much good as possible.”

    They Left off Doing Evil, and Learned to Do Well.

    In small discipleship groups, Methodist believers held one another responsible for renouncing self-destructive behaviors such as drunkenness, violence, and sexual immorality. These participative gatherings also provided the vehicle for helping one another to do good and develop good habits.

    In their discipleship, everyone was encouraged to give what they could to whomever among them had need.  Methodists used what they earned judiciously and frugally, so that they would have more to give. Whether it be a set of clothes and shoes so a brother could work, or simply meal to give him his strength, they supported one another. They also gave generously to the fatherless and the widow.

    Their doing of good was not limited to alms for the poor, however. There was little of that comparatively. In a society where everyone was a beggar, giving out bread was not going to change things. Methodists became wise to see when handouts led to dependency or enabled people to continue in their destructive addictions. The idle were admonished to work to support themselves, rather than beg or steal. Whoever possessed a certain skill would mentor another disciple in the trade.

    The “doing good” of the Methodists really revealed itself in their use of money. They worked diligently, wasted little, and saved much. When there was opportunity, they invested to start new businesses, which employed workers and supported families.  Business owners were encouraged to do business with other believers, hiring from among them, and partnering with other Methodists. Likewise, all were encouraged to support the businesses of believers.

    Their businesses were good, too.  Each disciple was held accountable to neither run, nor support businesses that endangered the bodies or souls of men. No taverns, nothing requiring lying, nothing necessitating the use of dangerous substances or chemicals. They honored God in all things.

    By doing good one for another, the Methodists gave themselves upward mobility. Poverty was left behind by the employment of diligence in work, honesty in business, and caring for one another’s needs. Since all were working for the same Master, our Lord Jesus, they were able to trust one another and depend upon one another.

    So, it became true for the methodically obedient disciples of John Wesley, what was written of the early church. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44 

    Not a Self-help Gospel

    It must be pointed out, that all of the good works of John Wesley’s disciples came in response to what God had done for them. These discipleship groups were not self-help groups of people seeking to find a better model for living life. They better resembled small churches. In these little communities, disciples were taught to observe all things Jesus has commanded.  Membership in one of these small groups was actually a requirement for believers to be members of the Methodist church.

    Methodists learned to see themselves as “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” They never claimed anything of God could be gotten a result of their own effort. Rather, they sought to live free from sin, because they had been forgiven of sin.

    Not Heaven on Earth, but Maybe a Glimpse of Heaven.

    Life improved, but it did not become easy for the Methodists. Over time, society changed for the better, but there were still the many challenges of death and disease to overcome. Even so, one can see how the life that Jesus came to give, and give abundantly, permeates every part of a society and blesses a socieitty.

    Here on earth, we will never find a Utopia. The curse of sin still stains everything in this world. The change in British society, however, from despair to hope, is a picture on a small scale of how God intended things to be. Only in the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth, will his people see it fully.

    Next

    In the third post in this series, we will look at what using every means of grace God has given meant for the disciples of John Wesley.

     

    Notes

    This series of posts and the information with respect to Wesley’s revival contained therein is mostly a summary of an excellent piece written by Charles White and Robby Butler for Mission Frontiers outlining the impact of John Wesley’s ministry. The full article is available for download as a PDF file by clicking the picture below. I highly recommend it.

    john-wesley-cpm

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    That awkward discomfort of sharing faith.

    “I don’t like it when you talk like that.”

    I had an eye-opening experience a year or so ago. I had taken my son with me to preach at a church we had never been to. Now, when speakers go to a church they do not know very well, they really try to gauge the formality of the church and make themselves fit. That’s what I did.

    I was wearing a suit and looked the part of a traditional pastor. After being called on to share the message from God’s word, I stood up in the pulpit and introduced myself and my family. I then slipped into that preachy rhythm of inflection and pause as I made my way through the text and the message. It was a good message, and I was as close to my radio voice as I could get.

    When the service was over, I went over to see my son. He had a somewhat sad, somewhat frightened look on his face. I asked him what was wrong.

    “I don’t like it when you talk like that,” came his reply.

    I had unconsciously changed my tone and style so much, my son didn’t recognize me. While it has seemed appropriate for the context, it was a big enough change that it made my son, who had just turned four, uncomfortable.

    They don’t like it when you talk like that either.

    This might be a good picture of why many feel such awkwardness in personal evangelism. People often change their tone when they bring up spiritual matters, especially when they are hoping to convert someone. It may be subtle or pronounced, but this change is often enough that the hearer doesn’t feel like he recognizes his friend anymore. Sometimes the would-be soul winner doesn’t recognize himself either. When this happens, faith sharing becomes and uncomfortable experience for all involved.

    One of the most effective things about Jesus was that He didn’t switch into another mode to talk about God. Whether standing in the synagogue or picking wheat along the path, his purpose was consistent, and so was his conversation and style.

    I mentioned in a previous post (daily evangelism), that the most effective soul winners are those whose daily speech is so full of God, that there is no distinguishing line between general conversation and “making a gospel presentation.” They don’t have to switch modes or change their tone.

    Awkwardness will happen for everyone who is just getting started (or just getting started again) sharing their faith. It should not be an excuse to remain quiet. It is something, however, we should be aware of and work towards eliminating.

    Daily Practices

    Here are three ways to help turn sharing Christ into a regular habit.

    • Give away Bibles. Invest in ten nice Bibles in the ten to twenty dollar range. Have them ready to give away at every appropriate opportunity. Keep a few in the trunk of your car. Wrap up a few as presents for any unexpected occasion. Put one or two in your office desk. Give them away as the Holy Spirit leads. Set a goal to give away at least one a week.
    • Mention your devotional. Take a key thought with you from your daily bible reading. Find at least five opportunities each day to say. “I learned something about God today.” If anyone asks what you learned, share the scripture and the insight. If they show more interest, set a time to talk more at their home.
    • Offer to pray. There are a thousand opportunities every day to commit things to the Father or to ask for help. Prayer doesn’t need to be a private personal practice. Anytime there is an opportunity offer to pray for that person and pray with that person. Show how your faith is not just “in theory.”

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    It’s Hard to be a Pastor

    In a post called Why I Won’t Call Myself a Preacher, former church of Christ pastor Dan Bouchelle talks about the difference in being an occasional speaker at a variety of churches and the hard work of being the vocational pastor at one church.
    He said:
    • It is easy to deliver a few engaging sermons for many churches around the country. It is hard to preach engagingly and meaningfully to the same people every week for years.
    • It is easy to fly in and sound like an expert for 30 minutes and fly out. It is hard to love people through their every-day journeys all week long for years.
    • It is easy to give advice between plane rides and wash your hands. It is hard to actually lead a church through a massive transition in vision and character.
    • It is easy to talk about discipleship to people who never see you outside of a church building. It is hard to be a disciple who makes disciples with people who see you at the grocery store, ballgames, and watch you drive on their streets.
    I know where Dan is coming from.

    I have to keep putting off my own “pastor” label.

    I serve as a missionary. Even so, my family and I have a church home in Brazil, Igreja Batista da Vit√≥ria. I am not the pastor, nor am I considered staff at the church.  I am called pastor much more than I am called by my own name. I do shepherd, but I serve mostly outside the church. I keep telling people, just call me “Estive.” (It sounds like Steve and is easier for Portuguese speakers to say. )

    I am, however, the de-facto pulpit supply when the pastor is away. This means I get to preach a small series of three to four sermons every once in a while. My church always enjoys it and frequently asks me to preach more often. I am cautious about this. I always make it a point to affirm the pastor and direct the church toward his vision and leadership. I always share with the church how good it is to have him as my pastor.

    It is very easy to make a pastor look bad or feel bad by dazzling a group with a good message or dynamic workshop. That just isn’t profitable for anyone. (Except the person with bad motives.)

    Pastors need to be encouraged.

    I remember once when I was serving in a large multi-staff church, the senior pastor had just resigned. Though there were still seven of us associate pastors on staff, the church thought it a wise idea to bring in guest preachers for the first several weeks. This would fill the pulpit until the next business meeting, when the church would call one of our associates pastors to serve as the interim pastor.

    One of the supply preachers was a friendly man with a knack for telling a good story. He preached a simple and entertaining message with applications from the story of David and Goliath.  In the following weeks there was a bit of “talk” among a few of the church members that we should consider this guy to be our next pastor.

    The church personnel committee and future pastor search committee saw beyond this, of course, and the church eventually called one of our associates as senior pastor. What I remember from this episode, though, was how the heaping praises for a guest preacher caused some on our staff to feel undervalued.

    A common challenge.

    This probably happens more than you think. Pastors do not perform well when they are discouraged. (Neither did the old testament prophets.) On the other hand, when they are appreciated, they tend to go the extra mile and a half. You can make a difference in what kind of pastor you have by the way you treat him.

    This post is not the usual evangelism oriented material. It is just a reminder to encourage your pastor regularly. Pray for him. Pray with him. And, if you are brave enough and wise enough, become his friend. (I say wise enough, because some people foolishly think that the pastor is, or should be, on another level and separate from the rest. If you treat your pastor that way, both of you will suffer for it.)

    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Lessons from Methodists – Part 1 of 3

    wesleyJohn Wesley is one of the names most connected with the Methodist church. Wesley’s disciples were called Methodists because they methodically sought to obey the Lord in all areas of their lives by observing three main rules:
    • Do no harm.
    • Do as much good possible.
    • Use every means of grace that God has given.

    The result of this simple form of discipleship is seen in the history books. This revival became widespread and affected society to such a degree that it is credited with creating England’s middle class. This in a time when poverty was the reality for four out of every five Britons. The transformation brought about is also said to have saved England from a bloody revolution.1

    Revivals that not only save souls, but transform families and change societies are acts of God that are worth studying and learning from. In this post we will look at the first area of change in the lifestyle of Wesley’s disciples: “Do no harm.”

    They Abandoned Sinful Habits.

    In teaching his disciples to do no harm, John Wesley led them to form small groups where they encouraged one another to abandon the sinful habits ruining their lives. These accountability groups, as we might call them today, provided a places where new followers of Jesus could confess their sins one to another and pray for one another. They prayed for self-control, something the Holy Spirit produces (Galatians 5:22-23).

    The three sinful habits these disciples were admonished to abandon were drunkenness, fighting, and sexual immorality. These three sins in particular had caused a devastating effect on the society.

    Widespread drunkenness caused a man-made famine. The demand for gin meant that half of the country’s grain crops went to making alcohol instead of bread. Drunkenness also led to fighting, of course. Violent crime was such a part of life that not even frequent, capital punishment in the forms of public hangings was an effective as a deterrent. Sexual immorality led to rampant illegitimacy, which continued the cycle of poverty.

    When new converts became dedicated followers of Jesus they repented of these self-destructive habits. “Believers stayed sober and quit doing the crazy and dangerous things intoxicated people do. They stopped fighting and thus avoided the injuries and feuds that destroy productivity. They abandoned promiscuity and started valuing their families and raising their children. Simply renouncing these three self-destructive behaviors greatly improved the economic lives of the Methodists.”2

    Outreach Means Calling People to Repentance 

    Every sinful behavior is destructive. That is its nature. In every temptation to sin there is a lie that something good will come, but it is a lie. What really comes is loss, brokenness and finally death.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  - John 10:10

    Calling people to repentance is good news, when offered with the hope that Christ brings. To all who repent, there is forgiveness. To all who have bartered their souls, there is life. To all those who desire an escape, there is strength.

    Peter declared it plainly: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

    An area in which we may have become weak in evangelism and discipleship is in helping people to see the consequences of sinful behavior and where it leads. For many, it is not enough to simply tell them “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We need to be able expose the lie behind each sin, and show clearly how that path leads to death.

    The gospel is not simply, “believe like me, and get a pass to heaven.” There is no real hope in that. The gospel is that God will not only forgive us of our past transgressions, when we repent and believe in Jesus, but that as we become his disciples, he gives each of us the power to escape the enslaving power of sin, and to walk away from it.

    What About Modern Day Hellholes?

    There are places so overcome by sin that they are as dangerous as a warzone. Here in Brazil the favelas, or slums, have that reputation. Escalating violence, poverty, illegitimacy, drug use, drunkenness, organized gang crime, and all kinds of abuse are the reality. In places like these, it is easy to see how sin leads to a culture of hopelessness and death.

    Who is willing to go into the dangerous places like these and proclaim the gospel that brings life, even if means laying down his own?

    (In a future post, we will look at biblical strategies for going into murderously dangerous places.)
    Notes

    1. This series of posts and the information with respect to Wesley’s revival contained therein is mostly a summary of an excellent piece written by Charles White and Robby Butler for Mission Frontiers outlining the impact of John Wesley’s ministry. The full article is available for download as a PDF file by clicking the picture below. I highly recommend it.
    2. Ibid.
    john wesley cpm
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