after-harvest

Thoughts on Evangelism, Part 2

Thoughts on Evangelism: A Reason for the Hope that We Have

In high school, I worked in the shoe department of a local discount department store. I was trained on the cash register, on where the merchandise was located, and…that was about it. After a day or so, I was left in the department by myself, unsure and full of anxiety. What did I know about shoes??? NOTHING!!! I could ring people up and make simple transactions, but when questions came my way, I was lost. In order to compensate, I quickly came up with little pat answers that got me by when customers would ask me questions. “Will these shoes stretch?” “A little,” I would answer. (Pretty much, all shoes might stretch a little). It was a stressful, unpleasant experience and during every shift, my main goal was to simply get out of there. Was this because my giftings were not in retail? perhaps. More importantly, I really did not know what I was doing. I was just waiting for someone to ask me a question or a situation to arise that I was woefully underprepared for. This anxiety made me hate selling shoes. In fact, I returned to the store a few years ago to take a look around. I walked in and the familiar smell of leather and perfume hit me in the face. I had a visceral reaction and decided memory lane was not worth it. I turned around and never went back.

Many of us do not engage in sharing the good news because ultimately we don’t know what we are doing. We have and enjoy the product, but we don’t really understand it. I am not calling all believers to get a theology degree before sharing the Gospel, but I know we desperately need our teachers to present the elements of the faith in Jesus in graspable, digestible ways. This work is scholastic in nature, but more importantly this work should be didactic at heart. Teaching is the ability to present revelation in an accessible manner that leads not only to an increase of knowledge, but inward transformation. Jesus was able to do this through parables and other illustrations. We certainly need good scholarship, but we are especially in need of good teaching. It is my opinion that the mark of a good theologian is the ability to get to the truth. The mark of a great theologian is the ability of awakening truth inside of others. Our gospel guidelines and other teachings on sharing the good news should be authentic and simple.

At the end of the day, the greatest evangelism tool is the example of a life transformed by the love and grace of Jesus. It is not my intention to stop anyone form sharing the Good News, due to a lack of unanswered questions. I am quite ok with letting the Holy Spirit fill in the gaps. What I am interested in seeing is the ability for every believer to naturally share the life transforming story of salvation with those around them.

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The Attractional Nature of Worship Part II

The Attractional Movement: The Questionable and the Evolving

The Questionable:

What is Worship?
It is clear that Jesus called his disciples to make disciples. Evangelism is a key part of this process and a central function in the mission of the Church. Much of the American Church was formed in the fires of great awakenings and revivals. We have seen God work mightily at many altars, changing lives and bringing the lost to salvation, but is this the primary function of worship? As wonderful as the invitation portion of any service is, the primary function of worship is for the cooperate body of believers to commune with God. Our moments of approaching the throne of God, as a cooperate body, should primarily be about interacting with him. As ethereal as this task may seem, it is immensely important. This is not to say that calls to salvation in our service are a bad thing, but I don’t believe that evangelism should overshadow the prime reason for our gathering. Many believers only experience this type of holy interaction and communion in deeply meaningful ways in retreat settings. This “retreat” type of worship, and more, should be our Sunday norm.

What is Evangelism?
Our evangelistic-focused services can also lead us to believe that the ideal or primary form of evangelism is offering someone an invitation to hear a “professional” Christian proclaim Christ. While this is certainly not a bad practice, it is not the ideal form of sharing the Gospel. A more ideal evangelism is every believer being equipped with an answer for the hope that they have. This looks like all Christians sharing the Good News and their personal encounters with the living God in their everyday environments. The norm should be an equipped church, saturated in God-centered worship, being lights in the world, and sharing the Gospel where they are.

What is a Disciple?
In high school, I was trained in a mid-twentieth century, evangelical method of sharing the Gospel. It was good, and people came to know Jesus because of it. The go-to scripture for encouraging us to evangelize our friends and neighbors was naturally the Great Commission. So, in my head, I always equated the Great Commission solely with our call to evangelize. This is not the totality of Jesus’ call. He tells his disciples to “make disciples.” There is more to this call than simply walking people through the front door of life with Jesus. We are called to walk with them much further.
In many churches working within an attractional model, more attention is given to attracting and assimilating outsiders into the culture of the Church, than doing the work of disciple making. An idea that was quite common in much of the Attractional Church was that once people find their place in a community, they will naturally grow. While some individuals can grow and thrive by simply being introduced to a church family, experience tells us most will not. (See Move by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson). Some churches do have classes that, in a few weeks, introduce newcomers to faith basics and opportunities of service, but there is usually little beyond this. Unintentionally, cultural standards are created for discipleship that are very low.
In the life of any believer, the No. 1 catalyst for growth as a follower of Jesus is death. Paul’s call in Romans 12 to “offer ourselves as living sacrifices” and Jesus’ multiple calls for us to “pick up crosses and follow me” can sometimes seem incongruent with the highly performance-based, customer service-centered atmospheres created by some attractional churches. A clear invitation to come and die can be rather jarring to those we have worked so hard to make so comfortable. I am not saying we should make church intentionally uncomfortable for our guests and new Christians, but something we have been doing has been keeping many of our attenders in a perpetual state of spiritual adolescence.
The Evolving:

Some would look back at the Attractional Movement and call the whole thing a mistake. I disagree. I believe that it was an imperfect, yet important step in the maturation of our American worship culture. So do we now need to pull the choir robes out of storage and take down the projectors and lights? I really don’t think the tweaks and adjustments that need to be made in most attractional churches have to do with stuff or style. I think our re-examination of the attractional model should cause us to re-examine not only what we are doing, but more importantly the reasoning behind why we use certain approaches. The changes that may need to take place have more to do with approach, theology and rationale. As our mindsets about worship evolve, so will our practices.
I recently served on the pastoral staff of a wonderful church that had seen a lot of great fruit when it made the jump to an attractional style of ministry in the late ’90s. By the time I came on staff, we were basking in the afterglow of this movement’s excitement and energy. Shortly after this time, certain gimmicks became less effective and other parts of our worship approach seemed a bit uncomfortable. One summer, in order to combat our inevitable summer attendance slump, we decided to preach on John 21 and have a beach-themed series. We all dressed in Hawaiian shirts, and decided to decorate our main contemporary worship space like a giant beach. Our efforts were spectacular and we even made the cover of the religion section of the local newspaper. Yet, as one of my fellow pastors and I were shoveling several cubic yards of sand through the stage door, we looked at each other and almost asked at the same time, “Is this really what Jesus had in mind?” The scenery, shirts and theme were certainly not offensive to God, but we all came to a realization that perhaps something had gotten out of whack. At that moment, we could have flushed our whole way of doing church and tried to start over again. I think cooler heads prevailed and we decided to do two things instead. First, we would continue to worship and minster in excellence with the models and methods we currently had. Second, we would begin to intentionally seek God for what He was calling our congregation to look like in the next step of our maturation. As we learned and as he provided, we would make the necessary changes to our worship services, ministry approach and our overall church culture.
I do not believe most churches operating within an attractional model need to do a complete overhaul of their worship services, but there does need to be an openness to grow and evolve when it comes to our approaches to worship. Some of us have found incredible numerical success in this way of doing church, and to do something outside of this model is hard to fathom. God is calling us higher. In our methods of worship, evangelism and discipleship God is inviting us to places of greater depth and effectiveness. More importantly, He is calling us to a closer place with Him.

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The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

There is a large part of the discipleship process we cannot do. Whether we are looking for growth in our own walk with Jesus, mentoring young believers, or designing discipleship programs for our churches, there is only so much we can make happen on our own. I have led a number of discipleship gatherings where the people involved were gaining knowledge and getting to know each other, but little other fruit was appearing from our time together. I strived and tried, but no matter what I did, we seemed to be traveling in circles that did not lead to real growth or change. These experiences helped me to realize that the main player in the discipleship process is not my effort. It is the Holy Spirit. We play a part in the call to make disciples, but the lion’s share of the transformative work has to be Him.

I can remember being terrified the first time someone asked me to mentor them. It was at a point in my walk where much of my life was being refined. I was so consumed with my own weakness that I thought, “What could I offer this guy?” That season of brokenness was actually a great blessing. I felt like I had little to offer on my own, and I was amazed by the lessons this young man learned that I never taught, the conviction that I did not initiate, and the godly decisions that I did not influence. My words and example did play a part, but I was well aware that I was not alone in this process. True heart change and transformative revelation comes from the one who made us and knows us best. Many in ministry believe this on a theological level, but the practical aspects of this reality can elude our practices.
If we fully believe that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for transformation in our churches and ourselves, it only makes sense that we ask. Many times, because we have struggled with seeing growth and transformation in our midst, we assume that God got the message. We put our shoulders to the plow without the intentional act of making a simple request. It is true that God knows our needs and our desire before we do. He is also far more interested in disciple making than we are, but sometimes we simply “have not, because we ask not” (James 4:2). Part of the practice of dependence on the Holy Spirit is asking. We don’t ask because God is unaware, we ask because God desires for his people to play a part in almost every aspect of his work. It also helps to remind us that the transforming force in our midst is Him and not us. Intercession has always been a hallmark of the move of the Spirit and discipleship experiences are no different.
Once we have asked, it is good to create expectation in our hearts. We need to expect that God is going to do more in our discipleship settings than we can ask or imagine. We also need to prepare with this expectation in mind. In most forms of disciple making, some preparation is required. In that preparation we need to create space for him to work. We need to expect and trust that he is going to do what he loves to do in lives of the people we are serving. As this expectation grows, it will need to be coupled with faith. This may even look like planning and preparing in such a way that, if the Spirit does not actively stir our gatherings, we have little to fall back on. This can be a good but difficult process that requires us to die to all of our desires to entertain and impress others.

From Scripture and experience, I believe the transformative work of the spirit is catalyzed by one thing…the sacrificial offering of a crucified life. The Spirit responds as we begin to imitate Jesus, and give up everything to him. Just as Elijah built a pyre on Mt. Carmel, Solomon commanded the temple sacrifices, and Jesus laid down his life for our sakes, fire from heaven falls on those things totally given over to God. Paul’s admonition to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) is key. The Spirit is active at all points of our maturation, but the transformative work of God seems to be fueled by our total surrender to the work and will of our Heavenly Father.
These practices of asking, expecting, and dying reminds us that the people in our care do not belong to us. We may have the paternal passions of Paul or an appropriate sense of pastoral responsibility, but these men and women ultimately belong to someone who loves and cares for them more than we ever could. This approach to disciple making leads growing believers away from a dependence on us, and onto the truth that the same spirit that rose Jesus from the dead is alive and well in them (Romans 8:11).