Friday, March 25, 2016

The News


In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul says“…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” The word preaching is an interesting choice of words. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament could have used several other words to define their communication of the gospel, but they chose the word preaching which comes from a word meaning to herald. In New Testament times, there was no internet or newspapers to give people the news of the day. A herald or crier would walk through the streets or stand at a corner preaching or heralding the news.

In today’s news programs, both hard and soft news are presented. Soft news is “news you can use.” It’s practical news such as the latest fashion or diet—perhaps a heart-warming story or a sports report. Hard news is crucial news that affects you, such as politics, war, terrorism, or inclement weather. A crier or herald in Paul’s day would only be heralding hard news. The point here is that the gospel is hard news—news that affects your life in a profound way. News that is about life and death, about eternity—about a relationship with your creator.

Is preaching in churches today primarily about hard or soft news? In the interest of attracting the unchurched and keeping the attention of church members, are pastors today often emphasizing subjects such as burnout, stress, busyness, relationships, and emotional challenges? Or, are we heralding the good news of Scripture first and then applying it to various aspects of life?

Please understand, I think there‘s a place for application of Scripture in preaching. I recently completed a sermon series on “The Relationship Principles of Jesus.” Seventy percent of Jesus’ messages were on how to apply His teachings. I guess my question is, “Have we crossed the line from preaching the Scripture to using the Scripture to teach soft news?”

As I said in last week’s blog, we often struggle with how far to take attractional evangelism. Pastors want people to invite their friends to church. Members do not want their friends to be offended or embarrassed. We pastors want our messages to be relevant to the church and their guests. Many feel if we “tell it like it is,” that is, hard news in a hard way, we will discourage people from inviting their friends. Then evangelism will suffer.

I have a deep burden in my soul to reach people for Christ. Church members need to invite their friends to church. So how can pastors and members work together to reconcile these issues? How would it look? Here are some thoughts:

1.  Pastors would be committed to preaching the hard news of the Bible, not exclusively using it to preach soft news.

2. Pastors would preach the hard news with a gracious heart, admitting that they too struggle with sin, guilt, doubt, and failure. The pastor who preaches hard news in a hard way may believe he has earned that right through his good life and works, but in doing so demonstrates that he is not seeing or appreciating the grace of God in his own life.

3. Pastors would preach the Word, explain the Scriptures, and apply them to everyday life. This would include soft news when applicable. He would be careful to leave out terms that only the churched would understand, and handle “hot button” issues with truth and grace. 

4.  Members would invite their friends by sharing with them that their pastor teaches the Bible in truth and power, but with a heart of grace. They would encourage their friends to come and hear the truth that will help them understand Christ and how to live in this world.

5.  Pastors would weave the gospel message of salvation into every message. Some are critical of the salvation message merely being added on to the end of a sermon. Yet, every passage of the Bible screams the gospel of Christ .Every member should be assured their guest will hear the gospel and have an opportunity to receive Christ. 

An understanding between pastors and church members would go a long way in having both the heralding of the Word and attracting unbelievers to the church.

What do you think?

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Dark Side of Attractional Evangelism

When I was growing up, church evangelism consisted of inviting others to church. My generation didn’t embrace that method, instead we took the gospel of Christ to the people outside the church.

While in college, I was a transitional pastor of a church. One of the church members joined me as we visited people in the neighborhood each Sunday afternoon. One Sunday, as we walked away from a house, he commented that he had never been with a pastor who actually shared the gospel in homes. He said, “We just invited them to church.”

Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. People are critical of the more confrontational evangelistic approach. American culture has changed from a front porch to back porch mentality. People do not want to be disturbed once they have cocooned themselves within their home. In keeping with today’s culture, churches are again encouraging people to invite their friends to church (as though it’s a new idea). With a resistance to home visits in most communities, churches have become reliant on this method. In fact, chances are, if your members are not consistently inviting people to church, your church is probably not growing. It’s a good policy to develop a church that connects with unbelievers, and some practices that may help are:

·         Being intentionally friendly
·         Having 4 to 5  connection points for guests as they enter campus
·         Eliminating “churchy” or “insider” language in the preaching
·         Realize that guests may not be familiar with biblical stories
·         Clearly communicating the next step your church wants guests to take

So, what is the dark side?

1.  Going too far to accommodate the unchurched.

Attractional churches can become fearful of offending. Certain biblical teachings are being ignored or even wrongly interpreted. Many of these churches are sound on the gospel. They may couch the gospel inside a message on marriage, success, or relationships, but the gospel is still preached. After all, the reason to have an attractional service in an attractional church is to reach the unchurched. 

Yet, pastors often struggle with how to handle social issues, tithing and giving issues, passages of Scripture that confront sin, or judgment of sin. Christians who are sitting in churches dealing with these issues want to know what God says and what their pastor believes. 

If you are going to be attractional, you might think you have to be careful not to offend the guest, which might in turn embarrass the member who invited them. This may then lead the member to be hesitant in inviting guests again. If your people are too afraid to invite their friends, how will your church reach people?

2.  If attractional ministry is your primary method of evangelism, then it is less likely that your members will learn to share their faith. Why should they do that when they can simply invite friends to church and let the professionals present the gospel?

3.  You may rely too heavily on members inviting others. If the members do not catch the vision, where do you go from there?

4.  The darkest part of the dark side is building a church around what is comfortable to the world. To develop a church around the theme, “a church the unchurched will feel comfortable attending” is an eerie vision. What does a church really look like if a person who is outside of Christ, has unforgiven sin, no spiritual life, can come and feel perfectly at home? Where is the conviction of sin? Where is the need for God? Jesus often preached difficult things (see John 6) and many left Him.

Please know I am not the typical critic here. Some say these attractional churches end up making church look like a circus. Who’s to say God doesn’t enjoy a good circus? In a day when attractional evangelism is a key, I don’t want to miss the boat—but I don’t want to drown in the ocean either. I want to point people to the light, but not at the expense of sending myself and my church down a dark path. I feel a deep burden to see people saved. Yet, I long to see Christians discipled in the Word and standing strong in their faith. The day of confrontational evangelism and believers worship services seem to be a simpler time.

How far should attractional evangelism go? Should we go back to older methods? There is much at stake.

What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Getting Connected

When Jesus washed the disciples' feet in John 13, He said, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14, 15).

The living parable that Jesus was teaching is that all of us have bathed (salvation), but we get our feet dirty (sin). We need others in our lives to help us with our sin (bad attitudes, weaknesses, blind spots).
When we were children, our parents constantly pointed out our blind spots. It was their job to correct us so that we could grow to become better people. What happens when we become adults? Who is going to point out our blind spots? Who is going to wash our feet? Who will, humbly and gently, help us discover where we need to change in order to lead us to become more mature believers?
This Scripture illustrates the need we have for community. Christianity was designed to be in community, and that is why Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). His church is the vehicle where Christian community comes into our lives. It is where we make connection with others.

Not everyone can confront us with our shortcomings. The criteria for this are two-fold:

1.  The person must know you well. Paul Tripp states that, “We think we know ourselves better   than anyone. We talk to ourselves more than anyone else.” Our reaction to those who try to correct us is often, “They don’t really know me.” In order to be qualified to help someone, we must be close enough to know them.
2.  The person must love us.  They are not trying to change us for their benefit—but for our benefit.

Where do we find these people? We find them in church, but even more so in a Christian Small Group setting. The twelve disciples had their own “Small Group.” Jesus was originally speaking to His “Small Group” about the washing of feet. Once we are part of a Small Group, we look for God to lead us to special friends—friends that we connect with, who love us, and have our best interest at heart. It is in the context of these relationships that we find people we can trust, who will have the courage to confront and help us.

As important as community is, it is often the case that pastors are left out of community in the church. Again, citing Paul Tripp, he tells us that because pastors are often looked on as being held on a pedestal, an example of victory, any evidence of struggle is, at the least, awkward for the congregation. Pastors, therefore, can be isolated from real community. I have been guilty of this for some time. I share this because I’m sure there are some of you who also feel outside a close Christian community. You do not have a Small Group, or if you are part of a group, you may be hesitant to be transparent, even with your closest friends. After all, it’s none of their business.  But, it is their business—Jesus said so.

I have recently taken steps to find close community again by reconnecting with other pastors and attempting to minister alongside them. In time, as I try to serve others, I know God will place loving friends in my life who will connect with me.

What about you? Are you in a church? Have you joined a Small Group? Christianity is a Christian community project. Who is washing your feet?

What are your thoughts on this?