Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Scandal Of Passive Christianity

"Spectator" is not a spiritual gift. It isn't a calling.

Yet, many church models breed scores of passive Christians. Instead of making disciples they are making spectators.

Dictionary.com defines scandal as follows:

Noun
  1. a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.
  2. an offense caused by a fault or misdeed.
  3. damage to reputation; public disgrace.
  4. defamatory talk; malicious gossip.
  5. a person whose conduct brings disgrace or offense.
When people think of a scandal they often think of sex, drugs, and money. Maybe some combination of these things. But not always.

Scandals bring shame. Scandals ruin reputations. Often scandals are accompanied by public outrage.

Unlike the scandals you hear or read about on the Internet this scandal doesn't center around sex, drugs, or money. It's the scandal of passive Christianity. It's operating right under our noses.

When you enter most church buildings you will find that they are setup like any other place of entertainment. There is a central focus on the stage area (although it may be called something different). People sit in the audience much like they would in any theater, stadium, or concert hall.

From start to finish the service is run by a small percentage of the people. There is little to no expectation of any form of participation from the vast majority beyond standing when the songs start, turning off cell phones when the talk begins, and putting money in the plate when it's passed.

I understand why we setup our services this way. It makes perfect sense. If we treat church-goers like consumers then we need to make an efficient way for them to consume our content.

But the church isn't supposed to be run like the entertainment industry. The church isn't a business.

It's the body of Christ.

Every member of your physical body is important. It serves a purpose.

Don't think so?

Which body parts are you willing to lose?

Somehow we've built a system of "church" that has scores of passive Christians floating from one congregation to the next. The biggest impact is on the budget of that local church.

Not the community. Not the edification of the believers. The budget.

It's scandalous.

This isn't a commentary on mega-churches. It's a commentary on passive churches. Passive churches exist in every form you can think of. It affects every denomination and every sized congregation. It can apply to both home churches and those that have a building.

It is a systemic problem. We've built a system that has drifted from encouraging active participation from every member.

The biblical system is much harder. Messier. More difficult to control. Impossible to guarantee identical 1-hour services.

But it's glorious. It's glorious because it's what God designed. Instead of praising the eloquence of our seminary trained pastors or the musical talent of our worship teams we can praise God for using the weak and the small to bring edification.

I'm not against leadership. Leadership is biblical. But if the leadership is failing to cultivate and promote a healthy congregation where every member knows their function and operates for the building up of the body then it is just that: failing.

It is failing despite the attendance numbers. Where does the Bible ever tell us to measure success by our attendance, budgets, and campus square footage? Where is the passage that tells us to make spectators?

The Apostle Paul wrote:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16, bold added)
Paul revealed God's purpose for the church. That purpose includes every member doing it's part. It won't happen unless we recognize and submit to God's design described in Ephesians 4:11-13.

Go ahead. Read the spiritual gifting lists in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Survey all the spiritual gift tests that you'd like. Can anyone find the spiritual gift of spectatorship?

I'll wait.

No?

Everyone who is in Christ has been gifted supernaturally by God for the edification of the church. If you aren't using your spiritual gift to edify the church then the body is lacking something important.

Not all gifts are prominent. Some are behind the scenes. But all are critical to the health of the whole. Passive Christianity suppresses spiritual gifts. The whole body suffers.

What's worse is that the passive model spills over into the world.

The passive system has created a culture of professional Christianity. The ones doing ministry are the ones on the stage. The most active thing that many Christians are encouraged to do is to invite people to participate in the pre-planned and meticulously managed services.

How many people do you have in your life that will never go with you to your church building?

How many coworkers do you spend 40+ hours a week with that have never attended one of the identical hour-long weekend service options?

How many neighbors do you have that you've lived next to for years that never came to any of your outreach events at your church building?

How many family members do you see on holidays who won't darken the door of your church building because they are hostile or perhaps because they simply live out of town?

The truth is that passive Christianity is shameful. Paul said so to the church in Corinth:  "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34, bold added).

There were an awful lot of scandalous issues going on in Corinth. Division, lawsuits, sexual immorality. But Paul said that they should be ashamed of themselves because their sin was keeping them for spreading the knowledge of God.

The church exists to spread the knowledge of God.

Notice I didn't say our church buildings, church programs, or church staff.

The church. All of us.

We exist to spread the knowledge of God. When anything keeps us from doing so it is sin. It's shameful. It's scandalous.

People who are perishing in their sins and hopeless in the world drive by our perfectly manicured church campuses without any genuine knowledge of God. They do so because the Christians in their life have withheld such knowledge. We've restricted the mission. We've handicapped the body.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can reclaim God's purpose. Doing so requires laying down the American dream. It requires picking up our cross. It requires devotion and accountability to each other.

Is your church making disciples or spectators?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Christianity Isn't Moralism

Do this. Don't do that.

Shop here. Don't shop there.

This is acceptable. That is an abomination.

Don't get me wrong. Christianity does have a moral code. That's undeniable.

And that moral code is not popular. Not by a long shot. The Bible is clear that the moral code is contrary to the flesh. By definition it goes against the grain of fallen human nature.

But Christianity isn't moralism.

The moral code is not the end. It's only a diagnostic. The Bible calls for rebels against the King of heaven and earth to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus the Christ. The Bible calls for people to turn from their rebellion and live for Him. This means that we stop pursuing the various lusts and impulses of our flesh. It means we start living in obedience to our King. We live for the glory of His name.

The diagnostic helps us to see that we are off track. But living according to some external sort of rules is not the end goal. That was the mistake the Pharisees made. You don't have to read much of the New Testament to see that Jesus wasn't a fan of the Pharisees.

They were religious hypocrites.

Is anybody a fan of religious hypocrites?

We must understand the drastic difference between moralism and the genuine call of biblical Christianity. It's important because the counterfeit of moralism is a disaster for at least two major reasons:

  1. Moralism is deadly to your soul.
  2. Moralism drags God's name through the mud.

Here's an example that should help demonstrate the vast difference between genuine Christianity and deadly moralism. I have seven children. Imagine that before leaving the house one morning I say to my oldest son, "Son, before I return home I'd like for you to clean your room."

Upon returning home I ask my son, "How was your day?"

He responds with the following: "Dad, I had a great day! I cleaned the play room, my sisters' room, the baby's room, your room, and the basement. I swept the floors, did all the dishes, took out the garbage, and did two loads of laundry. I did all my homework, read my Bible for two hours, and even walked the neighbor's dog for them because they were away. All day I didn't argue with my siblings or complain even once to Mommy. I didn't hit anybody, spit on the floor, jump on the furniture, or run in the house. Like I said, today was a great day!"

If we fall for the moralism trap then we must conclude that I have the best son in the world. If we view this through biblical Christianity then I have a follow-up question for my son that must be asked.

"Did you clean your room?"

Moralism can hide disobedience and rebellion against God with lists of "good deeds" performed and "bad deeds" avoided. However, the ideal of obedience to the Father shows that the disobedience to the one thing actually asked taints the rest of the activities. Moralism creates a system that allows (or even praises!) "acceptable disobedience" while vilifying "unacceptable disobedience."

Moralism would teach that this boy was exemplary and praiseworthy. Biblical Christianity would teach that this boy walked in disobedience and rebellion against his father all day long.

See the difference?

Hopefully we all know the great truth that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Be careful that you don't think that you were saved to be "nice." Plenty of unsaved people are nice! You were saved for a reason. Being nice is only part of it.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, bold added)

Are you walking in the works God prepared for you?

So often people get caught up in what others are doing. You won't be judged for them. Humans are great at pointing out the mistakes of others. Focus on yourself. Are you walking in obedience to your God today?

Walking in obedience certainly includes living in line with the moral code of Christianity. But never be deceived into covering your rebellion or the rebellion of others with the veil of being nice, civilized, and/or culturally acceptable.

Do you know what God has called you to do?

If you are born-again God has given you a job as an ambassador in His kingdom.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20, bold added)

Are you walking in the ministry of reconciliation? Are you going to the people God has put in your life? Are you delivering to them the message of Christ and Him crucified? Are you calling them out of death into life by pleading with them to repent and trust in Christ?

We are not called to make people behave a certain way so that God will be pleased with them. We are called to urge people to be reconciled to God through Christ. Once reconciled, they can begin walking in newness of life. Not before. If we reverse the order we are making a mockery of the cross.

One day we will stand before the Lord.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men... (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a, bold added)

Are you walking with the Spirit in obedience to God? Are you denying your flesh and picking up your cross as you follow Jesus? Or are you walking in the trap of moralism?

Walk wisely.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Partnering With God's Mission


Mission. Vision. Direction. Purpose.


These are powerful concepts. Organizations that want to be successful need to skillfully employ them to get people to participate.

This same strategy is often used in local churches.

Many pastoral job descriptions include casting vision. Successful churches often have mission statements as a focal point of all their church ministries and literature.

Do you have a mission statement? Does your church?

Do you know God's mission statement?

Many people long to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be part of a movement.

The grandest mission is God's. He has revealed it plainly in the Scriptures. God is at work in this world. If you don't understand His mission you may not know how to discern His activity. Many falsely preach that God's mission is to make you happy and fulfilled. If that's God's mission then He isn't doing a very good job at it.

God's real mission is clear. God is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people from the curse that is currently upon this broken and fallen world. God is reconciling these people to Himself through His Son, Jesus the Christ. When this process is complete God will gather these people to Himself and establish His kingdom in its fullness.

God is not doing this because anyone deserves it. He is doing it to glorify His great name. God will glorify His name through both the redeemed and those who persist in rebellion against Him. His mercy and grace will be magnified in those who receive salvation through Christ. His wrath and justice will be magnified in those who perish under His condemnation.

This is the biblical picture.

Understanding God's mission is pretty awesome. What's even more breathtaking is the fact that God chooses to call His redeemed into partnership with Him in His mission.

No matter what local church you attend. No matter what denomination you identify with. No matter what generation you live through. No matter your net worth, skin color, gender, hobbies, or interests. If you are redeemed by the blood of Christ you have been purchased by God and given a job as an ambassador in His kingdom. You have become a minister of reconciliation.

By the grace and calling of God you are a difference-maker. At least, you can be. If you participate.

Ambassadors are supposed to live on mission. You are not supposed to be derelict of your duty. You are also not called to be distracted with lesser pursuits.

We have been entrusted with a stewardship in God's expanding kingdom. We can have confidence that we are participating in the greatest movement in human history. We can know for certain that our efforts will make a difference in both our own generation and eternity.

The Apostle Paul knew the mission. He also called other believers to understand it and have confidence in its completion.

A well-known and often cited passage is easily misunderstood. It is easy to read this passage individually and miss the grander truth that is being expressed.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul's confidence is not simply about the salvation of the individual. He is writing to all the saints in Philippi. In addressing this group of believers his confidence is in a singular work being done among the community of believers.

This singular work will continue until it is brought to completion (that is, is "perfected") on the day of Christ Jesus. The work includes individuals because it encompasses the entire group. Paul describes the glory of that day in the next chapter:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Paul immediately gives an exhortation to live in accordance with this mission:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Are you partnering with God in His mission? Are you laying down your life and fleshly pursuits and obeying God so that He will work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure?

God's mission is to work through His redeemed -- the community of faith called "the church" -- until He has redeemed a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. This is not a defensive mission but an offensive one.

Are you partnering with God's mission or have you settled for something else?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Offense Vs. Defense

Stop playing defense.

If we're going to let Jesus have His way in His church then we need to stop playing defense. We need to focus on playing offense.

Look carefully at what Jesus said about the nature of His church: "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).

Gates are defensive structures. They are built to protect their own. Jesus plainly said that He would build His church. This building would happen on the rock of people confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

As Jesus builds His church people will come out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light (1 Pet 2:9-10). The gates of Hades will not be able to stop the advance of Christ's kingdom expansion.

Somewhere along the lines those who call themselves Christians reversed the purpose of the church. We stopped being gate crashers of the kingdom of darkness. We started building our own gates. We stopped playing offense. We began playing defense.


The Defensive Church

What are the marks of a defensive church? A defensive church:
  1. Protects its own territory
  2. Responds to attacks from without and within
  3. Seeks comfort and offers ministry to those who are not "comfortable."
On the surface all of these activities seem good and right. It is certainly what we are used to. Are there not an abundance of passages in Scripture that we can point to that affirm all of these practices?

Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith once for all handed down to the saints. Should we stand idly by as false teachers spread heresy in disobedience to Paul's instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3? Should the church ignore the broken and hurting and tear James 1:27 out of their Bibles?

No. We shouldn't do that.

But we also shouldn't employ worldly strategies when Christ has given us His strategy.

The defensive posture fails. It doesn't fail because it's not aiming at many of the right things. It fails because it fails to aim at the cause. It only aims at the symptoms.

In the process it creates new symptoms that are deadly to the Body of Christ.

A defensive church protects its own territory and attempts to establish its own "mini-kingdom." Consequently, a defensive church is often unwilling to participate with other genuine Christians in advancing the kingdom of God and tearing down the gates of Hades.

Heaven forbid that some of "our people" may find a pastor they like more and sit in his pews instead of ours!

The defensive mindset convinces us we must protect our own. We become competitors with other "mini-kingdoms" as we seek to grow and protect our own territory. Often the gates of Hades remain unshaken while the gates of each local church expand and contract based on transfer growth from one congregation to another.

Instead of raiding the kingdom of darkness the defensive posture has turned us into raiders of other pastures to compete for the sheep already in the fold!

Jesus' strategy was radically different. Jesus designed His church to play offense.


The Offensive Church

  1. Seeks to take ground from the kingdom of darkness by expanding the kingdom of God
  2. Initiates attacks against the kingdom of darkness
  3. Ignores comfort and seeks to release captives as the major ministry
  4. Then it seeks to equip those who have been released to further crash the gates of Hades.
Although the Bible uses aggressive terminology it must be stated clearly that Jesus' followers are not called to engage in physical violence of any kind. The "attacks" that are being discussed are spiritual in nature. The weapons of the biblical Christian are the proclamation of the gospel, love, prayer, and service -- all empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The offensive church seeks to bring the gospel to the world. The offensive church recognizes that only the gospel has the ability to genuinely transform a spiritually dead world and bring it back to life. The offensive church seeks unity and fellowship with other believers regardless of where they congregate on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Potlucks can't do that. Programs can't do it either.

An offensive church understands that we cannot dismember the body of Christ and compete with one another if we really want to crash the gates of Hades. We need each other.

Are you playing offense? Or are you still focused on defense?

Jesus did not call us to defend the gates of heaven but to crash the gates of hell. The best defense is a potent offense.

Monday, April 24, 2017

American Christian Or Christian American?

Christian American or American Christian?

What a difference word order can make.

The question is about priorities.

Which takes precedence for you: your faith or your patriotism?

I'm not asking you to abandon one or the other. I am asking you to be honest with yourself and answer this question: Is your life more defined by your Christianity and the Lord you claim to serve, or by the American dream, and your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

How would your family answer this question about you? What about your coworkers? Your neighbors?

How would those who read your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any and every other aspect of your public life answer that question about you?

Are you more defined by your right to living your own life? Or by Christ living through you as you lay your own life down?

Are you more defined by your right to liberties? Or by your right to lay down your freedoms for the sake of others?

Are you more defined by your right to pursue happiness? Or by your privilege to pursue the glory of God?

I can't answer these questions for you. You can't answer them for me. We each have to wrestle with these questions and answer them on our own.

Then, we have to figure out what we're going to do about it.

There are three ways we can respond.
  1. We can reject God's Word and purposes for ourselves and His church.
  2. We can agree (in principle) with God's Word and purposes, yet live as if they are optional or only apply when we want them to or it's convenient.
  3. We can agree in word and in truth by actually living in accordance with what we say we believe.
How will you respond?

I'm tired of living in a culture that treats the church just like Burger King. Aren't you? It's not about having it your way. It's not about having it my way, either.

Do you desire to let God have His way?

In your life? In your family? In your church? In your country? In the world?

What will you do today? Will you live as an American Christian or as a Christian American?

Same words. Different pursuits.


(To read more about these themes, check out the books page.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Wanted: The Ideal Church Model

Church Growth

I've been exposed to a lot of church growth books and materials over the years. I've seen programs, systems, agendas, theories, and campaigns.

A question we must wrestle with is how do we measure success?

Perhaps you're expecting me to diminish a focus on numbers and reaching the multitudes and emphasize spiritual factors that are harder to quantify. Things like spiritual maturity and growth in Christ's likeness.

Actually, I'm not suggesting that we focus on or emphasize either to the neglect of the other.

Can't we think about both?

Sadly, our modern Christian culture often demands that we pick and choose. Should we be a seeker-sensitive church that uses every means possible to gather as many worldly people as we can to be exposed to the message? Or should we limit our groups to a manageable size so that we can build greater accountability, depth of relationships, and do life together?

Where does the Scripture tell us that we must choose?

Sadly, we've been offered a multitude of less-than-ideal options. As a result our local churches - whatever end of the spectrum they fall on - are falling short of Christ's ideal.

Just so you don't think I'm picking on anyone I'll give two examples on opposite extremes.

Deep, But Not Wide

Often the small, discipleship focused church emphasizes that Jesus only had superficial contact with the multitudes. Instead, our Lord focused on a small group of committed disciples. In fact, Jesus devoted more personal time and attention to Peter, John, and James than the rest of The Twelve.

Unfortunately, the disciple-making church often fails to recognize that the amount of time and dedication Jesus and the disciples had for one another is world's apart from our current church schedules. Only cults that demand their followers sell everything and follow their leader could make a reasonable claim to be doing discipleship like Jesus.

Wide, But Not Deep

The seeker-sensitive type model seeks relevancy at all costs. This often means bringing all sorts of worldliness into the worship service and claiming that they are redeeming the culture. The rationale to the endless use of entertainment, media, and activity is based on the apparent reality that it "works." While the Bible may not explicitly endorse any of the seeker-sensitive models methods per se, it doesn't necessarily forbid them either. Where is the passage that says, "Thou shalt not use fog machines"?

Unfortunately, the seeker model also fails to achieve what it's aiming at. And, the devil loves pragmatism. When we appeal to "what works" to the neglect of a biblical mandate we are the epitome of walking by sight and not by faith.

Sure, the numbers can seem impressive. But only by our modern standards. If we take a look at what the Scriptures say our modern standards are actually pretty low.

Biblical New Covenant Churches

The local churches we read about all throughout the New Testament were pretty amazing. Don't get me wrong - they had their share of problems just like we do. This is why we shouldn't lose hope. Even dysfunctional local churches can be used mightily for the Lord.

But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't repent when necessary. We always need to re-focus our energy into more God-honoring pursuits over time.

Deep

When we look to the pages of Scripture we see deep churches. Churches where life change was expected and obvious. Numerous examples could be cited. Here's one from the most notoriously messed up church in all of Scripture:


Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, bold added)

Even the church with the most problems in the New Testament had amazing transformational grace abounding upon its members. This amazing transformative grace touched on every conceivable lifestyle.

Shouldn't we expect the same today?

When we fail to expect transformational grace we are in active disobedience to Scripture. In the same letter, Paul writes his apostolic counsel regarding associating with "Christians" who are living openly sinful lives. The short version is, "Don't."

Here's the full version:

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
I know, I know. Paul was wayyyy too judgmental to be part of many of our local churches today.

Shouldn't it alarm us that we've so strayed from the apostolic foundation? Many local churches actively disobey this Scriptural command proudly.

Wide 

We are told that emphasizing holiness will diminish our ability to reach people. Nevertheless, New Testament churches focused on holiness without limiting their reach. The Apostle Paul was shockingly serious about personal holiness amongst the fellowship of believers. He was also able to fully evangelize all of Asia in just two years.

This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:10, bold added)
Paul didn't spend a ton of resources on events. He didn't make use of Easter, Christmas, and Mother's Day services and their inflated attendance to boast of reaching multitudes.

He simply taught that Jesus was the Christ. From the Old Testament Scriptures. Every day.

It was effective. He was just one guy.

You know of any local churches today that have reached entire countries in two years? Any that could actually say that they reached everyone who lived there with the word of the Lord?

If you do know any it's a short list for sure.

Some will object. Paul was an Apostle. His ministry shouldn't be the benchmark for our congregations and ministries today. Right?

Let me simply remind you that this was common practice in the New Testament churches.

The church at Thessalonica had a rocky start. When Paul first went and preached a few believed. The majority formed a mob. Paul fled. You can read about this in Acts 17:1-10. When Paul arrived at the next location they are compared favorably to the lousy reception received in Thessalonica:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
Since Paul wasn't able to spend much time with the few believers they understandably had some theological problems to work out. Paul wrote them a letter shortly after being run out of town. It had been less than a year since he came and preached and this is what he writes about them:

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, bold added)
This little group of confused believers was having a global impact in less than a year. Not too shabby.

All of our modern mega-churches pale in influence to even the most basic New Testament congregation.

Well, Now What?

The purpose of this post is not to criticize. It's to encourage. The New Testament churches had very few of the resources and advantages we have today. Our problem is not outside of our ability to fix. We just need to adjust our focus and our systems.

The Scriptures say:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.

His power is at work within us.

To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.

To all generations forever and ever.

That includes us.

We need to stop settling. We need to set our sights higher. The reason we're not seeing the same impact is because we've radically strayed from Jesus' design for His church.

Instead of doing it Jesus' way, we keep on looking for models to emulate that seem to bring the results we value most. We have convinced ourselves that the pendulum swings and we must choose. In reality, every option that we're being offered is less than the biblical ideal.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that we must choose from the buffet of available options. The truth is we are allowed to break free from the mold of our culture. Even our "Christian" culture!

We don't need to settle. We can reclaim what has been forgotten. It's not really that complicated. That doesn't mean it will be easy though.

The Scriptures describe our present situation as a spiritual battle. Thank God that it is Jesus who will build His church. It's not us. Do we believe that He is able?

We just need to do it His way. Are you willing?


Suggested resources:

Gate Crashers: The Offensive Church

The Forgotten Officer: Restoring The Fullness of God's Design

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Master Plan of Evangelism - A Review

Discipleship

What was Jesus's plan for world evangelization? Was it to teach a class or seminar? Did it involve memorizing a method? Could it be fully rolled out and implemented in just 8-weeks?

If this wasn't how Jesus operated then why is it how we operate?

I have great personal respect for Dr. Robert E. Coleman. I have had the opportunity to hear him preach and teach in person. His love for our Lord and for the gospel are evident.

The Master Plan of Evangelism is Dr. Coleman's most famous book. It's actually my second favorite book of his. I plan to write a review of my favorite Dr. Coleman book in the future. Today we'll look at the strengths and a significant weakness of this excellent resource.

Greatest Strengths

1. The Aim

Many evangelism resources are built from the ideas, experiences, and expertise of the author. Often these resources focus on methods that the author employs in their own life that has brought some measure of success and/or notoriety.

The aim of The Master Plan of Evangelism is different. Certainly, Dr. Coleman could write about his personal experience. He has preached and taught widely.

Instead, this resource seeks to understand Jesus's plan for world evangelization. Coleman put it this way:
That is why this study has been attempted. It is an effort to see controlling principles governing the movements of the Master in the hope that our own labors might be conformed to a similar pattern. ... this is a study in principles underlying his ministry--principles which determined his methods. (p. 14)
This is certainly a worthwhile aim. If we can understand what principles guided and shaped Jesus's activities and methods then those same principles can guide our activities and methods.

2. The Depth

Sadly, many resources that seek to equip and mobilize the body of Christ are shallow. Shallow methods have their perks. They are easier. They are faster. They can quickly cause a stir and allow us to check off "prioritize evangelism" from our agendas before moving on to the next item.

These flash-in-the-pan methodologies are short-lived by definition.

The Master Plan of Evangelism lays out principles that, if actually applied, are costly. They require great amounts of time. There is no doubt that if you compare Jesus's activity with His disciples and our activity with our disciples, we require seriously less time, commitment, and effort.

Shallow methods usually result in shallow fruit. Jesus's methods have made an impact in our world for millennia. Do we want short term or long term results? If we want deep, long-lasting results, the principles Jesus employed are what we're looking for.

3. Adaptability

As a study in principles instead of methods this resource is infinitely adaptable. The principles remain the same even though they can and will result in differing methodologies across different contexts.

This is the hallmark of good biblical exegesis. God's Word is always timely, always relevant, and always applicable. The working out of these principles is not always identical in all places, at all times, and for all people.

Methods come and go. Principles remain. This resource will remain helpful until our Lord returns because it focuses on principles that can be adapted and applied in any context.

Greatest Weaknesses

There is only one weakness that needs to be discussed.

1. The Foundation is Off

As much as I love this book there is a significant weakness. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Jesus. However, when we focus only on what Jesus did with His disciples we are failing to build our theology on the fullness of what He has revealed.

Jesus wasn't just alive back then. He's alive right now. He revealed truth both during His earthly ministry and also after His resurrection and ascension. The Apostle Paul received much revelation from Christ that falls outside of the scope of a study simply on Jesus with His disciples. Paul was converted after Christ's ascension to heaven.

As the living Head of the church, Jesus no longer spends time with us the way He did with His disciples then. This doesn't diminish the importance of the principles of what He did while on earth.

However, we also cannot forget that Jesus gave gifts and leadership to the church for the building up of His body. These leadership gifts are listed in Ephesians 4:11.

The foundation of the church is Jesus as the cornerstone along with the apostles and prophets. When we forget the foundational role of the rest of those given by Jesus we are shifting the foundation. This is a mistake.

Here's where the flaw becomes evident: I am not Jesus. Neither are you. Your pastor isn't Jesus. Your small group leader isn't Jesus.

Unlike Jesus, we are all flawed. I have many strengths. So do you. But I also have many weaknesses. So do you.

When Jesus utilized these principles His disciples were submitting themselves to the sinless, perfect, Son of God. When we ask people to submit themselves to us (or we submit ourselves to other individuals) we are falling short of the ideal from the beginning.

People tend to take on the strengths and weaknesses of their leaders. Jesus said, " It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master" (Matthew 10:25a).

Christians today are called to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Not conformed to the image of their pastor. In order to avoid being conformed to a single human leader Christ designed His church to be led by a plurality of elders. This plurality of elders is present in every church in the New Testament.

Similarly, when the Apostles started making disciples we see that people submitted themselves to the plurality of the Apostles, not just one of them. When people started focusing on one Apostle or leader over others they were rebuked for their foolishness (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

Concluding Thoughts

I really like this book. Even so, the flaw is a big one. If used by a singular leader to disciple people it will result in groups of people that take on both the strengths and weaknesses of that leader. It is a formula for creating disciples in the image of the human leader.

However, if these same principles are applied in the context of the leadership that Jesus gives for the church then we can see generations of Christians equipped and conformed more and more into the image of Christ by submitting themselves to the plurality of leaders Christ gave them for that purpose. In this way, the strengths of each leader can be magnified and the weaknesses can be hidden since the other leaders will be strong where they are weak.

In this way the depth of the model is retained, the body is edified, the world is evangelized, and the Head is glorified.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tactics - A Review

Tactics

Getting into gospel conversations can be daunting. Starting real witnessing conversations with strangers and re-engaging with people we have witnessed to in the past can sometimes be a challenge. Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions may help!

Greg Koukl's book, Tactics, seeks to help Christians make more opportunities in their everyday lives to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a worthwhile goal. Hopefully, we are all seeking to make more opportunities to proclaim the excellencies of our God and Savior.

That being said, I have some qualifications about recommending this book. It has some excellent strengths. But, it also has some significant weaknesses.

Greatest Strengths

1. Straightforward, Simple, and Adaptable

I think that my favorite part of Tactics is that the approach fits for anyone who encounters other human beings at any point in their life. That's almost everybody.

It doesn't require you to be particularly outgoing. It doesn't require you to memorize a method. At it's core essence, Tactics teaches you to use two primary questions to lead almost any conversation toward the end of confronting them with the truth of the gospel.

There are certainly some parts of the book which may require more time to understand and employ. However, the two questions he uses are powerful and will help anyone who uses them to be immediately better equipped to make opportunities to share the gospel during the course of their normal lives.

2. You Don't Need To Be An Apologetics Expert

Some people think they need to know everything before they start talking to people about Jesus. They don't want to be embarrassed because they get asked a question they don't know the answer to. They don't want to engage someone with strong beliefs without studying up first.

Tactics enables you to confidently speak to anyone without being an expert.

Koukl demonstrates persuasively that your time is better spent actually talking to people to find out what they believe rather than reading books about those supposed beliefs. In the real world, very few people hold all the textbook beliefs. Therefore, those who think they need to be experts usually find themselves studying theoretical things that real people may or may not actually believe, no matter what they label themselves as!

3. Logic

God has designed human beings to be rational. We are thinking creatures. We don't all use our thinking skills exactly the same way, but there are certain principles that apply to all rational creatures. Many Christians have never taken the time to think about how we think.

Part of the Christian call is simply to expose people to the truth. Often conversations about religion can become heated arguments. This is not good.

Koukl makes a strong appeal to Christians to never argue while witnessing. This is good counsel. The point of using logic is to help people we are speaking with to conclude on their own that their own beliefs lack foundation.

There is a big difference between me telling someone they are wrong and me helping someone else (through the use of guiding questions) to see that what they believe is foolish. Koukl's questions and short discussion of basic logical principles makes this second approach a possibility without arguing. When done correctly, it is a powerful tool for opening someones eyes to the error of their current thinking.

When people see that you helped them see the error in their current thinking, they are often open to hearing a new way of thinking. This makes for potentially fertile ground for planting the seed of the gospel.

Greatest Weaknesses

Despite the excellent strengths, this book also has some significant weaknesses.

1. Assumes You Can Faithfully Explain The Gospel

While Tactics presents a quality approach for creating opportunities to share the gospel, it does not equip you to actually share the gospel when the opportunity arises. Therefore, this book should only be used by someone who has already been trained and equipped to faithfully explain the gospel.

Otherwise, the opportunities that are created will not be fully taken.

Some people may think that simply having "God" conversations is enough. The gospel is a specific message. We owe it to people not to hover around the truth or to only provide bits and pieces. Therefore, if you are not equipped to share the whole truth of the gospel then this is not the place for you to start.

2. Can Seem Manipulative

Some readers may find Koukl's approach to be manipulative. It's true that his questions are powerful. It's true that the person who uses them can direct and guide a conversation toward the end of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When used appropriately, these can and should be considered strengths. However, if used inappropriately they can be manipulative. This can be particularly harmful if the person using this approach is ill-equipped to faithfully share the good news of Jesus during the course of conversation.

3. Can Rely Too Much On The Human Element

By focusing so much on how the Christian can use this approach to navigate conversations and completely ignoring an explanation of the gospel, this book can lead people to rely fully on the flesh. I doubt this is Koukl's purpose but it is a real danger.

There is a real responsibility that Christians have to walk in obedience to God. But the power of God for salvation to all who believe is in the gospel. It is not in our approach. It is not in our flesh.

As a result, a book that assumes we know, understand, and can articulate the gospel assumes too much. By focusing only on method this approach takes the same criticism that all methodologies take to a higher level. Not only can this approach become rote and mechanical over time, but for some it may start there!

Concluding Thoughts

I really like Tactics. I know some Christians who really don't. I can't blame them. The weaknesses mentioned in this review are significant. This is the first resource that I've reviewed on this blog that I can only recommend with qualification and some reservation.

This book will not be a good resource for everyone. For some people, it is completely unnecessary.

Here's the person I believe this book is best for:
  1. If you have studied the gospel and are equipped to faithfully share it;
  2. You've shared the gospel with everyone you know (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.); and
  3. You're looking for new ways to approach and engage people you've already shared with or people who shut you down in the past.
If you can check off each of those three qualifications, then I would recommend Tactics to you. If not, I would recommend starting off with The Way of the Master (reviewed here) or Share Jesus Without Fear (review coming soon) to get equipped. Then, if after sharing with everyone you can you find a need for more equipping give Tactics a read.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Recovering The Gospel - A Review

The Gospel is a Treasure

The most important book in the lives of all Christians is the Bible. The truth of first and foremost importance in the Bible is the gospel. If you're looking for a resource to help you understand the treasure of the gospel, outside of the Scriptures themselves, look no further than Paul Washer's Recovering The Gospel series.

This series includes three separate books:
  1. The Gospel's Power & Message
  2. The Gospel Call & True Conversion
  3. Gospel Assurance & Warnings
I've read a number of books that attempt to describe the glory of the gospel in a paragraph. I've read others that relegate it to a chapter. Paul Washer has been a faithful preacher of the gospel for decades. He gives the gospel the breadth and depth it deserves. Even still, Washer understands that he is only scratching the surface of this glorious truth.


Greatest Strengths

Paul Washer is my favorite modern preacher to listen to. Those who know me know my great fondness for Washer's ministry in my own life. I must resist the urge to go overboard with strengths. Here are my top three.

1. Layout and Approach

Washer takes a massive topic and breaks it into very manageable sections. Each book is divided into two or three major parts. Each section contains several chapters that each contribute to the main section without being overly long.

I've read each book, in their entirety, more than once. I appreciate the short chapters because the depth of information and the glory of what is being discussed make it difficult for me to take more than a chapter or two in any one sitting. This is not a book to breeze through. It is a book to meditate on with your open Bible nearby.

2. Content

Although the layout and overall approach make the books enjoyable to read, the content pulls no punches. Washer dives into topics and aspects of the gospel that many preachers and teachers have either forgotten, never learned, or are unwilling to discuss openly.

This is the reason Washer wrote these books in the first place. Washer states in the preface of the series, "One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth." I believe that Washer's assessment is correct.

I've met some professing Christians who have been around the church a long time who are angered and sometimes surprised by the content of Washer's books. It is a tragedy that people can be associated with the church for years without ever hearing the full gospel presented in any meaningful way. Washer further states,
"Untold millions walk our streets and sit in our pews unchanged by the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet they are convinced of their salvation because one time in their life they raised a hand at an evangelistic campaign or repeated a prayer. This false sense of security creates a great barrier that often insulates such individuals from ever hearing the true gospel."
I know this is true because I have met many of these insulated individuals while sharing the gospel on the streets. This strength leads very naturally into the final one I'll mention.

3. The Encouragement and Warning to Those Who Profess Christ

The Bible commands Christians to examine themselves and see if they are genuinely in the faith. The Bible does not provide the test of church attendance. Neither does it point to a time in the past when you were baptized, raised your hand, or repeated a prayer with some sense of sincerity.

So what does the Bible say? Washer's final book gives both stark warnings to those who claim to follow Christ but whose lives do not match their profession, along with genuine biblical tests for true salvation. For those who are born-again these tests are given by God to be a wonderful assurance of the salvation we have received in Christ. For those who are unregenerate these same tests can serve as a diagnostic and warning to repent while we still have breath.

We who profess the name of Jesus can be sure if we are saved. We must never be so foolish to trust any other evidence other than what the Bible gives us. Washer's third book is a great resource for the Christian who desires to soberly examine themselves in light of biblical standards.

Greatest Weaknesses

I find Washer's three books to be wonderful resources and worthwhile reads. However, if forced to discuss weaknesses I can come up with two.

1. Book Two, Part Three

Of all the parts of the series, I personally found the third section of The Gospel Call & True Conversion to be the weakest in general. If I had to lose an entire section it would be this one. The first two parts of the second book I found to be more edifying and beneficial. However, that's not to say there was nothing edifying in this section.

There were aspects of this section that I found Washer to be interpreting passages in a way that I wasn't sure were completely accurate. There is a good chance that he is correct and I am in error. However, the other sections were built off better exegetical reasoning and explanation.

2. The Assurances Section Was Not Exhaustive

Washer's approach in the assurance section (Book 3, Part 1) is essentially a study of 1 John. This is an excellent place to start. However, this is not the only relevant biblical section to study. As a result, Washer makes an excellent yet incomplete presentation of the topic.

While this is a weakness, I must admit that the tests Washer covers from 1 John are fantastic. He just didn't cover everything. In fact, Washer doesn't even include every test from 1 John. As a result, this stands out to me as a weakness. I would have liked to see this section expanded.

A separate chapter could be added for, at least, these three passages outside of 1 John:
  • the evidence of God's discipline in your life (Hebrews 12:1-13)
  • the leading of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13-14)
  • the presence of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24)
Despite these other tests being absent I believe Washer's goal in writing was achieved. Anyone who claims to follow Christ could genuinely examine themselves with what Washer provides.

Concluding Thoughts

Paul Washer's series, especially the first and third books, come with my highest recommendation. I not only encourage Christians to read this who haven't already but would also encourage those who've read it before to read it again and again.

The material in these books is faithful to the Scriptures. The glorious truth of the gospel is no doubt neglected in our own day. Let us not neglect it ourselves.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Way Of The Master - A Review


Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

(Galatians 3:24)



Ray Comfort's The Way of the Master is hands-down the evangelism method I've taught and used the most in my personal life and ministry. As time goes on, I am confident that this resource will continue to be part of my teaching ministry and personal evangelism.

Materials


There are many resources available. I am focusing on these three:
  1. The Basic Training Course;
  2. The Way of the Master book by Ray Comfort; and
  3. The School of Biblical Evangelism textbook.

Biggest Strengths


There are many strengths to this method. I'll limit myself to my top three.

1) Recovering the Purpose of God's Law.

The emphasis of The Way of the Master is on recovering the biblical purpose of God's Law in evangelism. Many in the modern church argue over the role and purpose of the Law. This is something we are commanded not to do.

Comfort writes, "I am humbled that God would take a little nobody from the uttermost parts of the earth and trust him with this incredible, forgotten teaching--a teaching that was once proclaimed by some of our greatest Christian forefathers" (WOTM, 4). This forgotten principle is using God's Law for its intended purpose of genuine conversion. Failure to employ this principle has direct correlation to the number of "converts" that come to Christ and fall quickly away when their life does not improve or they begin to face some of the promised persecution and difficulty that comes to all followers of Christ.

The entire method revolves around this forgotten principle. Rightfully so. It is so important yet so neglected in modern evangelism. It is for this reason that The Way of the Master will always have a place in my teaching and equipping ministry.

2) Simple to Implement.

A second strength of this method is that it is simple to understand and can be implemented fairly quickly into the life of the believer. Through the Basic Training Course each student is exposed to several one-on-one witnessing conversations that demonstrate how each individual can faithfully and simply navigate their own conversations using these principles.

3) Showing the Sin of Failure to Evangelize.

A final strength must also be mentioned: the teaching emphasizes the sin of being derelict in our duty to evangelize. Many Christians sit passively by as people they know and love perish under the wrath of God. Comfort calls this what it is: sin. You can't sit through a session of the Basic Training Course without being confronted with your need to take evangelism seriously and pursue the lost with urgency.

Biggest Weakness

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I love The Way of the Master. However, if I have to pick points of weakness there are two that stand out.

1) Examples Sometimes Betray The Method.

Watching the videos of evangelism can begin to betray the method a bit. What I mean is, the actual principle taught throughout the class is that the Christian is to use God's Law to expose sin in the non-believer until they are humbled. Acting on the biblical principle that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, the method officially calls for administering Law until the person is humbled before giving them grace.

However, watch enough videos of the one-on-one witnessing and you'll see a consistent pattern of administering the 9th Commandment, 8th Commandment, 7th Commandment, 6th Commandment, then moving to grace regardless of whether the persons countenance and disposition has changed. Certainly there are some exceptions. But the tendency exists to "just get through" the method without actually applying the excellent principles. This criticism can be leveled at any "methodology" - Way of the Master is not any better or worse in this area.

2) Strong Leadership A Must

The course can be intimidating. Although the approach itself is simple it may not be easy for many to overcome their years of disobedience and/or fears. Strong leadership is important to demonstrate confidence in approaching people and encouraging the timid to actually put this into practice. If the leader of the group is timid it can be very difficult to get things moving or keep them moving for any sustained period of time.

As a result, this teaching can be difficult for people to just pick up and use. This is especially true if the facilitator is going through it for the first time with everyone else.

Concluding Thoughts

The Way of the Master is a resource that I highly recommend. It is not the only evangelism training resource nor should it be the only thing a Christian ever studies to be equipped to share the gospel. However, I could say that it should be the first thing a Christian studies. This forgotten principle is that important.

We have an urgent message to share. We ought to use God's tools appropriately when proclaiming the good news of salvation through Christ alone. The Law is indispensable for leading people to understand their need for the Savior God has provided.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I Am The 85%

Networking

I Am The 85%

I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for 12 and a half years now. I have been teaching in the local church for a decade. Reflecting on that time I noticed that I have taught more classes on evangelism than any other topic.

And it's not even close.

Evangelism has been on my heart ever since the moment of my salvation. The reason for that was not due to sound theological reasoning. It is not because of a great class I took. It was certainly not because I saw it modeled by the majority of other believers.

It's because I am part of the 85%.

I have heard recently that only 15% of those who come to follow Christ do so as a result of being evangelized at an event. Church services, evangelism rallies, and other events do work in peoples lives. People are converted. But this is not where the majority of conversions occur.

The other 85% come to Christ through personal witness. This is when a believer takes the initiative and shares the gospel with a non-believer in their life.

I got saved because a believer loved me enough to tell me the gospel. Even though I was abusing her, mocking her, and making fun of her. She told me the truth. Then she kept praying for me after our conversation ended.

When my heart was changed I was standing alone, in the middle of a rainstorm, smoking a cigarette and watching the sky. I was born again that night because someone in my life shared the gospel faithfully with me.

I immediately wanted everyone I knew to find life and peace with God through Christ, too. So I started telling everyone.

They were not excited to hear.

The more time I spent in church, the less people I encountered who shared the gospel consistently and faithfully. Most simply invited people to events and hoped that people would eventually give their life to Christ through the proclamation of others.

I questioned my own drive to evangelize, especially since so many experienced Christians (less than 2% on some estimates) neglect the command to evangelize, wondering if I was misguided. However, reading the Word of God continued to resound with our responsibility to proclaim His excellencies since He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

So I started teaching classes on evangelism.

Over the years, I have taught a lot of different classes on personal evangelism. I've examined a lot of materials and approaches.

Some are excellent.

Others, not so much.

Some are downright ridiculous.

However, I have also noticed that something is even more important than the methods. That's having the right leadership. Without the right leadership evangelism can tend to ebb and flow.

I have taught many groups and individuals to evangelize. Sadly, many of these groups waned over time. Not all, but many. By far the group that endured the longest wasn't a group that I taught myself but a group that was taught by another - someone who was dedicated to remaining with all who were equipped and who didn't have to turn his attention to any other topics like I did in my pastoral ministry.

When the right leadership and the right methods are employed, the body of Christ is capable of proclaiming the gospel far and wide.

As I reflect on the past 10 years, I am so thankful that the Lord has worked to show me the importance of the dedicated leadership that Christ has given for the edification and equipping of His church. I am also thankful for the many resources that are available to train and equip the saints for the important work of evangelism.

I plan to write some reviews of evangelism methods and resources in 2017. I am open to any suggestions that you may have to evaluate teachings and/or methods that you know of or think would be an encouragement to the body to grow in faithfulness to the Great Commission.

The world is perishing, but there is good news! God has sent a Savior so that all who come to Him can be saved from the wrath they deserve on Judgment Day!

For those of us who are saved by the blood of the Lamb and who walk in newness of life - let us not be ashamed of our glorious Lord and Savior. Let's tell the world that Jesus saves.