Trickle-Down Evangelism

By Jeff Christopherson

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God?

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Here’s the version you’re most likely to hear: “We have to focus on our people. So many of them are immature and in desperate need of spiritual instruction. If we prioritize the growth and maturity of our people then that will have a trickle-down impact on their passion and ability to live on mission and share the gospel.” And so we design our churches for growth, consciously or unconsciously, through this filter.

This rationale at first seems prudent, but far too often the stated goal never comes to fruition. Rather than passionate, mobilized, mature believers, the church’s efforts end up fostering an inwardly-focused people who are increasingly isolated from the world they are commissioned to reach. Instead of a kingdom warrior, our trickle-down efforts seem only to muster an isolated, insulated, and evangelistically impotent churchman.

In reality, the longer it takes for new disciples to become disciple-makers, the more unlikely it is they will prioritize this work. Over time, the gravitational pull of their new relationships in the church will extract them from their relationships with others who are far from God and his church. The stronger the signal that church sends of ‘come and see’ over ‘go and tell,’ the less likely personal evangelism will ever take place. What’s worse, the more the pastor is observed as a ‘teller’ rather than ‘doer,’ the less likely the flock will be personally engaged in the work of evangelism.

So the trickle-down evangelism theory suffers from two fatal flaws: it creates a busy leadership that in their busyness become largely evangelistically unengaged; and, in our unending efforts to ‘equip,’ we have unintentionally isolated the mission force from the mission field.

New Believers and Evangelism

That’s why it’s vital that we create structures to unleash new believers into the harvest immediately after conversion. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds believers that all those who have been reconciled to God through Christ have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16–21). This work isn’t for those who have crossed a certain threshold of sanctification; it is a mission given to all those who’ve trusted in Jesus for their salvation. “God saves and sends” isn’t a trite cliché; rather, it is the two-fold pattern God uses throughout Scripture and history to foster his missionary work in the world.

The temporal link between saving and sending maximizes the potential evangelistic impact and builds life rhythms that foster evangelistic intentionality throughout the new believer’s maturation process.

First, those who have recently come to faith are far more likely to live, learn, work, and play with those who are far from God and his church. Their previous patterns of life were likely infused with those in need of seeing and hearing the gospel. Not only are they in relationship with the lost, but these relationships are the prime context to model the transformation that the gospel brings.

Who better to notice the change of thought and practice that follows conversion than those friends who have seen the fruit of unrighteousness that once defined a person’s life? Since the relational bridge to these relationships is already in place, it is wise to immediately leverage them for the sake of the gospel.

Second, this level of evangelistic intentionality creates rhythms that should define the life of anyone seeking to walk faithfully with Christ. The malaise and apathy toward evangelism that far too often characterizes God’s church is likely attributable to the fact that many new believers internalized their church’s priorities which failed to engage them in evangelism early in their Christian walks.

As a result, in order for evangelistic fervor to mark God’s church once again, they must unlearn all sorts of habits that seem to imply that evangelism is an arbitrary add-on to an otherwise sufficient Christian life. Linking saving and sending allows the church to build healthy practices from the outset, rather than expecting healthy rhythms to mystically emerge after long contradictory patterns have already been forged.

This mindset need not imply that it’s unnecessary to equip and train believers to maturity. What’s at issue isn’t this laudable goal, but the pursuit of discipleship in a way that is disconnected from the work of evangelism. We can’t expect that an extracted disciple’s growth in maturity will trickle-down to a waiting harvest no matter the quality and quantity of the sacred buffet that we offer.

After all, if disciple-making is the assignment that Jesus gave his church, then evangelism really isn’t finished until the evangelized find themselves as evangelists and disciplers.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Wanted: New Church Methods For New Church People

By Karl Vaters

Changing the world with the Gospel of Jesus is less likely to happen using traditional methods with every passing year.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members. Traditionalists (whatever your tradition may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.

But, the traditional church member is dying out…literally.

If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year.

Traditional Church Methods Will Only Attract Traditional Church People

We need new ways of doing church. It’s ironic that I’m the guy saying say this. For at least two reasons.

First, I’m one of the traditional guys. A middle-aged, third generation pastor of a brick-and-mortar church with a mortgage and a full-time salary. Sure, the church I pastor has a slightly younger demographic than the average. And yes, we started dressing casually before most churches did. But if the sight of church members wearing jeans while sipping a coffee as they listen to the sermon feels radical – well, that’s just one evidence of how non-radical we really are.

Second, as a traditional church guy, I have no idea what I’m asking for. None. What would a truly God-breathed, Bible-honoring, life-transforming, people-reaching, radical change in the way we do church look like? I have no idea. But I do know this. We’re not just looking at one idea or one new way to do church. We need to be open to a whole lot of new ideas and new ways to do church. The days of landing on one particular church format, then promoting it as the right way to do church can’t end soon enough.

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Future Church Possibilities

Actually, there are a handful of principles that I think are likely to become more common in the next few years. I think the new, dynamic church is likely to be

  • Meeting in smaller, rather than bigger groups, even in big cities
  • In non-traditional sites
  • Locally grown and less generic
  • More hands-on in mission and outreach
  • More focused on relationship building
  • Highly adaptable, even experimental
  • Passionately focused on the core truths of God’s Word

At least I hope so.

Unfortunately, it’s also very likely that, while these new ways of doing church will be met with joy and relief by some, they will be met with skepticism and anger by many.

Step Up and Stand Out

If you’re crazy in love with Jesus and want to help other people fall crazy in love with Jesus, but you can’t figure out how to do that in a traditional local church setting, here’s my suggestion.

Stop trying to fit in.

Start standing out.

Start ministering the unchangeable truths of Jesus in ways that make sense for the people God is calling you to minister to, even if they’re the kinds of people who won’t come to a traditional church. Don’t worry about all the naysayers who will condemn you just because what you’re doing is different.

The church could use a boatload of different right now.

And I’m not the only old, traditional church guy who will be cheering you on, either. There are a lot of us. We may not know how to do it ourselves, but maybe we can be like Simeon and Anna. Maybe we can recognize Jesus when he shows up at the temple in a way no one else expected.

After all, the only “right” way to do church is any way that reaches people for Jesus.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

 

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Illustrations that Connect

This is why illustrations matter. Illustrations help to place us in the story. But illustrations that invite us in need to be something we can actually imagine. Most of us did not fight Nazis in World War II. If you ask us to place ourselves in that story, we will always imagine ourselves as the hero—hiding Jews in our basement and standing up to the SS or giving bread to the hungry soldier from the other side.

But many of us can more realistically imagine ourselves fighting with a sibling over the remote control, or, in later years, fighting about where the extended family will have the reunion, or who should tell Dad it’s time to stop driving, or who gets the dining room table when parents have died. We won’t imagine ourselves the hero in these stories because we probably haven’t been. What we need in a story about our siblings is some idea about what to do next—what it would really look like for us to be like Christ, not in some French village in 1942, but in the family room today or on the phone tomorrow.

Because we know that illustrations help our hearers place themselves in the story, we preachers and teachers can spend a great deal of time searching for the perfect illustration: the story that ties to the Scripture passage, is just the right length, and moves us easily to the next point. This is why there are books of illustrations available to buy and websites eager for you to subscribe to their ideas. But canned illustrations usually taste that way: the essence of a good story, but lacking in color and tang.

The strongest illustrations are drawn from the life of the church and ministry itself. If you start a sentence with “This week in the Bible study, Ben mentioned…” or “Nancy, the chair of our church board, invited me to join her on a benevolence visit this week, and…” heads are going to go up. People are going to pay attention. Ben said something interesting in Bible study? What happened on the benevolence visit? 

Suddenly the life of the church has made it into the sermon. Someone was paying attention to things that happen every week. This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event. Bible study happens every week. Board members visit people all the time. This was regular life being called out as an example of kingdom living. The illustration wasn’t theoretical, distant, or abstract. It was personal, relatable, accessible, and relevant. That gets people’s attention.

This also means we need to pay attention. If you have read and studied your text early in the week, keep watch for the rest of that week: notice anything that could link this text to the lives of these people. An exchange with the server at lunch. A magazine article. A song on the radio. Another passage of Scripture. A great quote on social media. As the week goes on, write these things down. Even if it is only remotely connected to what you’re preaching or teaching about, record it. You never know how the Spirit may use it.

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A Word of Caution

One important note: Always ask permission. If Ben says something in Bible study that catches your attention, mention it to him afterward and see if he’s okay with you using it and if he wants credit. Say something like, “I loved what you said about verse 5. I may be able to use that on Sunday—would it be okay if I mentioned your name?” Don’t promise that you’re going to use the illustration. We all know that what looks perfect Wednesday morning may not fit when we are finishing the sermon or lesson on Saturday night.

We also know that some brilliant illustrations hit us at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and we don’t always have time to check with the person before we preach or teach. But if they don’t know you are going to use them, don’t use them. The use of others in illustrations is an opportunity for us as pastors and teachers to care well for people. We want them to look good in illustrations, and we want them to feel safe at church. Respect their wishes if they do not want to be used, or offer to change their name or the details of the event if that makes them more amenable to the idea. But if they decline, honor that. Think of your use of illustrations as an opportunity to build trust with your congregation.

This article was originally posted at: Christianity Today

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Parte 1 de 2

By Mary S. Hulst

How to teach in a way that connects, compels, and builds trust.

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My stepsons come barging in the door after seeing a movie with their dad. They are laughing and talking and quoting lines from the movie as they scour the cupboards for snacks.

“How was the movie?”

“It was really good! So funny.”

Then I ask this question: “What was it about?”

I usually get a play-by-play of the story line, with one of them talking over the other to clarify a point in the plot. They tell me about the actors and the cars and the funny parts. They tell me who won in the end and if this one was better than the other one that was kind of like this one but starred that other guy. All of this is said through mouthfuls of cheddar and sour cream potato chips, of course.

Never, in all the times they have told me about movies, has either one ever looked at me and said, “I can’t remember. There was this guy, and maybe he was a detective or something, and he had a car. Something blew up. I don’t know.”

They always know. The can always remember. They can always tell me. That’s the power of a story. We can remember a movie because someone is telling us a story. The story begins with people who need something, or something happens to them, or there is the promise of love, the threat of global extinction, or an epic battle between good and evil. The story unfolds as the characters respond to whatever comes their way. A good story draws us in because we want to know how it turns out: Did the accused commit the crime? Do the aliens wipe out life on earth? Does the girl find love? 

Our challenge as preachers and teachers is that almost everyone who listens to us knows how the story turns out. God is in the still, small voice. The boy kills the giant. Jesus heals the blind man. Thomas professes faith. Paul, once again, tells people what to do. Yawn. Why should our people keep listening if they know how this is going to end? There is a problem. God solves it. Take the offering.

We need to create tension, or we need to acknowledge the tension that is already there. Because although most of our hearers know how the Bible stories turn out, they don’t know how their stories are turning out. They can’t read to the end of their books. All of us—preachers and pew sitters—listen to the words of the Bible and think, Is it true? Does it matter? Will it happen for me?

That’s the tension. Is this truth for me? Is this God really God for me? Are my sins really forgiven, and how would I know? Does a life of obedience really matter when it’s costing me so much?

And there is our hook. Everyone walks into church hoping, praying, begging for something to be said or sung that will help them, comfort them, assure them, and sometimes challenge them, convict them, or push them. To put it simply: they want to see themselves in the story.

This article will continue in the next post.

 

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

Five Ways to Invest in the Next Generation of Leaders – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

  1. See them as individuals and develop their gifts.

People have a deep desire to be known individually—their unique experiences, gifts, and passions. As you spend time with the next generation of leaders, point out what makes them unique and help them identify and develop their gifts and abilities. Encourage their strengths and affirm when you see them excelling in their gifts. When possible, provide roles to help them develop their strengths.

As I get to know the people in my new small group, I can’t wait to get a fuller picture of what makes each person unique, encouraging each one in their strengths. One young man has spunk and grit, and he will make a fierce leader one day. A young woman has wisdom beyond her years, and one day she will help an organization navigate wisely through a hard season. Yet another young man a free spirit, and one day he’ll remind the church to shake off our tired routines and fall in love with Jesus in a fresh new way. Each young person is made individually and by God for a unique impact in the world. I want to help each one move closer to their unique gifts and calling and watch them come alive.

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  1. Build relationships.

In Mark 3:14, Jesus didn’t just appoint the 12 disciples to go out—he appointed them “that they might be with him.” And Jesus didn’t just bring the disciples around when he was about to teach or perform a miracle. He shared meals with them, travelled with them, and met their families (Matthew 8:14).

The next generation of leaders look up to you, and want to know how you do what you do. They need to see who you are when you’re not in “ministry mode.” How do you balance work, family, and friends? How do you respond when you’re stressed? How do you take care of yourself? What does your marriage look like? Who are your closest friends, and how do you support one another?

Your greatest ministry doesn’t come from the stage. It comes when others witness the thousands of everyday moments when the character of Christ is being formed in you. Allow these young people to see your real life. They don’t just need to learn ministry skills; they need to develop the character that supports the work God wants to do in and through them. Invite them into your home for dinner, let them run errands with you, and provide an inside look into how God is at work in your everyday, messy, chaotic life.

  1. Take a risk and be okay with mess.

If you’re going to take a risk in ministry, let it be on believing in people. Development as a leader is messy and these young people will make mistakes along the way. With your care and guidance, those mistakes will turn into learning opportunities that propel them toward even greater leadership.

I was 23 when I started my first job working with a college ministry. I remember the first couple of times I taught at our weekly gathering, and I wince now to think of how it went. But since then, thanks to more and more opportunities to practice and receive feedback, I’ve grown to be much more confident and effective in teaching.

An omnipotent and omniscient God still chooses to work out His purposes through flawed humans because he knows that we’ll grow and develop to be even more effective leaders through the process. How much more should we be willing to take risks and give young people the chance to learn and grow! Reaffirm that you still believe in them, help them learn from their mistakes, and give them a seat at the table with you.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2017/march/five-ways-to-invest-in-next-generation-of-leaders.html