Urban Evangelization – Part 1 of 2

By Scott and Emily Armstrong

The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN.  Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.

You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?

First things first: God has a plan for the city.  You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs.  However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained.  Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about!  God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY.  We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time?  Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?

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Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:

We must live in our city to love our city.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

We must pray for our city.

We must live in our city to love our city.

Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…”  He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there. 

I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.”  What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there!  The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.

How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city.  If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love.  And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities.  Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.

Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities.  We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests.  We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well.  Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city.  One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship.  We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.

*This article will continue in the next post.

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Stop Just Going To Church

By Jeff Vanderstelt

It all began in a boat on a lake with a few fishing poles. It was there, surrounded by the lazy water, my dad and I would have a key conversation that would change the trajectory of my life. My dad was giving me a simple update on his life and shared that his church was hiring a discipleship pastor.

After I pushed past my internal dialog about how hiring a pastor for discipleship betrayed that the church didn’t see everything they did as discipleship, I heard my father say he was excited to learn how to make disciples—finally.

I was thankful for my father’s surge of energy toward Jesus’ commission but also a bit troubled. My dad didn’t seemed to realize he raised me in a home where daily life was engaged as intentional ministry. He owned several small businesses and believed his business was meant to be a blessing to people and the city we lived in. As a result, we joined our parents in countless acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

It was not uncommon for one of us four boys to give up our room for a season to make room for a young man getting a fresh start, a broken husband whose marriage was on the rocks, or a runaway teen who needed some stability. My dad would love and mentor these men during the day at one of his businesses while my mom would nurture and care for them like one of her own.

I watched young and old come to know the love of Jesus and receive very informal but effective training in how to become responsible, hard-working, loving men. Because of my parents’ ministry at home and at work, many men still call our family “their own.”

However, the church never called this “ministry.” They didn’t see that my mother’s gracious hospitality and my father’s mentoring through work created both the environment and means for discipleship to happen.

I was not saddened simply because my parents’ ministry was never legitimized; Jesus was working through it all along, and God the Father was pleased to watch His children at work. What saddened me was that many churches (and many in the church) don’t view their homes as one of the best contexts for ministry, and their workplaces are some of the most overlooked places for mentoring and mission.

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Most people will spend one third of their lives at work and at least another third in or around their homes; that means that more than two-thirds of our lives are considered non-ministry space. In addition, most still believe church is a place you go for one-to-four hours a week where most of the discipleship happens. This means a very large majority of Christians see only a very small percentage of their lives dedicated to the mission of making disciples. It’s no wonder so few believers are fruitful in ministry.

What if we could help everyday people live with gospel intentionality in everyday life, both at work and at home, to make disciples? What if every workplace, school, neighborhood, and café were filled with Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, disciple-makers every day? We might just see cities and towns saturated with the presence, power, and love of Jesus through everyday people like my mom and dad.

Pastors and church leaders were not called by God to do the ministry for the many. They are given to the church to equip the many for the ministry in the marketplace and the home. It’s time to equip and mobilize Jesus’ church out of the building and into life.

Let’s stop just going to church and start being the church every day and everywhere!

This article was originally posted at: Verge Network

 

Why Jesus Never Commanded us to Plant Churches – Part 2 of 2

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

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Do our actions match our words?

We say we want to see churches planted from out of the harvest, but our actions and our leadership practices do not often match our words. And the sad thing is that even when faced with such inconsistencies, we are likely to continue repeating our past behaviors–expecting different future results (Maybe the Ridley Assessment has something to say to those of us who oversee church planters?).

Whenever a biblical model for church planting is viewed as unusual, the path to change will come with pain.

In order for healthy change to occur, we have to change our ecclesiologies, missiologies, and what we celebrate, reward, and expect.

Poor definitions = poor practices

We have a poor understanding of our Commission.  We act as if Jesus has commanded us to plant churches.  We are commanded to make disciples.  It is out of disciple making that churches are to be birthed.  The weight of the biblical model rests here.  Not transfer growth. Not acrimonious splits. It is evangelism that results in disciples, who covenant together to be and function as the local expression of the Body of Christ.

We have a poor understanding of the local church.  If our definition is poor, then everything we say and do related to church planting will be poor.  We often expect newly planted churches to manifest structures and organizations like what is observed in churches of 20, 40, 50 years of age. Our definition of a local church is oftentimes so encased with our cultural desires that we do not know the difference between biblical prescriptions and American preferences.

We operate from a poor definition of church planter.  If we do not recognize the missionary nature (and thus apostolic functions) of church planters, then we end up equating them with pastors.  And take it from a pastor who has been involved in church-planting: missionaries and pastors have different callings, gift-mixes, passions, and functions to play in the Kingdom.  We end up sending pastors to do apostolic-type work, or sending missionaries and expect them to be pastors.  Such is a perfect storm for problems, frustrations, burn-out, and disasters.

Are there other ways to plant churches than what we read about in the ministry of Paul?

The problems with our current models

Yes, and I am in favor of some of those models. Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes.  Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.

However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made.  The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here.  Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting.  Today, they are often the expectation.

I expect my “surprising” conversations will continue in the future.  Such is necessary as we move in a direction where a biblical model is not looked upon as the exception.  But until our church planting expectations change, we must ask ourselves a question and recognize the troubling answer:

What do we have whenever a biblical model is viewed as unusual?

We have a major problem.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2013/09/09/why-jesus-never-commanded-us-to-plant-churches/3/

5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Small Churches Than Big Churches

By Karl Vaters

Different sizes of churches serve different functions. And they face different challenges.

Small churches are not just smaller versions of big churches.

Every size has value, but different sizes serve different functions in the body of Christ. They also have different challenges and they tend to make different kinds of mistakes.

Here are 5 mistakes that are more likely to be made by small churches than by big ones. The smaller, the more susceptible they are.

(For the other side of this equation, check out 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.)

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1. Holding On To Stale Traditions

Some traditions strengthen a church, some weaken a church.

And some traditions that used to strengthen us will eventually weaken us if we hold onto them past their sell-by date.

Some churches need to ask themselves a very serious question. Namely, ‘what’s more important to us? Holding onto traditions that are killing our church, or letting go of some traditions to save the church?’

No, I’m not talking about biblical principles. Without those, we don’t get to call ourselves a church. But anything other than those need to be held lightly, and sometimes not at all.

2. Poor, Or Nonexistent Planning

Not long ago, I was chatting with the pastor of a dying church. He was excited about his plans to revitalize it, so I asked him to send me an outline of those plans. What did he send me? A six-month calendar of committee meetings.

Certainly, getting the planning team in the room for regular times of prayer, strategizing and assessment is a very valuable part of the process. But having more meetings is a poor substitute for having a plan.

Another pastor in a similar situation sent me a list of sermon series. Preaching in series can be very helpful. I’ve done it for years. But we can’t confuse a sermon series with a revitalization plan any more than meetings are. They may be elements of a plan, but they can’t be the plan.

On a recent, very helpful Thom Rainer podcast about replanting dead or dying churches, Mark Clifton said that churches in crisis “generally value the process of decision over the outcome of decision.” Healthy churches prioritize outcomes.

A plan includes a roadmap for how to get from where you are now to a better, more desirable future. Certainly that plan will change as circumstances change, so the ability to adapt and change needs to be built into the plan. But, to repeat the old cliché, those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

3. Not Enough Assessment Or Evaluation

The smaller the church, the harder it is to gauge effectiveness by numbers.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t evaluate our effectiveness in some way.

After Jesus sent out the 72, he gathered them together and asked how their mission went. Then he told them how to evaluate their effectiveness (Luke 10).

Every time we do any ministry, we need to gather the leadership to assess

•What went right

•What went wrong

•Why it went right or wrong, and

•What we can do to improve it the next time.

I know, when things are really bad, that can be painful. But it is essential.

4. Too Much Inward Focus

Many dying churches are doing so because of many years of obvious, intense conflict.

But some churches are surprised that they’re dying because the people who remain are often having a great time with each other.

“The preaching is great, the worship is vibrant and the fellowship is so deep,” they’ll often say. But it often only feels like that to those who already belong.

In a previous post, I made a statement that many readers took me to task for. But I stand by it. Here it is again. “If your church isn’t willing to be changed by the unbelievers who come to your church, they won’t come.”

Yes, we need to be willing to allow them to change us, not just expect us to change them. In fact, the smaller the church, the more this is true, because in a smaller group each person has a greater impact.

If we aren’t willing to listen and adapt our methods (but not our core theology, of course) based on the changing needs of the community around us, we will be seen as increasingly cold, distant and irrelevant to them.

No, the church must never abandon the saints who built and support it (a challenge I’ll address in the companion article about mistakes big churches tend to make), but if all we’re doing is a holy huddle, we’ve stopped being a light in the darkness.

5. Depending On The Pastor Instead Of Making Disciples

The smaller the church, the more we need to fight against the expectation that the pastor is supposed to do ministry for the members. Instead, we must follow the biblical mandate to equip the members to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

No church can survive if its ministry doesn’t grow beyond the capacity of the pastor. We need to expand our ministry base by equipping and involving everyone.

For more about this, check out The Best Way To Avoid Pastor Burnout? Equip The Saints.

What This List Does Not Mean

Before concluding, I want to be sure no reader goes away thinking anything that I do not intend to say by this list, specifically these five possible misunderstandings.

First, this list is not exhaustive. No list can be.

Second, none of these errors is inevitable, no matter how small the church is.

Third, these are not necessarily the reasons a church stays small. So, if your church is small and not committing any of these mistakes, that’s great!

Fourth, fixing these errors may not bring numerical growth. There are plenty of healthy, missional, strategic small churches that have none of these issues, but still find that their greatest contribution to Christ and his church comes in a smaller package.

Numerical growth is not the goal. Health is. Sometimes that health will produce numerical growth, sometimes not.

Finally, big churches aren’t perfect. They may not tend towards these errors, but they do have their own sets of challenges.

I take a look at some of those in my companion post, 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/april/5-mistakes-more-likely-small-churches.html?paging=off