Tag Archives: Church Inside Out

Sinners in need of grace

seekingIt’s becoming popular these days to leave sin out of the presentation of the good news of Jesus. Let’s talk about Kingdom. Let’s talk about becoming a member of the people of God. Let’s talk about taking part in the restoration of all things.

But let’s don’t talk about sin. That seems to be the spirit of the day.

As I’ve said before, it’s one of the usual pendulum swings that we get regarding theology and Christian living. One generation emphasizes one thing, so a later generation feels the need to reject that one thing and go to the other extreme. That’s the very tendency we have to fight against.

Many car wrecks occur due to what is called oversteering. It’s an overreaction to a situation that calls for a correction in steering. The panicked driver turns the wheel sharply, worsening the situation rather than helping. Instead of running off onto the shoulder, they veer across the center lane into a headon collision. Instead of sliding on the ice, they throw their car into an out-of-control spin. Instead of hitting a road hazard, the driver throws their car sideways across several lanes of traffic.

Overcorrection in the church is no better. Removing judgment and sin from our vocabulary is not the way to respond to a perceived overemphasis of those themes. Let’s talk about the Kingdom and Kingdom values and restoring a fallen world, but let’s not forget that the Bible teaches that each of us needs the forgiveness of sin.

We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that world is lost. We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that we were lost until God’s grace reached us. We will never reach a lost world if we delete sin from our vocabulary.

Growing churches reach out purposefully

seekingYesterday I mentioned a survey which was reported on by The Guardian in an article titled “Literal interpretation of Bible ‘helps increase church attendance.'” I’m not impressed with whoever wrote the headline, for I think they missed some of the most important aspects of this study. The study was published online May 24, 2016, in a journal article titled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy” in the Review of Religious Research. (I mistakenly said yesterday that it wasn’t coming out until next month.)

Since I have a degree in social sciences, I do need to note that this survey was carried out among mainline churches in the province of Ontario in Canada. It’s not as broad of a study as I initially thought. Still, I find the results enlightening.

I noted yesterday how telling a leadership’s view of evangelism was in determining whether or not a church will grow. The study also notes a real difference in a church’s mission and purpose. In the first place, the author’s noted, “growing church attendees were significantly more likely to agree” that their church has a clear mission and purpose. Secondly, the survey ended with an open-ended question which asked church members to state what their church’s purpose. In growing churches, almost thirty percent put evangelism at the top; in declining churches, this number was less than 10 percent.

The authors noted:

In terms of the purpose of the church, there was a wide range of responses among both growing and declining congregants, but growing church congregants were more likely to identify evangelism as the essential purpose of their church, a result which is again consistent with their greater theological conservatism, specifically their belief in Christian exclusivity (seen in their responses to belief questions about the importance of encouraging non- Christians to become Christians and the equivalence of world religions).

Since I noted above the limitations of this study, I should include this quote as well:

This finding that growing churches place more emphasis on evangelism is consistent with the work of other researchers who have identified evangelism as a statistically significant factor in church growth (Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1973, 1983, Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1994; Bouma 1979; Hadaway 1978; Nelson and Bromley 1988; Donahue and Benson 1993).

If a church wants to grow it needs to be reaching out to lost people. This outreach needs to be intentional and obvious. The church needs to see this as one of its major reasons for existing. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the only way to the Father, then we have a responsibility to share that with others. We do so not only to see growth in the church, but to help those around us not only benefit from Kingdom values, but become members of the Kingdom.

Does your leadership prioritize reaching the lost?

seekingI’m reaching that age where I’m transitioning from criticizing what the church has been to criticizing what the church is becoming. Actually, I’m right at that sweet spot where I can criticize both!

Seriously, one thing that worries me about today’s church and tomorrow’s leadership is a de-emphasis of the concept of salvation. It may just be a pendulum swing that will eventually correct itself, but I know many church leaders who aren’t really concerned about helping people hear about Jesus. Let’s clothe them, feed them, provide housing, and send them on their way. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if we look closely, we have to admit that many church leaders are uncomfortable with the idea that non-believers need salvation.

Don’t believe me? Many people are talking about a research project that is being published in next month’s Review of Religious Research. The study shows that more conservative churches are growing more than their more liberal counterparts; in today’s Links To Go I refer to an article about that.

But that’s not what caught my attention. Here’s the survey question that caught my eye:

“It is very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”

In churches that report their numbers to be dwindling, only 50% of respondents agreed with this statement. None of them marked “Strongly Agree”! In growing churches, 99% of the leaders surveyed agree, with 77% strongly agreeing.

Here’s another:

“Only those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will receive eternal life”

In declining churches, none of the leaders marked “Strongly Agree” with this statement. 6% agreed. In growing churches, 77% of leaders agreed or strongly agreed. I would admittedly nuance my agreement and mark “Moderately Agree,” for I believe that a sovereign God can still save anyone he chooses. Yet the Bible is pretty clear in saying that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

Folks, if your leadership doesn’t believe that non-believers need to be taught about Jesus, your church is doomed. No need to pull punches on that one. Your church is doomed.

Sharing with those who celebrate the election results

one-stepThese past few days I’ve been talking about how to deal with the people around us now that the election is past. The idea is to be able to help shift attention from politics to eternal matters. Our goal is to be used by God to help others move closer to an imitation of Jesus; I’m focusing my attention this week on non-believers, but many of the same principles are helpful in our conversations with believers.

I mentioned last week that before speaking we need to listen. That’s a pretty good general rule in life, but it’s especially true when discussing evangelism. We spend way too much time focused on what we’re going to say and not enough time being ready to hear what others are saying.

As we approach those who are jubilant about the election, we listen to see what the source of their joy is. Again, this isn’t the time for recrimination nor accusations; that may make you feel better, but it rarely does any good in the long run. Focus on the motives for their happiness, and you’ll often find an open door to talk about God.

Maybe their motivation was a return to traditional values. That invites us to get them to express what they see as traditional values and talk about the source of legitimate morality. Help them see that God is the authority, in every way. Outside of him, no standards have a solid base.

If the driving force for these voters was a desire to return to greatness, get them to define what greatness looks like. If it’s about strength and security, help them to see that only God can give lasting security. If it’s economic concerns, help them to balance temporary and eternal riches. In the end, we want them to see that only God can give greatness.

For many, abortion is the major issue in every election. Life comes from God, as does eternal life. Protection of life, from conception to grave (and beyond) is one of the major values of God’s kingdom; those who value life can come to value the giver of life.

None of these ideas are meant as snappy responses to conversation in an elevator. These are general directions for conversations that will be played out over days and weeks. What we learn from listening to others can shape the direction for future conversations, ones in which we will speak of God and his values.

Our goal for everyone is to move them closer to God. If we can keep that in mind, we will find that evangelism is not as scary as it often seems.

One step closer

one-stepLast week I talked about listening to people after the elections. Hopefully you’ve been able to hear those around you; hear their fears, hear their values, hear their priorities. Now I suggest that you look for opportunities to speak.

First, let me repeat a point that I’ve made here and in my book Church Inside Out. Conversion is a process. For many, it’s a long, step-by-step journey from unbelief to discipleship. There are milestones along the way, like the acceptance of the concept of a supreme being, the acknowledgement of the authority of the Bible, the understanding of the exclusive claims made by Jesus. It’s rare for the complete unbeliever to become a dedicated Christ follower after a conversation or two. It happens, but it’s rare.

I would argue that our mindset should always be that we want to move people one step closer to the imitation of Christ. For some, that means getting them to accept that truth exists and can be found; that may seem like an obvious point, but for many in our world today, that’s a foreign concept. For others, their step closer is coming to see that religion is not a malignant force in our society.

For others, that necessary step will be understanding the personal nature of the gospel; many more will need to grasp the communal nature of the gospel. For some, it will be about how to live as believers.

That’s part of what we’re listening for as well. We want to know where people are and how to help them move one step closer… followed by another step and another. Along the way, we hope to take another step ourselves.

As you think about speaking about Jesus to the people around you, recognize that yours is a simple sharing of what you’ve experienced and come to believe. Don’t worry about being prepared to answer every question nor to present a full-blown theological system. Your task is to tell your family and neighbors what the Lord has done for you.