Every Person, Every Town

Standard

“The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Jesus’ command that His disciples are to “disciple all the nations” (Matt. 28:19), coupled with the Lord “not wanting any to perish,” prompts a question that I believe every church needs to answer – Will we commit to share the gospel with every person in our town (or ministry field)? If God doesn’t want any person to perish, and if those already saved are God’s means to share the gospel with unbelievers, will we take the gospel to every person in our area?

That is a big question. This big question helps define the mission of every believer and every local church. A more difficult question is the strategy question, “How can we share Christ with every person?” Or, “How can we disciple our community?” For our Northwest Baptist Convention region the question would be, “How can we pray for, and share Christ with, each of the 11.5 million people in our area?” A big strategy question like this demands what Google calls “moonshot thinking.”

In the book How Google Works, Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page, says that it is tremendously difficult to get teams to be super ambitious. Even though Google assembled some of the brightest engineering minds on the planet, “moonshot thinking” is not what people are educated to do. People are more inclined to limit their thinking to that which is possible, based on prior experience, while at the same time thinking some things are impossible. But Google works to overcome such limited thinking.

I’ll provide one example from the book – Google Maps and Earth. By now, most of us have used Google Maps to find a location, and probably you have viewed your house on Google Earth. I’ve used Maps to navigate in countries around the world, including some of the poorest nations. Google Maps and Earth were launched because some “moonshot thinker” believed it was possible to photograph the entire planet and map every road. It turns out this ambitious goal was beyond the financial and human resources of Google … unless the mapping was done by volunteers, Googlers as they’re called. That’s what happened. A new community of grass-root volunteer cartographers were allowed and enabled to contribute to Maps. For example, unpaid Googlers mapped over 25,000 kilometers of roads in Pakistan in just two months (p. 233). When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the US Gulf Coast in August 2005, Google Earth had only been on the market for eight weeks. But the team that developed the Maps and Earth project sprang into action, launching over 8,000 up-to-the minute satellite images that accurately showed the scope of the disaster. These maps helped rescue workers navigate the areas and later helped survivors in deciding when and whether they could return to their homes. Since then, similar projects have followed other disasters, such as the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami (p. 241).

Though Google hasn’t yet celebrated its 19th birthday (Sept. 4, 1998), it recently became the most valuable brand in the world, surpassing Apple. Moonshot thinking and thinkers have been keys to Google’s success.

So, back to the strategy question, “How can we share Christ with every person in our town?” Or, another version of the same question, “How can we pray for, show God’s love to, and share Christ with, every person in our town?” I think that’s a question worthy of consideration. The answer to such a question will certainly require expansive and creative moonshot thinking.  Or, better yet, God-sized thinking – “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).  And the answer will likely be answers, as in multiple strategies and efforts. But I can’t think of any question more worthy for a church to consider.

Make Disciples: Part 3 – Discipling a Church

Standard

Parts 1 and 2 of “Making Disciples” focused on discipling the nation and the community. In Part 3 the focus is the local church, which is the means God uses to disciple individuals, a community and a nation. A community becomes more Christian when local churches take the gospel to their community, love their community, and lead the individuals in their community to Christ. But for this to happen there must be a church in the community that behaves “Christianly.” What does it mean to behave Christianly and how does a church do it?

Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to “disciple all of the nations” is followed by two actions steps – baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything Christ commanded. Baptism is the public act of identifying with Jesus Christ and His church. In the New Testament, baptism followed immediately after one’s personal profession of Jesus Christ as Lord. Making disciples begins with gospel witness (evangelism) by which individuals, and sometimes entire households, come to profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ and follow Him in believer’s baptism.

Following baptism, making disciples is described by the phrase “teaching them to observe” all of the commands that Jesus gave to the eleven remaining disciples (Matt. 28:20). Those who commit to Christ must learn to obey all of the teachings of Jesus. Now, here’s an observation: many churches are better at teaching the meaning of the Scriptures than teaching obedience to the Scriptures. In sermons and Bible lessons the “What?” is often taught, but not the “Now what?”

So how do church leaders teach the church to obey Christ commands? You can do so by doing these three things.

1. Destiny – Teach every believer that he/she has a purpose in God’s kingdom. Every person “in Christ” has a destiny, a reason for being and a role to fulfill in the Body of Christ. Every person matters. Throughout the New Testament we see this, and God’s people must be taught to read the Scriptures with a view to discovering their own purpose in God’s work. Every believer has spiritual gifting and therefore each has a purpose in what God is accomplishing in the world. The purpose of the church, and of each believer, must be addressed from the pulpit monthly at the very least. It must be taught in small groups. And we must teach our children, in the home, and in the church, that they have a destiny to fulfill in God’s kingdom.

2. Opportunity – Provide the church with opportunities to obey the teachings of Christ. With varying degrees of effectiveness, churches provide opportunities to worship, to contribute to God’s work financially, to walk with God’s people in unity, and to serve God through the ministries of the church and in their daily lives. But some churches are much better at giving people specific opportunities to answer the question “Now what?” Every sermon and Bible lesson should answer this question. The programing and ministry of the church should provide opportunities for God’s people to “do acts of obedience.” Things like evangelism training and sharing the gospel, mission projects, serving widows, and serving the poor and needy, help give opportunities for God’s people to obey Him. Church leaders should regularly ask the question, “How can we show God’s love to our community? How can we take the gospel to our community and to peoples beyond?” These questions will lead to opportunities for serving God (talk to civic and school leaders to get a better understanding of community needs). Also, don’t forget to provide opportunities to celebrate what God does and to pray for God to work through the opportunities provided by the church. How much praying does your church do on Sunday morning that focuses on loving the community and sharing Christ? Are you giving your people opportunities to pray for community leaders, pray for the lost, pray for missionaries, and pray for the persecuted church? Each local church needs to connect with the worldwide church through prayer. A small church can have a huge impact by praying for big things.

3. Responsibility – Lead each of God’s people to take personal responsibility for answering the call to love God and to love their neighbors. Each believer needs to take responsibility for God’s work. Opportunities provided must be seized by God’s people as they take personally the task of sharing Christ with the lost and loving their neighbors.

From a programming perspective, individual churches will address these three things in different ways. But think about those in the Scriptures whom God has greatly used. Think about those throughout history, and even those you know personally through whom God has done great things. Each of these people had a sense of destiny. Each of them created and seized opportunities. And each of them took personal responsibility for serving God. A church that leads its people to do these things will become a dynamic church, greatly used of God, no matter its numerical size.

Pastors, Please Enjoy Christmas with your Family

Standard

One December I spent 22 nights away from home leading up to Christmas Day. Then I repented and never did that again!

The December schedule is fast-paced for many but perhaps more so for pastors. Class Christmas parties, community events, special Christmas services at church – if you try to do it all it can become too much. This year Christmas Day is on Sunday, so even that day cannot be fully devoted to your children and family. While many travel to be with family on Christmas, pastors rarely do so because Christmas is too important to miss, including the traditional “Christmas Eve services” many churches have. For 25 years I never went “home” for Christmas. I’m not complaining about that, and I don’t have any regrets about it. It’s just reality for a pastor.

Please don’t misunderstand, I love and loved all that we do in our churches for Christmas. I love to sing the traditional Christmas songs. Joy to the World is my favorite. Christmas Eve services can be truly special times of worship, marked with tenderness and wonder and joy. And Christmas provides our churches unique outreach and ministry opportunities. But pastors need to be careful not to neglect their families during this meaningful time of year, and church members need to help them in this regard.

So, what is a busy, conscientious pastor to do? Here are a few things to consider. First, prioritize your children’s Christmas activities. Attend their school Christmas events. If you don’t have children, or if your children are grown up, you might have grandchildren activities to consider. Family commitments change with the seasons of life. Churches should understand that a pastor with children in the house has obligations (and opportunities) that older pastors may not have.

Second, as your children grow, and are able, involve them in the special Christmas ministry opportunities of the church. One church I served prepared and delivered meals on Christmas Day to hundreds of homes. We delivered meals to widows and shut-ins that had no one to spend Christmas with and we delivered meals to poor families. One thing I was impressed with was how many families made this a Christmas tradition with their children. Parents used it as an opportunity to teach their children the importance of serving others, especially the poor and lonely. Some churches sing Christmas carols in nursing homes and other places, which gives families an opportunity to sing and serve together.

Third, take some time away after Christmas. And churches, be generous with your pastor concerning his vacation days and time away from the church field. It’s difficult for pastors to truly get a “day off” unless they leave town. I know that was true for me (and with cell phones it’s next to impossible!).

There are other things you could add to this short list. And please do. My main point is this – a big part of a pastor’s responsibility is to model family-life for the church. One way we do this is by taking care of ourselves and our families. Our wives and children will understand when a pressing matter or crisis takes us away, as long as it is truly a crisis event and not us constantly scheduling them out of our lives.

Things happen. Pastors and parents make mistakes. We all do. But when we do, we need to repent and change course. That’s what I did in December 1995 when I spent 22 nights away from home leading up to Christmas. I’ve had to correct course since then as well, but I won’t quickly forget what I learned 21 years ago.

Ten Goals for Your Church in 2016

Standard

A few years ago a pastor announced a dream, or goal, to his church that didn’t really sit well with the folks. His dream was for the church to build a worship center that would seat ten times their current average attendance. The church wasn’t growing, so his dream wasn’t connected to accommodating recent growth. It was more of a “if we build it, they will come” kind of dream.

As I thought about his dream, or goal, I realized that there were several reasons his dream never achieved “lift off” with his people. First, it wasn’t connected to anything that God seemed to be doing through the church. They weren’t reaching many lost people, baptisms were low, and transformational growth in people wasn’t really happening. Thus, his dream wasn’t connected to God’s work in the church, or at least it wasn’t apparent that it was. Second, his dream did not address the spiritual needs of the church. It didn’t address the need for more prayer, more evangelism, or more leaders. It also didn’t tap into the spiritual needs and hunger of the people. It didn’t tie the people into the mission of God in their families and neighborhoods, or the nations beyond. Third, and this might not be fair to that pastor (thus no names or locations), but I wondered, “Whose ego does it stoke to build a huge worship center?” It didn’t stoke the ego, or stir the imagination, of the people in the pew. They would be asked to pay for a building for which the need was not apparent. Now, if the church was growing and spiritual transformation was happening on a regular basis, if they were experiencing the excitement of new births through their ministry, they might have gotten excited about building facilities to accommodate a growing ministry. But absent that, it appeared that the pastor’s dream wasn’t transferred into the hearts of many others.

I thought about the above story in a recent discussion I was having with a young pastor. He and I were talking about setting goals for their church for 2016. In light of that, I would like to suggest 10 goals for you to consider in 2016. Set goals to:

1. Pray for lost people by name. Pray for as many people as you have on Sunday morning. If you average 40 on Sunday morning, develop a prayer list of at least 40 lost people. Make this a part of your church’s prayer strategy. The people you pray for will be friends and family members of your church.

2. As a part of your prayer ministry, and outreach ministry, set a goal to reach the children and grandchildren of the attenders of your church. Connect your outreach ministry, and all that you do, to reaching children and grandchildren. Teach parents and grandparents how to share their spiritual stories and testimony with their own children, and lead them to do it. The MY316 evangelism resources provided by the NWBC can help you teach your church to do this.

3. Reach the children in your neighborhood and community. The ruffian down the street might marry your daughter or granddaughter one day. Lead him to Jesus first! These kids will work with you or for you. They will become teachers and business leaders and political leaders. They will be your neighbors and your children’s neighbors. Reach them for Christ early in their lives and build a better community as a result.

4. Train 10 percent of your church (average Sunday attendance) to share the gospel, and lead them to actually go into the community and share Christ. Many churches stopped weekly evangelistic visitation without replacing it with some other method of taking the gospel into the community. Find some way to connect those you train with lost people, lead them to share the gospel, and then share witnessing stories with your church.

5. Train XX number of new Bible study leaders. Small group Bible study leaders reach people. The more leaders you have the more people you will reach, serve, and deploy in ministry.

6. Start XX number of new Bible study groups. Goals 5 and 6 replace a goal to increase your average attendance. Attendance goals are not helpful if they do not include goals to train leaders and start small groups. A church’s average weekly attendance is about 10 per small group. Churches that average 70 in Bible study attendance have 7 small groups, for example. If you want to average 100 people, you need at least 10 small groups.

7. Train your church, not neglecting the children, in the principles of biblical stewardship. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Christian people must develop generous hearts toward God and His work. We must be taught to live within our means and not rob from God in order to indulge a lifestyle we cannot afford. As a part of this, invite the Northwest Baptist Foundation to conduct a “will and trust” seminar at your church. Seventy percent of our church members do not have a will, which is dangerous. Also, many continue to invest in the Kingdom after they are in heaven by setting up a trust that will finance Kingdom causes until Jesus returns. There are many good charitable causes, but Christian people need to fund Christian work that will glorify God.

8. Send XX numbers of people on mission this year. The NWBC has a partnership in East Asia, including a trip to serve 1,300 missionaries and their children at a retreat in Thailand next summer (July 30-August 6 or 11). This is but one opportunity to send church members on mission. Email Sheila Allen at sheila@nwbaptist.org for more information on this mission opportunity.

9. Provide quarterly community service opportunities for your church. By this you will bless your community and grow your people. Service to others should be a “first step” for new Christians and young people because we grow when we help and serve others. Jesus deployed His disciples in ministry long before they were “ready.” He knew this was necessary for their spiritual growth. He then debriefed them so that they could learn from their experiences.

10. Challenge every church member to develop relationships with non-church people. You could challenge them to develop one new relationship, or two, but get them focused on looking outside their Christian circle for a new friend.

I am sure that you can come up with other goals, including some that are better than some of these. The main thing is to focus on goals that build people, connect people to others, and connect people to God. If we do these well, we will reach more people for Christ, and we might have to move to a larger facility, or start a new worship service, or even a new church. But attendance grows as people grow spiritually and look outside the church walls to other peoples, people who need Jesus.