God’s Pursuing Love in Times of Crisis
Christ never stops pursuing unbelieving hearts.
Difficult times can cause people to pull back the drapes of their life to seek comfort, security, and spiritual truth. They become opportunities to allow the Light of Christ to stream through the window of their soul.
When viewed through the lens of divine mercy and grace, difficult times can be embraced. Trust in God’s promises deepens through adversity. Perseverance, character, and hope are produced through suffering (Romans 5:3-4). Fruits of the Spirit ripen from within redeemed souls who are firmly rooted in Christ. Those who are spiritually hunger and thirst for Truth will notice the fruits of peace, patience, and kindness and inquire of its source.
As a believer in Christ, moments of adversity can be embraced. Are you ready to provide an answer for the hope you have in Christ when anybody asks?
Christ’s pursuing love is perfect and unrelenting. He often demonstrates his power and glory to let us know that he is the Lord and Redeemer instead of ourselves.
Earthquakes are a good example.
Last week, the epicenter of a 6.5 earthquake occurred 73 miles north of my house in southwest Idaho. Some people described its arrival like a large truck barreling down the road. A jolt lasting a few seconds was followed by a gentle rolling that caused chandeliers to sway back and forth. It felt like your house was sitting on top of a large bowl of Jello.
We were at the mercy of a powerful force of nature. It was scary, slightly fun, and something you would rather not experience again.
The Lord can provide snapshots of his power and glory today to re-enforce portraits of the future.
There are probably no greater portraits than the descriptive and prophetic words found in the book of Revelation.
“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
[Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.]
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
The prophetic portraits of Christ’s second coming will be more powerful and stunning than an earthquake.
It will be more impactful than any pandemic.
The day of our Lord is coming. We have been properly forewarned.
How we embrace the future helps us with the present.
Like a potential groom that seduces with riches, glamour, and beauty, the world courts unsuspecting brides with lies and false hope.
Those who turn to the world for answers, trust in kings for security and provision, or rely on their intelligence and good works will be disappointed.
Those who believe in Christ and trust in his promises wait expectantly for his return.
Faith focuses on the future joys of heaven.
When difficult times seem overwhelming or doubts prompt us to question if Christ can deliver on his promises, Jesus could reply, “If I can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
And like the father whose son was delivered from evil spirits, we can reply, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
And Jesus delivers.
It’s natural to panic and struggle with faith during times of crisis.
How are we going to respond?
We are entering Holy Week during a time of national crisis. We are feeling the effects of social distancing, constant bad news, and pronouncements that this will be a bad week as a result of the corona virus.
Embracing truth means holding on to something firm and solid to ride out the earthquake and not fear.
The cross reminds us of Truth.
Christ continues to pursue because his perfect love is relentless. His invitation to unbelievers come with the words, “Your sins are fully forgiven. Believe!” His words are not just a proposal or an invitation, but they have the power to create faith, provide assurance, and sustain hope.
In God’s wisdom and purpose for his church, he uses believers to help spread the Word in an unbelieving world – especially during difficult times.
A living faith is willing to engage people for the sake of the gospel.
An active faith is willing to invite people despite outward appearances.
A trusting faith delivers invitations. They are willing to say, “Everything is ready. Christ has done it all for you to be right with God. Trust his love. He has sacrificed himself for you. His has risen! Believe.”
Faith anticipates the future joys of heaven.
Secure in Christ’s righteousness, faith embrace the present despite its sorrows and concerns.
Faith stops looking in the mirror and frets but looks out the window with Christ’s pursuing love and sees the lost.
With a renewed sense of urgency, believers share the gospel message with others.
I think that’s what Christ would ask us to do right now.
Capturing Opportunities to Provide Messages of Hope
In an ongoing series by the Barna Group to try and capture the state of the church in America, half of the pastors cited “declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism” as a major issue facing the church.
Sadly, this finding is not surprising. And, churches could be capturing opportunities in a time of uncertainly, discomfort – even panic. An incoming tide of receptivity to hear a message of hope is arriving at the doorsteps of professing Christians.
But, a lack of interest and preparedness is prompting many of us to remain quiet.
Our Lord and Savior who loves us beyond comprehension is already forgiving us. His grace and mercy already paid the price for our sins. And right now, with a clean slate and a heart full of love and thanksgiving, believers can be a bastion of hope and a proclaimer of Truth.
The Corona-virus pandemic is seizing the attention of the world as it should. People are looking to government leaders and science for solutions to help guide us back to a sense of normalcy.
A civilized society rests on their trust in its political institution. If people remain calm and not panic, it will be alright.
What about those who have been set apart by God to trust in his promises?
Justified by faith alone — fully redeemed through God’s grace alone — faith exemplifies itself through its confession and actions. It’s not that acts are motivated to be redeemed, but a spirit-generated response by being redeemed. Faith prompts a desire to spread the Word.
So, what’s the problem?
I believe the Barna report on the state of the church (“What’s on the mind of America’s Pastors”) is uncovering distinct patterns and clues for its problems and solutions.
For instance, a rise in the lack of interest to proclaim the gospel could be tied with a significant increase in the “low spiritual maturity among church goers” that pastors cite as a growing concern (27% in 2017 vs. 8% in 1992). U.S. pastors in the report also rank “watered down gospel teachings” (72%) as the largest issue facing the church during the America’s dramatic shift towards toward secularization.
These findings coincide with previous Barna reports which concluded that “evangelism has fallen out of favor even with young adults who are practicing Christians.” Coupled with “watered down gospel teachings” it’s not surprising that the next generation have a “distrust” of religious institutions.
When Christian churches appear more interested in aligning itself with political idealism and legislating morality, not willing to confront false teaching, and struggle with sanctified living among its leaders, then it’s going to be a struggle to reach those who distrust organized religion. A water-down gospel and spiritual immaturity sows the seeds of hypocrisy and a lack of interest to grow in God’s Word and proclaim it to others.
Like the Jewish people during the time of Christ, I wonder if professing Christians are far more interested in having a savior that promotes a return to a “moral” kingdom and prosperity rather than a Savior for our sins.
Like Jesus standing over Jerusalem, I wonder if he stands on a precipice today and weeps. How he may long to gather those he loves like a hen gather her checks under her wings through the power of his pure and unfettered Word.
When biblical truth is muddied by a watered-down understanding of God’s wrath and grace, people miss receiving the assurance and confidence of full redemption.
And this plays itself out by a lack of trust in God’s Word and a believer’s responsibility for spreading it.
Fear drives panic when there is a loss of trust in the institution of government for which God has established.
Fear drives panic when there is a loss of trust in his Word and the institution of the Church for which God has established.
A church loses its saltiness.
We can go to the Lord in prayer,
“O Sovereign Lord, Almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who establishes the universe – “who determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Ps. 147:4) – we humbly place our trust in your hands. We praise you, our Savior and friend. It is during serious times it can be the time to take your Word seriously. Grasp the collar of my soul and raise me up to boldly declare your name to my community. Forgive me for any timidity that could cause me to remain satisfied in being a light without a desire to give reasons for the hope I have in you. By the power of your Word, grant me to be salty when it seems the world around me is increasingly tasteless. With eyes fixated on you, Lord, grant me peace, confidence, and everlasting hope. In your name, Amen.”
Filling Your Jar of Awesomeness
A popular podcast host, Tim Ferriss, talked about his “jar of awesomeness”. Whenever anything good happened in his life or any small victories, he wrote it down on a slip of paper and placed in into a large glass jar. Since he had a strong tendency to dwell on the negative, he needed visible reminders that his work mattered.
Do you have a Jar of Awesomeness in your office or at your home?
Perhaps we all need one.
Positive comments, successes and compliments have a short shelf life. They are like perishable food items that quickly spoil.
Every win in life every time you nail it, we receive a few smiles, a few high-fives with co-workers and family members, then all too quickly say to ourselves, “yea, whatever” and move on to the next day, the next project, or some other problem that needs to be solved.
Negative comments, failures, and complaints have a longer shelf life. They stay in the cupboards of our mental pantry for years and never spoil.
Every time we mess-up tends to be treated like a doomsday event. Outwardly we tell ourselves that it will be okay. Co-workers and family members give pats of encouragement, but the devastation of messing up can be crippling. Our inner voice – if unfettered – can routinely and unexpectedly deliver sharp pangs of guilt and remorse.
I hate when that happens.
Owning a jar of awesomeness may not be a bad idea for personal evangelism.
Perhaps the greatest barrier for many Christians to overcome is not learning what to proclaim but having the courage to say something. Guilt, the fear of messing up again can rob faithful Christian believers from participating in one of the greatest exercises of our faith – proclaiming the Good News to others.
And pastors are not immune to this either.
A pastor may carefully prepare and deliver a message on Sunday morning and receive handshakes and a few complimentary remarks by wonderful faithful members. But what do they reflect upon on Monday morning?
A grumpy member who makes an unloving comment.
A prospect family who were not there… again.
Empty seats rather then ones who filled them.
Any golden moment of joy can quickly evaporate when Monday morning greets us with new challenges, old problems, and a guilty complex.
A jar of awesomeness may not be enough, but it may be a good start.
There are times when we feel stuck in life, when activities don’t seem to be gaining traction, when results don’t seem to match our perceived efforts.
Some experts talk about the importance of keeping a daily journal. There are books that help people record measurable goals and celebrating victories. I began to apply this in my life, and it has made a difference.
I record each positive comment and reflect upon each goal accomplished.
I have discovered that small victories matter in the big picture by helping sustain momentum to accomplish difficult and greater tasks.
Like personal evangelism.
Praise and Proclaim believes in celebrating small victories. This means trusting the power of God’s Word over our ability to share words with others. It means that God uses every gospel seed that is planted even though we may never see the results.
And sometimes, the greatest victory occurs when a faithful Christian shows up, steps way outside of their comfort zones, and provides a short reason for the hope they have in Christ whenever God provides opportunities.
Whenever Christian believers proclaim God’s Word – and do so with love and respect – its impossible to mess up! And that is something we ought to record and put in a glass jar. Because that is awesome!
Keeping our cup full
Now, I don’t have a “jar of awesomeness” on display in my office, but I ought to have something else that is far more important.
A Styrofoam cup.
A pastor once gave a visible reminder of God’s grace for the young men and women who sat before him on their confirmation.
He held out a Styrofoam cup full of water. He told them that on our baptism day, our cups overflow with the water of God’s grace. However, sin pokes tiny holes into our cup and the water that once overflowed begins to leak out. But God in his wisdom has provided us with his means of grace that freely and generously pours the water into our cup to keep it overflowing. Not good works or happy feelings – nice compliments or projects completed – but the waters of God’s grace that gives us peace and purpose, patience and perseverance, and the will to remain in his embrace.
I like recording victories, compliments, and remembrances that God is working in me, through me, and for me each day of my life. But I can’t plug all the leaks in my flimsy cup no matter how hard I try. When guilt is overwhelming, I remind myself of the awesome victory that Christ won for me – and that promise is enough.
Curing Evangelism Influenza
The following is a re-post from 2018 that is one of my favorites. The points are ones that I consistently go back to for myself and for others in my evangelism training. I hope the words are meaningful for you as well. [Dave]
Whenever the topic of personal evangelism comes up at church, the response from members can be like a sudden attack of evangelism influenza. Perhaps you have seen or felt its symptoms — queasy stomach, nausea, sweaty palms, or feeling faint. I may have a remedy for faithful believers to consider.
These symptoms are common for people because fear is part of our human nature.
There is the fear of public speaking, fear of being emotionally hurt, fear of heights, fear of snakes, and the fear of being humiliated. And that is the short list.
In a recent blog post by David Sherry, entitled “The Cure for Small Talk,” he talks about how he dreads small talk and avoids it as much as possible. It’s not the fear of people, he wrote, but the dreaded feeling of awkwardness when you don’t know what to say.
What is his cure?
Whenever you are placed in a situation where small talk is inevitable, it is helpful to understand that everybody has hang-ups. Life is tough no matter how hard we try to hide it. His solution is to listen carefully and attentively. When people express a problem that they are having at work or with a family member, always answer, “Wow… that must be tough!”
He suggests that when people place the focus on others instead of themselves, the awkwardness of small talk dissipates. People will come across to others as being engaging and sincere. They will appreciate a person who expresses care and concern by listening to them.
The same fears he expressed about small talk are like the fears people have for verbally proclaiming the gospel.
We hate feeling awkward. And as a result, we tend to avoid witnessing.
Let’s modify some of David’s cures to help us avoid getting sick with evangelism influenza.
- Everybody has fears
Everybody has fears about personal evangelism and that is comforting to know. People who appear to have the gift for evangelism, articulate pastors, and seasoned missionaries all have struggled or continue to struggle with fear. And like everybody else, we sometimes go to great lengths to hide our fears through excuses, being too busy, or completely avoiding it.
I struggle with fear also.
It has taken me a thousand doors and hundreds of attempts before I finally reached a point where the symptoms of evangelism influenza don’t affect me as much.
It’s comforting to know that it’s perfectly natural to fear personal evangelism because personal evangelism is perfectly unnatural. That’s why we need to hold on to Christ’s promises.
Many faithful Christians have a desire to share their faith with others. But, they can easily fall into a trap when they start focusing entirely on learning what to say while ignoring other components that are equally as important.
A person can learn every possible answer to every possible question from an unbeliever. They can memorize hundreds of Bible verses, but it will still not be enough to cure evangelism influenza.
Learning how to verbally proclaim the gospel starts with taking the focus off of ourselves. That can happen in two ways.
First, instead of flailing like Peter who tried to walk on water, we fix our eyes on Christ and his promises. When we step out into the scary waters of the world to share our faith, we keep our eyes on Christ to walk and stay afloat.
Second, when we fix our eyes on Christ we can see what Christ sees. His eyes are fixed on those who are lost. They are focused on furrowed fields ready to be planted with his Word. When we see what Jesus sees a potential mission field suddenly embraces Jesus words when he says, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.”
People in today’s world are not going to want to hear an answer for the hope we have in Christ until they know that we sincerely care about them. The eternal consequences of sin prompted the Apostle Paul to be all things to all people to win as many as possible. Evangelism starts with empathy for the lost and the ghastly eternal consequences of hell.
How can we overcome the fear of awkwardness of not knowing what to say?
Listen first, talk later.
To receive an audience, you must first gain an audience.
To gain an audience, you must first be an audience.
Evangelism is about using our eyes and ears before we use our tongue. We look for opportunities and God delivers. We listen first to what a person is concerned about, then provide answers based on God’s Word to address those specific concerns.
Faithful Christians already know the gospel. They know Jesus and what he has already done for them. People want to hear about your faith and why Jesus is real to you. When a Christian initially engages an unbeliever, they don’t want to hear a canned presentation or be bombarded with Bible verses. Be who you are in Christ.
Evangelism influenza is highly contagious because proclaiming the gospel is 100% contrary to our human nature. For that reason, proclaiming the gospel is far more God working in us and through us instead of us working for God. The cure is Christ. Out of deep love for him, we become willing messengers of the sacrificial and costly work God has already done for us through Christ.
Let’s keep our eyes fixed on him.
7 Questions I Never Hear When I Go Canvassing
The presidential primary season is in full swing. Campaign volunteers are exercising their zeal to ultimately win the election in November. The volunteers are willing to do all things for all people to convince fellow party members to vote for their candidate – even going to their doors.
Political volunteers embrace questions at the door rather than fear them. Every question is an opportunity to give reasons for the hope they have in their candidate and our country’s future.
Faithful Christians often refrain from proclaiming the gospel because they fear questions from those who don’t believe in Christ. It’s intimidating to be placed in a position where they might not know the answer or give false information.
Faithful Christians need not fear questions from unbelievers but celebrate them.
Evangelism means proclaiming the gospel to unsaved souls. They are a different audience than those who believe in Jesus.
In my experience of going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel, the toughest questions typically come from those who already belong to a church or an avowed atheist looking for a fight.
Those who are far from Jesus and need to hear the Good News have a completely different mindset. They will make comments and ask questions that many Christians would never expect. They are a unique audience with a far different knowledge base.
Here is an example of seven questions that I never hear from the unchurched when I go canvassing to proclaim the gospel.
#1 What denomination do you belong to?
#2 What does your church teach about baptism and holy communion?
#3 Are you a liturgical church or do you sing Christian contemporary songs?
#4 How long are the sermons?
#5 What is your pastor like? Could he stop by for a visit so I can meet him?
#6 What version of the Bible do you use?
#7 What does your church teach about the end times?
These questions are more important for Christians who are church shopping, but they will not come from those who are spiritually lost or don’t have a church home.
What type of questions do I hear from those who have not stepped inside a church for many years?
Do you allow
gays in your church?
Do you have to be a member to attend your community event at church?
Does God forgive every sin?
Could your church accept someone like me?
Our world has changed so much that faithful Christians may not realize how people view the church or how little they know about what the Bible teaches. Unchurched people are heavily influenced by the media and what the world believes what Christianity ought to teach. We can’t assume they are rejecting the Truth because so many people have never really heard the Truth before. They don’t know that they don’t know. And those with a previous church background have stopped going to church because they longer want to feel judged, tired of trying to meet certain standards to be acceptable or find church no longer relevant in their life.
Christian believers should not be afraid to answer spiritual questions because people today are not bothering to ask them. Therefore, one of the greatest victories in evangelism is creating a safe and trusted environment where intrigued people who don’t have saving faith can ask questions and not feel threatened.
I am humbled and admire the zeal of political campaign volunteers. They are willing to go to the people to win votes for their candidate. Perhaps Christians can learn a lesson from them. With zeal sparked by the love of our Savior and engulfed by the power of his Word, we can go out to the people to bring Good News about our Candidate – Jesus Christ. He has already won!
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Asking the right questions
Churches can often feel stuck when they ask the wrong questions.
Naturally prone to replicate, copy, or model church programs or ideas that are deemed “successful,” churches are prompted to focus on asking the “How?” questions because they are easy to ask.
One of my favorite podcasts is called “How I Built This” from NPR. It’s an appropriate title. A host sits down for an hour and talks with people about how they started their multi-million-dollar businesses. Their stories are fascinating and varied.
Most successful start-ups emerge by meeting unmet needs that are not being filled rather than assuming that they exist. Copying other ideas often don’t lead to success. Even though starting a profitable business requires hard work and persistence, building a sustainable business is often a reflection of who you are rather than what you do. At the end of each podcast, the successful founder will usually say that their business success was a surprise. It was not so much “How I built this”, but why they built it in the first place.
I think it is the same with churches launching new evangelism and outreach programs.
They tend to focus solely on other “successful” programs to borrow their ideas, follow their steps, and construct their blueprints.
Yet, in this ever-changing world with its complex dynamics, copying what already has been done can prove to be limiting and fruitless.
A more appropriate question to ask is “Why?”
It’s a philosophical question that ultimately fuels inspiration and persistence. It helps to avoid the debilitating effect of looking for easy, quick fixes to achieve numerical success. More importantly, it’s a question that values innovation.
You can ask, “What do you do?” but it needs to be quickly followed up with a better question. “Why did you do that?”
For example, “Why did you attempt this idea to reach people with the gospel in your community?”
When you ask this question to “successful” congregations – a large majority of them will provide surprising answers in the following ways:
- Their answers will tend to focus on bringing as many people as possible to heaven through the power of God’s Word rather than scour the neighborhoods looking for new members.
- Their answers will tend to focus on who they are rather than what they do.
- Their answers will tend to be within the context of how they see their mission rather than launching activities to enter a mission field.
- Their answers will tend to be based on a mission strategy that seeks to meet specific needs rather than assume they exist.
- Their answers will tend to develop approaches that fully exercises the gifts and talents of their members rather than pigeon-hole them into acts of service.
When congregations see another congregation that God is blessing with successful outreach programs and numerical growth it’s important to try and understand the context of their vision versus what they are doing.
Praise and Proclaim has been blessed with launching outreach initiatives and providing personal evangelism training across the country. With every initiative, Jesus is proven to be right. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. The challenge is that people are no longer coming to church on their own. They need personal contact. They need to see faces. They are more willing to hear the reasons for the hope believers have in Christ rather than listen to a sermon. They need to hear answers to the “Why?” questions in life. “Why do you go to church?” “Why do you believe in Christ?” “Why do you have peace in your life that goes beyond understanding?”
When congregations start asking and answering the “Why?” questions they are positioning themselves to uniquely gain an audience to proclaim the Good News.
Stranger evangelism versus Friendship evangelism
The Bible seems to suggest that personal evangelism is more about making yourselves available than it is about manufacturing moments. Believers are encouraged to be prepared to provide an answer for the hope we have in Christ to “anybody who asks”. (1 Peter 3:15) The emphasis in this verse is on being prepared and God will orchestrate opportunities by providing people to ask a question.
Philip and the Ethiopian provides a compelling example. (Acts 8:26-40)
While travelling Phillip made himself available to be used by God. The Lord provided an opportunity by prompting him to meet a man on the road. God’s Word was already working in the man’s heart with the Truth and God provided him with a willing servant who was prepared to answer.
The essence of evangelism is to be prepared to provide a short answer and be available to be used by God. The Lord then orchestrates opportunities to comfortably and confidently provide a gospel message.
People say that friendship evangelism is the most effective form of proclaiming the gospel because a bridge of trust has already been built with that person. They are more willing to receive an invitation to come to church or hear a reason for the hope we have in Christ.
Yet, one of the greatest fears about evangelism is the fear of rejection. Relationship evangelism is perceived as too risky and prompts many to remain quiet. Is relationship evangelism easier than stranger evangelism?
People say that stranger evangelism is effective because a person doesn’t know them. Yet, it is is perceived as too risky for the fear of messing up or saying something wrong. Is stranger evangelism easier than friendship evangelism?
There is not a good answer because evangelism is never easy.
A better question may be, “Which is more comfortable?”
When a believer has prepared themselves to give an answer for the hope they have in Christ, it really doesn’t matter if it is stranger evangelism or relationship evangelism. It’s not about concentrating on what is perceived to be the most effective – or easier – but what is the most comfortable.
Witnessing to strangers
When Praise and Proclaim leads a door-to-door proclaiming experience it’s always impressive to see how surprised church members are when they see the amount of awareness about their congregation. People typically drive by their church every day. They read the signs and message boards. They notice when there are cars in the parking lot. They gauge the amount of activity.
They also discover that most strangers are polite and friendly when they quickly find out that the person knocking on their door is from the church down the street. They usually will come across a person who has been waiting for an invitation to come to church. Sometimes, they are going through a personal or family crisis and the Lord sends the right person at the right time. The Lord provides a window of opportunity to hear some Good News.
God orchestrates opportunities by sending the right person at the right time to deliver Good News to a stranger.
Witnessing to friends
Friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members carefully observe and notice how a friend who confesses their faith in Christ deals with a personal or family crisis. A calm assurance during life’s storms is a powerful testimony to a life in Christ that remains steadfast in Christ’s promises.
Witnessing rarely feels like its manufactured but a natural overflow of a faithful heart that cares about their friend.
Prompted by love, a spiritual conversation can start. Being a light for Christ has set the table to introduce Christ through the power of his Word. A calm conviction opens our lips and eases our nerves to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ to listening ears.
Being prepared to witness to friends or strangers is a powerful form of evangelism. Yet, Jesus is right. The harvest is “plentiful” and the workers are few. Well-intentioned, faithful believers in Christ tend to stand in the shadows and remain silent because they are uncomfortable.
Witnessing to friends and strangers
The most comfortable and effective personal evangelism strategy is proclaiming the gospel to strangers who are friends.
In my experience of partnering with congregations and providing personal evangelism training, the most comfortable witnessing opportunity is with friends of your church. It is low risk because it is stranger evangelism. It is powerful because its friendship evangelism.
Friends of the church are people who have expressed interest in learning more about your church. They are young families who send their children to preschool or a youth outreach event. They may have recently attended a worship service or attended a family event. They are friends of the church who have already expressed a willingness to hear a reason for the hope that you have in Christ.
Witnessing to strangers who are friends of the church is commonly referred to as a follow-up visit. Most of the time, a connection has been formed with the pastor or teacher. And that is good. But the best way to further a relationship is when members become involved. We need not be bashful because they have already given the church permission to build a relationship with them by providing their contact information. And like any relationship, sometimes that takes time.
We don’t manufacture as much as God orchestrates a person’s interest in your church. Comforted by this truth, believers can discover how meaningful these evangelism visits can be.
- Be prepared to give a short succinct answer for the hope we have in Christ.
- Be available to be used by God to provide that answer by being gospel intentional in our daily lives.
- Be willing through Word and sacrament to be used by to God to advance his kingdom – and you will be used.
Gaining an Audience to Hear the Word
I wonder if Peter thought Jesus was crazy.
An experienced fisherman, he knew where and when fish were most likely to be caught. When Jesus told him to go back into the deep waters and throw the net out, it was probably the stupidest idea he had ever heard. Worn out and exhausted from a long day of catching nothing, Peter was probably in no mood to try an idea that he thought had little chance of succeeding.
Especially from a carpenter!
“But because you say so, [Peter replied] I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
When hearing the call to proclaim the Good News, disheartened, seasoned believers can balk like Peter. Holding an empty net in their hands after another outreach event, they look at paltry results and empty pews and mutter, “What’s the point? Nothing seems to work.”
And then they hear a crazy idea.
“You want me to go out into the deep waters of this world to throw a net? You want me to talk to unchurched people who appear to be disinterested, disengaged, and disrespectful of organized religion?” Worn out and exhausted, they think to themselves, “Nobody cares. They are not going to listen! Trust me, there are no fish to catch!”
“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
In this oversaturated world with information overflow, there are many nets in the water already. Fake news, click bait, and empty promises routinely snag unsuspecting browsers.
Companies and start-ups struggle to capture the attention of potential buyers. The successful ones who are separating themselves from others are painstakingly building credibility – a reputation of quality. They call this “branding”. It’s not about designing an attractive logo but gaining an audience by delivering on promises one customer at a time.
Gaining an audience to hear God’s Word is a mighty struggle.
People are disengaging themselves from the church for a variety of reasons. Many of them have had bad experiences at church or have observed professing Christians behaving badly. The next generation is rejecting their parent’s notion that they must go to church for the sake of going to church. The perceived brand of a church is unwelcoming, judgmental, money-hungry and irrelevant.
It’s not that the Word no longer works, but the Word is struggling to get out.
What are some ways for churches to gain an audience to hear the Word?
We gain an audience by building a platform of trust.
Trust compels people to try you out.
In the business world, it’s about creating a “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decisions to choose one product or service over another.” (Seth Godin)
Gaining an audience is not about making a church attractive but being real. It’s about presenting yourselves – stains and all – as real people who are daily trusting and immersing themselves on the message of the cross.
People today are willing to invest themselves in people, not ideas.
We gain an audience by welcoming and accepting broken people.
Churches tend to communicate something they are not. They use stock photos of beautiful people who look put together. Christian catchphrases that are meaningful for seasoned believers can come across as “churchy” to the unchurched. People are not looking for phoniness whether its unintentional or not.
A welcoming church takes on the attitude of “being all things to all people so that by all possible means they might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) This means preparing to welcome and accept people who are not like themselves.
Broken people are desperately seeking for a place to belong. Many are biblically illiterate. It’s not that they are rejecting the Truth, it’s that they have never heard it clearly communicated before. They don’t know that they don’t know. And many times, people are not willing to admit that they don’t know until life throws them a curveball. Broken and shattered, they desperately are looking for answers that the world is not providing.
Those are the people who are walking through church doors on a Sunday morning.
If Christians think its scary going canvassing, it is even more scary for an unchurched person to come to church on a Sunday morning when they don’t know anybody. They are making a huge personal investment. They are taking an enormous risk. They are giving your church a “free 30-day trial” to test your product and service. They are savvy shoppers who typically look for any excuse to lose their trust.
We gain an audience by being welcoming and transparent. We keep an audience by telling our story.
Life-long Christians baptized as infants have wonderful stories to tell.
The greatest stories are not necessarily how an unbeliever receives faith, but how a seasoned believer remains in the faith.
People watch and observe. They are willing to hear how you weather the storms of life, keep temptations at bay, and exhibit peace, hope, and love when the world seems dark.
Despite what believers perceive on the outside, people are willing to hear reasons for the hope that believers have in Christ.
Rooted in Christ, our stories center on Christ and trusting his promises. Believers don’t have to paint a rosy picture of themselves to make Christ attractive, nor present ourselves as wise and eloquent, but point to the source of our Trust lest we rob the message of its power.
Businesses grow by word-of-mouth. Churches gain an audience by developing a powerful Word-of-mouth network. Reputations are built and stories are told. And people remember stories and faces far more than they remember facts.
Personal evangelism is a crazy idea.
Jesus told the disciples “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This charge is given to all who believe in him and reiterated in the Great Commission. To be fishers of men means you don’t wait for people to jump into your boat, but you go out into the dark, murky water of sin and put nets into the water.
Word and sacrament gospel ministries that are overflowing with grace and peace can’t help but take Christ at his Word. With pure thankfulness for what Christ has done, we prayerfully consider crazy ideas.
Go into the world and make disciples of all nations seems like a wild notion.
Yet, believers do so, not because they think it will work or not…
“But because you say so…”