Reaching the world starts with our neighbors
When overwhelmed by the mission of the church to teach all nations and the great commission given to go and make disciples, Jesus provides us with a witnessing tip to get started.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
It is a simple strategy yet profoundly difficult.
It means to sacrifice our own self-interests for the interest of others. It means to stop absorbing ourselves in our own little world and capture the interest of those living around us – for the sake of the gospel.
Love my neighbor as myself? It’s hard-enough just to know their names.
When it comes to employing outreach strategies, we tend to forget that the best mission is to work the field where God has planted us. Whether a subdivision, apartment building, townhomes, or living on forty acres, we all have neighbors. We wave at them when we drive by their house. We watch their kids grow up from a distance, buy their children’s cookie dough when they knock on our doors, or watch them mow the lawn on a warm summer day.
Neighbors are people Jesus refers to when he asks us to engage the world and proclaim his message.
A simple strategy yet profoundly difficult.
When I view my house as a castle – a private sanctuary to exercise my natural inclination to be left alone to recharge my battery – it is difficult to love my neighbor as myself. I struggle to get past the “good morning” wave because I’m too tired to engage.
If you are like me, I have some good news for us. Jesus forgives us. To love our neighbor as ourselves needs a clean heart, a renewed spirit, and a refurbished zeal. Touched by his grace, filled with the fruits of Christ’s life in us, we can take that first step out of our comfort zones and be who God desires us to be – a good neighbor for the sake of the gospel.
I would like to offer the following suggestions to help us do that:
Be visible by taking slow meandering walks throughout your neighborhood. Pray for the houses that you walk by. And whenever you see a person, stop and chat with them. Introduce yourself and get to know their name. Be bold by asking how you can pray for them and their family. [I am discovering how powerful this walk can be.]
Be vulnerable and not worry about making a good impression or try to be somebody you are not. By remaining in Christ, your neighbors will see Christ through you. And that’s okay!
Be discerning in all your words and actions because your neighbors are watching. They observe you leaving for church on a Sunday morning and when you return. They watch how you interact with your spouse and children. Let’s not give our neighbors excuses to reject hearing the Truth when they see us behaving like a hypocrite.
Be gospel intentional. Keep your eyes and ears open to all opportunities that God provides. Be a first responder when people need help. Be that person in your neighborhood for people to go to when they have a spiritual question.
The Bible tells us to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ to anybody who asks. (1 Peter 3:15)
Anybody who asks? Isn’t that interesting.
It seems that part of being an evangelist for Christ is not necessarily pulling on sleeves to gain an audience but be willing to provide an answer when somebody tugs on our sleeve to ask a question.
That is a different dynamic.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves places ourselves into positions to have our sleeve tugged to answer a question. And that can start by getting to know the names of our neighbors and allowing them to know us.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves doesn’t stop at being a light for Christ but taking that next step to verbally reveal the source of that Light.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves means daily reminding ourselves to be gospel intentional throughout the day.
Love for Christ prompts us to be willing messengers and good neighbors. And God takes that willingness and provides us with opportunities to convey the reasons for the hope we have in Christ.
And that’s how believers reach the world with the Good News. It starts with our neighbor.
Proclaiming the gospel in Seattle
Seattle is a beautiful city. On a warm, sunny day during the summer, the majestic mountains and the glistening waters makes the Emerald City stand out as a wonderful place to vi
Illumine Church is a new mission restart in North Seattle. Pastor Kent Reeder arrived from South Carolina a few months ago. While maintaining ties with Illumine in Rock Hill, SC the new start in Seattle will utilize similar methodology yet tailor their message and approach to a unique audience.
Praise and Proclaim Ministries had the privilege to launch an outreach initiative to help Illumine Church introduce themselves to the neighborhoods surrounding the congregation.
Grace Lutheran Church had existed in north Seattle for over fifty years. For the past several years, they shared a pastor with Salem Lutheran Church in Edmonds, WA. Together, the congregations voted to close their doors. After the sale of its property in Edmonds, the former members directed the district mission board to oversee the effort to rebuild on the Grace Lutheran property utilizing the funds from Salem. Plans are moving forward to build a new ministry center next to the sanctuary.
The people living in the Seattle community are unique. They are more global-minded than other regions in the U.S. and look for ways to serve their community. They seem more willing to support projects designed to help people in need, the environment, or animals. They are not interested in organized religion. And they are not afraid to tell you that.
Praise and Proclaim provides evangelism training for members so that they can verbally proclaim the gospel with comfort and confidence. We adapted our methodology and approach with the people we met at the door to introduce the new church on Greenwood Avenue. But even with that change, when the word “church” was mentioned, they immediately held up their hands and said, “I’m not interested. That’s not for me!” Some people were firmer than others to express themselves.
Though we met our share of people who may have not expressed interest in a church, the Lord did provide opportunities to provide a short gospel message. We also rejoiced that several people expressed interest to connect with Pastor Reeder and desire to be a part of the Illumine church family.
Pastor Reeder is aware of the challenge of restarting a new church. He is adapting his approach, the messaging, and how the ministry center will both serve the community and proclaim the message of the gospel. It was a joy to help introduce the ministry of Illumine to the community. The new ministry center is scheduled to be completed in 2020. In the meantime, we ask the Lord to bless the efforts of Pastor Reeder and a core group of members who are busy planning and introducing themselves to the community.
Images from Seattle
The outreach initiative was blessed to have members from Faith Lutheran Church in Prior Lake, MN who came to participate. They traveled to Seattle in partnership with WELS Mission Journeys. Together with members from Holy Trinity (Des Moines, WA), Cross of Christ (Boise) and St. Matthew (Spokane, WA), we were blessed with a group to go out and assist the gospel ministry at Illumine. It was exciting to see the vision, the planning, and the desire to connect with families in Seattle and proclaim the gospel to them. May the Lord continue to bless their efforts.
Seeking permission to proclaim
Evangelism is uncomfortable because the Truth is uncomfortable.
Believers are used by God to spread the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14) and proclaim the knowledge of Truth. For those who are saved, it is fragrant. For those who are lost, the fragrance of Truth is repugnant (v. 15).
We live in an age where compassion, love, or tolerance means that we are not to invade somebody’s personal space. It means allowing people to do what they want contrary to the Truth – and be approving of their behavior.
Since we live in an age of comfort and don’t like to be uncomfortable, the fear of rejection or be labeled a fool is heightened.
Jesus often made people uncomfortable. He welcomed inconvenience. He risked rejection.
He revealed his love and compassion by asking difficult questions.
me?” (Mark 5:31)
“What do you want..?” (John 1:37)
You are Israel’s teacher… and do you not understand these things? (John 3:10)
You are right when you say you have no husband…” (John 4:17)
“What are you discussing…? (Luke 24:17)
Do you believe in the Son of Man? (John 9:35)
“Woman, why are you crying? (John 20:13)
There are some people who are prone to be confrontational. They are not afraid to ask difficult questions. Others grew up in families where it was important for their survival to keep feelings and problems to themselves. They avoided confrontation because the consequences were too risky.
Jesus helps all Christians by presenting a formula on how to step out of our comfort zones and engage our culture today.
Jesus asked questions to reveal the Truth.
Proclaiming the gospel can begin by asking pertinent, loving, probing questions. It expresses to the person that you care; you are interested in them; you are willing to be inconvenienced.
Instead of thinking about what you want to say next, catch yourself and ask a question that is directly related to what a person just said.
Instead of launching into an unrelated topic after a person is finished, follow up with appropriate questions to further another person’s thoughts.
When a person is more interested in getting their point across rather digging deeper to learn more about a person’s feelings, or attitudes, you may miss a golden opportunity. Instead of going around in circles to win the discussion, asking questions forces you to pause and listen. You may discover a clue on how to lead them toward hearing about what Jesus has already done for us.
When we ask questions, we are seeking permission to proclaim the Truth.
Sometimes a stubborn viewpoint contrary to Scripture really stems from having a bad experience at church. Listening uncovers this truth and provides a sympathetic ear that apologizes for sinful behavior. You are asking permission to proclaim the gospel.
Sometimes a rigid view contrary to what the Bible teaches come from disappointment in God. Tragedy or heart-felt loss can twist a heart and deny that God really cares about people. This perception can skew viewpoints and stubbornly resist the Truth. Asking probing questions uncovers this truth and provides a sympathetic ear. You are asking permission to proclaim the gospel.
Whenever Christians wonder how to start a spiritual conversation and proclaim the Truth, we can follow Jesus’ example. Ask probing questions and be led how to provide the hope that we have in Christ.
Thoughts from this post adapted from the article, “Jesus was nosy and you should be too” by Jim Morgan.
The changing dynamic of evangelism and how its effecting a pastor’s role
As our society continues its rapid ascent into the digital age, the dynamic of personal interaction, communication, and how people live is being transformed.
Rather than gradual shifts, change is ever-present and immediate.
Rather than trends that stretch and retract like a rubber band, the digital age is redefining life and establishing a new standard of normal.
Shifts and trends in society have always impacted the Christian church. The challenge is adapting to these changes while preserving the doctrines of the church.
Another challenge is adapting strategies to meet these trends and how it effects a pastor’s role.
Proclaiming the gospel in Winneconne WI
St. Paul Lutheran Church (established 1885) in Winneconne WI has recently been experiencing a transformation.
In 2018, the village (pop. 2,435) went through a major construction project. The main street was torn up and rebuilt along with a new bridge over the Wolf River. Now that the project is complete, the beautiful church at St. Paul Lutheran continues to prominently sit on the refurbished street.
In conjunction with the new construction, St. Paul also completed a major remodeling project that was finished last spring. They now have a beautiful new narthex area for people to meet after worship service and two spacious bathrooms that are now handicapped accessible.
This is an exciting time for the gospel ministry at St. Paul Lutheran Church. It was a privilege for Praise and Proclaim Ministries to arrive the weekend of July 26-28, 2019 to launch an outreach initiative and provide evangelism training.
Summer is a great time to connect with people in Winneconne. The main downtown is built along the Wolf River and in the middle of the Wolf Chain of Lakes. This includes the lakes of Winneconne, Poygan and Butte des Morts. Many bass fishing tournaments are conducted throughout the summer and people love to utilize the large fishing bridge along the river.
About twenty miles east of Winneconne, the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow was being held at the same time of the outreach initiative. Billed as the largest airshow in the world, it was reported that the weeklong event attracted a record 642,000 people. It was common to hear several private aircraft buzzing over the village throughout the week.
The initiative began with two and a half hours of training on Friday evening. Over fifty members and guests gathered in the church basement. This included long-time faithful members who wanted to learn more about personal evangelism and young families with children.
Despite the warm weather and busy summer plans, a core group of members gathered on Saturday morning to go door-to-door to put their training into action. They were eager and admittedly nervous. The Lord provided wonderful opportunities for them to employ a methodology and approach. They comfortably provided a short gospel message to people throughout the neighborhoods surrounding the congregation.
A part of Praise and Proclaim’s methodology and approach to training members how to verbally proclaim the gospel includes an invitation to a community event hosted by the congregation. St. Paul Lutheran decided to organize a National Night Out for the evening of August 6th. A postcard was mailed out a week before the initiative and participants utilized a half-page flyer to invite people to the event. Members were trained to use these tools to comfortably transition to proclaiming a brief gospel message.
Members of St. Paul Lutheran also handed out the half-page flyers to people during the annual Sovereign State Day parade held the previous weekend in Winneconne. One man who lived along the shores of Lake Winneconne immediately told a person at his door, “I already got one of those at the parade.”
On Saturday morning and afternoon, members from St. Paul Lutheran knocked on over five hundred doors to immediately put their training into action. Here are a few of their stories:
While walking toward their first house in the morning, a two-person team noticed a man who was sitting on a bench outside of a senior care center. They walked up and had a short visit with him. He told them that he was a former member of a Wisconsin synod church in Superior, WI and was looking for a new church home. A great start!
Three ladies from St. Paul Lutheran thoroughly enjoyed working together and greeting people at their door. They came across an older man and had a short visit with him. About ten minutes later, the same man walked briskly towards them. All that he wanted to do was apologize if he had been brusque with them. He told the ladies who appeared at his door that he read the half-page invite and sincerely appreciated the message. That morning he was thinking about how to attain peace while working out on his Stairmaster. He wanted to let the ladies know that he appreciated their message.
Another team met a young man who stated that he already belonged to a church. He pointed next door and advised them not to visit a lady who had been adversarial to the gospel message. The team seriously considered taking the man’s advice when they started to walk past the lady’s bungalow. At the last second, they decided against it and boldly walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. The lady happened to be at home and answered the door. She confessed to be a believer in Christ but did not attend a church. The team shared with her what the Bible teaches about grace and redemption to receptive ears. The visit turned out to be a wonderful spiritual conversation that lasted forty-five minutes. After their conversation, the team from St. Paul Lutheran walked away rejoicing at the opportunity the Lord provided to share Christ’s message of salvation.
And they almost didn’t stop to ring her doorbell!
We rejoice that members from St. Paul Lutheran Church proclaimed the gospel eighty-one times on Saturday! We trust that the Word is working in the hearts and minds of those who heard the message.
During the worship service at St. Paul Lutheran the following Sunday morning, the New Testament reading included the following verse; “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:2-3)
During the outreach initiative, members discovered that Jesus is right! The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. God commissions all believers to proclaim the gospel and the power of his Word is unleashed in the hearts and minds of people who hear it. Believers can full trust that God’s hand is in the number of people who respond.
And now we know that a number of those few workers in Winnebago County belong to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Winneconne!
May the Lord continue to bless their faithful gospel work!
Reflections from members at St. Paul Lutheran:
A mission field with the greatest potential
Before congregations strategize about sharing the gospel with lost souls in their community it may be important to clearly define those who are lost.
In the most succinct way, a “lost” soul is a person who does not have saving faith in Christ. Some have stubbornly and willfully rejected the existence of God. Others believe that there is a higher power, but have rejected the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A large majority adhere to a world religion that attempts to provide a path for a soul to attain perfect righteousness and harmony with the universe. These are lost souls who are easier to distinguish from those who place their trust in God’s promises in Christ Jesus.
There is another group of lost souls that are more difficult to distinguish. They live in our neighborhoods across the U.S. and have clearly become a ripe mission field with great potential.
Studies are revealing that there is a growing number of people who may claim to be Christian, profess a belief in God, and pray intermittently, but are refraining from being an active member of a Christian church. They may feel an affiliation with a certain church or denomination, but rarely attend except for weddings, funerals, and Christmas Eve services. This gives evidence to the fact that Christ may not be real or relevant in their lives.
Dean Inserra, author of the book, “The Unsaved Christian”, refers to this group of people as “cultural Christians”. They are lost souls who are reachable and need to hear the Good News.
From my experience with Praise and Proclaim Ministries and conducting door-to-door evangelism campaigns throughout the U.S., I have met many people who could be considered “cultural Christians”. They live in the Bible belt, west coast, east coast, and the Midwest. They may declare a belief in God but they don’t know Jesus. I am convinced that many of them have never heard a clear message of who Christ is and what he has already done for our salvation. They are lost and need to hear about the treasure that all believers have in the finished work of Christ.
Living in Idaho, there is a strong Mormon presence. If you asked a Mormon if they were Christians, most of them would immediately answer “Yes!” without hesitation. They would be deeply offended if you told them that they were not Christian. They verbally profess a faith in Jesus Christ and even include Jesus in the name of their church, but many have never heard the Truth of what the Bible teaches. The Jesus they “know” is far different than what orthodox Christianity teaches. As Mark Cares of Truth in Love Ministry would say, “Mormonism is more of a culture than it is a cult.”
There are a growing number of people who are like my Mormon friends and neighbors. They are cultural Christians who don’t know Jesus.
Atheists or agnostics verbally deny Christ or the existence of God. They usually have reasons that have little to do with the Truth. They are usually angry at God or disillusioned about a God that doesn’t seem to care about them or anybody else.
Cultural Christians believe they are Christian but have a misunderstanding about the severity of sin, the concept of God’s grace, or what Jesus has done for us. They think they are just fine with God because they are generally good people and far better than those who are deserving of hell. They respect the church but don’t want to be part of it. They may respect church traditions or important Christian holidays, and may appear reverent on Sundays, but it all seems irrelevant to their lives.
It is challenging to reach people who feel they are already right with God. It can be intimidating to reach out to people who appear comfortable with their status before God.
How can we reach out to the cultural Christian? In a society where it may be considered a taboo or intolerant to proselytize, how can we comfortably reach out to others to talk about something that is often feels uncomfortable?
How can we help our friends and neighbors to know they are lost so that they can be saved?
I encourage Christians to believe that people in today’s world are willing to hear the Truth, despite what they may think. Trust Jesus when he says that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Be willing messengers for God and don’t immediately disqualify yourself by default.
A default reaction may the take the form of inviting people to come to your church for the sake of inviting people to come to your church. The invitation can give the impression that all a person needs to do is go to church to be right with God. It can become an act of self-righteousness rather than an invitation to hear the Truth. Since more people today are refraining from coming to church to attend a worship service, it is becoming more imperative for Christians to provide reasons for the hope that they have in Christ.
Praise and Proclaim trains Christians to verbally proclaim the gospel. Part of the training includes an opportunity to put their training into action. This includes going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel to strangers. We refrain from immediately asking people, “Do you have a church home?” I find it interesting that people today seem to be easily offended by that question. They will often tell you to leave them alone and close the door. When we ask the same question to “cultural Christians,” many will say “yes” then tell you to leave them alone and close the door. If they stay at the door, Christians may be tempted to quiz them by asking the name of their pastor or priest. If they don’t know the answer, you may have successful exposed them as an inactive member. But what have you accomplished? After catching them in a lie, are they going to be more likely to listen to what you have to say about Jesus? Are they going to be more willing to seriously consider an invitation to come to your church?
Perhaps there may be better ways to engage “cultural Christians”.
I suggest utilizing an approach that is loving and respectful. Many cultural Christians are not averse to attending church, they just don’t believe that attending church is relevant in their lives right now. Since they may respect the Bible, don’t be afraid to use the Bible. There is a good chance that the person may have belonged to a church that didn’t clearly teach the Truth. They probably do not have a firm understanding about the Bible concepts of justification or redemption.
Look for starting points to begin a conversation. Help them along on a journey to rediscover what the Bible really says. In a loving and respectful manner, you can ask, “What is the standard to be right with God? How good do you have to be to be good enough to earn heaven? Who does God say are the people who will be going to hell? Listen carefully and patiently. Remember these are starting points to help a person learn about Jesus and what he has done. The point is not to corner or embarrass them.
Evangelism is far more about God than about our self. There is power in the words we share when we talk about Christ and what he has already done for us. God does not call us to prepare to win arguments, but to win souls through his Word. And sometimes, all it takes is a face from a church to start a conversation and initiate a journey for a lost soul to come back to Christ.
Many cultural Christians are deciding not to go to church for the sake of going to church. They are wanting to know why going to church is important before accepting an invitation. Many want to hear from Christians why faith is important to them instead of listening to a sermon. With so much information contrary to the message of Christ, they are wanting to know why faith matters from people they can trust. Cultural Christians are reachable. Trust that there are some who are waiting to hear what believers have to say.
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Why I believe Wisconsin is a great mission field
Praise and Proclaim has launched five outreach initiatives in Wisconsin that includes going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel. We are meeting people who are willing to be engaged to hear a short gospel message. Congregations in Wisconsin can be encouraged to trust Jesus words that the harvest is ready and the workers are few. I provide a few reasons why this is true.
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The impact of building credibility in outreach
Praise and Proclaim has had the privilege of conducting forty-seven outreach initiatives since its inception in 2016. With every congregation, we attempt to learn while we train members to verbally proclaim the gospel.
I believe we have uncovered a powerful way for congregations to engage their community and transition to sharing a brief gospel message. I explain more in this short video.