19 Prayers of an Evangelist

I shared this with my Disciple Night class at Central Church this past Wednesday. They are some prayers I pray as it relates to evangelism. Hopefully they will be helpful for you.

  1. Keep me from basing my standing before You on the fruitfulness of my witness (Romans 8:1).
  2. Remind me that I’m not trying to win an argument.
  3. Sear on my heart that people who are not trusting in Jesus will go to a real hell unless they hear the gospel and are saved (2 Thess 1:7-10; 5:3; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; Rom 1:18; 5:9).
  4. Give me another opportunity.
  5. Humble me when I’m convinced it is my skill in sharing that results in people being saved (1 Cor 2:6-14).
  6. Forgive me for the times I have been ashamed of You (Rom 1:16).
  7. Show your great power to save through my feeble efforts.
  8. Make me willing to have doors slammed in my face (Acts 5:40-42; 1 Pet 4:14).
  9. Comfort me when people reject me (Ps 119:50).
  10. Help me not wait for an opportunity to force itself on me. Spur me to create opportunities (2 Cor 5:20).
  11. Give me sensitivity to your Spirit.
  12. Help me be broken over others’ sin and leave the offense up to You (Rom 12:19).
  13. Fill my mind with your Word (Ps 1:2).
  14. Remind me if I’m ashamed of You before others, You will also be ashamed of me before You (Luke 9:26).
  15. Let the lostness of people burden me so much that I can’t sleep (Ps 6:6).
  16. Give me discernment to know when to press someone or when to back off (Mt 10:16).
  17. Surprise me with how powerful You are (Gen 18:14; Num 11:23).
  18. Help me discern real fruit (Gal 5:22-24).
  19. Make Your word effective for Your purposes.

What Is the Goal of a Local Church?

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It is my perception that some churches that are growing quickly see it as their purpose to facilitate as many conversions as possible. Just get people saved. This is a great goal! Churches that aren’t working hard to see converts are not being faithful.

At the same time, Ephesians 4:11-13 shows the opposite end of the goal of a local church–complete Christlikeness of every member.

he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Like I mentioned above, a local body of Christians is being unfaithful if they’re not working to see conversions. According to Ephesians 4, however, a local body is also being unfaithful if they’re not working to see their members grow to Christlikeness.

According to these two goals, which church is being more faithful, the one who spends all her time looking for conversions while neglecting the growth and health of the current members, or the one who neglects working for new converts and spends all her time on the growth and health of her members?

I contend that they are equally unfaithful churches. A church is called to make disciples–by starting relationships with people to evangelize so they will see conversions, AND to continue relationships within the body to encourage spiritual growth in Christians.

Why Membership Is Part of the Young Adult Exodus Discussion

church-yaI started reading about young adults leaving churches when I was working at Randall House in 2009. Then it was more about stats and ideas. Now that I’m a pastor, it’s hitting home. This is about real people.

I’ve had several conversations with young people who have grown up in church and who are now either abandoning orthodox Christianity or are considering leaving. They’re wondering whether or not God exists, whether there is validity in other religions, and whether or not they can trust the Bible. Others don’t express their doubts as honestly as their peers, but show where their heart is by their apathy toward Christ and His church.

Lynsey and I were talking when we both wondered aloud: “Why is this happening? What’s so different about their upbringing than ours?”

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I don’t know if we ever will. Perhaps seeking those answers is futile in some ways. The milk has been spilled, so to speak. This does not mean I am giving up on these young people. I pray for them regularly. I express to them that they are welcome to ask hard questions of me, our church, and of God.

At the same time, I acknowledge one thing (of many) churches must do if they want to seriously deal with this issue of young people leaving Christianity:

Make membership matter.

Who’s showing true evidence of conversion in their life by devotion to Christ in repenting of sin? Those people should be members. Those whose lives profess something other than Christ should not be members of local churches. The next generation depends on it in part.

This doesn’t mean Christians are perfect or that if you’re a sinner you’re not accepted at our church. In fact, if you deny you’re a sinner, you’re not going to fit in very well (in fact, you’ll never be a Christian until you do). But those of us who have trusted in Christ to save us are repenting sinners–people who acknowledge their sinfulness but by God’s grace and power, seek to turn from their sin to obey their Savior. This is a Christian, and this is a church member. Those who deny their need to repent by their consistent refusal to do so show they want no part of Christ, and should not be affirmed to be in Christ by being received as members in a church. It will help those who are searching to know who is really in and who is really out.

If no one knows who’s in or out, how is a young adult supposed to know what a real Christian is supposed to look like? Perhaps it is foolish to assume that college students who grew up in church will follow Christ when many of the church members they’ve observed throughout their lives haven’t been.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian today is because I saw how real my parents’ faith was. I always knew they weren’t perfect people, but I knew they were repenting people. I saw the tears on their faces when I walked in the living room to see them reading their Bibles. I was humbled when they would apologize to me and my siblings for letting their anger get the best of them.

Not every child or student who walks through the doors of a church will have parents like mine. We can’t equip parents who don’t want to disciple their children. And not every student who has parents like mine become true disciples. There is not one determining factor we can point to that decides whether or not someone follows Christ. But there’s one factor we can control better than we have: we can make sure the members they do see at church are true disciples.

Then at least they’ll have a better idea what a Christian really is.

A Purpose Statement for Corporate Singing

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Here’s our purpose statement for corporate singing at Central Church in Royal Oak:

To glorify God by equipping the congregation to encourage and teach one another through rich, Christ-centered songs.

There are few things we mean when we say that. Here are some of them.

“. . . equipping the congregation to . . .”

This influences what we sing. If the congregation is not skilled enough to sing the song, then we don’t sing it no matter how rich or Christ-centered it is. Some songs are great songs, but they are not congregational songs. I’ve heard someone make the argument, “Well, have you ever been to a U2 concert? Those melodies are not easy, and everyone sings them.” Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But how many 80-year-olds do you know that could sing them? The last time I looked at my congregation, I saw young and older people.

It influences how we sing. A few weeks ago I was playing drums and noticed that when we did a key change on a particular song that we lost about half the congregation. We won’t do that keychange again. Why? Because it wasn’t clear enough for the congregation to follow. Another example is how loud I play the drums. I sometimes get too excited and play too loud. It can be distracting from people singing. That’s a no-no, and yours truly needs to tone it down to encourage people to sing.

“. . . encourage and teach one another . . .”

“I love worship services because I know it’s just me and God alone in such an intimate environment.” It’s certainly good to glorify God in singing. In addition to that, we see one of the main purposes in singing according to Colossians 3 to emphasize the corporacy of the moment. That means if what we’re doing encourages people to “zone out” everything around them, then we’re not leading well. Why? Because we want to help foster an environment where the congregation worships God by encouraging and teaching one another in singing.

When the congregation gathers, it’s a corporate event. The most spiritual thing to do during singing in a church service isn’t necessarily closing your eyes and raising your hands (I have nothing against that, however!). It could be opening your eyes, singing loudly, and looking around while you do so to listen to others sing with you.

I don’t mean to minimize acknowledging the Spirit’s presence in us and with us as a congregation. It is wonderful to glorify the Lord with our voices and hearts in singing, and Lord willing we do that. We shouldn’t worship the congregation. But we should worship as a congregation, not just as individuals.

“. . . through rich, Christ-centered songs.”

We want to sing songs that are going to last long enough so our grandchildren could sing them. We want them to have depth and meaning so that they don’t leave you wondering what they’re really saying. A good worship song is more like a quality steak than cotton candy. Each bite leaves you appreciating a different nuance in the taste, and when you’re done, you’re satisfied.

If Scripture is about Christ, then our singing should be about Christ. If a Mormon could sing our songs without any problem, then we should be second guessing what we’re singing. I don’t mean to say there isn’t truth in songs that don’t mention Christ. Instead, I say this because of a continued nominalistic “Christianity” in our culture that embraces many spiritual things but never really spells out who Christ is and what His followers are called to. We don’t have time for nominalism. As the Sovereign Grace Music line goes, “Show us Christ.”

2 Bad Ways Leaders Deal With Negative People

I’m new to ministry, but I’m guessing every pastor has people in his congregation that could be categorized as negative. Many people are supportive, kind, and generally seem spiritually heathy (not that its supporting the pastor that qualifies someone for spiritual health). But there are some who, no matter what you do, don’t seem to be satisfied. There is always something they don’t like, and they want you to know about it.

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As I can tell, there are two bad ways to pastor these kind of people.

Option 1: Write them off and keep them at arms length.

Daniel Edwards is a pastor friend of mine who suggested to me the thing to do with negative people isn’t to stay away from them, but to get closer to them. I think that’s wise in many cases.

There are a few things wrong with simply writing the negative person off. Here are two:

  1. It ignores the fact you’re called to pastor that person. Paul David Tripp writes in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands that sometimes young pastors (guilty as charged) can have a picture of what their church is supposed to look like that is more like a fairy tale than real life. When they realize their people are actually sinners, they’re taken aback by it.Tripp is right, and I was convicted by that when I read it. I’m called to pastor sinners (repenting sinners, but sinners nonetheless). That means I have to love people who have real problems. Keeping the negative person at arms length shows that we’re not concerned about the spiritual health of the church as much as we are establishing our agenda for “progress.” We think, “Mr. Negative is getting in the way of my plans to grow this church. Therefore, I’m going to neglect my responsibility to help pastor him through this and ignore him until he goes away. Then, God will leave the people I’m really called to pastor.”
  2. You could miss truth. Negative people aren’t always wrong. They probably exaggerate often. But they’re not always wrong. Keeping those kind of people at arms length can keep you from learning some very true things.Chad Minter, in his helpful post about this, said the following:

    Search your heart and see if there is even a crumb of truth to what your criticizer claimed. Any criticism, whether warranted or not, can be to your benefit. It does not excuse his offense, but you are to gain because now you see a caricature or yourself and are able to work at fixing even the smallest of your weaknesses.

    “Yes men” may be good for your ego, but they aren’t good for helping you see blind spots. Perhaps the “thorn” that some people unknowingly are to you have been put there by God Himself to keep you humble. Learn where you can, even if you don’t like the source.

Option 2: Let them hijack your leadership.

The other bad response I can have toward negative people comes from my desire to pacify them in order to keep the peace. It’s good to be a peacemaker, but being a peacemaker doesn’t mean allowing negative people to rule. There are a few reasons this option is a poor way to deal with Mr. Negative:

  1. You will lose the respect of others. Everyone knows Mr. Negative is who he is. There are other people on the committee with you who realize certain people are, for the most part, generally critical and find something wrong with what the best decision is. Those people will see you bowing to Mr. Negative, knowing the right decision to be made. Because you allow Mr. Negative to hijack what needs to be done, they will lose confidence in your leadership. The next time you ask them to be on a committee, they’re going to turn you down. Why? Because they know who’s really in charge, and its not you.
  2. You will encourage others to be negative. Every time you allow a negative person to whine and get his way, you reward his behavior. The message you’re sending him and everyone else who knows the situation is, “If you want the pastor to do what you want, just be really critical and whiny about it.”There is a place for constructive criticism. You should listen very closely to people who have invested their lives into your church and who have your back and who are not nit-picky people. But negative people are not showing the fruit of the Spirit by their critical, diminutive, selfish attitude. Doing whatever they want in order to keep the peace actually doesn’t encourage peace. It rewards and encourages negativity.
  3. You will fear man more than God. God has called you to lead, not Mr. Negative. Bowing to his preferences could be the fruit of the fear of man in your heart. Personally, I can’t stand when people don’t like me. My wife, my daughter, anyone really. There will come a time when I know the right decision to be made and the right direction in which to head, and someone will oppose it. Will I fear God, or will I fear man? One can ruin my reputation, run me out of my church, or even kill me, but the other can cast my soul into hell. One is a contemporary, but the other is my King. I pray I have the strength and courage to fear God more than man.

What do you think? As a leader, what are some other bad ways to deal with negative people?


A Pastor’s Call to Defend the Gospel

I wonder if Paul were to have written his letter to Titus today if it would make it into Preaching magazine.

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Paul told Titus to do some very strong things in it. Some of the imperative verbs deal with the manner with which Titus should live and teach, but most of the imperative verbs are things Titus should do to or for the people he was pastoring. Just note how strong some of these are:

  • Rebuke (1:13)
  • Urge (2:6)
  • Declare (2:15)
  • Exhort (2:15)
  • Rebuke (2:15)
  • Let no one disregard you (2:15)
  • Insist on these things (3:8)
  • After warning him once (3:10)

When a pastor is faced with a situation where people are misunderstanding the gospel, not living in light of the gospel, rejecting the gospel, or perverting it, Paul’s call to pastors is to strongly defend its truth. This is not being hateful. It’s being intensely truthful. Strong verbs reflect the serious nature about which Titus was dealing.

You rarely hear Paul telling Titus (or Timothy for that matter) when defending the gospel to do things to and for their people like: coddle, stroke their egos, waffle, roll over, apologize, tip-toe. Can you imagine Paul writing a letter to a pastor today where the gospel was being threatened and saying something like, “Now, whatever you do, make sure no one is offended by this and absolutely everyone agrees with it before you teach it with any kind of authority. In fact, under no circumstances are you to make anyone feel like they are wrong–even if what they’re saying is absolute heresy! If anyone preaches a gospel contrary to the one I’ve taught you–no biggie!”

I’m not talking about a pastor beating his people up so he can get his way about the color of the carpet. There are wise and unwise ways to deal with those kinds of issues. But Paul’s admonition to Titus and Timothy and young pastors out there like you and me are very clear when it comes to defending the gospel: you do it strongly, clearly, without apology, and you do not let anyone get in the way of its truth. There will be people who do not like it, and who do not like you as a result. Those are scars you must be willing to bear. If my memory serves me right, there was another one who was willing to bear scars for the same cause.

The truth of the gospel is the only legitimate reason anyone has for living–the only true hope anyone has at all! In fact, if it’s not true and held as such, then your church is no longer a church and you are no longer a pastor. If we lose it, someone just go ahead and set off atomic bombs across the world and end this thing for us all. But because its true, you, pastor, must fight for it with your life. Be flexible about your philosophy, your preferences, and your style, but do not bend when the gospel is at stake. Be irrepressibly rigid.

When People Don’t Show Up

Ever since I began full-time ministry I’ve been struggling against finding my worth based on how many people show up. It doesn’t really matter what event it is: Bible study, hang out, worship service, whatever. If I’m heading it up, I feel more significant when more people come and I feel foolish when not many come and give lame excuses.

I know this isn’t right and that I shouldn’t think that way or feel that way, but it doesn’t mean the battle isn’t real.

I have picked up on something that lets me know my heart motivation is in this place. Whenever someone doesn’t come to a gathering and my initial reaction is sarcasm, I know I’ve succumbed to the lie again. Sarcasm for me is a nice way of being angry.

How do I know this is a sign I’m justifying myself based on attendance? Because the biblical response when someone is resistant to being part of the body of Christ isn’t anger, but Godly sorrow. Most of the time, I confess, I am not sorrowful that people aren’t interested in wanting to know Christ more through the class we’re offering or the program we’ve worked hard on. Most of the time I’m angry they’re more interested in going fishing than spending time with me.

That’s pride on my part. I don’t want to be that way.

And yet, I remember the truth about someone who died to justify me before God. I look to Him for freedom from my self-justification method, and ask for grace to have His heart toward those to whom He has called me to minister.

A Really Bad Way to Study the Bible

bible-SunlightThere are some really bad ways to read the Bible. Perhaps the most dangerous is reading the Bible to merely gain knowledge without seeking to know the God of the Bible. This kind of person wants to read the Bible, but doesn’t want the Bible to read him.

Martin Luther said,

The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.

Soren Kierkegaard, in a sermon from James 1, discussed this. Using the illustration of God’s Word being a mirror, he made a distinction between simply looking at the mirror and using the mirror to look at yourself. Simply looking at the mirror is a terrible way to read God’s Word. You can admire it and note how shiny or clear it is, but as long as you don’t use the mirror to look at yourself, you haven’t used it for its intended purpose.

What will be the result of people who read the Bible but don’t allow it to read them? What will people be like if they simply look at the mirror instead of using the mirror of God’s Word to look at themselves? Pharisaical, self-righteous people who are convinced they are right with God and see no need for Christ. Jesus calls them “white-washed tombs”–people who look good on the outside but are dead on the inside.

Don’t just read the Bible. Let the Bible read you.

What Preaching Is Not

peter-preachingWhat is preaching? I’ve thought and studied a lot about that. It’s an important question for a Christian. Why is it so important? Because preaching is the most important 25-45 minutes a church body spends together and is one of the few things that can change the world.

Martin Lloyd Jones said:

“The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also” (Preaching and Preachers, Jones, 17).

A lot of people claim to preach. Many others say they hear preaching every Sunday. But many of the people who claim they are preaching are doing something very different than others who also claim to be preaching.

Some Examples
For example: one man stands in front of a group of people on Sunday morning and shares compelling stories about loving one another, giving examples from society, his life, using poetry, video clips, and song lyrics. He also quotes a verse of Scripture about love. People leave feeling warm and encouraged, but without having been engaged with God’s Word. They know what to do, but they don’t know what God has said.

Another man reads a text of Scripture in front of a group of people, then proceeds to essentially say what the text makes him think of: other Scriptures, stories, examples from society, etc. The man hardly references his original text again and hasn’t thought once about what the original author intended to say to his original audience. Many of the things he says are good and true, but they’re just not found in the text he started with. People who agree with the statements leave happy and affirmed, but rarely challenged by being engaged with an appropriately applied passage. And the people who disagree with his talk, well, they just leave mad.

Still another man reads a text of Scripture and very meticulously points out original meanings of words and phrases, noting syntax, grammar, context, cross references and allusions throughout Scripture. There’s a lot of “What Paul is saying is . . . ” People leave more informed, certainly having confidence that their pastor “knows his Bible,” but haven’t seen what in the world the passage has to do with them.

None of these examples are preaching.

“Preaching is when the content and the intent of a passage of Scripture becomes the content and intent of a sermon.” Mike Bullmore

Why The Examples Aren’t Preaching
In the first example I made up, the content and intent of the sermon is only mildly influenced by Scripture. The preacher thought of what he wanted to say to the people, and then found a verse that went along with it. This is hardly letting the text drive the content or intent of the message. Maybe the talk was inspiring, and maybe God used it (who knows?). Maybe the talk was even necessary, but it was not preaching.

The second example seems more like preaching to some because this man is more likely to say “churchy” phrases many of us have heard growing up–true things even! And he says them with such power and conviction! “Homosexual behavior is sin!” We rightly reply, “Yes, that’s true. But what does that have to do with the text you just read?” This preacher doesn’t let the content or intent of the text guide him any more than the guy who plays videos from his iPad does. And it is still not preaching.

On to the third example. Those of us who have been to Bible College or seminary are even more likely to think this man is preaching, but sadly, he is not. This preacher does a good job at understanding the content and intent of the original author to the original audience, but he fails to make it his content and intent to his audience. This preacher says “Paul told them to repent” too much and doesn’t say “You must repent” enough. A “sermon” not directed and applied to contemporary hearers is not a sermon, it’s a NT grammar lesson. And a grammar lesson is not preaching.

What I’m Not Saying
I’m not saying I know everything about preaching. I’m very young and inexperienced and have a ton to learn!

I’m also not saying that the other kind of talks are bad or always inappropriate for every context. God can use the three examples I’ve listed, and I pray He does. These other kinds of talks aren’t bad, it just means they aren’t examples of preaching.

Another thing I’m not saying that in order for it to be preaching that it has to be verse-by-verse exposition. You can preach an entire book of the Bible in one sermon by applying the major themes of its content and intent to your congregation. Mark Dever does this. I have attempted to do this with the book of Jonah (emphasis on the word attempted). Or take Martin Lloyd Jones for example. Most of the sermons I’ve heard from him aren’t verse-by-verse exposition (which probably should be the main way preaching should happen IMO). Instead, many of his sermons are thematic–he’ll preach about what it means to have faith, for example. But even in that, he’s applying the content and intent of several passages that deal with the biblical concept of faith to his hearers–he makes the content and intent his content and intent. That’s different than saying whatever a verse makes you think about (like example #2 above)–which is what David Helms calls “impressionistic preaching” (like impressionist painters).

Fellow pastors, lets hone our skills and proclaim the text as well as we possible can, considering what it is we’re trying to accomplish from the pulpit every Sunday.

Part of What Church Attendance Means and Doesn’t Mean

car_in_garage_by_C_DOBeing inside of a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being inside of a garage makes you a car.

I love pithy statements like that.

Mind if I attempt another one to help balance the one above? While its true that being inside of a garage doesn’t make you a car, it’s also true that if a car is going to function like its supposed to, it definitely has to spend time in a garage. While being in a church building doesn’t make you a Christian, a Christian must spend time with other Christians (the church) in order to function like he’s supposed to.

We should be clear that salvation is by God’s grace in Christ through faith in Him. No one is declared righteous before God because they gather with Christians every Sunday. There very well may be people who are trusting in their religious fervor instead of trusting in Christ for salvation. We should warn against that. I warn against that at my church.

At the same time, Scripture is clear in calling believers in Christ to meet together:

. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).

If those who have been born again by the Spirit of God upon their faith in Him are “the body of Christ and individually members with it” (1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12; Ephesians 4), then those members will sense their need for one another. After all, there is only one Spirit of God, and that Spirit is one that promotes unity. It would be silly to claim to be unified with a group of people if the group of people never united in a regular gathering.

It is true that salvation is by grace through faith, and it is also true that those who have been saved will show evidence of their conversion, and that one of those evidences is a love for other believers expressing itself in a local church (1 John 4:20). Church attendance doesn’t save you, but for the Christian who has opportunity to gather, it does give evidence of it.

Kingdom Priorities

There was a man who stumbled over treasure in a field and was willing to sell everything he had so he could get the treasure. That’s how valuable the kingdom of God is–it’s more valuable than everything you’ve got (Matthew 13).

May I suggest that a way to tell how much the kingdom of God is worth to us is to ask: “When the priorities of God’s kingdom and another kingdom come into conflict, which one consistently wins?”

Not attending church one Sunday doesn’t cause you to go to hell or lose your salvation, but a lack of desire to attend that expresses itself in missing for almost any reason could be evidence that you don’t truly understand the value of the kingdom of God. That’s a nice way of saying, you might not actually be saved.

Remember these?

Remember these?

Look, I’m not trying to be a “if you aren’t at that building every time the doors open you’re not saved” kinda guy. I get that a local church is more than just a building–it’s a body. I get that a lot of real church stuff happens throughout the week as we encourage, check on, write, text, hang out, etc, with one another. But that doesn’t mean local churches aren’t called to meet together corporately.

I also get that sometimes  you get sick. Sometimes you’re out of town visiting family. Sometimes your job has extenuating circumstances that forces you to work on Sunday for a short period of time. I’m not worried about out of the ordinary situations. I’m worried about those who show a pattern of missing and the implications for that person and the church he is supposed to be part of.

When something conflicts with the kingdom’s priorities, which one consistently wins? How you respond to that in your lifestyle reflects how much you truly value the kingdom of God.

Suppose you’ve got a “friend” who you keep inviting over to hang out, but at the last minute, almost every time, he comes up with an excuse not to come: “I got tickets to the football game.” “I stayed up really late last night.” “I’ve got homework I haven’t done yet.” “I was nervous about getting out in this weather.” Every once in a while he shows up, but based on the excuses he gives you and how many times he has said no, you’re beginning to wonder whether or not he’s really your friend. You’d be crazy not to wonder that! Why would we think it would be any different when it comes to the priorities some have over regularly coming together with other Christians?

After all, going into a garage doesn’t make you a car, but a car won’t be functioning for long if it never spends time in the garage.