We have developed a great sermon series for February we’re calling “What Kind of Church is This?” These messages are designed to help your members better understand the purpose of the church and their role in it.
If you are already a subscriber, just go to the following link to login:
If you are not yet a subscriber, just go to this link to sign up:
02/07 — A Church that Includes You
02/14 — A Church that Instructs You
02/21 — A Church that Involves You
02/28 — A Church that Invests in You
If you sign up this week, you’ll receive the January sermons for free.
Barry L. Davis
By Barry L. Davis
Steven Arterburn writes: One of the first persons to enter our New Life Treatment Centers was a confirmed atheist. One night he flew into a suicidal rage and out of desperation sought a phone book to find the number of a psychiatrist. At 3:00 a.m. few psychiatrists are available, but ours answered her phone. She instructed the desperate man to come to the center that night. He woke up the next morning and said that if there were a God, he had played a terrible trick by landing him in a Christian treatment center. It was tough for him to stay but he struggled and managed to make it to the fourth day
On the evening of the fourth day, the man accompanied other alcoholic patients to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. At the end of the meeting, a young boy stood up and asked for help. He told them he was suicidal. He said he was visualizing, in full color, putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. The atheist could relate to the boy, since he had been in the same frame of mind four days earlier.
When the boy sat down, silence filled the room. Suddenly, the back door of the room opened and a man walked in wearing what looked like a turban and a hospital robe. He said that his wife and kids were in the car, but he felt God wanted him to come into the room and say something. He had not heard the boy but said, “If anyone here is thinking of killing yourself, I want to encourage you to reconsider. God loves you and wants you to live. This turban on my head is a bandage from where I put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, I survived so I could come here and tell you not to do it. God loves you.” That day our atheist patient lost his atheism.
I love that true story and what it tells us about the lengths God will go to bring someone into a relationship with Him. But I also know that God doesn’t always work that way, and that often when we are dealing with those who are not yet Christians, we need the ability to persuade them that the way of Christ is the right way. To do that we need the power of persuasion that God offers to us. In a moment we’re going to look at what that involves, but first I’d like to dispel some…
FALSE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE UNCHURCHED
These are things we think are generally true of non-Christians, but they aren’t. And until we get some of these false assumptions out of our minds, we will not be nearly as effective as we’d like to be.
They know who Jesus is.
It is true that most people who grew up in the United States and other first world countries have at least heard of Jesus. Most people know that there is a connection between Jesus, Christmas, and Easter. But beyond that I have found that the vast majority of non-Christian people do not know much about Jesus at all, or what He came here to accomplish.
They do not know of His love and compassion, or that He desires more than anything to be in a relationship with them. Most do not realize that Jesus is God in the flesh who came to save them from their lost condition – in fact, most don’t know that they have a lost condition.
And what about those from countries where Christianity is not openly practiced or is even forbidden? Many of those immigrating to our countries know nothing about Jesus at all. And while we don’t want to be condescending to people, at the same time we don’t want to assume they know something they don’t.
They don’t want to know about Jesus.
The thought behind this false assumption is that the reason these people don’t know about Jesus is because they don’t want to know about Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth – most unchurched folks that I’ve met want to learn about Jesus and want to dialogue about Him. What they don’t want is someone just shoving Jesus down their throat.
Let me give you an example – let’s say I go up to a non-Christian and say “If you died today do you know if you would go to heaven?” Now that is a technique that has been taught in the past. The idea is that the person will say “No,” and then you will proceed to tell them how to accept Jesus as Savior. The problem is that approach doesn’t involve dialogue, doesn’t respect the person’s intelligence, and doesn’t really teach them anything about Jesus at all. What the unchurched want is to be able to be talked to as an adult, be able to agree or disagree, and to come to their own conclusions.
They cannot be convinced about Jesus.
Again, this is completely false – many reading this were once unchurched adults who eventually made a decision for Jesus Christ. They learned of Jesus, weighed the evidence, and decided that He was the one who could make them whole. When you show respect, allow them to ask questions, give them solid answers, and do it in love; you will be able to persuade others to believe in Jesus Christ.
THE POWER TO PERSUADE INVOLVES…
A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer asked, “What’s with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes.” The doctor agreed: “I’ve never seen such slow golfers.” The pastor said, “Hey, here comes the groundskeeper. Let’s have a word with him.” The pastor called out to the groundskeeper, “Say, George, what’s with the group ahead of us?” George said, “That’s a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime.”
The group was silent for a moment. The pastor sympathized, “That’s so sad. I think I’ll say a special prayer for them tonight.” The doctor added, “That’s a good idea. In fact, I’m going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if we can do anything for these guys.” Then the engineer spoke up: “Well that’s great, but in the meantime, why can’t these guys play at night?”
This guy had a passion for golf, but no compassion for the blind firefighters. Sometimes we see that in the church – a passion for the truth and correct doctrine, but no passion for the unchurched and what they mean to God who loves them. Jesus gave this as a purpose statement in Luke 19:10:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10
There is a passion here that cannot be denied. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come to people who would reject Him, because He wanted to give them a chance. The same is true for us – if we want to persuade the unchurched to become Christians it must start from a heart that truly cares about them. You know that old saying is true – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If a person thinks I’m talking to them about Jesus just to add their name to a church membership book they are going to tune me out immediately. If they know that I truly am concerned about them as an individual they might just be willing to give me a listen.
When we are talking to people who are not in a relationship with God we cannot expect them to immediately become a Christian the moment we talk to them. For most of them it takes some time – for some it takes a whole lot of time. We cannot expect everyone to instantly adopt our value system, and while we are praying and waiting for the time to come to pass when they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior we absolutely have to be patient with them. We get our example for this from God the Father.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
Do you ever think God just gets tired of it all and says “Hey, let’s just wrap this thing up” – but He keeps holding off, keeps being patient, because He knows that day after day more people are going to come into a relationship with Him. Whenever I get impatient with an unchurched person I try to remember how patient God has been with me as I’ve struggled and learned to become more like His Son. You can slap God in the face; you can turn your back on Him; you can blaspheme Him, but you cannot keep Him from wanting to save you. You cannot keep Him from loving you, for He provided a Savior, His own Son, to die in your place. And the patience that God has demonstrated toward us is the same patience we must demonstrate toward those that are still far from Him if we ever expect to have a chance to persuade them that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
In Christian circles we tend to repeat the same old tired clichés that convince no one outside of Christianity of anything. We say things like “I know the Bible is inspired because it inspires me.” Or “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Or the old hymn lyrics, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” I can remember before making a decision for Christ, sitting in church, listening to those lyrics and thinking, “So what? Prove that He lives within your heart.”
The fact of the matter is, and I know I’m saying this at the risk of offending a few of you – but that is a really, really, really bad song. The Bible never gives any such nonsense about believing in Christ simply because you’ve got the warm fuzzies. Instead God offers us proof.
Paul had recently been converted to Christ and was appearing before various groups offering evidence that Jesus was really who He claimed to be and that He had risen from the dead. He didn’t say, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” He didn’t say “I know that Jesus lives because He lives within my heart” What He said was, “here is solid evidence for why you should believe in Jesus.”
But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:22
And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. – Acts 9:29
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” –Acts 17:2-3
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15
It is interesting that we are called “to give a defense” – in other words, God wants us to offer evidence to the unchurched for what we believe. Where do you get the information you need to offer proof? There are many good resources out there by Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Cornelius Van Til, and many others, that will help you to explain what you believe and why you believe it.
When people ask us, “Why do you believe in the resurrection?” we need to be able to offer them some solid proof. If we don’t, we shouldn’t expect them to respond. I realize that some people don’t ask for evidence and they will accept Jesus without it, but for those who do, we need to be prepared. We are asking them to completely do a U-Turn and change their entire lives. I think they deserve some good reasons for doing that before they make that decision.
I recently heard about a boy who was the apple of his parents’ eyes. Tragically, in his mid-teens, the boy’s life went off-track. He dropped out of school and began associating with a bad crowd. One night he staggered into his house at 3:00 a.m., completely drunk. His mother slipped out of bed and left her room. The father followed, assuming that his wife was in the kitchen, perhaps crying. Instead, he found her at her son’s bedside, softly stroking his matted hair as he lay passed out drunk on the covers. “What are you doing?” the father asked. The mother answered, “He won’t let me love him when he’s awake.” The mother stepped into her son’s darkness with a love that existed even though he did not yet love her back – so it is with God and us.
When we truly love the unchurched we will persist in our love, in our patience, and in our giving of proof to them, even when they seem to reject us and our message. I’m not talking about forcing something on someone that doesn’t want to hear, but in persisting with those who have open ears until they finally decide to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ and then discipling them beyond that. Even when we think we have failed, we press on, because the task is too important to give up on.
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
If persistence is that important in basketball, surely it is much greater when it comes to persuading our friends, family, and others to come to faith in Christ.
In his book Leadership That Works, pastor Leith Anderson writes about the evangelistic strategy of a woman named Kathy: She was a successful stockbroker in Minneapolis who easily made friends and had the gift of evangelism. She used to go to the pool at her apartment complex, settle on a chaise lounge, read a book, and eventually strike up a conversation with whoever sat next to her. Soon the two would become friends, and Kathy would begin talking very comfortably about her Christian faith. Bringing newcomers to church was her regular practice. She was so good at this that she was invited to serve on the church evangelism board. When Kathy asked me what I thought about the idea, I said, “It seems ridiculous. Why would we put someone who is so good at evangelism in a room for hours with people who are already Christians? Let someone else serve on the evangelism board while you sit out by the pool.”
I think he’s onto something here. Perhaps it is time to quit talking about persuading others to join with Christ, and instead going out to where they are at and with passion, patience, proof, and persistence, leading them to the throne room of God.
 Arterburn, Steven and Felton, Jack. More Jesus, Less Religion (Waterbrook, 2000), p. 63
Michael Jordan, quoted in, Ward, Steve. High Performance Trading: 35 Practical Strategies and Techniques to Enhance Your Trading Psychology and Performance. (Great Britain: Harriman House, 2009), 240.
 Anderson, Leith. Leadership That Works (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 1999), 135-136.
Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1996. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling.
By Thom Rainer
I had no idea he was a former pastor.
He emailed me on a business matter. I noticed his email said nothing about his ministry, so I asked about his ministry in my response.
“I am out of the pastorate,” he responded. “And I have no plans to ever go back.”
From my perspective, this man would have been one of the least likely to leave the pastorate. Not only did he leave, he is adamant he will not return.
LifeWay Research recently released a study about pastors who left the pastorate before they were retirement age. You can read more about the study here, but I want us to look at six key issues from the study that are vitally important.
- Nearly half (48%) of those who left the pastorate said the search committee did not accurately represent the church. I have heard this information anecdotally, but I did not expect the response to be this high.
- More than half (54%) of the respondents said a church member had attacked them personally. Consequently, one of four said they left the church because of conflict.
- Nearly half (48%) of the former pastors said they had not been trained for relational and leadership issues. We hear this from current pastors and staff as well.
- Four in ten of those who left the pastorate said they had a change in calling. We hope to delve into this issue later.
- One in eight of the former pastors left for financial reasons. Many pastors are underpaid. Many pastors leave the pastorate as a consequence.
- One in eight of the respondents left because of family issues. Again, we have covered this issue several times at the blog and on the podcast.
How do we respond to these issues? How can we be greater supporters of our pastors and staff so they don’t feel like they have to leave the church? Let me hear your thoughts.
The online survey of former senior pastors was conducted Aug. 11-Oct. 2, 2015. The sample lists were provided by four Protestant denominations: Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and Southern Baptist Convention. Each survey was completed by an individual who has served as a senior (or sole) pastor but stopped serving as senior pastor prior to age 65. The completed sample is 734 former pastors. The study was sponsored by the North American Mission Board and Richard Dockins, M.D.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on January 13, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Chuck Lawless
This week I’ve been preparing some lectures for my upcoming seminars in the DMin in Church Revitalization and Great Commission Leadership at Southeastern Seminary. For years, I’ve kept a running list of characteristics of pastors who lead effective evangelistic churches (that is, churches that are reaching non-believers rather than simply reaching other church members). Below are several of those characteristics.
- They believe the Bible is the Word of God. Consequently, they accept the truth that people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus are without hope. The Word drives them to want to reach people.
- They take the lead in personal evangelism. They model evangelism, but not because they happen to be the pastor; they do it because Jesus is in their heart and evangelism is in their blood. These leaders would evangelize even if they weren’t pastors.
- They know the church’s numbers. They’re not idolatrous of those numbers, but they’re certainly aware of them. “A number represents a person” is much more than an adage to them; it’s a reflection of their focus on real people who need Jesus.
- They take personally any lack of evangelistic growth. That’s not to suggest, though, that they believe they can somehow create growth. It’s simply that they so long to see lives changed that they want to evaluate why when it doesn’t happen.
- They’ve led their churches to get ready for growth. They’re not always fully prepared for what God does, but their churches don’t take lightly their responsibility to disciple new believers God gives them. They have the “nursery” ready for babes in Christ.
- They know their community well – and they love that community. They can usually describe the general demographic makeup of their community, not only because they’ve studied the data but also because they’ve walked the streets. They’re glad to live where they live, and they hope to stay there awhile.
- They hold their staff accountable for doing evangelism. They may not always require written reports, but they’re intentional about asking for verbal reports during staff meetings. Typically, they’re hesitant to hire anyone who doesn’t have a strong evangelism record.
- Increasingly, they are more committed to church planting. Because these pastors want to see people saved, they’ve often joined the forces emphasizing evangelistic church planting today. They aren’t worried that everyone comes to their church, and they’re willing to send out some of their best to start congregations.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on 12/10-2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and nine grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Thom Rainer
The conversation surprised me.
I was recently meeting with about a dozen members of a church that was on the precipice of closing. During their perceived “good old days,” the average worship attendance was in the 40s and 50s. Now the church attendance was in the teens. The church was on metaphorical life support.
I shared with them some items of urgency that might give them some glimmer of hope. So I was surprised when one of the members asked me a question that seemed to come from nowhere: “Will we have to sing from screens instead of hymnals?” she asked with a tinge of anger.
I never responded directly to the question. It was too late. The few members were of one mind about an issue so peripheral I had never anticipated it. I left saddened.
The church had chosen to die.
The Need and the Passion
It is my life and ministry passion to help churches, particularly struggling churches, to revitalize. One of the greatest needs of churches today is to choose to live and to thrive.
Unfortunately, many congregations are choosing to die. For certain, they are not calling a business meeting and making a motion to die. Their choices are more subtle and, often, more incremental. But the end result is the same.
Churches are choosing to die.
Five Deadly Choices
So what are churches doing specifically that leads to their demise? Here are five of the more common choices.
- They refuse to face reality. I was in a dying church recently. The congregational average attendance was 425 seven years ago. Today it is 185. I could find no one in the church who thought the trends were bad. They were in a state of delusion and denial.
- They are more concerned about greater comfort than the Great Commission.Church membership has become self-serving. The church is more like a country club than the body of Christ. People are “paying dues” to get what they want in the church. It’s all about their preferences and desires.
- They are unwilling to accept responsibility. It’s the fault of culture. All the new churches in town are to blame. If someone wants to come to our church, they know where we are. People just don’t want to come to church anymore. Excuses and more excuses. I have never been in a community that is nearly fully churched. There are many people to reach. Excuses preclude obedience.
- They are too busy fighting and criticizing. If we could take the energy of church critics and antagonists into reaching people with the gospel, our churches would become evangelistic forces. Unfortunately in many churches, members expend most of their energies criticizing leadership and others, and fighting over trivial issues.
- They are confusing non-negotiables with negotiables. Almost ten years ago, a couple of men who live near me asked to visit with me in my home. They wanted me to consider visiting their church. One of the men told me their church was one of the few in the area defending the faith. I asked him what he meant by that. He explained that the faith was one particular Bible translation and traditional hymns. I wasn’t sure what happened to the bodily resurrection and substitutionary atonement. The church died within seven years.
Choosing to Live Rather Than Die
Most churches have choices to live or die. We use the word “revitalize” because it means to live again. I hope you will join me in this passion to see unhealthy churches become healthy, to see churches choose to live.
As one way of being a part of this movement of revitalization, I have teamed up with Revitalized Churches in Florida to offer the best resources we can to help in this cause. They are once again offering the resource that has helped hundreds of churches move toward revitalization.
Those churches have chosen to live.
Such is my prayer for your church.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 4, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.