Evangelizing Adults: The Misleading Statistic

Some months ago a friend of mine mentioned to me that most churches no longer have active evangelistic programs aimed at reaching adults. One reason for this may be a misleading statistic that’s been bandied about, about how most believers in our churches came to Christ by their late teens. Child Evangelism Fellowship, for instance, uses this statistic to emphasize the need for support for their ministry, to reach children with the gospel when they are young. Many churches may therefore have neglected ministries to reach adults in favor of ministries to children and youth – and unfortunately, many times these don’t reach very far outside the families of regular attenders and leaders.

I don’t think that this statistic actually means very much as a guide for ministry. It reminds me of the pro football color commentator who said something dramatically about a team, that they would be in trouble if they went into the final quarter of the game trailing in the score, since they hadn’t scored very much in the fourth quarter all year. The truth is that team hadn’t scored very much in the final 15 minutes of the game in a few previous games didn’t form an impassible barrier to them scoring enough to win in the final minutes of the games. If that was linked to something concrete like that team not having sufficient physical or mental stamina to play through the final quarter to win if they were trailing or a deep enough series of plays to do different things to win, then it would have meaning – and then good coaches and teams could deal with that to produce a win. But the previous record of something having happened in a certain way does not mean that it cannot happen differently if the people involved look at the determining factors thoughtfully – and in the case of evangelism, scripturally and prayerfully.

I can remember one source that looked at the same statistic, and came to the conclusion that churches rather need to develop more effective methods to reach adults with the gospel. Certainly that is the more reasonable conclusion in view of the basic reality that that statistic simply is absolutely no justification for any church to abandon evangelistic ministry to adults. In fact, except for the incidents mentioned in the gospels where Jesus placed his hands on children and prayed for them, the ministry of Jesus and the apostles was directed mainly to the adults around them. It was rather the apostolic instruction for parents to evangelize and disciple their own children – to bring them up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. And Christian leaders and churches throughout the ages who have impacted their communities and nations have put their efforts into evangelizing adults.

For instance, the evangelistic ministry of John Wesley evangelized adults, from the coal miners who came to his open air preaching to the many others who heard the gospel from a man who had come to Christ as a adult, in his account of his famous Aldersgate experience of trusting in Christ alone.

Billy Graham himself, who came to Christ in his late teens, also concentrated on evangelizing adults. Though he also sought to reach students, and held special youth crusades, many, many adults have come to Christ through his crusades.

In addition, Dr. D. James Kennedy likewise did seek to reach students, but he primarily sought to evangelize adults with the Evangelism Explosion ministry. That ministry equipped many for witness and brought a clear presentation of the gospel to many casual church visitors and attenders through a church centered evangelistic ministry. Perhaps many churches need to admit that they let that ministry die more because it became unfashionable compared to the fad of ‘seeker friendly’ churches and because many believers found it required more self discipline than they were willing to invest.

Here are, I think, the factors that come into the effective evangelization of adults, from those that I know who came to Christ as adults:

  • Prayer: The Christian relatives and friends who cared about the salvation of someone prayed about it for weeks and months.
  • Realization of the ultimate need of salvation for eternity through Christ: The Christian relatives and friends who shared the gospel believed that the real and ultimate need of the person for which they were concerned was eternal life through Jesus Christ – not to be brought into conformity to someone else’s expectations.
  • Faith in the power of Christ to change lives through the gospel: The Christian relatives and friends who shared the gospel believed the first and foremost change in the person for which they were concerned would come through Christ, not their guilt trips, manipulations and Christian button pushing.
  • Power of the Spirit: those who shared the gospel recognized that the real power of evangelism is the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Complete, scriptural gospel: The people who shared the gospel took care to present the gospel from the scripture and allow the Word of God to speak for itself. There were certainly different presentations and gospel outlines used – sometimes not from an ‘official’ training program, but rather from the scriptures, such as Luke 24:46-49 and I Corinthians 15:-11. The common emphasis was on presenting Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord, the Savior and the Son of God, and the response of repentance and faith in him as the scriptural response to receive eternal life. There most certainly was very little attempt to dumb down or over-explain or paraphrase scripture and scriptural terms, but simply to present the scriptural gospel. Often enough, the real cost of discipleship was presented, and those who heard were allowed to wrestle with the claims and call of Jesus.
  • Answering questions and objections: There was an honest attempt to explain questions and objections from the scripture, since there was a recognition that there is a real offense to the scriptural gospel when someone hears it for the first time, and the need to deal honestly with objections and questions as a part of scriptural persuasion.  
  • Patient and loving follow-up with those who had come to Christ: There was a recognition that a person who has come to Christ as an adult does not have every habit destroyed and every difficult personal, family and vocational situation immediately fixed as a result of simply saying the Jesus prayer.

Pretty much these kinds of elements are common now in the Alpha Course, and have been in some other group Bible study programs and materials. Other personal witnessing programs, such as Evangelism Explosion, have incorporated these elements. Historically, though, leaders, churches and the everyday witnessing believer have all found that these elements are well within scriptural teaching and practice and have sought to follow them even without an explicit program and set of steps and formulas.

Some Reasons Why People Leave Churches

The thought came to me the other day that no one ever walked away from an encounter with Jesus feeling personally violated or that Jesus had sinned against them. Often enough people felt that his call upon them for repentance and discipleship was too heavy, but no one felt that he had lied to them or was slandering them, or seeking financial gain from them, or seeking to enhance his reputation at their expense. During his ministry, the worst that the Pharisees could find on him was that he healed people on the Sabbath or claimed God as his Father, and during his trial all that they could get from the false witnesses they put up against him was that he made a claim that he could rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem in three days.

Unfortunately, it’s often not the same case with our churches. As a pastor who came into declining churches, where previous pastors had stayed for a year or two over a period of at least a decade, I had a chance to hear many people’s reasons for leaving the church, as I sought to reach out to those who had been disappointed or wounded and had gone on to other churches. One common thread that I often found was that when they left the church often enough they tried to maintain a forgiving attitude toward the people they had left behind but still they hated the way that they had been treated during the time before and often for years after their departure.

These are the  reasons where people left a church where the parting was more or less understandable and amicable:

  • Death.
  • Someone died and went to be a part of the church in heaven.

  • Marriage
  • Someone married someone from another church and started attending that church.

  • Relocation
  • Someone moved away and started attending a church in the community in which he or she was now living.

  • Doctrinal reassessment and changes
  • Someone had come to different doctrinal convictions and went to a church where shared that person’s convictions, rather than staying and possibly becoming a source of division.

    Here are the reasons which identify something toxic happening within a church:

  • Harassment due to rivalries and vendettas
  • Someone doesn’t like something about the person who eventually left, and stirs up a lot of trouble for that person and often for that person’s family.

  • Rumors
  • Someone starts rumors about the person who has eventually left that church, and what is being said is given more credence than the verifiable truth.

  • Neglect during personal hardships and crises
  • People neglect the person going through a time of personal hardship or crisis. They may throw a platitude or two that person’s way, but generally, when it’s time to stand with a suffering brother or sister, they are nowhere to be seen.

  • Over commitment and burnout
  • The person who left became involved in too many ministries or activities, and found it easier to leave than to reduce his or her activities and ministries to a more manageable level.

  • Unreasonable and unscriptural expectations
  • This is the situation where other people stridently demand things of another believer which simply aren’t scriptural. High on this list is where the demands for ever increasing involvement in ministries and activities are coming from other people – sometimes those who are not even involved in those activities and ministries themselves.

  • Pastoral flakiness and weirdness
  • Sometimes the spiritual, mental and emotional stability of the pastor may be in question through his words and actions over a period of time, and this may afflict certain members of the congregation more than others. These people may leave to find a safer church to attend.

  • Pastoral aggression
  • Pastors, as Archibald Hart has repeatedly said, need to work on dealing with their anger in a scriptural fashion. Sometimes they themselves may develop and pursue grudges against certain members of their congregation. Sometimes these are in response to genuine hurts that the pastors have received from these people; some times they are not. In the latter case the pastoral aggression often comes from things such as mild disagreements with the pastor to the pastor taking sides in intra church rivalries.

  • Pastoral doctrinal deviations
  • Sometimes pastors themselves also depart from scripture or denominational doctrines and directions in their preaching, teaching and direction of ministry in different ways, and this also may affect some members of the congregation than others. Again, this may make the people who disagree with the pastor the target of pastoral aggression, and they may leave to find a church of sounder scriptural basis.

    In cases where someone has left a church, sometimes it does leave a wound in the people who have been left behind. Sometimes, I’ve found that the deepest and most persistent wound is that of the person who has driven that person away, and in this case it is simply wounded self righteousness. In some cases, this wounded self righteousness continues to fester worse and worse for years. But this means often enough that the skewed and exaggerated picture which emerges of that person from those who are left behind is like this below:

    • This person was involved in this ministry or activity for years and years. (And sometimes that ministry or activities died with that person’s departure.)
    • I grew up with this person and shared some social activities and gatherings with that person. (And you wonder how that person managed to fit in for so long without any evidence of major friction during that time, and indeed, some evidence of some kind of actual friendship or Christian fellowship.)
    • This person said or did THIS. (or)
    • This person is THIS WAY or THAT WAY.(or)
    • This person has THIS or THAT problem.

    In other words, the very characterization of the person who left demonstrates a very deep and persistent anger, and often this anger will be denied, although it’s very plain in the description of the person who departed.

    The obvious conclusion is to take with a grain of salt someone else’s account of why a person has left a church, and to understand that someone else’s account may be full of self serving and self excusing falsehoods. Another obvious conclusion is that the church that the person ends up attending needs to take any stories of that person which come to them with a grain of salt. But the more scriptural thing to do will be for each person in these situations to pursue scriptural forgiveness – which is always possible — and reconciliation – which is not always possible, because many church leaders and attenders can get stuck in the role of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:28, 30) – sometimes for years and decades, with that attitude toward another believer, “You owe me this (petty little thing).”

    But the final conclusion is that these situations challenge church leaders and a church fellowship to be faithful to the New Commandment: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). After all, the expectation of our Lord and Master is not that we agree in every detail. Nor is it that we go around trying to fix other people. Rather, he has promised to set all things right and do all the fixing of our brothers and sisters in Christ that he deems necessary, now and in eternity. His command is that we give each other the same loving treatment he has given us, and when that happens, people will not be hating the way that they were treated  but recognizing the reality of Christ’s love in the fellowship of believers. After all, no one ever ran away from Jesus because he was loving them too much.

    The Pastor, Personal Prayer And Ministry in the Power of God

    Back in my second year preaching class, I can remember Ravi Zacharias telling us how our sermons need to be ‘bathed in prayer’ – which he said with a dramatic gesture. Throughout the time of seminary preparation, there were also a number of dramatic and forceful calls to personal prayer as part of the pastoral ministry. I don’t recall much, though, practical instruction as to how, when, where and why prayer was to be a part of the pastoral ministry. I wasn’t personally at a loss, though, since I had long since developed the habit of tying my personal Bible reading and study and prayer life together and seeking the guidance of Christian authors for such matters.

    Here are some books which deal with the personal prayer life that I would recommend:

    Certainly no pastor has such a straightjacket on either finances or schedule that time and money cannot be found to go through one of these books during a year or two, particularly in the early years of ministry. The formation of a personal prayer life in accord with the scriptures will be something that can carry through for a lifetime of ministry. It’s noteworthy that the great pastors in earlier generations, such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, were known much more for being men of prayer than for being great organizers, motivators, speakers, life coaches or fundraisers. And it’s also hard to doubt that that’s why their ministries were also known as ministries of spiritual power, and not human organization, ability and persuasiveness.

    That phrase – the personal prayer life in accord with the scriptures – was a great focus of my own life during my time in seminary and ministry, and continues to be a great part of my life today. It isn’t something that I’ve ever shared much with anyone, except to guard quite jealously my time alone in prayer and prayerful study of the scriptures prior to the ministry of the Word. Over the years, though, I developed and refined lists of promises and guidelines from the scriptures which I’ve followed in prayer for myself and my ministry, for the church I’ve been serving with, and for the world as a whole. Below is one of these lists, with the scripture references. (My current list is about 1/3 longer.)You’ll have to look up and reflect on the scripture itself to see how it relates to how I am praying. Sometimes I pray according to scriptural patterns and promises, such as praying for deliverance like Daniel in the lions’ den while claiming the promises of Psalm 91. I just have references below, since these lists were developed during the last years of the typewriter, before copy and paste was available in word processing software. Some of the promises I had already memorized, but I personally was familiar with what the verses I gave references for were talking about.

    Prayer for the ministry of the Word of God in preaching and teaching, and in personal evangelism and edification:

    Purity of own life and heart (Psalm 19:14, 139:23-24), to be a fit vessel to receive the Word into my own heart (James 1:19-25, I Peter 2:1-3), for the Word to come forth in the right occasion (Isaiah 50:4), to be filled with the wisdom of God to understand spiritual realities and life consistently (Ephesians 1:15-20, I Kings 3:9,  Psalm 86:22).

    In preparation for the illumination of the scriptures in study and application (Psalm 119:27, 33-34, 125, Ezra 7:10), for words to be prepared and taught by the Spirit of God to express spiritual realities (I Corinthians 2:13), to be spiritual weapons against the sinful thought patterns of this world (II Corinthians 10:3-6), and to be words of comfort (II Corinthians 1:3-5, Psalm 119:50, 71).

    In actual delivery for the power of the word to be demonstrated through the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17, I Corinthians 2:1-4, Jeremiah 23:29).

    For prepared hearts among those who hear the Word of God and their edification to maturity and stability in Christ and to be equipped to ministry for him (I Corinthians 4:2, II Corinthians 13:8, Ephesians 4:11-12, II Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 15:4).

    For the Word of God to be delivered in the love of Christ (Ephesians 4:15, James 3:17-18, II Timothy 1:7).

    For the gospel of Christ to be shares with the witness and conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11, 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, I Thessalonians 1:5, Acts 4:29, 5:32).

    For there to be eternal results from the preaching and teaching of the Word, and personal evangelism and edification (Isaiah 55:11, Colossians 1:28, I Peter 1:23, I Thessalonians 2:13).

    For the removal of the hindrances and obstacles of the enemy (Luke 8:12, 10:19, II Corinthians 4:4).

    For all this to be to the glory of God through Jesus Christ (John 16:14, 14:13).

    Prayer for personal needs in life and ministry:

    Personal stand of entire consecration of my life to God through Jesus Christ, as someone who is alive from the dead in Christ, dedicated to do everything for the glory of God (Jeremiah 29:13, John 14:21, 23, Romans 6:11-13, 14, 12:1-2, Colossians 3:17)  and for the constant awareness of his companionship and blessings of his presence; forgiveness for all known offenses against God (I John 1:9, Proverbs 29:13).

    Fruitful life and ministry to glorify God (John 15:8, Matthew 5:13-18).

    Wisdom and guidance in ministry and in personal life (James 1:5, John 16:12-15, Joshua 1:8-9, Psalm 1:1-3, 25:8-10, 119:8-10).

    Provision for personal financial needs (Matthew 6:11, 33, Proverbs 30:7-9, Philippians 4:13).

    Forgiveness for all hurts and offenses, love to cover all offenses, and blessings upon any and all detractors and adversaries (Mark 11:25, Matthew 6:12, 14-15, Luke 6:27-28, Ephesians 4:32-5:2, I Corinthians 13:5-6, I Peter 4: 8.

    Protection from the enemy, anointing of favor before men (Matthew 6:13, Psalm 5:12, Proverbs 16:7, Psalm 9:9-10) with discernment between the truth and the lies of the enemy (Ephesians 5:11-14, II Corinthians 10:3-6) with wise use of the authority of Christ (Luke 10:19).

    Health for continued endurance in ministry, for healing and physical strength through the death and resurrection life of Jesus (Matthew 8:17, I Peter 2:24, Romans 8:11)

    Prayer for the entire worldwide church, the church in North America, my own denomination: Edification of the church of Jesus Christ, to be glorifying to God, unified in the love of Jesus, full of the power of the Holy Spirit (follow with specific requests for specific parts of the world from a source such as Operation World or other sources of prayer requests worldwide)

    Spiritual leadership: for pastors, teachers and leaders to receive fresh, renewed vision, purifying and power in ministry (Proverbs 29:18), to be grounded in the Word of God (II Timothy 4:2), to be full of the Spirit and of power and of wisdom and of prayer (Acts 6:30); to be prepared, tested, able to lead and guide in righteousness by word and example

    Purifying and empowering revival among the people of God, to be cleansed by the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26-27, John 17:17-18), purified through the Spirit of God (Isaiah 4:4), unity of love among the people of God (John 13:34-35, 17:20-23, Ephesians 4:15), revived in heartfelt worship and joy (Psalm 85:6); burden for the lost and empowering for witness among the church (Psalm 67:1-2, Acts 2:27, 4:39-30, Matthew 9:37, John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, John 16:8-11); protection from spiritual deceit, distraction, strife and worldliness (Matthew 6:13, John 17:18)

    Spread of the gospel worldwide (Matthew 9:38, 24:14, 28:18-20); spiritual awakening and hunger among the unconverted (Isaiah 9:2, Luke 1:78-79, II Corinthians 4:6), the light of the gospel to destroy spiritual darkness (II Corinthians 4:4, Luke 8:12, Colossians 3:15, Ephesians 6:12, II Corinthians 1o:3-6)

    National governments: for an atmosphere of freedom for the gospel (I Timothy 2:2-3), favor for believers (Psalm 5:12), wisdom for government officials, justice, peace and restraint of evil in the world

    Prayer for the local church: for the glory of God through the salvation and edification of men and women in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; for a local outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church, for a spiritual awakening among the unconverted in the surrounding communities

    Leadership of the church: for the calling and edification of Spirit filled leaders, with wisdom and insight, to be Christlike servants and responsible heads of stable families

    Congregation: for the edification and establishment in the Word, in faith, in love and in witness and worship (II Thessalonians 1:11-12, Colossians 2:6-7); for their growth to maturity in Christ, in life, service and fruitfulness (Ephesians 4:11-16, John 15:8 ), to be receptive to the Word, filled with spiritual insight and knowledge  and to be growing in the knowledge of God (Ephesians 1:15-23, Philippians 1:9, Colossians 3:15-17), Spirit empowered and guided love and encouragement (Ephesians 3:16-21, Philippians 1:9, I Thessalonians 3:12, Hebrews 10:24-25), fullness of prayer through the Spirit in the name of Christ (Ephesians 2:18, 3:12, 6:18)

    Fully open door for the gospel (Acts 2:47); leading to open hungry hearts, for the glory of God (John 14:13), salvation of many through the gracious desire of God himself (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:17, I Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9), the bearing fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus (John 12:23-24, I Timothy 2:6, I John 2:2, II Corinthians 5:14-15, Romans 14:9); manifestation of Christ in the gospel through the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 4:6, Isaiah 9:2, John 6:44, 15:26-27, 16:8-11, I Thessalonians 1:5, Psalm 83:16) for witnesses to be sent and met ready and prepared hearts at the right time (Romans 10:14-15, Isaiah 50:4)

    Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Jesus


    The Chinese pastor and evangelist John Sung had a fiery and productive ministry in the area of Indonesia throughout the 1920s and 1930s. One thing that he regularly told people still resonates today: “Do not think that following Jesus is only a matter of being uplifted inside. There are millions who do not know the Lord Jesus. Go out and take the gospel to them.”

    The vision of the many who are without a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus should bring into us a desire to do something about it. It will bring a desire first to pray and then to go out with the gospel of eternal life. It will forge in us a realization that it is utter selfishness to be continuously seeking a personal blessing without any concern for the millions in our world and to have no concern for the reachable here and far away. This vision and burden will come from a sympathy with the Lord Jesus that comes from fellowship with him in prayer and in his Word. It will mean a desire to reach others with the gospel of his salvation.

    The plan of the Lord Jesus has always been to use his people to reach other people with the gospel. Before he even gave the Great Commission, though, he called his disciples to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest. He, as the Lord of the harvest, would be himself responsible for the calling, equipping and sending; but the need for his people to pray for the workers to be sent into the harvest comes from seeing the world through his eyes.

    In his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus passed on to the church through his apostles the necessity to reach the world with his gospel. It was a constant concern of his, and one which anyone who claims to know him and believe his Word needs also to take to heart. The believer, then, who sees the world through his eyes will have a renewal in thinking, an enflaming of passion and a guide to action beyond just maintaining the religious status quo. Even more, the perspective and power of his Word in our lives will mean that his vision of the world of needy and reachable people will become ours also, and it will drive us further into his Word and prayer to find his direction and power to reach the harvest of people ripe to respond.

    Here is how Jesus demonstrated and communicated his view of the the world, in Matthew 9:35-38:

    “And Jesus went around to all the cities and villages, and he taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and healed every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds he was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and beaten down like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.’”

    If we see people as Jesus sees them, we will be filled with his compassion. Truly loving Jesus and living in fellowship with him means that we will share his perspective on the world, and seeing people from his perspective will mean that we also will be filled with his compassion.

    Ministry to others comes from and deepens the compassion that comes from Jesus. The first step to having the compassion of Jesus for others comes from taking the steps of obedience into ministry. For Jesus, it didn’t come from his perfect knowledge, nor from his being filled with the Spirit at his baptism, nor from his nights in prayer. Rather, it came from his actual experience of ministry, and we need to understand his compassion in this passage as a compassion filling his perfect human nature as he engaged in ministry to the crowds, as a part of his perfect human emotional reaction to the needs of other people that he saw.

    Jesus first experienced his growing and overflowing compassion which  when he engaged in his actual ministry to the crowds as the fulfillment of his earthly mission. This perspective did not come from any kind of academic background or theological training, but from actual compassionate contact, as  in verse 35, “And Jesus went around to all the cities and villages, and he taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and healed every disease and every infirmity.” His ministry was not demonstrated by holding back, giving advice, or looking out at people from a safe vantage, but from actually spending time in the ministry to people from his Messianic mission. Even more, it was not merely a ministry to physical needs for healing, but it began with and continued with his proclamation of the good news of the arrival of the Messianic kingdom in himself, King Messiah. His healing was out of compassion and care, but it was rooted in his own person as the Son of God, who had authority to proclaim the message of God and over the realm of physical disease and infirmity. And this ministry tour filled him with a deep compassion in his human nature as he came into contact with human need through his human nature. (Originally when I preached this message, I started after this verse, but now that I reconsider the passage, I consider verse 35 to be an essential beginning to what follows.)

    It is one of the realities of actual ministry to others that the more a person ministers in serving Christ, the more a person sees the need of the world for the gospel of Christ and his healing sovereignty. Certainly times of prayer ministry are necessary, and there is much too little said in the modern church about the basic equipment for ministry being the Word of God, being filled with the Spirit and being a person of prayer. It is then the actual getting down close to others, making the journeys of ministry and encountering the need first hand that the awareness of the need deepens and fills believers with compassion for others. As with Jesus, taking the first step to share the gospel and minister to human needs will make us people filled with the compassion of Jesus not as a theory but as a living reality which demonstrates itself in our lives. Too often it seems like people are waiting for the right feelings first. They want to feel the need and the compassion before they will do anything, but like Jesus they rather need to get in contact with the real human need in on the path of obedience in ministry to experience the full compassion that comes from being close to Jesus and filled with his Spirit.

    Thus, if we find many people who attend evangelical churches and whose stated beliefs are in line with sound evangelical doctrine, but lack the compassion of Christ, it may well be from too great an emphasis on Christians gathering and celebrating in worship rather than being equipped and sent forth in ministry. Look at how many songs seem to express that all God wants from us is praise and that we’re all right if we have the proper emotional state in a worship service. And it seems that there has been a benign neglect among many pastors, elders and church leaders, in the name of seeker friendly churches,  of their mission to equip the church for works of ministry, as stated in Ephesians 4:11-14: “And it was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints unto the work of ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ, until we all arrive at the oneness of faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a mature man, unto the full measure of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be childish as we are blown and carried around by every whiff of teaching by the trickiness of men in their sneakiness toward the scheme of error . . .” (Dale’s sight translation; unfortunately, there’s no modern English word or paraphrase that I can think of that can convey the emphasis of the preposition translated, “unto” in this passage as well). And it will be then that we come to know an emotional state that is more Christlike than being caught up in a thrill or warm afterglow of worship. It will be, as David Wilkerson once described the effect of any true baptism of the Holy Spirit, looking out and loving a lost world with the love of Jesus.

    When we come into contact with others in the course of ministry, then, we will see other people with the compassion of Christ, as he did. And when this happens, we will see them in their true state, in the immensity of their need. So, as we come close to Christ, his compassion will come from knowing their state as he did. The Bible says then that, “When he saw the crowds he was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and beaten down, like sheep without a shepherd.”  The description is not merely of their physical needs for healing, which he took care of generously when he was with them. Rather, the phrase recalls what Isaiah had written: “All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way . . .” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus knew that the real problem wasn’t the political domination of the masses by Rome or the economic exploitation of the masses by the rich nor their religious exploitation by their religious leaders. Rather, the true need was what he would provide in his death on the cross for them: “ . . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

    Because of sin, every human being apart from Christ is broken, harassed and helpless. Whatever the outward appearance of comfort or discomfort, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, the human brokenness that marks us all comes from the sin that separates us from Go. Thus we’re all left without his direction, protection, provision and life, and we ourselves are as helpless and harassed as sheep without a shepherd.  And this realization needs to infiltrate our perceptions of other people; it will enable us to see beyond our prejudices and the false fronts of others to the needs deep within their hearts and lives. It will mean seeing people according to the Word of God, from the perspective of a mind that has been renewed by the Spirit of God through fellowship with Jesus. This will draw us aware from the self centered defensive and passive life, and into a life of trusting God to meeting the need from the knowledge of the Savior and his power to save. 

    Rees Howells once told of how this realization came to him, as a part of his own experience, and how it became the burden which led him to be a missionary and to found a college to train missionaries. He said, “I had heard many people speaking on the need of the mission field, but I never ‘saw’ the heathen in their need until that afternoon; the Lord gave me a vision of them, and they stood before me as sheep without a shepherd.”

    But the realization of this need would be utterly crushing if we do not ourselves know the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For all the compassion of Jesus there needs to be a faith in the truth and power of the gospel that can and will come to the heart that will receive him by faith. Most certainly there needs to be a personal reception of salvation by faith in Christ, not necessarily as a dramatic experience, but certainly as a real understanding of having passed from death to life, from condemnation to pardon, from separation from God to acceptance by God through faith in Jesus Christ. This means, then, continuing in living in fellowship with Jesus and listening to his Word, and being filled oneself with the power of his Spirit for witness. This then will give us the belief in the power of the gospel that will be the foundation for a confidence to pray and to witness with the realization that the Savior can and will come to bring his salvation to those who are living like sheep without a shepherd.

    Arthur Blessitt found that this was necessary when he began a continuing witness in 1967 on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California. He found that the Christians who were witnessing with him really didn’t believe that the Lord was able to save the druggies, the freaks and the winos, as he described them. Rather, he found that he was only able to have an effective witness there as he worked with simple believers, without church connections or lots of theological knowledge, but whose lives had been changed by the gospel, by the power of God.

    So then, the compassion of Jesus will deepen within us as we minister for the glory of Jesus, with his gospel, love and power in this world. It will lead to a continuing perception of other people as Jesus sees them, and we will never be able to see them as we have seen them before. It will mean a transformation of our thoughts and feelings about others, as our own experience of the transforming power of the gospel fills us with the compassion and hope of Christ. We will then realize that he can and will do the same for others as he has done for us, and the confidence to reach out to others with the gospel of eternal life.

    Even more, then, the compassion of Jesus will lead us to seek from him the reinforcements we need to reach the world with the gospel. We will realize that his plan of reaching people calls for workers in his harvest, and this will call us to seek from him the workers to complete the work. Reaching the harvest field of the world, as represented in each community, each human being, calls for God to prepare, empower and send out the workers into the harvest field.

    Jesus held out before his disciples the tremendous potential harvest, but noted that more would be needed to fill the harvest. This is how he described both the potential and the need: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few . . .”  He didn’t give them any false impressions of their ability and numbers as being sufficient to meet the challenge of reaching the world with the gospel. He didn’t slap them on the back and say anything like “I have confidence in you; go to it.”  Rather, he commanded them to pray: “ . . . therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.” He gave them a specific request, and it’s one that he definitely intended to fulfill, to pray for workers to be sent into the harvest field of the world of mankind apart from Christ.

    Evangelism and missions, reaching people in this world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, comes from the initiative of the Lord of the harvest, Jesus himself, to send the workers into the harvest. His responsibility is to send – which implies his calling, preparation, empowering and sending his workers into the harvest field of the world. Even more, it then becomes the responsibility of the workers to work – which implies the work of witness and disciplemaking. But Jesus Christ, the Lord of the harvest, commanded his disciples to pray for this to happen, in light of the magnitude of the harvest and the need for so many more to accomplish the mission.

    Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, came to the conclusion that this was the starting point when he was looking for 24 others to join him in the China Inland Mission. He wrote, “In the study of that divine Word, I learned that to obtain successful workers, not elaborate appeals for help, but first earnest prayer to God to thrust forth laborers, and second the deepening of the spiritual life of the church, so that men would be unable to stay at home, were what was needed.”

    So often we look for people, but we want them to be of our own choosing, or to be someone like we’d be comfortable with, but Jesus’s command to pray first means that our wants and choices for our leaders, pastors and missionaries must recede into the background. So often, when we ourselves look for workers, we might be like the people of Israel, who want a king like the other nations, like the tall, good looking Saul, but we in fact need to wait for the Spirit filled tow headed kid David, who turned out to be the man after God’s own heart. 

    That Jesus calls for prayer means that this is something that we are not equipped or capable of doing on our own, but something for which we need the wisdom, power and guidance of God. So often people within the church seem to operate on the assumption that they can look at others, decide what their gifts and talents are, push and prod them to go where they think that they ought to go, and boast and crow about their accomplishment in getting that person to do what they assume God wanted that person to do. Certainly the Lord of the harvest is more than able to call, equip and empower his workers for his harvest, but this does not mean that anyone within the church has the wisdom to tell from someone’s supposed natural talents or spiritual gifts precisely where the Lord of the harvest wants that person. Otherwise the command would have been something like, “Figure it out and make them go there.” Rather, the Lord of the harvest tells his church precisely to ask him to send out his workers where he wants them – into the harvest where they are needed.

    The call to prayer means acknowledging Jesus as Lord of the harvest and it means that we seek the people that he wants for his workers in the places the that he wants them. It means that we must acknowledge and  follow his sovereignty in the calling, preparation and sending of his workers into his harvest, and being placed in the seas of human need where he would want them. This is what each one in denominational leadership and serving with mission boards needs to remember, that they are ever and always to be subject to the Lord of the harvest as he seeks to fulfill the prayers of his people for workers to come into his harvest.

    But praying this prayer is not enough; praying this way also entails being ready to become such a worker oneself. Jesus gave this call for workers to those who had already been enlisted as worker and who would eventually be sent out as workers. Jesus gave this command twice: in this passage, to the twelve, and in Luke 10:2, when he sent out the seventy.  It seems that his issuing of this command was with the understanding that the needs that they would uncover on  their mission would move them to a sense of need and compassion for the people they would encounter, and that this would brand upon their souls the need for prayer for workers to continue the work of the harvest around the world.

    The underlying principle, then, is that Jesus is not commanding them to pray for something for someone else that they would be unwilling to do for themselves. The disciple that prays that prayer needs to be someone who will be willing and ready to be sent out to fulfill that same prayer. To pray this without hypocrisy means that commitment to be a worker, wherever one is. It is understanding that having received the salvation of Jesus means being willing to be used to take the message of that salvation to others. It means the understanding that we ourselves are called to be missionaries ourselves, not necessarily in the sense of being in cross cultural or vocational ministry, but in the sense of being workers and witnesses for Jesus Christ wherever we are.

    Wilfred Grenfell, the medical missionary to Labrador in Canada, was once a guest at a socially exclusive dinner in London, England. There was a lady who was seated next to him at the meal who asked him, “Is it true, Dr. Grenfell, that you are a missionary?”

    He replied, “Is it true, madam, that you are not?”

    So then, the vision of the harvest which comes from Jesus mean a calm trust in God to follow his instructions and methods for reaching the harvest. His plan always has been to use his people to reach other people, and the people he uses are those who have been sent into the harvest as his faithful workers. God does not give us a quick, easy, short cut way to become a worker, but commands us to start with prayer. So this means that we need first of all to address the Lord of the harvest with the need of the world, and request from him the people that we need to reach the world. His call is to bring before him the need for workers and laborers here and throughout our nation and our world. Even more, let us add on the request that the Lord will revive us with his Holy Spirit, and make us all witnesses to him in the power of Christ. The qualifications which we can see from scripture are not that someone is universally liked or socialized effectively to a lost and dying world, but rather, someone who is divinely dissatisfied with the world as it is, who sees those around him as sheep without a shepherd, and who is a believer in Jesus Christ, who lives in fellowship with Jesus Christ in faith and obedience, and who will witness to Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    God’s plan to reach the harvest calls for his people to reach other people.  If the Great Shepherd has found us, he calls us to reach those who are now like sheep without a shepherd. His plan includes the call and command to his people to pray for workers to accomplish his work of bringing in his harvest. The harvest today is as great today as it ever was, but the greatness of God is more than adequate to meet the need. His invitation to pray for workers to come into his harvest is also his promise to fulfill the prayer. Therefore pray this way with the confidence that God will answer the prayer, and let the love and compassion of Jesus move you to keep on praying for his laborers for the harvest.

    The need for laborers then entails a willingness to  become a worker oneself. Make it a part of your praying for laborers the act of volunteering to be a part of meeting the needs  where you are. Look at the opportunities before you, and asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit, with holy and loving confidence and boldness, to be an effective witness for Christ. And include in this a willingness to be sent wherever he leads into harvest, as you recognized that the Lord of the harvest has the right to send you where he wants.

    Even more, this is a request that needs to be much, much more a request that is an integral part of our prayer meetings when we gather together to pray. Too often church members have been notorious for bringing up physical needs and perhaps financial needs, and neglect to keep the prayer for workers to be sent into the harvest as a consistent part of their prayer requests. The needs for workers for the needs of the local church could certainly be brought under this explicit command and implied promise. Certainly a church which is between pastors can pray with this command and promise for a pastor – but they should then look for the one that they eventually call as God’s answer to this prayer, and the worker he has sent to their place in the harvest.

    If the church which makes this request is seeking to be a part of reaching the world for Christ, this would then also entail being willing to live with what happens when the Lord of the harvest puts his nail pierced hand on the shoulder of someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister or friend or neighbor within the congregation, and points that person to a place in the harvest where he wants that person. Praying this prayer then means being willing to live with the consequences of God fulfilling this prayer as it touches the lives of those we know and love. It may mean sacrificing one’s own ambitions for that son or daughter and allowing the Lord of the harvest to put that person into a place of little recognition or even physical danger. It may mean letting go of someone who we may think needs to continue to be a part of our church fellowship for a long time more. But this really comes down living with the Lordship of Jesus Christ over that someone else’s life and not opposing it if I have other ideas or plans.

    But there is still one more thing from these verses that needs to be emphasized: in the work of reaching the world with the gospel, the leaders and people within the church need to keep it in mind that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church for everything in every way (Ephesians 1:21-23), is the Lord of the harvest. And this is where the wickedness of much of what happens among elders, pastors, church leaders and denominational officials that some call, ‘church politics,’ is highlighted, where it means behavior which is contrary to the explicit Word of God – rivalry, cutthroat competition, slander and backbiting as evil as anything which takes place in a secular corporation – and behavior which stands in any way in the way of the Lord of the harvest from sending his workers where he chooses. One of the consequences of someone seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus is often that others will seek to hijack, sidetrack, sabotage or stonewall that person as he or she seeks to follow the Lord of the harvest into his harvest field where he leads. Certainly that person is still responsible to obey God rather than man, as far as the leading is scriptural, but I personally find the, “That’s tough, just put up with it,” attitude toward church politics to be an unscriptural response. Rather, the situation calls for a healthy and holy respect for the Lord and Master of the harvest, the realization that his decisions are final, and the final acquiescence in the direction pointed by the finger of the right hand pierced by the nail of Golgotha.


    As far as some current trends in training people in pastoral ministry, vocational missionary work and denominational leadership, the following articles piqued my interest:

    The Seminary Bubble 

    Bursting the Seminary Bubble

    What the author writes about ministry as apprenticeship is very apt. Though I value my friendships with my friends from my seminary years, I’ve felt his model of apprenticeship might have been a more effective preparation, and others such as John Wesley and Charles Finney felt the same way. I don’t think that a ‘ministry internship’ as part of a seminary education is the answer here.

    Here is a further article on what another author sees as a coming bubble in higher education – and one which I would say had already arrived and is simply waiting to burst:

    The Higher Education Bubble

    Here are some thoughts which come to mind on these matters:

    • It’s becoming plainer than ever that a number of people have been educated beyond what they need to make a living.
    • It should also be said that many are being put into the higher education system who have no business being there in terms of their goals and personal capabilities.
    • Higher education often leaves a person overqualified for the work that they know how to find, and this often leads to a cycle of chronic underemployment.
    • Christian institutions of higher education do not do their students, graduates, alumni, staff and faculty and denominational sponsors good when they follow uncritically the same lines of thought and action as the secular institutions.
    • Much of seminary education is really not a preparation for pastoral ministry and missionary work but rather for continued higher education. In this I wholeheartedly agree with Jerry Bowyer. For instance, I personally found it extraordinarily difficult to draw a line between much of what was taught in New Testament exegesis and the actual understanding and application of the Word of God necessary for an effective preaching ministry. I found that the German theories on redaction criticism, form criticism and source criticism, for instance, had more to do with unsubstantiated, highly subjective theories on how some professors thought the text came to being than in actual interpretation and exposition of the text itself. And my background in classical studies, where much of the methodology of the German higher critics had already long since been repudiated, made knowing those theories more of an exercise in the history of Biblical interpretation than something that I could actually use in the pastorate. For myself, I found that ditching those theories in favor of more traditional paths of interpretation resulted in my being able to explain and apply the scriptures much more effectively in my preaching ministry.
    • It seems like there’s actually a pattern of overqualification and underemployment that dogs some people who come through Christian colleges and seminaries. I’ve read what others have written on this, but bore could be said on this, and I intend to write more on this.
    • I consider what I wrote above about the need of the world and the Lord of the harvest, and the number of brothers and sisters that I’ve known who have come through Bible colleges and seminaries who are no longer in vocational ministry. I don’t think that they can be dismissed simply with a cruel judgment that they never were really called to pastoral ministry or missionary service. There are a number of reasons why they may not have continued in vocational ministry. I myself wonder, with the need of the world and the call of the Lord of the harvest for workers, whether the need might be met more not just by continuing to send more and more through seminary and Bible college but by seeking to listen to, pray for and love those who may no longer be in vocational ministry, and understand that the Lord of the harvest may still have substantial work left for them to do.

    Where Are the Legalists in Our Churches?

    A little while ago there were some preachers that I know of who were going back to the book of Galatians and preaching a series of sermons on the foundational truths in that book of the atonement of Christ, justification and sanctification. Their explanation of the bedrock truths of the faith was very good. Where I think that they came up short was in attributing legalism in the modern church to a theological belief in righteousness by good deeds. That may well indeed be true of some people, but it is not generally not characteristic of many believers in modern evangelical churches who are most dogmatic about certain rules and regulations and setting themselves up as the authorities and judges of other believers where the scriptures are silent. In fact, many of these same believers may be at the same time extremely vocal about their conviction about salvation by grace through faith. So I don’t think that dealing with the theological truth is going to deal with the true motivation of their legalism. Moreover, I don’t think that most of them would ever see themselves in the place of a legalist however many sermons they heard that dealt with legalism as a mere theological belief that my good deeds will get me into heaven.

    I think that the legalism that many are stuck in is the legalism that their religious convictions and obedience make them superior to others who do not believe in and practice the same things. This is often the perception of those who do not make a profession of faith in Christ of those in the church, and they are often right. In addition, I have also heard the same thing from those who had a profession of faith in Christ but who have fallen away. So, this attitude of religious superiority because of personal religious observances has been and will continue to be a great stumbling block to many both inside and outside our churches. And I don’t think that talking more about grace from a theological standpoint to those who are stuck in it will receive anything more than the protest that, “I do believe completely in the grace of God” – as a foundational plank in their theology.

    Jesus told two parables in the gospel of Luke that showed what could be called practical and relational grace – how the grace of God deals with our own comparison of ourselves with others in our religious observances, and anything done out of obedience to God. I would myself preach sermons on these either as a preparation or as a follow-up to a sermon series on the book of Galatians.

    The first one is in Luke 18:9-14:

    “[Jesus] spoke this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who lived in contempt toward others: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other was a revenue agent for the Roman government. The Pharisee stood off by himself and prayed, ‘Oh God, I thank you that I’m not like others – thievish, abusive, sexually immoral, or even like this government revenue agent. I fast twice a week, and I tithe on everything that I have acquired.’ But the government revenue agent had stood a far way off, and he would not even lift his eyes toward heaven, but he was beating his chest as he was saying, ‘Oh God, be merciful to me – this sinner.’ I tell you, the government revenue agent went down to his home and had been justified rather than the other one; for whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’” (Dale’s sight translation)

    The next one is in Luke 17:7-10:

    “[Jesus told the apostles], ‘When you have a slave who has been plowing or herding sheep and who then comes in from the field, who among you says to him, ‘When you have come in, sit down immediately to dinner’?  But won’t you say to him, ‘Prepare my dinner, and wait on me while I eat and drink, and then you can eat and drink?’ Will you give any special favor to that slave because he did what he had been assigned? In the same way, when you have done what you have been assigned, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have just done what we ought to have done.’’ (Dale’s sight translation)

    In the first parable Jesus spoke to the Pharisaic sense of personal security and superiority that comes from comparing one’s own religious observances to others. This could be parallel to someone in a modern church having a testimony of having received salvation, but acting as if what he or she thinks, says and does in religious conformity as a part of a church makes him or her superior to those who don’t do the same things, or don’t do them as well. And believe me, those outside our church fellowships pick up on this quite easily. In the second parable, Jesus dealt with the idea that anything we do in obedience to God entitles us to any special favors from God in any way. The way that I’ve seen this work out – and I’ve been tempted with this myself – is to see that something that I’ve done entitles me to something special – some special privilege or permission – in some other way.

    Very often this becomes an entrenched habit of thought and action and may well become the peculiar kind of religious superiority, authoritarianism and inflexibility that many see in believers who have been involved heavily with church activities for a long time. This may well be why often that someone in a position of church or denominational leadership seeks out or arrogates to themselves special privileges of position, offices, or even financial favors because of what they would call their faithful service to God in some way – usually in some church activity or office. Many times they may also extend this to their families, to where their religious involvement and observance means special privileges of church position, promotion or financial support for their family members.

    There can often be an emotional incentive to this kind of legalism, because it feeds a person’s pride, self sufficiency and independence from God, and sense of superiority to others. After all, most adults in modern churches have never grown beyond the same social goals and skills as a high school senior. So  this kind of legalism can buttress the ‘formula driven’ forms of Christian involvement, where a person’s participation in the approved activities, saying the approved formulas and following the rules is normally perceived the outward indication that a person is ‘all right’ with God and with others. When coupled with a selectively proud and aggressive self presentation, this can be seen as nothing less than hypocrisy. Moreover,  this leads to, in some very competitive people, an aggressive use of the rules for personal aggrandizement and denigration and contempt of other believers.

    Here are the signs that this kind of practical and social legalism are at work behind a theological profession of salvation by grace through faith:

    • Social conformity:  Believers seek to avoid sticking out and being different because this might attract attention and harassment by the social enforcers of the rules. In addition, this might lead to the idolatry of personal reputation that leads to a stubborn hypocrisy, where someone tries to preserve his or her reputation and outward conformity at all costs.
    • Social competition: This leads to a habitual quest to the demonstrate superiority over other people in some way, often by display of superficial Biblical or theological knowledge. An unbroken pride and an inflated self estimate does this to keep up a personal sense of having to be better than someone else in some way.
    • Social oneupmanship: Social conflict and aggression come from this sense to prove one’s superiority in following the rules over others. This is where some believers are on the prowl looking for areas in which others fall short, or testing them in short conversations or enlisting others to keep an eye on someone else.
    • Social control: This is where some try to keep the social group within the church in conformity to the rules. There may actually be an associated  sense of pride and explicit boastfulness how one has changed others to one’s own expectations and has actually been playing the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.

    It is here where Galatians speaks most powerfully to these situations, with verses that deal with the personal and social effects of this kind of social legalism: “The works of the fallen human nature are obvious . . . fights, strife, jealousy, fits of rage, cutthroat competitions, vicious cliques, divisions,  . . . and such other things like these, which I already told you before that those who keep on practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21). With this citation, I’ve left out the sexual and addictive sins, but left in the sins of personal rivalry and conflict, which are the works of the fallen human nature (flesh) which can have the most prevalent religious expressions among us.

    Rather, there needs to be a renewed emphasis on the fruit of the Spirit as the effect of genuine regeneration and walking in the Spirit of Christ: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control; against such things there is no legal sanction” (Galatians 5:22-23, Dale’s sight translation).

    There are two last observations that I have from this:

    I’ve noticed that evangelical believers when operating in the social environment of the church are extremely vulnerable to listening to and passing on vicious gossip and to being instigated against others by false gossip. I’ve also noticed that many times false impressions and malicious rumors about others may persist among some believers and Christian leaders long after others have seen through them for the falsehoods that they are and have moved on. My hypothesis is that these false impressions and malicious rumors have become baked into that person’s sense of personal superiority, and that they function to keep that person’s sense of personal superiority by giving them someone else to be superior to through this persistent sense of contempt toward someone else. This also was a problem in the Galatian churches: “If you keep on sniping at and chowing down each other, watch out that you annihilate each other” (Galatians 5:15).

    The second observation is that the rules often become a weapon and a smokescreen of the person with an abusive personality.  This is most likely one of the reasons why abusive personalities too often find long term sanctuary in churches as long term members and even leaders.They may harbor within themselves a belief that they have a special right and the justification to treat others any way that they please  so long as their own outward reputation remains intact. It is why sometimes credible accounts of vicious long term abuse come out where someone had a reputation for being a perfect spouse or from a perfect family. They were adhering to the rules, but not showing the fruit of the Spirit within their own marriages and family.

    “Let’s just get good ol’ Joe to do it . . .”

    Some years ago, at a church which had grown for a number of years previously, one of my friends from seminary corroborated my observation that it seemed now like the same people were being asked to take up all the new ministry responsibilities. For example, if they were looking for people to read scriptures during a service, it was from the same group of people they would find the ones to do it. And it seemed that the others who were in attendance and who would have been willing to take up new responsibilities were never even given a chance to know about them. All of a sudden, there would be an announcement that something new had started, and good ol’ Joe, who may have been teaching Sunday School, serving as an elder, singing in the choir or leading an outreach Bible study, had been the one tapped to lead or participate in that something new. So one person is probably being asked to do more than is either wise or within God’s will when others are willing and able to help with the load of ministry.

    That church had plateaued at that point. And the same kind of pattern is often found in small churches. The same core of the same people do the same things for years. They decide to try something new, and it’s mainly those from the same core who are tapped to lead and support the new activity, program or outreach. And the new activity, program or outreach dies, and the same people from the same core group of people keep on going with the same kinds of church activities and ministries that they have been doing for years. And there may be people who are in attendance who could but do not participate, support or lead the new activity, program or outreach because they are not given the opportunity, and they may eventually end up leaving the church because they get tired of being treated like spectators, or they feel like people trapped on the outside looking in.

    Here’s what I’ve seen happen: when people think of some new kind of activity, ministry or outreach, they may immediately think of someone to fit into the slot. And that person may simply be good ol’ Joe, whom they have known for years. It’s someone they know, may be comfortable with, and may think be capable of the job. But the problem is that they don’t stop, pray and ask God for the right people to fill the position. And then they don’t make the need known beyond the same core group. And if they do, the person is not given a chance to pray and think about it; it’s more like they are being forced into a slot or trapped into something.

    So, be careful to pray and be open to the leading of God first. Maybe there’s someone besides Good Ol’ Joe to take that ministry.

    Reaching the Secular University

    Recently I’ve been wondering how seriously evangelical churches have been over the past generation in reaching the secular universities in the United States and the Western world in general. My concern is less about the parachurch organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, but rather with evangelical churches, denominations and church leaders. I’m wondering if there has been a people blindness to the secular universities among some. Here are some questions that I would put to denominational leaders and pastors:

    • How many evangelical churches make the secular universities around them a regular focus in prayer?
    • How many evangelical churches seek to include secular universities as a focus in a church evangelistic program?
    • How many denominational leaders see cities, towns and regions with a secular university in their midst as a strategic place to plant new churches with a substantial emphasis on outreach to the university?
    • How many denominational leaders see the need for church redevelopment in small, ingrown churches which are in proximity to a secular university to include a substantial emphasis on outreach to the university?
    • How many evangelical churches, when seeking a location for new facilities, consider moving their facilities closer to a secular university as giving greater opportunities for ministry and outreach to the university community?
    • How many denominational leaders and pastors see a possibility for satellite churches and campuses adjacent to a secular university to provide outreach and ministry to the university?
    • How many evangelical churches treat the ‘college and career’ group as a simply another post high school youth group with pretty much the same format and curriculum?
    • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university see that something is missing if their congregation is primarily families who have no relation to the university?
    • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university have a staff member with a primary mission as leading outreach and ministry to the secular university?
    • How many pastors of evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university know the leaders of the parachurch ministries such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, encourage them to attend and to be involved in local churches on Sundays, develop relationships with them, seek to minister to them, include them in the church fellowship and treat them as brothers and sisters to show love and support in prayer?
    • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university see outreach and ministry to the faculty and staff of the university as important as ministry to the students?
    • How many evangelical churches in close proximity to a secular university seek to sponsor and promote special outreach events with speakers on apologetics and relational issues and quality Christian artists include the secular university in their focus and promotion?

    I’m certain that there are many churches, pastors and leaders who can point to efforts that they have made on outreach to the people in the secular university who are their close neighbors. Nevertheless, I do wonder if many pastors, leaders and churches have a significant blind spot in their vision for ministry and outreach if they do not see the secular university which is nearby.

    Characteristics of Growing/Declining Churches

    This is from a handout that I’ve used when I’ve preached on Ephesians 4:11-14.

    · Receptive to pastoral leadership: Growing churches show respect for the ministry of godly pastors (Eph. 4:11-12).

    · Unreceptive to pastoral leadership: Declining (or plateaued) churches disrespect the ministry of godly pastors.

    · Spiritually mature leadership: Growing churches have spiritually qualified leaders (I Tim. 3:1-13, Tit. 1:6-9).

    · Disruptive, immature lay leadership: Declining churches have spiritually unqualified people in places of leadership

    · “Great Commission Church”: Growing churches pray and plan definitely for evangelism and discipling new believers and growing churches regularly train members for evangelism and effective ministry (Matthew 28:19-20).

    · “Status quo churches”: Declining churches pray primarily for personal needs and plan to do pretty much what they have been doing, and declining churches make do with the people who have been serving in the same places for a long time.

    · Ministry of each member according to God’s gift and guidance, in love: Growing churches use the spiritual gifts of their members in a growing atmosphere of Christlike love (Eph. 4:15-16).

    · “Fill the slot again this year”: Declining churches pressure people to serve without regard to their spiritual gifts or sense of ministry burden, in an often demanding, not loving, atmosphere.

    · Outreach philosophy of evangelism: Growing churches “go out” of the church to reach the lost (Acts 1:8).

    · “Come and get it, you sinners”: Declining churches expect the lost to come to church to find the Savior.

    Building Each Other Up: A Scriptural Survey of the Ministry of Edification in the Body of Christ

    Building up one another is the demonstration of the love of Christ among believers.

    John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    Jesus had just given the twelve disciples a demonstration of servanthood love. He had just performed a humbling task of washing the feet of the disciples, even Judas, who was betraying him at that moment. The continuing expression of servanthood love among the disciples would be the mark of their submission to him as Lord and Savior. It would be the basis of their credibility as his disciples. The world apart from Christ would then learn the reality of their salvation by whether they would truly love one anothers.

    Something to consider: suppose I were there beside the side of Jesus, and at some point after he had started to wash the feet of the disciples, he had stopped and told me to take over. What would be my reaction? How am I actually reacting to the servanthood opportunities which are already being placed in front of me by Jesus?

    Galatians 5:13-14, 6:2: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge your flesh; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . . Carry each others’ burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

    Since Christlike love for our fellow believers is the will of God, the very credibility of one’s salvation from Jesus Christ is at stake in whether one is building up fellow believers in servanthood love. What then can be done to make our love for each other more visible? Even more — doesn’t this require more than attendance at church services, and an occasional greeting to someone else?

    Building up one another is necessary because of our spiritual unity with each other as fellow believers.

    I Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

    Because of the spiritual unity of believers, the suffering or success of other believers affects our own suffering or success. At the very least we miss the possible contributions of the sufferers, and we miss the possible fruitful ministry to their lives when their needs are ignored.

    Building up one another provides the atmosphere for growth in the body of Christ among believers.

    The atmosphere where growth in the body of Christ takes place is that of ‘speaking the truth in love,’ where each member’s ministry based upon his or her spiritual gift plays a part. The ‘work’ of each part is the divinely willed and empowered gift through the Holy Spirit for the building up of each member. Each member has a place; each member is necessary for the growth of the whole. Apart from this ministry, truthful and loving edification through the spiritual gifts of each member, churches tend to be cliquish, closed and unaccepting, and believers stifled, stunted in their growth, and superficial in their post conversion experience of the working of God in their lives.

    Do you know what your spiritual gift is? Have you studied Romans 12:3-9, I Corinthians 12 and 14, and I Peter 4:10-11, and asked God to show you where your place is?

    Building up one another happens with prayer for other believers.

    Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

    The ministry of fellow believers to each others in prayer, both in their private times and public gatherings, is the foundation for making the ministry of building each other up spiritually and eternally effective. Before even approaching someone else with correction and encouragement, pray for the person and for wisdom for yourself. Also find someone else who is trustworthy with whom you can share your own heart and pray for each other’s needs: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can be healed” (James 5:16). Be sure to pray in faith, expecting God to answer, and to keep matters confidential. A prayer ministry must not degenerate into a gossip hotline!

    Consider then: what people come to mind when I think of those for whom I can pray? What people are there with whom I can pray confidentially for my needs, and even confess my sins?

    Building up one another with believers who listen to and understand fellow believers.

    Listening to fellow believers must come before any speaking to them. This is to avoid needless and destructive criticism, insensitive and inept advice due to false impressions and mistaken information, and subtle insinuations against anyone else’s reputation through gossip: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Be careful to get to know the person for whom you are concerned through firsthand knowledge; don’t assume that a secondhand account of a situation shows genuine understanding of someone else’s situation. Love will abound in “knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9) not only from learning the Word and being with the Lord, but from taking the time to get to know fellow believers and their situations.

    What reasons can you think of why you personally make not take the time to listen and understand other people? What can you do to correct these tendencies?

    Building up one another happens when believers lovingly correct each other.

    Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him even as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

    Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

    To avoid the destructive practice of gossip, scripture gives these guidelines:

    • Correction should be personal — not through uninvolved third parties — avoiding triangulation.
    • Correction should be confidential — only with those actually involved.
    • Correction aims at restoration: the repudiation of any genuine sin, and renewed and deepened fellowship among believers.
    • Correction needs to be done with gentleness, sensitivity and a willingness to listen (James 1:19-21), and not self righteous judgmentalism.
    • Correction needs to be based on scripture (II Timothy 3:16-4:2) and not personal pique.

    See also Proverbs 10:12 and 26:17. How do these scriptures suggest that we should deal with these matters if uninvolved parties seek to pry or others seek to enlist us as allies in their personal conflicts?

    See also Romans 14:7-12, and Ephesians 4:1-3 and 4:23. What do these scriptures say that would guide us on how to deal with differences of opinion? Remember: among believers differences of opinion are not to degenerate to become a battle of wills.

    Building up one another happens when believers comfort each other.

    Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

    I Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

    What ways has God comforted you over the years?

    What situations are there which call for us to comfort fellow believers?

    What ways are there that we can show comfort in those situations, and pass on the comfort that we ourselves have received from God?

    Building up one another happens when believers share scriptural counsel and encouragement.

    Romans 15:4: “For everythnig that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

    II Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

    The Word of God is the proper source of counsel, encouragement and correction among believers. The goal of Scriptural counsel is to direct others away from sin and to follow the will of God in Jesus Christ. It must be used sensitively to the need of each person.

    What can be done in your life and in the life of your church to provide better opportunities for personal counsel and encouragement?

    Building up one another happens when believers share materially with those in need.

    Romans 12:13: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

    Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

    I John 3:17: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

    This is many times the greatest test of the reality of our love and commitment to each other as believers. This was one of the greatest signs of the spiritual vitality in the earch church (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37). Its absence will falsify the profession of love for each other.

    What opportunities are there for this kind of giving in your life and in partnership with your church? What guidelines should be followed in giving?

    Prepare yourself for the ministry of edification; be settled with the issue of the Lordship of Christ in your own life, receive his Word into your heart, continue in prayer, purify your motives, and live to love as Jesus loved.

    All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers

    Evangelical Churchianity

    The most deadly, least recognized, most prevalent and most subtle counterfeit of Christian discipleship has been at work for decades deadening churches, sapping missionary and evangelistic vision, and deluding many into lukewarm Christian lives. This counterfeit is evangelical churchianity.

    Evangelical churchianity is more often a counterfeit lifestyle than wrongly held doctrines. It is where someone who has orthodox doctrinal beliefs and genuine saving faith in Christ nevertheless places his or her devotion in religious association, conformity and ambition. This manifests itself in certain attitudes and actions which deviate from the New Testament portrayal of the life of following Christ.

    Evangelicals have rightly recognized a form of churchianity in churches which do not clearly adhere to Biblical authority and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But churchianity infiltrates doctrinally evangelical churches also, through shallow conversions, false professions of faith, backsliding, Biblical ignorance, and treating the life of discipleship as church attendance and association. While it is the religion of those who want church association without true spiritual life in Christ, the nominally but not spiritually Christian, it can also become the the real religion of a church that is nominally evangelical.

    Christianity: New Testament Discipleship

    Churchianity: Human Centered Religious Association
    Emphasizes Jesus Christ as the one to be trusted, loved and obeyed.

    Centered on the church as a social group and human organization

    Emphasizes the Bible as the authority for faith and practice.

    Follows an often unwritten set of human rules and traditions.

    The church is a fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ united by their common faith in Christ.

    The church is an earthly social gathering united by social compatibility and conformity.

    The mission of the church is worldwide evangelization.

    Maintenance of the status quo for personal comfort and prestige is the real agenda.

    All people are made in the image of God and are to be treated with the self sacrificial love of Christ.

    Anyone can be treated according to the personal likes, dislikes, prejudices, insecurities and expectations of those in control.

    The qualifications for leadership are from the Bible and the model for leadership is the servanthood example of Jesus Christ.

    The qualifications for leadership are social standing and the model of leadership is the social climber.

    Fostering Discipleship Rather Than Churchianity:

    • Clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation by his grace through faith in him alone.
    • Clearly teach and model the Bible as God’s Word and the true basis for our faith and deeds.
    • Clearly teach the nature of the church as the church of Jesus Christ, and his sovereign Lordship over all the church.
    • Clearly live as if the church itself were a fellowship supernaturally created and sustained by God through the Holy Spirit.