Thinking Out Loud

April 8, 2019

Credit Where Credit is Due

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, ministry, testimony — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This dog also led Kevin to Jesus. Source Café Press.

It’s always interesting when people you know from a fairly fixed context show up at a funeral for someone you knew from a fairly different fixed context.

“How did you know Kevin;” I asked.

“Actually, I led him to the Lord.” It happened in the town park, apparently.

Later in the funeral service itself, a speaker who had been previously scheduled got up to pay tribute to Kevin and explained how he met him at his apartment through a mutual friend, and as they talked about different things, he led him to the Savior.

After the service was over, a woman who I’ve known for years explained how she had led Kevin to to the Lord on a bus in which they were both travelling.

I wanted to ask her if she’d even been listening to the man who had spoken one of the tributes, but decided not to go there. I’ve run into her since and she certainly affirms her version of things.

My wife said later that Kevin had a ministry to people who had the gift of evangelism.

(Think about it.)

I have no doubt now as to Kevin’s eternal state. He certainly met the Lord on many occasions and accepted him as Lord on an equal number.

I mean why would anyone lie about a story like that?

 

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February 5, 2019

Don Richardson Wrote the Playbook on Finding Creative Analogies

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, missions — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

For anyone studying to prepare for a vocational ministry career in third world missions, Peace Child by Don Richardson (Bethany House) is required reading.

As the publisher explains: “In 1962, Don and Carol Richardson risked their lives to share the gospel with the Sawi people of New Guinea. Peace Child tells their unforgettable story of living among these headhunters and cannibals, who valued treachery through fattening victims with friendship before the slaughter. God gave Don and Carol the key to the Sawi hearts via a redemptive analogy from their own mythology…”

I thought it was interesting that, depending on who you are, you can get into a lot of trouble for introducing analogies that include stories from the lore of other tribes and even other religions; but in missions, sometimes it can almost be a necessity.

His Wikipedia page contains this remembrance by Ruth Tucker:

As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: “In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at.” Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.

In November of 1979, I was in the same room as Don Richardson; a showing of the movie version of Peace Child at the Valley Vineyard Church in Southern California. I was basically just a kid, and had no idea in whose presence I was. I wish I had at least shaken his hand…

…We learned last week that Don had passed away in December. His book Peace Child, originally written in 1975 and revised in 2007, is still in print, as are several others including Eternity in their Hearts, Lords of the Earth, Secrets of the Koran and Heaven Wins

…Some of Don Richardson’s pioneering efforts continue today in a rather different form through Mustard Seed International and coincidentally, one of the directors of that organization moved to our area a couple of years ago, and we got a bit of a refresher about Don and the work of another missionary states-person, Lillian Dickson.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a profile about the organization which you can read at this link.

Also, if you’re interested, Moira Brown of 100 Huntley Street interviews Don Richardson in 2012 at this link. (21 minutes.)

December 20, 2018

A Cup of Cold Water; A Stack of Good Books

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 am

I came across this quotation while preparing an article for another blog I edit.

If he shall not lose his reward who gives a cup of cold water to his thirsty neighbour, what will not be the reward of those who by putting good books into the hands of those neighbours, open to them the fountains of eternal life? – Thomas a Kempis

As a book guy, it resonated.

At Christmas, it’s timely.

It now sits atop my Facebook page; in perfect ratio for FB if you wish to borrow!

November 24, 2018

When Missionary Zeal Exceeds Common Sense

There are times when you’re thinking something, but you don’t say it. One of those times is immediately following someone’s passing, especially if it was under unusual circumstances. “She shouldn’t have tried to do that electrical repair herself.” “He really shouldn’t have taken off from the airport in that storm.” “He really shouldn’t have always been eating chocolate cake.”

And yet, hours after we learned of his passing, Christian Today asked the questions we were all thinking about the young missionary killed one week ago today (Saturday, Nov.17th) on an island east of India in the Bay of Bengal.

It’s impossible to look at a photograph of John Allen Chau, the young American killed by tribes-people on North Sentinel Island, without sadness. He is in the full glow of youth, with decades of life ahead of him. His friends and family have paid tribute to his gifts and his character: ‘He was a beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us. To others he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer’, they wrote on Instagram.

…But this tragedy raises questions that sadness cannot be allowed to silence.

The article goes on to describe the challenges:

North Sentinel Island is inhabited by a few – anything from few dozen to a few hundred – tribes-people who are among the most isolated in the world. Though rules appear to have been confusingly slackened quite recently, they are still out of bounds for tourists. The Indian government believes the best policy for the islanders is to allow them the isolation they clearly desire – they killed two fishermen in 2006 – and operates a ‘hands off, eyes on’ policy, patrolling the coast to deter anyone from landing. A key reason for this is the vulnerability of the tribes-people to modern diseases: their isolation means they lack the antibodies to protect them.

And then, the central part of the article:

He wrote to his parents: ‘You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.

‘Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed. Rather, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil…’

…One response, then, is to hail Chau as a martyr… But those questions won’t go away.

His landing on the island was illegal. Should his personal convictions allow him to override the rule of law?

Not only did he break the law himself – and there might certainly be cases where Christians would feel free do to that – but he implicated other people in his lawbreaking. Is that justifiable?

He was putting lives at risk – not just his own, but the North Sentinelese themselves, who lacked any immunity to any pathogens he may have been carrying. Suppose the price of his evangelism was the deaths of those he evangelised – would it really have been worth it?

He was going against their clearly expressed wishes and invading their territory. Why should he have thought they would welcome him, when others had been driven away or killed?

Who knew what he was doing, and to whom was he accountable?

How, when he didn’t speak their language, was he going to witness effectively to them?

Continue reading here. (Christian Today is based in London, and is not related to the U.S. Christianity Today.)

Each of the questions they raise could be fleshed out into further detail.

In discussion earlier today at Internet Monk, Robert wrote:

I see John Allen Chau as a victim of disordered Christian ideas of what constitutes evangelism. It is now historically known that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire by the organic process of relational networks, not the heroic efforts of a few super-evangelists, for all intents and purposes parachuting into completely alien and unknown hostile territories and peoples.

Unfortunately, I think the Church came to glamorize and idealize the super-evangelist along with the martyr at a very early point; the two overlap in significant ways, and many early Christians seem to have intentionally sought martyrdom in an even more reckless manner than Chau’s attempt to evangelize the Indian tribe. Reading some of the accounts of the early martyrs, you get the impression that they are committing suicide by the hand of the pagan government, the way some people commit suicide by cop today. I see John Allen Chau as someone acting very much in line with that psychologically and socially unhealthy tradition and legacy. May he rest in peace.

The writer “Burro” adds something that some will find difficult to read:

The Protestant hagiography surrounding the deaths of the missionaries Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their compatriots to the Ecuadorian indigenous people is cut from the same cloth.

Although their mission was more anthropologically informed and ultimately successful, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between Jim Elliott’s mission and that of John Chau, except that Jim Elliott had a whip-smart and eloquent widow as a PR agent, and a less de-Christianized culture to receive the message.

Iain writes,

One more tragic thing about John Allen Chau, and the toxic mindset he was the victim of, is that it doesn’t seem to me to be about actually bringing people to Christ at all. It is all about the act of evangelism as a good in itself for the spiritual benefit (or if I am snarky the acquisition of divine brownie points) by the evangliser himself.

Apparently no-one even knows what language the people he was intruding on speak, and certainly no-one understands it, and from the extracts from his diary published he was attempting in fact to evangelise them in, of all things, English. The people he was interfering with apparently attack outsiders on sight because their last interaction with the outside world had a number of their people kidnapped and killed, and a great proportion of them wiped out by disease. There is no way he could possibly have successfully communicated anything to them, and arriving there could only have potentially done them serious harm. He must have known this, or at the best never bothered to find out but, and here’s the crucial bit, can’t have thought it mattered.

I don’t know if John Allen Chau deliberately wanted to be a martyr, or what he thought would happen, but it seems plain that someone has taught him that this is what he had to do to earn God’s approval, or save himself from wrath, or some such, and he died futilely because of it. Whoever taught him this killed him as surely as the guy with the bow and arrows, and without the justification that the guy who shot him had, that he was simply (and arguably not even misguidedly) defending his family and home.

I feel sorry for John Allen Chau and his family and hope he can find the rest and peace in death he clearly could not find in life, which drove him to this tragic and foolish death.

Jean writes,

…Mr. Chau had to hire someone to get him into space he was forbidden to enter, evade Indian patrol boats, risk (and ultimately lose) his own life, in order to reach a people who didn’t want to be reached, whose language he did not know, to “tell them about Christ.” He returned to the island after he had been injured by an arrow the day before. He seems, to me, to have been a man seeking martyrdom for his own reasons. He left behind a grieving family, a people possibly exposed to diseases to which they have no immunity, and seven Indian fishermen arrested for helping him break the law. What good did any of that do?

Lastly, some interesting food for thought from Christiane

…I know Mr. Chau wanted to bring Christ to them, but maybe they are already in His care, unbeknownst to Mr. Chau or to themselves. Such is the lack of humility that many who see such tribes as ‘the lost’ may not realize that our lives exist because of the breath of God in our nostrils. Those primitive people ARE in the hands of the Lord, and to impatiently cause them to wound, injure, or kill out of fearfulness seems more the action of a ‘lost’ person than of someone seeking to bring them salvation…

You can add your thoughts to the discussion at Internet Monk. (There is no specific article there per se; the comments were following a short link which appeared in the Saturday news roundup.)

In the end, I think that Christian Today and those leaving comments today at Internet Monk do need to ask the critical questions; if only so that valuable lessons can be learned and we can avoid repetition of this horrible tragedy.

That may be John Chau’s greatest contribution to world missions.

photo: All Nations (mission agency); map: Wikipedia commons

October 25, 2018

The Message Bible: Paraphrase or Translation?

The Message.Romans.12.1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

With the passing of Eugene Peterson this week, Michael Frost has written what I feel to be the best overall summary of The Message Bible. He quickly shows us both why it is needed, and what may have given Peterson the idea to creat it. A few short excerpts follow, but first some background personal background from me.

I’ve always resisted people who are dismissive of The Message because “it’s a paraphrase.” I usually point out that first of all, Peterson was a brilliant scholar who worked from original languages. He didn’t just pick up a previous English translation and restate it, as did Ken Taylor with The Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT, which was the translation-status upgrade of Taylor’s work.)

Second, I will often point out that some linguists have told me they don’t really have the term paraphrase. Anytime you are taking something written for audience “A” and then re-presenting it for audience “B” you are, in fact, translating.

The problem is that for everyone, including me, it was an either/or proposition.

But Frost introduces a new phrase, “rendering the text” which I think really says it best.

…There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what you need. It’s a rendering of the text, an attempt to make the Bible accessible in the common vernacular. But as a doorway into serious Bible reading, it has been a gift to the church. At least that’s how my friend has found it.

In his book on Bible reading, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson writes about his motivations in writing The Message. He goes so far as to say it’s a form of sacrilege to speak of God in language that is “inflated into balloons of abstraction or diffused into the insubstantiality of lacey gossamer.” …

…Knowing this helps me appreciate The Message for what it is. It’s a protest against arcane and impenetrable religious language. It’s an invitation for ordinary people to enter the Scriptures once again.

…In his 1997 book on spirituality, Leap Over a Wall, he opens by telling us how his mother used to recount Bible stories to him when he was a child. In quite a moving passage, he writes:

My mother was good with words; she was also good with tones. In her storytelling I not only saw whole worlds come into being, I felt them within me through the timbre of her voice.”

Sure, he admits, she took some liberties with the stories, adding extracanonical detail, but “she never violated or distorted the story itself.” …

Here we have our primary clue to reading The Message: it’s like sitting on Uncle Eugene Peterson’s knee and listening to him tell the Bible story…

A rendering of the text.

I need to remember that phrase. 

Again, click here to read Michael Frost’s article; and click here to listen to Skye Jethani interview Michael about his new book Keep Christianity Weird on Phil Vischer’s podcast. (Skip to the start of the interview at 30:39.)

…Here’s another phrase to keep in mind if you know someone who is a sharp critic of Peterson’s work: “It wasn’t written for us.” If they persist, just smile and say, “It wasn’t written for you.”


Image: Bible Gateway blog

May 15, 2018

What if the Most Seeker-Friendly Thing is Having a Regular Service?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

I’ve mentioned before that the problem in the North American capital-C Church is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, but rather that some churches are seeker-hostile.

Still, as we switch to a greater postmodern context, is it possible that some of our best efforts to be welcoming are no longer necessary?

I’m currently reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan. This book is literally overflowing with practical application for both churches and individuals. I thought I’d share this very short excerpt with you today (emphasis added).

At our church, we designate February as Friends Month. This is the month we design the church service to be especially accessible to our non-Christian friends. But what does a service like this look like? When we used to evangelize moderns, the strategy was to simplify the service and remove awkward moments from the service — the offering, the prayers and the announcements. The idea was to get to the Bible talk as soon as possible. The idea was also that the Bible talk would be what moves our non-Christian friends to a point of conversion. They would hear the truth of the gospel clearly presented, and they would understand that they had a simple choice: accept or reject the truth claims of the gospel.

But with postmoderns, we look at the whole service — not just the Bible talk — as evangelistic, because the whole service shows how Christianity works. When they see us take up an offering, they will see that we are generous with our money because Jesus himself generously gave himself up for us. They will see that we are content with our money because we trust God to provide. And they will see that the gospel has freed us from the hold that money has on us because God is our security. When they hear us pray, they will hear what a personal relationship with God sounds like. They will see that we have a God who is powerful enough to answer prayers but also personal enough to care about our little needs. They will hear that we love each other so much that we pray for each other in our churches. They will hear our cries for justice for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. And when they hear our announcements, they will hear that we take food to the sick, new mothers, orphans and people who have moved into our suburbs. They will hear that both young and old meet together in small groups. All the parts of the service show that we have a community of believers who are transformed by Christ and who restore our world by bringing Jesus’ love, mercy and justice.

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May 11, 2018

Dissecting the Evangelism Process

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

They say the problem with trying to dissect a cat and learn how it works is that once you make the first cut, you’ve killed the cat.

Trying to over-analyze the various elements of faith can have the same effect, but as I’ve started reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan, 2018), I’m finding the opposite: Something about this approach really brings the gospel to life.

One of the things which impressed me is the use of charts and diagrams, as in the excerpt below:


1 Thessalonians 1:4–10 reveals six crucial parts that persons play in the symphony of evangelism, which Chan outlines below:

  1. God’s role is to choose people for salvation (v.4). God has a sovereign role in salvation. This is the theological idea of calling, election, and predestination.
  2. Jesus’ role is to save people from wrath (v.10). He is responsible for dying for people and their sins, rising from the dead, and one day coming back to judge people. Jesus’ other role is that the gospel story is about him (v. 8). The gospel is a message about who Jesus is and what he’s done to save people from their sins.
  3. Paul’s role is to communicate the gospel (v. 5). He did this both with words and actions, not just what he said but also how he lived. Paul gives more details about his model life in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–12.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower the person who is communicating the gospel (v. 5). Perhaps this means that the Spirit gives the person the gift of effective communication or the words to say. And the Spirit also illuminates the person hearing the gospel by convicting them (v. 5) and opening their heart to receive the gospel with joy (v. 6).
  5. The Thessalonians hear the gospel and welcome it with joy (v. 6b). They respond with faith (v. 8b) by turning from their idols to God (vv. 8b–9). Now they imitate Paul (v. 6a) and are models for other believers (v. 7) while they wait for Jesus to return (v. 10).
  6. The gospel is a message about Jesus (v. 8). It is the means by which the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins (v. 5) and enables them to welcome God’s salvation with joy (v. 6). (20–21)

This chart further describes these evangelism roles by mapping them along six theological categories:

Like Paul’s role in 1 Thessalonians, “Our role is to communicate the gospel both in words and actions. But our role is not God’s: we are not sovereignly choosing who gets saved. Our role is not Jesus’: we are not saving people from their sins. Our role is not the Holy Spirit’s: we cannot force people to believe. Instead we must stay focused on our role as the evangelist and do it well.”


I’ll definitely have more to say about this book, probably later next week. It’s a great resource for both churches and individuals.  Learn more at this page.

Book excerpt sourced at Zondervan Academic

February 25, 2018

Billy Graham in His Own Words

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

Two days ago on the devotional blog we honored Billy Graham with an excerpt from his final book. Then yesterday, we added Rev. Graham to a select group of people who have been part of a quotation series at Christianity 201. Quotation columns at C201 always run the danger of being pithy — such as the shorter ones found here — so I’ve tried to include some more substantive quotes as they were available. Preparing this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a servant of God who was willing to be obedient to the call of God. His presence and influence will be missed.


The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope. We thrive on hope, we rejoice in hope, we witness in hope, knowing that experience works hope. ‘Happy is he . . . whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’ There is hope for the future. It is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the grave and is alive now. I have staked all that I am or ever hope to be on Him.


One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.


God proved his love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’


Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.


Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.


The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.


The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.


There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.”


Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets…I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.


The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’


The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.


The cross shows us the seriousness of our sin—but it also shows us the immeasurable love of God.


I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.


Like Joseph storing up grain during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine that lay ahead, may we store up the truths of God’s Word in our hearts as much as possible, so that we are prepared for whatever suffering we are called upon to endure.


The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.


“What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).


When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.


I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am.


Sources:

February 22, 2018

Thank You, Billy Graham

“The closest thing America has ever had to a national pastor.” – NBC-TV’s Lester Holt 

Last night I watched the full hour of the Canadian daily Christian talk show 100 Huntley Street which was a tribute to the late Rev. Billy Graham. They ended the program with a video I had never seen before and was unaware of — it’s had less than 40,00 views — titled Thank You, Billy Graham.

A number of top entertainers came together to produce this “sung biography” of Billy Graham containing some great documentary film footage. The song was written and produced by motion picture actor and recording artist Pat Boone, Grammy-winning Rock artist David Pack from Ambrosia, and Country star Billy Dean. You’ll recognize Kenny Rogers, even Larry King has a role. So basically, this isn’t your usual CCM artist project — though you’ll recognize the input of DCTalk — which in itself shows the clout Graham had in the wider marketplace.

After an intro from Bono, the song itself begins at the :44 mark. Even if you aren’t crazy about the finished result, it’s worth watching for the film footage which was incorporated throughout.

•Watch a background 4-minute video on the making of the song at this link.

 

January 9, 2018

When Churches Become Self-Serving

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:49 am

Years ago I heard someone state, “Libraries aren’t made for the public, they’re made for librarians.” While some might object to that notion, there is a grain of truth, particularly in terms of the organization of the facilities, which often leaves those of us who haven’t memorized the Library of Congress classification system or the Dewey Decimal system asking for assistance.

Are churches any different?

Many times, especially around Labor Day Weekend in the U.S. or New Year’s Day, churches will get serious about appealing for volunteer help. And the pitch is always the same: Serve in our Sunday School; join our choir; lead one of our small groups. We’ve been there.

My wife and I visited a Presbyterian Church once and after the service ended, she was approached about joining the choir, without even an inclination as to whether or not she can sing. (She can and does.) There was no qualification if she considered herself a Christian, although I suppose visiting this church on a Sunday morning increased the odds.

More recently, a local Evangelical church wanted to replace traditional membership, with a form of covenant membership that would require one be involved in an area of service at the church in order to maintain that status. The problem is, many people in that church are involved with parachurch organizations based both in the community and nationally. They are already serving, just not within the confines of the congregation.

The problem is that this has no outward focus.

Furthermore, when we give, we’re subconsciously giving to ourselves. We are the beneficiaries of the programs the church offers. Our children attend the mid-week program and consume the resource materials and goldfish crackers. We show up Sunday night and consume the video material that’s part of an adult elective. We take notes during the preaching and sing with the worship team and consume what’s projected on the giant screen (and relayed to the baby/cry room; and later posted online.)

But at the first mention that some of our donations might be spent on projects in the broader community, or to a major overseas project, we bristle at the suggestion.

Surely, there are greater needs at home; and by home we mean within the church building. (“Lord, Bless me today and my spouse and our two children; us four, no more.”)

And then there’s the strange logic of the idea that we need to develop more inwardly in spiritual depth and discipleship before we’re ready and able to reach out to the broader community. This just in: It will never happen! We’ll never reach that point where we’ve got it all together and are now prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder and reach the world. We have to reach them not having it all together. They might actually like us better that way. They might be more inclined to want to join a family of the broken than a family of the perfect

…Are we missing something? Do our neighbors see us leave for church on the weekend and mentally follow us and ask themselves, ‘What goes on in that building?’ Indeed, what? Are we more like a community center or more like a secret society? (Especially given the current penchant for not having windows in our auditoriums.)

I think as we’re only days into a new year, we need to ask ourselves how much of our church activity, and how much of our church budget is completely self-serving.

To repeat, we need a greater outward focus.


Graphic: Sermon video (39 min.) from Vermon Pierre at Roosevelt Church, a Gospel Coalition Church in downtown Phoenix, based on this text:

NLT Mat. 20:25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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