Rabu, 21 Desember 2016

If the Church is God's Idea, Who are We to Dismantle It?

I wonder if our lack of a well-informed, biblically-shaped, Jesus-centered theology of the church is due in no small part to the Evangelical/Protestant over-emphasis on the individual over against the community?
I wonder if we have come to define Christianity almost exclusively as a privatized spirituality, that either ignores the central role of the church in the life of every Jesus-follower, or pushes it to one-side, utilized only when convenient?
However, spiritual gifts only make sense in the midst of a community. Likewise, spiritual fruit, i.e., love, kindness, faithfulness, patience, etc, only make sense in the midst of a community.
Community gives both meaning and meaningful context to the church’s gifts and fruit. From a New Testament perspective, there is no room for individualism in the church. In fact, individualism and church lie at opposite ends of the biblical spectrum.
The gathered community of the church is a fellowship of people called and enabled by God, through Christ, by the Spirit to actively identify and participate together in God’s kingdom dream to and for the world.
Jesus came to inaugurate and build his kingdom, and the church lies at the center of this work. He did not come to establish a new privatized spirituality that separates people from one another, but a new community (Jew and Gentle) called together for the sake of the world, showcasing to the world that is what it one day can become – a fellowship of differents (Scot McKnight).
It would do us all well to remember that the church is God’s idea.
And, I wonder if we have allowed our contemporary definition, understanding, and experience of the church to be shaped more by the post-modern impulse of individualism and self-centeredness, than by Christ’s and Paul’s emphasis on the gathered community from every race, tribe, and tongue?
If so, we need to re-listen to the biblical story that finds its fulfillment in Jesus and re-orient our focus from ourselves to the other; a focus taught and emulated in Jesus’s entire life and witness, and furthered by Paul’s ministry to and for the church of his day.
If the church is God’s idea, who are we to dismantle it?
Nothing grieves the Holy Spirit more than when the unity he works so hard to create and sustain is jeopardized. We need to work in tandem with the Spirit’s gathering initiative, rather than work against it. We can do this by re-emphasizing the community focus of the New Testament witness in our own lives and in the community he came to establish.

Don’t Believe in Yourself

Don’t Believe in Yourself

Don’t Believe in Yourself
One of the most dangerous qualities of pride is that it sneaks into places in our hearts where other sins once lived. We begin to conquer some sinful attitude, or habit, or addiction with God’s help, and soon enough we marvel at our own strength, or resolve, or purity, as if we somehow accomplished it on our own. C.S. Lewis writes, “The devil loves ‘curing’ a small fault by giving you a great one” (Mere Christianity, 127). The confidence we feel in ourselves after defeating sin can carry us as far away from God as, or even farther than, the sin we defeated.
If we battle some sins, but welcome pride, we will lose the war. But if we suffocate pride, we will starve every other sin of its oxygen.

Pride’s War Against You

Pride lingers in us more than most sins because we fail to see how poisonous and deadly it really is. Pride colors our perception of ourselves and the world around us, blowing a thick, treacherous fog over reality. It cripples our souls, keeping us so focused on ourselves that we’re almost physically incapable of love. And it will damn us if we let it, dragging us to death, but making us believe we’re in control.

1. Pride will lie to you.

Pride convinces us we are more important than God, and that our perspective is better than his. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Your heart. More specifically, the pride in your heart (Obadiah 1:3), which declares you know more or better than the all-knowing God. We can be blindly led along by our pride, which Solomon calls “the lamp of the wicked” (Proverbs 21:4).
Lewis, who calls pride “the great sin,” writes, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you” (124). Pride sets our eyes firmly on ourselves—our needs, our gifts, our effort, our problems—and away from the sovereignty, sufficiency and beauty of God. It clouds our vision of him, and elevates our vision of self. It not only blinds us to him, but removes any motivation to seek him (Psalm 10:4).
Worst of all, pride often wears the appearance of godliness, but lacks its power completely (2 Timothy 3:2–5), breeding false confidence and sure destruction.

2. Pride will cripple you.

Pride blinds and deceives us, but it also cripples us, making us ineffective and fruitless. We become so focused on our own life that we waste it. Again, Lewis writes, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: It eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense” (125). If it goes untreated, pride multiplies and spreads, corrupting even our best attitudes and efforts. It must be killed, and killed consistently with routine heart-checks and the sword of the Spirit, God’s word (Ephesians 6:17).
If we sense a lack of compassion for needs around us, or a drying up of our generosity or a coldness in our concern for the unconverted, or an indifference or even reluctance in serving or sacrificing for others, we very likely have the malignant cells of pride reproducing in our souls.

3. Pride will kill you.

If we allow pride to live freely in us, it can only kill us. Its prime objective is not to make us feel better about ourselves, but to send us to everlasting pain and punishment away from God. Solomon warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Isaiah brings that terrifying warning into higher definition: “The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12).
All pride must perish. In fact, every prideful person must pay that awful penalty. But God, in Christ, made it possible for us to die to our pride without dying for it. Jason Meyer writes, “The glory of God and the pride of man will collide at one of two crash sites: hell or the cross. Either we will pay for our sins in hell or Christ will pay for our sins on the cross” (Killjoys, 13).
Either pride will kill you, or you will surrender through faith and allow God to kill the pride in you.

Your War Against Pride

So how do we kill the pride that threatens to kill us? Meyer continues, “Ultimately, pride is a worship issue. We cannot think about ourselves less unless we think about something else more” (18). We do not defeat pride by thinking more about ourselves, but by focusing on finding more of God. Which echoes Lewis’ popular definition of humility: “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”
In humility, we give ourselves less attention and affirmation, and gain everything in return.

1. Humility will open your eyes.

Psalm 25:9 promises that God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” While pride clouds our understanding of right and wrong, and blinds us to God, humility heals our blindness and helps us truly see. I still remember putting on my first pair of glasses during fourth grade. I never knew just how much I couldn’t see until I was looking through those lenses. The same is true with pride and humility.
The devil blinds us to God, invading the light with darkness (2 Corinthians 4:4). But God floods our darkness with light and sight, showing us just how true and good the gospel is (2 Corinthians 4:6). We’ll see the infinite reward we have in Christ, and we’ll see the desperate need we have for him. Meyer says, “We don’t become better and better so that we need God less and less. No, as we mature, we learn to grow more and more dependent upon our Heavenly Father” (16).
If we make our life about seeing more of God, and helping others see more of God, we’ll be far less preoccupied with and proud of ourselves.

2. Humility will satisfy your heart.

Humility does not only save us and show us reality. True humility before God and his mercy will satisfy every craving we try, out of pride, to satisfy ourselves. If we knew how happy we would be without our pride, we would have left him long ago.
God himself delights in the humble. “The Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). In Christ, God takes genuine pleasure in you. God loves to give more grace to the humble—grace on top of all the grace he’s already shown us. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). The humble have tasted a kind of grace the proud know not of. God loves to meet the humble with strength for every weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
Those who have been humbled by God, and received God in the process, sing, “My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).

3. Humility will free you from pride.

God himself, speaking to Solomon, promises the humble, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The freedom we desperately crave in our pride comes fully and freely from God through faith. The healing we try to fabricate or earn for ourselves comes fully and freely from the Surgeon’s hands.
James (like Peter) quotes Proverbs, saying, “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6–8). That is an amazing promise for people battling pride. If you flee the devil (and all his temptations to pride), you’ll not only get away, but he will wind up fleeing from you in the other direction. And if you humbly pursue the God you’ve offended over and over again with your pride, he will not only receive you, but run to you in love and mercy.

Believe in God

We must fight pride with the same fierceness we fight every other sin. Perhaps even more so because pride is “the great sin” that fuels the others. It will blind you and deceive you. It will cripple you and even kill you. Unless, in humility and faith, you have been freed from the tyranny of pride and the weight of its rebellion against God.
Don’t believe in yourself; believe in God. You are utterly incapable of achieving or earning what you need most. The beauty of the gospel is that you no longer need to. That burden and responsibility sits on Christ’s shoulders, and his freedom, humility and joy now rest on yours.

Should Your Church Focus on REACHING or KEEPING People?

Should Your Church Focus on REACHING or KEEPING People?

It’s commonly said that you can tell if a church is insider-focused or outsider-focused by how they make decisions.
Should Your Church Focus on REACHING or KEEPING People?
It’s commonly said that you can tell if a church is insider-focused or outsider-focused by how they make decisions. Do they make decisions based on whom they’re trying to keep or whom they’re trying to reach? Oh, if it were only that simple.

Churches That Reach

  • Jesus started this movement called the church with one simple mission, to reach outsiders.
  • Some churches become so focused on this mission that they’ll do anything short of sin to reach outsiders. Unfortunately this often involves ignoring insiders (people who have already said yes to Jesus)…which might be sin.
  • The challenge most outsider-focused churches have is helping people who say yes to following Jesus take their next steps with Him (discipleship).

Churches That Keep

  • It’s also clear through the teachings of Jesus that knowing and following God is relational by its very nature and cannot be done well alone. This is why He said that His followers would be known by the quality of their relationships (love).
  • Some churches become so focused on the “one anothers” of Scripture that they don’t make room for outsiders. They frequently become so comfortable that they’re unwilling to change to reach people. That’s the exact opposite of the definition of maturity that so many insider-focused churches cling to.
  • The challenge most insider-focused churches have is helping people actually say yes to Jesus (evangelism).
I recently heard Dr. Kara Powell, who serves as the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, say, “Balance is something we swing through on the way to the other extreme.”
Great church leaders don’t try to balance reaching people and keeping people. They’re willing to live in the tension that the call of the church is to reach outsiders and impact insiders. They don’t see these as two opposing forces but rather complementary ideas that fuel the movement of the church. It’s not one or the other…it’s both and.
Paul Alexander
Paul is a pastor, speaker, strategist, and ministry consultant at Tony Morgan Live. He has a passion for helping churches make vision real. For more than 11 years he has served on the senior leadership teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul serves as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.

Breaking the Rules Like Jesus Did

Breaking the Rules Like Jesus Did

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Breaking the Rules Like Jesus Did
“Every child needs rules. But there comes a time when you stop living by the rules and start loving from the heart.”
From healing on the Sabbath, to eating with unwashed hands and unclean people, to allowing his disciples to swipe food from another person’s field, to declaring himself God, Jesus flouted rules, violated taboos, and promoted behavior nightmarishly wrong in the eyes of the establishment. Jesus would break the rules to bless you.
Jesus wasn’t just terrible at keeping the Sabbath; in the eyes of the religious establishment, he sinned against the God of the Sabbath. A Jesus world was a world turned upside down, as frightening to the powers that be as nuclear fission and fallout. No wonder the authorities began to track every move he made.
Jesus broke not only religious rules but also cultural rules. Jesus would have scandalized his town by not being married. You had a duty to your ancestors and your family to marry and reproduce. Later rabbis said, “Seven things are condemned in heaven, and the first of these is a man without a woman.”
Jesus didn’t break rules just to be a rebel. Jesus had something even greater to show us and tell us every time he pushed the envelope. For example, Jesus revolutionized Sabbath keeping with three affirmations:
  1. Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for Sabbath.
  2. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.
  3. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
Jesus had an overriding, wild-card rule: break any of the rules of the Sabbath sooner than do anything outright unkind or unloving or unsupportive of life. Always support life. To support death, not life, may be the ultimate sin against the Holy Ghost. He didn’t so much reject the law as revision it the way God intended it whenever its interpretation by the institution did harm to people. What mattered to Jesus was not keeping the law but helping hurting people. Everything else was relative to that, including Jesus’ freedom to break the law when it was breaking the backs and spirits of people.
Not only did Jesus’ frequent breaks with tradition reveal a lesson, but they pointed to the truth of who Jesus is—the Son of God, who creates the rules in the first place. Who to know God’s intent better than Jesus?
If I want to play chess, I must obey the rules. If I don’t play, the rules have no authority over me. Since Jesus opted out of playing the religion game of the Temple elite, the rules of the game had no authority over him. But the cost of opting out was his life.
Some people are held together by rules. To be held by Jesus is to be held together by a relationship with God. No rules save Jesus. If Jesus rules your life, the Jesus Rule will cover every situation: Rules or Right?
God doesn’t play by the rules, at least not our rules. God sets the rules. Humans love rules. Hence Robert’s Rules of Order, which rules the church. We are addicted to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of rules. God is love and life. God rules by who God is—Love and Life.
The Greek Orthodox Church reminds us of this in its many images of Christ Pantocrator, “Ruler of All.” The church will always sink deeper and deeper into a morass of inertia, desuetude, and despair when it forgets the key word that opens all doors and frees all souls: Jesus Christ Pantocrator. You don’t have to love Jesus to be enthralled by life, but life is immensely enriched and enchanted the more you know Jesus.
The Hebrew word for “know” is yada, a relational word of great intimacy. This word doesn’t mean to know about something but to be in intimate relationship with something or someone. To know Jesus is to be in relationship with Jesus. You can know about Jesus’ life and times. But that’s not the same as knowing Jesus firsthand and face-to-face. God cares less about what we know than about how we love and whom we love. For God, relationships always trump rules.
The word economy has a family connotation. The Greek words oikos (home) and nomos (law) mean the law of God’s household. In God’s home, the house rules apply! And the only rule God has is the rule of love. And the rule of love leads to different worship than the red carpet, the White House, or Wall Street.
God does not love in theory but in action. The Creator did not send us a statement in the sky, simply saying, “I love you.” God sent a Savior to earth who showed God’s love by living with us, dying for us, and rising in us.
The law was written on stone. Love is written on the heart: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” A stony heart pumps icy legalism through the veins. But a new heart—a heart renewed by God—pumps pure blood and pure love.
You can’t hold your life together with the twine of rules. You can hold your life together only with the relational cords of grace and love.
Jesus’ bad habit of rule breaking is a lesson for our own relationships. To reject someone’s idea gets often conveyed as a rejection or condemnation of that person. Can we think someone wrong and still be in right relationship with them? Sometimes a relationship can be sealed simply with a handshake, not a harness or a rule.
Every child needs rules. You “grow up” by learning the rules. But there comes a time when you stop living by the rules and start loving from the heart.
Jesus had a real problem with those who lived only by the rules. In fact, the law keepers were some of the people Jesus had the most conflict with—those who look good on the outside but stink from the inside: “Get this and get it straight. The problem is not what goes into a person from the outside that defiles him, but what comes out of the person from the inside. From inside, from a person’s heart, come evil things that make a person unclean.”6 Jesus doesn’t want to control us from the outside but to guide and channel us from the inside. Critical and censorious spirits who view their mission in life to be yardsticks and scales run the risk of developing wooden and metallic souls. Those who have been forgiven much will love much, Jesus said. If your church is not loving enough, maybe there is not enough forgiving going on.
Today’s churches need to cultivate Jesus’ bad habit of breaking some traditions and rules and living in such a way that makes the heart sing and the mind dance. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”9 Don’t sink into the arms of despair; sink into the arms of God, which open the artillery of heaven. This bad habit of Jesus gets into our bones the flesh and blood and breath of Jesus until “dem bones” live again and “dem dry bones” dance.
Taken from The Bad Habits of Jesus by Leonard Sweet. Copyright © 2016. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Leonard Sweet is an American theologian, church historian, pastor and author. Sweet currently serves as the E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological School at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and as a visiting distinguished professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

Ed Stetzer: Stand and Share—Part 2

Ed Stetzer: Stand and Share—Part 2

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Ed Stetzer: Stand and Share—Part 2
“It’s unfashionable to speak about eternal destiny, but it’s unfathomable to believe it and not tell people about Jesus.”
In Part 1 of the interview, Ed Stetzer discusses the big picture of American evangelism today, why Christians have drifted away from evangelism and how the church can move forward.

In today’s culture, what skills do pastors need to cultivate in their congregation to get that “faithful and fruitful” outcome?

Part of it is that pastors need to be on the journey with their congregants. What does it look like to play the game of evangelism in a culture where Christians have lost home-field advantage? A lot of our evangelism is predicated to the idea that people are close or open to Christian faith, and just need that last bit of evidence or persuasion to push them over the edge. We act as if we’re in a mostly religious culture.
That’s true in some places, but for the most part, we’ve lost the home-field advantage. Today, most people are far away from any real understanding of the gospel. It’s not just an issue of persuasion, but often one of education. That shift means that we have to stop thinking that we are people who have “arrived,” inviting people to join us where we are, and start to think like people who have been sent, joining them where they are to ultimately share the gospel. That’s the journey of being on mission. Pastors need to lead that.
This is where the missional focus becomes helpful—it helps us engage culture in missionary ways, not simply as people who are similar to us but just need a little encouragement to believe. That’s one of the shifts. Also, there’s a very common frustration with the way we used to do evangelism. Nobody would deny that there’s been a decline in crusade and large-meeting evangelism. Whether you like that or not; that’s just math. If Finney and Graham were bookends of the mass-evangelism movement heyday, then what replaces the crusades?
Christianity Today wrote an article not long ago arguing that it’s church planting that has replaced it. That’s certainly part of it. I would point to the Billy Graham organization today as well—there’s a shift from the crusade evangelism that really defined an era to an in-home gathering strategy. It’s a space where unchurched or irreligious people can join Christians to ask hard questions without being shunted to the side. That is another picture of new emerging approaches to evangelism.

Right now, do different regions or subcultures in America contain different challenges to evangelism?

You bet. I grew up outside of New York City, planted churches in the inner city of Buffalo, New York, among the urban poor; in suburban Pennsylvania, among lapsed Catholics; have lived in Tennessee, and so on. There are huge differences depending on your context.
The how of evangelism is in many ways shaped by the who, when and where of culture. That’s key. If people have a near-religious memory, it’s a different conversation. Wheaton, Illinois, is very different from downtown Chicago, where I’m the interim pastor at Moody Church right now. Those miles make a big difference.
You want to ask the question of where and when you are on the cultural scale. Paul does this—at Pisidia and Antioch, he takes the Jews he’s preaching to on a journey of Jewish history. At Lystra, he’s with pagans, and takes them to the harvest and to the sea. He tries to get to the gospel, and they riot. At Athens, he notes that they are very religious, and quotes their own poets to them, sharing Jesus by beginning with their religion. Just from those examples, we have three very different examples to contexts and approaches by the same evangelist. In each context, Paul walks across a bridge of culture to communicate the gospel that saves in every culture.

Walk us through how you would help a local pastor ask the right questions about evangelism in his or her own culture.

This is the cultural exegesis question. How do we examine and notice our culture in a way that’s appropriate?
Honestly, the first step is a heart issue. A lot of pastors, rather than reach the people to whom the Lord has sent them, would rather be in love with somebody else’s community or culture. I call this “demographic lust.” [Laughs.] It’s community envy. They want to reach the cool people, in Southern California or Manhattan or wherever. But if that’s you, you need to “love the one you’re with.”
Once the heart piece is in place, the key is to simply listen to people’s stories. We need to take the time to hear what brought people to the place they’re in now. What is their trajectory? What is their spiritual journey? That teaches us about our culture in the most connected way to your congregation.
For me, in formerly Catholic or nominally Catholic areas, it has been a very different starting point than in, say, Tennessee, where the culture is nominally Baptist.
I don’t think that you can love or reach a community if you don’t know it. Evangelism involves telling people about Jesus. Mission involves understanding them before you tell them. Missional thinking, when it precedes evangelism, helps us to more effectively share the gospel.

What would evangelistic success look like in our generation?

Ultimately, I don’t think it looks like one thing, but multiple things. I think it looks like God’s people acknowledging that Jesus has sent them to a broken and lost world, and that the same Jesus who came serving the hurting and marginalized, like he preached in Luke 4:18-20, also came to seek and save the lost, like he said in Luke 19:10.
In this day, it feels like we need to stand up and rally people to both—serving the hurting and saving the lost. But look at the landscape today in evangelicalism. I could show you a hundred conferences on justice, multiethnicity and church planting. And I am so glad that they are here. But how many can we find that are calling people to proclaim the gospel for evangelism as well?
Success is that we would learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. To rightfully care about social and societal concerns, and recognize, you can’t speak of true justice without telling people about Jesus, and hopefully you can’t really follow Jesus without caring about true justice. These things must be deeply connected with one another.

Do you have any advice for pastors who feel that they have tried pushing an emphasis on evangelism in their community only for it to fall flat?

Isn’t evangelism predominately a failing enterprise? Most people with whom I have shared the gospel have not trusted and followed Jesus. The question is if that ought to lead me to not do it anymore. Of course the answer is no. It is the most important thing in the world that Jesus died on the cross for us and in our place.
Stop cycling through these patterns of “we tried this and it didn’t work.” Instead, just continue to ask the question, over and over again: How can I, personally and congregationally, share the gospel today?
Pastors need to personally engage in this. You can’t lead what you don’t live. It really matters that we consistently become those who share the gospel ourselves. It really matters. But I think that at the end of the day, it’s helpful at times to walk through a particular emphasis in our churches on sharing the faith. It can be helpful for Christians and churches to have new opportunities to rally together on a given issue. Have this ongoing ethos of sharing the gospel in your church, but then also find connection points that can bring special attention to it—whether or not you think it will be popular.

What segment of the church is doing evangelism really well?

Well, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement is growing a lot through evangelism. As well, some older and more traditional congregations using older evangelism methods are still seeing some success.
One other thing that’s funny—it’s all the rage today to follow the example of the Two-Thirds World overseas. But what the Western church doesn’t want to learn from them is a passionate commitment to evangelism. It characterizes almost everything that they do in growing churches. One of the things that we need to learn from the rest of the world is that sharing the good news of the gospel could and should be a natural part of life.

Do you think there’s hope for wholesale cultural revival in our current situation?

Historically, no one thinks there’s hope for revival—until it’s here. If you had asked that question five years before the Great Awakenings, people would have said “no.” I’m always hopeful—I’ve read the end of the book. Jesus wins. But I don’t know his pathway between now and then.
Yes, I do think there’s hope for revival. But the marginalization of the church—which is beginning, but will grow, will ultimately bring greater sense of clarity to who is and who is not a committed Christian. This is one of the reasons that Pentecostals do so well in evangelism. If you’re a Pentecostal, and already are doing and believing things outside of the mainstream, how much different is it just tell people that they need Jesus?
The more distinct you are from culture—not [withdrawn] like the Amish, but recognizably different in some way—the more comfortable people tend to be to simply share the gospel because they’re already distinct from culture. They must take opportunities to share the good news.

What other signs of hope might we be missing in our culture? What’s special about our time for sharing the message of Jesus?

I think there’s an increasing sense of openness to the gospel, believe it or not. Lots of Christians think non-Christians are going to be closed off or hostile if they talk about Jesus, but our research shows that people are overwhelmingly open to having a conversation with someone who sincerely believes.
In fact, in our study, the younger unchurched were more open than the older unchurched. So I think that now people are open, and becoming more so, to spiritual conversation and more. As people are open to exploring other spiritual ideas, Christianity is new for many of them, especially for the younger generation. The end result could be that people will consider again, afresh and anew, the truth claims of the gospel, perhaps in a way they never have before.
They’re open.
A lot of people aren’t anti-organized religion. Many are actually very intrigued. Ultimately, in a world that is open—and I can demonstrate statistically that our world is open—we have a lot of Christians whose mouths are still closed. That’s a shame.

What’s the biggest threat to evangelism today?

That’s hard. But ultimately, the biggest danger lies with us. It’s the possibility that Christians will choose cultural acceptability over gospel fidelity. I think the desire to fit in—which, by the way, is a 2,000-year-old issue, why otherwise would Paul write “I’m not ashamed of the gospel”—is the greatest threat.
Ultimately, evangelism is God’s sovereign work. It’s how the Lord works in people’s hearts and lives. But the Lord prays for workers to go into the harvest.
In our day, the danger is that the workers choose acceptability over fidelity.

What, in your experience, snaps people back to fidelity?

When we really understand what Jesus has done for us. We return to the gospel ourselves. When that deeply dwells in our hearts, when we fully and richly believe in the gospel, we want others to have the gospel as well. That’s the key.
Evangelism is not ultimately a mouth issue, but a heart issue. Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We need the heart of the Good Shepherd for anyone who is not in his fold. He sought and saved us. Now he calls us to join him.
The nature of eternity should turn up our passion for evangelism. It’s unfashionable to speak about eternal destiny, but it’s unfathomable to believe it and not tell people about Jesus.
I’m committed to spending the rest of my ministry pushing us to stand up and share the love of Jesus, because ultimately we’re on his mission. He came serving the hurting and saving the lost. That should be our message as well.
Paul J. Pastor, an Outreach magazine contributing writer, is author of The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit (David C Cook, 2016).

5 Easy Ways to Multiply Joy in People Around You

I smell fear when I walk outside these days. And I hear discouragement. We’re all in a mess over the election and the dawning realization that the culture wars are shredding the United States.
But inside my house, we have joy in the midst of the turmoil. It doesn’t make sense, except for Christ.
I’ve been thinking this week about the place of joy in our lives. Mixed with hope, it’s an essential element for the perseverance of Christian leaders.
Look at 2 Timothy 1:3-4. Paul says:
“I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”
Why does Paul long to see these people? He wants to be filled with joy.
Turn over to 1 John 1:4. John concludes the introduction of his letter by saying:
“We write this to make our joy complete.”
Now turn to John 15:11. Jesus says to his Disciples:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Paul wants to visit to get joy. John wants to write to receive joy. Jesus teaches His Disciples so that He can have joy and they can have joy.
In Galatians 5:22, joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
However you slice it, joy is essential. And it’s in short supply these days. I imagine you could use an infusion of joy; and the people in your church could, too.

How to Multiply Joy

It’s surprisingly easy. Just put on your own mask first, then help others with their masks.

1. First, find the things that bring you joy.

You can’t give what you don’t have, so if you want to add joy to others, store it up in your own heart.
What the Cubs felt after winning the World Series – all the jumping up and down, hugging, and crying – was happiness due to their nail-biting win. One look at the Cleveland Indians confirms it. Emotions could have so easily traded places. The euphoria they feel from achieving their goal will fade, but I hope their accomplishment will be a long-lasting source of joy in their lives.
Paul says in Philippians 4 that he is going to rejoice in spite of being in prison and tells the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Circumstances are not usually wonderful. We are not going to be able to fulfill Paul’s command to rejoice always unless we decide to choose joy.
Choosing joy is a spiritual discipline. Practicing the things that build up joy in your heart is wise for the long-term leader.
1. Lately, oddly, I’ve added joy to my heart by attending funerals.
Norm Pistoia’s funeral was one of the most edifying events I’ve ever attended. Norm was a high school teacher for over 25 years. Some of his former students came and told about how much he had impacted their lives when they were in 5th grade. His children spoke about how strong his faith was, and how much he loved them. It was better than any movie I’ve ever seen.
2. An easier way I’ve found to find joy is in reading Scripture. There are so many promises to claim.
3. I’ve found that asking a friend for prayer lightens my heart too.
4. Family is another joy-bringer. Yesterday afternoon I took my grandson Luke to feed an apple to Billie. Billie is the horse that lives down the street from us. Luke loves to give Billie apples! Whenever I say, “Luke, would you like to feed Billie?” He runs to our refrigerator and pulls out two applies: one for Billie and one for himself. Then he munches his in his stroller while Billie munches hers.
5. Swimming brings me joy. I admit it’s not for everyone, but one of my favorite moments of the day is when I push off from the wall on my first lap and my skin is freezing because all the blood is on the surface, but I know that in the next 60 seconds, my body will adjust and I’ll start feeling endorphins from exercise.
6. I have been guilty of spending too much time accomplishing and not enough time enjoying. Some of my best moments had nothing to do with getting something done.
  • A walk along the beach.
  • A hike at Deer Valley.
  • A ride up Palomar Mountain.
7. Years ago a friend came to me in an exhausted state and asked how I had managed to stay in ministry so long. I told him about my my Tank-Filling List. I made it one time when I was fighting discouragement. It’s a simple list of the things that I enjoy doing – those things that fill my emotional tank.
Here is my updated Tank-Filling List:
  1. Prayer
  2. Time with family members
  3. Long Bible study
  4. A good (fiction) book
  5. Training for a swim
  6. Looking forward to a vacation
  7. A vacation that includes nature, history and culture
  8. A great leadership/Bible conference
  9. Listening to great preaching
  10. A walk in nature
  11. My back yard
  12. Advising/mentoring a teachable younger Christian leader
  13. Comedy
  14. Paying down debt
  15. Helping someone in financial need
  16. Corporate worship
  17. Thanksgiving Day
  18. Christmas Day
  19. Hearing a report of God’s work in our church
  20. Making new friends
Take a minute right now to jot down a list of the things that fill you up – the things that bring you joy.
As you practice the discipline of finding joy, you will be able to add joy to others.

2. Bring joy to others by enjoying them.

We do that at church intentionally, and officially at parties and events. It’s why we go crazy with Christmas parties. It’s why we take our volunteers to a Padres baseball game every year. (Although it’s debatable if the Padres bring them joy.)
We also enjoy others in friendship. Virgil and I went to lunch a few days ago because we’ve been friends for almost 25 years. We just enjoy each other.
You’ve all heard that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. One way to care for people is just to enjoy them rather than serve with them or get them to do something that serves your ministry.

3. Compliment them.

C.S. Lewis blows our minds, as usual, with his insight on praising what we enjoy:
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
When you tell others what you appreciate about them or that you saw the good that they did, you build joy into their hearts and your own.

4. Discover what fills up the people around you.

Everyone needs a tank-filling list.
Encourage your people to make their own lists of what brings joy to their hearts and to practice the things on the list.
Support their discipline of practicing joy by prying a little to discover what fills them up.
  1. Flat out ask them what brings them joy.
  2. Listen to their stories.
  3. Ask them questions that lead them to open up.
  4. Listen to their dreams.
It’s not a burdensome responsibility to bring joy to those around you. Take Andy Stanley’s advice, “Do for one what you can’t do for all.” Build in joy whenever you recognize the opportunity. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.

5. Point them to something bigger.

What’s bigger than us that brings joy?
  • Jesus (Ps. 16:11a) – there is joy in His presence. John 15:11, Luke 24:52.
  • A cause (Lk. 10:17)
  • A ministry (1 Pet. 4:10)
  • A group (Acts 2:46b)
  • Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  • Our salvation (Ps. 51:12)
Unleash joy in the people in your church as they grow in Christ and serve with significance.
For you, Church Leader, it’s not about getting the ministry done; it’s just about the joy that comes from being part of what God is doing in and among you.
Funny how when you watch for joy, and seek to give joy, it comes back to you.

Now What?

  1. Work on your tank-filling list.
  2. See how many times you can build a little joy in people around you this week.

Why a Rough Start Isn’t the End of Your Leadership Journey

Why a Rough Start Isn’t the End of Your Leadership Journey

As you begin to lead, you’ll face all sorts of trials.
Why A Rough Start Isn’t The End Of Your Leadership Journey
When I first began leading, I wasn’t very good. Some would say I still can’t lead well.
But in all seriousness, we all have issues when we first begin to lead.

The Problems of First Leading

As you begin to lead, you’ll face all sorts of trials. Team members won’t like you. You won’t lead the same way as the previous organizational leaders. Mistakes will be made.
All of these leadership issues can lead to big problems down the road if we let them.
I remember when I first started to lead.
I was young, fresh out of high school. My inexperience told me not to speak up. There’s wiser leadership in the room.
So I held my tongue. When an issue arose, I didn’t voice my concern. Instead, I felt it was the elder leaders responsibility to take action.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Since I was seen as a leader, my responsibilities were to see problems. To then bring those problems to the other leaders. And then to look for a solution.
This made my start as a leader rocky.
Who could trust a man who wasn’t willing to speak up about what was wrong? Who wants to follow someone who’s afraid to voice his opinion? Who looks to a timid young man to show the way?
Not many…

Problems Can Be Addressed

Fast forward many years. I’ve now faced many obstacles and trials in my leadership journey. I’ve weathered storms I didn’t want to and have seen amazing victories.
My problems aren’t gone. But they occur less and less.
Experience is a great teacher. She will show you the areas of your leadership that need to be corrected.
That’s the great thing. You can see where your problems are. And you can work on those problems.
Don’t let that rough start scare you. We all start out rough.
Leadership gets better and easier the more you do it. Continue to practice your skills as a leader.
Come into the office day after day. Work your butt off. Get better.
Your rough start doesn’t have to be the end of your leadership. That rough start can be the launching pad to something amazing.
Question: What issues are you facing as you begin to lead? Share your problems in the comment section below. Let others know they’re not alone.
Joseph Lalonde
Joseph Lalonde is passionate to see young people serving God and becoming the leader God has created them to be. He served as a youth leader for 15 years and is on a new journey now. You can find him encouraging young leaders here and on Twitter.