With a title like Manual of Church Order, the little book by Baptist John L. Dagg (1794-1884) has little hope of becoming an international bestseller. I usually associate the term “manual” with an irksome Saturday morning project (e.g., Electrical Wiring Manual). What’s more, “church order,” that is, ecclesiology, probably occupies a small, neglected corner of the minds of many church leaders. So neither “manual” nor “church order” sound all that exciting.
Yet Dagg’s 150-year-old Manual remains in print. This tells us something about the book’s clarity and importance.
Dagg recognizes that too many Christians ignore the sufficiency of Scripture in ecclesiology. For this reason, “We must return to the feet of our divine Master, and again receive his instructions. Let us, in the spirit of obedient disciples, inquire for the good old paths, that we may walk therein” (11). Those words from Jeremiah 6:16 ring true in our own day as well. We turn now to the basic outline and a few highlights.
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Once upon a time, churches were intensely local affairs. Christians attended the church nearest them, often walking or taking public transportation to the place where the congregation met. But North American communities and lifestyles have changed in the last fifty years, such that many people live, work, shop, play, and worship in different, and sometimes distant, places. Today, it’s rare to find a church where most of the members live in the neighborhood around the church building.
Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.
So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors in the neighborhood and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.
I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.
The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one that any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.
My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah.
But even if your church doesn’t have the advantages that my church’s neighborhood affords, you can still engage your neighbors by showing you care about what’s important to them. Just spend some time thinking about what your neighbors value, what they spend their time and resources on, and think about ways you can build relationships with them through those things.
If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such. Check out the July-August 2012 9Marks Journal for articles by Mike McKinley and others on using mercy ministries as vehicles for evangelism.
My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a Vacation Bible School every summer that is advertised to the neighborhood. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd.
Evangelizing the neighborhood where your church meets takes a degree of strategy and effort, especially when your church’s members don’t live there. But it doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t necessarily need a huge budget. Just find ways to build relationships with your neighbors by showing your members care about some of the same things they care about.
Make sure your members understand that, while it’s always good to love our neighbors and build relationships with them for a number of reasons, we love them best by sharing the gospel with them. When good gospel conversations do happen, engage the whole church in praying that they would bear fruit and that the Lord would use them to save your neighbors.
Jeff Cavanaugh lives with his wife, Andrea in Louisville, KY, where he is a member and deacon of Third Avenue Baptist Church. He has a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and works full-time in Louisville.
Some of our most obvious evangelistic opportunities are with the people who are members of our churches. You already have a relationship with them. You already have the advantage of consistently telling them the gospel. You also have some God-ordained opportunities to personally point them to Christ.
Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus that fierce wolves would come in among them and seek to do great damage to the flock (Acts 20:29). Christ warned several of the churches in Revelation 2-3 that they had unbelievers in their number. If these churches had unbelievers in them, we probably have some in ours too. But, how do we reach them?
HOW TO REACH UNCONVERTED MEMBERS
I am assuming that you are faithfully preaching the gospel and pointing your people to Christ. The effect of faithful gospel preaching is like napalm: it has a way of wiping out everything else. But, in order to conquer, you still need to ground troops. So, while you are joyfully preaching Christ, pursue these steps as well.
1. Pray about the conversions of your church members.
First, pray about the conversions of your church members. Pray that God would distinguish the posers from the possessors. Most of you, I would assume, publicly pray at the beginning and conclusion of your preaching. These are wonderful opportunities to pray about this critical matter—that people would not rely on their membership as giving them a right status before God, but that all would be truly repentant and trusting in Christ.
2. Preach about the conversion of your church members.
Second, preach about the conversion of your church members. If you are preaching expositionally, you can’t preach too many sermons before you run into the issue of false conversions. In your preaching, illustrate the point with stories from your own church family.
When someone gets baptized, we give them the opportunity to explain the gospel and how they came to faith in Christ. Last month, David told our church family how he had pretended for years to be a believer. His story is a great example that I refer to often.
3. Be aware of this in counseling.
Third, be aware of this in counseling. Devin (not his real name) and his wife met with me for some marriage counseling. Devin was not all that interested since, as he eventually revealed, he thought he had found someone else. One Sunday, I stopped him after the service and told him that if continued down that road, he needed to know that he could no longer confidently claim to be a follower of Christ. In fact, his determination to pursue this adulterous relationship may be an indication that he had never become a genuine follower of Christ.
Devin did not repent, but Greg (not his real name) did. Greg met a girl on a business trip and was ready to leave his wife and kids over her. I sat at his kitchen table one night and asked him what would it be, Christ or the girl, because he could not have both. Although Greg had professed faith and joined the church many years before, his life had demonstrated very little gospel fruit. Greg bowed the knee of his heart to Christ and by the grace of God, he was not only redeemed, but his marriage was rescued.
4. Be aware of this in hospital visits and other life and death situations.
Fourth, be aware of this in hospital visits and other life and death situations. Chuck (his real name) was in the hospital. The doctor had just told him that there was nothing left that could be done for his heart. He had already outlived the expectations, but the end was near. Chuck was a successful businessman and had been involved in many Christian organizations. In previous churches he had served on boards and taught classes. Now he was dying and he was terrified.
Chuck carried around a secret that very few people knew. During World War II he flew bombing missions over Japan, dropping thousands of pounds upon that country. He knew that he had killed hundreds if not thousands of people. On his 24th mission, his plane was shot up pretty badly, but he was able to get it back to base. His co-pilot, however, died. Chuck was eligible to go home after his 25th mission, but he was so angry about the death of his co-pilot that he signed up for another 25 missions and then yet another 25 missions so that he could kill more Japanese. And he did. After 76 missions, he finally went back home.
On his way back to Michigan, he was at a base in California where he met some Japanese prisoners of war. Some of them were very kind and told him that they did not want the war. They just wanted to go back to their home as well. They showed him pictures of wives and children. Chuck’s anger turned to fear. He assumed that he had killed some of their wives and children. He began to realize that he had not only killed civilians, but he had signed up to do it.
Now, sixty years later, the reality of facing God revealed his deepest fear. He would die and be condemned to hell. Chuck finished his story, tucked his knees under his arms, turned away from me and stared at the wall. His frail body made even a hospital bed look big. Chuck had heard me preach the gospel for years. But that day it was obvious that while he thought it was true, it just wasn’t true for him. His case was different.
I sat silent and tried to imagine the weight of his guilt and then said, “Chuck, you are a big sinner, but Jesus is a bigger Savior than you are a sinner.” Chuck responded like he had been hit by lightning. He looked at me like he had heard this for the very first time. His eyes got big, his face was animated, and he said, “That’s it, isn’t it?! Jesus is a bigger Savior than I am a sinner.”
Chuck died two weeks later. The joy of his life in those last two weeks made it evident to everyone who visited him that his chains were broken. His heart was free.
Your members will let you in to some of their most private thoughts. You may discover that what they need is to believe in Christ—for the very first time.
Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.
In our church in Dubai, we have been amazed to witness conversions of people from Eritrea and Uzbekistan, Syria and South Africa, Scotland and Spain, Iran and India, the Netherlands and Bolivia, Germany and China, and more. They are from religious and non-religious backgrounds, traditional and progressive, Muslim and Hindu, young and old.
What is the key to unlocking the hearts of these people from such an array of cultural and religious backgrounds?
The answer is, there is no “cross-cultural key.” In our evangelism, we don’t do anything differently here than we would anywhere else. Our evangelistic methods are singularly uncreative. To suggest that some people are easier to convert than others is foreign to the Scriptures. All of us, by nature, are “far off.” And so in our evangelism we must bear witness and pray and await the sovereign move of the Spirit.
There is no “key” into a spiritual morgue.
But this doesn’t mean that cultural diversity is irrelevant to evangelism. Most of the world’s cities are becoming more and more ethnically diverse. With 202 nationalities in its labor market, Dubai is ahead of the curve in this area. The world has descended on Arabia, bringing with it both challenges and opportunities for evangelism.
Here are three lessons we have learned living and ministering in an ultra-multi-cultural environment:
1. Communicate clearly.
First, communicate clearly. Muslims are taught from childhood that God has no Son. Hindus deny there is one transcendent Creator who grounds all existence and morality. Secular humanists think religious truth is relative. So, whomever we’re speaking to, we must define our terms clearly. With Muslims, we unpack what the Bible means about God’s Son: not that the Father and Mary physically produced offspring akin to Zeus and Danae, but that the eternal image of the invisible God, who preexisted the universe, came down himself and took on flesh.
With Hindus, we work to explain a moral universe, one where good and bad are defined by God’s character and his revealed will. There’s no use talking about “sin” (Rom. 3:23) or pointing people to the “Son” (John 3:16), unless and until we have unpacked these freighted concepts. In multi-cultural settings we must, as D. A. Carson has said, “start farther back in our evangelism to provide more of the Bible’s story line for the good news to cohere…so we have to unpack more of the doctrine of God, and thus of the Son, to a generation that knows nothing of the Trinity.”
This is why, when Thabiti Anyabwile publicly dialogued with Muslim imam Shabir Ally in Dubai last spring, his opening statement was a 20-minute survey of Old Testament theology leading up to the life and ministry of Jesus. Unless the listeners grasped the storyline of the Bible, the significance of the atonement would be lost on them.
This is simply clear communication, which is all the more important when we live among people who are biblically illiterate and inoculated against a biblical worldview.
2. Proclaim the Word.
Second, proclaim the Word. James teaches that God “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Wherever we are, the agent of regeneration is biblical revelation, read and proclaimed. This is why, in our evangelism, if the person can read, our goal should be to study the Bible with them, regardless of their culture.
“Friendship evangelism” is increasingly popular in the Middle East and many other places, because of the (mistaken) impression that we cannot or should not directly and clearly communicate what the Christian message is, but rather we should allude and insinuate until the friend shows an openness to hearing more. Friendship evangelism emphasizes that we must earn the right to speak the gospel to another person. Of course, we ought not use people merely as evangelistic projects. But, as one evangelist here told me, there is a danger of too much friendship and too little evangelism. Excessive concern about context and techniques will tend to overshadow the command simply to “preach the Word.”
3. Use the local church.
Third, use the local church. Whatever continent you’re on, the church is a gathering of people who are indwelt by God’s Spirit, and who gather weekly for preaching, singing, prayer, and the ordinances. Paul expected the weekly assembly not only to build up the believers, but also to convict non-believers who attended (1 Cor. 14:25).
Over the years, several people from “restricted access” or “closed” countries have quietly attended our church, or even walked into our building during the week and asked to learn about Jesus. Or they have called the church office, identified their religion, and asked to meet with someone to consider the claims of Christ. We were all too happy to oblige—not to pressure anyone, but to offer them friendship, true and clear explanations of the gospel, and the opportunity to observe the three-dimensional display of the gospel that is a local church.
In many of these cases, these people were born again and joined together with us. They not only heard and understood the gospel, they saw how the power of Christ changes individuals and influences entire communities that have little in common except Christ. The church, then, is the confirming echo of the gospel that is being proclaimed.
FOREIGN TO ALL CULTURES
Increasingly, global cities are home to multi-national churches that worship in English, the lingua franca of our day. These churches reach into countless national and ethnic groups, even through English as a second language. When expatriates return to their ancestral homes, they take the gospel back with them.
It’s true that multiculturalism poses challenges for evangelism. However, regardless of where we’re from, we must remember that the gospel is foreign to all of our cultures. For all our diversity, we are still sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, in need of the one remedy that only Jesus could secure: redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Churches in multi-ethnic settings must work hard to communicate clearly, with due regard to careful biblical theology. We must be centered on scriptural truth that will slice through all manner of cultural and religious barriers. And we must hold up the church as the display of the gospel to the nations.
John Folmar is the senior pastor of United Christian Church of Dubai.
 Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Crossway, 2012), p. 85.
A FEW LESSONS
Here are a few things that I’ve learned from leading a church that is trying to reach out to folks from different backgrounds.
1. We’re not all that different
First, we’re not all that different. It can be intimidating to try and build relationships with people who experience life differently, especially in things that can seem so important: clothing, work, education, expectations, living arrangements. But in reality, such matters are a tiny fraction of what makes us who we are.
You probably have a tremendous amount in common even with people that seem very different from you. Everyone—perhaps with the exception of a few Brits I’ve known—wants to be loved, known, and accepted. We all love our children and are grateful to people who are kind to them. We are all prone to worry about what the future holds. But most importantly, we are all “in Adam” and in desperate need of a savior (1 Cor. 15:22).
Churches who want to reach out across socio-economic boundaries need to make their first step towards others on the basis of these commonalities. It’s fairly simple: treat other people with unfeigned sympathy and respect, as fellow travelers to the grave (to steal a phrase from Dickens). This approach will help prevent the sense of condescension that flavors and spoils a lot of well-meaning attempts to reach across class lines.
2. It helps to be a blessing
Second, it helps to be a blessing.
You really don’t want to build your outreach solely on the basis of giving people things—food, money, gas cards. Those things can be helpful, but if that’s all you do, you are giving people the chance to come for just the handout and remain unchallenged by the source of the love behind the handout. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use the resources the Lord has given you to help build connections with others. A few examples:
- A Christianity Explored course for people from the local homeless shelter begins with a home-cooked meal in a church member’s home. For some people living in a shelter, it is real blessing to eat a home-cooked meal in someone’s dining room. It feels normal; it feels good. It is much easier to start conversations and build relationships over a good meal.
- A grandmother is opposed to her child participating in our youth outreach because she is suspicious of Americans. When we dropped her granddaughter off after a meeting, we sent her with a couple of bags of groceries from our food pantry. After that, we were greeted with smiles when we dropped by to pick up her granddaughter.
- A local restaurant closed down for an evening and asked us to invite poor and needy people in for a meal. About seventy-five people enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner, an experience they would never have been able to afford. Members of the church were there to have conversations and build relationships over laughter and good food. The gospel was presented and an evangelistic Bible study grew out of that dinner.
In all of those cases, we were able to leverage resources that we had to bless people, connect with them, and eventually share the gospel.
3. Environment matters
Third, environment matters. If you want to reach out to people who are less affluent and privileged than you are, look around at your church and your life. Try to imagine how someone less fortunate than you (sorry, I’m running out of euphemisms) might perceive them.
Do your sermon illustrations assume that everyone has been to college? Or owns a car? Or has access to a computer or cable TV or designer clothing? These kinds of things speak volumes to people about whether or not they are truly welcome to be part of your church.
Is your house—its size, neighborhood, furnishings—intimidating to someone with few resources? Would it immediately make them feel uncomfortable or shabby? If so, you will probably have to work through extra layers of defensiveness in order to reach people.
Is your home in a location where poorer people (who may not have a car) can walk or take public transportation? If not, it will be more difficult to be hospitable.
4. Know who you are talking to when explaining the gospel
Finally, if you want to reach out to people with different backgrounds, consider how you are explaining the gospel. To be clear, the message must remain unaltered. All men, women, and children need to hear of their sin, God’s holiness, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the need for repentance and faith. But you may need to find new methods of delivering that message for people who are not comfortable with the English language or with reading as a way of gaining information.
If I am sharing the gospel with an educated professional from northern Virginia, I may well invite him to read a book with me in order to help him investigate the claims of Christ. And certainly, there are some poorer folks who are well educated and enjoy reading. But we also need to have other ways of communicating for people who are not readers. Two examples: using videos (like Christianity Explored) or stories (I like the ones being used at Soma Church in Washington) to communicate the movements and themes of Scriptures.
Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of Did the Devil Make Me Do It? (The Good Book Company, 2013).
As cultural opposition toward Christianity grows, what is its effect on your evangelism at work? Are you more faithful or more fearful?
You could hardly be blamed for being more fearful. The rapid advance of social liberalism and human resources policies promoting workplace “tolerance” only exacerbate the two fears we commonly cite for not sharing the gospel with our co-workers: fear of social harm and fear of career repercussions, like job loss or career stalls.
Evangelism has always been hard. If there is anything new about our challenges today, it’s how emboldened the opposition seems to be. Non-Christians used to say “To each his own.” Now they are just as likely to accuse us of stupidity (“Seriously, you don’t believe in evolution?”) or hateful bigotry (“How dare you say homosexuality is a sin?”). Employers increasingly do rigorous social media background checks before making hiring and promotion decisions. How long before companies who are fearful of workplace harassment and discrimination pass over the more visible Christian for someone who makes fewer waves?
In spite of all this, I am so grateful for the brothers who feared God more than man and shared the gospel with me. My own faith is the fruit of workplace evangelism.
LOST, AND FOUND IN THE WORKPLACE
Twelve years ago, I was a researcher at a mid-sized consulting firm in Washington, DC. I was a self-confident, self-sufficient, professionally-prospering Hindu. You wouldn’t have assumed I was spiritually uncertain. Frankly, I didn’t know I was spiritually uncertain. What I was not was a guy who was actively seeking Christ.
Enter my Christian colleague Hunter. Well-known and well-liked around the office, Hunter was a high-performing sales guy with a range of interests. Someone told me, “He’s a Christian, ya’ know.” Neither one of us knew for sure what that meant, but both of us believed it was relevant enough to add a knowing, “Huh.”
I did know Hunter didn’t fit the mold of a Christian that I had mentally constructed. Christians were nice, old-fashioned, hypocritical, one-note tunes. Hunter wasn’t that. So I started watching him.
We became friends. We spent time together and talked about a range of topics—The Simpsons, Lord of the Rings, Christ, Krishna, coffee, work. While the Lord used Hunter to pursue me, I never felt like a project, just a friend. As only God can do, he providentially arranged for Hunter to be there at the same time that God orchestrated a spiritual crisis in my life. And he gave Hunter the wisdom and boldness to speak truth into my life when I needed it most.
BEHAVIORS OF A WORKPLACE EVANGELIST
While young in the faith himself at the time, there is much about Hunter’s example that any believer can apply in a workplace setting.
1. Put Christ on the Table
First, put Christ on the table. Because it can be rare to meet Christians in the workplace, it is essential that people in your office know that you are a follower of Christ. That way you can make yourself available to weaker believers and an example to non-believers. It was a non-Christian colleague who told me about Hunter’s faith. Obviously we should not do this obnoxiously or irresponsibly, but by recounting your weekend, describing a Bible study that you are in, or sharing how you pray for others, people will soon know.
2. Work with Excellence
Second, work with excellence. When you put Christ on the table, expect to be studied by your peers as I studied Hunter. Work in a way that reflects the creativity, purpose, and goodness of God. Demonstrate faithfulness and integrity. Work “without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14). Submit to those in authority, and serve humbly.
This in itself isn’t evangelism, but the content of our lives at work should reinforce, not undermine, the content of the gospel message we share.
3. Love your Peers
Third, love your peers. Invest in friendships with non-Christians in your workplace, not perfunctorily as “projects,” but lovingly as those made in God’s image. Don’t underestimate the importance of trust. Consider that it was a year and a half after Hunter and I met that we studied the Bible together and God gave me ears for the gospel.
Use your lunch break strategically. As you’re able, make generous use of hospitality, where you can share your life with a colleague away from the office and the usual chit-chat and office banter.
4. Prepare to Evangelize
Fourth, prepare to evangelize. As silly as this may sound, be sure you know how to easily explain the gospel. Practice if you need to.
When the Lord provides an opportunity, you don’t want your inner voice screaming at you for being unclear—you want your mind free to listen to your colleague and what they are struggling to understand. After all, it is the gospel that saves, not our quick wit and strong grasp of apologetics. I praise God for Hunter’s clarity, boldness, and trust in power of the gospel.
Fifth, pray. Pray for your colleagues regularly. Pray for good opportunities to share the gospel. Pray that you would grow in boldness. Pray that God would be big and man would be small—we’re all guilty of getting the two mixed up.
And invite brothers and sisters in your church to pray as well. Hunter later told me that his men’s Bible study group was praying for me from the moment I asked him about his Christian faith.
A CALL TO FAITHFULNESS
As workplaces grow more hostile to Christianity, these basic practices will be all the more essential. The Lord has been kind to answer my many prayers for good opportunities and the words to speak. Being known as a Christian, living out my faith professionally and interpersonally, and loving my colleagues more as God’s image-bearers has gained me opportunities to speak openly of my faith. And, in his amazing grace, God has chosen to use me to bring a colleague to faith.
We should expect the Lord to answer our prayers and grant us opportunities to speak of Christ, so pray for boldness. And be willing to spend your relational capital. God has put you where you are for a purpose.
Ashok Nachnani is an elder at First Baptist Church in Durham, NC, and a strategy executive at a multinational energy management company.
If you're within striking distance of Cedarville, Ohio, don't miss the upcoming 9Marks at Cedarville conference!
Where: Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio
When: October 29-30, 2013
Topic: A biblical understanding of the gospel
- Garrett Kell, Senior Pastor, Del Ray Baptist Church, Alexandria, VA
- Greg Gilbert, Senior Pastor, Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, KY
- Mike McKinley, Senior Pastor, Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, VA
- Danny Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Jason Lee, Dean of the Cedarville University School of Biblical and Ministry Studies
More Information: click here.
I recently returned from sabbatical. My church totally relieved me of duty for the months of June and July. I was banned from Sunday services at our church and was kept in the dark about pastoral issues they faced during this two-month period.
Leading up to this time, I sought counsel from many pastors who had been given similar time off. I was struck by how many shared of different regrets once their time was done. So I tried to use my Sabbatical in the most fruitful way possible. Here are a few lessons I learned.
1. Delight in your wife. Have plenty of date nights. Care for her. Study her. Learn from her. Laugh with her. Enjoy her. Reflect on your years of ministry together. Realize she needs this time as much as you do. Resolve to make it a great benefit to her soul. Seize time to delight in her while the busyness that often cuts into your time together is temporarily relieved.
2. Enjoy your kids. I have never before had such an extended period where I can focus on time with my kids. I needed to make sure they were not only a primary focus, but that my heart was taking in this time with them and truly enjoying them. Many pastors expressed regret to me on this front. So we spent time at the pool, parks, out of town a bit, reading, wrestling, laughing, riding bikes, and whatever else they wanted to do.
3. Be intentional with spiritual disciplines. I committed to have times of reading God’s Word that were long and covered large portions of text. I usually spend most of my time “staring at the trees” for sermon preparation; for this break I allowed “the forest” to feed my soul.
I also had intentional times of silence and prayer for the sake of my own soul, asking God for guidance on a vision for our church for the next ten years, as I’ve just finished up my first ten as pastor. Additionally, I renewed a helpful discipline I’ve neglected: journaling. Embrace the basic spiritual disciplines we exhort our people to engage in that we can often let slide in our own lives.
4. Be consistent with physical disciplines. Commit to sleeping eight hours a night. Try to renew regular exercise—for me, this meant a three to four day a week workout plan. And resolve to eat well. If you do none of these well in your normal grind, a sabbatical can be a great time to recommit to stewarding your body and energy well. I lost ten pounds on my sabbatical and was reminded how much sleep I actually need to be at my best to serve the Lord. Do not underestimate how poorly you care for your body during the grind of ministry.
5. Be mentored by a faithful dead pastor. Dead pastors from different moments in history can teach us about pastoral ministry in ways modern pastors cannot. I chose the great 18th century English Particular Baptist Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) to mentor me during this time via his writings. It was so encouraging! Pick one, then immerse yourself in his life and ministry and allow him to teach you.
6. Learn about preaching from a faithful living pastor. I chose Ted Donnelly, who pastored in Northern Ireland for over 35 years until his health recently declined. He is known in Britain as one of the most gifted, Spirit-filled preachers in the last half century. I listened to his sermons and learned much. God also fed my soul through his Word in the process. Choose someone you don’t know very well but would be a helpful instructor to push you to grow in your preaching.
7. Visit other churches. It can certainly be restful and encouraging to worship among your people with your regular pastoral duties relieved. But the inevitable conversations that will arise can make a Sabbatical less of a break if you spend Sundays in your own church. So I made sure my responsibilities at church were covered so that I could worship at other churches for the entire sabbatical.
If you go to other solid churches where the Word is preached you will experience Christian fellowship. There is much to learn from other churches and pastors. You may experience something in their public gathering you then choose to bring back to your church. If you do not have many choices, pick a couple of solid churches during your sabbatical where you can simply attend, relax, and be fed while sitting with your family.
8. Put off the tasks you normally put on. A Sabbatical will not be truly restful if you hang on to what normally wears you down. This is why my fellow pastors banned me from writing a book or preaching anywhere, both of which are a normal part of my ministry. Although many take sabbatical time to write—which is fine for some—my fellow pastors were right to forbid me from doing so. Make sure you are honest with yourself about the things that wear on you. And make sure set them down for this time, even if they are things you love to do.
9. Play golf. Golf is relaxing yet humbling for most of us. There are layers of reasons this is good for your soul. I shot some of my best rounds of golf in years during my Sabbatical and beat my very competitive father for the first time in my life. Clearly, the favor of the Lord was upon me. If not golf, find some other relaxing, humbling way to have fun that’s tough to fit into your regular grind.
10. Truly rest. I typically don’t rest well. But I realized through others’ counsel that if I came to the end of my time off and my wife and I did not feel refreshed and rested, we would have defeated the purpose of this gift from our church and squandered this opportunity. Whatever will help you rest from the rat race of your regular labors and refresh your soul is what you should do.
If you are planning for an upcoming sabbatical, I hope this begins a helpful conversation between you and your fellow pastors about what would be the best way for you to benefit from this gift. Be intentional. Involve others in your church to help determine the best way for you to spend your time. Listen to your wife’s input. And pray God would grant you to rest well and wisely, so that fond memories vastly outweigh regrets when you return to the normal routine of ministry.
Brian Croft is the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and the founder of Practical Shepherding. Along with his wife Cara, he is the author of The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Zondervan, 2013).
Flip to just about any TV channel with religious programming and you are likely to encounter the prosperity gospel. From Joel Osteen’s perma-smile to T. D. Jakes’s mopped brow, from Jan Crouch’s bouffant cotton-candy hairdo to Benny Hinn’s Nehru jackets, America’s electronic preachers tell us there is a God of inexhaustible abundance ready to bless us with our own personal miracle. Whether our troubles are financial, physical, or emotional, God will change our fortunes if we will just pray in faith for the desired outcome, proclaim it ours, and then act on the certainty of its arrival in our lives.
Of course, it helps to sow seeds if you want to reap a harvest, so a gift given to the ministry is a tangible sign of our faith that God will do as we say. And the bigger the gift, the larger the faith. Lest we doubt this simple spiritual formula, we need only look at the extravagant lifestyles with which the good Lord has blessed prosperity preachers. It’s all so straightforward and appealing, as American as mama’s apple pie and a 30-year mortgage. Evidently, we can’t get enough of the stuff.
THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
In a thoughtful and engaging work, Kate Bowler unravels the origins and development of the prosperity gospel into a multi-billion dollar industry. Although there are several varieties of prosperity gospels with subtly different animating convictions and practices, Bowler sensibly lumps them together as birds of a feather, a range of species in the same genus. “Word of Faith,” “Positive Confession,” “Health and Wealth,” and so forth, they all share a bedrock conviction that God chooses to bless his children with material prosperity in body, mind, and brokerage account, awaiting only our willingness to get on board.
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We asked four churches to tell us how they equip their people to evangelize. Here are their responses. Answers from University Reformed Church, Sterling Park Baptist Church, the Village Church, and the Church at Brook Hills.
Ben Falconer, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan
If we’re going to evangelize faithfully, we need to talk, pray, and be challenged about it. With that in mind, at University Reformed Church we attempt to keep evangelism at the forefront of our ministry as much as possible.
The foundation is laid with regular admonition and encouragement from the preached Word on Sundays. As often as the text gives us opportunity to trumpet our responsibility to be heralds of the good news, we take it. Evangelism and praying for the lost are repeated applications that we as pastors make from the text.
Another way we teach on evangelism is by including it in our new members class. We want those interested in the church to hear right from the beginning that the Scriptures expect believers to share their faith. We take class time to walk through a gospel tract that our senior pastor Kevin DeYoung and the staff developed a number of years ago. Then we give each new member time to practice sharing with a partner.
A third way we have sought to equip the congregation in evangelism is by making it our theme for a given year. We have identified four basic disciplines of the Christian faith (prayer, Bible study, missions, and personal evangelism) and we aim to focus particularly on one each year. For each theme, we offer specific training, have a corresponding sermon series, and provide other opportunities for practice or accountability. When we focused on evangelism a few years back, we also had the entire church read through Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism and discussed it in our small groups.
Ben Falconer is associate pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.
Mike McKinley, Sterling Park Baptist Church, Sterling, Virginia
At Sterling Park Baptist Church we offer training to our people on how to share the gospel with the hurting and needy. Our mercy ministry and outreach to “at-risk” youth generate a lot of gospel opportunities, but we realized pretty quickly that most of our members weren’t naturally comfortable interacting with and sharing Christ with people who seemed so different.
We try to train our people to listen and ask good questions so that they can identify how this person understands what has gone wrong in their life and what they think will fix it—that is, their version of the Fall and Redemption. Once our member understands how that person understands their “story,” they can share the true story of Christ with them: their real problem is that they are enemies of God, but the good news is that God has made a marvelous salvation available through Christ.
We also have about 30 minutes set aside in our Sunday evening service to pray for evangelistic opportunities that have come up in the previous week, or that we hope will come up in the following week. Members share about conversations that they’ve had or plans they’ve made to share Christ with people in their lives, and then we ask God to give more opportunities to us and bear more fruit through us. This helps make evangelism seem like a normal part of the Christian life, rather than something done by the professionals. It also drives home the point that evangelism begins with prayer.
Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of The Devil Made Me Do It (Good Book Company, 2013).
Josh Patterson, The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas
At The Village Church, we try to equip our people to fulfill the Great Commission in three ways: we model it, preach and teach it, and celebrate it.
First, the church leaders model evangelism. We are not asking our people to be involved in something that we ourselves are not doing. The pastors and elders are sharing Christ with their neighbors, friends, and family members.
Second, the pastors preach it and teach it. The preaching of the Word stands as a constant reminder of God’s call for his church to be his ambassadors in the world as he makes his appeal through us. Also, we teach evangelism in a variety of contexts. A primary equipping venue for us is our home group groups. Here we have a “multiplication guide” that walks a home group through six-month evangelism training course.
Finally, we celebrate it. What is celebrated is cultivated. And a culture of evangelism is stronger than any evangelistic program. We celebrate evangelism through stories of conversion and faithful members who bear witness to Christ. Four times a year we have “Celebration Weekends” where the bulk of the worship gathering centers around the proclamation of the gospel through baptism. At The Village, we ask those who were integral in the conversion of the individual being baptized to perform the baptism. In other words, our members baptize those they lead to Christ.
Our desire to celebrate, teach and preach, and model evangelism serves to reinforce this biblical call that for disciples of Jesus, evangelism should be normal.
Josh Patterson serves as Lead Pastor for Ministry Leadership at the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
J.D. Payne, The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama
At Brook Hills, we recognize that the best evangelism equipping strategy is multifaceted. This requires:
- regular biblical teaching that provides a Great Commission foundation;
- ongoing exhortation to share the gospel in Birmingham, across North America, and throughout the world;
- personal examples set by the leaders of the church;
- and regular, practical equipping in the area of personal evangelism.
While we spend a great deal of time in multiple venues talking about sharing the gospel, we know it is not enough to just talk about evangelism. All of our elders are required to develop and submit an annual personal disciple-making strategy, and all of our members are encouraged to do the same. This past year, two of our pastors preached a several-week series on personal evangelism. At least twice a year, we offer a six-week personal evangelism training, with plans to offer it three times per year starting in 2014. I also do a weekly 5-10 minute vodcast called “Multiplication Matters,” addressing issues related to evangelism.
J. D. Payne is Pastor of Church Multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama