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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Book Review: The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

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In his book The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, the Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes provides a tenderhearted, Christ-exalting exposition and application of Isaiah 42:1-3. Since its initial publication in 1630, The Bruised Reed has been a source of encouragement to dejected sinners and struggling saints alike.

Sibbes follows Matthew’s interpretation of this text, seeing it to be fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (Matt. 12:18-20). His exposition breaks down into three basic parts: (1) Christ will not break the bruised reed; (2) Christ will not quench the smoking flax; (3) Christ will not do either of these things until he has sent forth judgment into victory. Sibbes explains the main text under these three headings and then intersperses searching application throughout the book.  

Why should the busy pastor spend time reading a book written by a preacher in London nearly four centuries ago? Well, Sibbes did know a thing or two about preaching. He regularly wrote out his sermons and at the time of his death in 1635 he left over two million words on paper. The Bruised Reed is still considered to be a classic of Puritan devotion. Sibbes became known as the “heavenly Doctor Sibbes,” due in part to his God-honoring preaching and God-fearing manner of life. A couplet was written about Sibbes after his death that captures this well: “Of that good man let this high praise be given: Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.”

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Book Review: Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars, by Stephen Miller

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Imagine yourself entering a Christian church for the first time. You’re from a different religious background, curious about the teachings of Jesus. One of the first questions you might have to ask is: “Who is the guitar-wielding, distressed jeans-wearing, facial hair-sporting figure that appears before me on a larger-than-life Jumbotron, shrouded in stage fog and professional lighting, inviting me to sing along as he croons into a microphone?” Welcome to Christianity. You have just met one of our most beloved (and caricatured!) personalities: the worship leader.

It is these personalities that Stephen Miller addresses in his thoughtful appeal, Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. Miller writes not as a dispassionate critic but as a concerned practitioner. He serves as the worship pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri. 

DIAGNOSIS AND SOLUTION

What’s the problem among those who lead corporate worship in today’s churches? According to Miller, it’s the “prideful pursuit of platform and prominence” (17). He astutely observes that such a craving for self-fulfillment is not stylistically bound, but can take place among rockers and traditional choir-directors alike (16).

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The Gospel for a Gay Friend

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Josh had always known he was different. From his earliest memories, he looked at some boys as more than just peers. His parents knew he was “special” but they loved him for it. He learned to wear a mask and play the part of a “normal” kid until he graduated high school.

In college, Josh decided it was time to be who he really was. He made friends with other gay people and set out on sexual explorations. Josh found a refuge in his gay community and developed bonds that ran much deeper than sexual flings. Though his parents distanced themselves and old friends turned a cold shoulder, Josh felt that he was finally free in his new identity as a gay man. 

Josh is no caricature. His experiences and story are true, and they are common.

What if Josh were your neighbor or your co-worker or your son? How would you give the gospel to him? How would you tell him about the forgiveness of sins, the community of believers, and true identity in Jesus?

In one sense, we would assume there is no real difference in the way we’d give Josh the good news compared to any other person. Just because Josh is sexually attracted to people of the same gender doesn’t make him foundationally different from anyone else.

For many of my Christian friends who love Jesus and struggle with same-sex attraction, the beauty of the gospel is that it addresses every area of their life, not just one expression of the fall. All of us who are believers know this. Whether we were once atheists, liars, Muslims, or self-righteous church attenders, there is no magical gospel just for “our sin.” At the foot of the cross we are all equally in need of God’s amazing grace.

At the same time, Josh has very real questions that need to be answered. In the same way an atheist, Muslim or self-righteous person would need the gospel to address them personally, we should learn to love Josh where he is in his consideration of Jesus’ claims. He has real questions that he struggles with, and we should seek to help him find those answers.

IDEAS TO KEEP IN MIND

To share the gospel with Josh, or anyone who might have questions like his, here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

1. Hope in Jesus’ power to help you.                  

Hope in Jesus’ power to help you. It can be intimidating for people who have never struggled with same-sex attraction to share the gospel with a gay man or woman. As with anyone we share the gospel with, we fear how they may perceive us, and we may be tempted to think they would never listen. The fear of man is a snare (Prov. 29:25). So rather than getting hung up on it, we must hope in Jesus’ strength in us, not in our adequacy to bring the message (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5). We must drink deeply of the gospel as we share it, because there we find the power we need to be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8). Hope in Jesus’ power to help you.

2. Hold Jesus as supreme.

Hold Jesus as supreme. Friends like Josh will often want to bring the question of sexuality to the foreground in your conversation. At the same time, we want to keep Jesus and his gospel central.

To help with this, I encourage you to ask your friend to share their story with you. Ask them to help you understand how being gay became a central part of their identity. Or, if that’s not their experience, ask them about where they do find their identity. Ask them if there have been any hard times with their journey. Part of loving people is getting to know them.

As you do this, ask them if you can tell them why you view your identity in Christ as supreme. In the end, we aren’t trying to make people straight, we want people to be saved. We never want to minimize sins that keep people from God, but at the same time we want to magnify who brings us to God. Jesus came for sinners of all kinds, and we must keep that message central.

It is also good to keep in mind that all people are sexual sinners—some in small ways, some in greater ways. This helps us to reframe the conversation from being “You’re sexually broken, you need to be like us” to “We’re all sexual sinners who need Jesus.” Jesus is the hope for all of us, no matter how the fall shows itself in our lives.

3. Have Jesus-like compassion and conviction.

Have Jesus-like compassion and conviction. Christians have sinned in at least two major ways when it comes to reaching those in the gay community. On the one hand, some have laid aside God’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin in an attempt to show the love of God. Love that is stripped of truth is not love but deceit. This is a grave sin against both God and man.

Have Jesus-like conviction and speak the truth in love. Share what the Bible teaches about homosexual activity (Mk. 7:21; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10). Share that there is a terrible judgment for those who reject Christ (Rev. 20:11-15). Share that there is a great cost in following Christ and also a great hope of forgiveness and freedom for those who do (Mk. 10:28-30). Speak the truth in love.

On the other hand, some have neglected compassion and have harbored a condescending attitude toward people who practice homosexual sin. Love that is stripped of compassion is not love but hypocrisy. This too is a grave sin because it is unlike Christ’s love toward us.

Jesus, the God-man, was unlike the world of sinners who surrounded him, yet he had compassion on them (Matt. 9:36). As we reach out to those in gay community, we must strive to do so with a similar heart. What could be more heartbreaking than for a person made in God’s image to be lost in their sin and forever separated from the love of God? Ask God to help you to see those in the gay community as he does so you can minister with conviction and compassion.

4. Have Jesus’ church be central.

Have Jesus’ church be central. As it was for Josh, the gay community is a refuge from the rejection and inner turmoil that many gay people experience. Because of this, they find a place where they are accepted in their sin and embraced for who they are.

I suspect that one of the great antidotes for this powerful tool of the evil one is the community of the church. This may seem odd in light of the way many demonize the church because of its “bigotry,” but I trust that as we build relationships with gay friends and invite them into our homes and into our lives, they will see the true community of which they have only dreamed.

This is only enhanced when we as the church grow in giving grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction. One of the most instructive times I’ve had in the past decade was when a new believer was being baptized and he shared openly about coming out of a gay life style. In his testimony he described how the church had not only shared the gospel compassionately, but also was helping him now to live as a man with the struggles of his old desires. He said that in the church, he found a refuge that challenged him not to embrace his sin, but to embrace the Savior.

Jesus said that all people will know we are his disciples by our love (John 13:34-35). As you build relationships with gay friends, invite them into your life that they may hear the gospel, but also see it portrayed through the life of your local church.

5. Help answer their questions.

Help answer their questions. There are always objections to the gospel and few of us ever feel “fully ready” to answer those objections. But God calls us to make a defense for our hope in Jesus (1 Pt. 3:15). This means we should help people wrestle with very real questions. Here are a few Josh has asked.

  • Why do you believe some verses in the Old Testament and ignore others?
  • Why did God make me gay if he condemns it as a sin?
  • Why is it wrong for two loving people to be in a committed relationship?
  • Do I have to become straight to become a Christian?
  • Why didn’t Jesus say anything about homosexuality?
  • What if I become a gay Christian?

Part of our calling as Jesus’ ambassadors is to help people work through questions like these and see that God’s Word does have answers. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say, “That’s a really important question, can we find the answer together?”

6. Have patience.

Have patience with them. Take the long view in evangelism. It is rare that you share the gospel with someone and they repent in the moment. That can happen, but normally the process is much longer.

Enter into evangelistic relationships for the long haul. We are an impatient people, which can tempt us to give up quickly when we don’t see results. People are people, not projects. Often, we won’t see what God is doing in their lives. View yourself as part of God’s means to help them see and hear the gospel of Jesus. Love is patient. Show them love by being in it for the long haul.

7. Hope in Jesus’ power to save.

Hope in Jesus’ power to save them. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). That means that the gospel for a gay man or woman is the same gospel for a straight man or woman. Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin, unbelief is. Jesus died for all types of sins for all types of sinners.

So do not doubt the power of Christ but pray fervently for soft hearts, open doors, and lasting fruit. Trust in God’s wisdom and God’s power, not in your own. Remember that every Christian is a living miracle. If Jesus can save you, he can save anyone, including Josh.

Garrett Kell is lead pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia

Evangelism without an Altar Call

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Five and a half years ago I preached my first sermon as the pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church. The minister of music stopped me before the service with a question. He wanted to know how I’d be making the altar call.

I was confused. Prior to this Sunday morning I’d been at MVBC three times, and not once did I see anyone give an altar call. I assumed the church had decided long ago to abandon the practice. I was wrong.

As it turns out, my church has a long history of closing the service with an appeal to walk the aisle in order to join the church, recommit one’s life to the Lord, or make a public profession of faith. The three Sundays I had attended were exceptions to the rule! In fact, many of the members had come to see the altar call as the primary means the church used to reach the lost. They saw the altar call as synonymous with evangelism.

WHY NOT GIVE AN ALTAR CALL?

I trust that many who give altar calls have the best of intentions. In the early nineties I attended a church whose pastor ended the service by asking every person in the congregation to close their eyes and bow their head. Next he would invite anyone who wanted to receive Christ to raise their hand and look toward the pulpit. For about thirty seconds the pastor would scan around the hall, notice the raised hands, and in a calm, soothing voice say, “Yes, brother, I see you. Good, sister, amen,” and so on. I believe this pastor meant the best for these seekers.

Nonetheless, I’m convinced that the altar call does more harm than good. The practice of granting people immediate assurance of salvation—without taking the time to test the credibility of their profession—seems unwise at best and scandalous at worst. It is unwise because the pastor cannot sufficiently know the person he’s about to affirm is a Christian. It is scandalous because it replaces the difficult and narrow gate designed by our Savior (Mark 8:34; Matt. 7:14) with an easy and wide gate designed by us. With the best of intentions, practitioners of the altar call have given many unsaved persons the false confidence that they truly know Jesus.[1]

But that’s not all. The altar call has a tendency to put the congregation’s focus in the wrong place. After the Word is preached, members and visitors alike should be examining their own hearts. Everyone should be giving serious attention to how the message calls him or her to respond. But the altar call, ironically, tends to produce the opposite response. Instead of self-examination it leads to audience-examination. People are looking around, wondering who’s going to go forward. And if no one moves, one wonders, did the pastor fail? Or worse, did God take the day off?

These are just a few reasons why I think it’s unwise to use the altar call for evangelism.

HOW TO EVANGELIZE WITHOUT AN ALTAR CALL

How should a pastor who rejects the altar call think about evangelism in a public worship service? Put another way, what does it look like for a corporate worship service to be marked by evangelistic zeal? Here are seven answers I strive for in the services I lead:

1. Be earnest.

Be earnest. Though there is nothing more important for a preacher than fidelity to gospel truth, earnestness must be a close second. God uses men whose hearts are gripped by the tragedy of sin and the reality of salvation. Until the doctrine of God’s amazing grace has settled in a preacher’s bones, it will never flash from his lips.

2. Be clear about the gospel.

Be clear about the gospel. Every passage of Scripture is a gospel text. In all of Esther, the name of God is never mentioned, and yet his handiwork is on every page. A pastor who wants to see sinners saved will faithfully teach the Bible, showing his congregation how the person and work of Christ is the point of every text.

3. Call people to repent and believe.

Call people to repent and believe. There is a place in every sermon for a pastor to invite sinners to find hope in Christ. So often I hear sermons that end with a call to stewardship, a call to risk, a call to faithfulness—but not once a call to Christ. The preacher should carefully and passionately urge his listeners to repent and believe the good news, to submit their lives to Christ the King.

4. Create space for follow-up conversations.

Create space for follow-up conversations. When I preach the gospel during my sermons, I want unbelievers to know that I’m eager to talk more about the faith I’ve just shared. Therefore I make myself available after the service to talk about the gospel and its implications.

Other pastors that I’ve talked to invite seekers to a special room after the service for prayer or conversation. Spurgeon gave over every Tuesday afternoon to counsel seekers and new believers.[2] However you decide to do it, provide opportunities for people to talk more personally about what you just preached.

5. Offer evangelistic studies.

Offer evangelistic studies. I commonly let seekers know that they are invited to join a short, straightforward study that explains the basics of the Christian faith. The study I use is Christianity Explained, a six-week study through the Gospel of Mark published by the Good Book Company. I’ve found it to be an invaluable introduction to the gospel. In fact, training in how to lead this study has become a staple class at my church.

6. Make a big deal out of baptisms.

Make a big deal out of baptisms. Of course, baptisms already are a big deal. We should recognize that each baptism is an opportunity to show the congregation that God is at work building his church.

At Mount Vernon, we ask each baptismal candidate to share his testimony to the congregation. I’ve never required this, but I’ve yet to have a person turn me down. These new Christians are eager to testify to God’s grace, and seekers are led to question their own response to the gospel.

7. Pray.

Finally, pray. In the pastoral prayer and even the closing prayer, I regularly pray that seekers would repent and believe the gospel. I pray they would submit their lives to Christ, overcoming whatever obstacles they perceive to be standing in their way. I pray that God would make himself known by drawing sinners to himself this very day.

As you can tell, I don’t give an altar call at the church I serve. But I plead every Sunday for sinners to come to Christ.  Let us long to see the saints in our congregations encouraged by the gospel, and the seekers convinced of their need to repent and believe God’s good news. 

Aaron Menikoff is the senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

[1] For a detailed treatment of the dangers of the altar call read Erroll Hulse, The Great Invitation: Examining the Use of the Altar Call in Evangelism (Audoban Press, 2006) and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Zondervan, 2011), chapter 14.

[2] Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985), 80.

 
 

Evangelizing the Nations at Home

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Would you be surprised if told you that Americas are increasingly inhospitable to international visitors, and that Christians can thank God for that? One university reports that 80 percent of their international students never see the inside of a local U. S. home. Longer-term immigrants seem to fare little better.

So why can Christians thank God? If unbelievers have lost interest in showing hospitality to foreigners, we have all the more opportunity! We can welcome foreigners, show compassion, and so commend the gospel right here in America.

Some numbers will illustrate the scale of this opportunity. Since 1970 more than 35 million individuals have immigrated to the United States. And that’s not counting the more than 700,000 college students who come here to study each year, or the millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows of our cities and towns.

You don’t need to live in New York or Los Angeles to reach out to newcomers. The largest community of Kurdish people in America is in Nashville, Tennessee. The biggest community of Somalis is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Springfield, Virginia hosts the second largest community of Afghans in the Western Hemisphere.

And, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of college students from all over the world—a new flood every year. Even many smaller universities have substantial programs for international students. You might be surprised what nations God has brought to your doorstep.

AN EXAMPLE TO ENCOURAGE

The members of my own congregation, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, have embraced this evangelistic opportunity in our community. And I want to share some of what those faithful saints have been doing, not to say others should do exactly what we do, but to encourage similar kinds of faithfulness.

Our outreach to internationals started when one of our missionaries came home and spent a year living in Washington, D.C. During his time with us, the one thing we asked was that he help us survey the population of internationals living near our church. At the end of his time he concluded that students were the only significant resident population of internationals nearby. Most longer-term immigrants lived out in the distant suburbs. So our most significant ministry would be among students.

It so happened that there was a man in our church from Singapore who had himself been converted as an international student in the UK. One of our elders began to meet with him and asked him to think about how he might encourage more outreach from our church to international students. He began to host a Bible study in his home for international students. Later, English language classes were started in our church and on a nearby campus. More members got involved and began to meet one-to-one for practicing English by talking through the gospel. They were open and above-board in telling students this gospel conversation was our aim right from the start. As a result they had more opportunities to meet up with international students.

Eventually the effort grew until so many church members were involved that our elders decided to create the position of Deacon of International Outreach. This deacon would coordinate and give leadership to all the activity already happening: teaching English, hosting international students for meals, spending leisure time with them, picking them up from airports, and, most of all, meeting one-to-one to study through the Gospels with an interested student.

In the course of the following years we’ve had the joy of baptizing and adding to our church body several men and women who came to trust in Christ through these efforts. Others have believed and joined other churches in the area. Many have returned to their home countries where they are now witnesses for the gospel. Praise God!

ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR INTERNATIONAL EVANGELISM AT HOME

So here are a few observations drawn from our own these experiences.

1. Be willing to give pastoral leadership, but probably lightly.

First, be willing to give pastoral leadership, but probably lightly. As elders, we want to encourage the initiative of our members. We don’t want to press for top-down programs. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a role for our leadership, prayer, planning, and a few strategic decisions or conversations.

Certainly praying openly before your congregation that God might use your church to reach internationals is an obvious way to start. In addition, a few well-placed conversations with likely leaders in your church may stir up wonderful results. Growing in your own awareness of unrealized opportunities in your community cannot hurt either.

2. Let your international investments inform your local ones.

Second, let your international investments inform your local ones. We hope our church will find ways to reach out to Muslims, especially from nations where we have long-term missionaries at work. One of the best ways we’ve been able to do this is hosting our overseas workers for long-term stays when they are back in the States. And we want them spending months here, not days.

Having missionaries here with us who speak a people’s language and know their culture has been super helpful for building inroads among internationals. And if we are going to spend a lot of money sending people overseas to take the gospel to a particular people, we should certainly encourage our members to cross the street to reach the same people.

3. Be happy with unexpected fruit.

Third, be happy with unexpected fruit. As a church that is heavily invested in mission to the Muslim world, I wasn’t expecting that most of the fruit of our local work with internationals would be from secular East Asia. But as God would have it, that’s been the case. And that’s great! As our members have gotten to know students on local campuses, this has been the wonderful result and we’re delighted. Be strategic, but realize that the Spirit moves wherever he will.

4. Remember that all peoples need the gospel.

Finally, remember that all peoples need the gospel. Perhaps the best way to encourage a love for strangers is to keep reminding our people about the implications and imperatives that flow from the gospel. The only bridge we need to reach out to men and women from distant cultures is a reminder of our common state before God.

We all share the same parents. We all share in their sin. We all use our various cultures and man-made religions to hide from the true God and our guilt before him. We all need a savior from outside ourselves and from outside our culture. In short, we all need the gospel.

I know this may sound simplistic. But I’m convinced that, more than any program or effort or idea, the faithful preaching and careful application of God’s Word to the topic of cross-cultural evangelism is what God has most used to bring about the international fruit our own church is enjoying.

So pray for your own church. Lead them gently to embrace the nations around you. But build your church’s outreach all on a foundation of solid, gospel-informed love for every sheep who would come to hear Christ’s voice and follow him.

Andy Johnson is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Introducing: The Cross Conference

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The Cross Conference is a new student missions conference coming to Louisville this Decemeber 27-30. It's headed up by Thabiti Anyabwile, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, David Platt, Zane Pratt, David Sitton, and Mack Stiles, and there are dozens of breakout speakers from around the globe. 

I'd encourage students, pastors, and anyone with a heart for missions to consider coming. The early bird registration rate for students ($100) ends 10/31. 

To feel the heartbeat of the conference, check out this video narrated by Trip Lee:

A New Student Missions Conference from CROSS on Vimeo

Book Review: Manual of Church Order, by John L. Dagg

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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.

Click here to continue reading. 

How Can Churches Evangelize their Neighborhoods?

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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. 

Reaching the “Converted”

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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.

Three Lessons for Cross-Cultural Evangelism

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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.

THREE LESSONS

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.”[1]

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.

[1] Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Crossway, 2012), p. 85.