Sunday, April 24, 2011


I have never really understood the whole idea of personal evangelism. It’s not that I don’t see the point. I just don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be. I have never really been good at sharing my faith; at least not with complete strangers. You would probably never see me wandering the streets, Bible in hand, sharing the gospel message with anyone whose attention I can grab. I have never stood on the street corner preaching to all within earshot. I never understood the point of tracts. I’m not the guy with numerous stories about how I shared my life story with the guy sitting next to me on the plane; resulting in a confession about how he had turned his back on God countless years ago and screwed up his life, culminating in his tearful admission that he needs Jesus. (I have to stop here and let you know a few things. To begin with, I am not condemning these types of encounters. Nor am I condemning these practices altogether. I am simply adding to the conversation and trying to understand my faith a little more.) To be completely honest, I don’t think I have even one story like that. As far as I recall, I have never even prayed the “sinner’s prayer” with a single soul (another idea I don’t totally understand). If you have been a Christian any number of years—or days for that matter—you might view me as somewhat of a failure. You might even conclude that I obviously don’t really believe Jesus sets men free. And for that, I can’t really blame you.

Not too long ago I began to deal with the guilt (and envy) that ensued upon hearing stories of these “successful” evangelists.  The two logical conclusions I quickly came to were, 1) I am not really a follower of Christ (afterall, we are called to share his message); or 2) This model of evangelism is missing something. Of course, I wasn’t about to think I had been wrong all these years about my salvation. So I did what anyone in my position would do.  I set out to prove everyone else wrong! The conclusion I came to was eye-opening, to say the least. To me, it always seemed those evangelism stories only served to put another notch in the spiritual belt. I wonder if they were truly converted.  Perhaps these people were just overcome with emotion. Or maybe they just said some prayer in hopes they would quit being pestered about surrendering their life to Jesus.

For the longest time I used to feel guilty about my lack of “personal evangelism.” Not anymore! Several things occurred that helped take away that guilt. It started to subside after a chapel during my junior year at college. The guest speaker opened his message asking a show of hands for how many of us had “lead someone to the Lord” (many of us had in mind experiences similar to the ones I previously mentioned)—to which several hands went up.  Then we were asked how many of us have shared our faith with anyone (the number of raised hands more than doubled). He went on to open our (or at least my) eyes and share with us what “leading someone to the Lord” really meant. It was then I began to realize the gift of evangelism (although we view evangelists as rock stars of the faith) is no more or less important than any other spiritual gift. The other thing that helped to eradicate that guilt was a spiritual gifts test, which overwhelmingly showed I am not an evangelist. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is a great gift, just not one everyone has been blessed with. In my mind, the gift of evangelism is pretty useless if we take it out of context and elevate it beyond any other gift. (On a side note, if we think any of us has the power to “lead someone to the Lord” on our own, we are sadly mistaken and need a dose  of humility.)

Recently, I have also been trying to better understand the Great Commission. I have to tell you what I hear Jesus telling me in that particular passage. You might be surprised to find that He isn’t telling me to share the Gospel with all who will listen (although that is part of it); rather He is telling me (and you) to go and make disciples. The former is really just words; the latter is words and actions, ultimately culminating in a relationship. (It is here I could tell you several stories about how I have built a relationship with my neighbor without pushing the Gospel on him. Although he hasn’t repeated any prayer, that I am aware of, I feel as though I am helping him to see the reality of Christ).  Preaching the Gospel will only take someone so far.  It may just get them into heaven, but is that all we really want? (That is another discussion entirely.)

I like to compare our evangelism tactics to the customer service techniques employed at big corporations like Wal-Mart (don’t judge me for shopping there). When I am finally able to track down a “sales associate” (why is it everyone has such a technical position anymore) and tell them of my quandary, they usually point their finger in some obscure direction and tell me the item I am looking for can be found in such-and-such an aisle. Instead of taking the time out of their busy schedule to physically walk me there, in order to make sure I actually find what it is I’m looking for, I am offered lame directions that usually result in more aimless wandering. The same is true of us when we try to evangelize the “lost” (a term I am beginning to hate using). When someone finally works up the courage to open up to us, we try to give them some formula to find salvation, i.e. Roman’s Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Sinner’s Prayer. We simply tell them that Jesus can make them moral, offer them freedom, save them from that addiction, or heal them from their infirmity. We tell them these things because it is much easier than reciprocating their openness, honesty and trust. It is easier to offer some obscure “truth” than it is to walk with them along the journey to find that truth. In the words of a friend of mine, “sharing your faith without a willingness to share your life is pretty lame!”

I think where we have gone wrong is trying to entirely separate evangelism from discipleship. In my mind, there is so much overlap, they just might be one and the same; either that or they are inseparable. Let me try to make this simple. We tend to think of evangelism as simply converting someone to our beliefs and discipleship as putting action to those beliefs. While the former may happen in an instant, the latter may take a lifetime. To separate the two and to simply evangelize the lost hasn’t really solved anything. It may have given us (in our mind at least) a few more notches on our spiritual belt. We may be able to add numbers to our church statistical report. We might have even gotten a few of them into heaven. But has it really lead to a true and lasting salvation; one that not only saves from hell, but helps to make life here on earth “as it is in Heaven.” If we try to evangelize without a relationship, we are just adding converts. And God knows Christianity doesn’t need any more of those. What Christianity needs, is more true disciples.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CHURCH, Part 2

Misconception 2:  Church happens on Sunday.

Trust me, I already know what you are thinking.  Words like heretic, heathen and anti-church are coming to mind, but before you tune me out, before you pick up that stone, just hear me out.  The second misconception about Church is only spurred on by the first.  It revolves around this whole idea we call the Sabbath.  Afterall, God did create the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath (here we go with ME again).  God said it, not me!  And who am I to argue with God, what He says goes (at least this time).  So it starts again.  We twist the Words of God to benefit ourselves.  We begin to think that it would be great if every other day were more like Sunday—or at least our version of Sunday (the one that’s about ME).  Quickly we forget that Church isn’t something that happens once a week on Sundays.  However, more often than not, the church is least like the Church when it comes to the weekly services they hold.  (You might be surprised to hear this, especially from a pastor.)

I believe Church has less to do with what takes place on Sunday (or whatever day is your Sabbath) and more about the decisions we make and the way we live our lives the remaining 6 days.  I would argue that the Sabbath is a very small part of what this thing we call Church is all about.  The main point of the Church is to not come together one day a week and benefit each other, but to go out and benefit others.  The Church shares the call God gave to Abraham to be a conduit of blessing.  In Genesis, God tells Abraham that He will bless him.  Not so he can be blessed, but so he can go out and bless the world with his blessing.  Again, the temptation of God’s people to be self-centered and hoard the blessing rises up within each of us.  It happened over and over with God’s chosen people.  And it’s no surprise it still happens today.

If the church is going to be the Church, there are a few things we need to change.  To begin with, those of us within the Church have to look outside the four walls.  In the history of membership based institutions—fraternities, clubs, secret societies, etc.—none of them existed for anything but themselves.  But the Church is different—or at least it’s supposed to be.  The Church is the only “club” that exists solely for the benefit of those outside its confines of membership.  The Church isn’t supposed to cater to the whims of its congregants.  The Church doesn’t even exist to meet the needs of each of its parishioners.  (Yes, the Church should take care of its members and meet their needs, but, again, that is not the main point.)  When we begin to turn the church inside out—quit focusing on ourselves—we can usually begin to see that our needs are already being met.

A tangible example that comes to mind is the mission trip.  Have you ever been on a mission trip?  If you are anything like me, you always have these dreams of grandeur about how important the work you are doing is (which it is).  You always seem to believe you are going to change someone’s life forever (which you will).  You think this trip may just change the world (which it might).  But the person that usually winds up getting the most out of the trip—is you!  It is this paradox in letting go of self and serving others that your needs are the most met.  I can only wonder if this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “…he who loses his life will find it.”  I’m not sure how it works.  I can’t really explain it.  It just kind of happens.

As I said before, I wholeheartedly believe the main work of the Church doesn’t occur on Sundays.  We spend so much time striving to turn Sunday into something special.  We take care to put on our Sunday best.  We make sure we are clean shaved, take a little extra time making sure our hair is just right, look in the mirror to make sure our tie is perfect, jump into our recently cleaned Lexus hybrid (I’m not sure they’ve made these yet) and head to church listening to our favorite worship album.  We give so much effort trying to make Sunday special.  We think it has to be different from every other day of the week.  I wonder what would become of the church if we inverted our thinking and strived to make every day look more like Sunday (or in some cases, tried making Sunday look more like every day of the week)?  Would Sunday be totally different…or would everyday be totally different?  If we are only the Church one day a week, 52 days a year, we have failed!

I hope to expand your view of church.  Take inventory and ask yourself these questions.  Do I worship God any other day of the week (I don’t just mean stick in a worship album while you’re at work)?  Do I open my Bible when a preacher isn’t in front of me (or does it sit on a shelf collecting dust)?  Is my only prayer time before each meal?  Do I really think God is impressed by what I wear to His “house of worship”?  Do I tithe my money to the church, but fail to help those around me who are in need (my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends, my family)?  There are numerous other questions one could ask.  These are just the beginning to making everyday Sunday (and I’m not referring to the band).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CHURCH, Part 1

In the “have it your way,” “super size,” overindulged, fast paced, hectic culture we live in there are 2 common misconceptions about Church.  The first is that Church is all about me.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Church isn’t about me (or you)—no, seriously, it isn’t!  Now, I know this isn’t a new concept to many people, but it seems like we continually forget.  It’s something we perpetually need to be reminded of.  The second misconception springs off the first.  Too many people think Church is something that happens every Sunday. 

Misconception 1:  Church is about Me!

We come to church on most Sunday’s thinking it’s about me.  It doesn’t help that in any given church, to at least some degree, Sunday really is about me.  I am provided the option to attend the Traditional, Contemporary, Modern, Postmodern or Blended service.  French Vanilla, Colombian Roast, Chocolate Truffle, Hazelnut and Decaf are just the beginning of my drink options.  If I don’t like any of those I can probably grab a Mt. Dew, Dr. Pepper, or even various flavored waters.  I can choose donuts, donut holes, bear claws, Danishes or bagels.  I can send each of my kids, varying in ages from newborn to college aged, to an assortment of classes.  Of course during the service, I have the opportunity to fellowship and connect with other believers.  I am presented with a challenging message straight out of Scripture.  I can connect my innermost being with my God through the music and the words of a vast assortment of songs.  Then, of course, there’s always the topics of “personal salvation,” “personal savior” and “personal commitment.”  All of which lead to my “personal response” to which I raise my hand to any number of commitments without anyone else looking around—so as not to single me out or make me feel embarrassed (these are another discussion entirely).  Understand that I am not condemning these things nor am I saying that there is inherently anything wrong with any of this, it just makes it that much easier to feed my selfish ego.  With the plethora of options, no wonder it gets so easy to think Church really is about me!  We ultimately go wrong when we begin to pervert each of these aspects of worship and buy into the consumerist mentality that church is ALL about me.  From here it is easy for us to jump off the deep end.  Instead of embracing the opportunity to fellowship with others, we form our cliques and exclude all others because that is what’s comfortable.  In some cases we withdraw ourselves and leave unhappy because nobody said hello (maybe with the exception of the greeters and/or ushers).  Instead of listening to the Word of God with an open heart and mind, we look critically at everything said and try to point out the preacher’s theological errors.  Instead of embracing the sound of God’s children lifting their voices in adoration, we complain the music is too loud, discuss how shallow the lyrics are or talk about how the worship didn’t really “do anything for me!”  We go into church with a critical and complaining heart instead of a broken and contrite one.  We begin to ask questions like: Did it connect ME with God?  Did the message compel and challenge ME (but not too much)?  What did it do for ME?  Did the service inspire ME?  While there may be some valid arguments in each of these questions, for the most part they are irrelevant.  They say a lot more about ME, than they do about the church.  We begin to twist and pervert what God intended for good and revert back to our selfish ways.  But that has always been the challenge for the church hasn’t it?  We can trace it back to the beginning—all the way back to Adam and Eve.