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Friday, December 19, 2008

Church Planting Evangelism

Saying the word "evangelism" can put a bad taste in our mouths having become associated with certain tele-evangelists with dodgy theology and zero integrity. It is also used in business settings to describe viral endorsements from clients. You may have also heard the term "brand evangelist". Whatever alternative meanings it carries today it describes the most important aspect of church planting -- one-on-one gospel sharing! I'm going to share what I've learnt from 2 books I have read.

I literally just finished reading The Faithful Witness by Jerry Wiles. It is a MUST read for all church planters -- incredibly inspiring. I also read Becoming A Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels. Both books are very uplifting, practical and life-changing. If you can read both, do so. If not, get The Faithful Witness as I found it the most spiritually stirring and the story's alone are worth it.

A Change of Mind About Evangelism
Hybels has a formula in his book, not specifically for sharing the gospel or praying a prayer, actually he says not to use formulas especially for salvation prayers, but he clearly breaks apart what a Christian needs in order to have maximum impact for the gospel in someones life. The formula is: 

High Potency (HP) + Close Proximity (CP) + Clear Communication (CC) = Maximum Impact (MI)

Missing one of these elements sabotages our ability to lead people into faith. Without having a potent relationship with Jesus, being genuine friends with non-believers and being able to clearly articulate the message it just wont happen. 

Wiles doesn't use a fancy formula but he says basically the same things and in a way that more deeply affected me. He starts with who we are in Christ. It was Galations 2:20 and Colossians 1:27 that the Holy Spirit used to transform his understanding of his own life in Christ which in turn fueled him in his evangelistic efforts. What 'High Potency' is to Hybels, 'Identity' is to Wiles. He writes, "... a witness is first and foremost something you are. Jesus' last recorded words on earth prior to His ascension back to heaven were these: You shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8) ... Your witness about Jesus is only as good as your relationship with Jesus."

Wiles makes a strong case that Christians already have the tools to witness just like a baby knows how to breathe. He says "... stop searching for a greater ability to witness and start releasing the nature of Christ that is already indwelling you!" Now that's provocative. So provocative in fact that the day I read it (yesterday) I went ahead a prayed with a man at the gas station and he was healed and confessed that he wanted Christ. Seriously, it's not brain surgery, it's being yourself, your new self that is, the identity of Christ. If we are in Christ and Revelation 1:5 refers to Jesus as "The Faithful Witness", then what are you?

Again, Wiles is relentless with his provocation, "Only one thing can put a stop to the Lord's sovereign work in setting up appointments for life-changing witness encounters -- our unwillingness to open our mouths and share the Good News of Jesus Christ." There is no guilt or manipulation in this. Every believer in Jesus will express it differently but the truth is that every believer, being in Christ, naturally desires to share what Jesus has done for them. For this reason Wiles has the person share their faith straightaway. He argues that because people have just been freed from their sin and have received perfect peace and joy they are happy for others to know, and somewhat unable to deny it! 

The truth is that people in this world feel guilty, discouraged, rejected, hurt and alone. That means they are perfect candidates to receive Jesus. The lie we believe is that people will reject the gospel. That does happen but in Jerry Wiles experience he sees 1 in every 4 people receive Jesus after sharing the gospel. He notes that Jesus had a similar success rate in the Gospel accounts. People know they need God, they just need someone to show them the way. Hybels points out that 25% of the US population would go to church if a friend would just invite them. That's 1 in 4 if you didn't realize!  

The biggest lesson for me in reading these books was an identity shift. Believing who I am in Christ and believing that Jesus is working in people's lives. I dare you to test this out, change your mind and see the results. Evangelism is the most effective church planting strategy. 

Conversations & Questions
We have a responsibility to initiate conversations with people. Building trust is important, but if we believe that the gospel is powerful then we should have greater trust in what Jesus can do than in our ability to be winsome. We are often afraid to bring up Jesus in fear of being rejected and ruining all future gospel opportunities. 

Hybels writes, "So can we just come out and say it? Far too many Christians have been anesthetized into thinking that if they simply live out their faith in an open and consistent fashion, the people around them will see it, want it, and somehow figure out how to get it. That never happens." I agree, people need to know they can have all their sins and guilt taken away right here, right now. Hybels goes on, "Most of the time, seekers, whether they admit it openly or not, respect and admire Christians who aren't afraid to take a stand." Go ahead, start a conversation, and speak the truth.

Another helpful practice is to keep it simple by quickly getting to the heart of the matter,  and to pray and to rely on the Holy Spirit. Look into peoples eyes and relate the gospel to where they are at. Don't over complicate it. Wiles makes the point, "It's more difficult to forget a direct, simple question than a long, veiled, never-to-the point conversation." Even if the person doesn't receive Christ the question will stay with them and may bear fruit later.

It's important to practice and develop your own style of question asking. Both authors warn of the pitfalls of unnatural prescribed evangelism steps. But they do offer their personal favorite openers. Wiles suggestions include:
  1. Is anything encouraging happening in your life? Or, do you see anything encouraging happening around you or in the lives of people you know? 
  2. Have you noticed any signs of spiritual awakening in your city?
  3. Have you been thinking more about the Lord lately? (Or I guess the word "Lord" could be exchanged for "God" as unchurched people might not be familiar with that word).
  4. Has the Lord been good to you today? 
  5. Has anyone told you today that God loves you?
Here was the shocker for me on question 3, 'have you been thinking more about the Lord lately?', Wiles says that 90% of people say yes! He comments, "The greater the fear and frustration and concern people have about the aspects of their lives, the more tender, they seem to be toward God and the more they question the meaning of life, the purpose for their existence on this earth, and the way to find lasting inner peace." You'll need to get the book for further explanation of where to take the conversations after these opener questions. 

Hybels offers these openers:
  1. Do you ever think about spiritual things?
  2. Who, in your opinion, was Jesus Christ?
  3. What belief did you grow up with?
  4. Do you ever wonder what happens to us when we die?
  5. What do you think a real Christian is? 
  6. Where are you heading in your spiritual journey?
The Power of The Word
Another powerful and yet simple point for me was the use of scripture in evangelism. I don't know why I didn't really think about this much before but if we believe that God's word is inspired and sharper than a double edged sword AND that is does reveal the heart, then sharing sections of scripture with non-believers WILL have a dramatic affect of them. Wiles mentions that he carries copies of the gospel of John with him because many have been saved simply by reading it! He tells people "Here's a book that was written by a man who knew Jesus personally, and tells how you can know Him personally as well." If that doesn't start a conversation at least the person can read it on their own. 

In this regard Hybels lays out different approaches to sharing the gospel that might be helpful. The Roman Road is a classic. You can simply share 3 verses from the book of Romans with someone (make sure you have a Bible with you) and ask them questions about what the verses mean. It's easy to remember and covers the fundamental gospel elements, Romans 3:23, 6:23 and 10:13. 

When I read this method I found it easy to remember the first two because they are the same verse but chapter 10 and verse 13 was a bit more random and I thought, I bet I forget this last verse reference. So I prayed, "Lord help me remember these references so that I can use them at an appropriate time." At that moment I glanced at the clock on the oven and it was 10:13am! Holy cow -- and that clock is slightly wrong! Now that scripture reference is burned in my memory forever. Jesus is so cool. That confirmed again that God wants me to share my faith with people.

The Double Whammy
This is where Wiles wins for me. The double or even triple or even more soul winning whammy! When he travels he sees up to 8 people saved, but at the very least 1 person is saved. At a Christian conference he travelled to he inquired to the hotel/conference venue works if anyone had shared with them about the purpose of the event. No-one had. So Wiles continues to lead a maid, a young security guard at the entrance to the exhibition area, a hotel maintenance worker and eight security guards to Christ. He strategically uses one salvation to spark another -- what a genius!

Again, he's at the checkout in a store and noticed no one was around, so he seizes the opportunity. The girl at the checkout becomes a Christian, right there and then. On the way out the door he notices a man who looks down and says "You might be interested in knowing that the woman standing at the cash register, Regina, just received Jesus Christ into her heart and experienced the forgiveness of her sins ... You need that too, don't you? He nodded and said, Yes I do." The story continues as he leads the mans stepson to Christ and then his wife shows up. He says, "You might be interested in knowing that your husband and you son have just invited Jesus Christ into their hearts. You need to do that too, don't you? She also said yes." 

One of the most strategic things he does is to use the immediate testimony of the person receiving Christ and presents it as a new opportunity for someone else. This builds faith and confidence in new Christians to continue to share their faith. It also causes people to be more open to the gospel in the face of a freshly converted person beaming with the joy of the Lord and radiant that they are now guilt free and destined for an eternity with Jesus. Isn't that brilliant? He notes that he has often lead 4 or 5 people to Jesus in this sequential manner at the same time. 

This principle rings true because of the way people relate to each other. Wiles writes, "People tend to work or associate in clusters ... If you have the opportunity to lead one of them to the Lord, the door will often open to share with several other members of the staff or team." He frequents restaurants and other places where people have responded to the gospel because co-workers and others are now more likely to be open to the gospel having seen someone they know find faith in Christ. 

All the church planting books I have read point to the fact that you have to connect with people who don't know Jesus -- that's the purpose of church planting. This means a high commitment to personal evangelism is critical for church planters. Wiles writes, "Can the church end up with too many people sharing Christ? No!" And, "Need a lift in your spiritual life? Win someone to the Lord! Introduce others to the living Christ." Often, the most exciting things are the things we desire the most and long to do more of. Hybels writes, "There's nothing in life that's as exciting as befriending, loving, and leading wayward people toward faith in Christ. Nothing." 

This is obviously not just for church planting but for established churches. I'd suggest that these books have equipped me in the most effective way for church planting. It seems unavoidable that a high degree of consistent gospel sharing is really the best means to plant a church. Generally the mass communication stuff (mailers, etc...) attracts Christians. So perhaps, both strategies can be combined but with a strong emphasis on evangelism in church planting.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Circumcision: Can I get that gift wrapped?

Once something has been cut off is it dead or alive? We'll come back to that question later.

There is a fundamental problem with everyone, wouldn't you agree? We are not just genetically deficient, we are morally flawed. We want things that are harmful to ourselves and others. We want things we cannot have. That's why most of us have painful relationships. We express our brokenness in different ways but we're all basically corrupted on the inside. (Don't worry, this post is going to get a lot better, and I'll explain the circumcision gift wrapping, just stick with it.)

Humans are not basically "good" as it's popular to believe. Anyone holding this view doesn't have kids and doesn't watch the news. Some people find comfort in their self-destructiveness and find ways to justify it. Others try hard to perform well and cover it up, to appear good. Unfortunately, neither strategy works. From day one, everyone has a self-centred heart -- everyone! Not to say we can't do good things, we just default to self-centredness, which we can agree is not just less than best but plain wrong.

This is a hard reality to face. No one likes to be told that trying to be good is a waste of time. Somehow we know we should be good but we keep choosing our personal needs over others. We keep trying to position ourselves above or ahead. We continue to insist that we are more important than the guy next to us and we know best. We'd prefer someone else to lose their happiness rather than us. All self-centredness is basically a deception about ourselves, the truth is that the value of our life does not out weigh the value of someone elses. The human heart is therefore naturally deceiving (see Jeremiah 17:9). The Bible refers to this condition as the "sinful nature".

The question I want to answer is not, how do I change my nature (because the answer is through following Jesus), but what nature does a Christian have? 

When you become a follower of Christ are you a sinner saved by grace (a sinner-saint) or a saint completely free from the sinful nature?

It was Martin Luther, the great reformer, who proposed the concept of Simul iustus et peccator "At the same time righteous and a sinner". This view is based on verses like Galatians 5:17 (NIV) "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." And Romans 7:17 (NASB) "So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." 

This "sinner-saint" view is commonly held. At first hearing it portrays great humility but is not as freeing as one might think and can even become an excuse for sin. It can give some a wrong sense of lowliness and cause a constant repentance for "being a sinner". I disagree with the "sinner saved by grace mentality". Scripture declares that Christians were once sinners, and are now saints, saved only by the grace of God. Even the Corinthian church are referred to as saints!

Let's explore some scriptures that clarify this issue.

Colossians 2:11-12 (NIV) "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

When a dude is circumcised he doesn't keep the foreskin and carry it around with him for future use -- it's dead and therefore useless. Doctors don't usually offer gift wrapping services for circumcision. In the same way, when we are spiritually circumcised in the death and burial of Christ, we can't keep the sinful nature around any longer for future use -- it's totally gone.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 

The "old" is the sinful nature. The old and the new don't coexist. It's fairly straightforward. If they did Christians would be hybrid creations not new creations. 

The most compelling arguments come from the book of Romans. Simple reflection on these verses reveals the nature of a Christian. Paul writes:
  • Romans 6:2 (NASB) "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"
  • Romans 6:6 (NIV) "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin"
  • Romans 6:7 (NIV) " ... anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
  • Romans 6:11 (NIV) "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
  • Romans 6:12 (NIV) "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
  • Romans 6:14 (NIV) "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
  • Romans 6:18 (NIV) "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
The confusion for some comes in chapter 7 of Romans were Paul seems to say the exact opposite of what he just wrote in Romans 6.
  • Romans 7:14 (NASB) "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin."
  • Romans 7:18 (NASB) "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not."
  • Romans 7:19 (NASB) "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want."
  • Romans 7:24 (NASB) "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"
The weight of the words used above don't sound like Paul is simply aware of an internal sinner-saint struggle, they are more serious and contrasting than that. Saying that he is in bondage to sin, nothing good dwells in him, he practices evil he doesn't want and that he is a wretched man are not in keeping with the theme of the book and other New Testament writings. These don't give room for a duality of human natures. There's no ying and yang in Romans 7. It's 100% bad!

For example, If nothing good dwells in him why does he so confidently urge others to imitate him? How can he claim such joy and peace if he constantly does things he hates? It is interesting to note that no other passage in the New Testament reflects what Paul appears to be saying here. Peter actually says in 2 Peter 1:3 (NASB) "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness". Also, 1 John 3:6 (NIV) "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." 

In 1 Corinthians 4:4 Paul says that he is "conscious of nothing against himself." Ugh!? How can he be wretched and in bondage to sin and yet confident of no wrong doing? In 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) he says "I will not be mastered by anything." How can someone so confident of being unmastered by sin in 1 Corinthians and Romans 6, be so helpless and bound in evil practices in Romans 7? It just doesn't make sense! 

The most satisfying way to understand Romans 7 is that Paul is referring to an experience before becoming a Christian. Theologians like Gordon Fee, Douglas Moo and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones hold to this interpretation. This understanding makes sense of the contrasts in Romans 6 & 7 and nullifies the sinner-saint concept which actually never appears in scripture. 

What about other contradictory scriptures?

In light of this interpretation of the Bible how do we reconcile Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV) "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."

The translators of the NIV normally render the Greek word sarx as "sinful nature", but it can also be understood as "flesh". When you see that the word "sarx" has many meanings you realize there is room for a different interpretation. It doesn't always mean sinful nature. W.E. Vines expository dictionary of bible words lists 14 different meanings. The scripture here is likely encouraging us to not live with our body in control over our spirit, but the other way around. This makes sense because verse 24 says "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." This is not talking about the body, but sinful nature. The Bible says the sinner is dead! No sinner-saints exist in the Bible.

Why do Christians still sin?

Personally, I don't want to sin. I want to do the right thing. I know I do because whenever I have willfully sinned I regret it and pray that I'll never repeat it. This lines up with what the scripture tells me about my new nature in Christ. But we still live in a frail body with the real option of sin around us. Temptations come not from the inside, like they did when the sinful nature was alive, but from the outside. Sin now tries to activate itself in the works of my body rather than in the state of my heart.

Some argue that the sins of a Christian prove that the sinful nature is still there. They are deceived into thinking that the absence of a sinful nature would make them impervious to sinful choices. It didn't work that way for Adam and Eve. They didn't have a sinful nature yet they sinned -- majorly. This sheds a whole new light on the temptations of Jesus. He didn't have a sinful nature. It means that the temptation of sin was real for him. It means that temptation can always be overcome. Now that our sinful nature is gone we are more like Christ.

The article Do Christians Still Have a Sin Nature? by Dr. Bill Gillham puts it nicely:
Romans 7:20 speaks of the power of indwelling sin (not the sin nature) working in man to produce undesirable (sinful) behavior. The power of sin simply deceives the Christian by masquerading as the old man, suggesting (deceiving) to the will that a choice be made to perform according to the old self-serving patterns programmed in previously. This is referred to as "walking after the flesh." Satan could never deceive a Christian with a direct approach as a "little man in red underwear." He must disguise himself if he is to have any hope of victory. There is one way and one way only to accomplish this deception and that is to masquerade in the thought life of the Christian posing as his unique version of the old man! The naive Christian will believe he, himself, is generating the unchristian suggestion and thus direct his defensive efforts against the wrong foe...what he perceives to be a darker side of himself!

Christians are not some type of heaven-hell-hybrids or sinner-saints. Christians are saints by the grace of God. Christians do not have a sinful nature, they cannot have a sinful nature. This means that all temptations can be overcome as they are not from our hearts. This view places more responsibility on the Christian to live according to their new nature. The two-nature view (sinner-saint) gives a Christian a reason to excuse sin as something they cannot always help. In fact, sin is something a Christian can always help because its not driven from their heart. There is no sin a Christian cannot overcome! 

This study will be incredibly beneficial for church planting in Chicago. This is such a foundational doctrine which causes people to understand the depths of grace. Christians are not lowly people who have to drag their sin to the cross everyday. They are completely free to live a new life under a new master and to go with the impulses of the new heart God has given them.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Am Second

What does it really mean to be a Christian? How does a person become a Christian? Why would people I know start believing in Jesus? How can I help people explore the claims of Jesus? How does a new church embody this? 

I am asking myself these questions a lot recently. It's something I don't want to just know or think about but be actively engaged in. 

Ultimately, following Jesus is about giving up control, admitting fault and becoming second place. Jesus becomes first place. It's hard for people to give up control. But I know that following Jesus is the most freeing thing anyone can do. It has been for me. 

Checkout this web site which has videos of why people have become second in pursuit of Jesus: