7 Disciplines to Strengthen Evangelistic Focus


Rick Segal of Bethlehem College and Seminary recently wrote a helpful article on evangelism and spending time with unbelievers titled Are You Too Christian for Non-Christians?Ask yourself, how much time do you spend with unbelieving individuals? What is the quality of your social relationships with unbelievers? Segal offers seven disciplines to strengthen your evangelistic focus in everyday life.

1. Pray for the unbelievers in your life by name.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families…” Her point being that we must regard each other at human scale, not as mere components of larger social institutions. The same can be said of the way we use the term “the lost.” Of course our hearts grieve for the millions who do not know Jesus, but we don’t know the millions, personally. Most of us do know personally at least dozens, some of us hundreds, and rather than lump these precious individuals into one big prayer cohort, we could begin to take their given names before the Lord in prayer. Start writing their names down and praying over them at least once a week.

2. Be intentional in pursuing relationships and scheduling time with unbelievers.

If you don’t make engagement with unbelieving people a priority, your life will gravitate automatically toward the pleasures and comforts of the church community cul de sac. Identify two people outside of your Christian circle with whom you think you would enjoy spending more time. Look for two more who appear to need someone to come alongside of them as they struggle with burdens in their lives. Target one other with whom you seem to have the least in common, but enough of a relationship that you could see it becoming, with a little work, a friendship. You needn’t feel that you to need to sacrifice any of your principles or values to love someone else. It’s what we’re commanded to do. Love God. Love our neighbors.

3. Don’t withdraw from unbelieving family members. Lean in.

Family members are people with whom, like it or not, you are already in relationship. You already love them, and they already love you, despite theological differences. Don’t make them a project, just love them as members of your family. Be sincerely interested in what they’re interested in, even if you find it hard to be interested. Know their struggles. Encourage them. Affirm them. Don’t be estranged. Lean in and never give up on any of them. Above all else, pray for them.

4. Love your neighbors.

Know your neighbors. Help your neighbors. Enjoy your neighbors. Be the epoxy that glues your neighbors into a neighborhood. Practice hospitality. Make your home a place that your neighbors associate with their love for each other.

5. Appreciate your workplace as the best place.

For most Christians, the workplace is the place where we will spend the most time with unbelieving people. Work requires us to collaborate with others to see it to completion. Relationships in the workplace are sometimes even easier to develop than with family members. You share more time and, in time, more in common. Don’t allow your Christianity to be a wedge that separates you from co-workers. You needn’t compromise your values, nor engage in any unbiblical activities to secure a co-worker’s esteem or affection, but you do need to take an active interest in your coworkers as fellow human beings, not just the other spokes in a wheel you happen to share. Appreciate that people in the workplace are not the means of getting your work done, they are the objects of your work as an ambassador for Christ.

6. Harvest relationships from your children’s activities.

Children are now involved in lots of activities, year round. If you have several children, the breadth of your relationship universe is substantial across the expanse of all the other coaches, parents and teammates. So, go deep. Work these crowds. Befriend people in these communities. Do things with them. Bring them together in your home with family members, co-workers and neighbors. A word of warning: don’t permit all of your kids’ activities to take place in Christian-only programs.

7. Take up a new hobby, especially one shared in groups.

Diversions from responsibilities can be personally renewing and restorative, and great venues for evangelism. Find something fun or interesting to do or learn in which you are not fulfilling a specific responsibility or obligation to anyone — just taking your mind off of things for awhile. But, find something that requires you to do it with other people. Here you’ll likely meet people of all different walks, the bond being the shared interest in the hobby. It will help to find something in which someone else, perhaps an unbeliever, will have to be invested in you to help you along. This can be the leaven of really great relationships.

The truth is the product of this hypothetical formula is not a score, it is joy. There are few greater joys in life than sharing the gospel with another person, even fewer greater joys than knowing you have been used as means, immediately or eventually, in another’s conversion in Christ. Yes, we rejoice in corporate worship, in Christian fellowship, and in private devotion, and also in the essential work of sharing Christ with those who do not yet know him.

Read the whole thing here.

photo credit: JoséPedro via photopin cc

June 24, 2014 at 7:05 am 1 comment

The Persecuted Church and American Christianity


Yesterday Faith Street published an article by Russell Moore titled “Could the Persecuted Church Rescue American Christianity?” Here is an excerpt.

We have grown accustomed to an American civil religion, nominally Christian, where in many places it does someone social good to join a church. To say “I’m not a Christian” has been in those places the equivalent of saying “I’m not a good person.” This has inflated membership rolls, yes, but it has done so at the expense of what Jesus calls the gospel: the call to carry a cross.

Moreover, this nominal Christianity has emphasized the “values” and “meaning” aspects of Christianity while often downplaying the “strangeness” of Christianity, namely the conviction that a previously dead man is alive and returning to judge the living and the dead.

This Bible Belt experiment will not long survive the secularizing of American culture, where increasingly even the “values” seem strange to the culture. The church will survive, and, I believe, flourish — but it will mean the stripping away of the almost-gospels we’ve grown accustomed to.

Moore continues:

When we encounter those persecuted around the world, we see a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. We see the sort of faith that isn’t a means to an end. We see the sort of faith that joins the global Body of Christ, across time and space, in the confession of a different sort of reign. We see a gospel that isn’t the American Dream with heaven at the end.

Read the whole thing. It is worth your time.

June 19, 2014 at 8:05 am Leave a comment

Jesus Came Preaching


Timothy George (Th.D., Harvard University) just published an article in the First Things journal titled “Jesus Came Preaching“. George starts the article by examining the uniqueness of a preaching Savior:

“At the heart of the Christian faith is a Savior who was a preacher. “And Jesus came preaching” (Mark 1:14). This stands in contrast to the gods of Olympus or the deities of the Roman pantheon whose interaction with mortals, when it happened at all, was transient, ephemeral, detached, like a circle touching a tangent. Zeus thundered, but he did not preach. Nor did the dying and rising savior gods of the mystery religions. There were ablutions and incantations and the babbling utterances of the Sibylline Oracles but nothing that could rightly be called a sermon.”

At the end of the article, George expounds on the power of preaching in the ancient world, and issues a challenge for pastors today. His words provide a powerful reminder to all Bible teachers – especially pastors.

The preachers of the early church were not merely expressing their personal opinions or providing entertainment to their listeners. No, they were in the vanguard of the militia Christi, the army of Jesus that sheds no blood. Their preaching propelled redemptive history forward toward the consummation of all things. This is certainly how Matthew 24:14 has been understood, from the age of the apostles right through the dawn of the modern ecumenical movement: “And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The promise still stands and the task yet remains, for God ever renews his church through new forms of preaching—the martyrs, the monks, the mendicants, the missionaries, the reformers, the awakeners, the pastors and the teachers. Where such proclamation is faithful to the living and written Word of God and enlivened by the Spirit, it is an effective means of grace and a sure sign of the true church.

To read the whole article, click here.

June 16, 2014 at 11:07 am Leave a comment

Pastoral Care and Sexual Abuse


This was origionally posted at Pastors Today

I am a pastor, not a licensed counselor. However, it does not take long in the context of pastoral ministry to see that clergy are often the first people approached when someone in the church family has an issue needing counsel and care.

As the spiritual shepherds of congregations, pastors are viewed as trustworthy authorities and granted the privilege of caregiving in various life situations. Yet many pastors are unprepared to properly counsel or care for people going through the most difficult of life circumstances.

What should a pastor do when a congregant confides that he or she has been or is being abused sexually?

What should a pastor do when someone in the congregation exposes instances of sexual abuse involving others?

When is it appropriate to break confidentiality?

Understandably, confidentiality is crucial to a trusting relationship between a pastor and parishioner. The church member’s confidence in the confidentiality of a pastoral counseling session significantly contributes to the environment of trust and the freedom to share. However, as pastors we must be clear about the limits of confidentiality when a situation might call for disclosure and the involvement of civil authorities.

This is why it is important to communicate the exceptions and limits of confidentiality even in the context of pastoral care. Pastors should seek to minister in adherence to proper legal and ethical requirements in these situations. When entering into such relationships we cannot assume that the ones seeking care understand these concepts and implications. Conversations occurring within the context of pastoral care are only confidential to the extent provided by the law.

“Confidentiality is the promise to hold information in trust and to share it with others only if this is in the best interest of the counselee or sometimes in the interest of society.” –Gary Collins, Christian Counseling

In most states it is required by law to report sexual abuse, both physical and psychological (Horrace Lukens, Christian Counseling Ethics, 45). In instances of sexual abuse, the breaking of confidentiality to government authorities falls in the best interest of the pastor, the one seeking care, and others who may be in harm’s way. It is our pastoral duty to protect others. Even the most trained professional counselor cannot make exact predictions as to future violations of an offender.

The better part of wisdom acknowledges the nature of sin and the probability that such instances can and most likely will occur again. The high recidivism rate among child molesters would strongly affirm this. It is important to protect the welfare of the abused and others by seeking civil justice in such situations.

While the laws that govern confidentiality and privilege vary from state to state, in cases of sexual abuse, it is wise to call the police. The civil authorities have a responsibility to investigate such claims. Pastors must acknowledge that two authorities need to be involved: The government authorities have a responsibility to deal with this at the civil level (Romans 13:1-7), and the local church has a responsibility to deal with this at the ecclesial level (Galatians 6:2).

As Boz Tchividjian recently said in an interview with Ed Stetzer, “We need to let the God-created civil authorities who are experts in investigating these types of situations do their God-ordained work and investigate the situation and make a determination.”

As pastors we need to minister to people who have been sexually abused. Part of that ministry involves seeking justice in the situation but also committing to caring for the abused over time. We need to allow victims of sexual abuse to share their stories, trusting that we will care for them patiently and lovingly as they process their emotions and responses to such wicked abuse. We are called to care for the hurting as tangible representatives of God’s love. We need to let those under our care know that while we are a broken human expression of that love, they have our “attention and care while we are together and prayers while we are apart” (Gerald May, Care of Mind, Care of the Spirit, 121).

All of us long for the day when wicked acts such as sexual abuse will be no more, and that day is coming, and with it the justice of God against all the sins of man. But until that day, let us point to Jesus who heals the deepest wounds of the soul.

As pastors, let us seek justice for and strive to provide compassionate and competent care for those who have experienced sexual abuse.

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June 6, 2014 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

10 Truths About Evangelism


This was previously posted by Mack Stiles at the Crossway blog. I thought I would pass it on! Stiles is the author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.

1. Our evangelistic efforts must stem from a biblical understanding of evangelism.

There are so many ways to go wrong in evangelism—impulses of fear on the one side, vain ambition on the other—that if we do not nail down a truly biblical understanding, we will quickly veer off course. So we start by understanding that biblical evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

2. Evangelism is often the label given to things that are not evangelism.

Is sharing your testimony evangelism? Is defending the Christian faith evangelism? How about doing good deeds for the oppressed? Certainly those are good things that serve and support evangelism. But they are not evangelism itself. We must not confuse the gospel with the fruit of the gospel.

3. Evangelism entails teaching the gospel first and foremost.

God teaches us the gospel through his Word; we can’t just  ”figure it out” on our own. So it stands to reason that we must speak and teach the gospel to others: the truth about who God is, why we’re in the mess we’re in, what Jesus came to do, and how we are to respond to him. It’s no wonder that Paul often described his evangelistic ministry as a teaching ministry.

4. Evangelism aims to persuade.

We want to see people move from darkness to light. Having that aim helps us know what things to talk about and what things to lay aside. Evangelism isn’t just data transfer; we must listen to people, hear their objections, and model gentleness because we know that souls are at stake. And we know what it means to truly convert: a true Christian has put his complete faith and trust in Jesus, so much so that he has repented of a lifestyle of unbelief and sin. Understanding this guards us from false conversions, which are the assisted suicide of the church.

5. Evangelism flourishes in a culture of evangelism.

Much instruction is given about personal evangelism. And that’s right and good since we’re each called to testify to our own personal encounter with Jesus. But when people are pulling together to share the gospel, when there is less emphasis on getting “a decision,” when the people of God are pitching in to teach the gospel together, a culture forms that leads us to ask “Are we all helping our non-Christian friends understand the gospel?” rather than “Who has led the most people to Jesus?”

6. Evangelistic programs will kill evangelism.

We need to replace evangelistic programs with a culture of evangelism. Programs are to evangelism what sugar is to nutrition: a strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism. So, we should feel a healthy unease with regard to evangelistic programs. We must use them strategically and in moderation, if at all.

7. Evangelism is designed for the church and the church is designed for evangelism.

A healthy church with a culture of evangelism is the key to great evangelism. Jesus did not forget the gospel when he built his church; in fact, a healthy church is meant to display the gospel. Think of the ways that the gathered church displays the gospel: we sing the gospel, we see the gospel in the sacraments, and we hear the gospel when we preach and pray. A healthy culture of evangelism does not aim at remaking the church for the sake of evangelism. Instead, we must highlight the way God designed the church to display and proclaim the gospel simply by being the church.

8. Evangelism is undergirded by love and unity.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In that same discourse, he prayed that his disciples would be unified “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus says the love we have for one another in the church is evidence that we are truly converted. And when we are unified in the church, we show the world that Jesus is the Son of God. Love confirms our discipleship, and unity confirms Christ’s deity. What a powerful witness!

9. A culture of evangelism is strengthened by right practices and right attitudes.

We need to make sure that we see evangelism as a spiritual discipline. Just as we pray for our non-Christian friends, we must be intentional about sharing our faith with them. Furthermore, we must never assume the gospel in conversations with non-Christians lest we lose it. We need to view the gospel as the center of how we align our lives to God as well as come to God in salvation.

10. Evangelism must be modeled.

One of the greatest needs in our churches today is for church leaders to boldly model what it means to be an ambassador of the gospel. Pastors and elders must lead the way in sharing their faith, teaching others how to be ambassadors for Christ, and calling their congregations to do the same.

June 3, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

How To Recognize Our Arrogance


“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, HCSB).

Chuck Lawless recently posted these “10 Ways to Recognize Our Arrogance” at Thom Rainer’s blog. I found it challenging and convicting, and wanted to share it here. Use these potential markers of arrogance to avoid such a fall.

1. You believe few people are as smart as you are.

Not many people actually say these words, but honest leaders must admit they sometimes think this way. Some reveal this thinking by their ridicule of anybody else “not quite up to my level.” Others assume they should be part of almost every discussion, regardless of the topic. If you assume few people can teach you anything, that assumption should cause you to evaluate your heart.

2. Your first reaction to negative is to be defensive or to cast blame on others.

If anything adverse (e.g., a lack of growth in the organization, a divided leadership team, a failed program) is always somebody else’s fault, you might see yourself as above such declines. In Jim Collins’ words, you may join falling leaders who explain away negative data and “blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility.”

3. Titles matter to you.

Check your signature line on your email. Look at your company’s letterhead and website. Read the bio you send to others who have invited you to speak. Consider your reaction when someone introduces youwithout noting your title. Think about how you introduce yourself. If your title has become your first name, you’ve crossed the line.

4. You assume your organization cannot fail.

The bottom line for you is this: your organization cannot fail because you don’t fail. You are intelligent enough to figure out the solutions. Your track record is so filled with successes that failure is unimaginable. And, even if your organization struggles, you can simply replace your co-workers; after all, you are convinced that finding people who want to work for you will not be difficult.

5. Not knowing “insider information” bothers you.

Arrogance is characterized not only by a belief we know almost everything, but also by a desire to know the “scoop” before others do. The most important people, we think, deserve to have the details first. If you get frustrated when you’re not in the information’s inner circle, you may well be dealing with arrogance.

6. You are disconnected from your team members.

Developing genuine relationships with employees is difficult as an organization grows. If, however, you see your team members more as cogs in a system than as valuable partners – or worse yet, if they perceive you view them that way – you may be haughtily operating as “a steam engine attempting to pull the rest of the train without being attached to it.”

7. Spiritual disciplines are secondary, if not non-existent, in your life.

Disciplines like Bible study, prayer, and fasting are more than simple Christian practices; they are obedient actions of persons who recognize their need for a strong relationship with God. If you are leading externally without spending time with God privately, you are leading in your own strength. That’s sin.

8. No one has permission to speak truth into your life.

Leaders who fall are often not accountable to anyone. Few of us are fully self-aware, and all of us deal with a heart that is “more deceitful than anything else” (Jer. 17:9).  Feedback is critical, particularly from those who can test whether we exhibit the fruit of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). If no one plays this role in your life, your lack of accountability is likely evidence of pride.

9. Other people see you as arrogant.

Take a risk – ask others what they really think about you. Talk to the people who report to you. Interview those who formerly worked with you, but then took other positions. Be specific in asking, “Do I ever come across as arrogant?” Even the most emotional (and perhaps exaggerated) responses likely reveal some level of truth. Hear it.

10. This post bothers you . . . or doesn’t bother you.

If these words bother you, you may be coming face-to-face with reality in your life. If they don’t bother you, you may be failing to see the arrogance that characterizes all of us.

May 29, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

27 Blog Posts on The Atonement


With the release of The Gospel Project’s study on the atonement titled “Atonement Thread“, I organized a series of blog posts centered around the same theme theme. In total, 27 blog posts on the importance of the atonement.

The atonement, as taught in the Bible, calls to mind the unfathomable love of God to send His Son to take away our sins. The atonement proclaims the amazing grace of God to cover over our sins with the precious and perfect blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Whether you realize it or not, the doctrine of the atonement has very practical implications for your day to day Christian life.

The Atonement and the Christian Life

The Doctrine of the Atonement 

The Atonement in the Old Testament 

May 26, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

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