The simple (yet deeply spiritual) stumbling block to evangelism

People cite all sorts of reasons why our culture is resistant to the gospel, individualism, consumerism, sexual-ethics, so on. But for the day-to-day Christian hoping to talk to their friend, these are rarely the stumbling block.
Rather, the reality is that most people like living on the surface. They like talking about the game, about work, about surface things. Just chit-chat until we’re too drunk to know what we’re talking about. And if you run out of surface things to chat about, you can always turn to gossiping about people.
But the gospel sits beneath the surface. It is, by nature, deep. It’s about you and God, you and guilt, you and shame.
So what might we do?
How about training our Christians to own the deepness of the gospel?
Saying, “Hey I know we usually chat about pretty surface things, but I wanted to ask you guys a deeper question… What do you really reckon about this idea that Jesus will judge us?”

Phone calls, SMSs, email, Social media and Pastoral Ministry

Since we pastor people, and people are not in a vacuum but are part of a culture, the cultural norms and tools affect what pastoral ministry look like from generation to generation. Our culture uses SMSs, phone-calls, emails and social media in particular ways, and if we are pastoring cultural-normalised sheep, we need to properly leverage these tools. So here’s my current perception/opinions/ideas… that will probably be proved wrong in many cases… But just observing the 18-25 year olds…

  • Phone calls are for serious business. They are the 90’s equivalent of a formal letterhead. Calling to just say “hi” is a confusion of categories. Phone conversations needs to be planned-in; you need to SMS in advance, “Hey, can I phone you about this? How about now?”. This generation is telling us that the prospect of getting a “welcome phone call” is somewhere between weird and scary… and yet… if it’s done well, it still works!! Maybe because no-one else does it and they realise there’s actually a real person at the other end of the communication (sometimes lost in SMSs).
  • SMSs are the new phone-calls. They work for our current Individualistic culture, because they are easily ignored. You don’t have to reply straight away. The message has arrived, but you are culturally allowed to deal with it in your own time (10mins, 10hrs, even 10days!!!). This means, while SMSs do steal people’s attention, they are good ways of one-way communication. And they do open the door to two-way communication.
    We’ve recently tried sending mass SMSs to our whole church to pray for an evangelistic even WHILE it happens. Anecdotally, this has been received well.
  • Email is more and more becoming a one-way communication tool. Most people are swamped by emails… but what that usually means is that they only respond to a very few of the emails they think they should respond to. Let me say that again… people still read almost all their email (headers/subjects at least). And for many of these emails, they feel an internal conviction that they SHOULD reply or take some action, but they don’t. Therefore email has become a huge source of individual guilt for people. They are not swamped by email, but rather swamped by the guilt produced when they look at email. Take home message, if you want a response, email is very unlikely to garner much.
  • Social media is still a new beast. Someone somewhere made the valid point that in 20years time we’ll look back and think, what on earth were we doing then!?! It has certain characteristics of SMS and email; there’s so much of it (like email), but people don’t feel the guilt they do with email. It’s also personal like SMS. We’ve found that people are more willing to give their Facebook details and be Private Messaged on FB than they are being SMSed… maybe a trend to continue?

One of the take home messages is, if you’re involved in pastoring people aged 15-25… you should consider SMSing them a lot! I mean a lot… from a pastoral point of view, you get easy access to people’s personal thoughts almost 24/7. And then when you do meet with them, they feel much more connected to you – even if you don’t feel much more connected to them.

The kids all crowded around the bird and learnt to ignore death

While our kids were at a play centre there was a loud thud on the window as a bird crashed into it, and slid down to the ground outside. Kids ran over to the floor to ceiling window and saw the bird lying motionless on the ground. Parents came over to see what the commotion was about. One of the kids said, “Mummy, what’s wrong with the bird?”

True story… with a bit of ums and ahhs, their mother said, “The bird is just having a sleep dear.”

What’s the effect of giving people empty platitudes?

Using empty platitudes communicates that something is not worth thinking about. It subtly tells people, “Look, it’s not nice, but it’s not important either”.

And now we live in a culture where talking about death isn’t just taboo, its strange… We have “life celebration parties” rather than “funerals” and we tell kids that their pets are sleeping, and they don’t know their meat comes from dead animals.


Grace makes every story a miracle story

If God’s grace is the basis for salvation, that means that every salvation is only by grace. Simple, right? Always comes out in the way you speak, right?

Think about it… every salvation is only by grace… so every christian person you meet has been amazingly changed from sinner to saint. Does that come across in the way you speak? When you meet a brand-new christian, do you somehow give the impression that something more exciting has happened to them than has happened to the other “I grew up in a christian home” christians around them.

I want to cultivate a culture that is amazed at God’s grace in every conversion.

Reblog: Evangelism trumps everything

If you’re in Christian leadership, you probably already think this. But don’t assume your people get it. You need to play out what it means…
If you have to choose between going to your small group or taking a non-Christian to a gospel event suited to them… You blow off small group and take your mate.
If you have the choice between leading your small group or taking a mate to hear the gospel, you tell your small group to fend for themselves ‘cause evangelism is more important.
If you think that, do you think your people think that?

My response to “Why shouldn’t women preach to men?”

(This would be one of the way’s I’d respond to someone who wanted to accept the bible’s teaching on male and female roles in ministry, but struggled to understand why God put them there.)

If a gunman ran into your church meeting and started spraying the crowd with bullets, in that split second, how would you hope to see the Christians react?

I’d expect to see adults of all ages jumping in front of kids to protect them. And I’d expect to see men jumping in front of their wives and other women to protect them. I’d also expect to see guys rush the gunman to subdue him. They’re both things you’d hope to see guys do, aren’t they?

Now, imagine that same scenario, but instead you see men ducking behind their wives. You see men using their wives as human shields. You see single men jumping behind young women and children for safety… what would you think of those men? Not much eh?

There’s something that tells us that the second scenario is not ok. Guys are meant to protect girls, take the bullet for them, die for them. That’s actually what Jesus does for his wife; the church. Jesus steps into the firing line and takes the punishment to save his loved one. That’s his job, that’s his purpose in coming to earth… to be responsible for his wife. To do what Adam didn’t do; because remember Adam was “with” Eve while she was being tempted, but his great crime was that he “listened to his wife” rather than stepping between Satan and his wife and dealing with the lies and bearing the brunt of the temptation. Adam’s crime was shirking the responsibility he was appointed to.

It all comes back to God and who God holds responsible. Women teaching men is not an issue of skill or talent or cultural perspectives. It’s an issue about who God wills to be held responsible for what. You see God do this in Ezekiel 3:17ff

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.”

God chooses who he will hold responsible, and he appoints them to have certain authority to match that. Again, Jesus is a great example. Jesus is responsible to reconcile “all things” to God because he has supremacy over “all things” (Col 1:15ff).

Along with this we are reminded that “not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Teaching God’s word is a very very dangerous profession. Teachers will be judged more harshly. Every word spoken will not only affect us, but how others will stand before the throne of God (1Cor 3).

Teaching other people is like going to war on their behalf. It’s putting your hand up and saying, “I will dare… I will take the risk of telling you what God says. I will bear the potential danger of teaching God’s word to you. I will take the bullet.”

So, men, would you dare hide behind a woman if a gunman burst in? No? Then why would you let a woman be held accountable to God for what other men are taught?!? Yes, God will hold women accountable for what they teach children and other women (Titus 2:4). But God does not want to hold women accountable for what they teach men!

You see, the whole idea of “Women not teaching men” is not an attempt to restrict women or keep them in their place… rather its an attempt to protect women from a judgement that God does not want to hold against them. It’s a command filled with mercy and love and protective intent.

The day will come when Jesus returns and all the bible teachers are judged, and men and women will look and say, “Oh my… I now understand why God didn’t want women to teach men… God was looking out for them… God didn’t want to subject them to this level of judgement.” Remember what God said to Ezekiel… the wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood.

Reblog: The Aussie cultural bent against being part of a machine

As I read Yanks talk about church leadership and growth, I wonder if they make an assumption that just doesn’t fly here in Australia. See, Australians hate tall-hierarchy and being part of a machine. Whereas (the impression I get) is that Americans are impressed by tall-hierarchy and love to be part if a big machine.

You can see it in sport. Americans love winners, chants, cheering, big crowds, club t-shirts and organisations that bring people together to support a team. Aussies, on the other hand, love the under-dogs and tease the winners. Our chants are feeble for heroes but brilliant at ripping down. I’ve even heard a mate talk about meeting his cricket “idol” one day and guess what… he bagged him out for being old. That’s just what Aussies do.

And it affects our churches. If a church is small, they’re thought of as a bunch of battlers; if it’s big, they’re up-themselves. You can trust people in a small church, but there must be something dodgy going on in a bigger church. Christians are happy to “lend a hand” in a small church, but they’re reluctant to be just one of the “cogs” in a larger ministry.

The trouble is, Jesus’ church is huge, and he’s designed each one to play it’s part… a bit like a cog.

Dress to un-impress at church

We used to say, “Dress slightly more dressed-up than the average person in your church.” One of the main reasons was because we didn’t want people to think, “hmmm, this is too casual to be ‘church’ – it’s meant to be formal and reflective – but he’s dressed like a slob.”
But really – who’s gonna’ think that? Probably the type of person who’s going to find fault with EVERYTHING!
But what happened to your visitor when they come in for the first time and see the person up the from looking more dressy than they are? Chances are it’s another thing for them to (wrongly) feel judged about.
Why try to appease the 5% by dressing up when the same action could be off-putting to the 50%?!?
Dress just below the average “dress level” and see how it makes people feel comfortable to see Jesus as part of their whole life – trakidacks and all.

You have a culture, did you know?

Whatever the group, big or small, whole church or growth group, it has a culture.

There’s a commonly agreed way things are. A commonly held idea about how things happen; evangelism, bible reading, singing, everything. You only notice it when someone does something different and all of a sudden it seems weird to everyone else.

So its worth getting a few observant people together and get them to answer that hard question… what’s become normal for “us” and are we happy with that as our normal?

Don’t wait for numbers, just run it

If you’re going to run an evangelistic course, don’t wait until you have enough participants. Why would you? If you’ve got two people who are willing to hear the gospel, do it as planned. Just smaller to suit the numbers.

There’s an important principle here; interested people are more valuable* than uninterested people. Basically, if person A signs-up, but then you decide not to run the event, you’re telling person A that person X (who didn’t sign-up) is more important. It’s like you’re saying, “Yeah, thanks for signing up, but people who we REALY wanted can’t come, so we’re going to wait for them.”

Schedule the event, tell people that it’s going to be on, and run it for whoever comes.

Beware divorcing rules from their reasons

Sometimes, setting rules is really helpful. Call them guidelines or self-imposed limits if you don’t like the idea of rules. But the fact is we do it all the time anyway. For example, we have a staff rule that male staff members or not to be in a house alone with a member of the opposite sex (apart from their spouse, etc).

But if you only ever discuss the rule and never discuss the reason behind it, two things are likely to happen.

1) Your rule will become a boasting point. It will become a rule in the bad anti-gospel sense. It will become something you are tempted to boast in before God and say, “Look! I never did that thing (that I self-imposed on myself!)”

2) It will become a tradition rather than a culture. That is, people will break the spirit of the law, and think nothing of it (e.g. going for a half-day walk in the bush with no-one else around – really isn’t much different to being alone in a house together).

So, have rules (because they help people understand the reasons and they do stop stupid decisions), but always talk about the reasons that make up the rule.

Questions don’t have to be answered

“Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” Matt 21:27

We have a very peculiar cultural rule; that if someone asks you a question, you have to answer that question. We seem to think we’re somehow obliged to answer, as though we’re permanently standing in some courtroom with a lawyer saying, “Answer the question please… and do remember, you’re under oath”.

But you’re not.

A valid answer to some questions is simply, “I don’t feel comfortable telling you that.”

In fact, I believe that many times, that is the best and most loving answer to give. It protects people, both the hearer and the speaker. It may even be protecting other people.

What’s the big theological principle behind this? Simply this… “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matt 12:36

You don’t have to answer every question you get asked, because you only have to answer to God.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

I heard this line recently and its so true.

No matter what strategy you put in place; lets take welcoming as an example… if there’s not a culture of loving the new people, getting to know them and engage them in conversation, your strategy will fail.

So if culture eats strategy for breakfast, it really focuses the goal of your strategy… how are you going to change your culture?