Category Archives: Church

Bring Him Home

There are deep, strong, and many connections between evangelism and hospitality – far more than I can go into here. One of the most poignant images of the gospel is the embrace of the prodigal son by the Father. God’s deep longing for prodigals to be reconciled to Him means always looking out and always ready to welcome in.

If you want to come to my house you can probably find the front door and the doorbell, but the experience for you is vastly different if the light is on and my kids are peeping out the front windows eager for your arrival. In the same way, at my home church we feel we have some renovations to do. There are four doors at the front of our buildings, and none of them obviously presents as the entrance. If you really want to come, you can definitely figure it out, but it’s something short of hospitality.

But enough about buildings, what about the actual church? Does yours have a clear and warm point of entry? Do those without church experience get strong signals saying “Welcome! Start here”? Or do they get the feeling that this church is for regulars, not irregulars?

One church that welcomes well is Rostrevor Baptist. Banners all along their street frontage make quite clear that that church is geared up to help beginners, and the Alpha Course is the place to start. We can learn from them. Is there somewhere obvious on your church’s website where beginners can click? Is there a ministry clearly aimed at ushering people from curiosity to membership?

Many churches seem to have ministries that usher people from the Outer Hebrides to the Inner Hebrides (hostility to openness), but not ministries to welcome people ashore and settle them on the mainland. We move people from Pluto to Neptune and call it mission, but do we really want Martians here on Earth?

So our church is looking at a new entrance. But even more urgently, we’re looking at a weekly Sunday breakfast for enquirers where people can ask anything, begin just where they are, and discover all it means to belong in God’s family. Mission isn’t just running down the road, mission is bringing the prodigal home!

Is It Explosive?

When we think about what the gospel is, quite often we get fixated on the details of how people can be saved. How to get into the kingdom. The trouble is, there’s no point in telling people how to enter a place they don’t want to go. What’s the point in hailing down cars telling them how to get to the airport, when they don’t want to go there?

The how is important – it’s worth knowing and getting right. But we could, I think, swing more of our efforts to telling people the WHO and the WHAT of God’s kingdom – and they may well then ask us how to enter.

Many people seem to have the idea that God’s big dream is that everyone would behave themselves and attend church – a club, they think, where everyone is very careful to conform and pretend to be good, a club where the rules are explained over and over and the game is never played. Have we contributed to that impression? Do we continue to in ways?

God is so much more than a cosmic referee with whistle in mouth looking for people who are breaking the rules. His dream is not that people would stop sinning, but that they would be explosively transformed. Not merely that thieves would “stop thieving” – but become givers! Not merely that cursers would “stop cursing” – but become encouragers (Eph 3:28-29)! Our message is not merely that empty people can come and “be filled” – but come and be turned into fountains (John 7:38)! It’s a message of radical and good transformation! (Yes, for those fixated on how, not by our own efforts but by God’s grace and empowering).

Our message is not merely “Come follow Jesus” but also “…and he will make you fishers for people. He will enlist you in his incredible re-creative plot. He will transform you, and through you, the world!” Now that’s explosive.

The gospel of behavioural conformity has its roots as much in new-world-settler-western-imperialism as it does in Scripture. It’s an emasculating message that defuses people down to worker-bees. The biblical gospel, on the other hand, is explosive in releasing people as carriers of a viral goodness that will supplant the empires. One saps, the other inspires – which one are we conveying?

Preparing the Village

A remarkable thing happens when a grandchild arrives. The house needs to be “baby-proofed”. It’s been quite comfortable for adults for years, even decades, but suddenly it needs to be looked at with a different set of eyes altogether! Parts that have been comfortable and convenient for adults are realized to be hazardous or inappropriate for a little person.

A house that on one level is “perfectly adequate” gets a necessary transformation, all determined by the weakest, smallest family member – who perhaps hasn’t even arrived yet! It might be bemusing, even bewildering. It might be frustrating, too – oh, the things we suddenly need to fuss about! But deep down we know it’s right and good and also exciting.

Our churches need to be regularly “baby-proofed” for spiritual children – even those we haven’t yet seen. Many churches are predominantly filled with those who have been Christians for decades. And until we deliberately look – even seeking outside advice – we can be quite blind to how ill prepared we are for new believers.

From time to time I hear people say they would “never” invite an unbelieving friend to their church. I always press them to think specifically about just what it is that would be unhelpful to an enquirer. Sometimes it’s one big thing, sometimes it’s fifty little things. But they need to be named, and they need to be attended to.

A great (and brave) question for leaders to ask congregations is this: “Is there anything we’re doing, or not doing, that keeps you from inviting a friend?” These little ones – immature, messy, noisy, demanding ones – perhaps ones we’ve not even met yet – these are the VIPs of God’s extended family. Not only must we ask “What hazards need to be removed?” but then also “How could we make this place wonderfully welcoming for children?”

It takes a village to raise a child, it’s said. Nowhere is this more true than in the task of spiritual parenting – of making disciples. Christians grow through exposure to the whole body of Christ. It’s not realistic to raise children in isolation until they are ready for the village. The village must get ready for them. How ready is yours?

Getting the Band Back Together

What’s the role of an evangelist? What do they look like and how do they fit in to the church? These are some of the most pressing questions facing us. To the last one, some say “They don’t!”

Evangelism is a vital part – but only a part – of the mission entrusted to us. With the demise of the (usually evangelistic) Sunday evening service many sacred agents are relatively unpractised in corporate mission – mission where the whole church works together.

God has shaped us to play like a band. Some are guitarists, some are better at keyboards. The tone-deaf can be drummers, the shy can be roadies, the nerds can work the mixing desk.

Now a few are lead singers. These are the evangelists. They bring the words to the music. They don’t mind being up front, and they have knack to interact with the audience and lead them along.

For too long, however, we have sent the evangelists out like solo artists and expected them to play all the roles – one man bands. Some do OK, but it’s just not the set-up you see in the New Testament. Jesus never sent out individuals on mission, and nor did the early church.

What would it mean in your context to get the band back together? To identify an evangelist and integrate their words with the music (deeds) of the rest of the church? The band might need some practise, but what a show it has to put on!

There seems to be a painful divide between the actions-without-words mission and words-without-actions mission. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. But words speak clearer than actions. When you put the two together you can be heard loud and clear.

How about it Elroy? Let’s get the band back together. We’re on a mission from God. And if mission is the work of the whole church, then I need you, you, you…

Sunday Morning Evangelism?

Last century many Baptist churches offered two services each week – usually Sunday morning and Sunday night. The morning service was weighted towards nurturing believers (of all ages), and the evening service weighted towards evangelism (especially of youth). It balanced churches’ priorities: Get fed on Sunday morning, bring your friends Sunday night.

But with the demise of the second service the choice of nearly every church has been to retain ‘feeding the flock’ as a corporate practice, leaving evangelism as an individual one (perhaps with the exception of occasional courses such as Alpha). What would it look like if a church chose the other way?

The building up of believers would need to utilize mid-week meetings of big and/or small groups and individual spiritual disciplines to a greater extent. Believers wouldn’t be able to use Sunday services as a weekly Quiet Time!

But the big difference might be the opportunity for the church to witness corporately, bringing the whole combination of spiritual gifts of the body to the task. Jesus said “By this will everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:35 NIV) If this is such a key aspect of our witness, why do we gather in relative privacy, and do our public witness individually? Are we hiding our lamp under a bowl?

What might it look like to open our weekly meetings to the neighbourhood and send strong signals that visitors, seekers, doubters, explorers, everyone is invited, indeed expected? On the inside this might mean more testimonies and less in-house notices, more preaching to the back row and less preaching to the choir. On the outside it might mean flags, banners, A-frame signs and the like to say “We’re here, we’re on, we’re open and we’re expecting you.” You only need to look at businesses and other public buildings to see how that is standard signalling in our culture.

There’s so much to be said for corporate witness, and churches could do worse than to experiment with this by at least designating some Sundays or a season of Sundays as evangelistic. (Although regular, ongoing witness has many advantages over the one-hit event.) It takes time for a church to learn to do it well, and for the neighbourhood to notice, but might it not strike a better balance?

Does Exercise Work?

I need to exercise. Power walking, riding, exercises, weights, even (gasp!) running. Nearly all of us need to take time for exercise – and it’s become a huge industry. The most recent City to Bay Fun Run was entered by no less than 30,000 people. Have you ever wondered why our grandparents and great-great-grandparents didn’t do that sort of thing? No, it’s not because they’re really, really old.

It’s because they worked. Physical work. Standing up work. At least, a lot more than we do today. I need exercise because I spend so much of my time doing what I’m doing right now – sitting in front of a screen. I have machines to do hard labour for me. But exercise isn’t real work. It’s simulated work. It’s play-work.

I read with fascination an interview last year with Adelaide Crows fitness coach, Stephen Schwerdt. He attributed a plummet in the Crows’ injuries that season to a new approach to training. They spent less time isolating certain muscles on fitness machines and more time in general wrestling and boxing, to become more rounded athletes and more closely simulate their match-day work. In other words, they got real.

It got me thinking about churches. And mission. How much of what we do is real gospel work, and how much is exercise? Do we talk (and blog/read – look, right now you and I are equally guilty) about evangelism so much because we do it so little? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for planning,  training, reading and debating. But it needs to be real. It has to be connected to real doing.

It’s one thing to be keen on fishing, to read fishing magazines, to buy fishing equipment, even to go fishing. It’s perhaps another thing to get good at getting fish. This may be true not just of evangelism, but also of our worship, our fellowship, our discipleship. Are we fit and strong for the real thing, and from the real thing, or  just buff from exercises? Do we have the burns and scars from real-world mission, or just a spray-on tan from talking about it? Is play-working a way towards real work for us, or a way out of it?

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