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Visions of the Coming Days 
by R. Loren Sanford

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R. Loren Sanford, within his sober reflection, reveals the heart of the Father and the hope of glory for the body of Christ. With clarity and piercing biblical insight, he helps believers understand what is to come, and he gives practical advice on how to prepare spiritually--for the events that will unfold and for their role in all of it. Foreword by John Paul Jackson   


 

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"The Big Three," Part 3

By Dan Reiland

Middle School ministry makes me nervous. That's why I'm so glad we have Pastor Brett Moore to lead that team. He just informed me that on Wednesday night they had the world's largest "Tickle Fight." My first response was "You had a what?" Brett then told me about their 30 second extravaganza that is headed for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records! Seriously, they filled out the forms, registered all the kids, and shot the video. See, now you're nervous too. He quickly explained that he had the boys and girls separated the entire 30 seconds. I said, "And that is supposed to make me feel better?" Apparently the boys got a little aggressive and it looked a little more like WWF match with a bunch of mini-wrestlers!

So, why would Pastor Brett and his team think of something so much fun and invest countless hours to prepare for one ninety minute gathering of well over 200 Middle School students on a Wednesday night? To see them saved and begin to follow Christ! A couple weeks before that night, 17 of those Middle School Students made first time decisions to give their hearts to Christ. One week after that night, 30 more students made first time decisions for Christ! 47 kids between 6th and 8th grade have made the biggest decision of their life in the last 60 days because of a ministry committed to evangelism. That is worth all the creativity and craziness they can think of. When a student of that age is clearly confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and surrenders to His call, we all see a beautiful picture of why the local church exists. Call it what you like, but the subject is evangelism.

This is the last of a three part series titled "The Big Three." No matter what size or style your church you can't get away from the intense value and critical nature of Leadership, Prayer and Evangelism. Prayer is hard work and leadership is never ending, but there is something about the "front line" nature of evangelism that causes it to be the first of the Big Three to slip into decline in many churches. That's not an indictment; it's a reality we all face.

Both prayer and leadership can be done, and usually is, within the safe environment of other Christians. In contrast, evangelism by its very nature requires us to engage people who do not think, believe, or live like we do. It is in evangelism that we must engage people we don't know. Evangelism requires us to stay relevant and get out of our comfort zone. Evangelism demands risk and seeks an unselfish motive. An aggressive effort in evangelism often calls for us to rethink our budget.

We do engage the enemy (powers and spiritual forces - Ephesians 6:12) in prayer. But let's be honest, the majority of even our most intense prayer sessions are with other Christians. Rarely do any of us find ourselves surrounded by the enemy praying Jesus' prayer of "Forgive them Father..."

Leadership development will cause even the toughest of veteran leaders to become weary, but again, it's with people we know and love. Then there is evangelism. It is the one of the Big Three that takes the power of prayer and strategy of leadership into live engagement with people outside of the church.

Evangelism is more complicated than ever. The good news is that people are spiritually hungry. The complication is even when we are crystal clear about the truth of Jesus Christ, the significant influence of other streams of spiritual thought from Yoga and Buddhism to New Age and Pantheism, leave people confused. When people do say yes to Christ, they often don't really know what they said yes to. They have "blended" all the information into one new truth of American Gospel. We must then invest huge amounts of time in a process of discipleship to help young (and not so young) Christians sort out biblical truth from the Americanized "make your own" gospel.

So how hard are you willing to fight for this? How much energy are you willing to invest? How hard are you willing to work to see evangelism flourish in your church?

Evangelism and the ministry of compassion are deeply connected. A compassionate heart is both personal and corporate. God wants the individuals in your church to care about the broken-hearted, but also as body of believers. As I talk with church leaders I have found a definite connection between churches that are high in compassion and strong evangelism, and vice-versa.

So, how is your church doing is this critical, bottom-line essential of evangelism? The following questions will help you assess where you are and gain insight toward improvement. As you tackle these questions, don't simply answer yes or no but engage in careful thought and honest dialogue. You and your church will be better because of it.

   - Do your key leaders continually emphasize the evangelistic mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:18-20 from the  platform of your church?
   - Do your key leaders continually emphasize the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:18-20 in meetings and one to one connections?
   - Do the key leaders express a heart of compassion into the needs of your community?
   - Do the key leaders engage in evangelism at a personal level?
   - Do you personally engage by investing in people who are far from God and inviting them to church?
   - Do you see a number of first time visitors attending your church every Sunday?
   - Does your church openly accept new people who are "different" than the majority of people who attend?
   - Are baptisms conducted regularly as a part of your church's ministry?
   - Is there specific training in place for new and young Christians?
   - Have you personally taken this new Christian training and found it to be relevant and of high quality?
   - How often is the gospel presented in your church?
   - Are you eager or hesitant to bring an un-churched visitor to your church?
   - Do you sense a true burden in your church for non-Christians that results in action?
   - Do you sense a congregation-wide heart of compassion for people in need?
   - Does your church invest generously in global efforts of evangelism?
   - Does your church reach out to the poor and needy in your community?
   - Is there some form of training in evangelism at your church?
   - Do you consider your church committed to evangelism?
   - Do you consider your church effective in evangelism?
   - Can you personally name at least one new Christian in your church?

The following are five practical thoughts and principles to strengthen your church's evangelistic ministry.

1. Cultivate a heart of compassion in your church.
Compassion is more art and heart than strategy and program but it does require intentional effort. I believe compassion is resident in the heart of a believer, but the regular demands of ministry from a general time crunch to the mortgage payment will challenge your efforts to give to others on a personal and financial level. That pressure will never go away. It is only the heart that will win the day and focus your efforts to give to those who need. This is the same heart that drives us with compassion to reach those who do not know Jesus as their Lord.
 
2. Don't attempt to achieve everything at once. 
Evangelism is a marathon not a sprint. Getting all pumped up about evangelism for a few weeks will not strengthen your church's outreach efforts. I love the movie, "What About Bob," starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus. Did you see it? The neurotic but loveable patient (Murray) drives the uptight therapist crazy. Dreyfus who plays the therapist recommends the method of his latest book "Baby Steps." It's a silly movie but not a bad idea. I recommend the "Baby Steps" approach of tackling one component at a time to strengthen your overall evangelistic strategy. Make a short list of things that need to be improved and go after them one at a time in order to slowly build the heart of evangelism into your church.

3. Emphasize heart not program.
Methods and processes are necessary and important, but they will not by  themselves, sustain a burden to reach the lost. Heart sustains the effort.  When a child is sick a parent never looses passion. That parent does  whatever it takes until the child is well. The motive that sustains the  passion is love. It's our love for the "lost" that makes the programs and  processes work. It is love that keeps us engaged and investing in  meaningful relationship with people who are far from God.

4. Remember that the first two essentials drive the third.
Leadership and prayer are the drivers of evangelism. The leaders must stir the vision and lead the way, and prayer is the power that makes it all happen. If you attempt to sustain heartfelt evangelism without these two "priming" essentials, you will continually falter and fail. 

Your church will not naturally lean toward evangelism.
You must fight for evangelism. The longer any church exists the more it naturally begins to lean "inward." The people begin to request and even demand more classes, programs and ministries for Christians. Some of this can be good, but in limited amounts and strategic in focus. We often discuss this issue at 12Stone using the question: "Are we feeding the machine or are we feeding the mission?"

Your church may need to "clean house" in order to streamline your efforts and energies to become more evangelistic. Becoming a church that reaches non-Christians is usually a church that does "less stuff," but with more depth and force. Busy churches often struggle to keep their priorities right. So how are you doing? What (Baby) steps do you need to take?

I hope this concluding article on The Big Three has been helpful to you. Leadership, prayer and evangelism are at the core of what we are called to do. I trust that you will strive to keep these priorities at the forefront of your church's ministry.