Category Archives: Evangelism/Mission

Relax Pastor, God Saves!

Christmas Eve is a great opportunity for churches to share the good news of the gospel with many unbelievers — sometimes hearing it for the first time. Pastors should give a clear invitation to respond in faith to the message of the gospel.

I plan to do this. I can’t wait to do this!

But there are many church leaders who place far too much pressure on themselves at their Christmas Eve services to get a good response. Each year I receive emails essentially urging me not to “blow it” at this big “super bowl” service of the year. One email I received from a godly leader whom I admire said:

My heart breaks when we lead people right up to the line of faith and then leave them hanging there.  They need your help, so boldly help them put their faith in Jesus this Christmas.  Finally, make sure people know what their next steps are.

Yes, true, I hear you…but are we forgetting something, or Someone?

I believe this way of thinking betrays a woefully low view of God and an inadequate view of the Holy Spirit’s role in our worship and preaching. The truth is they need God’s help to cross the line of faith and put their faith in Jesus. They need the Holy Spirit to show them what their next steps are. I have confidence that God knows each person’s heart and will not “leave them hanging there.” (Pastors: God doesn’t need us as much as we like to think. He just graciously allows us to play a big role sometimes.)

With a big view of God and a belief in the active role of the Holy Spirit, I don’t need to lose sleep over whether I botched the invitation or fell short in my follow up with people. I trust God is at work in the hearts of my hearers. He can lead them to take the next steps. God will plant a longing in someone’s heart and the Holy Spirit will draw them back next week for more. 

Again, I’m not arguing against bringing people to a point of decision, and offering clear follow up steps. I plan to. But I am arguing we need to relax, keep a proper perspective, and trust God more with the results.

To make my point, let’s have some fun and apply such thinking to the first Christmas sermon ever preached at that first Christmas Eve service unexpectedly held in that Judea field. Let’s look at the clear planning and follow-up work that first Christmas. Warning: Snarky satire ahead.

[Attendance: 2 or 3 shepherds, an Angelical Preacher who kept his sermon to less than a minute, and a kicking’ choir (really? sounds a bit traditional and boring…)]

The Christmas Story According to Some Overly Anxious Pastors

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger….that is, if you’ll take the proper next steps found in the bottom of the bulletin you received when you walked into the field tonight.

[It’s truly a miracle the Shepherds even heard the gospel that night since they had foolishly neglected to attend any of the scheduled worship services at any of the available synagogues in that region. Its hard to believe God could actually reach anybody outside the walls of an official place of worship. This is why all responsible heralds of the gospel will spend thousands of dollars on advertising, newspaper ads, hanging colorful banners by the road, and placing yard signs all over town making sure people know how to get to the one certain place where God is most likely to show up and “bring good tidings of great joy.” Or so we thought.]  

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other“Now what should we do? The Angels didn’t give us clear directions or next steps. Oh, well. I guess we’ll just stay here in the field tending our sheep. Dang it!  I really thought I experienced something divine a few seconds ago. Bummer.” Continue reading Relax Pastor, God Saves!

Beyond a Moral Tipping Point?

From 6:4 Fellowship:

While many Christians are relieved to see a conservative victory in the recent elections, it changes very little about the current moral state of our nation and the effects of the moral revolution we have seen over the last decade.

Pastor and author, John S. Dickerson, forecasts the moral future of our nation in light of the six trends of decline in the evangelical church today.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/186330294″>Beyond A Moral Tipping Point? | John S. Dickerson</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/64fellowship”>The 6:4 Fellowship</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Sunday2Serve: The Church has Left the Building!

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.08.07 AM.pngWhen the church bells ring on Sunday morning, July 31, you’ll find several local church sanctuaries empty. But this doesn’t mean they won’t be worshiping. “Most Sundays we worship God with words and music,” says Pastor Meg Newswanger of First Presbyterian in Maple Plain. “On July 31 we will worship God with our hands and feet, by serving others in Christ’s name.” Several area churches are joining together in a new inter church initiative called Sunday 2 Serve organized by the Westonka Ministerial Association, a monthly gathering of pastors from Westonka area churches and beyond. Perhaps you have seen the blue signs blanketing the town.

In place of regular worship services, churches are going out to serve people and needs in the community. Projects include things like making sandwiches for the homeless, raking leaves and cleaning houses of elderly and shut-ins, picking up trash along the roads, visiting people at a nursing home, painting fire hydrants, school improvement projects, assembling care kits for cancer patients, and more. In the words of Pastor Dave Abernathy of Mound Evangelical Free Church, “Churches exist not only to celebrate and communicate the gospel Jesus Christ, but also to demonstrate that gospel.”

The idea for Sunday 2 Serve came about when two churches discovered they were already doing this on their own, and the impact could be multiplied by inviting other churches into the fun. One of those churches was MainStreet Covenant Church led by Pastor Jeremy Berg, the current chair of the Westonka Ministerial Association. “As our church name implies, MainStreet was started 5 years ago with the mission of bringing hope beyond the church walls and into the streets of our city,” says Pastor Berg. “To this end we have devoted a Sunday morning for serving our neighbors each year we’ve been in existence.”

 

The other church is Freshwater Community with campuses in St. Boni and Waconia. Freshwater mobilized their larger congregation to go out and serve last summer with remarkable impact. Over 600 people participated in 19 different projects in four different communities. “The experience blessed both those being served and those going out to serve,” Pastor Van Tassel remarks. “Its amazing to see how much can be accomplished in only a couple hours on a Sunday morning when we all come together as Christians.”

So far 8 churches are participating in Sunday 2 Serve this July including St. John’s Lutheran, Bethel United Methodist, MainStreet Covenant, St. Martin’s Episcopal, First Presbyterian, Freshwater Community, and Mound Evangelical Free. Mount Olive Lutheran is hosting an “after party” for participants to stop by between 11AM-1PM to enjoy food & refreshments, fellowship & testimonies, and family friendly musical entertainment by the Teddy Bear Band. One project is bringing generations together. MainStreet Covenant is partnering with Lake Minnetonka Shores (Presbyterian Homes) to enable young children to serve alongside the elderly in making sandwiches for the homeless at Lake Minnetonka Shores.

The people and organizations who have been touched by these efforts are eager to share their appreciation. One outreach MainStreet does is to the Meals on Wheels clients who often have disabilities and therefore needs around the house — especially spring cleaning and yard work. After having her house cleaned, one woman was holding back tears as she said, “Because of my disability, my husband has to do everything — buy groceries, cook, laundry, work a full time job — and the house just never gets cleaned. And I have to sit in the mess everyday all day, and can’t do anything about it. You have no idea how much this cleaning help means to me!”

Sojourn Adult Day Center has been another beneficiary of this outreach as crews of volunteers have come over to help clean their center in Mound the past couple years. Kari Johnson, Program Director at Sojourn, remarks, “By serving in this way, churches are saying “We see you! We’re glad you’re in our community! You matter to us so much that we want to give our time to bless your life! That is so powerful!”

A couple springs ago Christine Zachow, principal at Grandview Middle School, expressed her appreciation for a crew who helped clean up the school grounds: “I just drove by Grandview on my way home from a choir concert and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The flower beds look amazing! Thanks to your efforts, we can actually see and enjoy the sprouts that tell us summer is right around the corner. On behalf of our staff, students and myself, please pass along my thanks to your wonderful volunteers!”

In a world where the news cycle constantly highlights our differences and how they divide us, the organizers of Sunday 2 Serve hope to provide a beautiful display of unity as churches of different traditions come together around a shared mission to love and serve their neighbors. “St. John’s is excited to connect with other churches in the community as we address needs in our area,” says Pastor Jeff Heiderscheit.  “I am encouraged to see the one, universal, Christian church standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our community.” Pastor Berg hopes that “everywhere people look that Sunday morning they’ll see people in matching light blue shirts making a difference all over our communities.”

Everyone is welcome to participate in Sunday 2 Serve. If you would like to participate (and your church was not able to participate this year), you are welcome to contact any of the participating churches above to get involved).

 

Continue reading Sunday2Serve: The Church has Left the Building!

PARABLES: Let’s Party 3 (Matt. 22:1-14)

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

In the original context of this parable of the King throwing a wedding party for his son, there were grievous consequences for refusing the king’s invitation. This was a great insult to the king.

I am struck with the king’s unrelenting determination to have the wedding hall filled with guests. These images point to a God who also is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” and be saved. Those who are excluded from the Kingdom and the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus, are excluded by their own choice.

Yet, O, how the church needs to imitate the King’s desperate attempts to fill his house for the party!  God wants his churches filled with worshipers today as well.  He is not content with a hand full of the faithful while many pews sit empty Sunday after Sunday.  And we, his servants, are called to “go to the street corners” and invite anyone we can find!  We  are not to show partiality in our invitations. We are not to discriminate saying, “Oh, they would never come to church.”  We need to invite “the bad as well as the good” — and that means risking the invitation to our coarse coworker, our foul-mouthed neighbor, our too-busy, excuse-ridden friends, the town gossip, and the brawler from the bar.

But the bottom line message for the church today in this parable seems to be: Go. Go out. Go out into the streets. Go out into the streets and make disciples. This is a timely reminder as Easter approaches when people are more open to coming to God’s banquet to celebrate the Risen Son!

Let us go. Let us go. 

While the day is aglow.

Let us get back to our fishing!

Blistered Feet & Bloody Hands (by Mike Fox)

Enjoy this challenge from my friend Mike Fox whose writings have been featured here in the past. -JB

100 years ago there was no television, no internet.  News traveled slowly.  Because of this a drought in Africa, a tsunami in SE Asia, or an epidemic in India might go unnoticed by most Americans.  It was the needs within your own community that grabbed your attention.  If you heard about a serious illness, a death, or a barn burning down, it likely happened to someone you knew and it could have literally been your next door neighbor.  Your response might have been to bring food, offer comfort, or help rebuild their barn.

Today with instanaeous communication we know about the needs around the world.  We can donate money to any cause and any disaster with the simple push of a button.  When the needs are less immediate, we finance missionaries to evangelize, engineers to build wells, teachers to help educate, and doctors to treat disease.

It is a little ironic that in today’s world we know more about what is happening on the other side of the world than we do in our own neighborhood.  We hire people we may not know, to minister to people we have never met, and pay with money we have never seen except as an entry in our bank account.

With this in mind, reread this excerpt from the familiar story of the Good Samaritan and pay close attention to verse 34:

33 “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33-34). 

Notice what it does not say…It does not say the Samaritan hired someone to do the dirty work.  It says the Samaritan goes to him; gets his hands bloody and bandages his wounds; adds blisters to his feet by walking instead of riding; opens his pocketbook pays for the care of the beaten man.

I certainly don’t want to minimize the needs of the international community, but there is something to be said for getting to know our neighbors and neighborhoods and getting our hands dirty to solve the problems you find.  It is in these face-to-face encounters that both the helped and the helper are changed.

The Mound Ninja & the DNA of a Movement

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The local kids LOVE the Mound Ninjas!

Our little community of Mound, Minnesota, is again making the local news. This time its the strange presence of a group of friendly “ninjas” dressed up in costumes and walking around town. They’ve been at it for a few months already. At first, people didn’t know what to make of it. Then people starting taking sides.

To some, they are considered suspicious, a nuisance, or even dangerous. To others, they are just out to have some fun and make people laugh as they dance around on street corners, engage in mock fights and gather an increasing number of superheroes around their movement.

A movement. There’s an interesting concept.

I’ve long been interested in the dynamics that are involved in starting a movement — especially a little movement that can capture the attention of an entire community. (I’ve spent the past 10 years of my life spearheading two movements in Mound.)  I’m especially fascinated when someone is able to get an entire town talking about them in our busy society where its hard to get anyone’s sustained attention for more than a minute.

We’re currently in the middle of a sermon series exploring the explosive movement of the early church and how a small band of uneducated fisherman following a crucified leader could turn the world upside down in a generation. We’re interacting with the NBC miniseries “A.D. The Bible Continues” as we explore some of the necessary ingredients to this world impacting movement.

So, back to our friendly Mound Ninja and his comrades. What can we learn from their new found popularity and growing following?

Here are a few of the necessary ingredients to start a successful movement: Continue reading The Mound Ninja & the DNA of a Movement

Two by Two 2: Ahead of Himself

Repost from 2010.-JB

In this series we’ll be picking apart this episode in Luke 10 piece by piece, exploring what it looks like on the road to discipleship in the company of Jesus.

“The Lord now chose seventy (-two) other disciples and sent them ahead of himself in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:1-3)

Part 2: “He sent them ahead of himself…”

Last time we noted that the church needs to be a “sending” community at it’s core.  We have been far better at being a “gathering” community in the past.  Like teaching teenagers how to drive, the best way to make disciples is not classroom lecture in the safety of an auditorium, but behind-the-wheel experience on the road to discipleship.

If being thrown behind the wheel of a 2 ton vehicle for the first time is scary, then today things get downright terrifying for aspiring disciples of the kingdom.  Imagine you’ve chosen to follow Jesus, and so far it’s only been about traveling with his entourage, watching him work signs and wonders, listening to him teach in the synagogues, and sitting at his feet listening to parables around a fire.

Suddenly, however, the game changes completely as Jesus says, “Now I’m sending you out to do what I’ve been doing: proclaim the good news of the kingdom, heal the sick, cast out demons and serve the poor and outcast.”  You respond, “Great, when do WE leave, Jesus?”  Jesus responds, “We?  Who said anything about ‘we’?  I’m sending you out ahead of me.”

Yikes!  Here’s the lesson I gather from this episode: Following Jesus often takes us one step ahead of certainty and comfort.  Faith and fellowship with the Lord almost always involves going a step or two ahead of what God has made clear to us. Continue reading Two by Two 2: Ahead of Himself