Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sowing in Tears, Reaping In Joy...

"I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9:1-3 (ESV)

Where is the great burden to reach lost people in our churches today? Do we really care that a majority of the people that we meet in our day-to-day lives are on their way to spending eternity separated from our loving God? When was the last time you saw Christians gathered in prayer weeping over the spiritual condition of the people that they know?

This week I began calling North Carolina Baptist Churches for our Baptist State Convention that have reported zero baptisms during the previous church year. It is a project that I have assisted our denomination with for several years. I was discouraged to see that once again, the numbers of baptisms in our state have declined. This has been the trend ever since I started helping with the project. It is also a trend seen across the board in Western Christendom.

The good news is that I often find 800-900 unreported baptisms through this project. The bad news is even more churches in our state have reported zero baptisms during the 2009 church year. Why is this so?

I believe it is because we have lost the burden for reaching people with the gospel message.

Paul said that he wished he was accursed from Christ for the sake of his countrymen in order that they might be saved. He uses one of the strongest word possible - anathema - to describe this curse. He is saying that if it were possible, he would give up his own salvation in order to see Israel saved.

Moses expressed a similar burden for his people when he said to God, "Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” (Exo. 32:32 NKJV)

Corporately, I see very few churches that have this kind of burden for the lost. One might say, "Paul was speaking hypothetically." True, but his heart for the lost is clearly seen in this passage.

Regaining that kind of passion for the lost involves first, seeing people with the eyes of Christ. In spite of the stain of sin, people are of infinite value to God. (Otherwise, why would He have sacrificed his precious Son on the cross?) Their greatest need is to connect with God which is possible only when the stain of sin is removed through faith in Jesus Christ. If they are valuable to God, then they should be valuable to us.

Secondly, recognize that evangelism is not an act of imposing ones beliefs on another; it is the ultimate act of compassion. This is where so many post-modern believers get it wrong. Jesus said that He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He spoke directly and forthrightly to people about their spiritual condition. We are so fearful of offending people that we never get around to telling them the truth. Jude wrote: "Have mercy on some who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; on others have mercy in fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." (Jude 1:22-23 HCSB)

Third, we must renew our understanding of the eternal implications of not reaching people with the gospel message...

People who die without Jesus go the hell. There, I said it.

Hell is not a place reserved only for the most wicked and vile -the Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens of the world. It is also reserved for the kindly grandmother who baked cookies for the neighborhood children and volunteered at the hospital. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We deserve to pay the penalty for our sin which is eternal death. Yet Christ died for us even though we had sinned. By faith in Him alone are we saved from this penalty.

We have placed too much emphasis on God's love and too little on his holiness and justice. It has resulted in an attitude of sentimental universalism and reduced God to a kindly old man who wants everyone to have a good time. As Charles Spurgeon said, "If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth."

God will hold us accountable for not sharing the Gospel with the lost. As believers, we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of our service for Him. This will not determine our salvation for that is settled the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ alone. It will determine our reward.

Join me in asking God to renew your burden for the lost today. It is the only way we can stop the decline of our churches and increase the number of baptisms and new churches planted in our nation and around the world.

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or its employees. Neither do I speak as an official representative of the Convention.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sharing the Gospel at Events

For the past 2 years, I have had the privilege of sharing the gospel with people attending the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. It is an outreach that has been going on for 14 years now led by my friend, Martin Davis of San Diego. I will be participating again this year.

Every year, thousands of parade goers begin lining the streets of Pasadena along the 5 mile parade route 1 day before the parade. Last year, we saw people staking claim to their viewing spot as early as 8:30 AM on December 31! These people often spend the entire time waiting for the parade to begin at 8:00 AM on January 1. By that time, 750,000 - 1 Million people have accumulated in that short 5 mile stretch of Colorado Blvd.

This scenario presents a unique opportunity for the church to get out and share the gospel.

Our team sets up a base camp on Colorado Blvd. where we give away free popcorn, face painting, balloon animals and "What's in a Name" certificates that we print on the spot with the name of the person and the meaning of their name. These giveaways allow volunteers to engage people in conversations about Christ and salvation.

We also send roving teams of volunteers down the streets to distribute gospel tracts and a unique parade program that shows the order of floats and a gospel presentation. This gives them the chance to talk with people about salvation. Last year, volunteers led 27 people to faith in Jesus Christ.

As you can see from the picture above, we have also used mime teams to present the gospel message to parade goers. These teams are very popular drawing crowds of onlookers who both see and hear the gospel presented through song, movement and preaching.

Community events like the Rose Parade present a unique environment for the church to spread the gospel. Nearly every community has an event that can serve as an outreach opportunity for your church. Even the small town that I grew up in, Conway (population 734), has a parade at Christmas.

Other events include community festivals, athletic events, holiday celebrations, business grand openings and recognition ceremonies just to name a few.

Access to these events varies from community to community. Open events such as parades and festivals may be easier to participate in than others. Some events may require partnership with the sponsoring organization. Others may require you to purchase a booth or to pay for sponsorship.

I have discovered that in this kind of relaxed environment, people are often open to talking about spiritual matters. Further, an event like this gives you numerous opportunities to sow gospel seeds through tract distribution. This last year in Pasadena, our team gave out 5,000 gospel tracts and 17,000 parade programs. Many of these seeds begin to grow in the weeks after the event.

Here are a few thoughts on sharing the gospel at your community event...

  1. Check local ordinances first to make sure you are legally conducting your outreach. For example, are you using some type of portable sound system during the outreach? Some cities may require permits for such equipment. Also, is the event public or private? Don't assume that an event is public just because it is held in a public venue. Sometimes organizations lease public venues for their event making them private. Private events may ban tract distribution and outreach activities.
  2. Decide which outreach activities best fit your church and the situation. Would servanthood evangelism projects work best in the situation or are more direct approaches to sharing the gospel needed?
  3. Train your volunteers to engage the people they encounter with the gospel message. It is easy to give away popcorn at a booth but don't assume that a person is going to ask you the magic question, "Why are you doing this?" You may want to use spiritual surveys to start a conversation. Whatever you do, don't be shy.
  4. Look for ways to establish partnerships with community organizations. These partnerships may begin small but larger doors may open in the future once the organizations learn that your church wants to be a vital part of the community. Too often, we retract the bridge and huddle up within the 4 walls of the church when we should be crossing the bridge.
If you would like further advice or help in planning an event outreach, please do not hesitate to contact me at I can also provide volunteer training to help your congregation learn to engage people with the gospel.

What events have you used to spread the gospel? What approach did you use during the outreach?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Open Ears?

"If anyone has an ear, let him hear:" (Rev 13:9)

This past Sunday, I attended the North Carolina Baptist Pastor's Conference in Greensboro where my friend, Alex McFarland, an apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary was speaking. Alex quoted a statistic that to me was quite eye opening.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the General Social Survey, 89% of those aged 18-30 "would be willing to listen to a Christian explain their faith."


What does this say about the idea that post modern's are not open to the Gospel? For my international readers, I am not sure how these statistics compare to those of your culture, but the statistics support what I believe to be true: people are much more open to the gospel than we give them credit for.

This openness doesn't mean that they will necessarily embrace our faith right away. As Alex pointed out in his message, the gestation period for faith is much longer for this age group than it has been in the past. Imparting our faith to this group requires a relational witness reinforced by a holy life. It requires an investment of time.

But at the same time, we need to recognize that reaching this younger generation for Christ may not be as difficult as first thought. I believe this generation is looking for a faith worth believing. They are disenchanted with the church and organized religion but intrigued by Jesus. Further, they are not looking for the way to heaven, but are seeking to have a meaningful life and to make a difference here and now.

Jesus offers everything they are looking for. We must present His timeless message in these truth-less times with boldness and relevance. We must be willing to listen and to dialogue - not to lecture. And our efforts must be Spirit-empowered and guided.

In Acts 16, the Bible says that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to pay attention to the things that Paul was saying. She was baptized and eventually became a great help to Paul and his ministry. If we want to share the gospel with people in our day, we must depend upon the Holy Spirit just as Paul and the apostles did.