By Thom Rainer
I am often amused when I hear myself identified as an expert in any area. If I am a perceived expert, it is because I have had the wonderful opportunity to listen to thousands of people over the past few decades. They are the experts; I am little more than an interested reporter.
Though much of this information could be regarded as dismal, my ultimate assessment is not that pessimistic. I believe in the God of miracles. If my conclusions focused on human ability and goodness, I would have little hope. But my conclusions presume the God of creation is on His throne.
For now, in this list of 10 reasons we have not reached the unchurched, let us focus on what is wrong. Let us look with stark honesty and candor at the ineffectiveness of many American believers when it comes to sharing their faith. And in coming weeks, let us look at reversing the trend through God’s power.
1. Spiritual lethargy. One of the main reasons many Christians do not share their faith is simply explained by the word disobedience. Spiritual lethargy takes place when we fail to obey Him. The problem for many Christians is that they are not growing spiritually, and lack of spiritual growth inevitably leads to a diminished desire to share Christ with others.
2. Growing inclusivism. One of the faster-growing belief systems today is pluralism (all religions lead to God). A variation of pluralism called inclusivism is a dangerous doctrine that is gaining momentum in many American seminaries, Christian colleges and churches. This view affirms that Jesus is the only way of salvation, but he can be found in other “good” religions. There is a subtle but growing belief among many Christians that somehow “good” followers will make it to heaven outside of a true Christian conversion. Our message will fall on deaf ears if this belief persists and grows.
3. Growing disbelief in hell. At one time, this was a view held almost exclusively by unbelievers. However, recent books by those claiming to be evangelicals have brought this discussion front and center. Those who truly have a desire to reach the unchurched have a burden to see people in the eternity of heaven, but they also desire to see them escape the wrath of an eternal hell. Denying the existence of hell undermines the urgency of placing one’s faith in Christ.
4. Busyness. Perhaps one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to get us so busy that we fail to do that which is such a high biblical priority. We can be deluded into complacency about the lostness of humanity around us. The unchurched are waiting for you to tell them about Jesus. They need to be on your to-do list. What priority do you give to reaching the lost?
5. Fear of rejection. In research on this subject, I found that only one in four unchurched persons will be resistant to faith discussions. But nearly four out of 10 of the unchurched will be receptive to your concern for their eternity, and more than one out three will simply be neutral to your attempts. Simply stated, fear of rejection is unfounded. The few people with an antagonistic attitude are not rejecting you personally; their anger is merely a reflection of something in their past. Fear of rejection is an often-used excuse by Christians for their failure to witness. And it is just that: an excuse.
6. A desire to be tolerant. The message of the Gospel, in some senses, is intolerant. The one true God insists there can be no other gods. He is a jealous God and leaves no room for other gods. In the post-modern culture of 21st century America, Christians should know the criticisms of intolerance will come. The great concern is that many Christians are unwilling to take a narrow view because they do not want to be labeled as intolerant. But Jesus never wavered in His insistence that He is the only way to the one and only true God.
7. Losing the habit of witnessing. Some Christians have been very active in sharing their faith with the lost and the unchurched. But, for a myriad of reasons, they get out of the habit, and it no longer becomes a priority. Witnessing, like prayer and Bible study, is a discipline. It is a habit to learn, to retain, and, if lost, to regain.
8. Lack of accountability. Programmatic evangelism in local churches is sometimes denigrated because it is seen as a “canned” approach to witnessing. But one of the strengths of many of these programs is that some inherent system of accountability is built into the program itself. Accountability is likely to engender more witnessing attempts to the unchurched. Attempting more evangelistic encounters creates a habit of witnessing that then increases our zeal for evangelism.
9. Failure to invite. When is the last time you invited an unchurched person to church? When is the last time you offered to take a person to church, or, at the very least, meet him or her at church? It’s a simple gesture, yet so few Christians do it.
10. We go to churches that do not reach the unchurched. We only reach one person for Christ each year for every 85 church members in the United States. That is a frightening and terrible ratio. One of the key reasons we do not reach the unchurched is that many Christians in America are members of churches that do not reach the unchurched.
I’ve covered 10 of the most common reasons Christians fail to obey the Great Commission. This list is not exhaustive, though. In God’s power, however, we can reverse this trend and reach the unchurched in America.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com.
This article comes from Baptist Press. Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Used by permission.
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Jon Walker’s new book is Breakfast with Bonhoeffer.
“Wherever you are, be all there.” —Jim Elliot
“Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land — against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” (Jeremiah 1:18 NIV)
Read the following as a prayer today.
In faith, I know this to be true:
By God’s hand, I am “a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land” (Jeremiah 1:18 NIV), and I am enabled to fear no one but God.
I will not fear, for I know God is with me. When I face fear, he whispers in my ear, “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
He says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
When standing before fear, I can boldly say, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one that condemns? Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:33-35, 37).
I know my God goes before me and comes behind me (Psalm 139:5). He is “my refuge, a strong tower against the foe” (Psalms 61:3).
And, because of this, I stand convinced that, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
This devotional © Copyright 2012 Jon Walker. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
People who tell fewer lies experience improved health, such as less stress and fewer headaches, according to research presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health,” lead author Anita Kelly, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, said in an APA news release Aug. 4.
“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” Kelly said.
The study, which has not yet undergone peer review, followed 110 people for 10 weeks. Sixty-six percent of the participants were college students, and 34 percent were adults in the community. About half of the participants were told to stop telling lies for the duration of the study, and the rest were given no special instructions.
Both groups reported to a lab each week to answer questions about their health and relationships and to take a lie detector test regarding the number of lies they had told that week.
Those who told fewer lies experienced fewer mental health complaints such as feeling tense or melancholy and fewer physical complaints such as sore throats and headaches, the study found. Participants also reported their personal relationships and social interactions went more smoothly when they told fewer lies.
Some said they realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, and others said they stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks, Kelly said, according to the news release.
“When you don’t lie, you have less stress. Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life,” Linda Stroh, professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University, told USA Today.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press.
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7 NIV).
By Whitney Jones
Whether pastors use Twitter to teach, preach or reach out to fellow pastors or Christian organizations, tweeting can prove helpful for their ministry.
Here are some tips for pastors ready to venture into the Twittersphere:
1. Use a Twitter client to schedule posts. Micah Fries, lead pastor at Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo., suggested either HootSuite or TweetDeck.
2. Be a human on Twitter. Since the website is a social network, pastors would do well to connect with their followers by posting personal updates as well as Scripture and encouraging thoughts. Fries said his Twitter feed mirrors his everyday life.
“The problem is that the majority of people on Twitter don’t see it as a professional application,” he said. “It’s a personal application, and I think if you use it exclusively as a professional application you kind of, if you’re not careful, can create this idea that you have your professional life and your personal life.”
3. Don’t just regurgitate quotes. Similar to the previous tip, Bart Barber, pastor at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, said people want to connect with their pastor and see what he is passionate about, not just hear his thoughts on Scripture.
“You can re-Tweet quotes from Spurgeon all day long, and that’s just not likely to really grab people,” he said.
4. Link to a blog. For pastors like Barber who have thoughts on issues that go beyond the 140-character limit, Twitter can act as a portal to those more detailed explanations. Just copy the link with a snappy sentence explaining what the post is about and Tweet it.
5. Limit your time on Twitter. Social media should not take priority over the people you spend every day with, so take steps to end some of the incoming notifications.
“My phone is constantly going off with Twitter updates,” Driggers said. “So probably somewhat at times could be a distraction from other things going on as I’m reading the updates.”
Driggers said to ensure he spends time with his family, he turns off those constant notifications on his cell phone from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. That way he can spend his nights and early mornings free from interruption.
Whitney Jones is a writer with Baptist Press.
Jon Walker’s new book is Breakfast with Bonhoeffer.
“Put your heart right, Job. Reach out to God. . . . Then all your troubles will fade from your memory, like floods that are past and remembered no more.” (Job 11:13-16 TEV)
Guest Post by Rick Warren
Pastor, you set the tone and atmosphere in your congregation. If you want to know the warmth of your church, put the thermometer in your own mouth.
I’ve visited some churches where the pastor’s lack of love is the main reason the church isn’t growing. Some pastors, by their cold demeanor and lack of personal warmth, virtually guarantee that visitors won’t come back. And in some larger churches, I’ve gotten the impression that the pastor loves an audience but doesn’t like people.
Great preaching without love is just noise in God’s view.
Every time I speak to at Saddleback, I repeat a simple reminder to myself. I never preach or teach without thinking this:
“Father, I love you and you love me. I love these people and you love these people. Love these people through me. This is not an audience to be feared but a family to be loved. There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out all fear.”
Let me suggest some practical ways that you can demonstrate your love:
Memorize names. Remembering names shows that you’re interested in people. Nothing sounds sweeter to a second-time visitor than hearing you use his or her name. While I don’t have a particularly good memory, I work hard at remembering names. In the early years of Saddleback, I took pictures of people and made flash cards to help me remember their names. I knew every person’s name in our church up to about 3,000 in attendance. After that my brain fried. I ask new members in the membership class to tell me their names on three different occasions to help me remember it. When you work hard at remembering people’s names, it pays great relational dividends.
Personally greet people before and after services. Be approachable. Don’t hide out in your study. For the first three years of our church, we met in a fenced-in high school where everyone had to exit through the same gate. Each week, I personally greeted every person that came to our church. They couldn’t get out without passing by me!
One of the best ways to warm up a crowd is to meet as many people as you can before you speak to them. Get out among the crowd and talk to people. It shows you are interested in them personally.
Touch people. At Saddleback we believe in a high-touch ministry. We give a lot of hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. Today our society is filled with lonely people who are starving for the affirmation of a loving touch. So many individuals live by themselves and have told me the only loving physical contact they ever get is at church. When I hug somebody on Sunday morning, I often wonder how long that hug will have to last.
Study the ministry of Jesus and you see the powerful affect of giving people a look, a word, and a touch. Look people in the eyes when you talk with them. Eye contact says, “You matter to me.” Give everyone a word of encouragement. Offer a warm, personal touch to show you really care.
Use a warm, personal style in writing to visitors. We have a series of letters I’ve written to first-time, second-time, and third-time visitors, telling them how glad we are to see them. I don’t sign them with “Dr. Warren” or even “Pastor Warren.” I simply sign them as “Rick.” I want visitors to feel they can relate to me on a first-name basis.
If you send a letter to visitors, write it like you talk to people, not in stilted, formal language. I received a visitor letter once that said, “Our church would like to acknowledge your presence with us last Sunday and extend to you a cordial invitation to return on the next Lord’s Day.” Does anyone really talk like that? Instead say, “It was really great to have you. Hope you can come back.”
One of the most important issues every pastor must decide is whether you want to impress people or influence them. You can impress people from a distance but you have to get up close to people to love and influence them.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
© 2012 by Rick Warren. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NIV)
Have you ever been somewhere you didn’t want to be? Maybe it was a job, a town, or a marriage. Maybe it was a stage in life, like singlehood, or a state in life, like a disability. It’s very possible that as you read this, you’re wishing you were somewhere else — anywhere else — living a different life, but you know it’s not likely that anything is going to change any time soon.
God has a word for you. It’s the same word he gave a group of people when they were stuck in another country, exiled from their homeland. They’d folded their arms and said, “We’re going to wait this thing out, and when we get home, we’ll start living our lives.”
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told them, “You’re not going home any time soon, so start making your lives here. Plant gardens, buy homes, let your children get married, and pray for the peace and prosperity of the place where you’re currently living because, by doing that, you too will be blessed with peace and prosperity” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
Don’t invest your energy in hopes of leaving; instead invest your energy in the people around you. Don’t be physically present but mentally somewhere else, thinking of the future or the past, thinking of someplace else. Our journey with Jesus requires we be fully present in the present.
You may feel like you’re in exile, too, but God is still working in your life, and his message to you is: Dig in and fully embrace the life around you.
- How has your attitude affected your contentment in the place you are right now?
- What can you do to embrace the life and place in which God has you?
Jon Walker’s new book, Breakfast with Bonhoeffer, is a story of God’s faithfulness during struggles with bipolar disorder, divorce, and economic uncertainty.
This devotional © Copyright 2012 Jon Walker. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
By Jon Walker
“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” (Romans 15:4 NLT)
The things we truly believe emerge in the “nasty now-and-now” (as opposed to the “sweet by-and-by”). Our faith is hammered out in the everyday, mundane experiences of our lives.
The nasty now-and-now helps us see with painful clarity where we’ve been hanging our hope, such as on a paycheck, a circumstance, a job, or a relationship. Can you see that when we place more hope in those things than we do in Jesus, then he has to act in a sense of a tough love and ruthless mercy? He pulls those hooks off the wall so we’ll pick up our hopes and hang them on the one who hung on the cross for us.
Talk About It
- If you could believe your current circumstances are part of God’s big-picture — his redemptive plan — how would you behave differently?
- In the Old Testament, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers; yet God used that to save not only his brothers from starvation, but an entire nation (Genesis 37-50). What do you think about Joseph telling his brothers: “So it was not really you who sent me here, but God. He has made me the king’s highest official. I am in charge of his whole country; I am the ruler of all Egypt” Genesis 45:8 (TEV)?
- Considering God’s character, would he redeem Joseph’s circumstances but not yours? (Hint: The answer is “no”!)
Jon’s new book is Breakfast with Bonhoeffer.
Jon is managing editor of Rick Warren’s Daily Hope Devotionals and the author of Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.” This devotional © Copyright 2013 Jon Walker. All rights reserved. Used by permission.