Evangelism

Review: Authentic Christianity

Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World
by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton

People are burned out on churches. They’re taught that things are a matter of opinion, and what churches teach are spiritual, divorced from “hard reality.” Is the answer for churches to update what they do to try and reach the current culture? Authentic Christianity proposes something different: Teaching what Lutherans have taught for hundreds of years. It tackles big modernist and postmodernist beliefs, and shows how Lutheran theology perfectly answers both.

I’m not sure that the subtitle fits. While it does talk a lot about postmodernism and how it shows up in our world, as well as the vestiges of modernism that still attack, the focus seems to be in… a slightly different angle. Much of this book shows how Lutheranism is a physical religion that takes real things and deals with them in real ways. It shows how Jesus became flesh. It shows that the body is not a bad thing. That God chooses to become physical. The book then explores how that effects life in many, many ways.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the book is bad. It was very good and gave me a lot of things to think about! I’m just saying I’m not sure the subtitle was the best choice to reveal what the book was about. (To be fair, a book talking about how Lutheranism combats neo-gnosticism probably wouldn’t sell well.) (more…)

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His name is Doug.

It’s about eleven in the evening. I just got home. My wife is not very happy with me. The last thing I texted her was that the tow truck had just pulled up. That was over an hour ago. I should have been home at least half an hour ago. She thought I drove off a cliff on my way home.

Well, I didn’t.

The tow truck pulled up. Guy hopped out and took a look at the van. Pronounced it dead. Hooked it up for the tow to the shop. Thankfully due to the kindness of some others, I’d been able to get home and get my sedan earlier. The rest of the family was safe at home. Then it was just waiting around for the truck to arrive. And now, here he was! Didn’t talk much as he looked at the van. Reminded me a lot of my brother-in-law, in fact, in mannerisms and such. Got the van up onto the bed of the truck.

And then we started talking. And talking. And talking. About an hour of talking as we stood in the frigid parking lot and people left the bars on either end of the strip mall. (more…)

Review: Of Other Gods and Other Spirits

Of Other Gods and Other Spirits
by E. H. Wendland

E. H. Wendland served as a missionary, stationed in Lusaka, Zambia, during the 1960’s and 70’s. In this book, he speaks of what he’s discovered of the people he was sent to share Jesus with. He focuses on their culture and religion, talking about both good and ill. As he goes through, he shares many excellent evangelism principles. Short chapters address the general attitude toward religion, spirituality, marriage, children, and so on. Wendland constantly returns to Scripture to guide his discussion, always trying to find the best way to share Jesus.

I’m currently also reading the Confessions (you’ll hear more on that in upcoming weeks!), so I wanted to grab something short and sweet. This slim book was certainly a fast read, but it’s anything but shallow! As I read, more and more quotes popped out at me.

When speaking about the necessity for the African church to stand on its own, to be self-supporting, Wendland writes, “A church can be ever so self-supporting, yet if it is simply a carbon copy of something soming [sic] out of another culture, a mimicry of expressions from another society, the local people will never really feel at home in it” (87). Should the African church look like the churches that planted it? Should it look European, or should it be its own thing? Wendland clearly advocates that it should find its own way – though in context, he clearly intends that it stays in Scripture and base what they do in what God has clearly spoken in the Bible: “Lutheran World Federation members were similarly reminded not to start with culture, but with Scripture, not to look for an ‘African theology,’ but a ‘theology in an African setting’” (89). (more…)

Review: UnChristian

UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity …and why it matters
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Barna Research asked over 50,000 people who aren’t Christians what they thought of Christianity. This book is the result of the research. It highlights the most common responses, as well as what proper responses are. The most common responses were: Hypocritical, Conversion-Focused, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, and Judgmental. After some introductory chapters, lengthy chapters focus on each word, giving ample time for those outside Christianity to explain what they mean and why they say it. Each chapter then concludes with reactions from Christian leaders. The book then wraps up with a summary chapter pointing the way ahead.

There are two bad ways this book could have gone. It could have wrung its hands saying, “Look how terrible it is for the church! We need to change the way we do everything or we’ll be forgotten!” It could also have brushed off the complaints: “Clearly these people have no idea what Christianity is, so we need to double down on what we do.” Instead, it walks a narrow middle ground: “If this is their perception, we need to deal with it. And is this an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching? Are their perceptions accurate?” And rather than turn to popular opinion, the book urges us to turn to Christ to see the way to go.

I appreciated the balance a great deal. The book take a look, for example, why Christians are regarded as “hypocritical,” giving several examples of why outsiders view Christians that way. It then warns that outsiders will never understand Christians fully, as they do not know Jesus. And then – gasp! – the book asks the reader to evaluate their actions in the light of Christ, and rather than do what a congregation might want, see what Jesus would do. (more…)

Review: Fusion

Fusion
by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson

How many first-time guests enter your church, never to return? How are we valuing these gifts from God, these opportunities to share Jesus? In this book, Searcy shows his method for turning a first-time visitor into a second-time-visitor into a regular visitor into a member. He gives the specifics of his congregation’s approach, explains the reasoning behind it, and how to get such a program started. He walks through how to engineer positive first impressions, generate a willingness to be contacted, and how to help ensure that visitors join the community of the congregation. The book includes a helpful appendix that summarizes the various resources found in the book.

The book offers exactly what it says it offers: a method of follow-up that’s pretty good. Searcy backs up his reasoning well with various surveys and shows so many good examples, I feel I could replicate his method fairly accurately. His approach is very seeker-friendly, for better or worse. It has nothing to do with what a church teaches or what a congregation’s creed is; all he’s interested in here is getting visitors to come back. (more…)

Review: Comeback Churches

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Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson

Churches don’t always grow. Sometimes the decline; often they plateau, reaching a certain level and stagnating. This book interviewed 324 “comeback churches” that either stagnated or declined for at least five years, and then experienced significant growth for at least five years. What did they have in common? What didn’t seem to be a factor overall? Surprising insights and principles for growth make up the bulk of the book, along with tips on how to implement change.

One of the things I appreciated about the book was about how up-front the authors were with their goals. They did not want to set out a cookie-cutter approach, because that wouldn’t work. They pointed out repeatedly that they got a wide range of answers from their surveys, so that a church shouldn’t say, “This process worked for church X, so we should do it here!” Instead, they showed what the churches had in common in terms of attitude and approach, not necessarily in “Steps taken,” if that makes any sense.

I was also grateful for the spiritual aspect of the book; it underlined that unless a church rejoices that Jesus saved them from their sins, they would have no good reason to reach out to the surrounding community. The surprise of “Jesus forgives me?!” leads to a desire to reach out to others that Jesus died for. While this book is not… Gospel-based in the way I’d strongly prefer, it was clear that the authors wanted to give more than lip service to Jesus. “The greatest motivation for evangelism is our own relationship with God, compelling us to love those he loves” (100). (more…)

Theology Geek!

We were getting sandwiches to go. On the way out the door, some guy blurts out, “Hey, man, I love your shirt!”

We were on the way out of the grocery store. The checker checked out my shirt. “I love that shirt!”

The checker a lane over looked up and shouted across several people in-between, “That is an awesome shirt!”

What shirt was it? Why, this one:

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Sorry I can’t make it bigger… this design isn’t available anymore!

You may have no idea what that shirt is. It’s part of the cast of the Disney show Phineas and Ferb dressing up as Doctor Who characters. I love both shows, and my Bride bought me the shirt as a gift for… some random holiday. I don’t remember which one. But this is one of the few T-shirts that makes the rounds on the few days I get to wear such apparel.

I don’t remember it getting much attention from others when I wore it in my previous locality, but apparently here there’s enough of a crossover between sci-fi fans and Disney fans that it gets some compliments.

And it got me thinking.

I know that people have worn shirts to get attention for, well, forever. But apparel is not a thing I put a lot of thought into typically. Why? Look. It’s clothes. Woo.

But if this shirt is getting attention… I wonder if I can wear similar shirts to, say, coffee shops, and use them as conversation starters? What if I wore this one:

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Shirt still available at https://www.teepublic.com/ — I didn’t get the last one!

And I got a similar compliment? Could I respond with a, “Yeah, I love that movie. What’s your favorite quote?” Listen intently. “What do you think of this one? Is it right?” And now we can start talking about the brokenness of the world… and the solution to it.

Yep. Princess Bride can provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

What about this one?

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“It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.”

Yeah, I loved Firefly, too. Who was your favorite character?” And man. So many jump-off points there, but especially with Book. “What do you think? There any place for religion in the future?” (And if you don’t get it, that’s ok. Just dial up Firefly on your Netflix. You can thank me later.)

Look, there’s all sorts of ways to jump into a spiritual discussion leading to Jesus. And as a pastor, I usually can just go into it – people expect it. But to combine my nerdery with Christ? How awesome is that?

I know. I’m late to the game. But how cool is it that I might have an excuse to wear a T-shirt while pursuing ministry? That’s not normal! Usually I wear “professional clothing.” And while I’m not usually in a shirt and tie… it’s rare that I wear a T-shirt, unless it happens to have the church’s name on it.

But now… I get to try something different!

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I don’t care who you are; that’s cool right there.

Well, that escalated quickly.

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Today… I finally got to preach for my congregation. Today we finally got to have a “normal” week after… what seems like months of “lasts” and “firsts.” And, sure, today was the first time I got to preach here, but… well, it feels like home.

The congregation seemed to accept my leadership. We had (seriously) record-breaking attendance for Bible study this morning, and on Mother’s Day, no less! One of the congregation pulled me aside and with tears told me, “I praise Jesus that he sent you to us.” We had my first council meeting here this morning, and it looks like I’ll be able to work well with these guys.

But as I left the council meeting and tried to get into the sanctuary to set up for worship, a woman grabbed me. She introduced herself and asked, “Pastor, may I take Communion this morning? I was confirmed in one of your churches when I was fifteen.”

Which set off a yellow flag for me. Usually when people phrase it that way, it means they’ve not belonged to a church for quite a while. I was right; she belonged to a different church body currently. However, it’s a church body close to ours in most doctrines. Apparently she moved into the area a couple months ago and has been attending here regularly – regularly enough several of our members knew her name.

So I told her that I wouldn’t commune her today, but, “Let’s get together this week and talk. If everything looks good, maybe we can do a confession of faith and you’ll be able to join here, so I can commune you next time.”

She about burst with happiness. I’m meeting her tomorrow at noon.

And God laughs. I was called for evangelism here, and I’m hitting the ground running. Our Bible studies for the next couple months will be on how to share Jesus well, personally and congregationally. I have plans on how to reach out into the community – after I’ve figured out the community better! But here he says, “Well, here’s one of my daughters that needs a home. Here.”

Of course, tomorrow I could learn that I can’t welcome her into membership that easily. We’ll find out as I ask about what she believes. But for now it’s a fantastic opportunity, and one that – well, I’m excited for!

I’ve found a new place to serve. I’ve been called to be a pastor here. And it is so, so good to finally be the pastor here and not waiting in between.

This… this is a blessing.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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And now it’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

Today we hosted our annual Neighborhood Cookout. It’s a great day every year. The church provides free burgers and hot dogs. We provide live music (this time a guy doing covers of classic rock). There’s a bounce house. Games. A few local agencies have booths (for instance, our teen center). The neighborhood generally shows up. In fact, in the last couple of years, people in the neighborhood look forward to it and it almost becomes a neighborhood pot luck, with people bringing a dish to share.

But, before the neighborhood can show up… they need to hear about it. So we go out and hand out invitations to neighborhood homes. We knock on doors, and give a simple invite: “Hi! I’m Jon from St. Smithins (not our real name), and we’re having a free cookout next week! Just wanted to give you an invitation. Thanks!”

A couple weeks ago we headed out, with the goal of handing out invitations to 500 homes. And my eldest son accompanied us.

Wow. He was eager, walking swiftly to homes, knocking on doors solo, and inviting person after person. He would spot someone walking on the sidewalk and launch himself forward to invite them. He’d come back, proud. “Did you see, dad? I invited them.” And no one said no to this nine-year-old boy. I was so proud of him.

And today. Today, as members and neighborhood folks milled around, as we yakked over burgers and while listening to the live music, as we watched our kids jump in the bounce house and try their hands at the frozen t-shirt contests…

My boy was there again. Inviting. He told people they should come to church. Fearless. Eager. Ready.

Oh, my boy. I wish I had your courage. I am so proud of you. (more…)

The Long Sunday

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It begins in a peaceful sanctuary. Gotta be the start of a good day, right? 

6:30am

I’m in the sanctuary, practicing a devotion for a council meeting and then the sermon for the day. Both go well, but long. It’ll have to do. I finish with enough time to practice playing the hymn for our evening service and even print out the music for it.

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It starts with Jesus. It’s all simple after this, right? 

7:30am

Council meeting. It begins with a devotion.

Yesterday I went to an evangelism seminar, and the keynote speaker said something that was really cool. I want to share it with you.

Men, especially, need a purpose. We need a project of some kind. Rebuilding a car. Building a deck. Writing a novel. We need a purpose, or we just fall to pieces. And Jesus gave us that purpose.

Easter night. The tomb has been empty all day, but the disciples are still terrified. They’re hiding in their room. And then Jesus shows up, even though the doors are locked. And he showed them his hands. Look! They look like they’ve been staked to a cross! And then he gives them – and us – a mission: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” And I look at the men in the room. One of the councilmen is missing. Not surprising, unfortunately. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Jesus’s mission is now our mission. What did the Father send Jesus to do?”

And one of the councilmen says it, word for word, exactly what I was looking for: “He came to save the world.”

Exactly.” I smile. “Exactly! The Father sent Jesus to save the world. And now that’s our mission. Jesus sends us to save the world. It’s not a little thing. It’s not a hobby. This is major.”

And we go on to explore Jesus accomplished his mission: He left his comfortable home in heaven to come to those who needed saving, he served, he shared his Father’s Word, he was all about what his Father said and not about what he wanted, he suffered, he died. And we will follow that same method.

Oh, I am excited. This is such awesome stuff, and I’m thrilled to share it. Not because I’m awesome, but because Jesus is awesome.

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My face at council. 

8:00am

Council meeting continues.

We’ve covered some good basic things. We need to set up guidelines for building usage so I can just say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to those who want to use the space. We’re going to support a VBS put on by some sister congregations, in large part because we simply can’t do our own.

A councilman voices an idea about how to use one of our rooms. Not a bad idea in itself, but there are practical matters to consider. It would require a fairly large outlay of money, and given the nature of the idea, a new monthly budget item that would be fairly major. Councilman’s willing to foot the bill for it.

I ask, “How does this connect people to Jesus?”

We’ll figure it out later,” he says.

No. Does not work. Our mission is to share Jesus. Our mission is to save the world. You don’t have an idea to commit the church to something and say, “We’ll figure out the Jesus part out later.”

He is not pleased.

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Sorry, dude. Not gonna change some things. Actually, no. Not sorry. 

8:30am

The last council member shows up an hour late.

We’re talking about evangelism. He asks about a certain visitor who had expressed interest in joining. He asks for her by name – by a name that I don’t recognize. I thought she had a different name. I tell about how she had been very interested in coming to a Bible study, and we’d just started a new membership class. She didn’t show up, but she had been excited. She wasn’t in worship last week.

We shouldn’t make people take a class. It scares people away,” he scowls. “If you told me that, I’d go to another church that didn’t make me take a class.”

I take a breathe. “We love God’s Word enough to teach it to others.”

He sulks.

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Despite my frustration with some, others eagerly await the Gospel. 

9:00am

Out of council.

Seriously. These are the men that lead our congregation? A man who wants us to get people in instead of teaching the Bible? A man who doesn’t care if we connect people with Jesus, as long as we get them in the building? Really?

Is this my people? Am I wasting my time here? Is this a waste of service?

Stow it. I need to focus.

Time to greet people at worship. Finally. Of course, fifteen minutes before worship, and not a lot of people are here yet. Most people come five minutes before worship.

The woman that the councilman asked about? That he thinks shouldn’t take a class? She’s here. I grab her. We talk. I double-check her name. Lo and behold, I had her name right.

(In other words – I cared enough about her to learn her name. The councilman didn’t care enough to get her name right. Looks like [surprise! ] he was only interested in getting another body in church.)

She asks me, “Can I be baptized? I was never baptized.”

Oh.

Oh, yes.

We arrange to get together this week so we can talk about baptism, what it is, and prepare. Because yes. I will baptize you.

Love is not getting butts in the seats. Love is sharing Jesus.

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It’s not me that’s awesome. It’s Jesus. 

9:18am

Worship starts a few minutes late because I don’t get away from the woman who wants to be baptized. Because, really, you don’t want to walk away from a moment like that.

And worship.

Oh, to stand in the grace of God. To pronounce the simple truth that we are broken. That we are sinners. That we are evil. That we are dead.

And Jesus loves us.

That he died for us. That he took on our evil. He took on our sin. He took on our brokenness.

I told the congregation I was excited today. I think it came through. The council meeting is out of my head. I don’t care about it now. The concern will come back later, after most of the day is done. But for now, ti simply stand in the presence of God and share it… oh!

To give the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine, to give the people forgiveness they can taste and see… oh, there is nothing like it. To lead others to exclaim praise that yes, I am forgiven, that yes, I am God’s child!

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I love our members, but they’re really not as photogenic as stock photography people. 

10:35am

Worship went a little long. That pastor, he just doesn’t shut up about Jesus, does he?

And I come downstairs to our fellowship area and discover… God’s people greeting visitors and loving each other. Oh, it is good. This is not the group that I saw even two months ago who ignored visitors.

I spend time talking to a few people. Asking if I can call this week, if I can visit. I long to be with my people. I stop by visitors. Arrange to meet. Talk.

Oh. It is so good.

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There was no math in Bible study, thankfully. 

11:05am

We start Bible study almost a half hour late.

Silly pastor doesn’t shut up when he’s conversing with God’s people. It’s almost like he enjoys this.

And for Bible study, my Bride and I share what we learned at the evangelism seminar. And we’re excited. I’m not sure how much got through to others, but we’re excited.

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You’ll never guess where I devoured cowmeat. Well, something kinda close to it, anyway. Kinda.

11:45am

Driving a regular visitor home after Bible study. Grabbing fast food with my family for lunch. Because I have an appointment to get to.

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I’m the worst pastor ever. I don’t like coffee. I just order lots of chai lattes.

1:00pm

I’m in a coffee shop with four other adults gathered around a table. They belong to a sister congregation, but have been visiting weekly for just over a month. They want to transfer membership. I want to get to know them better. The coffee shop is a good place to meet.

We talk for two and a half hours.

These four brothers and sisters share their lives with me. I get to know where they work. How they met each other. Their life stories. And I delight. One of them is in tears, sharing herself in ways she never has outside of her family.

And I love these brothers and sisters. I’m not saying that in a jock way, but in the way that happens when you know someone, when you learn some of their darkness, and share God’s grace with them. And they bond as I share God’s grace. We talk about what membership in this family means.

The time flies by. And in the end… three of them want to transfer membership.

Oh. One of them isn’t a member anywhere. She was baptized a couple years ago, but never went through instruction.

She’s going to come tomorrow to the membership class. She’s excited. She wants to know if there’s a women’s Bible study she can come to. We don’t have one now, but there’s a few women interested. We start brainstorming right there different ways to set something up and get it going.

God is so, so good.

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No one named Glinda has ever done this to me.

3:45pm

Home!

Just in time to start prepping for the evening service!

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“I have a dad?!”

5:00pm

Supper with the family. I get to spend some time with family.

I have kids! Who knew?

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On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…

5:30pm

I leave to pick up people for our evening service.

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6:10pm

Five minutes before worship starts, I discover that for some reason the speakers have stopped working.

Wonderful.

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There is no joke here. Simple truth.

6:15pm

Evening worship. It’s… it’s so empty. For some reason, a lot of the regulars aren’t there tonight.

God’s Word is still preached.

God’s people are shown their sin. God’s people are shown their Savior. God’s people rejoice in forgiveness. And even with so few… it’s good.

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Is it sleep time yet?

8:00pm

I’m home from dropping everyone off. Time to put things away. Time to write down what needs to be recorded.

I’m so tired.

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8:30pm

Nearly fourteen hours straight of ministry time. Most of it people time. I am drained.

It is so good.

Parts of today were terrible. I hate that the worst parts of my day had to do with my council simply not getting that it’s about sharing Jesus. I hate that immaturity. I hate that my day began with that. And it hurts that they don’t value the one who gave his life for them.

God knew that would happen this morning. He knew that one councilmember wouldn’t care about connecting people to Jesus, and that another would rather get butts in the seats, even to the detriment of the people there. And he knew how much I would gnash my teeth.

And so he sent the others.

He sent the lamb who wants to be baptized.

He sent the family that wants to serve.

He sent the members who encouraged me.

This day has been long and so good, and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Jesus. He gets all the credit.

He comforts a sinner like me. Not just with forgiveness, but with love.

Lord, thank you for this long, long day. Forgive me my anger, and direct me with a fierce love of both you and those who don’t acknowledge you. Make it my passion more and more to reach out. And Lord… thank you. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for the blessing of sharing your good, good Word.

And Lord… if it’s your will… please make tomorrow shorter, but no less good!