Evangelism

Review: Other Sheep

Other Sheep
by Arnold H. Schroeder

Pastor Arnold Schroeder served as an institutional pastor for forty-two years, starting in 1938. In Other Sheep, he talks about the many different people he brought the Gospel to, from asylums, to hospitals, to rest homes, to orphanages. Throughout, he continues to praise God for loving sinners and calling lost sheep back to their Shepherd.

I was honestly surprised about the content of this book; I had expected it to be sharing how to share the Gospel in some very challenging situations, with some real-world examples. Instead what I got was story after story of how the Gospel worked. Schroeder tells most of his stories within one or two pages, but don’t think you’re getting Chicken Soup for the Soul here. This is not only heart-wrenching, but drenched with the Gospel. Schroeder isn’t afraid to let us see what sin has done, but he also shows how wonderful Jesus’s forgiveness really is. More than once tears came to my eyes as I read his vivid descriptions. He talks about veteran’s homes, asylums, hospitals, and the people that lived there.

The book isn’t just amazing stories. It shows pastoral care in action. It talks about how a pastor talked about Jesus, how the Holy Spirit used that Word, and how that Word grew into action in many people’s lives. I’m actually sad that I hadn’t had this book recommended to me at the Seminary; it provides so many good case studies!

I also enjoyed seeing history come alive in this book. This man started his ministry before the States entered World War Two! There’s been a lot of change in how we as a nation treat those who are unable to care for themselves. Our culture has changed so much, too. This is no nostalgic look back, nor is it condemning, but a simple, “This is how things were.”

And over and over again, Schroeder shared not only the stories of the people he ministered to, but how he shared Jesus with them. This is the Gospel in action, connecting Jesus’s death on the cross with living people and changing them.

If you’re looking for a straight-up practical theology book giving direct pointers, this isn’t for you. But if you want to see theology in action, to see how Jesus touched people throughout the 20th century, this book is well, well worth your time.

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As Serpents

We had a visitor at church tonight! He showed up with ten minutes left of worship. Came in huffing and puffing. Joined the conversation and the singing and the praying. He joined us for our confession of sins and our absolution, hearing directly what Jesus did for us.

After worship, my evangelism chairman introduced himself and a couple other people. I let them take point; it’s good for others in the congregation to get involved. After taking care of some other business with members, I approached and this visitor told me his sad, sad story: He rode the bus all the way to our town from the other side of the state and walked from about two miles away to get to our church (which is why he was so late), but he left the envelope with his money on the bus and now had no way to get home. (more…)

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…)

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.