Richard Baxter may have written The Reformed Pastor in a very different age and time but it’s hard to find a better description of what is involved in the preaching of God’s word Sunday by Sunday. And in his definition of preaching he gives us 14 different reasons to pray that this Sunday the Pastor, in preaching God’s word, would achieve the very end for which it was written.
We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O, see, then that this work be done with all your might!
The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.
So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.
It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.
Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.
It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes
‘Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’
What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.
A church works hard in making visitors welcome in their meetings, ensuring that the gospel is preached faithfully and engagingly and putting on events and programmes to give everyone an opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ.
And yet, despite the prayers of many and the faithful witness it is harder than ever to get people into our buildings. Maybe evangelism isn’t enough? Are we really being all things to all people if all we offer are our services in our buildings in our language on our terms?
A growing number of churches are looking for ways to reach outside the church. Whether we prefer the name ‘missional church’, ‘fresh expressions’, or anything else the goal is to take the gospel to those who don’t do church or at least wouldn’t get church doing it in the way we’ve always done it.
At New Word Alive 2011 I’m heading up a track called ‘Reaching outside the church’ and our aim is to think creatively about how we do exactly that – reach the majority of the British population who are asking no spiritual questions and see no relevance to the church and the message of the gospel to their lives.
So here are 8 questions and reflections to help us assess whether our church thinks evangelism is enough;
1. Are we about evangelism or mission in our church life? Evangelism is about bringing in. Mission is about going out.
2. Do we think we’ve done our job as a witnessing community if we have offered evangelism training and are putting on evangelistic programmes? If we run a mission week or leaflet drop the local houses?
3. Do we think it’s the fault of the unbeliever if he doesn’t come to our events or do we feel that the responsibility lies with us, at least in part, to think of new ways to get the gospel out.
4. Do we seek to identify individuals in our churches who are gifted evangelists & missionaries to our own communities? Are we willing to let this work be their main ministry. Do we seek to train them and to send them into our neighbourhoods and communities?
5. Are we ready to orientate ministries of the church around new ideas for outreach? For example meetings in different locations to reach different people?
6. Do we give people permission and positive encouragement to develop ministries and outreach strategies that reach outside the church.
7. Have we even identified those people in our communities who are as yet not reaching with hte gospel. Do we know what makes them tick, what they think of church, what might be the most effective way of reaching them?
8. Do we look to other churches for ideas, information, training in reaching outside the church. Are we ready to make time to think this through.
Perhaps its time to move from evangelistic programmes to missional communities
How do churches grow? Great preaching, interesting programmes, good music? All of these are hugely important but what sort of conversations we take part in before, after and perhaps in services changes the culture of the church and makes a big difference as to whether they are likely to stick around, settle in and grow up in their Christian lives.
How can we as individuals and as churches ensure that our churches are places where the new-comer is made to feel welcome and community functions through our conversations.
A state of mind
1. Make it your business, a stated prayerful intent, to make a difference to someone else’s life at each church meeting, service or event. Pray that God will use you to speak words of life and hope into someone else’s life.
2. Adopt a deliberate mindset of looking out for others, thinking who’s new, who’s sitting on their own, who looks weary and be strategic in your conversations.
3. Plan to be there early. In your mind think of the church service as starting at least 5 minutes before the service start time rather than 5 minutes after the service start time.
Meeting someone for the first time
4. Look to meet someone you’ve not met before. Don’t leave it to others. You don’t need to be an extravert or have profound things to say you just need to care. If you’re the shy type then try and involve someone else in the conversation.
5. Greet people with a friendly smile and a ‘hello’ even if you can’t stop at that moment to speak with them.
6. Don’t assume someone you meet for the first time is a Christian or even a regular church-goer.
7. Do be discreet in how you ask someone what they believe. Maybe ‘do you have a faith?’ is better than ‘so are you a Christian?’
8. Once you’ve chatted for a few minutes with someone new why not introduce them to someone else and after a brief introduction leave them to it.
Meeting someone a second time
9. When you meet someone a first time try and jot down their name and one or two details. Use that to pray for them in the week.
10. A second conversation, maybe a week later, is often of greater value than a first. The fact that you’ve remembered a name and gone to speak to someone again communicates a great deal about the value you put on someone.
11. Maybe try and introduce them this time to someone who you think that they may have something in common with or appreciate meeting.
12. Promote a culture of deeper conversation by remembering a key point from the sermon and one thing that you learned from it. Rather than simply asking ‘what did you think of the sermon’ offer to them instead one way in which you were helped by the sermon and only then ask what they got out of it.
13. Don’t hide behind the fact that if you are in a larger church you may not know the individual
Making it last
14. If you’re hosting church people for lunch why not leave one or two places to be filled after the morning service. That way the newcomer gets an invite to lunch.
15. If you a part of a good social network in the church and there is space for others to join eg group cinema trip or Frisbee in the park why not look to include and involve someone who otherwise might face a quiet weekend.
16. Organise a bring and share church-lunch on a regular basis to extend hospitality and welcome. We have one once a month after the morning service and approximately 60% of the congregation stay including a surprising number of visitors.
17. It can be a bit awkward and may not be something you do every week but why not include an opportunity in the service to ‘talk to someone you don’t know’ along with an encouragement to carry on the conversation afterwards.
18. Whether or not you have anything as formal as a welcome desk or welcome team at least ensure that there is someone at the door to offer a friendly greeting as people arrive and a friendly goodbye as people leave.
Who decides whether moms return to work and how should dads do their work differently?
In my experience as a pastor it’s the women who worry about whether or not they should return to work after kids come along. It’s women who feel guilty (whether they do or don’t) and it’s women who talk about it, a lot. And the men? Well I can’t remember having one conversation with a Dad about his views on the matter!
What does this say about the dads? If men are to lead in the home and manage their households well and if men and to love and service and cherish their wives then they can’t abdicate responsibility and delegate it to their wives.
Husbands, whether or not your wife goes back to work is not your decision alone but it is your responsibility alone. Are you playing your part and praying your part?
Four questions then to the dads
1) Husbands are you leaving your wives to make the decision?
2) Husbands are you supporting your wives once the decision has been made. Are you affirming it as a JOINT decision? Are you anticipating and dealing with the guilt your wife is no doubt feeling?
3) Husbands might you be the one responsible for your wife going back to work because you want her money to support a lifestyle you want? Or are you ready to sacrifice, financially to protect her place in the home.
4) Husbands do you know you wife? Do you understand her desires and capacities? Are you speaking the gospel into this situation to ensure that gospel thinking is driving the decision?
How men should do their work
The question of how to ensure that the family thrives isn’t just about the wife’s work but how the husband does his work too. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy for mum to give up work to be available for her children but for Dad to be no-where to be seen. For wives to sacrifice their working lives but husbands not even to change their working patterns when raising the same children.
So 10 reflections for the Dads on the way you work when kids come along.
1. Are you an absentee father? Children need their fathers as much as their mothers. A wife at home is not an excuse for a life at work.
2. Agree a time (if at all possible) when you’ll be home that day. It gives something for your spouse to work towards. Don’t think ‘just another half hour at work’ without also thinking what impact might it have on my wife.
3. Do you get home from work to see your children, play with them, ask them about their day and most importantly read the Bible and pray with them? You need to take the lead in spiritual matters.
4. How do you sacrifice in your work for the sake of your wife and children? Do you think they notice?
5. Are you quick to share responsibilities in the home when you return? Do you look for ways to help out? Do you ensure your wife gets at least a short break from the kids?
6. Are you pro-active in asking your wife how her day has been? Do you take a genuine interest?
7. Do you take a genuine interest in how the children are?
8. What about the weekend. Is your job Monday to Friday but your wife’s job Monday to Sunday? Do you give your wife a break by taking the children out for a morning, day, etc. on a Saturday?
9. Do you lead in the marriage in spiritual matters by praying with and for your wife in her new role?
10. If your wife works for money might you consider dropping a day a week at work to care for your children?
1. Heaven and hell really do matter. It’s important that we talk about it.
2. Heaven and hell matter because God’s reputation is at stake.
3. When you write a controversial book be sure to get your history right. Especially if you want to claim someone is on your side. If you misrepresent someone’s view chances are it will be spotted.
4. ‘Asking questions’ is NOT asking questions if you ask them in such a way that suggest there is only ONE reasonable answer.
5. Ambiguity only leads to confusion. Write to be understood. If in doubt say it again.
6. Releasing a provocative video with provocative questions that you intend to wait four weeks to answer will only damage the church. It might also suggest you’ve written the book to make a name for yourself rather than bless the church.
7. Asking questions is good but setting forth Jesus’ answers is better. Jesus didn’t intend to confuse us about heaven and hell. Ask self ‘have I said everything Jesus says about hell in my book?’
8. Be careful who you let interview you – especially if they are theologically sharp and don’t intend to let you get away with not answering the question. In fact it may be best to avoid interviews altogether.
9. Pray that you might be more passionate to save people from hell than you are to prevent people teaching wrong doctrine about hell.
10. Don’t enjoy falling out with other Christians and don’t even give the impression that you do.
11. Mourn over division in the church whos unity brings glory to Christ.
12. There is no love where there is no truth.
A. Why we need to think about this topic
Lots of churches and Christians avoid discussing this ‘hot-button’ topic in the church. It’s one accompanied by strong opinions (and emotions). There is also a real danger in discussion of a polarising parties in the church and wounding other Christians. But here are 6 reasons why we have to talk about it;
1. It might be a difficult conversation but it’s one that the whole church needs to have together. The alternative is individual women seeking to resolve their theology and their feelings in one to one conversations between friends.
2. It’s an issue that involves the men too! Husbands have a responsibility to lead. For them to opt out is for them to abdicate their responsibility to lead as heads of the home. Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands. A whole church conversation helps the men and reminds them of their responsibility.
3. It’s an issue that needs to be worked through in advance. It’s not just a topic for couples who already have children but for those planning the future. For example, the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic. Can the family function on one income?
For some couples, the decision is made for them in the house that they buy and the mortgage that comes with the house that locks a couple in for 20-25 years. Some bills can’t be deferred but must continue to be paid. Couples with kids can help couples without to anticipate where they might be in a matter of a few years.
4. It’s an chance for the church family to learn how to listen better, discover how it’s possible to graciously disagree and an opportunity to put into practice practical support and encouragement, one couple to another.
5. It’s a discussion in which all sides feel guilty. One author has written
‘One interesting trend I have noted as a pastor, counselor, husband, and friend is that in general, whether mothers choose to work or stay home, they feel a level of guilt associated with the decision. Moms that work feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and moms that stay home feel guilty about not using their college degree or their professional skills to contribute to the family finances.’
6. It’s an issue in which surprisingly little has been written to help us think it all through. The quote above is from a short article – literally the only piece I could find on the topic. Unless we shed light on the topic together individual couples we will be leaving couples to think it through on their own.
In future posts we’ll answer the following;
1. Why do women return to the world of work after their children are born? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
2. Biblically speaking, should women return to work and what criteria should we apply is assessing that decision? Are some reasons biblically justified and others not? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
3. What part should husbands play in this debate and in their role as parents? How should they do their paid work differently when the kids come along? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-kG)
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
Purely for the purpose of this discussion we will use the word ‘work’ to means ‘paid work’. Wives who stay at home work extremely hard but it’s too complicated to keep switching terminology.
No-one should set out to be controversial for the sake of it and its certainly a worrying sign when someone revels in the reputation of a controversialist. Nevertheless, in a world in which the gospel will always be under attack (often by those inside the church) at times it is necessary to be controversial. If the leader is to protect the flock then he must expose error in order to guard the gospel. Defending the truth must mean contending for truth.
The ideas contained in Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins are ideas that need to be opposed and opposed in the strongest terms. It matters. It matters because the gospel is at stake in what he writes. Is salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus or not? Bell has concluded that it is not, or at least not in faith in the way in which the Bible presents it. Ahead of publication a promotional video was released in which Bell raised a number of provocative questions that only buying the book would answer. Some Christians have been critical of those who they believe have condemned a man for just asking questions.
Now that advanced copies sent by the publisher are being read we can see that the initial concerns of many are proving well founded.
Tim Challies in his review,based on reading an advanced copy of the book, quotes a couple of quite extraordinary statements. As Bell looks at the subject of heaven and hell he states:
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
And in case we are in any doubt as to Bell’s conclusion. He comments:
People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.
Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.
I’m not sure whether Bell is a full-blown universalist (all we finally be saved) but what I am sure of is that his message of a Jesus who saves people who don’t even know that he has saved them is poison to the church. As a result the book is one that for the sake of the name and honour and reputation of Jesus must be opposed.
But how do we have a good and godly argument?
He happened to live and minister at a time of great controversy in the Anglican church when truth was under attack from Enlightenment Rationalism and the Romish Ritualism that flowed out of the Oxford Movement.
As a result Dimock gave himself to writing extensively for over 30 years to countering error in the church. We can learn much not only about the need to refute error, as a sacred duty, but also the manner in which we ought to conduct ourselves.
Dimock wirtes in 1876 at the end of a work on the Eucharist.
It belongs to Christian controversy to set forth the truth, and the whole truth, but to set it forth in love. This conducted, controversy itself, though often a painful duty, is really a very sacred thing. And while earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, we may surely ask for God’s blessing on consecrated controvery. And asking, we surely expect that in His own good way God will graciously employ feeble efforts made in a sacred cause.
His manner was well recognised by those who knew him. After his death, Handley Moule (then Bishop of Durham) wrote in the foreward to the memorial edition of Dimock’s collected works:
In him the grace of God combined in perfect harmony a noble force and range of mental power, an unshakeable fidelity to conscience and Revelation, and a spirit beautiful with humility, peace, and love.
Even those who opposed him theologically could not help but comment on his gracious method. A critical review of one of his books still recognises;
The courtesy and calmness and Christian spirit which Mr. Dimock shows in this pamphlet certainly entitle all he has to say to consideration, and demand grateful recognition from those who cannot agree with his conclusions
The conclusion of the matter is this: How we disagree with someone as well as how we contend for the truth are both gospel issues.
The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy about how a godly minister will conduct himself:
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
As many of us will no doubt enter into debate with Rob Bell (or at least with those who support his views) Dimock asks us a question to which we all know the answer;
Does anyone really suppose that the cause of Him, who would have us love one another, can be forwarded by nourishing in our hearts the bitterness, wrath, and anger of our grievous odium Theologicum, or that the truth of the Gospel will be advanced by addressing unseemly language?
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