In a recent blog post my very good friend John Stevens made some comments about the presence of non-Christians in church services. So for example he writes: We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it.
I think to a man we would all a big amen to that. No church can afford to limit its evangelism to a ‘they have to come to us’ rather than a ‘we go to them’ model.
But John goes further than the strategic question of how best to gain the gospel a hearing to state a theological conviction that ‘inviting to church’ is not how we should look, primarily, to do our evangelism. He writes:
This doesn’t seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT, church” is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church
I want to push a little further so for what it’s worth here is the first of two posts on Why church services need to be the primary focus for our evangelism. I want to make the case that church ought to be the primary place for our evangelism both for the sake of the non-Christian AND for the sake of the Christian. Today I’ll focus on the non-Christian.
For the sake of the non-Christian
Although there are lots of ways in which a non-Christian can here the gospel preached through personal evangelism, enquirer courses, social or evangelistic events, the non-Christian needs to hear the gospel preached to the Christian and for that they need to be in a predominantly Christian environment.
Why do I say that? The same gospel of justification is God’s means of both conversion and transformation. It changes the lives of non-Christians and Christians and the non-Christian is greatly helped towards faith in Christ when they hear something of why and how the gospel is God’s power to not only save but to transform. They grasp how the gospel sets you free from idols of self (money, sex or power) they learn how forgiveness towards another human is possible because the resources for forgiveness are there in the gospel, they grasp how the gospel enables and strengthens marriage as the Christian is challenged from the Bible to love their wives as Christ has loved the church.
No-one has modelled preaching the gospel to Christian and non-Christian at the same time in recent years than Tim Keller. He has demonstrated that an attractional model can work in an extremely secular, hostile environment. It takes a great deal of skill and almost a whole new method of preaching to do this well but it works. New Frontiers, perhaps the fastest growing Reformed church-movement in the UK works almost entirely on this model too and God has greatly blessed their work.
As we teach non-Christians how the gospel of grace saves (justification) so they know exactly what response is required of them but then as we teach Christians how the gospel of grace continues to save (working out salvation in sanctification) so non-Christians grasp the life-changing, transformative power that is in the gospel.
In my experience non-Christians are thinking ‘what difference does the gospel make’, ‘how does it work’, ‘what impact would it have on my life’, as they listen in to preaching aimed at the Christian so they learn in real time and through real experience the answer to their questions.
Secondly, as Francis Schaeffer once said the greatest apologetic is love. Only as a non-Christian enters the Christian community can they see, taste and experience both how Christians love one another and also how loved and welcome they are amongst God’s people. How many non-Christians upon conversion talk of how this dynamic of love and acceptance has struck them as unique to the church?The market-place, or the office water-cooler for that matter, is simply not a place where this dynamic can be experienced.
Thirdly, the unity in diversity of God’s new community is unlike anything we can experience anywhere else. A church full of all sorts of people, across all cultural divides and age and race barriers is a phenomena that is humanly inexplicable. Here is the gospel in glorious technicolour! We need to invite non-Christians to see it for themselves.
I could go on with at least three more reasons but I think this is enough for now.
I’m not surprised that more people are converted at City Church by coming along to our church Sunday by Sunday than by attending A Passion for Life (not that I am anything but an enthusiastic supporter of such initiatives!).
What does this mean for City Church Birmingham?
We expect non-Christians to be present in our services.
We speak as if non-Christians are present
We work very hard in our sermons to speak to both Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
We encourage Christians to simply bring their friends and they do!
One final reflection: I think the attractional model works well amongst younger people in urban contexts than some other settings. I agree with John that it is harder to get people into churches than a generation ago but in a city like Birmingham where 37% of our population is 25 or under, church remains my primary focus for evangelism.
I was converted when a friend had the courage to invite me to go with him to a normal Sunday service and I thank God that he did.
What might just persuade our friends to embrace the gospel of Christ? I guess that depends on what we think is stopping them. Our apologetic (defense) of Christianity largely revovles around answering various questions; Are the gospels reliable, what about other religions, suffering, etc…
But Doug Wilson wonders whether we’ve really understood the nature of unbelief? Can I suggest that next time you chat to a self-confessed atheist why not ask them this question ‘Do you hope that God is there?’ and it might reveal the true nature of the problem. Their answer might well reveal that behind intellectual doubts, at it’s heart unbelief is a heart issue rather than an issue of the head.
Wilson takes us to Romans 1 and reminds us that unbelief is really a suppression of the truth because of a hearts desire to rebel against God and his word. People in some sense don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
What them should we do? How should our theology drive our apologetic? Doug Wilson asks us to aim at the heart in our apologetics because that is the heart of problem. When the Christian community learns to love God by demonstrating a deep gratitude for all that we have received from him that has persuasive power. From a man who debated Christopher Hitchens on more than one occasion its a helpful reminder. And after all wasn’t it Francis Scaheffer who said ‘the greatest apologetic of all is love’.
The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) invites students across Oxford to take a fresh look at Jesus. Lunch time and evening events led by Mike Cain and Tim Keller. All happening this week. Oxford Town Hall.
(HT: Gavin McGrath)
Many of us will spend more time with non-Christian family and friends this Christmas time than perhaps at any other time of the year. Some of us are looking forward to finding an opportunity to share our faith but most of us find it an intimidating thought.
My top tips for this Christmas
1. Plan in advance and plan in particular to pray. Decide that God can and might use you in a surprising way this Christmas time. You may doubt that anyone in your family could be interested in the gospel but don’t doubt what God can do.
2. Be wise in how you seek an opportunity to speak. For example it’s often easier to chat 1 to 1 rather than around a meal table as a group. Look to spend a little quality time with different members of family over the time you’re together.
3. Be a consistent witness. Don’t drink or eat too much. Be eager to serve and be helpful.
4. Make church on Christmas day a priority. Unless you’re in a log cabin in the wilderness plan to get to church.
5. Find someone from your church who might be in a similar situation so that you can agree to pray for one another over the festive season and maybe call or text each other a couple of times to encourage and support each other.
6. Give an appropriate evangelistic Christmas book.
7. When speaking think what Christmas means to you as a Christian and try and say something about your own attitudes to Christmas time and what it is that you are choosing to celebrate. Sharing your own experience often opens up conversation as does asking open-ended questions. The question might be different for different members of the family.
Here are a few questions or comments I think could work:
To parents, in-laws, Grand-parents…
- How has Christmas changed since you were growing up?
- What was Christmas day like when you were a child? Did you have any family traditions? Did you go as a family to church?
- A recent news item might be a good topic eg. Did you hear that David Cameron called Britain a Christian country. I’m not sure I understood what he meant by that do you?
- What was Christmas like for you growing up? Would you want to do it differently if you had kids? (have in mind how as a Christian you would want to do things differently eg. how you might try and engage with commercialism etc.)
To younger children
- Did you do a school ‘nativity’ this year for Christmas? What did you do in it? Do you know what the story was all about?
If you want to think more about witnessing to family and friends then help is at hand in the form of Randy Newman and his book Bringing the Gospel Home.
Randy has given a great interview on some of the themes in the book
For 10 tips on making the most of this Christmas time check out Ten Ways to Bring the Gospel Home This Christmas .
During his final talk this morning at City to City: Europe here in Berlin Tim Keller gave a 10 point guide to conversational evangelism.
1. Let people know, casually and naturally, that you are a Christian.
2. Ask questions about your friends religious beliefs offering NO comment or response. Just asking thoughtful questions.
3. Invite someone to share with you about a problem they are having. Make it clear that you pray for people you care about and offer to pray for them.
4. You share a problem or issue in which your faith has really served to help you, illness, bereavement, lonliness, unemployment, etc.
then if your friend, neighbour or colleague wants to take things further
5. Share a book or recording that you think they might find helpful
6. Share your story of faith
7. Ask whether there are any problems that they have with Christianity
8. Take them along with you to church
And if they’d like to take things further
9. Meet regularly to read the Bible
10. Take them along to a discovery group eg Alpha or Christianity Explored.
How would you know that someone was really afraid to die?
At a superficial level we are tempted to think of it in terms of a fear of the moment of death itself. Perhaps the last few weeks of a terminal disease or the moments on board a plane as it plummets to the ground after a major malfunction. It’s this kind of fear of death that made Woody Allen quip ’I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’
So when we think of the fear of death we tend to reduce it to the fear of dying. But I’m not sure that does it justice. I want to argue that the fear of death is a much bigger idea that pervades more of life. It’s better expressed in another quote this time of Leo Tolstoy who said
My question – that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide – was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man … a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: ‘What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy.
To the secularist the vague notion that maybe we actually live on in the afterlife has been rejected. So what hope now? Well we find the fear of death at work in surprising ways. In the vain hope that we can continue to be present, if not in reality, then through a computer programme that interacts on Facebook, etc., on our behalf. That, if you like, pretends that we have not gone forever.
So here we find the fear of death expressed in surprising ways as exemplified in this TED talk by Adam Ostrow entitled After your final status update
The fear of death is seen in increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto life. In our unwillingness to leave this life.
How do we respond as Christians?
It’s easy to want to laugh, maybe it all makes us want to cry but surely it reminds us that our message of the one who has defeated death and promised life to all who are in him is a message every human soul is primed to need to hear.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 3:10-11
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart
It is that burden we see expressed in the world and it is that burden that only the gospel answers. Peter in his first letter writes;
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you
Let us then be bold to continue to speak of him who alone has beaten death and conquered the grave. The one who alone has the answer to the fear of death however it might reveal itself.
Tim Keller has written
There are only two kinds of churches;
One kind says to its community: ‘You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, become like us and meet our needs.
The other kind says to its community: ‘We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, join in your life and try to meet your needs.’
It is pretty obvious which approach will do most to gain the gospel a hearing as we take Christ to the world.
Josh Reeves is planting a church in Round Rock, Texas. There’s nothing like planting a church to stretch your thinking as to how you and the church family can make the most of opportunities to develop community relationships.
Recently I made a list of 100 ways to engage your neighborhood. I have found that it is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around me in order to be a better neighbor. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that we would do these things with Gospel intentionality. This means we do them:
- In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
- Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
- Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.
For a look at Josh’s top 100 ideas visit here
For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.
Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.
When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!
2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness
One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.
We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.
3. Deny the guilt.
There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.
The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.
4. Accept that truth divides.
However painful it may be, Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.
We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.
The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.
In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.
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