The Gospel by Word-of-Mouth

Play a little game of “what if” with me.

What if all of the traditional methods of marketing were no longer available to your church?

No signs by the street showing your service times. No Yellow Pages ads or listings in the newspaper. No website, no billboards, and no Facebook pages. Nothing.

What if the only way people could know about your church was from people who already attended?

Would it change how you teach on Sundays? Would it change how much of an emphasis you place on sharing with others about Jesus? What would be different about your church if there were a zero chance a visitor would come through your doors this Sunday, unless that person was invited by someone in your church?

Here’s a question: why aren’t you doing those things now?

Marketing is important–and all churches market in some way–because it does communicate something to those who don’t go to our churches and who perhaps don’t know Jesus. But I don’t think Jesus intended for Yellow Page ads and pithy sayings on church signs to be the primary way his followers tell others about him. The spread of the Good News was meant to be a word-of-mouth sort of thing, fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So take a minute today and wonder: what if the only way your church could get the word out about Jesus was through the people in your church who already know him? If it would change how you “do” church in any way, perhaps those are changes you need to start on today.

Discipleship: Should Jesus Be a Part of Every Conversation?

Credit: Creative Commons (Clemson)

As a youth pastor, I spend quite a bit of time with teenagers. Appointments in my office, coffee at Starbucks, and one of my favorites as of late, getting in a quick nine holes at the local disc golf course. Sometimes, I’ll meet with a student to talk about something in particular. Other times, like with disc golf, we’ll get together just to have fun.

A while ago, a colleague of mine–who also spends a ton of time with teenagers–asked a question about the time we spend with teenagers: is it okay to sometimes hang out with teenagers and not talk about Jesus?

My first thought was I hope so.

Because there are plenty of times when I hang out with high school guys in our church and Jesus doesn’t come up. It’s not that I avoid talking about Jesus; it’s just that sometimes we’re just playing disc golf and having fun.

Of course, there’s the other side of the coin.

I’m a youth pastor, after all. My job, among other things, is to point people to Jesus. Shouldn’t I take every opportunity to talk to a student about Jesus? Should I really spend an hour in a coffee shop with a student and not ask how their relationship with Jesus is going? Or if they aren’t a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t I share the Gospel at every opportunity? Maybe being a good youth pastor means that we can always point a conversation toward Jesus. Or perhaps that line of thinking just makes us lifetime members of the Jesus Juke club.

Personally, I don’t think Jesus has to be a part of every single conversation with a student, even if it’s a long conversation. While I’m passionate about telling every teenager I can about Jesus, sometimes I think youth pastors need to learn how to shut up and listen to teenagers — who are often in a lot of pain. We are often too guilty of believing we have all the right answers for all the right situations. Still, I know there are times when I need to be more bold when it comes to sharing about Jesus — I think we all do. But being bold doesn’t mean being pushy. It just means that when the Spirit prompts us to speak, we speak. But when we just need to listen, or hang out, or laugh a whole lot, we do. Maybe Jesus is a part of the conversation, maybe he’s not; but he’s always present in the way we love students.

What do you think? Should youth workers try to fit Jesus into every conversation with teenagers?

Sermon from a Japanese Pastor

This past weekend, we had the blessing of hearing Pastor Masahiro Okita from Japan preach at all of our English-speaking services, via translation. One of the missionaries in Japan we support as a church works closely with Pastor Okita, and it was very cool to hear him share how God has been working in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011. What was very interesting (and sobering) is how Pastor Okita described pre-earthquake Christianity in Japan: churches from different denominations and traditions did not work together much, and Japanese culture–including the Japanese church–was obsessed with success and material things. Take a half an hour to watch the sermon or listen to it during your workout, and hear how God used the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to unite the Church and open many doors for the Gospel:

Video of the Week: What is a Trader from RightNow.org

This is a great video with an amazing description of what a missionary is:

Hat Tip: Brian Kirk

Church Signs, Eternity, and Evangelism

I thought we’d start off this week with a good discussion. I came across a church sign (see below), and I think it will make for some good conversation. The photo may or may not elicit a strong reaction, so a few ground rules:

1) No cheap shots. Stick to discussing the sign and the questions, not passing judgment on others.

2) If #1 is unclear, please take a moment to read Matthew 7:1-5.

Without further ado, here’s your sign (sorry, couldn’t resist):

QUESTIONS:
Is this sign an effective evangelism tool?

Is this sign a biblical evangelism tool (meaning it does not go against Scripture, and may even be supported by Scripture)?

Rick Reilly: I Believe in Tim Tebow

Given that today is game day in Bronco Country (am I allowed to make Utah a part of Bronco Country?), I thought this was a fun article to share about Tebow on ESPN.com:

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.

“Here he’d just played the game of his life,” recalls Bailey’s mother, Kathy, of Loveland, Colo., “and the first thing he does after his press conference is come find Bailey and ask, ‘Did you get anything to eat?’ He acted like what he’d just done wasn’t anything, like it was all about Bailey.”

More than that, Tebow kept corralling people into the room for Bailey to meet. Hey, Demaryius, come in here a minute. Hey, Mr. Elway. Hey, Coach Fox.

Even though sometimes-fatal Wegener’s granulomatosis has left Bailey with only one lung, the attention took her breath away.

“It was the best day of my life,” she emailed. “It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me. Tim taught me to never give up because at the end of the day, today might seem bleak but it can’t rain forever and tomorrow is a new day, with new promises.”

I read that email to Tebow, and he was honestly floored.

“Why me? Why should I inspire her?” he said. “I just don’t feel, I don’t know, adequate. Really, hearing her story inspires me.”

And it’s not always kids. Tom Driscoll, a 55-year-old who is dying of brain cancer at a hospice in Denver, was Tebow’s guest for the Cincinnati game. “The doctors took some of my brain,” Driscoll says, “so my short-term memory is kind of shot. But that day I’ll never forget. Tim is such a good man.”

This whole thing makes no football sense, of course. Most NFL players hardly talk to teammates before a game, much less visit with the sick and dying.

Isn’t that a huge distraction?

“Just the opposite,” Tebow says. “It’s by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn’t really matter. I mean, I’ll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it’s to invest in people’s lives, to make a difference.”

(emphasis mine)

Read it all.

Christmas in our Culture: Obstacle or Opportunity?

Credit: Bart Fields (Creative Commons)

It’s no secret that in our culture, Christmas is less about the birth of Jesus than it is about getting lots and lots of stuff. Oh, and that guy in the red suit. I’ve noticed that this ticks a lot of Christians off. Every year there are news stories about fighting over whether public property can house a nativity scene, or if a church can be entered into a city parade.

I understand that for some people (I would guess a very small percentage of the complainers), there is a righteous indignation. And there should be. To take the best news that the world has ever heard and turn it into a chance to get more stuff and turn a tidy profit sounds somewhat…familiar. And if I remember right, Jesus was not too happy about it when he saw it in his own day.

However, I’m very troubled that so many followers of Jesus view Christmas in our culture as an obstacle rather than an opportunity. We complain that there’s no CHRIST in Christmas anymore. We raise our voices at the fact that the Salvation Army–a Christian organization–can’t set up shop in a shopping mall to collect our nickels while we go and blow thousands of dollars–charged on the MasterCard, of course–on gifts our families really don’t need. We view Christmas as a fight to win, rather than an opportunity to share about Jesus with people who happily sing “The First Noel” every December, but who wouldn’t have anything to do with Jesus any other time of the year.

Yes, I do wish I could change what Christmas has become in our culture. But I’m having a hard enough time changing my own desires during this time, let alone those of everyone around me. So instead of fighting for a nativity scene at City Hall and seeing Christmas as an obstacle, how about we see it for what it is: a time when people are more open to hearing about who Jesus is, and a time when people whom we’ve never met–and who need to know Jesus–walk into the doors of our churches as our guests. And when we do get the blessing of meeting them, hopefully they will find us to be folks who are more interested in loving them as God has loved us than people who can’t pass up a good fight about Christmas.

Video of the Week: NewSpring Television Commercial

Very rarely do I think that churches produce television commercials that are effective. This well-done one-minute spot from NewSpring Church in South Carolina is one of the exceptions:

Life of Job TV AD_1 from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

Question: Do you think advertising on television is effective in getting people to attend a church service?

How to meet with Mormon missionaries

My family and I have lived in Utah for a little over two years now. Not surprisingly, when people from outside Utah ask how we’re doing and what life is like in our new state, they usually get around to asking about the LDS (Mormon) church and how it affects Utah culture. (Note: I use “LDS”–which stands for “Latter Day Saints”–rather than the term “Mormon,” because that’s the term most LDS folks prefer.) Many people assume that because we live here, we are experts on LDS beliefs and theology. More than one person has asked for advice on meeting with LDS missionaries.

We aren’t experts by any means on the LDS church, but Jennifer (my wife) and I have made an effort to learn everything we can about the “predominant religion” in our state in order to better love our neighbors and others in our community. Last summer, we had the opportunity to meet with some LDS missionaries in our home each Monday afternoon for about six weeks. It was a great learning experience, and we felt like we became pretty good friends with one of the missionaries who was at every meeting with us. Again, we’re not experts, but here are some tips for others who would like to meet with LDS missionaries (or have a meaningful conversation with an LDS friend or family member):

Be hospitable and serve good food. LDS missionaries, for the most part, are college-age single guys (and sometimes women). A great dinner or some treats will go a long way to making them feel welcome in your home. When we met with “our” missionaries, Jennifer made sure to make something each week for everyone to enjoy, and always sent the missionaries off with a Ziploc bag of extra treats. If you don’t love the missionaries that visit your home in a real, practical way, don’t you think it’s rather silly to speak about the unconditional love of God? Go the extra mile and be a good host.

Avoid the “magic bullet” approach. There is no “magic bullet” argument or one-liner that will suddenly cause a missionary to reject LDS teachings and enter into a relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. Smug, “Oh, yeah, well what about…” approaches to the conversation will only put up walls, and you’ll impress no one but yourself. Apologetic conversations take time and lots of patient discussion.

Listen more than you talk. Listen to what the missionaries have to say. If you’re not willing to learn and listen, why would you expect others to listen to you? Allow them to lay out what they believe. Ask good questions, but don’t interrupt or launch into a sermon. If you don’t understand something, say so, then listen to the explanation. If you notice an internal contradiction in the LDS worldview, simply state the perceived contradiction, and ask for an explanation.

Ask your missionaries to define their terms. Evangelical Christians and Latter-Day Saints use a lot of the same vocabulary. However, a word will often mean very different things to each. When a missionary talks about being “saved,” ask them to define what they mean, and offer your own definition. This will eliminate a lot of confusion.

Stick to topics of central importance. It’s easy in apologetic conversations to get sidetracked by discussions that are interesting but don’t get to the heart of the matter. We met with our missionaries for six weeks, but such a long time is rather unusual. I suggest that you focus on the following questions, since your time may be short:

  • What does it mean to be reconciled to God?
  • Who was Jesus and where did he come from?
  • How do we know that something is true or not?
  • What did Jesus accomplish in his suffering, and what is our role in being reconciled to God?

Pray, pray, pray, pray. Remember, it is God who works in the hearts of men and women. Rely on him to lead your conversations, pray for spiritual protection, and pray for your missionaries by name (over a year later, the missionary friend we grew close to is still on our family’s prayer list). Also, offer to pray for your missionaries before they leave your house, that God would protect them and that they would grow close to him. The missionaries who came to our house said no one had ever done that for them, and that they really appreciated us praying for them.

What has your experience been in meeting with LDS missionaries?