Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pyramid Evangelism

First of all I want to thank everyone for their comments about mentoring. This is something I'm very passionate and convicted about in God's Kingdom, and I think it is grossly overlooked. I'm really praying that God helps me to have a character worth imitating, because putting yourself out there for someone to follow is risky. But I also realize that people follow our examples whether we ask them to or not, the real question is what example are we giving?

On to my actual post...

Have you ever been exposed to a pyramid scheme?

I remember when they were all the rage while I was in high school. My stepmother got involved in one. Basically here's the principle. Under the guise of some business (like selling chocolates or something), you try to sign people up to buy into the business (say, $50 to get in). By selling chocolates you make money, but not much. The real money comes in when you sign other people up into this business, too. So, when they sign up with their $50, the company will give you say $30 of that money. And if THEY sign people up, you even get a portion of that money, too.

It's complicated.

The idea is to sign people up, who will sign people up, who will sign people up. The more people underneath you the more money you make (much like the Vampires application that was all the rage on Facebook for a while).

The problem with these schemes is that money isn't made from the actual product. It's made from signing people up, which is illegal... which is why they use the guise of some product like selling chocolates.

But isn't this a little bit like how we do evangelism today?

According to Pagan Christianity the Church made a major shift in thinking and practice around the 1700s. Whereas beforehand the focus was on being the Church of Jesus Christ, that focus shifted into bringing others into that Church.

Before I continue, please don't misunderstand me and think I am against evangelism, or that I do not think it should be a priority. However, I do think that making it the priority is both unbiblical and dangerous.

Let me explain. Charles Finney, the man who invented "praying Jesus into your heart," was also the one who set up winning converts as the Church's ultimate goal. Look at many churches today and you can see that is still the current trend. Churches have done all they can to make the assembly convenient, entertaining, emotional, and individualistic in focus. This is to appeal to others, so we get more through the door.

Common church practice today preaches this message loud and clear:

Church attendance = Church growth

Or does it?

The problem about making evangelism our main priority is that we place more emphasis on winning converts than what it is they're being converted to. Like pyramid schemes, we're guilty of doing nothing more than spreading spreadness. The focus isn't on the actual product, but just getting more people in on it.

It is possible to "respond" to the gospel by belief and baptism yet have a completely untransformed life. This is a problem. We have millions in the United States who claim to believe in Jesus in one way or another, yet their lives mirror that belief in no visible way.

Could this be because we have so elevated becoming converted that we have left out emphasizing what they're being converted to, namely, the Gospel?

This summer I worked with a man, who, when he baptized people into Christ did not take the typical confession. Instead of asking, "do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" he would ask, "will you follow Jesus for the rest of your life?"

It's a different emphasis, isn't it?

Jesus didn't just ask for us to go out and make converts. He asked us to make disciples, people who would try to pattern absolutely every aspect of their lives after Himself. Regardless of what I'm ever paid for, my full-time job is to be more like Christ. Not just believe in Him.

The idea that "as long as it converts people let's do it" is a scary one. Just look at everything we do. Begin to question why a church would spend $5 million on a building and people are up in arms. "We use this building to reach more people! If we didn't have this building we might not have as many people." My blunt question in response is this:

So what?

We have made evangelism priority number one. By the way, when I say "evangelism" I don't mean Biblical evangelism. I mean calling people to an emotional and impulsive response to have a religious experience and ascribe to a set of beliefs. This is not Biblical, but evangelical.

In making it number one, we have justified using God's money for plenty of things that really have nothing to do with the Kingdom of Christ. Big bands, lights, dynamic preachers, expensive church buildings, the "health and wealth" gospel and a myriad of other things are all focused on one thing: bringing in more people.

But this is all so contrary to Jesus' example. I don't think He was much concerned with converting everyone He saw. Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom, and bringing those who were willing into it. But He never pressured people into it. When the rich man went away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything, Jesus never went after him. When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, lots of people left Him. We never see Him running after them saying, "Wait a minute, I just meant what's going to happen at the cross! And oh yeah, in my Kingdom you'll have lots of blessings and you won't go to Hell!"

He just let them go.

Instead, Jesus focused on training 12 men to be under God's Kingdom in every aspect of their lives.

Jesus' focus was quality, not quantity. Yet, common church practice does not follow His example. In fact, it's opposite.Could it be that we're spreading spreadness, instead of Christ's Gospel? And could it be that we have left out the serious implications this Gospel gives in daily life?

We need to examine why we do what we do and not just blindly follow common church tradition.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Call for Godly Mentors

When I came into the Church I was on fire. I was excited and passionate about reading the Bible and talking about God. It wasn’t but a few weeks after my baptism that I preached my first sermon.

I read the Bible for hours every day, and I had lots of spiritual discussions. But at 17, I had no idea what it looked like to be a godly man. So, I tried to build relationships with older men in the congregation and the elders.

But I hit a wall. They were very willing to mess around with me and make sarcastic jokes, but I was struggling in a life-and-death spiritual battle. I felt so alone in dealing with my lust, anger, and basically selfish tendencies. I had no idea what a Christian man should be like, but when I looked to the older men in the Church to see how, I met nothing but sarcasm.

But I didn’t want jokes. I wanted a relationship.

The amount of potential influence older men have over younger men is enormous.

When I was younger (around 8 or 10), I got in trouble a lot. People in my life were constantly disappointed with me: talking in class, not doing my homework, making fun of people etc. I remember feeling like a failure, like I couldn’t do anything right.

As a young boy in New Orleans, the preacher seemed like God to me. We had a kind man for a preacher, one who gave out candy and encouraged us children. His name was Mike Fox. I remember every time he saw me he would say, “Joshua, you’re a good man.” This still brings tears to my eyes. I cannot even begin to tell you what effect that statement had on me.

I didn’t believe him. I was so puzzled as to why he would say something like that. “No, I’m a bad kid, he must think I’m someone else,” I would think to myself. But every time he told me I was a good man, I felt something come alive within me that wanted to live up to what he said. I knew I wasn’t a good man, but I wanted to be, if nothing else but that he wouldn’t be lying when he said that about me.

It was his belief in me that later in life made me want to search out God. My dad didn’t live with me, so with the exception of my grandfather, that preacher was the only man I ever felt believed in me.

In switching gears a little bit, let me begin by saying that our society is very different than every other society in history. Kids spend more time with themselves than they do adults. They are their own people group, and there are entire lines of products targeted solely at them.

Youth are raising themselves.

Kids have their own private rooms, computers, phones, and social lives. Typically they live in a vacuum away from normal adult life. Think about it. How many serious life conversations did you have with adults while growing up? I can’t think of a single one.

Recently I’ve been meeting with a 15-year-old who is always around Church stuff. His family is even in ministry. I took him out to eat so we could talk, and I asked him if he had someone he could come to for advice. Nearly in tears he told me that he feels so alone as a teenager. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he told me. “You were a teenager, but I’ve never done this before. I really need some help, man.”

That’s how I felt at his age, too. I felt like adults expected me to live by some ambiguous standard, but they never explained exactly what that standard was or why I was supposed to live by it. The only time I figured it out was when I got in trouble for breaking it.

For a time after being so passionate about God I fell away from Him. I still went to church services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, as well as any other extra activity they had. But I had stopped reading my Bible, praying, or living for God at all. But you know what? No one noticed.

I’m not blaming others for that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have come back to God a lot sooner if I felt I had someone to talk to. But I felt alone, like my only connection with God was at the building.

Titus 2:6-7 says older men should encourage the younger men as well as lead a good example for them. But surely this must go beyond Bible class once a week. In order for them to “set an example” they must be intentionally around younger people in everyday life.

I’m so thankful that I’m a little older now, because I KNOW the influence I have over younger men. I work with a missionary program, and it gives me such joy to hear one of the guys say that he looks up to me and appreciates me investing time in him.

I’ve been blessed with many great mentors in my life: Paul Partlow, Brandon Price, Chris Johnson, and Timur Rahimov (in Russia). In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul tells the Church to imitate him as he imitates Christ. These men have lived out this passage with me. They make me who I am, because as I have followed them I have seen past them and followed Jesus.

My biggest inspiration to continue trying to mentor younger men is the difference older men have made in my life. I know that I am more like Christ because of them, and I know that I can help younger men become more like Christ too.

This is getting long for a blog entry so let me get to the point: You hold enormous influence over people younger than yourself, and if you would just invest some time with them you will reap eternal rewards.

Pick out someone of the same gender younger than yourself and take them out to coffee. Go do something fun. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives and be genuinely interested. See if they would be interested in reading the Bible together with you. Be transparent about your life and your faith. Share your life experiences and the things God has taught you. Explain what it means to be a godly man.

I cannot exaggerate this. Doing this can absolutely transform someone’s life, but you must do it intentionally.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Four Principles of Evangelism from Jonah

Jonah is a prophet written about in the Old Testament. It's maybe my favorite prophet book. It's very small probably the oddest.We can learn a lot from his encounter with God. In case you don't know the story or have forgotten, here's what happens. Somehow Jonah gets called by God to leave where he is and go preach to Nineveh, a city that's pretty messed up.

But Jonah runs away. He goes to another place and God causes a huge storm to nearly capsize the boat. They decide to throw Jonah overboard and he gets swallowed by a big fish, and then the storm stops completely. In the belly of the fish Jonah prays a heartfelt prayer, and God lets the fish spit him up on land.

Jonah finally decides to preach to the city, telling them to repent. But then Jonah gets angry that God lets them repent, because he wants to see a fire show. The end. Kind of a weird way to end a story, but here's some principles I've learned about evangelism from it:

  • Evangelism always requires going (1:2). People usually won't learn about Jesus by themselves. Instead God chose people to teach others about Himself. His design is for us to "go." We need to leave our comfort zones, the things we're used to. We have to leave our everyday routine and be bold enough to penetrate the lives of others, if we really want to be serious about others knowing Christ. Going is never easy. It means going to places we don’t know, where we’re the outsider, where we’re uncomfortable. It means taking a huge leap of faith. When God says “Go,” don’t stay.

  • We'll never be good enough to teach someone, but God will use us anyway. By our standards Jonah was not the ideal person for the job. He didn't even want people to be saved! He had a lot of weaknesses, but God used him anyway. God can use feeble and stubborn efforts to affect many people. We’ll never be good enough to teach others about God. What God wants is willingness. Walk out on faith and God can do the rest.

  • We'll never know who's receptive until we try (3:5-6). The Ninevites were an evil people, a people evidently evil enough that God gave them two options: repent or die. This was their last chance. No one expected them to repent, but they did. It is not our job to judge men’s hearts, only to share the message. It’s usually the most unlikely people that become Christians. God just asks us to spread the seed, not to judge what soil would be best for it.

  • We can't get angry at the world for being worldly. People can't act on knowledge they don't have (4:11). The Ninevites didn’t know their right hand from their left, meaning they didn’t know right from wrong. Many times we're so judgmental toward non-Christians for their immoral lives: abortion, divorces, bad language, drugs, whatever. But what do we expect? Christ said if we love Him we'll keep His commandments. So what should we expecting from people who don't love Christ? Bad lives. So instead of looking down our noses at people, we should teach them, knowing that our God is one who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, who relents from sending calamity” (4:2).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Distractions and Propaganda

I noticed early on in my Christian walk that Satan was actively working to bring me away from God. After some time, I've noticed that he works (in my life) using two primary methods:

  • Distraction - This summer I was trying to mentor one of the kids we had just brought into Christ. As we were driving through a Miami Suburb, he started basically freaking out. "Why aren't people following Jesus? Don't they care about what happens when they die?" I thought about it for a minute, then I told him to look around. What were people doing? They were mowing their yards, driving around, shopping, having a good time. They were distracted. "As long as they're looking down, they'll never look up. It's our job to help them look up," I explained soberly. I think Satan uses many good things to draw us away from God: jobs, buying things, hobbies, even our families and ourselves. I think that's why Jesus said in Luke 14 we have to be willing to give up everything to be His disciples. "Jesus first and no close seconds," is how Jerry Tallman explains it. But even as Christians we get distracted by this world all the time. Whenever I fell away from God, I think I probably sinned less than when I was a Christian. However, I spent all my time watching movies, hanging out with friends, and relaxing. As long as I was focused on this world, I could not focus on God. This is how Satan gets us.

  • Propaganda - Wikipedia explains propaganda like this: "Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented." And this is exactly how Satan works. His lies always sound good, and he does that on purpose. I can think of countless conversations I've had with non-Christians totally buying into Satan's lies and thinking, "How on Earth can you believe something so illogical and ridiculous?" They've been mesmerized, that's why. Satan does a masterful job of using half-truths and flash to get us to buy into his garbage. It doesn't even matter what it is, as long as it's not God's he wants us to believe it. Even as Christians Satan doesn't want our faith to match how we live. He uses tons of lies to get us to do his will, lies like: "Just this once is alright," "I can't help it," "Everyone else is doing it, so it can't be that big a deal," or "At least I'm not as bad as those other people."

It is my prayer that God will help us recognize Satan's schemes for what they are: schemes. We should be careful how we live, and not let Satan creep in through the back door unnoticed.

"lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices" 2 Cor. 2:11