Last week, I took a course in church revitalization. As the name suggests, it was about restoring to life to churches that have lost their vitality. Over four days, four pastors shared lessons and insights they had learned in leading their churches through renewal. What was so refreshing was that none of them pointed to gimmicks or novel ideas. The course focused on the fundamentals but with clear strategies on how to grow in them. Whereas 20 years ago churches were talking about shorter sermons, skits, interpretive dance and avoiding words like sin or hell, today growing churches are focused on prayer, evangelism, discipleship and glorifying God. The conversation has changed – for the better! Let me share one of their stories.
You may think there's a typo in my title. Often pastors talk about the importance of not just being Sunday Christians. "We've got to live out the good news throughout the week." That's really important to me, too. But I think it's important to think about how to be Christian – how to act Christian – when we come to church on Sunday, too. There are many things we could talk about, and so this is a theme I will revisit in the future, but for now let's talk about loving our neighbour in the pew.
I took a listening test this week. No, it wasn’t a hearing test. My ears are fine. But I wanted to test my listening. The test was developed by Doug Pollock, author of the book, “God Space.” Pollock serves as an evangelist and chaplain but has equipped thousands of Christians to share their faith more effectively. He questions whether non-Christians in our society today have stopped listening to Christians because Christians have been such poor listeners. Ouch! Let me share what I learned.
This winter in the Learning Centre we did a series on outreach and evangelism based on a strategy developed by Dave Ferguson. We talked about the SPAM that fills up our in-boxes despite the fact that almost no one ever responds to it. Spammers keep sending out their junk e-mail because it costs so little and might reach a few. It’s possible to approach evangelism like a junk e-mail spammer: caring very little for the collateral damage as long as we get the message out.
I have made Biblical fellowship something of a theme over the last several months. I’m convinced that we need one another to grow. But it’s something that I need to model also. And so I’m trying to get to know other pastors and churches. This morning I attended a clergy breakfast in preparation for the upcoming Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. I was eager for the opportunity to get to know other pastors in the area and learn about the churches that make up our city.
On Sunday I talked about Luther’s role in setting off the reformation. But people like Luther, Wesley and Calvin get mentioned so often you could get the impression that the spread of Christianity is just the story of European evangelistic exploits. That certainly isn’t the case. Today, Christianity is thriving in Africa while it is struggling to survive in many parts of Europe. And now there are more missionaries being sent out from South Korea, Brazil and Nigeria than any country in Europe. For Black History Month this year I’ve been reading a book called Clouds of Witnesses that chronicles the contributions of African and Asian Christians to the church. Because Grace Baptist has been so blessed by the testimony and ministry of Zimbabweans over the years, I was intrigued to learn about Bernard Mizeki, one of the first missionaries to bring the Gospel to that nation.
December is a month when I’m focused on Christmas and the birth of Jesus. But last week I was invited to a seminar on the life of Muhammad. It was a reminder to me of the religious and cultural diversity of our city – and it impacts how we witness about Jesus. In the past with a Christian cultural majority, it was easy for Christians to ignore the beliefs of other people and simply share the Good News. Today, a subtler approach is needed. Let me explain how I responded to the Muslim invitation.