It bothers me to believe that God would localize salvation in one solitary person–in Jesus. But that’s what the Scriptures plainly say. There’s no way of getting around that without gutting the Scriptures. I’ve looked for a loophole. None exists.
Even today, I prefer to talk about the tragedy of people living and dying without knowing Jesus, rather than to get near the subject of the eternal consequences. Deep down in my heart, I know the truth of the matter–without Jesus people are in serious trouble. Believing that is the only reason I would ever consider giving my entire life to the ministry of Christ. Not believing it is why so many pastors and leaders can spend all their time in struggling churches playing nursemaid to a bunch of spiritual pygmies. They have no urgency to share the Good News. They don’t believe that people’s eternal destinies hang in the balance. Since Jesus isn’t the only hope to the world to them, Christianity is a way of living morally rather than a life and death issue.
There’s nothing wrong with moral living; it should be the outcome of any legitimate faith. But moral living is not why Jesus died. Jesus died to save everyone from their sin. To not believe that guts any form of urgency to give one’s life to spread the Good News.
Let me say upfront that I am not in the business of criticizing other parts of the body of Christ. However, I am not naming names…just the criteria
Clues to a spiritually dead church…
- Have lost their sense of mission to those who have not heard about Jesus Christ and do not pant after the Great Commission;
- Exists primarily to provide fellowship for the “members of the club”;
- Expect their pastors to focus primarily on ministering to the members’ personal spiritual needs;
- Design ministry to meet the needs of their members;
- Have no idea about the needs of the “stranger outside the gates”;
- Are focused more on the past than the future;
- Often experience major forms of conflict;
- And watch the bottom line of the financial statement more than the number of confessions of faith.
Does that describe your church?
No…just give them a trillion dollar bill! Jesus would be proud.
Jeff Vanderstelte offers four areas to listen for in every story, frustration and situation, where we can intervene and point people toward Jesus.
- Identity: Who or what shapes their understanding of themselves? Where do they find personal value and worth, instead of God?
- Brokenness: Where are things “different” then they are supposed to be? What are areas of pain, hurt, and frustration? Who or what do they blame instead of sin?
- Redemption: What or who do they look to, to fix the brokenness? What or who makes everything right?
- Hope: What does “right” look like? What would everything look like once everything is fixed?
Someone asked me that question recently and the answer is simple: because people typically don’t make long-term, life-changing decisions right at that moment in a worship service. In my experience most people who come forward are doing so out of a sense of obligation or guilt or emotion only. I believe that the Christian walk is best done in relationship with other Christians and specifically as part of a local church family. That’s why I know 99% of the time beforehand who’s coming up on a given Sunday if I give an “invitation” to confess Christ, recommit your life to Christ, or officially join our church. That doesn’t mean I won’t surprise people at times or be surprised.
So we don’t do the traditional altar calls but depending on the message I do give “invitations.” I just won’t sing 6 songs in order to get people to come forward. If the Holy Spirit isn’t urging them in the first 3 minutes then I don’t think any music or verbal manipulation should be done. Manipulation? Yes, if I really want people to come forward and make a decision, I can get that done. I did it when I first got into ministry. But then I saw the reality of those decisions a week later. Most of those decisions have no accountability and are more like New Year’s resolutions. Few succeed. Many churches have gone to a similar understanding. But that doesn’t mean altar calls are bad or wrong…just memorable. Like this…
What do you think? What’s your experience?
6. Pray for the person. The starting point for talking to any person about Christ is not talking to a person about God but talking to God about that person. First, Pray specifically that God would give you natural opportunities to talk about your relationship with God. This might happn in the form of a current news event or something happening in their family. Second, pray that God would prepare and open their heart for that conversation. Third, pray that God would help you open your mouth and actually have that conversation. We need spiritual courage. When you pray for God’s boldness, you are praying, in part, that God will help you think more about others than yourself.
7. Write a thank you letter to them. Tell that person specific things you appreciate about them.
8. Prepare your “testimony” to fit where they are in life. When you share your story, try to emphasize the areas that you have in common, particularly tough circumstances that God has helped you deal with. If your friend is going through a tough illness, and you just talk about how God helped you with your divorce, that’s “OK” but not the greatest. Try to connect them with a Christian that is going through or has gone through similar circumstances. Look for areas that you can share that meet them where they are.
9. Lend the person a Christian book or CD. Why lend it instead of giving it? Because you want that person to give it back so you can ask what they thought about what they read or heard.
10. Invite the person to an appropriate Christian event. It might be a music concert, small group, or worship service. Whatever you think they can handle. Some people have been burned by the church so maybe they’re not ready for a worship service but could come hang out at a Super Bowl Party sponsored by the church. Pray about it, and ask.
3. Be there for their good times. Acknowledge and celebrate the good times like weddings, birthdays, accomplishments.
4. Show real interest in them. Showing real interest in someone begins by listening. Ask interesting questions. As they come to trust you enough to share some of their life journey, you may find a natural opportunity to share some of yours, including the difference Jesus has made in that part of your life.
5. Pray with them. We say to people going through tough times, “I’ll pray for you.” Do more than say it. Do it. Ask permission first. And if there are other people around you may want to wait for privacy. But no one has ever said no to me when I’m sensitive to the situation and surroundings.
Rescue always requires involvement in the person’s life. That’s why “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Tragically, those who are already saved tend to spend most of their relationship time with others who are already in the lifeboat. We will be in heaven with those folks forever. But we have only a few years here on earth to help some people outside the lifeboat get to heaven (54).
One of the things that gets my heart racing is when God gives me a unique opportunity to share my faith. The churchy word is evangelism. I’m not an “in your face” kind of person with my faith. I expect God to show me the best opportunities and then I have to be faithful to take the steps that I am able to take to communicate why I think God loves all of us and why Jesus saved us from our sins. I get frustrated when I hear that other Christians never share their faith or look for opportunities.
In Ron Hutchcraft’s book “A Life That Matters,” he says:
It takes 2 compelling forces to get us to turn our lifeboat [Hutchcraft uses that metaphor as we seek to be faithful in helping people see how God can save them from their sin] around and begin to bring in as many as we can: the “want to” and the “how-to.”
If you care about spiritually dying people, it is because God has given you “a new heart and put a new spirit in you”; He has removed from you a “heart of stone” and given you a “heart of flesh” (Exekiel 36:26). (46)
He goes on to share 10 practical ways anyone can communicate Christ:
1. Love them in their language. They may resist your words but it will be hard to resist our serving them. Random acts of love and kindness are usually a bridge into even the hardest of hearts. Serving them is their language. Ask yourself, “What need does this person face in his/her life right now that I could help with?”
2. Be there for them during hard times. People remember who was at the funeral, who comes to the hospital, who pitches in during an emergency.
One of the essential tasks for every Christian is the arduous search for those who have lost their way (for whatever reason). Most don’t even know they’re lost until it’s too late.
If we are truly anguished for the lost then we will be praying passionately and acting with determination. Too often I am lacking this anguish, this passion, this determination in my own life. These are things that go through my mind: “It’s just easier to let them go. Who am I to say that they are lost? Is Hell REAL anyway? A ‘loving God’ wouldn’t let anyone go to Hell, would He? They are not interested in what I have to say anyway.”
Those are all lies from the Evil One. If I am going to take Jesus seriously then I know there are eternal consequences for rejecting him. There are BILLIONS of people on this planet living without a clear understanding of the gospel. Jesus was a relentless, optimistic, persistent “FINDER.” Let’s allow His unyielding passion for the lost to fill our hearts again.
What are the criteria in deciding who to share your faith with and when to share it? How do we go about it?
We are always witnessing, whether we know it or not. People are watching us, and our actions communicate something, for good or bad.
- Pray: Pray for specific people who you think may not have a relationship with God or church home. If you don’t know anyone like that, then pray for God to send someone. But most likely there is a family member, co-worker, or friend who fits the bill.
- Watch: Ask God regularly, “Help me see who you are bringing me. Give me eyes of compassion. Let me know when I can take the next step.”
- Reach out: Find ways to reach out to that person in non-threatening ways. It could be coffee or lunch or just a chat with you neighbor by the fence line. Keep the conversation to a basic level if you don’t know each other well. Keep listening for clues to their heart. Eventually you should be able to ask life questions like, “How are you feeling about life right now?”
- Listen: Listen well. Simply by listening you are demonstrating love. What is he or she longing for? Struggling with? Whatever it is, try to discover what the person cares about.
- Connect: If you have discerned what is pressing on the person’s heart, try to connect his or her situation with the message of the gospel or how God has helped you in a similar situation in your life. Try to do this without preaching. It should be a dialogue, not a sermon.
- Share: Eventually you want to be able to effortlessly and appropriately share your faith story, how you came to know God, how God has been at work in your life. Be honest with your imperfections and struggles. Share how they can become a Christ follower too if they want to know.
- Invite: At some point, invite the person to join you at church. If that’s too threatening to them, or you think it will be, then invite them to a fellowship function, concert, small group meeting, or even just to your house for dinner with another Christian couple or person. If you sense they have a heart for other people, then invite them on a service project or mission trip!
Keep praying throughout the process. Be prepared for it take time (and some of your time). Research has shown that it takes on average 28 months to make a faith commitment from when they first begin seeking.