The Resurrection was Just the Beginning!
A neat, often untold part of Jesus’ resurrection story is its festival. We know about the Passover festival’s relation to the crucifixion of Christ, but there was also a festival on the day of the resurrection. It was called the Festival of First Fruits. On the first day after the Passover Sabbath, which would have been Sunday, every Jewish male would be bringing a sheaf of barley to the temple. That barley would be offered to God, whose acceptance of the offering was a pledge for a greater harvest to come. Fifty days later, the Jewish people would celebrate the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost to celebrate that greater harvest of wheat that God provided.
Seeing any parallels?
Paul helps us out in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23:
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
Christ’s resurrection, among many other provisions, is a pledge of a greater harvest to come. A harvest of people who are dead in sin will be made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Fifty days after the resurrection, during the Festival of Pentecost, Jesus had ascended, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, and 3,000 were added to the kingdom (see Acts 2). A truly greater harvest.
So What? A few takeaways:
- The resurrection was just the beginning! The resurrection of Christ is God’s pledge to bring a harvest from our lives as believers. The life of Christ within us is the power to produce fruit for God. The fruit of godly character and a harvest of disciples made. What is my life producing?
- The harvest doesn’t come without laborers and labor. Fields still have to be cultivated, seeds still have to be planted, and weeds must be dealt with. We should commit to working the fields and do our part to ensure a harvest of disciples made him. He pledges resurrection power to us. What am I doing to prepare for a harvest?
Fifty Days Until Harvest
What will you have to offer God? How many could God add to your church if you, dependent on Christ, allowed him to use you for a harvest? Get started:
- Ask God every day to make you fruitful.
- Prepare the fields by identifying who you can reach.
- Plant seeds by sharing the gospel in every way you can.
- Get equipped HERE.
Worth Reading: Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World
One of the best books I read in 2022 was Bob McNabb’s Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World: Why Some Disciple-Makers Reproduce When Others Fail.
The book uses the personal experience of the author and research to answer the questions:
- Why do some fruitful disciple-makers cease to be fruitful?
- Why do some disciples become fruitful disciple makers and others do not?
The Answers are not complex. And they would be rather easy to implement for the church or leader that has the will.
- Evangelism training should be emphasized and ongoing and not just a one-off or a one-time event.
- Those who are part of a small group devoted to evangelism are the most effective at disciple-making.
- Effective Disciple Making Groups spend time talking about evangelism, praying for the lost, and doing something evangelistic every time they meet.
- Effective Disciple Making Groups define multiplication as their reason for existence.
- Effective disciple-makers have disciple-making leaders who model evangelism and disciple-making for them.
- Effective disciple-makers put themselves in a position to meet new people regularly and share the gospel early in relationships.
A lot of other research-based observations about effective evangelists and disciple-makers. You can take his survey and find other helpful resources mentioned in the book at McNabb’s website SpiritualMultiplication.org.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Those involved in ongoing evangelism training led twice as many people to Christ as those who weren’t.
- Becoming a part of a team that evangelizes together is the most important thing you can do if you want to multiply disciples.
- The groups that do the best job of helping their members grow and multiply disciples are the groups that meet for the express purpose of being a disciple-making team.
- Jesus’ goal was never to build individual disciples. He built a team and expected them to build other disciple-making teams called churches.
- Following involves fishing. If you are not fishing, you are not following. Churches are supposed to help their members be successful at catching fish and helping those fish mature and multiply.
- “Rather than asking the question ‘Are we growing?’ we need to ask, ‘Are our members leading people to Christ?’ and ‘Are they successfully helping new converts grow into mature believers?'”
- Wherever you find disciples exponentially multiplying, you will find an emphasis on training.
- Highly effective disciple-makers average twice as much time discussing evangelism, praying for the lost, and actually doing evangelism together with others in their small group as non-effective disciple-makers.
- Most groups that function well as a disciple-making team define multiplication as their reason for existence.
- There is a clear relationship between prayer for the lost and disciple-making effectiveness.
- While the bible plainly characterizes evangelism as a process, it does not teach waiting to talk about Jesus with someone until after one has developed a friendship.
- Respondents who usually shared the gospel within the first few times they met someone exposed an average of 52 people to the gospel annually. This average fell to 15 for those who waited to share the gospel until an ongoing friendship was established and 25 for those who employed a mixed approach.
- Those who shared the gospel within the first few times of meeting someone led more than 400% more people to Christ on average each year than those who waited to establish an ongoing relationship, and they led 44% more people to Christ on average each year than those who approached evangelism with a mixed approach.
- Disciple-makers who said they were a part of a small group that spent at least 20 minutes weekly discussing evangelism, 20 minutes praying for the lost, and 20 minutes doing some sort of evangelism together are far more effective than those who didn’t.
Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World is challenging, inspiring, and practical. A great resource for personal development as a disciple-maker and to be given to those in your disciple-making team. There is also a Study Guide and a companion book called Foundations that are referred to in the book that can be used in small group or team settings.
Church Mergers in Louisiana
(First published HERE)
Since 2015, 25 churches per year have closed their doors in Louisiana. While this is a necessary last step for some congregations, there are effective strategies that have both prolonged congregational life and restored the fruitfulness of Christ’s body at a church location. One such strategy is Church Mergers.
Since 2010, Louisiana Baptist strategists have assisted with at least 22 church mergers across our state. Churches of all sizes have found renewed life through making two congregations one. These have included:
- two smaller churches joining together to expand their capacity for outreach,
- growing church plants in need of space merging with older congregations in need of people,
- multi-site campus development, with a church agreeing to become a campus of a church in another part of the city or region,
- and churches merging with a church of another ethnic group in order to be more effective at reaching their transitioning community.
Determining if a merger is right for your congregation should be a matter of much prayer and careful discussion. In the book, Better Together: Making Mergers Work by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird, they suggest these key questions:
- Would our congregation be better by merging rather than remaining separate?
- Could we accomplish more together than we could separately?
- Would our community be better served if we joined together?
- Could the kingdom of God be further enlarged by joining together?
Our strategists are available to help you walk through these and other key questions in making the right and best next steps in the life of your church. Contact us today to discuss Church Mergers, Church Revitalization, or Replanting as options for your congregation.
- Lane Corley, Church Planting Strategist
- Sean Keith, Church Health Strategist
Other helpful resources:
- Considering a Church Merger Conversation Guide for Congregations [PDF]
- Better Together: Making Mergers Work by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird [Book]
- Mergers: Combining Churches to Multiply Disciples by Matt Rogers [Book]
- 9 Keys to Successful Church Revitalization that Include Church Mergers [Article]
The first year of Legal Sports Betting in Louisiana is in the books – LINK.
- Louisiana Casinos made $35.8 million off sports bets.
- Mobile Apps made another $152 million off sports bets.
- 268 million wagers were made in November 2022 alone.
Paul Harvey used to report on Gambling earnings with the totals and a pithy dig at the reality of gambling. He might say about this report,
“Sports betting made $188 million last year in Louisiana. That means you LOST $188 million last year in Louisiana.”
The only bright spot for Louisiana was the winnings and losing brought in about $26 million in taxes.
Don’t Burn those Leaves!
What’s happening in the garden right now?
- Carrots are still in. We covered them during our rare ultra cold snap here in south Louisiana. Hopefully they made it through. We’ll harvest them in February.
- A little bit of lettuce planted. Lettuce can handle some cold weather. And lettuce is on a 15-30 day cycle, so it can be harvested as is or covered heavy should another cold snap come through.
- LEAVES! LEAVES! LEAVES! This month, most of my neighbors are raking and bagging leaves. I steal them from their driveways before the garbage truck arrives. I’ve probably collected close to 40 bags at this point. Along with another 20 or so of my own leaves. What are we doing with all these leaves?
- Mulching and Composting. As time allows, I’ll run over these leaves with my mulching push mower. Each bag is reduced down to about 10 gallons when mulched…
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Make Church Planting Evangelistic Again
A troubling trend I’ve noted among church plants in Louisiana. Since 2012, Professions of Faith are down 86%, and Baptisms are down 66% in Louisiana church plants. It’s not just church plants. The decline in evangelism outcomes is well-noted across North America. It’s most surprising among church plants because church planting is supposed to be for the purpose of evangelism.
Why the Decline? Some possible reasons to note:
- Contacts and Evangelistic Contacts are down 52%. Church Planters should aim for 200 contacts and 50 Gospel Conversations per month. 2022 numbers were 81 and 20 per month. We reap what we sow. Sowing the gospel broadly should be priority #1 for church planters. And these should multiply exponentially as team members are added and begin to learn the habits of evangelism and disciple-making from the church planter.
- It’s definitely a changing missional landscape. Evangelism may be harder today than it was 10 years ago. The pace of evangelistic responses may have slowed. This is more reason to share the gospel more broadly than ever before.
- Ecclesiological issues have taken precedence. Our organizations, logos, websites, and by-laws are in better order than ever. In the early 2000’s we started with a prospectus detailing how we would reach the community. Today, church planters often hand me their constitution and by-laws, and elder training plan first. Sometimes even before they’ve moved to the field. These churches often start with the need to fill the org chart rather than spread the gospel. I haven’t met one lost person who wanted to see my church’s org chart or bylaws.
- More bi-vocational church planters. More planters are splitting time between ministry and the workplace. This may result in a slowing down of contacts and evangelistic contacts. To plant evangelistically, finding bi-vocational employment that allows for broad seed sowing is necessary.
- A non-evangelistic church planting plan. Evangelistic Church Planting plans should focus on meeting, building relationships, and gathering unchurched people to Jesus. Believing team members who are willing to be trained and can best help with this mission should be added. Non-evangelistic church planting plans focus on events and communication that are attractive to the already reached. A Night of Worship, Deep Bible Study, Expository Preaching, highlighting a tribe or network. These are important rhythms for a growing church. However, these advertised upfront speak mainly to already believers and signal that this might be BETTER than my current church. Similar-minded people are drawn to a brand but do not necessarily come together to reach the lost in a community.
Others have questioned the evangelistic success of our current church planting paradigms.
How can we make Church Planting Evangelistic Again?
- Adopt an Evangelistic Church Planting Strategy. Plan on evangelizing a new church into existence. Set a target for at least 50% of your church to be from the unchurched community. Ask about every event, post, and series – how does this help us communicate the gospel to those far from God in this community.
- Train People to Multiply the Gospel in their Circle of Relationships. The most effective means of evangelism and spiritual growth is relational evangelism. I don’t mean friendship evangelism. Relational evangelism is helping people identify and reach their relational network for Christ. Evangelism is most effective friend to friend, family member to family member. And, obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission and the faith it takes to share the gospel with others will prove effective at maturing believers.
- Make Some Old Evangelism Practices New Again. Do you have a prospect list? Do you have personal evangelism training? Do you have prayer meetings specifically for the lost? Do you have harvest events like revivals? Do you start new things regularly? These are some habits of evangelistic churches of old that need to be brought back and maintained. Make them your own, but don’t bury all the old ways. See my article Five OLD Innovations for Our NEW Day.
What would you add to this list? What other reasons may there be for the evangelistic decline in our churches?
Status of Global Christianity
Status of Globabl Christianity Report from Gorden Conwell is out. Always an interesting report.
- Islam continues to grow faster than Christianity. Hinduism and Sikhism have aslo grown faster than Christianity since 2000.
- Christianity is growing in Africa, Asia, South America; declining in North America and Europe.
- Only 18% of non-Christians know a Christian.
- 28% of the World is Unevangelized.
- 32.4% of the World is Christian. Only grew by .1% since 2000.
Find it HERE.
Epaphras: Faithful Friend + Disciple Maker + Prayer Warrior
Epaphras is an unsung hero in the New Testament. He’s mentioned only a few times. He started and led churches in three significant cities. He made Paul’s list of faithful companions in Colossians 4. That’s where we learn the most about him. His character has stuck out to me this past year as a model for life and leadership. Who was Epaphras?
A Faithful Friend
As Paul wrote to the Colossians, he called Epaphras “one of you.” Making him a hometown hero of sorts. Paul also calls him “dearly loved” signaling that his reputation was thorough as a friend to all.
How faithful was Epaphras? Well, Paul calls him a “fellow prisoner.” So he was faithful even to the point of voluntarily going to jail with Paul. Tracing his story, we see that Epaphras was one of several companions who traveled to Rome to be with Paul during his imprisonment. This speaks of his love for Paul and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for his friend and the gospel, as his alliance with Paul would have made him a conspirator in Paul’s supposed crimes. So he was a Faithful Friend through thick and thin.
Faithful friendship modeled by Epaphras can be as simple as following the One Another’s in the New Testament. And Epaphras’ friendship included the hard ones: Carry One Another’s Burdens, Suffering with One Another, etc.
Who has known my faithful friendship through thick and thin?
Paul calls Epaphras a “faithful minister” and a “faithful servant.” And he reminds the Colossian believers that they “learned it (the gospel) from Epaphras” Col 1:7. This tells us that Epaphras likely started the church in Colossae. Later in chapter 4, Paul says that Epaphras also “works hard” for churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, two neighboring cities to Colossae.
So, Epaphras was faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission. He made disciples as he went and where he lived. People heard the gospel first from him. As a Disciple of Christ, He leveraged his relational network along with the word of God and the Spirit’s work in the world, and people were saved, groups and churches were started, and eternal destinies were changed. That’s what disciple-makers do.
If you are a Christian, Jesus wants you to be a Disciple Maker. Who has learned the gospel from me? is a question we should ask as we think about Epaphras. It should be a personal ministry. And not just for the super spiritual or classically trained. Beginning a disciple-making ministry can be as simple as this:
- Make a list of friends who are far from God.
- Pray for them every day.
- Initiate Gospel conversations with those who express spiritual interest.
- Gather them around God’s word to learn the Gospel.
- Teach them to reach their friends too.
- Simple churches may be formed as obedience to the Great Commission happens.
Epaphras did this in Colossae, then possibly in Laodicea – about 9 miles away, and Hierapolis – about 25 miles away. Imagine the three cities closest to yours having a new witness to the gospel, born out of your disciple-making efforts.
Probably what Epaphras, if known, is most known for, is his life of prayer. His life could be the subject of a book called How to Be a Prayer Warrior. That’s really what the verses in Colossians 4 emphasize for us about his life.
Four words in Colossians 4:12 summarize for us the Epaphras model for prayer that we should all seek to emulate – He was “always wrestling for you.” And Paul tells us what he prayed for: 1) so they will stand, 2) so they will grow, 3) so they will know God’s will. Epaphras prayed for strong, mature, knowledgeable disciples.
In verse 13, Paul continues to describe Epaphras’ life and prayer acknowledging that he “works hard” for the believers and has “deep concern” for their well-being.
Could these descriptions be used to label my life as a prayer partner? Always, Wrestles, For You, Works Hard, Deep Concern. Who have I wrestled/struggled for in prayer? Honestly, compared to Epaphras, my prayer life has been inconsistent, weak, selfish, and apathetic.
How to Be A Prayer Warrior:
Looking at Epaphras as a model for prayer, how can we become prayer warriors?
1. Commit to Pray Everyday, All Day – “ALWAYS”
Research has shown that only 15% of Christians pray every day. Maturing Christians have a daily time to meet with God. Do you have time set aside to meet with God, to pray, to listen? If not, make that time today.
2. Devote Energy and Attention to Prayer – “WRESTLING”
To describe prayer as wrestling is to say that this is the kind of prayer that is focused and attentive. This is not praying on the way to work in the car. Or just a rote prayer before meals. Or a quick prayer before an important meeting.
Wrestling, struggling, and fighting in prayer is to set aside everything else and focus the energy of your heart and mind on a need and beg God for a solution, an answer, a breakthrough.
Jesus said to go into your private room and shut the door. Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He was talking about wrestling and struggling in prayer.
Prayer warriors don’t do drive-by praying. They devote time, energy, and attention to prayer.
3. Take Prayer and the Needs of Others Personally – “DEEP CONCERN” – “WORKS HARD”
To be a prayer warrior, you need to prioritize your deep concerns. There are so many things lobbying for our deep concern. Politics, Pleasure, People. The disciple-making, prayer warrior is deeply concerned about the souls of people around them, about the glory of God, about obedience to the Great Commission. Deep concern is where your prayer life is defined. If we’re not prioritizing our deep concerns around the deep concerns of God then we’ll never become prayer warriors. Epaphras was deeply concerned for the needs of his fellow believers and it drove him to pray.
I long to be the kind of friend and disciple-maker that prays like Epaphras. Don’t you?
- Faithful Friendship – Who has known my faithful friendship through thick and thin?
- Disciple Maker – Who has learned the Gospel from me?
- Prayer Warrior – Who have I wrestled/struggled for in prayer?
You Can Hope Again: Zechariah and Elizabeth
One of the most significant and unsung verses in the Christmas Story and maybe in the New Testament is Luke 1:11.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.Luke 1:11 CSB
This is the moment that God broke through after 400 years of silence, after allowing the rampaging and devastation and defeat of His chosen people, and after allowing Judaism to become a ritualistic shell of itself. God broke through. God spoke. God set in course the events that would bring salvation to all the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s characters depicted in the movie The Nativity Story
The before and after of this verse goes like this: An aging Priest named Zechariah got the opportunity of a lifetime to offer incense in the Temple’s sanctuary. He and his wife Elizabeth, who was never able to have children, and now was well along in years, made arrangements to fulfill this obligation. As he offered incense, God reached down and spoke. Unexpected events, unexpected people involved, unexpected announcement that Elizabeth would have a baby. That baby would become the way-preparer for the Messiah, John the Baptist.
This is the moment where God initiated the keeping of His Promises and Securing the Hope of all who believe. This is the moment that those caught up in this story saw their Hope Restored. What does Restored Hope look like? For Zechariah and Elizabeth and that group of ordinaries that surrounded them on this day, it looked like this:
The Pathway to Hope Again:
1. Recognition that God’s Word is still true. The prophecy of the coming Messiah and the Way-Preparer IS TRUE! And in the coming days, 100’s of other prophecies would be fulfilled in the coming of Christ. For Zechariah, this was no longer just stale religious ritual, but a dynamic voice, capable of restoring hope and bringing change.
2. Recognition that God can still use even me. The sun was seemingly setting on Zechariah’s life and ministry, but God broke through and gave he and Elizabeth a place of prominence in the Gospel story. God is never finished. He gets the last word on our significance.
3. Recognition that God can still accomplish the impossible. Elizabeth’s barren womb and old age would be no obstacle to God’s will and God’s promise being kept. Neither will any obstacle that we face in life and leadership. Nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37) will be a core belief of the hope-filled believers.
Maybe this Christmas, you find yourself with lost hope or deferred hope (Proverbs 29:13). Ask God to break through again with these three truths. You can Hope Again. His Word is True. He’s not finished with you. He’s still doing the impossible. Hope Again. Believe Again.
Father, restore our hope through demonstrating the truth of Your Word. Show us that we are your instruments until the day we die. Open our eyes to see the possibilities of your power and your promise.
Georgia Barnette is at Work!
Our Louisiana Baptists State Missions Offering, the Georgia Barnette Offering, is a great spark for missions all over Louisiana. In 2021, we received just under $1.6 million for the offering and this money has been at work across the state of Louisiana this year! As Louisiana Baptist churches give to the 2022 offering, here is a brief run down of some of this year’s Georgia Barnette expenditures, as of September 1st:
- $75k in scholarships for ministerial students.
- $206k in church planting and compassion ministry funding for over 100 projects across the state.
- $92k in funding for the Mission Builder program providing construction resources and volunteer mobilization for church building projects across Louisiana.
- $55k for training and networking events for leaders in non-English speaking churches in Louisiana.
- $18k for African-American church leadership development and networking events.
- $20k for special evangelism projects including Prison outreach and evangelistic event support.
- $92k for Collegiate Ministry, including Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at Grambling University and Southern University in Baton Rouge and Summer Missions support for Baptist Collegiate Students.
- $35k for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension at Angola State Penitentiary.
- $56k for ESL (English as a Second Language), Multi-housing, and Chaplaincy training and projects across Louisiana.
- $40k for Disaster Relief Training and Projects.
- $26k for women’s ministry support, including Crisis Pregnancy / Sanctity of Life Projects and job training for women in crisis situations.
- $150k for the Here for You Multimedia campaign.
Still around $550k to be distributed over the next four months. It’s always a lot of fun to watch the Georgia Barnette offering at work! Find out more about the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering at GeorgiaBarnette.org. Watch for opportunities to give through your church this Fall, or give RIGHT HERE. Let’s be faithful to provide this spark for missions in Louisiana!