The Coronavirus Challenges for Churches

We’re now over 500,000 deaths and almost 11 million cases worldwide. Impact on churches is a mixed bag. But we know the good will come (Romans 8:28). Some thoughts:

  • Crowds are smaller. Crowds were getting smaller anyway. Now the pressure is off of pastors to produce big crowds. Big crowds were not a value of Jesus’ ministry. Equipping the few to make disciples in the daily course of life was and should be for us. Adjusting to fewer crowd drawing events and more equipping events for now will be a must. Jesus could have focused on the crowds, but chose to invest in a small number of disciples who would reproduce His words and ways exponentially.
  • Mission Trips are cancelled. Travel is going to be greatly restricted in the coming years and this will have an impact on the work of missionaries, the experiences that drive calling to the mission field, and the way churches organize missions ministries. The bright side: We can get more focused with our going and giving. The things that we have done that doesn’t lead to evangelistic impact at home and abroad are clearer now than ever. The instagram moments on the mission field can give way to deep thinking and praying for the lost world wide.
  • The Mandate to Gather? As churches have made tough decisions about regathering, the question of should we gather seems to get more complex each week. As positive cases arise, “should we close for a few weeks?” becomes a question. But, most likely, as soon as we reopen, someone else may very well test positive. So do we close for two more weeks? I’ve heard pastors arguing that the church has a “mandate to gather.” Is that our mandate? Shouldn’t we say our mandate is to worship God and make disciples? The Worship Gathering is a tool we use to do that, right? Hopefully, we come out of this with greater value for worship gatherings and a clearer picture of its rightful place as a time to surrendering our hearts to God and equipping believers for their own disciple making missions. Because what if we can’t gather next week? or for 12 weeks? Are they ready to make disciples who make disciples?
  • What do we do online? We moved ministry online, UNTIL we could go BACK TO NORMAL. Now, we’re realizing that normal is changing rapidly. Most churches don’t enjoy or value online ministry. Most pastors are not trained and equipped for an online ministry. Many are adapting, but this is a radical shift and it doesn’t seem that we’re engaging the lost community directly online yet. Of course, many of our churches had not effectively engaged the lost around them for some time. Praying for breakthroughs.
  • What do we do with all this empty space? Church building have been trending smaller, and even many small churches have been at less than 50% capacity for years. How do we re-purpose empty spaces in the age of Coronavirus? Larger, open spaces are needed for social distancing. Smaller classrooms are hard to use because of social distancing. This will change the way we utilize and imagine church space in the future.
  • Disorientation leads to Direction. Honestly, I’ve felt like the disciples after the crucifixion or after the ascension. Nervous, disoriented, uncertain what we do next. We can count on Jesus, through His Holy Spirit to guide us to a clear direction for ministry in these uncertain days.

The Father’s Heart for the Lost

In Luke 15, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Father’s heart for the lost.

1. Those far from God liked Jesus and he liked them (verse 1).

Is that true of me? When was the last time someone far from God approached me? Am I available to them? Building relationships with them?

 2. Jesus welcomed and ate with disreputable characters (verse 2).

When was the last meal I had with someone far from God? Do I welcome or repel those far from God?

3. Jesus advocated leaving the crowd to “go after the lost one,” celebrating when the one is found (verse 4).

Who’s the one that I’m going after right now? Do I celebrate one sinner’s repentance or only the crowds faithful participation?

4. Jesus advocated for “carefully” searching for the lost until found (verse 8).

Can I say that my search for the lost is careful, deliberate, diligent?

5. The lost, dishonorable son was met by a heart “filled with compassion” (verse 20).

Do I have compassion or contempt for those far from God?

Jesus’ words in Luke 15, remind us that following the Father’s heart may mean…

  • Being misunderstood
  • Focusing on fewer people, rather than large crowds
  • Careful, diligent, time consuming work
  • Laying aside our contempt for sin, to throw our arms around sinners

And also, celebrations in heaven and on earth, as lives are transformed by the Father’s who loves the lost.

 

Primal Faith Practices Believing Prayer

“Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure”  – D.L. Moody.

You don’t have to be a pastor or seminary grad or super Christian to start a movement. You just have to simply be willing to obey Jesus and pray.

Some resources for kick starting or rebooting your prayer life:

  • Establish a place of private prayer – Matthew 6:6, Mark 1:35
  • Establish rhythms and habits of prayer – Daniel 6:10 – LINK LINK
  • Organizing Prayer and Intercession with a Prayer Calendar – Ephesians 6:18 – LINK
  • Mobilize Prayer Partners to pray with you and for you – Daniel 2:17-18 – LINK
  • How to Pray about the Coronavirus Epidemic – VIDEO

Primal Faith is a summer focus at Bridge Church. Connect with us on Facebook. Bridge practices a primal faith that includes Believing Prayer, Gospel Conversations, Multiplying Groups, and Simple Gatherings.

Bridge-PrimalFaith-believingprayer

Bread to Eat and Seeds to Plant

I love feed stores on Saturday morning. The smells. The activity. The plants. The SEEDS! Feed stores offer potential in the form of dirt, plants, and seeds. They also offer labor, because leaving with a bag from the Feed Store, probably means you have work to do when you get home.

I also love restaurants on Friday night. Especially with my wife. Restaurants offer food, experience, memories, but when you’re done, you’re pretty much done. Restaurants, even the cheapest, are also much more expensive than seeds and plants. And labor after the experience is purely optional – “I think I’ll look up that recipe and try it at home.”

Bread to Eat AND Seeds to Plant

So which one of these describe your church? Do you offer the consumer experience of bread to eat, experience, memories, until next time? or Do you offer the potential of seeds to sow into the community and encouragement to labor in the hood and home?

Healthy churches will offer both, but will be intentional about equipping people to plant seeds of the gospel and labor for the kingdom when they leave.

American Christianity has often focused on the bread to eat consumer experience and it shows. As Christians, we often talk about our churches like a favorite restaurant – “I like the music – preaching – programs.” The programs are laid out much like a menu of options for your enjoyment. And we’ve got it covered. Labor outside of Sunday’s is purely optional. Falling out of favor as a church or pastor, often means being met with the often heard assertion, “I’m just not getting fed.” 

Food to eat and grow as a believer is something we need. Jesus did describe himself the “Bread of Life.” Pastors are Shepherds, and a shepherd feeds his sheep. But Jesus went beyond just offering bread. He sent people out with the seed of the word of God. He refused to set up a permanent feeding station on the mountain side for thousands, which would have swelled his numbers. And the book of Hebrews uses the analogy that people should, like babies, grow from milk, to meat, from being fed, to feeding themselves.

So, how do we balance the ministries of Bread to Eat and Seeds to Plant? 

  • Communicate that the labor for the Christ follower starts at the door of the church. Disciple making is about planting the seeds we pick up on Sunday in the home and hood. Food is for energy, not just enjoyment. How do you communicate about the role of church in the life of the believer?
  • Equip people to multiply and share the gospel. How much of the calendar and menu of programs at your church offer real equipping and practice for the mission of God in the community? We can see in Jesus’ ministry modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving them to do the ministry. How are you training believers to be self-feeders and missionaries in their communities?
  • Offer, how to’s and to do’s, with every sermon. Knowledge alone does not lead to maturity. Jesus was biased toward obedience and action and we should be to. Let’s think hard about practical application for everyday believers in every lesson and sermon.

What ideas does the analogy of Bread to Eat and Seeds to Plant bring to your mind?

Five OLD Innovations for Our NEW Day

It’s a new day. New normals will emerge. Our churches are picking up new technologies and new innovations to help us continue to deliver the gospel. In this season of new, of change, of adaptation, there may also be some OLD innovations that we need to circle back to. As we reset our churches over the coming days, consider resetting these five practices and attitudes:

1. The Prayer Chain – Principle: Mobilize Prayer for the Church and the Lost.

Growing up Southern Baptist, every church my family was a part of had a prayer chain. The prayer chain was a phone network built to mobilize prayer quickly when need arose in the congregation or community. How can your congregation be more effective at mobilizing prayer for one another, for the lost, for the community? Today, we have technologies available to us that can greatly enhance the impact of prayer mobilization. We all encourage prayer. How can we move from encouraging prayer to mobilizing prayer? What innovative approaches to prayer can we develop in the new normal?

2. Discipleship Training – Principle: Train the Faithful to Train Others.

The creativity of churches has grown tremendously over the last 20 years. Graphic design, stage design, sermon series design. We have to ask the question: Are these innovations actually helping us make disciples and train the faithful to disciple others. Discipleship Training, or Training Union, was designed to deliver the core truths of Christianity to the faithful. Now is a great time to assess our churches effectiveness at training disciples. A disciple is trained when they can train others. How did that go while the church was scattered? How many of your members were able to train their families, neighbors, small groups while the church was closed? How can your church be more effective at disciple making and training?

3. The Prospect File – Principle: Help People Identify the Lost Around Them.

We often bemoan the fact that people in yester-years were more apt to attend church than they are today. However, we could also argue that churches of the past were more aggressive at pursuing their lost friends, family and neighbors than we are today. Visitation night was common for churches in past decades. Visitation night was driven by the Prospect File compiled by people in Sunday School classes in the church. Prospect lists were a way for churches to identify lost people in their church field and in the lives of the congregation. Today, the Who’s Your One? Campaign has been a new innovation in this regard. How can your church be more effective at helping people identify the lost around them? As we’ve grown more inward, focusing programs on the already saved, the lost have become more distant from our churches, but also from our minds. It’s time to revive the Prospect File.

4. Soul-Winning and Personal Evangelism – Principle: Every believer is an evangelist.

Remember the soul-winning rally? I attended several of these as a young person in a Southern Baptist Church. This emphasis helped rally people to the cause of leading others to Christ. There were concerted efforts to help people know how to share their faith and understand the urgency of sharing their faith. Over the years, innovations like Evangelism Explosion, Share Jesus Without Fear, FAITH Evangelism Training, and our own One to One Evangelism, have helped believers in this regard. With less than 10% of believers testifying that they share their faith regularly, and baptisms down another 20% in 2019 across Louisiana, it’s time for every church to train and emphasize personal evangelism for a new era. How can your church reset the idea and the effort to make every believer an evangelist? More than inviting people to church, we need a revival of inviting people to Jesus through personal evangelism.

5. Start New Units – Principle: The Kingdom Expands through the Multiplication of New Groups and Churches.

For Southern Baptist in the highest growth days of our Convention, a new unit was a new class or congregation birthed through and for evangelism and disciple making. New groups and new churches lead to new people and different types of people being reached. This needs to be a mindset and a practice. The opposite mindset is institutional thinking. This mindset makes us more concerned about available space, protecting inside opinions, and self-preservation. Multiplication and new unit thinking puts reaching the lost through any means necessary and the growth of the kingdom above all else. We have over 2.5 million lost in Louisiana. Their eternity is in the balance. Consider the possibilities for reaching them in your community. How many new groups are possible in your current space? How can you create more space for new groups? Are there areas, people groups, population segments in your community that needs a new church that can communicate the gospel to them?

Mobilizing Prayer, Training Disciples, Identifying the Lost, Winning Souls, Starting New Units. Old Innovations that are desperately needed for this new day. May they be part of our new normal.

Primal Reactions

When times get hard we often return to our primal instincts. Primal means by nature or instinct. It may also refer to the earliest form of something.

Some of our Primal Instincts:

  • Survival and Reproduction are often called the most basic instincts. Revealing themselves in most of the others.
  • Food or Desire to Eat. Hunger.
  • Fear. The Fight or Flight response to events.
  • Breathing. The body has primal reflexes to try to secure air ways.
  • Health and Wellness. When we get sick we have a drive to diagnose and get well
  • Addictions can become primal instincts, taking over our brain and hijacking our desires.
  • Love and Family. Nature calls Mom to care for the family and Dad to provide for the family.

So what did you do? How did you react when uncertainty and difficulty and pressure came? Our primal reactions to difficulty tell us about ourselves and may highlight area of spiritual immaturity. So did you… 

  • Choose Fear or faith?
  • Choose Division or unity?
  • Hoard or give?
  • Demonstrate Anger or joy?
  • Create Tension or peace?
  • Lash out or Encourage?
  • Hide out or stay connected?
  • Pray or Worry?
  • Obey Jesus or Obey your lust?
  • Witness or Complain?
  • Depend on God or handle it yourself?

Your primal reactions will show you some areas of potential spiritual growth. The good new is, Jesus is in the business of transforming our nature, our instincts. Check out some of favorite verses on the subject of transformation: 

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

Ephesians 4:22-24 

22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

2 Peter 1:4

By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.

Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.

Jesus gives us a new nature when we put our faith and trust in him. Do you need to start there and ask Jesus to enter your life and give you a new nature, replacing the corrupt, basic instinct of this world with his presence and transformation? “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13. Saved from the old nature, to put on the brand new. 

When we do that, some of our old nature may hang on and not let go. As we submit to Jesus everyday, we can gain the advantage in that area. Is there an area of your life that does not line up with the divine nature? Did our current crisis reveal areas of weakness in your faith? Maybe you need to seek God today, repent, and ask him to empower you in that area.

This is true for the church as well. We need to return to our Primal Roots to be fruitful and effective in this culture. And that, we’ll uncover later this week. 

Good Fruit comes from Healthy Roots

  • FRUIT – “Daniel distinguished himself… he had an extraordinary spirit… he was trustworthy and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” Daniel 6:3-4
  • ROOT – “three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed and gave thanks to God.” Daniel 6:10

The fruit of distinction, spiritual power, depth of character comes from the root of consistent, disciplined time with God.

To Make Disciples, Share Your Story

We tell stories all the time. What was the last story you told about your life?

Last week, I told my kids a story about when I was a pre-teen. A best friend and I were playing in the woods near my grandmothers home and disturbed a yellow jacket nest. We were soon covered and ran screaming to the house, where my grandmother realized what was happening. She then had us strip all our clothes off and sprayed us down with a water hose until all the yellow jackets were gone. True story.

My kids were prepared for this story, because we were talking about bees and wasps stings. We were also on our way to my Grandmother’s funeral, and were telling stories about her life. I’ve already heard two of my kids retell that story to their friends. One of them came to me to confirm a piece of it – “Was it hornets or bees?” and “Do we have yellow jackets around here?”

This is exactly how sharing our story of faith should work.

  1. We should be very familiar with our story of when we put our faith in Christ and its impact on our lives.
  2. We should tell the story as often as we can, but being particularly ready when people are prepared for it, being Persons of Peace (Link).
  3. Those interested in the story will want to know more and will retell the story to others.
  4. We should pray for opportunities and for persons of peace to tell our story to.

How do I tell my faith story?

One tool that you can use to develop your story is the 15-second Testimony (VIDEO HERE). Here’s the pattern:

  • Come up with two words or short statements that describe your life before you became a follower of Christ. “There was a time in my life when I pursued worthless things and lived selfishly.”
  • Come up with two words or short statements that describe your salvation experience. “Then I received Christ’s forgiveness and began following Him.
  • Come up with two words or short statements that describe your life now. “Now my life is filled with purpose and peace.”
  • Come up with a transition statement to help the other person consider their own story. “Do you have a story like that?”

Your personal story is compelling. Spend some time working on your personal story this week.

The goal is that people will hear our story and respond to Jesus with faith. Like the woman at the well in John 4. She experienced the person and grace of Christ and told her story liberally, resulting in others wanting to meet Jesus as well. They told her – “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.” 

May the testimony of our friends be the same.

Resources:

Who Can I Reach? Discovering New Persons of Peace

You have a network of people that only you can influence for Christ. The term used for these people is Persons of Peace. A person of peace is someone who:

  • God is drawing to Himself and opening their heart to the Gospel. (see John 6:44; Acts 16:13-15).
  • Is open to hearing your story, God’s story and the Gospel.
  • Welcomes you. Invites you in to their life and relationships.
  • Has an interest in spiritual things and / or are interested in your life as a believer.
  • Opens doors for you to meet others and gain more opportunities to share your faith.

At any given time, we all have in our network persons of peace that we can share with and lead to next steps in their faith. These should be our first priority because we already know them and have a relationship with them. We can also DISCOVER NEW Persons of Peace around us. God is in the world reconciling people to himself (2 Corinthians 5:15-20). He’s always at work around us drawing people to himself (John 6:44). Here are some ways to Discover New Persons of Peace:

1. Pray expectantly to meet persons of peace throughout your week. When we’re praying for opportunities to be a witness, our eyes are more open to the opportunities around us. Pray everyday for God to show you where and with whom he is working.

2. Initiate relationships with new people. Study after study show that people are lonely. Most people want relationships and appreciate kindness. In line at the store, walking around the neighborhood, wherever you are, take the time to initiate relationships. Stop. Ask questions. Invite people into your life. You’ll discover persons of peace by being a relationship builder.

3. Learn to fish for spiritual interests. Develop a way you explore peoples spiritual interest. Questions may include: Do you have a church you attend? Do you have a spiritual background? Or just being a good listener can clue you in to spiritual interests in peoples lives. Listening for change talk (“I need to make some changes in my life) or for first steps of interest in spiritual things (“I’ve been reading the Bible lately” or “I’m looking for a church”).

4. Observe people’s behavior. In Acts 8, Phillip saw the Ethiopian Eunoch reading the scroll of Isaiah. Along with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Phillip used this behavior as a springboard for spiritual conversation. We can discover people of peace by observing unusual kindness, observing someone reading a sacred text, overhearing a conversation about spiritual things.

5. Serve with the purpose of finding Persons of Peace. Every outreach effort of a local church should have as one of its goals, discovering persons of peace. You can also discover persons of peace by serving in your local community. Often, God’s work in our lives leads us toward generosity. Like Cornelius in Acts 10, who was a God-fearer and was known to be generous, even helping the Jews with synagogue building projects. Get involved in volunteer opportunities around the community and discover persons of peace.

6. Proclaim the Good News. We should use every means necessary to boldly proclaim the good news of Christ. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17. As we actively share about our faith in every conversation, on social media, and with our actions, we will find that Persons of Peace will find us. And today, more than ever, people are looking to discover truth, not in a building or through an institution, but through a relationship.

Don’t get discouraged with those who lack spiritual interest. Keep looking. Keep waiting. Keep watching. That’s what Jesus instructed his disciples to do (See Matthew 10:11-14). Be confident that God is working. Connect with people. Get their info and get ready to help people with next steps in the faith. Which is where we’ll pick up next week!

Who Can I Reach? Discover Your Persons of Peace

Evangelism in the early church was not propelled by the attractional worship venues, great music ministries, or interest piquing events of the churches. Evangelism and disciple making was propelled then, and can be today, by the personal networking of ordinary believers who faithfully shared the gospel with those they knew and those they met.

You have a network of people that only you can influence for Christ. That may include inviting them to church. It’d be better, and more effective today, if it included you actively witnessing to them, teaching them to obey, and leading them to reach THEIR network as well.

Identifying Who I Can Reach

Have you thought about who in your network of relationships are open to spiritual conversations? You probably have someone right now who is a neighbor, a family member, or friend on a social media platform, who is open to learning more about Christ. Think about it and write down a few names.

The term used for these people is Persons of Peace. A person of peace is someone who:

  1. God is drawing to Himself and opening their heart to the Gospel. (see John 6:44; Acts 16:13-15).
  2. Is open to hearing your story, God’s story and the Gospel.
  3. Welcomes you. Invites you in to their life and relationships.
  4. Has an interest in spiritual things and / or are interested in your life as a believer.
  5. Opens doors for you to meet others and gain more opportunities to share your faith.

Who do you know right now who is a possible person of peace? Who has reached out to you and asked spiritual questions? Who has ask you about your church? Who has commented or liked your post about spiritual things on Social Media? Is it possible that God may be preparing that person for reconciliation and salvation? And is it possible that he wants to use you to lead this person to know and follow Him?

One of my favorite person of peace experiences was when Heather and I were trying to start a church in a rural area. The only potential gathering place was an old fire station, which was also used for community events. We were praying for persons of peace and finding none to this point. I mustered up the courage one day to stop by the fire station to ask them about using the old station for Bible Studies. I met the fire chief and within five minutes he had asked me questions about God and church, asked me if I would be the chaplain of the Fire Department, and offered me the use of any of the department facilities for church events at no cost, without me even asking. He was one of our first persons of peace. Over years of friendship, the chief has opened up many doors of ministry for me and most importantly, committed his life to Jesus Christ as well. God was preparing him and me for that moment in time. What a rush to see God working and drawing people to himself.

God is preparing people around you as well. Think about who they may be right now.

A few other resources on Persons of Peace: 

  • A Person of Peace and How to Find One – Video
  • A Person of Peace is Receptive – Video
  • Children can be Persons of Peace – Video
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