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Archive for July, 2007

Good Question

A good friend of mine left the following comment on my post “Positive Example: Steve Sjogren and Cincinnati Vineyard”:

Okay, so what’s the difference between what this church is doing in going out to the community in service and using that service to draw people to their church gatherings where the people hear the gospel preached, and the things that the first two items on this page say aren’t proper?

Or are the people of this church, as they hand out water, also evangelizing — presenting the gospel of repentance from sin as they give out the bottle, or serve the dinner at the police station, or whatever particular thing it is they’re doing that night? (If so, I will retract the question and ask you to be a little clearer as to exactly what this congregation is doing as they go to the police stations and water-handing-out places and such.)

It’s a good question, a fair question, and to be honest, one that I expected. I knew that someone would be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, how can you lift them up as a good example and yet be critical of other outreach efforts?” So, let me break it down a bit.

First of all, you all have to realize that I comment on a lot of things just because I think that they are a bit outrageous. It’s not that I think that they are damnable heresies that are leading scores of people to hell: no, I just think that they are a bit silly. That’s my right… to find some things silly. I think it’s funny how many people will get all worked and up and indignant at my audacity to call something silly. But, it’s like the evening news: you tend to report on the things that are out of the ordinary or negative. What another church decides to do and call “outreach” is their business and their right, but it’s my right to comment on my blog about how silly I think it is. If you decide to have Hooters girls doing a free car wash in white T-shirts with periodic water fights and call it evangelistic outreach, knock yourself out, but be prepared to be mocked on the blogosphere (and right now I can hear many pastors thinking, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea…”).

Second, my point in lauding the Cincey Vineyard is because in the area of community outreach I think they are really commendable. I’m not saying I endorse everything about them… I don’t know everything about their practices, doctrine, preaching, leadership, etc. I’m just saying that they do community outreach right. They were pioneers in the concept of “servant evangelism” and they do it consistently and consistently well. They don’t just get together once or twice a year and hand out water, they go out every week in large numbers with a multitude of projects. And just like those who try to copy the Purpose Driven Church fall short of Saddleback, most churches fall short of the Cincey Vineyard’s outreach because Cincey Vineyard wrote the book on it (well, Steve Sjogren did anyway). We can argue about whether this kind of outreach is good or not, but my point is that they do it well. So, let’s argue about whether it is good or not…

Third, I’m not trying to say that outreach is bad. Just the opposite. The church needs to get outside of its own walls. It does little good for a church to be sitting in the pews day in and day out, never impacting their community: that would be like keeping the salt in the shaker or the light under a bushel. Churches should be out in their community doing good deeds whether they call it evangelism or not. We SHOULD be helping the needy and sharing Christ’s love.

Now, hear this correctly: doing good deeds in and of itself is NOT evangelism unless you are sharing the Gospel. Sure, you might make a good impression which might lead someone to attend your church and assuming that your minister is preaching the Gospel they might hear it and get saved: that’s a good thing. In the end people get saved. But just handing out a water bottle is not evangelism unless you tell them the Good News. But does that mean that all outreach is bad? Of course not. Frankly, since so few Christians know how to articulate the Gospel and fewer still go out and share the Gospel, it might be that luring people in with outreach is the only way that they might hear the Gospel, since many churches have relegated sharing the Gospel to the paid staff. But evangelism is sharing the Gospel, doing good deeds is doing good deeds. The best thing would be to do good deeds AND share the Gospel.

You might press me into the corner and ask, “Is doing outreach without the Gospel just to get people into the door so that eventually the paid minister will share the Gospel with them better than nothing?  Yes, I suppose it is… you got it out of me.  If Christians are not going to share the Gospel and if the only place they can hear it is from a paid minister in a sermon, then yes, this kind of outreach is better than nothing.  But, remember folks, we’re not trying to sell the church, we’re trying to lead people to Jesus.

And, I can say this: I’ve been to the Cincey Vineyard a number of times (20 or so, including this last week). That doesn’t make me an expert on them, but in the times I’ve been there I can tell you this: the worship music is reverent and God-honoring and the sermons are biblical, so at least those who come because they got a bottle of water are hearing the Gospel (which is more than a lot of churches can say).

Finally (I’ve lost count), I don’t know how to quantify it, but there is a big difference in my mind between an outreach that involves doing an act of kindness and one that raffles off a car or decorates a bathroom. Where is the dividing line? I’m not really sure, but I hope that any rational person can see the difference. Appealing to people’s greed, love of novelty, intrigue and so on just seems baser to me than showing the love of Christ. Jesus attracted crowds by healing people and giving hungry people food out of compassion: he didn’t attract people by doing novelty miracles or by turning stones into diamonds and then raffling them off.  I like that the Cincey Vineyard attracts people with kindness and service, not clowns serving communion, motorcycle bathrooms, or materialistic stuff.

I hope that clears things up. I’m not 100% opposed to outreach. In fact, I’m 100% in FAVOR of outreach: every church should be out in their community building homes, delivering meals, acting like Jesus, and being salt and light. They should also be out sharing the Gospel. Too many churches have no impact on their community, and like our youth minister challenged us with this Sunday, “If our church were to disappear, would our community care (or even notice?).”

That being said, ideally we would not be inviting people to our churches for the cool (fill in the blank), but instead telling people about our wonderful Savior who died to take away our sins. While (fill in the blank) outreach is better than nothing, evangelism is still the way to go.

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Ben Maulis left a great quote on my post “Why The Church Can’t Win the Coffee Wars” from March 12th. It explains why outreach just for outreach’s sake comes short of being evangelism. I thought his comments deserved to be out front, not buried in the comment section of an old post that might never get seen, so I’ll let him speak for himself.

The post that this was from was just saying that while it’s perfectly acceptable for the church to do outreach events and to offer things like great coffee, that’s not what we’re here for, ultimately. If we do anything well it shouldn’t be coffee, it should be presenting the Gospel. (And I should mention that I’m a serious coffee snob and think that a great coffee bar is a wonderful thing to have at a church… I brew my own Sumatran in my office every Sunday and can only long for the day when we have a real espresso machine in the foyer. Still, I want us to be known for our message, not our coffee!)

Anyway, here are Ben’s comments:

The church should provide hospitality, but I don’t see any instruction or precedent for “pre-evangelism” in the scriptures. By pre-evangelism, I mean any effort, activity or program intended to court unbelievers while witholding propositional truth. A good number of churches and ministries do just this.

Churches have “outreach” events and programs that are designed to promote the church and invite people without calling them to repent and believe the gospel. Pressed for an explanation of why their event or program is essentially void of the gospel message, they claim that it is “pre-evangelical.” Supposedly, the people will come to know the truth after they’ve become comfortable in church.

Churches do picnics, bar-b-ques, concerts for the community, and all kinds of programs to entertain the youth, but too often come short of calling for repentance.

The doctrine of Christ to which we are adjured to abide in requires repentance. There is no salvation without repentance. Jesus said he came not for the righteous but to call sinners to repentance and, “unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” He never had communion with sinners that were not in repentance (except for Judas, Matt. 21:28-32). He preached, repent, repent and repent (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15). He commanded us to preach and his disciples went out and preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12), repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), repent and be converted (Acts 3:19), commanding all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and that they should repent and turn to God (Acts 26:20).

So then churches, whether they have a do or not, ought to tell the truth and withold nothing of the gospel for discretion’s sake. It will only result in the impression that they are lukewarm and lacking firm conviction. Likewise, individuals who are often depended upon when the rest of the church is busy trying to get a better venue for its next gig, need to tell it like it is and call people to repent and trust Christ besides inviting people to church and offering to pray for them. If you want to buy them a coffee and a biscuit, it’s ok too.

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I love to read the posts on EV Tales. But, on the other hand, I always cringe, because he reminds me of what we ALL should be doing as Christians, something that I’m not doing enough of. Steve Sanchez gets out there and evangelizes! No tricks up his sleeve. He doesn’t resort to gimmicks, he doesn’t try to be relevant, he doesn’t lure them in with worldly things. Nope, he goes out there and shares the Gospel with people (but not after first showing them that they are sinners in need of the Gospel by holding the Law up to them). The closest thing to a gimmick that he uses are reminders of our mortality, like the great use of the dummy that you can see on his blog (that almost got them arrested).

This guy is my role model. I want to get to the point that I and the people in my congregation go out and share the Gospel. I don’t want to be content with clever tricks, marketing, “outreach” of the worldly kind; instead, I want to go, just telling friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers about the Gospel and allowing the Word to convert people.  I think that when we in America do this we will see true conversion with true converts.

I want you to watch the video here of a person responding to the Gospel and giving their life to Jesus:

If this doesn’t move you to go share your faith then I’m not sure what will.

Thanks Steve for being such a positive example to us of the Word preached faithfully, and thanks for inspiring me to share my faith more. You remind me of Paul preaching in the forum!

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Again, this is a church that I don’t know a whole lot about, since I’m not a part of the Vineyard Denomination.  From what I know of them they have a mix of charismatic theology and conservative doctrine and I always enjoyed visiting the Cincinnati Vineyard when I had a chance on Saturday nights.

Here’s why I think that they are a positive example of a church growing in the right way.  First, they have a lot of things that many churches rely on: big building, AWESOME music, great coffee bar (heck, it’s a food court in their foyer), small groups.  But that’s not why they have grown.

They have grown by going out and serving their community.  You know all the talk about servant evangelism and acts of random kindness?  Well, it was the Vineyard who popularized the idea, specifically in Steve Sjogren’s book “Conspiracy of Kindness.”  Every Saturday they go out and serve their community: handing out water, planting flowers, giving out free stuff, whatever.  Every Christmas they take donuts to those who have to work Christmas (police, ambulance drivers, Waffle House workers, etc.).  You see a lot of churches doing this stuff now: they were the ones who got the idea rolling.  And they did all this in the name of Jesus.

Now, mind you, acts of service is NOT evangelism.  If you are not sharing the Gospel you are just doing kind things.  By itself acts of service makes you no different than a service organization.  But you combine that with sound preaching and excellent worship and you have positive growth.  By doing these acts of service they are getting their members out of the church walls and into the lives of the lost, giving them a chance to share the Gospel and to show that Christians are not just huddled together waiting for Jesus to return.

I think the Cincey Vineyard runs about 20,000 the last I heard.  Here is an example of a church growing in the right way: with sweat and a determination to go to where the lost are.

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Here’s another positive example in my series on positive examples of churches that have grown while remaining faithful: Wayne Smith and Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY.  Wayne was the preacher at Southland for decades and was the minister who led the church to it’s phenomenal growth.  I don’t know much about Southland or the history of the church since Wayne has left, but he is a hero of the faith to me (I believe he’s been retired from there for about 10 years now).

The reason he is a hero of the faith to me is because his style is so much like me.  Wayne is not flashy, gaudy, or proud: he is a people person.  He has said that he may not be the best preacher, but he would outwork any other preacher.  He told me one time at lunch (how’s that for name-dropping?) that the way he grew Southland was by getting out and meeting people, talking to them, and telling them about the Lord.  I believe it: he’s got a personality a mile wide and a laugh that can be heard in three counties.  He was devoted to the truth and never tired of doing God’s work.

Again, I don’t know much about the church itself, but from what I know about Wayne he serves as a positive example of someone who relied on a zeal for the Lord to lead people to Christ.  It was about getting out there to where the lost were and bringing them in.  He inspires me to spend more time with people: in the hospitals, in their homes, on the streets, in the church, anywhere the lost are.

And, to explain my name-dropping, his humility is shown in the fact that he took time to have lunch, just him and me.  I’m a no-name preacher in a small church, but he took time to encourage me and to give me advice.  That’s an elder there, a Paul to a Timothy, an Elder John to his beloved children!

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I want to put up some examples of churches that are really growing and yet are staying faithful to the Word.  I can think of no better example than Bob Russell and Southeast Church.  Now, let me say, I don’t know much about the man or the church, these are just my impressions from my limited knowledge.

For those who don’t know, Southeast is a megachurch in Louisville, KY, one of the largest in the Independent Christian Church movement (if not the biggest, it runs about 16,000 right now).  Bob Russell was the preacher there until a few years ago and had been there for decades.

Bob is one of the most humble men I know.  I first heard him in 1995 or so when he came to preach a revival in Harlan, KY.  Think about this: Bob was preaching in a megachurch and he came to preach in a town that had less population than his church had members.  I’m guessing that he did NOT get $20,000 for the speaking engagement!  Most people in the country have not heard of him, even though he preached in one of the biggest churches in the country.  He wasn’t about drawing attention to himself or getting glory and fame, and to my knowledge he’s only written two books, neither of which are well known in the larger evangelical world.  That’s humble.

When he was getting ready to retire he made sure that his replacement was prepared and ready to take his place so that the church would not suffer in the transition: again, showing that it was not about him but about God.  And finally even in his retirement he is spending his time mentoring young ministers to be faithful to God’s Word.

I have just finished a series preaching the points of his book, “When God Builds a Church.”  Many guys would point to a program, a technique, a preaching style or something else to attribute their growth to.  Listen to what Bob thinks is vital to growing a church:

  • Truth: Proclaim God’s Word as truth and apply it to people’s lives
  • Worship: Worship God every week in spirit and truth
  • Leadership: Develop Christ-centered leaders who lead by example
  • Excellence: Do your best in every area of service
  • Faith: Be willing to step out with a bold faith and take risks
  • Harmony: Maintain a spirit of harmony
  • Participation: Expect the congregation to participate in every ministry
  • Fellowship: Continually practice agape love for one another
  • Stewardship: Give generously of God’s resources as a church and as individuals
  • Evangelism: Commit enthusiastically to evangelism as your primary mission

How wonderful: solid, biblical principles to grow a church.  Southeast is still a huge church, a few years after his retirement.  Because he built on a solid foundation the church remains strong and is even planting satellite churches in the area.

But, the success is not just due to Bob: he also had good leaders and willing followers in the congregation.  No doubt much prayer went into the success of the church.  And most importantly, you could be sure that when you heard Bob Russell preach he was preaching from the bible: he didn’t deny or hide the truth in order to gain members.  So, you can have confidence that the people at Southeast were giving their life for the right reasons: to be saved from sin and to be regenerated into the body of Christ.

Yes, Bob Russell and Southeast stand to me as an example of a megachurch that got it right: they are an example to me as I strive to grow while being faithful to God’s Word.

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I’ve been slack about posting these, sorry about that. This is the last sermon in the series, I need to check to see if I have them all up. By the way, let me reiterate, these are NOT Bob Russell sermons. They are based on the 10 chapter headings on his book “When God Builds a Church”. There are illustrations from the book and obviously many ideas from there, but they are my sermons; I’ve never preached a Bob Russell sermon (which makes me one of 5 preachers in the Christian Church who has not 😎 ). Not that I wouldn’t, he’s a great preacher, but I would give him the credit it for it. I just liked the 10 points and thought that it would make a great sermon series, and it has.

So, here’s the stewardship sermon:

(more…)

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