Witnessing


(And keeps on going . . . And tells)

Life is hectic. Time ticks away as we rush from here to there trying to do everything. What we were unable to accomplish in previous years, we often shovel off onto our children, and so the next generation gets to try to live out not only their own dreams but the dreams of the parents and grandparents that have been passed down over the years. The motivation seems to be, “ I have come to terms with the truth that I will not be able to personally accomplish this dream or goal, but I still want to see it done and so my child must complete the task whether he’s able to or not, whether she wants to or not.

And life becomes a circular series of shenanigans that we perform to try to pull off those dreams.

My point? We are a people on the go! So, what are we to do with all of this going. Let me propose that, since we are going—possibly reaching for an impossible dream, we should be busy as we go. Since we are going to go anyway, why don’t we as Christians carry with us the message that will accomplish more in a moment than our dervish-like spinning will in a mountain of lifetimes? For the individual Christ-follower, this is the heart of the Great Commission: As you are going (because you are going) share what you know about Christ. Let it be our practice. Then we will grow as we go.

  “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”  – Mark 5:20)

Joe Ball at Despising None is urging Baptists to take a long look at how we act. I think this one is worth your time (it won’t take much).

HT: Art Rogers

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome when addressing the American culture is the approach that the evangelical church has to amassing her converts. We think that everyone wants the same thing that we want. But perhaps they don’t. Mark Twain picked up on this discrepancy between what the witness wants and what the target wants and recorded it in his boys’ novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry -­ set up straight;” and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry -­ why don’t you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

It seems that Huck didn’t have a full understanding of the concepts of Heaven and Hell, but neither did Miss Watson have a cultural understanding of her pupil. Sadly, we seem to miss the point of culture still today. Just to assume that someone wants to go to Heaven when they die is a misconception. Some people are positive that there is no Heaven and there is no Hell.

If my premise is that salvation is all about getting to Heaven, then my premise is flawed as well. Look at much of the music popular in the church today—you know, that Southern Gospel variety. Here we find songs like “Carried Away” which says, “I’m gonna let the glory roll when the roll is called in Glory,” and “Heavenbound” to name a couple. We probe our friends’ readiness to accept the message of Jesus by asking, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God in heaven, and He asked you, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ what do you think you would say?” Our entire focus is on heaven.

I recall a youth minister who was fond of saying (because we as Baptists immerse baptism candidates), “If heaven is all there is to salvation, then the preacher should hold you under when he baptizes you.” The point he wanted to make: there must be more than just an end game involved here.

When I think about all of these things, I come to the conclusion that not only is heaven (or a trip there) not the basic point of salvation but neither should we make it so. Heaven, as wonderful as it is or will be, when seen as the point of salvation is the selfish side of salvation, if any side at all. It becomes the carrot with which we tantalize those who are not of us.

The point of salvation, as I understand it is to draw me into a relationship with the Creator, and so that I can give Him all of who I am—including the glory for who He is. In determining that, I should begin to build relationships with people where they are so that I can glorify God in their presence. In so doing, perhaps they will become a part of Christ’s kingdom for the express purpose of building a relationship with the Creator and giving themselves to Him in the process.

That said, I must then begin to develop relationships outside the church that invite rather than alienate. To do that, I must know the culture outside my own church culture and live my life accordingly.

As a new missionary with the International Mission Board, I spent several weeks training at the center they have for that purpose outside of Richmond, VA. The curriculum and living experience is to provide a bridging step from everyday, normal existence in the life that the new missionary knows and prepare them for what is ahead. Much of what is taught in the coursework portion of the orientation deals with a crazy animal called Culture Shock—that demon that rears its ugly head when a person moves from a familiar surrounding to an entirely different cultural atmosphere. The concern is that those preparing for service in an unusual culture will be crippled by the overwhelming nature of immersion into a new culture. Even with all the emphasis, some still despair and return to life at ease in their home country, home state, home county, home town, home.

With all the emphasis on living in a new culture, one discovers that language is integrally related to a person’s culture. We say what we say because of what it means to say what we say. We use the words we use to mean a specific thing. When crossing cultures, one must discover the right way to say what they are intending to say. Otherwise we find that we are not saying anything near what we thought we were saying. Here are several examples I encountered while serving in a Russian-speaking setting:

1. The story is told of the American preacher on a two-week trip preaching in several places. At one church he and his translator were going well until the American used a Baseball illustration. After a moment or two, the preacher realized that his translator had stopped translating and was starring at his guest. When the preacher looked inquisitively at his translator, the young man said, “Besbol, what is this besbol? We do not know this.”

2. Some of my friends commissioned to the Russian-speaking world warn new missionaries and possible volunteers to avoid talk about their passion for Jesus. The reason is that unless they have a very experienced translator working with them (and sometimes even when they do) their helper will translate that they have a “strong sexual desire” for Jesus. That’s what the only Russian word for passion means.

3. When translators first started working on getting the scripture translated into a certain dialect of one particular Turkish people group who live in the former Soviet Union, the workers began doing a word for word translation. Without properly testing the translation with native speakers, they went to press with a scripture portion complete with pictures. Searching for pictures revealed some beautiful artwork that could be used and depicted the Christ in their gospel portions. When the portion was printed and distributed, the target people would have nothing to do with it. First of all, because the language was not smooth or communicative to the people. But even more, the pictures used were Russian Orthodox icons and represented the “God of our oppressors.” Learning from these mistakes, new teams began working and rather than rushing to print, took sometimes up to two years to field test the language learning the best way to say what they were trying to say so that the message would be clear without cross-cultural baggage. Better yet, an artist from within the people group was commissioned to illustrate the stories, and many of the people not only read the first collection of scripture stories, but accepted the Christ about whom they were written.

My point with these examples is that we need to be aware of the culture in which we are sharing our faith. That is true whether we are crossing the street to a new culture, crossing the tracks to a new culture, crossing the country to a new culture, or crossing the globe to a new culture.

Today’s suggestion: learn two or three (or even four or five) different ways to say what you are trying to say when you are speaking of spiritual matters. Take the time to know your friend, and speak their language. This does not water down the gospel, but it makes it effective on all the levels it is meant to be effective. After all, the message of Christ is one that is for any and all who will hear—not just those who speak my language.

(more to come)

It was in a revival meeting—you know, those extended meetings that evangelicals schedule and claim to be revivals—that I got to know the old saint of a man who was the long-time pastor of one of the smaller congregations in our association of churches. He was a small man, full of fire and energy (especially in the pulpit). I recall many things from that particular series of meetings. I recall the night that he threw a hymnal at the church music director because he was either asleep or simply not paying attention. I remember the night that he locked his keys in his car and two or three men spent the better part of two hours trying to get the car opened. It was on that particular night (toward the end of the week) that he sang—I remember because he commented on both his ability to sing and his inability to get his keys out of the car—an old song that I had almost forgotten from my childhood:

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from the Bible

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s word.

The inward look

The outward look

The upward look

From the old, old book

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s Word.

It’s inspiring still to think back on that night’s service. His encouragement was one that I try to practice each day—get a godly perspective from diving into His word daily.

Here’s what else I remember from that particular situation. The church from which this pastor came to preach our revival meeting had the reputation of being very evangelistic and highly successful at their efforts in evangelism. Knowing the man, I suspect that the great success that the church had rested mostly on the shoulders of this fiery preacher who was full of evangelistic fervor. The church itself also had a reputation of never growing.

This is the thing that happens in many of our churches today—even those who are exercising fantastic evangelistic muscles. Even though we have reports of numbers of people coming to know Jesus, these same people are not becoming part of the church. We’ve missed the point of the song altogether. We don’t want the new look from the old book, but the old look from the old way. We have neglected the outward look and the upward look. We have become highly skilled in looking inward toward ourselves.

We worry about buildings and budgets. We concern ourselves with our wants and wishes. And we’ve stopped looking [upward] to the Master for the direction we should go—which by the way is outward.

What do you think? Is the evangelical church evangelical? Or are we just happy with ourselves?

I grew up in an era of revivalism, in what was then part of the cherished “Bible Belt” in the home of a Southern Baptist preacher. We had revivals twice a year—spring and fall, regardless of anything else. I have a deep-seated, special place in my heart for week-long revivals because I said Yes to Jesus for the very first time in the last night of a revival meeting. My dad has long reminded me that he was not preaching when I came to know the Lord. It would be important to note that both my mother and my father have always lived their faith so faithfully in front of me that I would have to be blind not to learn of Jesus at home long before I went to church (and I went to church nine months before I was born).

Not so very long ago, I was attending a “Bible Conference” hosted in one of our churches in the southern part of our state. One of the speakers, a vocational evangelist listed among the hordes of them in our denomination, quoted statistics. Here are his observations, the age and veracity of the study cited is unknown to me:

  • Churches not holding a Revival meeting during the year reported one salvation for every thirty-six members for that calendar year.
  • Churches holding Revival meetings, but having no salvations reported as directly related to said meeting reported one salvation for every twenty-four members.
  • Churches that held Revival meetings and could track at least one salvation decision to that meeting reported one salvation for every eighteen members.

His point was that we are able to effectively reach twice as many people with the gospel message when we schedule and hold revival meetings as when we do not. Underlying that point is the one that continues to stick in my craw—“Hire me (or someone like me) to come and preach for you, and you will be able to boost your numbers to report to the denominational headquarters.”

I’ve turned into quite the skeptic over these numbers issues. Firstly, because I’m not sure whether it is a biblical principle to hire a highly emotional preacher to come in and stir the pot in order to reach more people. I believe that I know why, historically, the extended meetings known as revivals or camp meetings were highly effective in turning out decisions for Christ: (1) At one point in history, the church was the center of the social makeup of every community and the annual or semi-annual meeting known as revival was part and parcel of the entertainment—people who had not yet accepted Christ as their savior would come to see the show, hear the message, and be moved to decision. (2) Even as the church became less and less influential in her sway over the community, members of the church spent months preparing for the event. Advertising was up to date, non-Christians were made a specific part of prayer times for both individuals and groups, special attention was given to the conducting of the meeting with emphases such as “old fashioned night” where people were encouraged to dress in ancient attire, “children’s night” and “youth night” focusing on different age groups, and “pack a pew night” where members were encouraged to get as many unchurched people into the building to hear the gospel message as they could—some even signed up for a pew. (3) Pastors and evangelists took time during the week to visit in the community giving verbally “engraved” invitations to all who would be willing to attend.

I can also speculate what is happening in most churches that hold special meetings with emphasis on a revivalist moment: (1) Advertising that was up to date and worthwhile in 1962 looks unprofessional and uninviting in a day and age of sound bites and Internet podcasting (stop it with the black on white—or black on goldenrod—flyers, people don’t read them). (2) Church members are uninvolved in the inviting process—in fact, the handful of people that we do get to show up more than once a week are those who show up anyway, who decided to follow Jesus two lifetimes ago. (3) Pastors are lazy (dare I castigate myself?) and evangelists have become demanding—I have gotten reports of some who show up at the church three minutes before they are to speak and leave before the last “amen” is uttered.

The bottom line though is: why do we do it? For the church it seems that numbers boosting is the point. For the revivalist or evangelist it seems to be about making the money to put in their pockets.

And the question that I’d love to know the answer to is: How many people of the newer generations are we reaching?

If you’d like to help out, here are some questions you can answer in the comments section (aside from the ones already posed): Does your church have annual/semi-annual revival meetings? If so, how long are they—2 weeks, 1 week, 4 days or 3? Do you prefer professional evangelists (vocational is the word they prefer) or local pastors to lead the effort? Have you seen any increase in the numbers of people making lasting decisions for Christ as a result of your special revival efforts? What do you do as follow-up to help those who make decisions to grow in their faith?

Talk freely among yourselves.

I’m a couple of chapters into David Kinnaman’s research report entitled unChristian. The author promises that people of the church culture won’t like what they read, and I’m sure that the warning will be realized as I work through the book. (For the interested, I’ll be reviewing the book in a couple of weeks after I’ve finished the whole book. Right now, I just want to make a few “gut reaction” observations as I read.) I thought I’d let you watch as I work through the material from time to time. Plus, I’ll get my thoughts down and see how true they ring when I’ve completed my reading.

First of all, two reasons I’m reading the book: (1) I was able to get a copy of the book without any out of pocket expense (I got a free copy). So, I might as well read the thing. (2) And probably more importantly, several respected colleagues have recommended reading this book. It seems to actually be a work of catalyst that will drive the church to the action required for her to re-become the church that Christ intended. I’m always up for trying to find useful information (whether I like it or not).

On the surface this book bears some resemblance to the growing mound of Christian-bashing books that has developed since the turn of the century. At the same time, this book is written by a Christian researcher who is just as floored by what the statistics are telling him as the reader will be. It is a loving nudge—maybe even more of a push—to the church to return to her calling. Leaders listen up.

In chapter 2, Kinnaman reports 6 thematic areas of concern that color the perceptions that people outside the church culture (Kinnaman uses the term “outsiders” as his descriptor of this group, a less invasive term than what Christians habitually use and still a tough term to settle on—such is the problem when looking for a single term to describe a group for the sake of written communication. Keep this in mind when deciding to adopt a term for wholesale use, much like we love the terminology “pagan”, “lost”, or “heathen”) as they decide how they feel about Christians and Christianity. The portrait painted is not pretty. One other quick note: Kinnaman will address each of these themes in a chapter I haven’t read yet, so what you’re getting here is my initial thoughts that may change or be shored up as I get into the research. Outsiders in the 16 to 29 age groupings perceive Christianity with the following characteristics:

  1. Hypocritical. Saying one thing and doing another. As hard as it is to admit it, this is probably an earned perception. So many of the louder voices of the Christian community come across as holier-than-everyone else, morally superior, and without flaw when the reality is we can be just as rotten on the inside as the next guy (often more so).
  2. Too focused on getting converts. The way conservative Christians have developed kamikaze-style witnessing tools, I can’t say that I blame those outside the church for this perception either. So many preachers have encouraged their people to see every conversation as an opportunity to “win somebody to Jesus” that we don’t have time to develop the relationships necessary to make the witness we throw out so freely valid. Yes, I believe that we must share our faith, but sometimes I think that we come across as simply looking for the next notch on our Bible or tally mark on the baptismal pool.
  3. Anti-homosexual. If I take issue with any of the perceptions, this would be it. Mainly because my own perception is one that finds the homosexual community one as a community that doing the same kinds of things the world perceives in the church—pushing itself upon those who are not part of it. At the same time, the more vocal portion of our number make it hard to avoid this perception, because our reaction to those who practice what we see as other than biblically appropriate with a less than loving response.
  4. Sheltered. We are seen as cloistering ourselves away and not looking at the world with a realistic viewpoint (putting our observational heads in the sand, or simply ignoring what we don’t like). To this perception, my response from the church side of the fence is “homeschooling, Christian publishing, Christian music, Christian radio” (see the on-going series on Mercenary Christianity). Are they so wrong about us?
  5. Too political. I’d have to agree here. Not only in the arena of politics, but also within the church community as well. My own denomination looks more like a political entity than a theological/doctrinal body every year.
  6. Judgmental. One word—Pharisees. Like our first century counterparts, we have a tendency to make snap decisions about someone and hold them to a standard that even we can’t keep.

What about you? Do you think that we are earning these perceptions or are young people just missing the boat when they look at Christians and Christianity?

I’m interested in seeing how the explanatory chapters deal with each of these issues. Stay tuned.

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