(Note: Lengthy post—I apologize in advance. But it’s important!)
In December we hung a Christmas banner at the street. ECA students hosted a Wednesday night concert. Because of that concert, a young lady named Emily visited EBC with her family and her fiancé, Gerry. They all heard the gospel. They stopped in the lobby, we met, we talked, and we invited them to come back.
Sunday, they were back, and welcomed with open arms into a warm, gospel-centered church family. They fellowshipped. They sipped some coffee and pastries from the welcome center. They were warmly ministered to. They were loved. After church, we set an appointment for Tuesday night.
That Tuesday, we visited together. They all shared their testimony of salvation—except Gerry. He didn’t have one. But an hour later, he did. He listened to scripture and was very happy to trust Jesus.
A few weeks later, Gerry and Emily brought Felix and Kimberly (their cousins) to church. After the coffee, pastries, and warm welcome, they too heard of Jesus. Right there in the service, they asked Jesus to save them. They all began to grow. And grow. And LOVE growing in God’s grace.
Some weeks later, the four were baptized—and with that, a group of family members attended to see the baptism. It was a celebration. It was also an invitation. The public identification was one of the best ways that the four could immediately share their faith with all of their friends and family. It was precious.
Walking in the door with them that morning, to the coffee counter, was Gerry’s older sister Yesenia. We met her and welcomed her. I began to explain the series we were studying. She stopped me, “I know, I’ve been listening to the podcast for weeks!” (She wasn’t saved yet.)
Yesenia continued to come. We shared the gospel. She listened to the podcast. A few weeks ago, after a podcast, she bowed her head and accepted Christ as her personal Saviour. Yesterday, she was so excited to be baptized! Tears… and more tears. She’s so happy to know Jesus Christ. For the first time in her life, she has real hope to build a future in Him.
Her friend came to see her be baptized. It was the second time he came. The first time, he received DONE and read it twice. Today he heard the gospel in my office for an hour and a half. We talked. We looked at scripture. We wrestled with questions—lots of them. He didn’t get saved—YET. But God is working in His life.
This story is longer. Much longer. There are more lives. Others have been saved. This post would be too long. An entire extended family and friends have been significantly impacted by the gospel flowing through a loving, non-judgmental, others-focused, gospel-centered, grace-giving, church family.
The take-aways are many. Here are just a few:
1. The gospel of Jesus is alive and well—it’s moving with or without you and me. The gospel not confined by labels. The Holy Spirit moves in spite of us, not because of us. Movements don’t own or control the gospel. Jesus does. He is absolutely at work—with me or without me. The only movement that matters is the moving of the Holy Spirit.
2. Hearts are hungry and desperate for Jesus and hope—they just have to see Him. In too many churches all they see is US! When we get too big, we make Jesus very small. In many churches, if guests show up at all, they rarely actually see Jesus at work.
3. If Jesus has changed your life, you cannot stay silent—no training necessary. I’m for training. I’m more for hearts who love Jesus so much that they cannot stay quiet. The Word of God grows and multiplies. That’s what it does—IF we stop preventing it.
4. Nobody wants to invite someone to a dead church—a church where Jesus is outside knocking. Too often, we’re more focused on a model than the Master. A model of ministry crafted in another era or culture could effectively HIDE Jesus in this era or culture. Our passion must be BIBLICAL ministry, not merely BOXED ministry.
5. When the Holy Spirit is unquenched, the church of Jesus comes to life, and life-change is inevitable. It’s not something we strategize. It’s something we allow. Our pride, our pettiness, our personality struggles, our protection of culture over mission—these things quench His Spirit and kill His church.
6. When the gospel of Jesus is shared with 21st century clarity, 21st century hearts are transformed. Don’t try to be a 19th century preacher, unless your’e trying to reach 19th century souls. (We’re a little late for that.) Speak to the 21st century heart. They don’t understand Christian-ese. “Well glory” ostracizes them. They think we’re nuts–NOT because of doctrine, but because of a mindset that is completely disconnected from their reality. (See 1 Cor. 14:23) The gospel works if we speak it in “today.”
7. Baptism is God’s immediate answer for a new believer to share Jesus with friends and family. Don’t rush it. Capitalize on it. Family, friends, co-workers—they will come if invited to a baptism. Make it what Jesus intended—a public profession to those who NEED to hear it.
8. If people don’t see, understand, and experience Jesus when they come to church, then what are we doing? Are you leading people to a position? Or are you leading them to a PERSON? Jesus is a person. I get it. I have a position on just about everything. Some like to discuss, compare, critique positions. God’s call on my life is to PREACH a PERSON—Jesus Christ.
9. If people don’t see Jesus at my church, then they probably won’t be back. (And why should they?) They might see my definition of “good Christians.” They might see religion. They might hear a lot of lingo they don’t understand. Sadly, our culture generally expects this at church. They don’t expect humility and brokenness. They don’t expect regular, struggling people. They don’t expect genuine love. They don’t expect to really see JESUS. When they do—WOW! His grace is AMAZING. Even LOST people want to come back, because this touches a void in their life that nothing else touches.
10. The gospel of Jesus Christ moves forward, if I will simply get out of its way. How often has my attitude, my personality, my spirit, or my “culture” tarnished the gospel of grace and repelled people from Jesus? More than I can count. In contrast, Jesus said that I’m to be the light of the world. Light moves pretty fast unless something gets in its way. If my personality, position, or church culture stops the light from shining, something is drastically wrong.
11. The church of Jesus is a living, dynamic, enjoyable experience if we will let it be. Dead churches are taught and led to be that way. The Spirit is life! Grace is the celebration of the prodigal son returning home. Legalism is the grumpy son unhappy over his own adherence to “the code” and angry that the wanderer is forgiven so freely. Few things should be as delightful as real church—the gathering of the rescued—a true foreshadowing of Heaven itself. When led by God’s Spirit, church families come to life. Dead church isn’t a more spiritual path. It’s just dead. How can a dead church accurately preach new life?
12. Witnessing of Jesus isn’t something we have to “work at”, it’s something we participate in as the Holy Spirit works. There’s no greater joy than following the Holy Spirit in witnessing opportunities. There’s nothing harder than trying to work where the Holy Spirit isn’t.
13. Dead, issue-oriented, proud, competitive, contentious, or comparison-oriented churches and pastors have killed the gospel and the ministry of Jesus. A church can change for the better. A church that is disobeying James 2-4 can repent. It can stop playing politics, being judgmental, evaluating people by what they wear to church, fighting one another, faking faith, and bringing on God’s resistance through pride and personal superiority. When a church repents in humility, the gospel of Jesus is free to move again!
14. The gospel isn’t dead in New England—Christians are. There is a revival happening in New England. Secular media has documented it. Liberal religious leaders are concerned about it. I shared those reports here. We can either participate in it, or God will work around us.
Many churches in America are stagnant or dead or dying because last generation’s model doesn’t carry well into this generation. Wait. Before you assault me, think. EVERY generation of Christians is responsible for carving out a ministry model that is doctrinally sound AND culturally wise. (Matt. 10:16) And every generation HAS. It wouldn’t be right for any generation to impose their ministry model on future generations as “the only way”, “the only right way”, or “the only biblical way.” Some would unwisely define their model and their doctrine as ONE. Bad form. I thank God for older pastors who have wisely counseled me, “Cary, don’t be a hostage to the opinions or critique of other men. Follow God.” Their attitude is right! They are saying, “Don’t be imprisoned to last generation’s model of ministry! Learn your culture, your generation, and carve out an effective method of gospel ministry—like WE did!” Great advice!
Many churches are stuck and don’t know it. The model is dead but too sacred to bury and too right to revise. Stuck. Few new believers. Fewer genuinely growing disciples. What of the new life and dynamic church of the book of Acts?
The gospel is powerful. We restrain it. We lose interest in it. We get sidetracked on issues that don’t matter (if hell is real, any way.) We fight small battles on meaningless hills. We perpetuate models that fail to accurately connect truth to the 21st century heart. We prevent God from working because of our pride and unbelief.
Gerry, Emily, Felix, Kimberly, Yesenia… and many others… they don’t know about church politics, movements, groups, or dogma. They don’t know about crowds, camps, colleges, caustic Christians, and nit-picky comparisons. They know they are CHRISTIANS. They know life is hard, but now they have HOPE! They know JESUS. They know they are loved in a Bible-believing church. They know they are growing in timeless truths being framed and applied to their everyday, real life in 2013. They know the Holy Spirit is alive and working in them. They know the Bible has a lot to teach them about life and eternity.
They know they have a Saviour, a church family, and a pastor who loves them as they are, where they are… and they are eager to grow in grace.
So are the lost in your city, your community, your state. Let the gospel of grace move. Get out of its way. Let God’s Word say what it says. Don’t make it say what it doesn’t say. Don’t stretch it. Don’t cram it into a box built in another century. Don’t shackle it in 1600, or 1700, or 1800, or 1970. Don’t reduce it to 40-year-old-cliche’s and trite, recycled illustrations. Don’t force it into a dead ministry model or a dated cultural persona. Don’t rely on sensationalism, emotionalism, or ANY other -ism.
The Word is timeless. It was BEFORE all the -isms. Let it speak to the 21st century hopeless heart through your life and ministry with authenticity and genuineness. See how BIG the cross is and how small we are—and stay small. Stay weak. Stay broken, dependent, needy… nothing. Be dependent—helpless apart from Jesus. Be nothing so He can be everything.
Let the gospel of grace truly be as AMAZING as we say we believe it is.
THE GOSPEL IS STILL VERY MUCH ALIVE, if we will just get out of its way.