Sunday, October 29, 2006

He Doesn't Hate Evangelism

Dave Livermore, M.A., was senior pastor of the Kelso-Longview Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, Kelso, Washington, United States. He doesn't hate evangelism. Here's why. Taken from Ministry Magazine October 2006.

It's Sunday morning, and I am watching a riveting football game. One team dominated the other during the first half. But in the second half, the other team made so many good adjustments that it took the lead-and eventually won the game. What can we, as a church, learn from that second-half comeback victory?

The problem
First, I'm sick of what the devil does to our communities-the crime, the drugs, the broken homes, and the vacant stares on so many faces. When we look to the church as a place of hope, a place where questions can be answered and where life can begin anew, we often see independent attitudes, critical spirits, divided efforts, a relative morality, and a holiness that's often very unappealing. To go back to my football analogy, according to the scoreboard, we are losing the game.

Let's pretend it's halftime. What adjustments must the Seventh-day Adventist Church make that can turn our "team" around to have a greater impact on our communities? Plenty. But first, if you're in the locker room at halftime, you must give full attention to the coach. Jesus, the Coach, has mandated our mission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19, 20, NIV).

The personal approach
Some believe that public evangelistic series have become costly and largely ineffective. Many pastors have given up on them entirely. I've heard about pastors holding an evangelistic series, and no community people came. "Well, these meetings are good for the church too," they say in response. Maybe that's true, but that's not why we hold evangelistic meetings. The church is not the target. The community is. Some also believe that, because evangelistic series are not working well in some countries, people are not interested in our last-day message. That's simply not true! I believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not grow without public evangelism.

I'm convinced that the church I pastor will not grow without public evangelism. We have done an evangelistic series each of the last nine years, and I know that we must, all year long, plow ground, plant seeds, and fertilize the soil. This crucial adjustment will focus the church in a direction that leads toward a successful evangelistic series. Our "Coach" set the example: "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.' " (Ministry of Healing, 143)

No amount of handbills or literature hung on a doorknob will ever take the place of one-on-one contact. As we make friends for friends' sake, as we participate in community picnics, as we visit over our fences in our neighborhoods, as we have opportunities to pray for troubled family and friends, we win their confidence and people feel and see our sympathy. We earn the right to speak further to their hearts, and then we can invite them to a small group designed only to deepen that relationship (small groups like those with which I am familiar, such as Marathon Madness, Monday Night Football, Your Best Life Now, Intimacy Issues,Knitting Together, Learning Spanish, Marriage Matters, Doing Community Surveys, Personal Devotions, Creationism, etc.).

Our small groups don't need to do anything more than just make friends. One of our small group leaders tells me, "I'll provide the friendship, relationship, and foundational studies; then I'll bring them to the evangelistic series, and you, Pastor Dave, take them the rest of the way." Just make friends. If you do, the opportunity to invite them to a series will become natural.

A new model
Adjustments can make a big difference. For instance, this year we realized that it was a stretch to expect community people to come to an evangelistic series for 17 or 19 nights. I love to play golf; but I could not attend a series of rounds of golf for 19 nights at any time during the year, including summer, no matter how much I might want to, because I'm just too busy. Our community people are too busy and, likewise, the church family. What, then, can we do to make it easier for them to come to a series? Acts 15:19 (NIV) says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

How did we make it easier? First, we prepared throughout the year. Then, and here's where we made some adjustments, we had three weekend meetings. That's it. That was our evangelistic series. On opening night, a Friday evening, two sermons were preached: no preliminaries, no music, no theme song, nothing other than a warm welcome, snacks on the tables, an explanation of child care, and a short preview of what will happen the next night. The two sermons were preached by two different speakers--I opened with "Signs of His Coming," and our associate closed the first night on "How Jesus Returned." We invited everybody back to church the next morning, when I spoke on Daniel 2 for the Sabbath worship service. We fed everyone dinner each Saturday evening, with many community friends in attendance. Throughout the series, we had 115 community people participate in our effort.

Our second night began with dinner at 6:00 P.M., followed by two more sermons that began at 7:00 and ended by 8:30. We used three speakers because we found in using a multiteaching staff that people connected to the message better than connecting to the messenger, as can be a problem if we use a guest evangelist. We covered fifteen topics in those three weekends, including our Sabbath services.

After we completed the three-weekend series, we formed a new Sabbath School for our community friends and for members who had formed relationships with them. Here we covered additional teachings and then immediately moved into a program called "In the Footsteps of Paul." As a result, we have baptized or have accepted by profession of faith 25 people so far this year. Because of those who haven't made a decision yet but who continue to stay with us, we finished "In the Footsteps of Paul" and moved them into a Sabbath School class taught by our Bible worker. Now they are studying through our fundamental beliefs, and we will make several appeals through the next 24 weeks for them to take the next step in their Christian experience.

A simple adjustment, a transformed church
When these community people know who Seventh-day Adventists are, something powerful happens to the church. Everybody comes to life; the church takes on a whole new flavor with a new atmosphere pervading the foyer that then flows into the worship center. You can find energy and expectation in the kitchen, at potlucks, and in the restrooms! It permeates the church, and the culture that once was inward focused, now, through an adjustment, becomes what God would have it be: outward focused. All this because guests have arrived, and we planned in advance to treat them as Christ treated guests.

A simple adjustment, that's all. And things came back to life. I think our "Coach" is calling for a new play: same team, same rules, but a new strategy. It's halftime, and He's calling for an adjustment in the game plan. Will we keep doing what we've been doing and have a second half as moribund as the first? Or shall we come out after halftime with a new attitude and with a new aggressiveness after adjustments have been made?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kumar Luv [a.k.a -- Kindness 2 Go]

I was talking to Kumar Dixit at the New Hope Adventist church in Maryland a year ago. In his church, he does this thing where he invites guests at worship that morning to stay after the service for 7 minutes or less. He gives them a gift bag full of goodies and then explains some stuff about their church.

I liked what he did so much that I decided to steal it. But instead of giving the gift bags just to guests, we decided to line the stage with them once a month on First Serve Sabbath and call them Kindness 2 Go bags. At the end of our service, we pray over those bags and the conversations and questions they generate and then invite every guest and member present to come forward all together and take a bag home with them—as long as they promise to give it away to someone else during the following week. The next Sabbath, I interview a few folks in church who did so simply asking them what they said before giving the bags away and what their friend’s response was.

I’ll never forget what this one college student told me. I had told him he could say, "This is our Kindness 2 Go bag. My pastor told me to give this to you for Jesus sake." But when I interviewed him, what he said he said to his friend instead was, "This is a Kindness 2 Go bag. My church is giving these away for some reason. So take it for Christ’s sake." And he did! And a couple weeks later, both of them were in church.

You see it really doesn’t matter what you say or even how you say it. Because being normal and ordinary like Jesus is way more effective than being technologically advanced. Acts 4:13 [NIV] says it this way. "13When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

So you don’t necessarily have to go to seminary or boot camp. All you have to do is know your name and be willing to get to know someone else’s. Not as a target for your next conversion. But as a treasure for your next conversation. Because "Iron sharpens iron" [Proverbs 27:17] And because both of you were bought with a price.

Once you commit those two mind boggling details to memory, you’re good to go. Walking and talking. Eating and drinking. Praying%

Down With Eior Adventism

Podcasts and satellites and technology are wonderful tools that can help reach God’s missing children. But I’m convinced if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and every single one of their toys disappeared tomorrow, Revelation 18:1 will still one day occur. Why? Because ordinary outreach is a heaven thing, not a Mac thing. Revelation 18:1 [NIV] proclaims, "1After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor."

Bottom line: Many years ago, the earth was illuminated by the splendor of Jesus. The world was turned upside down. And if the small things He and His followers did with great love changed the world back then, I believe they will change it again. Do you? Jesus told Thomas in John 20:29 [NIV], "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

So here’s the icing on the cake. Simply taking Jesus and His sanctuary to God’s missing children wherever they are in very ordinary but personal ways not only ignites revival in the church and grows the kingdom of God, it also makes those of you doing it happy. Because you can actually do it!

Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that ‘happy’ is another way to understand the word ‘blessed.’ So happy are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Down with Eior Adventism! Moping about. Pretending everything is so sobering and complicated and necessary. Jesus said the prophets of old would have traded places with any of us in a heartbeat! Matthew 13:17 [NIV] says, "17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." John 20:30 [NIV] adds these words, "30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book."

If that’s true, I see no reason to believe why He’s not gonna do many other miraculous things in the presence of these 21st century disciples, gathered in this room, which have yet to even be recorded. Do you agree?

Quit Whining!

A few years ago, some pastor friends and I went on a mission trip. We traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. In some of the most remote villages outside the Killing Fields of the former Khmer Roughe, I was the first white person many of these Cambodians had ever seen!

And while I was there to talk to them about Jesus, they taught me something about Him I’ll never forget—Jesus can grow His kingdom without our help. And without our wallets. He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills doesn’t need us, or our money, near as much as we so desperately need Him. Luke 19:40 [NIV] says, "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

In Cambodia, maybe they already are. Because many Adventist churches there meet on what amounts to a really large front porch on stilts in the middle of a rice paddy. The pastor and family live in the back of the porch under the roof. But most of the structure is devoted to a really big porch! They do that so they can say that church is really just a house. So the government will leave them alone. But every Sabbath and many weekdays, the porch is full of people. And the Adventist church is growing in Cambodia, house by house, porch by porch, because of the ordinary things they do on them. Things and like walking and talking. Eating and drinking. Praying and partying. Healing and blessing. Just showing up. Offering personal invitations.

They do that in Cambodia because they don’t have millions of dollars to spend on evangelism. Most of them don’t even have shoes. They do it that way because they cannot rely on expensive satellites circling the globe to do their job for them. Most of them are grateful for a roof over their heads. They do it that way because they don’t have the latest video clips, praise music, and podcasts. They obviously don’t need them. But what shocked me, was the growing realization, that we might not either! If we would simply start treating every day, every conversation, every question asked, every ordinary thing we do and say as outreach.

What my Cambodian brothers and sisters in Christ taught me is to stop whining about not having enough evangelism money to do stuff [although Christ hasn’t quite given me that victory yet!] The Kingdom is not about money. And never has been. It’s not just about mission trips. It’s not just about evangelism traditionally understood. It’s about choosing to treat every ordinary thing we do or say as outreach and personally inviting others to follow Jesus with you.

I Hate Evangelism and Mission Trips

I hate the word evangelism because most people think it can only mean satellite preaching and reaping events. Neither of which Jesus did much [any?] of. I also hate the words "mission trip." Why do we call them mission trips anyway? If mission is what we’re already doing, why do we have to go on a trip? Raising thousands of dollars and getting vaccinated is way too much work. No wonder hardly any of us are doing it!

I think it has to be WAY simpler. Not just because I’m already busy. But because I’m also broke! With energy prices soaring, who can actually afford to go someplace to do mission? And why should we? Especially when every day is a mission trip.

Buying groceries. Talking to the cashier. Tutoring after school. Driving old people to their doctor’s appointments. Inviting the mom’s in your neighborhood over for lunch. Babysitting for free. Taking your neighbor to a football game. Joining his bowling league. Going to the gas station. But only if you pay inside. It doesn’t count if you pay at the pump. Jesus didn’t die to save rusty machines that never have enough paper in them to give you a receipt anyway so you might as well go inside and talk to somebody live! Working out at the Y instead of your basement. All of that is outreach.

I know this is true because I met my workout buddy Ken at the Y. It’s not just semantics. Like why do we park in the driveway but drive on the parkway? Psalm 24:1 [NIV] says, "1The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, and all who live in it."

I’m not saying mission trips outside your zip code are bad. Or that there's no place for reaping events. I’m just saying we need a new word for what Jesus really did for most of His time on earth. Because Jesus didn’t save up His denarii to go to Athens and He didn’t stay home writing checks for evangelism so satellites could beam prophecy seminars around the globe. What He did was so much simpler. And normal. And ordinary. And cost efficient.

Why Did Jesus Party?

Why did Jesus go to parties and many other curious places full of tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards and gluttons and thieves? It’s not a trick question. Certainly He wasn’t there to endorse everything happening inside! And while that’s true, He obviously didn’t go to church to endorse everything happening in there either! Because when He got up to preach in Luke 4:16, He rebuked them from Isaiah.

Same type of thing with Paul. Who wrote letters to the churches in the New Testament rebuking them for quarreling and gossiping and you name it. Same thing with John. Who conveyed to Laodicea in Revelation 3:16 that God would rather they were either hot or cold. Anything except lukewarm.

So if we’re not treating every day as outreach, because we’re too afraid of endorsing the wrong thing, or even worse, because we’re too worried about our reputations, maybe we should all stop going to church too. Because there’s more ink in the pages of the Bible devoted to righting the wrongs of church members than those outside it. Jesus prayed in John 17:15 [NIV], "15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."

So I ask again: Why did Jesus go to parties and hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards and gluttons and thieves? I think He went to these curious places and hung out with them there because that’s where His missing children are!

Think about it! They’re not in church! But maybe more of them would be if we took the sanctuary to them instead of waiting for them to wander back through its doors. And maybe more of the church would be willing to leave the building if it didn’t require vast memorization of Scripture or 6 weeks of boot camp before you could. And maybe if we all just tried being normal for a change, and cared as much about building relationships as being theologically correct, maybe more people would be more interested in Jesus.

Where Angels Never Tread

Have you ever seen pictures of those gloom and doom guys walking around Times Square with those placards on their front and back announcing Armageddon and the end of the world? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did the same thing but the placards read "The Kingdom of God is within!"

That’s the kind of thing Jesus actually did! Luke 17:20 [NIV] says, "20Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied,‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, here it is, or there it is, because the kingdom of God is within you."

Whoa, mind bender! No wonder Jesus and His followers Jesus treated every day as outreach! Because they understood that the Kingdom of God is not in heaven. It’s on earth. And it begins now! That’s why I love this T-shirt that says, "The church has left the building." In Exodus 25:8 [NIV], God said, "8Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them." Which apparently worked well for a while. But hundreds of years later Jesus showed up and said in Matthew 18:20 [NIV], "20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

Which means the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God, has moved. It’s not in a building anymore. It’s in our hearts. And since Jesus promised never to leave us nor forsake us, we take the sanctuary with us wherever we go! Even to the movies. The bowling allies. The bars. The parties. All the places I was told growing up Jesus’ angels never tread.

Two Case Studies

I remember a couple years ago when God put this overwhelming desire in my heart to invite my neighbor Ron across the street to study the Bible with me. I’d lived across the street from him for 5 years. We’d talk about lawn care. Television. Movies. The kids. He started picking up my mail for me when I was gone. Taking my dog for walks. Bringing me fresh bread. An extra cantaloupe on sale. And STILL I missed all those cues from God.

Finally, one day, my neighbor straight out asked me what I thought about the psychic Sylvia Brown and I’m not making this up—"the state of the dead." And I’m thinking, seriously God? You’re even going to give him the right Adventist lingo to use? I thought Matthew 10:19, where you promised to give us the words to say, only applied to Christians being dragged before kings and monarchs! So I butchered some answer about the state of the dead I’d given only days before when my son asked me if there really are more good angels than bad and if the good angels really are stronger.

Then I took a deep breath, smiled, and asked him: Would you mind sharpening my mind? He asked me what I meant. And I proceeded to tell him that the Bible says in Proverbs 27:17 that "Iron sharpens iron." Which is true. But something else iron does I’ve noticed is if you leave it out in the rain, it rusts. You should’ve seen my hammer the week after I tried dog–proofing the my back yard after I fixed the fence! So I told Ron that I thought he asked good questions and that he could probably help me understand the Bible better and draw closer to Jesus because his perspective is so different than mine and that maybe I could do the same for him as iron sharpens iron so we don’t rust. He accepted my invitation. We started studying the prophecies of Daniel. And less than a year later he was baptized. All because I finally tried practicing what I preach.

My wife Jackie was a lot less subtle. During one of her mom’s day out lunches, she literally blurted the following to a handful of other mothers: "I want to share my faith with you guys! Would you all come to my house next Monday night and study the Bible with me? I’ve got some great study guides on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation." And you know what? They all said yes! One of them even said, "I was hoping you would ask! I always wondered what you believe and why you always go to church on Saturday." So now we’re studying with these 3 moms and when one friend’s husband heard I sat in on the study too—he joined in. All because Jackie was normal with them. And straight out asked them if they would all come over and study the prophecies of the Bible with us.

Which reminded me: Jesus treated every day, every conversation, every question asked, and every ordinary thing He said or did as outreach. And when His followers finally left the upper room and followed His example, THAT’s when the world turned upside down—or more accurately, right side up. Acts 17:6 [NKJV] says, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."

Riot or Revival?

Have you ever noticed? It seemed that everywhere the Gospel was shared, it either started a riot or a revival. And not just in Ephesus. Literally everywhere they went! It seems like Paul was constantly getting beat up and thrown out of cities left for dead by mobs of people. On the other hand, Acts 2:46–47 [NIV] also testifies to the revival part. It says, "46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

So I’m thinking if we all stopped saving FOR a mission trip and simply started treating every day AS IF IT WERE ONE, doing the ordinary things we’re already doing, but with a little more purpose and a few more personal invitations, the Holy Spirit would start a lot more riots and revivals in our wake. Both of which are good things. Proving we’re on the right track.

What do you think?

Small Things Done With Great Love Still Change The World

Steve Sjogren is right. "Small things done with great love will change the world." But you don’t even have to be Christian to recognize that. What if Martin Luther had never nailed his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenburg? What if Martin Luther King had never dreamed a dream? What if Rosa Parks had never sat down on that bus? Don’t you see that small things done with great love have already changed the world? Sure, she probably didn’t realize at the time what a big deal her ordinary act would become. And sometimes, neither do we. Even though, as Christ’s followers, we should by now.

Acts 17:6 [NKJV] tells us why. It says, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too." I like the way the NIV says it even more. "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here." Jesus, you see, was a trouble maker. When the hawks were clamoring for war against Rome, Jesus talked about turning the other cheek. When the church leaders created 613 rules to keep Sabbath holy, the Lord of the Sabbath went out of his way to break nearly every one of them. And when prostitutes and tax collectors decided to throw Him a party, He actually went. Not worried if Gabriel would follow Him in there or not.

He was walking and talking. Eating and drinking. Praying and partying. Healing and blessing. Just showing up. Offering personal invitations. Simply being, what I like to call, normal.
It reminds me of a story I read recently. In it, there’s a group of church people who basically take potluck to the park each week so they can feed the homeless. When they started, the police arrived and said they couldn’t feed the homeless without a permit. They replied, "We’re not feeding the homeless. We’re eating with them. We invited them to our picnic." Which I think is hilarious. Because Jesus WAS homeless right? He said in Luke 9:58 [NIV] says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

So here you’ve got THE homeless guy modeling for His 21st century followers how to minister TO homeless guys and others rejected by society by eating with them taking advantage of every ordinary thing they were going to do anyway and because they actually did—they get in trouble. Who knew peanut butter and jelly could be so controversial?