Three important questions for every church

Churches can be complicated things. Even a small church of 80-100 people can have many aspects to it: preaching and leadership teams, music groups, youth and children’s ministries, small groups, and so on. Trying to maintain the day-to-day running of all these aspects is one thing, trying to make sure you are being faithful and effective as a church in these areas is another thing all together.

If only we had a few questions that we could ask of ourselves and our churches regularly (weekly, even) that would help us see the extent to which we are being faithful and effective as Christ’s body on the earth.

Thankfully, we do.

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Video Bible talks

What follows is an outline of an idea that Kirsten and I have had cooking in the back of our minds for some time now: video-based expositional Bible teaching for use in church youth groups, school CUs and other small groups. Is there a need for such resources?

We think there is, and here’s why.

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Best youth / children’s teacher… ever

[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Who would be your number one youth/children’s teacher?[/clickandtweet] If you could encourage just one person to be active in teaching and discipling your children, who would it be?

Maybe it is someone who taught you as a young person, or maybe it is someone who has taught your children in their Sunday groups. Maybe it is someone you have served in youth and children’s ministry with. And then maybe (either out of a conviction of what the Bible says about parents or out of sheer vanity and pride) we think it might be, well, us.

In the book of Isaiah, the LORD tells us who the best youth / children’s teacher is, and what he says is a bit surprising…

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Support us in prayer

With a new season of life and ministry approaching, we are reminded once again that while we may plan our course, it is the LORD that will establish our steps (Proverb 16:9). We are not yet sure what the future will hold for Kirsten, the family and myself. What we do know is that God is good, his plans are good, and that he will give us wisdom for whatever road lies ahead, if we only ask him for it (James 1:5-6).

To that end, we’d like to invite you to pray for us and with us (or continue to pray for us and with us).

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How does Jesus lead the church?

Church leadership is an ‘interesting’ issue. Opinions abound as to how we should structure, organise, prioritise, conduct ourselves, and so on with regard to the leadership of local churches.

Yet for all this, it is quite hard to find an answer to how Jesus leads the Church, now that he has ascended to Heaven. Lots of people affirm that Jesus is the head of the church, and lots of people affirm the need for biblically called and qualified church leadership. What is missing is the link between the two: how does Jesus’ authority work itself out through local church leadership?

To answer this question, we need to follow the thread of divine authority as it is woven through the Bible.

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Notes from Word Alive 2016: Evening celebrations

This week Kirsten, myself and the kids have been enjoying a fantastic week at Word Alive 2016 in Prestatyn. The morning Bible readings on Job were truly excellent and the evening celebrations looking at some of the ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel have been equally superb.

For anyone at Word Alive 2016 who would like to go over some of the talks or for those that weren’t at the event who might find them useful, here are my notes from the event. This post has my notes from the evening celebrations looking at some of the ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel.

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Notes from Word Alive 2016: Morning Bible readings

This week Kirsten, myself and the kids have been enjoying a fantastic week at Word Alive 2016 in Prestatyn. The morning Bible readings on Job were truly excellent and the evening celebrations looking at some of the ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel have been equally superb.

For anyone at Word Alive 2016 who would like to go over some of the talks or for those that weren’t at the event who might find them useful, here are my notes from the event. This post has my notes from the morning Bible readings in Job.

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A conviction for time in the Word

This morning, I sat down with my Bible open at Isaiah 6-8. I must admit that I sat down this morning more out of conviction that spending time in my Bible was good and essential for my soul, rather than a clear expectation to be deeply encouraged and strengthened. Today, I give thanks to God that my convictions overruled my pathetic apathy. It turns out that Isaiah 6-8 has a lot to say to me about how great and glorious my Heavenly Father is and how sure and certain my hope in Jesus is.

My usual weekly routine begins with my biggest meeting of the week: 2 hours blocked out on Monday morning for me to spend in my Bible. Sundays is my most draining day of the week by far with preaching/teaching in the morning service, time spent in our Community Group straight after the morning service, and then preaching and teaching our 11-16s youth group in the evenings. And so, taking my lead from Jesus, I make sure that Monday mornings is blocked out with a decent chunk of time set aside to spend with my Heavenly Father listening to him in his Word, the Bible, and talking back to him in prayer afterwards.

For me, this weekly time alone with my Bible is the number one highlight of my week (the other two being Friday evenings when we have our family one-to-one Bible times, and Sunday evenings opening up the Bible with the young people and teenagers). Yet, it surprising how often I have to force myself to stick to it and not find something else to be busying myself with instead. It is like every week I need to be reminded of Jesus’ words to Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and say them to myself: few things are needed – or indeed only one. Choose what is better, and it will not be taken away from you (v42).

It is more often my conviction for the need to stop and listen to the Word of God rather than a sense of desire or impulse that drives me to spend time at the start of the week with an open Bible. And so week by week – driven by this conviction – I order my flat white (I study best when surrounded by the hubbub of other people), sit down, turn off my wifi and simply listen – listen with ears to hear and a heart to accept and receive whatever it is my great God needs to say to me. So far, he has yet to disappoint me with silence.

Let me be clear. I have yet to hear an audible voice. I have yet to see visions or be carried away in the Spirit. One day God may choose to speak to me in this way and I am open to it happening, but it is not my experience or my expectation. My expectation is very simple indeed. It is this: that as I work my way through books and passages of the Bible, God is speaking to me; speaking words that are relevant to me now or will be relevant to me in days/weeks/years to come.

[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Time in your Bible and in prayer is not just a nice thing to do – it is essential[/clickandtweet]

In the Bible I encounter words that were given to many different people, in many different places, in many different situations. So I must not assume that what is said is directly applicable to me – I need to get to work thinking about them and understanding them rightly (what is being said, what did it mean for the original hearers, what does it mean for me now, etc). This takes time and effort – hence the big block of time I set aside! But the hard work is always worth it. At the very least, I come away with simply a clearer understanding or a greater appreciation of God than I had before. More often than not, though, I come away with my faith strengthened and my resolve to live for Jesus built up. And occasionally – such as this morning – I find myself astounded at what I am reading and hearing; astounded that this great and holy God is speaking to me, revealing my lowliness in light of his greatness and showing me his grace in Jesus; grace that he should give himself up for me, overcome my sin and death and present me to his Heavenly Father as my Heavenly Father.

Obviously, as a vocational minister I am able to block out more time than most to spend in my Bible. Yet even when I was not a minister, I would strive to spend time each day in my Bible. Quantity of time does not necessarily equal quality of time. The amount of time you spend in Word and prayer is not as important as the importance you place on that time.

So shore up your convictions: time in your Bible and in prayer is not just a nice thing to do – it is essential for your life and vitality as a child of God.

What time (whether 5-10 minutes or an hour) do you need to block out in your daily/weekly routine to spend listening to your Heavenly Father in his Word?

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Psalm 119:15-16

A survey of Evangelism

A survey of evangelism in the New Testament (part 1)

‘Evangelism’ (and its subsidiary terms, like ‘witnessing’ and ‘outreach’) is a word that gets used a lot. Christians are to be doing it, churches should engage in it, the growth of Christianity depends on it. But what is ‘it’? What is evangelism?

In the first part of this blog post, we’ll be taking a look at the principles and examples of evangelism as we find them in the New Testament and coming up with a basic biblical understanding and framework for evangelism. Then, in part 2 of this post, we’ll be thinking about three ways that a biblical understanding and framework for evangelism might shape and even challenge our current concepts and practices.

Mixed meanings

The word ‘evangelism’ gets used so much without any frame of reference or clarification of meaning. As we all know, familiarity breeds contempt… or rather, familiarity breeds misunderstanding. Using the word without defining it means that what we mean by ‘evangelism’ becomes assumed, and that is where the trouble begins. After all, assumption makes an ass out of ump and tion… or something like that.

Any hoo, the point is that when we assume we know what we mean by ‘evangelism’, the term begins to slip in its meaning. You and I could be having a conversation about ‘evangelism’ where we are both saying that the church should do more of it, but both have drastically different understanding on what ‘it’ is.

Indeed this is not a hypothetical situation. I have had many conversations with people where we both agree that the church should actively seek to reach (evangelise) young people. Yet, it became obvious that what I mean by ‘evangelism’ was quite different from what the other person meant. I was talking about helping young people to share the good news of Jesus with their peers, whereas they were talking about putting on a big event to attract lots of young people into the church building – two very different concepts of ‘evangelism’.

By not clarifying what we meant by ‘evangelism’, we were in danger of seeming like we agree whereas in reality there are two (or more) different views that maybe even disagree or stand opposed to each other. Yet this is not the greatest danger of never bringing in a frame of reference for evangelism. The greatest danger is that we move away from what the LORD says about evangelism; we lean on our understanding, rather than heeding the wisdom of God – something we are commanded not to do (Proverbs 3:5-8). The upshot of this is that we begin to build a view and approach to evangelism that starts to stray from what the LORD actually wants us to do. Over time, we end up labouring in vain (Psalm 127:1), and the work of our hands may end up being shown to be shoddy workmanship, fit for being torn down and chucked on the scrap heap (my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

So, what follows is a survey of evangelism in the New Testament (evangelism is also a concept in the Old Testament, but requires more careful explanation and presentation than I have time and space to do here). My aim is that this might serve as a primer to help us ensure that when we talk about evangelism, we have principles and examples from God’s own Word ringing in our ears and echoing round our heads.

Before we begin, a few notes. First, this survey is arranged into broad categories. That is, I have gone through the various texts and have tried to group them together where they offer similar principles/examples. Second, this is not an exhaustive survey. The passages given are illustrative of the principles/examples rather than the sum total of what the Bible says. Third, most of the passages are from the book of Acts. This is because the book of Acts itself is a survey of how all that Jesus began to do and teach was continued by his people, the church, once he had returned to His Father; it is a gold mine of principles and examples for the church to follow and live out.

With all the fine print out of the way, let’s begin.

A survey of Evangelism in the New Testament

Evangelism as a gathered church

Preaching in Christian gathered worship
Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 14:23-25, Colossians 3:16

Whenever the church gathered, the Gospel was proclaimed through the preaching of the Word and the apostles teaching. This is the ‘staple-diet’ of corporate whole-church evangelism. Whenever the church gathers, the Gospel should be preached as the Word is taught, and people will turn to Christ in the church gathering.

Commissioning evangelists and people for specific missions
Acts 11:22-24, Acts 13:1-5

Occasionally we see some of the apostles and other believers being commissioned or acknowledged as being set aside for a specific evangelistic purpose, mission or journey in order to build up the church and take God’s Word to unreached people. Such people are simply called to devote themselves intentionally and often vocationally to do the work of sharing the good news of Jesus that all believers are to do.

As individual Christians in the world

Personal witness and testimony among unbelievers
Acts 8:4, Acts 8:34-35, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15

This is bar far the overwhelming assumption and focus of the New Testament in terms of evangelism: one person telling one (or more) other people about Jesus, and doing this wherever God may lead us and whenever the opportunity may arise.

Family evangelism
Acts 16:34, Acts 18:8, 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (Acts 16:1), Acts 16:14-15

Wherever children hear the Gospel and believe in the New Testament, it is always in the context of their family – either someone sharing the Gospel with the whole family, or else parents, grandparents and family members leading and teaching their children to turn and trust in Jesus.

Lives that commend the message
Matthew 5:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 1 Peter 2:11-12

Whenever the Gospel is shared and proclaimed, it is commended by the lives and character of those who share and proclaim it (for example, the incident with Philip the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25 shows how seriously Peter and John thought it was that someone’s motives and morality matched the message they proclaimed).

Evangelisms by commissioned evangelists and church leaders

Preaching in public forums
Acts 2:14ff, Acts 5:42, Acts 8:5, 2 Timothy 4:2

Paul and his companions (as those dedicated for specific missionary journeys and visits) devoted most of his time preaching the Gospel of Jesus in public forums, first to the Jews and then to the gentiles.

Philosophical reasoning in public forums
Acts 17:17, 22-23, Acts 19:8

Preaching of the Gospel in public places often led or generated philosophical discussion in those public places. Those dedicated for specific evangelism both preach the Gospel and contended for it.

Semi-private instruction
Acts 19:9-10, Acts 28:30

In addition to preaching and contending for the Gospel, those commissioned as evangelists took time to teach and present the Gospel to individuals and small groups of people, often on a regular basis over a period of time.

Going to those ‘close’ to the Kingdom first (but never exclusively)
Acts 17:2-3

There is a pattern that emerges as we observe Paul doing the work of an evangelist: he goes to the Jews first, and then to the gentiles. As those who had been given the Law and the covenant promises of God, the Jews were close to the Kingdom (Mark 12:32-34). But this was never at the expense of preaching the Gospel to the gentiles. Both were on Paul’s to-do list, but preaching the Gospel to the Jews came first, followed by preaching it to the gentiles.

In summary

A survey of principles and practices of evangelism that are given to us in the New Testament show us that a biblical understanding of evangelism means…

  • Preaching and speaking about Jesus as defined by the Word of God in order that people might turn to Jesus in faith is central and fundamental.
  • Collectively as the church, evangelism is simply to be part of our regular church gatherings. It is not a separate ‘ministry’, activity or focus for the church.
  • Individually as believers, we should regard evangelism as a personal privilege and responsibility carried out in everyday life wherever opportunities present themselves (and our lives should commend the message we share and proclaim).
  • Where people are comissioned to be set apart for evangelism, they are in essence simply doing what every believer is called to do but in a way that is more explicit, more focused/strategic or as their vocation (so as to be without the distraction of earning a living apart from their ministry).