The fear of the E-word

In the November issue of Presbyterians Today, I share an article that gives 3 basic steps to overcome your personal fear of evangelism.

Sometimes called “the e-word,” as if evangelism is an unspeakable curse word, personal evangelism is generally not a regular discipline among believers in mainline churches because of associations with pushy street preachers.

Here is a snippet from the article:

Street Preacher EvangelismWhen it comes to personal evangelism, the street preacher is the negative go-to stereotype. The common reaction is “I don’t want to do that.”

Though a few are indeed gifted to be effective street preachers (and I’ve done it myself in parks and city streets), the rest of us want a more natural way to share our faith.

Easier done than said

The problem for many people is that talking about faith is difficult.

In the final hours of my mother’s life, she whispered, “I’ve always believed in Jesus; I just didn’t talk about it.” Others have told me that they hope that their good behavior is enough of a sermon that they don’t need to say anything. Ernest L. Gardner III, interim pastor at Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, North Carolina, says, “I have found that cradle Presbyterians are more accustomed to having their church doors open to visitors than [they are] to engaging others directly about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

There are many reasons we choose not to talk about our faith. We don’t want to participate in high-pressure tactics or in the kinds of emotional manipulation seen on television. We don’t want our friends to think we’re foolish or simple-minded. Nor do we want to be perceived as combative or disrespectful of others’ deeply held religious beliefs. Laura Long, pastor of Clinchfield Presbyterian Church in Marion, North Carolina, says, “People don’t want to be perceived as nosy about another person’s beliefs.”

We may feel that we lack the skills or knowledge to effectively discuss being a follower of Jesus. I remember hearing an evangelist compare, point by point, the beliefs of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. I began to panic because I knew I couldn’t give a presentation like that. When we’re challenged about the existence of God, or about why we believe that God is love and that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we may feel as if we can’t give a reasonable defense of our belief.

In a way, we sometimes undermine ourselves. If we aren’t nurturing our relationship with Christ, we’ll miss out on God’s work in our life; we won’t recognize how God is transforming us, leading us, using us, or teaching us. And that can affect how we witness to others. According to pastor Geoff McLean of Christ Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, “If we don’t appreciate the changes that God works in our life, we have little to say . . . about the relevance of following Jesus.”

Finally, we may feel uncomfortable about sharing our faith because we haven’t thought about how to explain the gospel in a simple way. A friend once asked me, “Chris, what is the gospel?” My obtuse, 10-minute, directionless explanation taught me that, even though I had two seminary degrees, I couldn’t explain the gospel in simple terms. I was not prepared.

I interviewed a couple of Presbyterian pastors, some of whom are using the Engage curriculum on personal evangelism.  That resource is one that I can recommend.  It uses some of the same principles that I teach in my own evangelism seminars about watching for spiritual thirst and engaging people in intentional conversation.

To read the 3 basic steps I share, click through to read the whole article, or read this snippet:

These basic steps can help:

1. Talk about your own experiences with Jesus, not just your church.

Talking about your church is easy, but talking about your own experiences is more meaningful. You might describe how the wisdom of Scripture is helping you in some difficult season in your life. You might talk about how you see the Lord answering particular prayers. Or you might describe how the Lord has used you in some ministry.

2. Talk about how you became a follower of Jesus, not just a member of your church.

I’ve found that many Presbyterians have difficulty answering the question “When did Jesus become real to you?” It’s not that they don’t have faith but that they lack words to express that faith. Think back to some season in your life when it was clear that you had an encounter with Jesus. Try to describe that experience without using overly religious words.

3. Talk about the gospel of Christ, not just your church’s weekend message.

You may find it easy to talk about Sunday’s sermon or even why you were moved by the anthem the choir sang. While those are good to talk about, we need to know the core content of the gospel of Jesus Christ and be able to explain it in a meaningful way to people who may have never read the Bible.

Due to space requirements, I didn’t put a fourth one in there, but here is one that I would add:

4.  Talk about the difference Jesus has made in your life, not just your church programs that do good.

You may find it easy to share how you give to the food pantry, tutor a child, or repair the car of a single mom.  But how has becoming a follower of Christ changed you?  Could you share your hope filled testimony story in two phrases?

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

As you ponder how you and your congregation might grow as evangelists, know that you are not alone in this sometimes difficult journey.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area is here to support you.

  • To watch the Engage video series, download related resources, and order the three-part printed curriculum: pcusa.org/engage
  • To partner with New Beginnings as you envision a new future for your congregation and come up with a strategy to make it happen: whatisourfuturestory.com
  • To connect with staff, find more resources, and get information on the next Evangelism and Church Growth Conference: pcusa.org/ecg

photo credit: nan palmero via cc

How to Pray for Your Neighbor’s Salvation

I recently got new neighbors.  They moved in across the way.

I know very little about them at the moment, other than they are Jewish.

At least, that is my best guess based on the mezuzah that is on their door frame.  I am told that the mezuzah holds a small paper scroll with the words of the Shema prayer written on it in Hebrew.  Mezuzahs fulfill the command to keep the laws of God on the doorposts of our homes, and I’ve seen family members touch it each time they walk into their house.

I doubt my first greeting with them will be to talk about Jesus.

But I can begin to pray for them before I have a chance to know them personally.

How can you pray for your neighbors?

How to Pray for Neighbors Salvation

I know there are many different prayer strategies in personal evangelism (listen to this one), such as this one from Colossians 4:3-4

  • “Lord, Open a door.”
  • “Lord, open their heart.”
  • “Lord, open my mouth.”

When I last got new neighbors in 2011, here is what shaped my prayer for my new neighbors.  We are praying along these lines:

  1. That we’d find common ground with our new neighbors
  2. That we’d build a genuine and authentic relationship.
  3. That we’d be part of God’s work in bringing them to Christ.
  4. That if they don’t have a church, that they would become part of ours.
  5. That we’d get to invite them to our church.
  6. That God would draw them to Jesus if that hasn’t happened yet.

Due to the course of life events in both our families, we moved and they moved before we ever had a meal together.

As I step into a new seasons of praying for new neighbors, here are some ideas that are fueling me.

1.  Pray for passion to share the good news

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s  driving passion to share the good news, as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law),so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

2.  Pray that God would give you divine appointments

Earlier in the Corinthian letter, Paul wrote:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Paul reminded the Corinthians about how they made their journey to faith over time through various conversational encounters.

Each of those conversational encounters were divine appointments, those prompting a moment that will impact someone’s life in their journey to faith.  I want to give you examples of how this can play out in real life.

Pray for more divine appointments with your neighbor.

3.  Pray that God will keep those neighbors before you.

Your neighbors are not just a nameless class of irrelgious people.

They are not simply “the unsaved.”  Rather, they are individuals with names, stories, hopes, dreams.  They are people that you can grow to love and serve.

You could pray that seeing your neighbors will become a trigger that will prompt you to pray,

Lord use me to share the love of Christ with them.

Lord, use me to invite them to church.

Pray that God would give you the opportunity to invite someone to church this coming weekend.

4.  Pray that you’ll receive the Father’s heart of love.

It’ll be easy to get annoyed with your neighbors when they won’t cut their tree limbs back, or when their dog continues to do its business on your yard.

It’ll become easy to ignore your neighbor if you never interact with them.

It’ll become easy to forget about their spiritual condition once you have spent a good amount of time with them.

Instead of letting business as usual develop, ask the Lord to give you His heart of love for those who don’t know him.

Ask regularly, ask plainly, and ask with great passion.

Ask the Lord for that same compassion Jesus felt that day outside of Jerusalem.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  (Matthew 9:36-38)

5.  Pray that you’ll discern their spiritual thirst.

As you pray regularly for your neighbor, you’ll begin to see what the Spirit of God is doing in their life.

You’ll begin to see their spiritual thirst.

Recently, I went on a charter fishing expedition.  The captain looked for clues as we drove to the fishing spots – birds feeding on bait fish.  The birds showed the captain where the small bait fish were swimming near the surface and that was the clue to the likely presence of the bigger fish we would catch.

Spiritual thirst is that clue that will begin to give you a hint of the spiritual hunger that is just below the surface.

In the way I teach personal evangelism, this thirst is what God uses to draw people to himself.  Jesus said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37b)

Jesus plainly taught that if anyone wants a relationship with God, it can be obtained.

But notice that this claim to a relationship is specifically addressed only to those who are spiritually thirsty.

Pray that you’ll begin to see it.

I pray for my neighbors.  Will you pray for yours?

Here is the coaching corner.

Are you praying regularly for your neighbors?

Maybe it is time to make a prayer list of every neighbor in your apartment building, condo complex, or cul-de-sac.

Write down their names and set apart time in your devotional times to pray for them.

26 Bible Verses about Guidance

Bible Verses on Guidance

Why Bible Verses on Guidance?

One might wonder, why is this set of bible verses is on my website?

I teach primarily on personal evangelism and forms of church evangelism, so what does a list of promises on God’s guidance contribute to that discussion?

The search for Guidance in your unsaved friend can be an indication of their spiritual thirst.

When your friends are making a major decision and talking with you about, knowing these verses might be a handy conversation tool to point them to God’s promises.

One gentleman asked me how I became a preacher and teacher and so I filled that testimony with stories of God’s guidance

You can tell your own testimony experiences (current stories of God’s activity) of experiencing God’s guidance.  You can connect Bible verses like these into your story.

26 Bible Verses, Promises of God’s Guidance

  • Psalm 25:4-5: Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
  • James 1:5-6: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
  • Psalm 5:8: Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies— make your way straight before me.
  • Psalm 31:3: Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
  • Psalm 61:1-2: Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
  • Psalm 143:8: Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
  • Psalm 16:7-8: I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
  • John 10:3-4: The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
  • Psalm 32:8-9: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
  • Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
  • Acts 13:2: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
  • Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
  • Psalm 19:8: The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
  • Acts 17:11: Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
  • Psalm 25:9: He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
  • Proverbs 2:6-9: For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
  • Philippians 2:13: for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
  • Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
  • Isaiah 30:21: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
  • Proverbs 11:14: For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.
  • Psalm 37:23: The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;
  • 1 Chronicles 10:13-14: Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
  • Proverbs 16:9: In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
  • Hebrews 11:8: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

All verses are from the NIV Bible.

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How to use God is not Dead (The Movie) as a conversation starter

God_is_not_dead_Movie_PosterI recently saw the movie God is not Dead.

My own reaction to the movie is somewhat mixed to the movie.

But a wise evangelist could suggest this movie to a truly seeking friend and allow it to open further conversational opportunities.

This movie will likely not successfully engage those who’s minds are already made up or hostile to the Christian faith.  Some of the story lines and character arcs may seem too simplistic for people who are not seriously considering the claims of Christ.

The basic plot

A Christian guy (Josh) enrolled in a presumably secular university takes a Philosophy class.

On the first day of class, Professor Radisson wants students to sign a declaration of their belief that God is dead so that he can dispense of such notions without having to prove it.

Josh is unable to sign the declaration and the Professor assign him a task to present is arguments to the class.

The movie follows the presentation of various apologetic arguments and counter arguments.

Some of the class members change their mind and at least one becomes a believer.

Along the way, other story arcs are introduced

  • Why the professor is an atheist.
  • A Muslim employee in the school is a convert Christ.
  • A chaplain, apparently struggling in his own faith, finds renewed faith through an African sidekick.
  • Josh’s decision to defend his faith has a cost.
  • A Chinese student is influenced by Josh’s argument.
  • A secular humanist left-leaning reporter faces a crisis her worldview can’t handle.

Reactions to God is Not Dead in our family.

Our family discussed some of the hard choices forced upon the various people because of their faith.

Each character had a point of view and a hard choice to make because of their belief and worldview.

While the Professor character was an exaggeration, the arguments that he puts forth are real arguments that Christians should have a reasonable answer for.

The problem of evil and the why of our existence are two apologetic challenges that have been discussed for centuries, so the philisophical problems are not solved in the film.

Rather, our family discussed the reasoableness of the arguments.

We also discussed how many people have a personally painful reason to reject God.  While not everyone has such a story, it is a common enough basis that we wanted our kids to see it.

Not For Everyone

This is not a movie to bring an intellectual atheist to evaluate or enjoy. The atheist position is a bit of a caricature and will be more of a distraction than a conversational help.

The problem of evil and the existence of God continue to be some of the greatest philosophical challenges. The movie won’t solve it, but it does show us a good way to defend our faith and show that our faith is reasonable.

I have friends whose logic had lead them to different conclusions and they are as angry as the professor.

It’s hard to argue with someone who hates God, but the movie shows Josh sharing a reasonable basis for his faith without being obnoxious.

Ways to use God is Not Dead in your ministry

I’ve seen online reviews that criticize the theology in the movie (and complain about too much leg skin by the Duck Dynasty lady causing lust), but most of the critics complain about the exaggerations and stereotypes in the movie.

Rather than walk down that road, I’d rather suggest ways to use this movie in your ministry.

I imagine a couple of ways this movie could be helpful to the evangelist:

  • Discussion starter for youth groups
    • Standing up for your faith
    • How to be reasonable and respectful in debate
    • Faith may require sacrificial choices
    • How evangelistic moments are not scripted, but happenings in life.
    • Are you prepared to help a person come to faith at a unplanned moment?
    • The role of apologetics on our belief.
  • Discussion starters for seekers
    • Why was the professor an atheist?
    • Have you had doubts about God because of unanswered prayer?
    • What is your answer to the problem of evil?
    • Is it possible to have a conversation about faith without anger?
    • Religion asks “why?”  Science asks “how.”
    • How you’ve had to make your own tough choices because of what you believe.

Other reviews:

Your Turn:

Did you see this movie?

Please share with me your thoughts, reviews, etc. of this movie in the comments below.