Sunday, January 29, 2017

Good Reasons to Win Souls

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 2
One of my burdens is to explain why. In my opinion, the previous generation of thindependent Baptist preachers in America largely failed in this. I think that failure directly contributes to the (generally younger generation's) abandonment of doctrines and distinctives that we hold dear. The solution offered to this by some (generally older generation's) is to yell louder. I am all for preaching but shouting loudly on a weak point is not the answer. They need a why to hold them. I want to help to give them one.

In the context of personal evangelism this becomes, "Why do we personally confront strangers with the Gospel? Isn't that rude? Won't it run them off? Isn't it ineffective? Isn't it manipulative?" This blog series attempts to answer those questions, to lay out a scriptural philosophy for why we embrace personal evangelism.

Last week we examined a number of bad reasons to win souls. This week I want to flip the coin. There are good reasons to win souls. For your consideration, I offer you three.

The first reason we should win souls is to obey God's instructions that we do so. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) This is commonly known as the Great Commission.

"Wait a minute there, Rev. Brennan. You know that was given to the Apostles, right? The church did not even exist then. It was a wonderful statement but it wasn't given to the Church."

missionsnvAu contraire. The church was founded in Matthew 16 in the mountains around Caeserea Philippi the summer before Jesus death. Thus, it started before this giving of the Great Commission rather than after it, at Pentecost, in Acts 2. Additionally, Jesus' instructions after His Resurrection were not confined to the Apostles. At one point, He appeared to a crowd of more than five hundred people. (I Corinthians 15) Immediately after the Ascension there were one hundred twenty gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. (Acts 1) It is clear from Acts that each member of that church took responsibility to witness. They did not believe that commission was only given to the Apostles. No, they believed each member had a responsibility to be after people with the gospel. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. (Acts 8.4)

The Great Commission was entrusted to the church. My church. Your church. Me. You. And I want both of us to obey God.

The second reason is that the world needs Christ, and that need is staggering. There are 2.7heaven_and_hell_sign-wallpaper-1440x900 million souls in my city, 5.2 million in my county, 314 million in my country, and 7.5 billion on my world. In the time it took me to write this post 15,000 people were born and another 10,000 died. It took the world 5,800 years to get to the first billion, and one hundred twenty three years to get to the next billion. For thirteen years I have labored in Chicago. During that time the world was birthing another Chicago every two weeks. That is an increase of a billion just since I moved here.

We must go to people with the gospel. Now. If there has ever been a time in the history of Christianity that this has been true – and it has always been true – it is true now. We cannot afford to sit on our blessed assurance and let the world go to hell.

Finally, we must lead our people to actively witness because they must if they are going to grow in grace. (II Peter 3.18)

Initially, as a baby Christian, if spiritual growth were projected onto a graph the line would be jagged at best. Young Christians grow in one area and completely neglect another. They like church but refuse to give up their old music. They read the Bible but only throw the occasional $20 in the offering plate. They want their parents to get saved but they still curse like a sailor on the job.

As we move on to Christian maturity we discover that in order to continue to grow that growth must be more even. In other words, to grow in one area requires growing in another. For example, if I want to grow in prayer I must also grow in holiness. If I want to grow in love, joy, and peace I must deal with long held resentments and bitterness. Increasingly, we find the areas of our spiritual growth are inter-related, intertwined if you will.

Mature Christians are not mature by definition if they are severely stunted in one area; the lack of progress in this negatively impacts that, and it can actually result in backsliding entire. When a Christian moves from salvation to being a babe in Christ he can have whole gaps in his knowledge and application and the Holy Spirit will continue to teach him. But when a Christian moves on to maturity the whole man must be elevated spiritually together.

571987815_1280x720God is in the business of growing you and me, beloved. He intends to develop us into complete, well rounded Christians, with strengths, certainly, but not with huge gaps such as baby Christians often have. But let patience have her perfect work; that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1.4)

Practically speaking as a pastor, I am not going to continue to develop the prayer life of our church if I do not also develop their giving, holiness, study, service, knowledge of God, pursuit of wisdom, praise, love, marriage, parenting, faith, and on and on and on. To develop my people into maturity I must develop them as soul winners who take an active part in fulfilling the Great Commission. Ergo, I emphasize soul winning in order to help the spiritually mature around me to continue to grow in grace.

For two weeks we have discussed both the bad and good motivations that underlie our soul winning emphasis. For the next two weeks I am going to briefly trace the course of evangelism in church history. This will give us, I think, an increased understanding of how we arrived at the methods and means the church uses today in its evangelism.

See you then, my friends.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bad Reasons to Win Souls

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 1

One of the strengths of the independent Baptist movement is that we heavily promote personal evangelism. We certainly are not the only group to do this, but it is conspicuous both in our history and in our present. I think it is fair to say that we emphasize it more than any other orthodox religious group.


In this series I want to attempt to answer that question, or at least to offer some insight into an answer. Your own perspective or response is welcome, as always.
The word "philosophy" is used only one time in the King James Bible and that use is negative. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2.8) Yet we notice here that not all philosophy is condemned, only worldly philosophy.

Philosophy is defined as a set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity. In the original language the word simply means a lover of wisdom. Surely, then, philosophy cannot be entirely unscriptural for we are repeatedly told in Scripture to love wisdom. What are to love is not the world's wisdom but God's wisdom. Philosophy, then, for the purposes of this blog series, means the why behind the what that we do and emphasize in relation to personal evangelism. More plainly, there are good reasons why we push confrontational soul winning, and I want to explain them to you in this series.

Let me begin negatively. In other words, the following are not philosophies that undergird our approach to personal evangelism – though they are often thought to be.

personal-evangelismFirst, it is not because confrontational soul winning is a popular method in American Christianity. Now I freely admit it was embraced initially by many churches and pastors in the 1960s and 1970s who had a desire to copy the success of Lee Roberson, Jerry Falwell, and Jack Hyles. But such is no longer the case. In fact, soul winning is now routinely criticized, certainly in evangelical circles and even somewhat in fundamentalist circles. Statements such as "you're plucking green fruit," "you're giving people a false sense of security," "soul winning doesn't work in our day and age anymore," and "the message doesn't change but the methods do" are constantly heard. No, churches and pastors are not flocking to this. We are not following a trend by any means.

Second, our emphasis on personal evangelism is not rooted in an attempt to build a bigger church. I do not know of any pastor that wants his church to be smaller; we are all trying to grow spiritually and numerically, but that is not why we go soul winning. If that was our primary motivation the obvious path to take is not confrontational soul winning; it would instead be the pragmatism of the contemporary church growth movement. We would speak much more of marketing and relevance. We would say much less about worldliness. Etc. etc.

Third, it is not because we are unwilling to change. I suppose there are some men and churches that still promote soul winning because that is all they have ever known, but I am sure they would be a small minority. Is the independent Baptist movement suspicious of change? Yes. Is it loathe to change? Again, yes. Are we cautious of change? Yes. But the hundreds of independent Baptist pastors I know are willing to change – if that change is in the right direction. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (II Corinthians 3.18) Change must be toward God, toward the precepts of Scripture; it dare not be toward the world. Fear of change is not holding us hostage to the methods of the last generation.

A group from our church evangelizing
in a different neighborhood in
Chicago to help plant a new church
Fourth, our emphasis on personal soul winning is not because it is an easy thing to do. I have been pastoring for twenty years. I can think of a thousand things that are easier to develop in a church's culture than soul winning. In fact, I can think of nothing more difficult. Soul winning is not easy. It takes practice and time and work to learn. It takes a dedicated amount of time. It involves overcoming a person's fear of rejection, and the accumulated weight of a church's inertia and excuses. Additionally, there is nothing the devil fights harder than a soul winning church unless it might be a praying church. It would be much easier to get a church wound up about world hunger or anti-violence marches or some other immediate, visible, and emotionally affecting cause than it is to motivate them to win souls.

Fifth, our soul winning emphasis is not embraced because we have a persecution complex. Is soul winning hard? Yes. Is it unpopular? Yes. Does it get criticized? Yes. Are there some who will perversely do it for exactly these reasons? Also, yes. They do not seem to feel spiritual unless they are being attacked for their faith. Ergo, they embrace behaviors that practically solicit a push back so they can claim they are one of the persecuted few who are actually righteous. But such people are few and far between; their numbers could in no wise account for such a widely embraced emphasis on personal evangelism.

Sixth, it is not because we can claim big numbers via these methods and thus impress "the brethren." Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound the trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6.2) Yes, we keep track of how many get saved. Yes, we want to win more people to Christ this year than last year. But the men and churches I know well in the independent Baptist movement have given up the numbers game. We have seen in our youth where such foolishness often leads. In fact, I cannot think of the last time a preacher friend of mine asked me how big our church was, how many we had baptized last year, or how many professions of faith we see.

Perhaps someone told you these were our reasons. Perhaps someone intimated that our motivations are petty, shallow, vain, lazy, and self-serving. Obviously I disagree. I do not disagree that some may have such unscriptural motivations; I completely disagree, however, that these drive our movement's emphasis on personal evangelism. We are better than that.

Next week we will flip the coin over and begin to examine the positive side. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To My Unborn Son

The teenage years are often difficult. Our bodies are changing, we are contemplating what we will make of life, and we are constantly thinking about the other gender. We are in the process of maturing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We begin to realize how important money is to life. We become at once both fearful and exhilarated at the thought of leaving home and striking out on our own. We make big decisions, and often make them badly. Temptation becomes more prevalent and more dangerous. Our cocoon is vanishing and the molting process is often painful.

the letter
As my own teenage years drew to a close I began to contemplate them. I held them up in my mind and turned them hither and yon. I examined my choices, and what the potential impact of those choices might yet be. I compared them with some friends of mine, and where I thought our differing choices would take us in life. Somewhere along during that period I made a decision to write a letter to my son. My intent was to guide him into making good choices as a teenager himself. So the day I turned twenty I sat down at a picnic table and wrote my yet unborn son a letter with some advice for navigating his own teen years well. I decided to give it to him the day he turned fifteen.

For twenty three years I carried that letter around through numerous moves and life changes. In time, the Lord in His grace did give me a son, Jack, fifteen years ago. I pulled the letter down from the book in which it had sat all these years and gave it to him last week.

Setting the emotion of the occasion aside for a moment the letter is interesting. In re-reading it and giving it to him last week I went both forward and backward in time. Most all of what I wrote I still agree with though if I were to write the same letter again it would be much longer. Experience teaches the best lessons and I've learned a few in the intervening years. Then, too, I know my son very well now; back then he was just an idea. As all parents understand, I am both excited and fearful for him. So much of what he does, decides, and becomes in the next five years will determine the course of the rest of his life.

Several people asked me to share the contents of the letter. After asking his permission I have decided to do so. My intent is not to make you think I am an awesome father, nor am I trying to impress you with my thought process twenty three years ago. I simply want to help you, whether you are a teenager or a parent, whether you are a grandfather or a Sunday School teacher. I believe that Satan has built a world system more devilish in its temptations than at any other point in history. And he has placed our young people squarely in his sights. May God give them the courage to stand, the understanding to choose wisely, and the grace to lay the foundation for a wonderful life spent loving and serving Him.


the lake at Hyles Anderson College
This moment is sacred to me. I'm sitting on a picnic table by the lake at Hyles-Anderson College. Today is my twentieth birthday. A few months ago I decided I would sit down today and write to you some of the things I've learned in my first twenty years, with especial attention to what carried me through my teenage years.

My dear son, I do not yet know your name. I do not know where you will be when you read this. I do not know your mother's name. As you can tell by the mistakes this is not a re-copied letter. It is just me. A me that loves you although you are yet unborn. A me that has tried and will continue to try to prepare himself to be your father. Nobody special, just me, but I love you.

The most important thing I've learned in the last 20 years is that everything rises and falls on your walk with God. By the time you are old enough to get this, my life will either have risen or fallen and no matter which, it will be because I have either walked with God or I haven't. Today you are fifteen. By this time I trust you have learned to walk alone and weep w/ God. For six years now I've walked with God and what a blessed six years they've been. My life, when you read this, will have proved this statement, but you have yet to. Everything in life rises and falls on your walk with God.

Next son, I would tell you to seek counsel. As a young teenager of 14 I began to seek counsel, and in only 6 years it has saved my hide numerous times. I've gotten counsel on financial matters, spiritual matters, dating, college, friends, schedule, everything. I've talked to my parents many times, my sisters and brother, my preacher, and those who are successful in whatever area I need counsel in. Seek counsel.

51 Brennans_5980
Lastly son, base your decisions on the future and not the present. I've heard Bro. Hyles say, "Everything in life that's worth getting you pay for now and get later, and everything in life not worth having you get now and pay for later." Solomon said, "But afterwards." Son, when you decide to do something always remember those two words "But afterwards." Don't sacrifice the future on the altar of the immediate, rather sacrifice the immediate on the altar of the future.

If these three things "be both in you and abound, they shall make you neither barren nor unfruitful." I'm in the springtime of life. I'm twenty years old, the sun is shining and all of life is ahead of me. If you'll heed this letter, you'll be in the same position I am at twenty. Son, my teenage years are over. They ended yesterday, but the bulk of yours are ahead. May they be filled with precious memories as mine are. To that end I write.

I love you.


Monday, January 9, 2017

I Love You, God

Poetry 2 

I do not speak about this publicly very often but I went through a lengthy period of depression as a young person. In retrospect it was actually good for me for a number of different reasons. One of those reasons is that it developed in me an appreciation for poetry. Out of that appreciation grew a desire to write some of my own. From time to time in this blog I will bring you one or two of those. Today is one of those times. 

I Love You, God

I love You, God
There is no one that can compare
In faithfulness, You're always there
I love You, God

I love You, God
I know I always can depend
For strength, on You, my Loving Friend
I love You, God

I love You, God
Your wisdom shows me what to do
In guiding people 'round me to
Love You, God

I love You, God
For power that You always give
That I might help a few to live
And love You, God

I love You, God
For goodness that You pour on me
In such measureless quantity
I love You, God

I love You, God
For giving me a broken heart
And of what's tears, no tiny part
I love You, God

I love You, God
These pitiful four words cannot
Express just how I feel it, but
I want to say what I've often thought
I love You, God

-Tom Brennan, A Teenager's Heart
September 12, 1989

Monday, January 2, 2017

Transitioning Your Church Toward Ethnic Diversity

Urban Ministry 11

From time to time questions come my way as a result of something I have blogged about. Today's post was birthed that way. A couple of months ago I wrote about the importance of building a multi-ethnic church. I also gave some specific suggestions about how to do so. The following question showed up in my inbox soon after; (I have taken out anything identifying in the question):

"I have enjoyed your blog series on multi-ethnic ministry. Here's why: I pastor in the ____________ area, specifically we are in a suburb that is a few miles from ___________ proper. Our area is changing rapidly. There is a heavy influx of Indians, Arabs, and Hispanics. Of course, the inner city families are finding their way out into the suburbs also. I live 3 miles from _______________.
In your last post titled "Build a Multi-ethnic Church: Here's How" you stressed good ways to show your neighborhood how one's church is *already* multi-ethnic. But all of your suggestions (which were good) assumed that the reader already had a multi-ethnic church, i.e., you already had diverse children to greet others outside, minority-race congregants with which to portray in the graphics, and multi-ethnic members to use as ministry volunteers.
My question is: how does one go from a 99% white church to a more diverse membership that would match the surrounding neighborhood? Churches that fail to do this close (as you know) and this is what is happening to the IFB churches in __________________. Since I have come here in '97 I have seen 3 IFB churches close, and I know of 4 on "life support." My church is doing fine (slow, steady growth), but I see that we will need to address the issue of diversification in the near future. The next 10 years is crucial, I think. Any suggestions are welcomed."

This is a great question, and comes from an angle I had entirely overlooked when I wrote the original posts. I have forwarded it to a number of other men who pastor in inner city environments. Today's post is a combination of their thoughts and my own.

First, preach about the importance of an ethnically neutral church. There is nothing wrong with a single ethnicity church if the entire community is that ethnicity. On the other hand there is everything wrong with a single ethnicity church when the community around it is diverse. God is clear in Scripture that there is only one race – the human race. And He expects His church to view it the way He does. Numerous times Jesus ministered to Gentiles. Paul is explicit in his epistles that ethnic prejudice has no place in the church.
Teaching God's position on ethnicity will not only help your church to be scriptural it will also help it practically. If the demographics of your community are undeniably moving in a diverse direction your church must reach out to stay alive. Show them this too. You don't have to go seed on it, but you should plan to mention it fairly often until it becomes natural to you.

Second, you can consciously choose to bring in ethnic minorities to minister. Find an African-American evangelist. Partner with a Hispanic missionary next. I do not merely mean someone going to Mexico; I mean someone who is himself Hispanic. You cannot do this often but every time you do it you will be acclimatizing your people to the realization that God's people are not white, or black, or brown; they are just human.

Third, as the pastor do your personal soul winning in ethnic neighborhoods. I've said a thousand times on this blog that you reap a harvest where you place an emphasis. Place your emphasis where you wish to harvest. If you can reach someone pour extra time into mentoring/discipling them. At first when they attend your church they will feel out of place, but if you build a close personal relationship with them they will come for you in spite of their feeling of discomfort. That then gives you something to build on.

Fourth, pray for ethnic laborers. The only prayer request Jesus ever mentioned was a plea for the Father to send laborers into His harvest. Many times in my twenty years in the pastorate I have gone to God with the need for a specific type of laborer. More often than not over time He has brought exactly that kind of person to our church.

Fifth, include ethnic minorities in your advertising even if you have to use stock images to start with. If your intention in so doing is to tell those minorities they are welcome it isn't hypocritical; it is applied wisdom. At the same time it will also help your church to get used to the idea as well.

Sixth, start some kind of a ministry that will probably involve ethnic minorities. You do not have to say, "We are starting this in order to bring in black people." Just pick a ministry that involves the problems of people in poverty and you will automatically reach ethnic minorities. Start supporting or staffing a local food pantry. Buy a 15 passenger van and pick up children in a government housing project near you. The children there won't care that the rest of the church is different then them. Bring their parents in for special days. Once you get a key family there have them host a neighborhood BBQ. Invite all the neighbors for free food and just get to know them. Start or adopt a ministry to unwed mothers. Begin a ministry in a public school near you. Start an addictions ministry. Any of these, or numbers of others will inevitably involve substantial interaction with minorities. You know what's coming next, right? Wait for it – you reap a harvest where you place an emphasis.

This interaction with ethnic minorities must spring from a heart that genuinely wants to get to know them, and to reach them. Being patronizing will turn them off. Being aggressively political from the right wing will turn them off. Telling ethnic jokes will turn them off. Just love them. Work at getting to know their culture. Work at feeling comfortable around people who don't look like you. Work at building relationships in which church is not the first thing you mention. And then just love them. In a normal size church all it takes is one or two to begin coming in order to get the ball rolling. Take the time and effort to reach that one or two and then build off of that. the $64,000 question is will you lose some of your current people while you are doing this? Perhaps. And maybe I should say probably. But if you are a careful leader, if you don't jerk the wheel or jam it down people's throats, if you assure them that while you want to become multi-ethnic you are not going to change everything else, and if they trust you then you won't lose very many. Generally speaking, when you go to a new level as a church not everyone goes with you. I do not mean that harshly. I am not the kind of pastor that loses very many people, and I suspect if you read this blog you aren't either. But you may have to prepare yourself to lose some in this process.

One other thing bears mentioning, I think. Going from the ditch on one side of the road to the ditch on the other side of the road is common in American Christianity. I said much about that in my book, "Schizophrenic." As you lead your church into multi-ethnic ministry be careful not to replace an all-white church, for example, with an all-black church. You want all kinds of people to be welcome and to do that you need some of all kinds of people. Do not focus so heavily on one ethnicity that your church becomes predominantly that ethnicity. Aim in love for diversity, and then let God work.