Great Awakening Preachers and Evangelism

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As a young seminarian a man I admired encourage me to read a biography of a Christian leader each year for the rest of my life. I’ve followed this advice and have in particular read biographies of those involved in great awakenings (like George Whitefield pictured here). As I’ve done so one of the things I sought to learn is what common features marked the diverse personalities used of God in the past. Let’s face it; the preachers in the great revivals were as disparate as Jesus’s disciples. It’s been a helpful, educational, and devotional exercise.

This week I’m teaching a PhD seminar on the History and Theology of Awakenings with my pals Dwayne Milioni and Stephen Eccher.  Yesterday Dwayne noted the work of Methodist Homiletician Michael Pasquerello, who observed four common Features of Great Awakening preachers. I want to list these and add my own thoughts as to how they can inform the church today.

  1. Robust proclamation of the gospel: The message of the great awakening preachers was the gospel. Is that the message we talk about above all others? What if Christians actually talked more of Christ? Seems to me we are preoccupied with many things and have lost focus of the main thing. These preachers kept the main thing the main thing.
  2. Emphasis of repentance and conversion: How often do we in our daily lives call people to repent and believe? Do we do so regularly in our preaching? There was an urgency that seems lacking too often today.
  3. Enthusiastic testimony of the preacher’s and other’s conversions: Jonathan Edwards said the stories of revival did much to promote the work of the great awakening. How much do we share our testimony of salvation, and that of others? I was struck this week reading Acts 15, when the early church faced a significant controversy. In verses 3 and 4 we read of testimonies of conversion that brought joy to the hearers. Even facing controversy they emphasized the work of salvation. I think there may be a lesson in there somewhere. We don’t talk to others about Jesus much because we don’t talk about Jesus with one another! How often have our churches had stewardship testimonies but overlook the power of stories of conversion. I think of my friend Johnny Hunt, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Woodstock. Rarely have I heard him preach without sharing his own conversion testimony. He never got over it! May we share more of our stories of Gods work to encourage one another.
  4. Experience of spiritual and moral vitality: the hand of God was clearly on these preachers. They stood apart in their day. People we meet can tell three things about us: 1) If we care about them, 2) If we believe what we are talking about (and if we never talk about Jesus, we are saying we believe he is not a big deal), 3) If the hand of God is on our life.

There is something very powerful both in the church and in the world when we see a believer consumed with the wonder of salvation. It’s too rare, folks. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty fatigued of talk about politics, entertainment, and other topics that are either not really that important (like sports) or out of our lanes. I’m sure there will be much more talk about March Madness than the scandal of the cross by followers of Christ the next few weeks.

We do not do well, beloved, and joy–unlike what we read in Acts 15–seems too distant for too many. May we never get tired of talking about Jesus. Let’s refocus on sharing the good news to the glory of God!

 

Un-complicating Evangelism (and a Special Deal for You)

 

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What if I told you the God who made you and loves you also redeemed you to share the good news with others just as you are? What if I told you that to share Jesus you don’t have to become who you aren’t, but learn to be who God made you to be? We’ve overcomplicated evangelism. That’s why I wrote the book Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It. 

I want to walk with you, not run ahead of you, going on a journey to growth in your witness. You don’t get in shape in a day, and it takes time to grow as a witness. Stop beating yourself up! Instead, come with me to start a trajectory that will lead you to a place you will spend the rest of your life thanking God you went down that path.

I want to help you have normal conversations where Jesus becomes a part. I want to show you the wonder and the glory of the gospel story, and offer practical ways to learn to talk about Jesus out of your personality, your gifts, and your opportunities. Don’t be someone you aren’t, just learn to be more like Jesus.

Good news: if you also want to help others share Jesus as well, Lifeway has an amazing offer: you can order 20 or more copies of the book (normally 16.99) for only 5 bucks each! Heck, I can’t get them for a better deal than that!  Here is the link to order the book.

What if God began to stretch you and give you confidence in your service to Him? Let’s find out, together.

 

Three Steps to Change the Culture in Your Church

 

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This morning in my Missional Next Generation class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary I taught students three basic steps to change the culture in your church. Changing the culture takes time: churches are more like an aircraft carrier than a jet ski. Changing the culture involves unique features in each church context: a country church where 75% of the members are related calls for different emphases than an urban church where no one is related outside individual families.

Still, certain steps can help any church or ministry within a church to recalibrate the culture. Here are three essentials:

  1. Communicate/teach well: It’s vital we teach consistently a vision centered on Jesus and what He has done on the cross and is doing through the church today. I know student pastors who began their ministry walking students through the great gospel Story for weeks to lay a foundation for the ministry to come. I’ve also met young adults who told me the only thing they remembered from their years in youth group were “don’t have sex and invite a friend.” What are we consistently communicating? What do you want those in your church to hold on to as most important–behavior modification, church attendance weekly, or following Jesus daily? Churches I’ve known with a culture of evangelism and healthy discipleship have great clarity of focus on the Word of God and following Jesus in all of life. I’ve read through the epistles of Paul more than once to note how much he speaks of Jesus and the good news, and it’s amazing how Christ-centered Paul is. His communication is focused.
  2. Model/exemplify what we teach: Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Christ. He told the Ephesian elders at Miletus they knew how he lived the whole time he was with them. He set a consistent example that matched his teaching. If you want your ministry to be evangelistic, you must teach the gospel well and teach practical ways to talk about Jesus to others.    But if you also regularly give examples of your witness or attempts to share Christ, your example of witness is as powerful as what you teach. People listen to your words, but follow your example. Our high school minister at our church is in class this week. He shared how recently our student ministry had a night of testimonies of youth sharing their attempts to witness. That’s a powerful example to the ministry of what matters. Recently one of our young pros who leads a youth small group led a (former) atheist to Christ. When he told me, I had him share that with our group. Why? The power of example. What are the examples and models you share before your ministry?
  3. How you structure/what you celebrate: Here is the one we miss the most, and it may be most important. If you want your people sharing your faith but everything you structure in your church focuses on getting people into the building, there is a contradiction.  If you want the big pile of youth coming on Wednesday to show up on Sunday, you have to structure your ministry to give attention to more than what’s going on Wednesdays. For example, almost without exception when I teach our young pros each week I mention something our pastor said in the sermon. Why? I structure that intentionally as a way of saying what goes on in the service matters (we are not a parachurch ministry) and I respect my pastor. I regularly speak of attempts to witness, which is both an example (number 2) and a way of structuring a regular focus on witnessing. Several times a year we have testimonies of mission trips because global missions is vital to our ministry; we teach this, we give these examples, and we structure our ministry to give regular emphasis to global missions. An important way to integrate this into your structure is to celebrate regularly–both spontaneously and intentionally–the things we teach and model. What you celebrate is what your people will imitate.

What do you teach? What do you model? How do you structure and what do you celebrate?

Sharing Christ Naturally: 4 Lessons from a Retriever

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Summer: (1) Noun–a season of the year; (2) the name of our Golden Retriever. Over our 35 years of marriage we’ve had essentially three big dogs: Lady, a Lab-Golden mix who looked like a 100% Lab we enjoyed 1982-1994; Precious, who was with us from around 1996-2007; and Summer. We’ve also had dachshunds, but I’m partial to the big dogs.

Summer is a typical Golden, reminding us daily why the breed remains one of American’s favorites. She loves to fetch and enjoys affectionate hugs, and is demonstrably gentle.

But there’s more: Summer barks with gusto at feeding time. Barks, as in like a dog. She has never quacked like a duck, slithered like a snake, or climbed a tree like an ape.

I’ve never seen her fly like an eagle or walk (or talk) like an Egyptian. She has fur, not scales, and is warm, not cold blooded. She has large canine teeth rather than a beak.

4T0BQID9GS I can’t seem to get her to paint the house or mow the lawn. I wish I could teach her to wash the car with her furry tail.

Of course I can’t, and for good reason. It’s the same reason she neither flies nor quacks. She is a dog. She does what does, and she does it well.

You are not a dog. Or a duck, or a snake. But if you know Christ, you are not only a physically born human, you are a born from above believer.

Be who you are.

I learned four truths about sharing Jesus in part from the pets I’ve loved.

First, you are a witness for Jesus. Sharing Jesus is not a goal to attain, it’s a reality to embrace. This was established when He saved you. You are a “living epistle” for Jesus to others (2 Cor. 3:2). “But I can’t talk about Jesus to others,” you say. Sure you can. Just talk about what you know about Jesus now, and keep learning more. A retriever is naturally loyal and affectionate, a greyhound lean and fast, and a bloodhound owns an uncanny sense of smell. Each is unique, but they are all dogs. You may not witness like your pastor or an evangelist, but a witness is who you are as much as Summer is a retriever. Don’t try to be who you aren’t, but do be Whose you are.

Second, you are to witness to the power of the gospel. It’s not about you or your ability, but God and His. What if we decided Summer should be a Cardinal? We would feed her only birdseed. Soon, she would grow weak and ultimately die from malnourishment. A dog needs certain nutrients for strength. A dog is not a bird. You and I have been given the spiritual food of the Word and the Holy Spirit to feed us! Don’t confuse your witness with His power, but instead witness in His power. Acts 1:8 tells us we have the power of the Spirit. That’s a truth worth living.

Third, share Christ out of the person you are uniquely as God made you. The three retrievers we’ve had all act like retrievers, but each had her own personality. Lady, our first one, freaked out in storms. Summer gets nervous but nothing like Lady. Lady was extremely protective. Precious was a huge ball of love. While each believer is a witness, we are all unique. If you aren’t an extrovert, you aren’t a failure as a witness! If you are a hospitable person, think of ways to host people in your home, and as a part of your time together share the story of how God brought you to where you are today. If you love to serve, find places in your community to serve others, and speak about the Savior Who came not to be served but to serve.

Retrievers have webbed paws because they are fantastic swimmers, but dachshunds are far better at digging. I do think Summer gets confused with our dachshunds when she digs up moles in the backyard. Learn your strengths and interests and leverage those for Jesus. Stop trying to conform to the image of your idea of a witness, and give your life to conforming to the image of Christ. You will come to understand that sharing Christ is not about becoming someone you aren’t but simply being the person you are–in Christ.

4TG0F3OHDCFourth, while God re-birthed you as a witness to Christ, you can become more skilled and more comfortable sharing Christ. Lady could catch a frisbee thrown across a field and once literally intercepted a long pass with a nerf football. Precious and Summer will fetch, but neither developed the catching skills of Lady. Still, they all learned specific skills from their master. Our Master has much to teach us!

I’ve been a believer for decades, but I’ve already learned some things this year about sharing Jesus. I’m always learning. Your effectiveness can grow as you put to practice the things you learn about sharing Jesus, but who you are–a witness for Him–was established at your conversion.

Dogs are great. But they will never be a person. You and I have gifts, abilities, and the gospel message, unlike anything else in creation. Let’s live it, show it, and share it, just as God saved us to do.