For 2018: To Start Well, Make a Stop Doing List

If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, the week before the new year is the most dishonest. It’s when resolutions are made, most with the conviction of a wet noodle in a windstorm. Gym memberships go up, gyms fill up (at least through the first two weeks of January), and all sorts of plans are made up.

Instead of making a bunch of resolutions you find either too ambitious to achieve or that you don’t really plan to keep, here’s an idea that might help.

Don’t make a list of resolutions. But do make a “stop doing” list.

What are some daily habits or regular practices you need to quit in 2018? Sometimes it’s easier to stop something than to start. For instance, I’m a notorious key-loser. I’m clinically diagnosed with ADD, after all! But last summer I stopped randomly putting my keys different places with one little thought: “When I walk in the door, I will hang my keys on the key hook by the door.” I have literally not lost my keys one single time since. I stopped choosing random and followed a plan. That likely saved me about 8-10 hours of stress looking for my keys.

What might you stop doing as a pattern in 2018? Here are some ideas:

  1. Social media and the Internet: These are great tools for life, but they can add stress as we compare ourselves to others online or develop the immature habit of knee jerk reacting to things that bug us. Some ideas: (1) Stop looking at your phone first thing in the morning. Spend time in the Word, pray, workout, do something else. (2) Stop push notifications; instead, limit how many checks a day for twitter, facebook, instagram, etc. You can be actively engaged in social media without living on your phone. (NOTE: Read 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Reinke if this is a problem). (3) Stop immediately responding online. Before you post any kind of reaction to anything you see online, wait 10 minutes. This is the social media equivalent to waiting 24 hours before a major purchase. (4) If necessary, take one day a week and stop social media totally.
  2. Spiritual Growth: Stop randomizing your walk with God. Get a plan. Stop flying by the seat of your pants spiritually and develop good spiritual habits, like a devotional plan. Think about where you might be spiritually if you stop “just having a quiet time” and instead study the Gospels to learn how Jesus related to people (for instance) so you can know him better and relate to others like he did. Is there something specific in the mornings that keeps you from a consistent time with the Lord? Stop it, whatever it is.
  3. Health and Fitness: Instead of trying to become the poster child at (I don’t think that’s a real site), what is ONE thing you can stop doing that trainwrecks your health? Perhaps stop buying that one snack you eat too much (you are an adult, right?). You don’t have to join a gym, lift a small house, or eat kale sandwiches. Just stop one bad eating habit and stop one thing that keeps you from exercising, like waiting to the end of the day to do so. Studies show you are far more likely to work out consistently if you do so in the morning. Can’t join a gym? Go to and try some of their free, body weight only exercises. If you simply do enough to work up a decent sweat five days a week you are on your way.
  4. Your Personal Witness: Think about this–what is the primary reason that keeps you from sharing Jesus consistently? Take the rest of this year (you have 3 days, right?) to ponder this. And then, stop that one thing. If it’s fear of knowing what to say to people, stop doing nothing about it and get some help (I know this guy who wrote a book called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out that might help). If it’s the fact that you just don’t have many opportunities, think of one activity a week you can stop, and replace that with time to talk to people. I had to do that a few years ago. I had to stop meeting with students as much (although I love my students!) so I could have time to develop friendships with people who don’t know Christ. Perhaps you are so busy doing church stuff in the church building (I’m looking at you, pastor) you don’t have time to do some outreach. Stop one thing. The church will not cease to exist.
  5. Priorities: All this leads me to the last one. Covey was right–you don’t prioritize your schedule, you schedule your priorities. Stop, please stop, just facing life without a plan. A few years ago I stopped living this way and developed the habit of regularly (though not always) taking a little time on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings to assess the upcoming week, and to make sure the calendar I actually lived was consistent with the priorities I have. I’ve certainly not been perfect, but I’ve learned doing this cuts out a ton of wasted time, decreases stress, and helps me reflect better. I’m actually making some changes in 2018 based on a far-too-hectic-late 2017, so I’m still learning and growing here myself.

What do you need to stop? I could have also listed some darker things, like a besetting sin, unhealthy relationship, or foolish habit. But you get the idea. Stop some things to see what you can do for the glory of God.

Training Tuesday: Cold Call Evangelism in a Post Christian America

This fall I enjoyed doing something I haven’t been able to do in over two years because of back issues: take students out to knock on doors and do some cold call evangelism. I actually enjoy this; however, in a Post-911 ], post-Christian America, the way I do cold call evangelism (unannounced gospel-sharing to strangers) has changed. I know, for some readers the very idea of talking to a stranger unannounced causes all sorts of fear of uncertainty. And, some believe such approaches as this are no longer effective and should be relegated to the category of the Edsel automobile. I’m in between: I think any method we use should be constantly assessed, but rather than rejecting some, we might try tweaking them. And a reminder, nothing works if you never do it.

I’m convinced cold call evangelism is not only biblical — let’s face it, there’s a lot of unannounced, stranger-to-stranger witnessing going on in the Acts — it’s also important. At the same time, I think it needs to be conducted differently than years ago.

There was a time in America where in many places a stranger knocking on a door was greeted not with suspicion but with a welcome, or at least with a greeting something short of “what the heck are you doing at my door?”

We live in a different day.

In our book Get Out which focuses on helping student ministries reach out to public schools, my son Josh and I note that a couple decades ago, when a youth pastor brought boxes of pizza at lunchtime for his students, he was generally welcomed by the school. Today, if a twenty-something year old man shows up at a public school, the response would hardly be described as welcoming. Our world has changed, and our 24 hour news and social media laced society keeps mass shootings, dangerous people, and tragedy ever in front of us. This has raised an awareness of the dangerous world in which we live.

So how to do cold call evangelism?  Here are a few principles I follow. Feel free not to agree, but I’ve found these to be encouraging and effective:

1) I do all cold call evangelism to homes in daylight. Recently I took students knocking on doors as I mentioned. We went at 4 in the afternoon. We found the people we met were friendly (likely because we were friendly), and we had some good conversations. I simply don’t do this after dark in the winter.

2) When knocking on doors, I try to go in teams of three with a mixture of men and women. There is something less scary about opening a door to a couple guys and a lady than two or three dudes, especially in the late afternoon when more women are home than men.

3) When you knock on the door, step back, turn sideways, and let them size you up through the peephole before they see you stating at them. Turn, smile, and immediately introduce yourself and your team and immediately announce the church you represent (and by all means, do represent a church). Just the other day a lady said, “I thought you were Jehovah’s Witnesses” and was relieved we weren’t!  I tell the person up front our intentions: “I’m Alvin, and this is Sarah and Thomas. We are from Richland Creek Community Church and wanted to stop by and give you information about our upcoming Christmas activities (handing them a card with all that), and we wanted to know if we could pray for you about anything?”  I’ve found people to be very open to talk then. Oh, by the way, if there is a dog, I say “Is that dog a maneater?” Almost always they smile, say no, and talk to us more.

4) Three important things to remember: when doing cold call evangelism, we want people we meet to sense three things about us. First, we are harmless. We are kind, we care about them, and we are not pushy. We are their neighbors in the same community after all, and we care about a lot of the same things. Second, we seek to bring joy to our community, including to them. Third, we are not doing this to make visits, but to make friends.

5) What about cold calls after dark? I still do these, but differently. Just last night I met with a small group from our Young Pros Ministry to do some outreach. They go out the first Monday of each month. They discovered visiting people who had already visited our church went fine after dark, but when they made cold calls, people were far less open, and some were not happy to be visited.  What to do?  We went to a restaurant, broke up into groups of 3-4, and shared with the servers. My group had a wonderful time talking with a server a young, expectant mom. By the way, tip well when you do this! I asked her if we could pray for her. As she would come to the table each time I would interact with her. Near the end I told her I lead a ministry to young adults just like her. She said she and her husband had been out of church for some time but had talked lately about getting back involved. I gave her a fistful of ink pens from our church (servers have to provide their own pens). It was remarkable how grateful she was for that simple gift! It brought her joy. I asked her if she knew Jesus personally or if she was still figuring that out, and she said the latter, she was Catholic, but she wanted to know more. As she was working I could not have a long, involved conversation with her, but I shared with her a Story booklet, mentioning it was a little Bible study that explained the whole message of the Bible in a few pages, and encouraged her to read it. She took it enthusiastically. Remember what R.A. Torrey said about witnessing in public: 1) Obey the Holy Spirit, and 2) Don’t embarrass the other person.

I can tell you that one conversation was better than 99% of the cold calls at homes after dark we might have had. I found it the nights she worked, and we will soon come see her again. Only this time it won’t be a cold call!

We need to be actively, intentionally sharing our faith. But we need not feel a compulsion to do things exactly like we did years ago. That only shows we are not growing, and not aware of our context. Be intentional, and be wise.

MOTIVATION MONDAY: I’m Writing a Book and I Want You to Help Me to Help You

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway on writing

I recently signed a contract with Broadman & Holman Academic to write a book that is both unlike any book I’ve ever written and yet tied integrally to everything I’ve done in the past.. Previous titles I’ve been privileged to write focused primarily or exclusively on leaders–especially church leaders. This book marks the first project truly for any believer of any age anywhere: a 15 year old youth burdened for her classmates, a salesman who hopes to make more of an impact with his life than meeting a quota, a housewife who prays daily her children will see Jesus living through her, a veteran pastor struggling to talk about Jesus in our ever-changing world, or a missionary serving in a distant land.. It’s a bit of an enigma in that it’s a practical, brief book (30,000 words), yet published by B & H Academic. A book can be simple, helpful, and thoughtful, it seems.

Whenever I mention the title of the book I get pretty much the same response from people: a bit of a chuckle, and then some sort of hopeful encouragement, sort of like “I hope you can pull this off ’cause this would help me.”  Let’s see if you like it.

The book is called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out.  (Pausing for response). Yes, we should be sharing Jesus, right? Yes, most of us freak out about it, true?

Singing the contract for Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

Singing the contract for Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

In the book I will focus on shifting from gospel presentations focusing on dropping a set of propositions on others to gospel conversations with people. Instead of a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach featuring a quick overview of gospel points, it seeks to help believers develop gospel intelligence or gospel fluency based on the whole grand narrative of Scripture, so readers will be able to speak about Jesus as confidently as we speak about our ball teams or hobbies. More than anything, I hope to encourage you to see evangelism as less a chore we check off as part of the institutional church and more as something we were actually born to do, something than can be joy for us and others, whether we are extroverts or introverts, new believers or church leaders, young or old.

Here is where I need your help. I would love to hear any of the following:

What’s the biggest hangup to your witness?

What’s the biggest question you have about sharing Jesus?

What make you freak out when you think about witnessing?

What would help you? (For instance, the electronic version will have videos of folks like me role-playing sharing Christ and leading someone to faith–would that help?)

It will be able to be taught in an 8-week discipleship class setting, with videos by me (and perhaps a few friends) overviewing the content by video. Would that help you? How else might I create pathways for you to use it?

It will be available to purchase in large, bulk orders to get your whole church or your leaders to read it. How else could I help you to help your folks to share Christ?

What advice do you have for me?

You can add a comment here or you can email me

I confess: I’m a bit of a mystic. I just have a sense about this little book; I believe there is a hunger for this, and I have been so encouraged by church planters, long-time pastors, denominational and parachurch leaders, and lots of laypeople who want something like this. Pray with me, send me your thoughts, and let’s tell the good news to as many people as effectively as possible until Jesus returns!

WITNESS WEDNESDAY: Spurgeon on the Importance of Winning People to Christ

My first semester in seminary I wrote a paper on  Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I knew almost nothing of him to that point. I have learned much from him from then until now. Here are some thoughts of CHS on witnessing and the vital place of evangelism. Be encouraged. Be convicted. Be moved to action.

One the joy of winning others: “I would rather be the means of saving a soul from death than to be the greatest orator
on earth. I would rather bring the poorest woman in the world to the feet of Jesus than I
would be the Archbishop of Canterbury. I would sooner pluck one single brand from the
burning than explain all the mysteries. To win a soul from going down into the pit, is a
more glorious achievement than to be crowned in the arena of theological controversy.
. .One of my happiest thoughts is that, when I die, it shall be my privilege to enter into
rest into the bosom of Christ, and I know I shall not enjoy Heaven alone. Thousands
have entered there, who have been drawn to Christ under my ministry.”

On the importance of soul-winning: “Do you want arguments for soul winning? Look up to Heaven, and ask yourself how sinners can ever reach those harps of gold and learn their everlasting song, unless they have someone to tell them of Jesus, who is mighty to save. But the best argument of all is to be found in the wounds of Jesus. You want to honour Him, you desire to put many crowns upon His head, and this you can best do by winning souls for Him. These are the spoils that He covets, these are the trophies for which He fights, these are the jewels that shall be His best adornment.”

On the use of gospel tracts: “When preaching and private talk are not available, you need to have a tract ready….Get good striking tracts, or none at all. But a touching gospel tract may be the seed of eternal life. herefore, do not go out without your tracts.”