Do More! (Ministry Mondays)

I have been a college pastor now for a little over 1 year, and there is a lurking feeling that always seems close by. It is the feeling that maybe as a leader I am not calling the people I serve to do enough. Or maybe the feeling is that in becoming a college pastor, I sense I have joined a game. The competition is among churches to see who can be doing more, creating bigger vision, going higher, climbing over bigger obstacles, and changing the biggest part of the world. I am not saying I have actually been engaged in this competition; I’m simply saying I sense I am a part of it (if it exists at all).

I haven’t done this much, but if I meet with other pastors or college pastors, I feel like we are supposed to talk about the things we have done, are doing, and want to do. “We have grown this much, we now have this many small groups that are doing this much stuff in the city. Our goal is to see every soul on earth saved.”

Again, at the very least, this is just a personal problem. And the problem is, when I look at the vision of other churches, I don’t know that I have as big of a vision as them. I haven’t set as high of goals. Maybe in my ministry we don’t have as many small groups, we haven’t grown as fast or as much, and right now we would simply love to see a handful of people get saved in our city, let alone in Kiribati.

Here is the problem I see in this line of thinking: what I don’t feel the need to talk about is what, as a ministry, we talk about most often. I don’t feel the need to explain the heart of our preaching and teaching, or small group discussion, or what we tell our neighbors, the homeless, or the hurting in our city.

Our emphases in what we talk about when we talk about God (see what I did there?) is not the high life of church. It is basic. Important? Yes. But it is like the foundation that no one pays attention to once it is laid. The high life, the building, is that announcement you are making this Sunday about how you want to raise 2 million dollars to translate a Bible in the language of the Comoros people; or how you are going to end sex-trafficking entirely, in all the world (2 things I would love to be a part of if it goes down!).

But if that is the high life, I am not a part of it, unfortunately. My college ministry is on no track to translate the Bible for those who don’t have it; we don’t talk about how we are going to change the world, because honestly, I can’t even change my heart. Would we love to be a part of both of those things, of course! But we don’t have goals like entirely eradicating poverty from Waco. Does that make us small-minded? Because if that is “big,” consider us small.

But I don’t think all of that should be our center, or primary emphasis. My emphasis when I preach, or in small groups, or in discipleship groups, or in counseling, is what Jesus has done, not what we should be doing. It is about what Jesus accomplished, not what I hope we accomplish. By focusing emphatically and constantly on what Jesus has already done for us, I am trying to kill that nagging feeling produced by God’s Law that says we are not doing enough. I am trying to kill it by agreeing with it; “No, we have not done enough, and never will. But Jesus did do enough.”

Our vision, primarily, explicitly, implicitly, emphatically, and constantly needs to be what Jesus has already done, his enoughness, and the vision he already has and will carry out to make “all things new.” Maybe when this gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is our primary and permeating focus, we might just be a part of something eternally worthwhile, whether we classify it as big or small.

Incarnational Evangelism (Ministry Monday)

Last week I listened to a panel discussion around college ministry and the goodness below was probably my favorite part, concerning something I have thought about for quite some time.

I used to be primarily an evangelist sniper. I don’t know a ton about snipers in the military, but I assume the big idea is: get in, take a shot, and get out. A don’t know why a sniper would want to stay hidden for any longer than he needs. The goal of a sniper is to get the job done with one quick pull of the trigger. And when snipers take their shot, they are on the trajectory to give up their hidden location, which means they need to get out.

tract 1I either was trained as an evangelist sniper, or I just didn’t pick up what was being put down (which is a legitimate option I consider). I learned to find my target (some random person), make my approach (usually walking), take a shot (share the gospel), and get out (deuces). Tracts were what I was used as my round. All for the purpose of communicating the gospel of life.

My heart’s desire, though muddied with sin, was to introduce people to Jesus. However, over the course of years, sharing with hundreds of people, I rarely saw people meet Jesus. I’ve always hoped that hundreds met Jesus out of my sight, my conversations having been used by God. But I don’t know. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

I’ve always heard and/or thought the “opposite” approach, “relational evangelism”, is ineffective or a copout; either too slow to reach the masses, or just a way to make friends in the name of evangelism without ever actually sharing the gospel. So for years I stayed away from it. But for a while now, my thinking has been reforming.

Around minute 21:30 of the discussion, Rupert Leary, a college pastor, begins to talk about how to best communicate the gospel with non-Christians. His wisdom is as follows.

His revolutionary (for some of us) idea is that we must do incarnational evangelism. He says that incarnational presence is a “non-negotiable”. Incarnational is a big word meaning essentially in this context to be present with people. Jesus is God incarnate in the flesh, or God with us; God present with us.

He says we must build relationships with non-Christians on their turf. Too often we want non-Christians to come to us, our church gatherings, our church events, etc. Yet no American missionary who wants to reach people in Africa tells the Africans to move to America. They go to them. And we must also. We go to non-Christians, build a relationship with them if they want, and stay with them.

Leary applies Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Matthew 4:19 that he will make them “fishers of men” to say that we must be patient. Incredibly patient and incredibly present. Fishers of fish must be patient and stay present, and so must we. Leary tells his college students to aggressively pursue relationships with non-believers and wait months to talk about spiritual things, unless they bring it up. If you learned evangelism like me, that practice probably makes you nervous.

You may be nervously thinking, “I bet this Leary guy and his church doesn’t reach very many people!” Well, you may be very wrong. The church he pastors at has the goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050 (click). I doubt a church-planting church like that would allow a college pastor to be on staff who doesn’t really have a heart to reach a lot of people. Know what I mean?

Evangelist snipers have it easy. I don’t need to know the gospel in a very comprehensive way, because I have a tract. I don’t need to then know how to communicate it, because I have a tract. I don’t need to hang around sinners and their sin (as if I don’t sin anymore), because I am in and out in maybe 10 minutes. I don’t need to expose my life to someone else, because I am not going to hang around very long.

Sounds like this kind of evangelism may be my copout sometimes.

In-and-Out evangelism doesn’t seem to work in our culture. In today’s culture, people are not primed and ready to listen to a message as massive as the gospel for 1 minute, stare at an aesthetically boring tract, and then suddenly surrender all (of course, the Spirit can do whatever the heaven he wants to do; but God uses means to save, and I am arguing maybe we need to change our “means” to better reach more people).

When someone tries to convince me of something, I naturally want to know something about them. Do they really believe it? Can they answer some of my questions? Do they really care about me believing what they believe? That all takes time. In the same way, I think we need to recognize that non-Christians want to get to know other Christians, learn more about what they believe, ask questions (some of which may stump you and me), and dialogue more. We should stick around for all that.

It takes deep love to walk with a non-believer, listen to their questions, and receive their rejection for weeks, months, and even years. It is not that hard, in America, to give your memorized schpeal for a minute and walk away. It is hard to stick around; to do incarnational ministry for a long time, like Jesus did.

We should get in people’s lives, show them our transformed lives as a testimony to the gospel, let them see how much we need the gospel everyday, communicate the gospel, and call them to repent and believe in Jesus. As we do it, let’s not put a timeline on it. Stick around for the long haul. Be present.