Rethinking Evangelism

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Today, I want to dive into something that is both obvious, but also crucial for sharing Jesus. And, it surrounds two facts…

1) I believe that Jesus Christ is absolutely worth sharing with others.

2) Our culture has shifted and changed, so where that sharing starts needs to change.

And, here is what I mean by this…

Decades ago, there was a lingering “Christian” consciousness in our culture. What this was often called, in more academic studies, was “Christendom.” What this meant was that purely by being born into Canada, the United States or England, etc., you were raised with, at the very least, a basic understanding of Christianity, and perhaps even shared certain Christian values. Of course, people were free to reject Christianity or to disagree, but, in general, there was a familiarity with Christianity.

If you were to graph it in terms of (a) meaning “zero understanding or readiness to accept the Gospel” to (z) meaning “deciding to follow Jesus,” people were simply closer to where the “x” is below, being ready to follow Jesus because of the cultural familiarity.

(a) ————————————————x——— (z)

My dad would often tell me that when he was growing up in high school, everyone in his grade 13 class went to Sunday School. And, this was just north of Toronto. That is no longer the case because our culture has shifted.

Today, people are far less likely to have a base knowledge, or any knowledge, of what Christianity is or why it matters. Today, on the same graph, our culture might be better represented as this…

(a) ——–x————————————————- (z)

After a sermon recently, I had a new guest share with me that they really liked my “TED Talk.” This is because they had never seen or experienced what a sermon is, since this is no longer something of which we are culturally familiar.

I bring all this up to say something radically obvious: If it’s a different culture, we need a different approach. Since people no longer have a cultural understanding of Christianity, what worked decades ago won’t work today.

In previous generations, the primary approach was to tell people about Jesus and then bring them to church. And, while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I believe our starting place has changed, so we need to change.

We need to demonstrate the love of Jesus and bring the church to them. We need to reach out and share the love of God in tangible ways, being the people of God (the church) to those around us. And, this may take a while, because people are in a different place.

So, when it comes to sharing Jesus, I think the starting place has shifted. I think it now begins with demonstrating the love of Jesus, so that we can share about Jesus. I believe that the way we will see people be changed by Jesus isn’t to just invite them to church (although, that’s a good thing!). We also need to faithfully love those around us over the long haul. That’s the new starting place.

 

The Small Sins Matter Most

smallsins.pngHave you ever noticed that the “church” loves to pay attention to the “big sins”? Do you know what I’m talking about? How online, in the news and in the pews, people love to call out people for the “big sins”? Of course, what counts as a “big sin” changes with the times, but it’s often and usually a sexual sin of some sort.

Now, obviously “big sins” are sins that matter and need to be rooted out. And, even that classification of “big sins” and “little sins” is problematic, but I think you get what I mean.
The reasons we love to focus on “big sins” isn’t because we are “standing up for truth,” but instead we are guided by judgment, pride and sin itself. (see Paul’s exposition on this at the beginning of Romans 2)

While there is a lot to unpack in that previous paragraph, I want to look at something else. I’d like to focus in on how we shouldn’t be focusing in on the “big sins,” but rather the “little sins.”

Because, what so many deep, wise and mature Christians have shared throughout the centuries is that our temptation to look at other people’s sins obscures us from what we should be doing, which is rooting out sin in our lives.

When we are busy looking at other people, we are neglecting the myriad of ways we neglect God daily.

The truth is, if we pay attention to the “small sins” in our lives, then they won’t lead to the “big sins.” Most often, really disastrous choices are made with a bunch of small, poor choices first.

Mechthild of Magdeburg, a 13th century mystic, writes this…

“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins. I tell you in truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul become so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.”

Do you see how practical that is? How everyday that is? That we need to be paying attention to our smiles, our bits of sourness and our impatience because that can turn our hearts cold and dark.

Mechthild’s point is that if we ignore those moments, we can never move toward spiritual completion, and focusing on other people’s “big sins” just misses the point. Instead, we need to reflect and act on the little ways we disengage from God and others throughout the day.

So, I write all this as a reminder that while our world loves to focus on the “big sins,” our Saviour reminds us to focus on our own planks, junk and sin that loves to hide in the everyday moments of life.

And, that’s the starting place to really walking and following with Jesus: Looking at Him and our own lives, not at others.

 

Where to Look for Leaders

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Culture, and an even bigger leadership market. What I mean by this is that many people will pay for courses, training, books (or whatever!) on how to develop and find leaders.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this. I, too, go to the conferences and read the books. But, there is a current discussion in the leadership world about a leadership deficit.

What this means is that as the Baby Boomers age, there is a leadership vacuum and people needed to fill it. In essence, there is a leadership crunch. And, there are numerous opinions on where to find the right leaders and how to develop them.

I don’t want to offer my opinion on this, instead I’d like to reflect on a theme I see in the Bible: The best leaders are first servants.

I just believe this is true. We see this in Jesus’ teaching when He says that leaders aren’t called to lord it over others, but to serve (see Matthew 20:25-28). We see it in Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter 5:2-3 in his calling to serve one another. And, we see it in Matthew 23:11-12 in which Jesus says the greatest among you will be the servants.

I think the reason for this is obvious: Leadership positions don’t create character, serving does.

The best leaders are also people who understand serving and aren’t into leading for themselves, but rather leading for others.

So, I write all this because if you are business leader, a hockey coach, a pastor or leading anything at all, and you want to find more leaders, the place to look isn’t at leadership conferences. The place to find the best leaders isn’t from a group of people vying for the position.

The place to find the best leaders is wherever someone is faithfully serving. 

That’s the place to start, because these people will already understand that leading isn’t about themselves; it’s about others, and that’s what matters.

Why Church Isn’t About Me

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I recently read this in a book and it really hit hard…

“What is killing the church today is having the mission focused on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. Discipleship is continually pitted against evangelism and championed as the endgame for the church. The mission cannot be about us – it must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith. The problem is, we like the mission to be about us. And this has caused a spiritual narcissism to invade the church.” (James Emery White, Meet Generation Z)

Wow, right?! He’s not pulling any punches.

His point is that as soon as the focus of the church turns inward, you not only lose focus, you miss out on the point of Christianity. But, it’s so easy, it’s so subtle and it can happen so quickly.

I know this because it can happen with me.

It can be so easy to lose focus and get the priorities wrong. It can be so easy to put myself in the centre. It can be so easy to put my preferences, my personal inclinations and my desires first. It can be so easy to put my needs before the needs of the world around me.

White goes on to say this…

“The individual needs and desires of the believer have become the centre of attention, which is why most churches have as their primary focus reaching and then serving the already convinced. So the mission isn’t making disciples but caring for them.”

Those are challenging words.

But, if we can hear his words honestly, I think he points out a huge temptation for churches – the temptation is to subtly focus on caring for disciples, rather than making disciples. And, of course it matters to care for disciples, but when that becomes the goal or primary focus, you won’t make disciples. The sequence matters. Making disciples will lead you to caring for them, but if you focus on caring for disciples, you won’t make any new ones.

So, I bring this all up because I believe White raises a valid temptation for all disciples of Jesus – the temptation to make the church about us and not others. And that happens in hundreds of simple and subtle ways. But, I know what God is asking of me – to resist that temptation and to join Him in His mission “to go and make disciples.”

Because, it’s not about me; it’s about reaching those who aren’t here yet.

The Most Underrated Spiritual Gift

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Here is what I believe: Those who are hospitable in our world will change our world; those who aren’t will become isolated and ineffective. 

I know I’ve written on hospitality before, but I simply believe this is the single more important posture and attitude we need to have in our current world.

Our current world and culture is polarized – it is divisive, it is angry, it is full of posturing and pride. Our current culture is deficiently lacking in listening, and this is also true in the church of North America.

And, this is why I believe we need hospitality more than ever.

Because, in its core, hospitality isn’t about just opening your house to someone, but instead having a posture of openness with everyone. It’s about having an attitude that welcomes those who are different than you. It’s about having a heart that is inclusive of people across all the lines that tend to divide us: Politics, race, class, finances, geography, gender, anything really.

Henri Nouwen put it this way:

“When hostility is converted into hospitality, then fearful strangers can becomes guests… [and] guest and host can reveal their most precious gifts and bring new life to others. … The term hospitality should not be limited to its literal sense of receiving a stranger in our house, but as a fundamental attitude toward our fellow human being, which can be expressed in a great variety of ways.”

This type of attitude is needed, because this kind of attitude is Godly. This kind of attitude is Christ-like. This kind of attitude isn’t optional for Christians, because it’s practiced by our Lord and Saviour.

Jesus was radically open and inclusive to those around Him. He was hospitable to those on the margins and different from others. And, in so many places in His life, He demonstrated this. Everything from the parable of the Good Samaritan and his practicing of hospitality, to Jesus’ death and resurrection at which He welcomes in all of us who are sinful and broken.

Hospitality is a central theme and behaviour of Jesus, so, as His followers, it needs to be part of ours as well. Because, you can’t love those to whom you close yourself off, and Jesus is clear, we need to love others.

Here is the beautiful things about hospitality: When we practice it, it will shine like a city on hill, because it is so counter-cultural. Our culture is filled with hate, divisions, binaries and polarizing sides.

What if we practiced a different way? What if we had a posture and attitude of welcoming? What if we invited people who are different than us into conversation, connection and true friendship? What if we put this into practice?

While I don’t know all the specifics of what would happen, what I do know is that the world around us would be better, because it would be more Christ-like.

When Christians Fight Online

christianfight.pngToday, I want to talk about a reality that I bet many of you have seen on Facebook, Twitter, blogs posts and comment sections all over the Internet: Christians fighting online, publically and with vitriol (which is a big word for being nasty).

I bring this up because, not only do I think that this harming the reputation of the church, I also think it’s harming the Christian community and people.

Now, of course, right off the bat there are going to be some who say, “But shouldn’t we stand up for truth?,” “These issues matter!,” or “Shouldn’t we be able to debate within Christianity?” And, of course, I agree with all of that. We should remain firm to what we believe. Some issues do matter immensely and need to be addressed, and, of course, discussion and debate have always been part of Christianity and always will be.

My problem isn’t with the truth, discussion or addressing important social issues. My problem is subtler than that: It’s about what goes on in our hearts. My problem is when Christians actually start to enjoy all the debate, division and arguing.

Because, what I’m starting to see all over the place isn’t just people who love certain issues, topics and perspectives. It’s people who love to fight. It’s people seeking out to engage others in nasty back and forth arguments. It’s people who call out others and say “farewell” to so and so. It’s people who intentionally provoke, not to discuss, but to divide, distance and ridicule other positions. It’s people who actually relish in the fighting, provoking and dividing over whatever their issue is.

And, the problem with this is ridiculously obvious: If we love to fight, we are probably forgetting to love. If we love the conflict, the fray or the issue more than people, we are missing the point. Because, in a fight or argument, the goal is to win, convert and conquer – all of which can lead us away from loving. And, loving others isn’t optional in the Christian walk, but when we start looking for fights to have, we’ve stopped looking at Jesus and loving others.

So, to be clear, I’m not saying that certain issues don’t matter, that discussions are pointless or that we shouldn’t stand up for injustice.

No, what I want to raise to the surface is something that has happened in my heart, and something I think I see online all the time. Sometimes under the cover of standing up for truth, justice or whatever, what is really going on is that we are angry, looking for a fight and more interested in winning our theological or social agenda, rather than loving and listening.

Please hear me! Some things need to be changed. Some things are evil. Some things need to be called out. But, before we ever call someone else out online, I think it starts with calling out the sin, hate, anger and a pathological love of division within ourselves.

And, I’m pretty sure Jesus said something similar.

Cut the Labels

peopletaketime“People take time. But in our haste, we size them up or cut them down to what we take to be a more manageable size, labeling people instead of trying to hear, understand or welcome them.”

This statement by David Dark could not be truer. Because, the truth is, people take time. It takes time to get to know them. It takes time to understand them. It takes time to learn about their complexity and their story.

Yet, rather than taking the time, we find it easier to label others. Why? Because it’s faster. Labeling someone short-circuits the distance it takes to get to know them. It allows us to cut them down to a manageable size, and allows us to distance ourselves from them. Labeling allows us get out of the hard work of getting to know someone.

The problem is that labeling people, as a Christian, isn’t our calling. Our calling is to love others. And, to truly love people means pushing past labels and to get to know them.

I know I personally struggle with this. I know that, in my haste, I label people so that I don’t have to listen to people. I might say to myself, “Well they are just a “_____”, or “Of course they would argue that they are “_____”, or “Why listen to that [insert a group of people]?”

And, my point isn’t that labeling isn’t easy – or fast. My point is that it isn’t very Christ-like. Love requires getting to know people. Love requires some time. And, people require some time.

So, I write all this for one reason: the next time you are tempted to label someone, why not take the time to actually get to know them?

Getting Rid of Your “Spiritual Life” : Otherwise Known as Unifying Your Life

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Today, I want to write about something counter-intuitive: to improve your spiritual life, you need to stop focusing on your spiritual life.

And, here is what I mean by that…

When we talk about our “spiritual life,” we often mean things like serving, reading our Bible, going to church, having a quiet time in the morning and so on. In essence, we have a list of things that are “spiritual” and try to do them more or deeper.

But, if you’ve ever tried this, it honestly doesn’t often work all that well. It might help for a little bit, but often quickly sputters out. And, I think the reason it doesn’t work is because we’ve bought into a lie that there is something called “our spiritual life.”

But, there is no such thing as a “spiritual life” – there is just life!

Because, in the Bible, things aren’t split up into two categories: spiritual and real life. It’s all one. The Bible doesn’t split our lives up into spiritual and non-spiritual, but when we do, we run into problems.

Because here is the thing: your “spiritual life” will never improve while you ignore the rest of your life. God isn’t interested in just your prayer time and Bible reading plans; He’s interested in all of you and your entire life. How you treat your co-workers matters just as much as attending church. The things you purchase matter just as much as your Bible knowledge. Your forgiveness toward those who have hurt you matters just as much as you serving in kid’s ministry.

Are you seeing the point?

If we want to improve our “spiritual life,” we need to improve all of our lives as a whole. We need to not just focus on reading the Bible more, but living it out in each and every moment. Mondays through Saturdays matter just as much as Sundays. We can’t live divided lives and then expect to grow.

Thomas Merton puts it this way, “If you want to have a spiritual life, you must unify your life.”

You can’t have a spiritual life; you can only have a whole life.

Now, of course, reading your Bible, Sundays, church, serving and prayer all matter immensely. But, the rest of our lives matter too. When we miss that fact, we will get stuck.

So, this week, focus not just on your spiritual life, but on living and responding to God in every aspect of your life. When you start to value each aspect of your life, you might find that God is a part of it all, and that all of it is spiritual.

Celebrating the Right Decisions, not Just Disciplining the Wrong

Hudson Sweeping Driveway WORDS.pngHere is the truth about me and my parenting: I am far more likely to try to correct bad behaviour than to really praise good behaviour. And, what I mean by that is I tend to focus in on correcting poor behaviour and, while I’ll appreciate good behaviour, I can forget to really celebrate it.

Of course, it matters to correct bad choices, but what about encouraging good decisions? This is something I want to change in my life. I don’t want all my efforts going into course-correcting bad decisions, but rather I want to celebrate and really encourage my kids when they make the right decision.

The other day, we had a chance to practice this. I came home and found something totally unexpected. I drove in our driveway to find Hudson sweeping my neighbour’s driveway with her chatting away with him. Apparently, he was playing outside, saw her sweeping her driveway, got a broom and went over there on his own to help. He just took the initiative and acted.

When I went over to see him, Hudson told me why he was helping her. He said, “Dad we help our neighbours. That’s what we do, right?” Which I agreed to, and then he said, “Also Dad, she needs help. She is O-L-D.” (Hudson spelled it out loud because apparently he thinks older people can’t spell, and this, of course, was the way to share that fact sensitively. Now our neighbour is quite a bit older than we are. In fact, her kids are all retired along with her. So, different life stage).

But, here is why I mention this story: This was an opportunity to celebrate a really great decision. A chance not to just say, “I’m proud of you,” or “Great job Hudson!” but an opportunity to really show him that I was proud of him. To celebrate this, I got him his favourite donut from Tim Hortons, and we shared his donut while I shared why I was proud of him. For sure, this is a little thing, but it made a huge difference for Hudson.

I write all this to remind us all of one thing: What if you celebrated someone’s good decision, rather than just complaining or trying to correct their bad decisions? What if we put some effort into really encouraging, thanking and appreciating the surprising and unexpected good decisions that happen around us? Because, what I think might just happen is we might see more good decisions happen.

So, I’m learning to celebrate the great little decisions that happen each day. Because, I don’t want my kids to just not do bad things. I also want them to do the right things.