Archives For Evangelism

I recently finished Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book Preaching & Preachers. There is no lack of talking points for the good Doctor. He is dogmatic, opinionated, and assertive about what he believes preaching to be. I found myself convicted, confirmed, and even bemused to the point of laughing out loud. The book was rich for me in all kinds of ways. For example, one interesting thing was how MLJ regarded altar calls in church services.

I grew up in a church tradition where altar calls were standard practice. And while I’ve preached many a sermon that included an altar call, for years now my church (and my preaching in it) doesn’t have them. Some believe this absence to be, at best, pastorally unwise or, at worst, incredibly unbiblical. 1 I thought it might be good to hear at least from one respected, if not hallowed, preacher on the reasons he didn’t employ them in the preaching event.

#1: It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will.
#2: The response of the man who “comes forward” isn’t so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or fear, or some other kinds of psychological influence.
#3: The preaching of the Word and the call for decision shouldn’t be separated.
#4: The implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and self-conversion.
#5: The implication that the evangelist is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work.
#6: It tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin.
#7: You are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.
#8: The implication that the Holy Spirit needs to be helped, aided, and supplemented – that the work must be hastened instead of leaving it the hands of the Spirit
#9: It raises the whole question of the doctrine of Regeneration.
#10: No sinner ever really “decides for Christ”; he flies to Christ in utter helplessness and despair as his only refuge and hope.

What is MLJ’s counsel to do en lieu of altar calls? The Doctor concludes:

The appeal must be in the Truth itself, and in the message. As you preach your sermon you should be applying it all the time, and especially, of course, at the end, when you come to the final application and to the climax. But the appeal is part of the message; it should be so inevitably. The sermon should lead men to see that this is the only thing to do. … I believe that the minister should always make an announcement in some shape or form that he is available to talk to anybody who wants to talk to him about their soul and its eternal destiny. 2

What Lloyd-Jones wants to make clear is that one doesn’t confuse not having an altar call with not having a call to respond at all. For him, the call to respond is peppered throughout the sermon. The issue at hand for the Doctor is the technique or instrument which employs altar calls for conversions. If you’d like to know more, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy to see his argumentation behind these ten reasons. If anything, it will be good food for thought for your own practices in preaching.

Notes:

  1. However, one would be taxed to produce an explicit example in the New Testament of a church service altar call. Maybe because it’s a fairly modern invention (See Charles Finney’s 19th century “anxious bench” technique).
  2. Preaching & Preachers, Zondervan, 2011, 296.

There is no question learning about God involves coming face-to-face with mystery. A Bible in your hand and questions in your head don’t guarantee all the answers you seek will come to light. Indeed, this is the Supreme Being of whom Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” This probably means, among many things, some of the answers we are seeking from God about God may remain a mystery in this life. I know I’ve bumped up against the mystery of God in my own journey. How does it work with Jesus being fully God and fully man? How does God’s sovereignty work with man’s responsibility in salvation? Why did God allow Bro-country into the world? Mysteries one and all.

However, and this is important to get if you’re serious about matters of faith, you don’t get points for saying something is a mystery in the Scriptures if those Scriptures are clear about that something. Too often I hear people refer to something about God or Christianity as a mystery when the Bible is clear in its answer. Parroting that response is disingenuous to real seekers of truth. It’s as cheap as debating an issue where you’ve only cut-and-paste content from a Google search while acting like you researched the subject thoroughly. Neither is honest or helpful.

Frankly, saying something’s a mystery (when it’s not) could simply be a backhanded way of rebelling against God’s Word because we don’t want to have to deal with the straightforward teaching of Scripture – that it’s either too demanding of us, too against what popular culture embraces, or makes us too different than we’d prefer. That’s no way to seek after God. It only gives the illusion of seriousness when the truth is we don’t want to know or accept the truth.

Let’s be clear for seekers and believers both, don’t be dishonest in searching for answers about God, man, and everything else in the Scripture. You will face mysteries and you will face things that aren’t. So, it’s only mystery when it’s a mystery. If it’s not, then it’s a truth to be embraced.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed
belong to us and to our children forever…

– Deuteronomy 29:29

In my last post I shared my notes from a recent conference breakout I led dealing with how churches think strategically about their weekend services as it concerns preaching with the unchurched in mind. Below are my notes about the rest of the breakout where I shared how one can think about the unchurched from the parking lot to the pew. You can boil the spirit of my thoughts to one major goal: removing barriers for the unbeliever. As much as I can help it, the only barrier I want between the unchurched and Jesus is the Cross (cf., 1 Cor. 1:23). While I don’t want anyone to reject the gospel, I’m much more at peace with knowing someone has rejected listening to someone share the good news because they can’t get past Jesus for who he is or what he’s done. However, what troubles me is thinking there are lost men and women who, in trying to attend a church to learn about Jesus, leave never wanting to return because of unnecessary barriers they experienced. Make no mistake, this isn’t a call to be a “goods & services” organization for consumers or a reduction of the Sunday morning experience as a product to be peddled. It is to think through what you do on Sunday in the hopes of better helping unchurched men and women hear the gospel of Jesus not only when they come to your church but to do it in a way that encourages them to return again.

#1: Think of yourself as a host

This helps us see the unchurched as folk who have never been in “our home.” As such, they aren’t familiar with the look and feel of the surroundings. We want to reduce any anxieties they may have. Think about a lost friend and ask yourself: How would [my friend] feel about [element of what happens on Sunday]?  Would he/she be scared, confused, marginalized, about the arrangement of the lobby, the signs on the wall, etc. This is why parking lot, greeter, and usher teams are important. It is also why you, as pastor, should help those teams realize their importance.

#2: Have processes work for you, not against you

Imagine your lost buddy and his wife finally decide to take you up on your invitation to attend this Sunday. They arrive at 8:55AM for your 9AM service. Unfortunately, it takes them five minutes to find a parking spot with all the other cars zipping around. Then they have to find where to take their toddler and middle-schooler for church. Is it in the main building, one of the smaller buildings to the side? Another five to seven minutes pass. Once they get to the preschool ministry they have to wait in line (not to mention fill out a couple pages of paper to register their kiddo for the first time) which, because there’s only one volunteer manning the station, takes ten more minutes. Then you finally see your friends! They enter the sanctuary after the music, announcements, welcome, and the first ten minutes of your sermon. But don’t worry, this won’t miss a thing with your ushers walking them down the aisle in front of everybody so they can sit on the first row. You know, the place guest love to sit. What a first impression, right? If the parents of a normal-sized family (husband, wife, plus two kids) enter the sanctuary halfway into the worship service after driving onto your campus five minutes before the service started, your processes (check-in, registration, signage, etc.) are working against you, not for you.

#3: We want to welcome guests not spotlight them

Do you like going with a friend to a restaurant on your birthday, where the next thing you know is someone puts a huge sombrero (I’m a Texan, we eat a lot of Tex-Mex) on your head, then the entire waitstaff gathers around you and poorly sings a creepy, emotionless chant of how excited they are[n’t] that it’s your birthday? I rest my case. It’s why we don’t have guest seating, guest parking, or lapel stickers. Don’t risk making your unchurched friends feel more awkward than they already may feel.

#4 Reduce the “us/them” as much as you can

Using inside jokes, language, or stories without giving the context whereby everyone can follow only makes the uninitiated feel more like outsiders than guests. This doesn’t mean there aren’t real differences between followers of Jesus and unbelievers. There most certainly are! But finding legitimate places where you can minimize those difference helps your lost friends grow in thinking of your church as their church to learn about Jesus. Reducing the “us/them” factor is also one more reason why you should consider addressing the unchurched throughout your sermon.

#5: Think through your Main Street

The “Main Street” is the literal pathway the majority of people take when walking into the sanctuary. You can leverage this path with your lost friends in mind by making it the place where your next steps, direction, and information can be found. When it comes to your Main Street, ask: Is it clear? Is it clean? Is it attractive? Again, if you had an unchurched guest coming to your home, how would you want your house to appear? Think of Main Street as you would your own home.

#6: Excellence inspires

At CCCC, we define excellence as doing the best you can with what you have. It’s why we try to stay away from handwritten signage or letting kids sing solos because “it’s cute.” It’s also why we coordinate our materials with our church logo and use a communications team to work our website. It’s our “best” right now. So, how do you strive for excellence in things like your signage, music, website? Let me quote Tim Keller about excellence as it pertains to the arts:

The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Why? Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the music-presenter. But any outsider who comes in, who is not convinced of the truth and who does not have any relationship to the presenter, will be bored or irritated by the poor offering. In other words, excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. For the non-Christian, the attraction of good art will have a major part in drawing them in. 1

So, while the earnest but marginally talented dude singing off-key and missing his three chords on the guitar might be endearing for the congregational core who know and love him, it probably will only serve as a distraction for the unchurched friend you invited that day. Don’t misunderstand or mischaracterize what I’m saying. This isn’t excellence in lieu of the Holy Spirit (cf., Derek Webb’s The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum). This is seeing excellence not only as a way that glorifies God but also thinks with the outsider in mind.

#7: Have a Point Person for your Processes (Get a ‘Culture Cop’)

Designate a person who, on Sunday morning, is evaluating the effectiveness of how you are helping the unchurched feel welcomed. He helps push the flywheel on fostering a culture of reaching out to the lost on weekends by observing what is happening in real-time on Sundays. For example, he may gently remind your greeters who are innocently grouping in holy huddles catching up on the week’s happenings that they are to be engaging the scores of lost people walking past them. This person might actually time how long your nursery ministry takes to register kids during a given service. In essence, this is an individual who is responsible for seeing if your processes are producing the uninitiated-friendly culture you desire. If there are places where it isn’t happening, this person helps leaders schedule “Monday Meetings” where things can be sorted out in strategic ways.

#8: Push age-graded ministries to own being missional on Sunday

Ask your preschool, children, and student ministries how they are actively being mindful of the unchurched who attend their ministries? You might find some great ideas for adults as well.

#9: Have a One-Stop Shop

Instead of having ten different tables in your lobby/Main Street for answering each question, reduce it to one. Less is more. Too many choices can actually muddy the waters of where you want people (especially the unchurched) to go. It’s incredibly helpful to point to one place where people with questions about your church can get answers.

 

Know that doing things like this doesn’t make you a sellout to the unchurched, it makes you sincere toward them by potentially removing unnecessary barriers between them and the gospel. Hopefully, through your ministries, processes, and everything else you do on Sunday your church demonstrates that, like Jesus, you also are a friend to sinners.

 

Notes:

  1. Tim Keller, Evangelistic Worship