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"Listen, I've taken my questions to a pastor, a priest, and a rabbi. Not one of them was able to give me any good reasons to believe in God. In fact, they've just congratulated me for thinking it through so carefully. One of them even told me I'd given him some things to think about! I've spent a lot of time and energy on this, so don't think you're going to easily sway me into believing that your ideas are right."
So energized was the discussion between this young Jewish businessman and my pastor friend that a church usher actually stepped in to try to break up the "fight." But as soon as he did, both of them protested. "It's okay," my friend assured the usher, "we're both just very passionate about this."
"Not only that," added this intense seeker, "I can't tell you how refreshing it is to finally find a place like this where people seem to actually care about logic and truth. This is fantastic!" This man, like so many others today, was highly interested in discovering what is real in thespiritual realm, and he was eager to talk about it.
We see it all around us. From cover stories of national newsmagazines, to titles of bestselling books, to themes of television programs and movies, to songs on the music charts-people are hungry for information about God.
Spiritual interest is at a high level in our culture, but so is bewilderment about what to believe. And while there's growing suspicion of organized religion, many people, like this Jewish businessman, are still willing to turn to a church in the hope that they might-just might-find some answers.
But are we prepared to help them? Are we becoming the kind of people-and churches-that will be able to help them move forward on a spiritual journey toward Christ?
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Evangelism. It's one of the highest values in the church-and one of the least practiced.
We all believe in it. It's on our bulletins, in our hymns, and throughout our creeds. It's posted on our marquees and peppered through our statements of faith. It's explained in our theology books, encouraged in our seminaries, and preached in our pulpits. Most Christian leaders list it as a top priority. There is little doubt that evangelism is central to what we're supposed to be about.
The irony is that while many of our churches and denominations have a rich heritage and strong reputation for evangelism, in many cases precious little is actually happening. Let's be honest: in most ministries very few people are being reached for Christ.
Yet Jesus commanded: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). This mandate was given for all churches of all time-including yours and mine.
Since we all agree that we are supposed to be carrying out the Great Commission, why aren't we doing more about it? Studies show that most Christians don't have very many-if any-friendships with non-Christians. The majority of church members can no longer quote the words of John 3:16 about God's great love for the world, much less articulate a clear gospel illustration. A mere 14 percent of pastors claim that their churches are heavily involved in evangelism.
We talk a good game, but our actions speak louder than our words. Do we really care about lost people? Are we convinced that everyone we know, without exception, needs to find the forgiveness, friendship, life, and leadership Jesus offers? Do we truly believe in hell and that our friends and family members will end up there if they don't trust in Christ before they die? Do we really believe that? If so, are we willing to stretch and take risks to warn them? And are we willing to invest our time and energy in developing churches that will attract, challenge, and teach them to step across the line of faith?
Jesus commissioned us to become persuasive communicators of his love and truth. That is, he asks us to become contagious Christians and to build contagious churches that will do whatever is necessary, with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to bring more and more people to him. If you love Christ, I'm confident that your spirit is saying, "Yes, that's right. I long to become that kind of Christian and to be a part of that kind of church. I really want to impact people's lives and eternities!"
We were made to fulfill the Great Commission. I believe evangelism is the primary reason God left us here on the planet. We can spend all of eternity worshiping God, learning from his Word, praying, and edifying one another. But it's only here and now that we can reach lost people for Christ. We must seize the opportunity!
THE NEED FOR CONTAGIOUS CHURCHES
What will it take to have the widespread impact we were made to have?
Relational evangelism plays a vital role. That's why I wrote Becoming a Contagious Christian with Bill Hybels and then developed and more recently revised and updated the Becoming a Contagious Christian training course and Contagious Campaign with Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels. We wanted to equip ordinary believers to communicate their faith naturally and effectively. People come to Christ one life at a time-and usually through the influence of one or two authentic Christians who have built genuine relationships with them. All believers can and should have that kind of impact on the people around them.
But we need more than enthusiastic and equipped Christians. We also need the synergy of outwardly focused, evangelistically active churches. Churches that proactively partner with their members to reach increasing numbers of people who are far from God. Churches that are convinced that "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against them (Matthew 16:18 KJV)-and act like it. We need contagious churches.
I believe in the importance of these kinds of churches for two reasons. First, I've experienced how hard it is reach people outside the context of a contagious church. Second, I've experienced the benefits of doing outreach in tandem with a contagious church.
THE LIMITATIONS OF LONE RANGER EVANGELISM
When I committed my life to Christ at age nineteen, God immediately gave me a desire to lead my friends to him. I was more than willing to talk to them about my faith. I gave them books and tapes about Christianity, led evangelistic Bible studies, organized outreach events, and, together with some friends, formed a ministry that for five years brought contemporary Christian music groups to our town to perform concerts as a way of communicating to our non-Christian friends. It was an exciting spiritual venture-though somewhat misunderstood in the rural reaches of northern North Dakota in the late '70s and early '80s!
I became known among my Christian friends for what they kiddingly referred to as "car evangelism." I would routinely invite spiritually receptive people to go for a ride so we could discuss spiritual matters or hear a tape about Christianity. We would often drive long distances along the Dakota back roads while listening to recorded gospel messages, and then talking about what we had heard. Unorthodox, perhaps. And sure, it burned up plenty of fuel. But, hey, gas was cheap back then-and many of those people made commitments to Christ and are still serving him today!
But there was a downside. This kind of outreach was isolated and independent. For many of the people I was trying to reach, I was the lone link in the spiritual chain. To the degree that a few like-minded buddies and I could sustain our efforts, we had some impact. But many times people fell through the cracks. Why? Because we were a ragtag, loosely organized team, and we weren't tightly integrated into a local church that could support or follow up on our outreach efforts.
Yes, we all were involved in various churches. But at the time, most of those churches were inwardly focused and had limited vision or energy for reaching outsiders-especially when it came to some of the newer approaches we were taking. The churches didn't know what to make of us, and we didn't know how to work with them. As a result, there was no natural handoff of seekers who wanted to go on to the next level in their search, or of new believers who needed to grow in their freshly found faith. Also, these people related to our style of communicating, but many had a difficult time connecting with the culture of the traditional churches.
Excerpted from Becoming a Contagious Church by Mark, Mittelberg Copyright © 2007 by Mark Mittelberg. Excerpted by permission.
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