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Category Archives: Outreach and evangelism

What happens to those who never hear the gospel?

HinduWorship

Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.

We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:

I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)

People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)

Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!

III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)

Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”

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Book review: “Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in China”

RedeemedByFireMost Christians who are interested in missions are aware that Christianity has grown dramatically in modern China, despite persecution by the Communist government. But the story of how Christianity grew and what it looks like today in China remains a mystery to most Western Christians. Lian Xi, a native of China who is now professor of history at Hanover College, lifted that mystery for Western readers in 2010 with his carefully researched book published by Yale University Press, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.

Xi briefly surveys the presence of Christianity in China in ancient times, and then focuses most of the book on Christianity in China in the 19th and 20th centuries. China was forced to sign treaties with Western nations that included official toleration of Christianity after 1858. For the next century, over 23,000 missionaries poured into China from the West, half of them Americans. While this mission effort did contribute to over 623,000 members in mission churches by 1949, it also led to a deep resentment against Christians by most Chinese, who saw it as a religion of foreigners that was forced upon them. This resentment erupted into violence at times, such as the Boxer Rebellion. Xi stresses that Protestant Christianity was able to become truly indigenous under Communist rule, and no longer was seen as a foreign religion. The Communist government unwittingly allowed this to happen, by settting up the officially recognized and state-controlled Three-Self Church. Most Christians rejected the Three-Self Church as guilty of ungodly compromise with the state, and turned instead to a variety of underground church movements.

Xi then follows the stories of several influential indigenous movements among Protestant Christians, including the True Jesus Church, the Bethel Band, the Jesus Family, and the Little Flock, with charismatic leaders like John Sung, Wang Mingdao, and Watchman Nee. Most of these churches held to a fundamentalist faith, a charismatic leader, pre-millennial hope, and a revivalistic, if not Pentecostal, fervor. Some half million Christians died under Communist persecution, but by 2000 there were 15 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics in the official registered churches, and an additional 30 million Protestants and several million Catholics in underground churches.

Westerners tend to idealize the faith of Chinese Christians, but Xi points out that the lack of theological training and isolation from any accountability in underground churches occasionally led to doctrinal heresies and mixtures of Chinese folk religion with Christianity, as well as opening the door to leaders who were dictatorial and sometimes immoral. Despite these shortcomings among the underground churches, Xi credits them with having a powerful appeal by offering hope to the powerless under Communist oppression. Despite the phenomenal growth of Christianity in China, it is still a minority faith in China, and expected to remain  a religion of the common people, not a majority faith or a faith of those in influence or power in China.

I found Xi’s research to be thorough and highly informative, but it came across as somewhat aloof and skeptical of genuine faith. He tends to explain away the faith of Chinese Christians in terms of sociological factors. He includes stories of the moral failings of Chinese Christian leaders, but he reports very few of the stories of commitment, martyrdom and persecution suffered by Chinese Christians. Nevertheless, Xi’s research is likely to become a standard resource for any historian or missiologist wishing to understand Christianity in modern China.

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(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)

 

ABC’s of Praying for Missionaries

missions
When you ask missionaries what they need from us, more than anything else, they say, “Prayer.” So how can we pray for them? Here are seven scriptural prayers, arranged alphabetically:

Accepted by the believers
“Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,” Romans 15:31 (HCSB)

Language study can be difficult, but it’s vital to be accepted among the believers, and fit in. If the missionary isn’t accepted by the believers, he won’t be able to reach the unbelievers.
Unfortunately, believers aren’t perfect, and can have conflict in churches on the mission field, just as churches here can have conflict. So pray for unity between the missionaries and the local believers.

Bold in sharing the gospel
“Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should.” Ephesians 6:19-20 (HCSB)

Dr. Cal Guy was a missions professor who was asked to preach a revival. Members were concerned about one man, “Fine Old Mr. Crenshaw,” who was known to be a fine man, but saw no need for Christ. The pastor took Dr. Guy to meet him, and said, “Mr. Crenshaw, I’ve been telling Dr. Guy what a fine man you are.” Dr. Guy retorted, “I don’t believe it. If you’re a man as I’m a man, then you’re a rotten sinner, headed to hell.” After a long pause, Mr. Crenshaw smiled and said, “You’re right. Let’s talk.” And he accepted Christ.
Missionaries cannot be timid about sharing their faith. They need wisdom about when to be bold.

Clear in sharing the gospel
“…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Col 4:4 (ESV)

The gospel can often be misunderstood. Hindus want to add Jesus to their other gods, and need to hear that Jesus is the only way. Muslims often think that when we say Jesus is the “Son” of God, that we are talking about a literal, crude sexual relationship between God the Father and Mary. So pray that missionaries will make the message clear in the culture where they serve.

Delivered from unbelievers
“Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,” Romans 15:31 (HCSB)

Persecution is very real in many places around the world. Missionaries have been expelled from countries on trumped-up charges. Pray for them to be rescued.

Enter open doors
“At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison,” Colossians 4:3 (HCSB)
“After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Acts 14:27 (HCSB)

Steven Gillum, IMB missionary in Curitiba, Brazil, prayed and prayed to discover an area of his city without a church, and then it was shown to him.
Missionaries are always looking for unreached areas. Pray those doors will open for them to go in.

Fruitful
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that I often planned to come to you (but was prevented until now ) in order that I might have a fruitful ministry among you, just as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Romans 1:13 (HCSB)
“You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world,” Colossians 1:5-6 (HCSB)

William Carey labored in India for seven years without a single convert. One North American missionary befriended 60 families among an unreached people group, but has not yet seen one of them convert to faith. The work can be hard. Pray that they will be fruitful, as Carey was, when eventually God sent a revival. Today there are over a million Baptists in India who consider William Carey their spiritual forefather.

Good Health
“Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually.” 3 John 2 (HCSB)

Anytime you go to a different country, you may be exposed to different diseases. When I went on a short-term mission trip to Villa Berthet, Argentina, I noticed trees painted white halfway up, and certain markings on houses. When I asked what it meant, they said that it meant the “chagas” disease from an insect had infected those trees and houses.
In Africa and Asia, missionaries often have to confront malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis A, among other diseases. Pray for their health.

Missionaries serve in many different circumstances and different places around the world. Carlton Walker is a missionary reaching out to some of the 24 million senior adults in Japan. A retired man, Mr. S, takes Carlton around and introduces him to people, and he boldly shares his faith when people who have been Buddhist all of their lives. Pray for missionaries like Carlton Walker and others in the United States and around the world.

Ten Secrets to Successful Missions

Copyright by Bob RogersEarth boy

Luke 10:1-20 records that Jesus sent out 70 people to go on a mission trip, going in pairs to towns and villages where He was about to go. Apparently it was very successful, because we read in verse 17, “The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus replied in verse 18, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.”

What made their mission so successful? And how can our mission work and the missionaries we pray for discover the same power in their ministry?

This passages gives us ten secrets to successful missions. Here they are. Open your Bible to Luke 10, and notice these ten truths:

1. Multiplication. (v. 1) Use everybody, not just professional clergy. The Lord commissioned the 12 apostles in Luke 9:1-6, but here he sends out 70. Multiply your ministry. Use volunteers.

2. Teamwork (v. 1) He sent them in pairs, not alone. We can be so much more effective by working together, and it is a testimony to our unity in Christ to work in teams. Southern Baptists believe in the Cooperative Program as an excellent strategy, as thousands of churches pool their resources to support missionaries.

3. Prayer (v. 2) Before sending them out, He told them to pray for workers for the harvest. When Jerry Rankin was president of the International Mission Board, he spoke at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and mentioned that the IMB has recently appointed our first missionary to serve openly in Albania. After the service, a woman came up to Dr. Rankin, crying. When she gained her composure, she said that seven years before, she had read that Albania was the most atheistic country in the world, and she called the IMB to ask what we were doing there, only to learn that Albania was completely closed to missionaries. So she went back to her ladies’ group in her church, and asked them to pray for Albania. “For seven years we have been praying for Albania!” she wept, and Dr. Rankin wept tears of joy with her. (Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 57-58)

4. Expect opposition (“like lambs among wolves”). (v. 3) A Christian pastor took a group of school children whom he was teaching, for a walk. The Secret Police dogged them at first, but when they went into a zoo, they left them alone. He led them to a lion’s cage and gathered them around so he could speak quietly. He said, “Your forefathers in the Christian faith were thrown to wild beasts like these. They died gladly, because they believed in Jesus. The time may come when you also will be imprisoned, and suffer for being a Christian. Now you must decide whether you are ready to face that day. With tears in their eyes, each in turn said, ‘yes.’ It was the last class he taught before he had to leave his country. (Richard Wurmbrand, God’s Underground. Cited in “The Last Class,” The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2013.)

5. Commitment (v. 4, 7-8) If you care too much about your personal comfort (“money-bag, traveling bag,” “eating what they offer,”) you will become discouraged. If you care too much for sightseeing and socializing (“don’t greet anyone along the road”), you will lose your focus. When William Carey arrived in India, his wife was sick, he face financial hardship, and he was so lonely that he wrote in his journal, “O that I had … an earthly friend to whom I could unbosom my soul!” (Mary Drewery, William Carey, p. 74.) Andrew Baldwin, who ministers to an unreached people group in London, England, says, “This also emphasizes the need to move out in faith and in total dependence on God. Some people insist on having everything in place and being totally prepared – preparation is good, but as the leader who first recruited me to Turkey wisely said, if we waited till we felt completely ready, we’d never go!”

6. Look for a person of peace (v. 5-6). “Shalom” means more than just peace; it means wholeness and health. A person of peace was a person who fully receives the missionary. This is a person living in the culture you are reaching, who welcomes you, receives the message, and can be a bridge between you and your target culture. When Lottie Moon was serving in China, she learned of a village ten miles from where she was, that was open to the gospel. There lived a man named Dan Ho-bang. He had heard from another missionary that Jesus could remove sins from people. Then he learned that Lottie Moon was teaching about Jesus. Mr. Dan sent three people to invite Miss Moon to preach the way of Jesus in his home. She went, and great crowds of people came to the home to listen to the gospel. It became possible, because of Mr. Dan, a man of peace. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 171)

7. Show and tell the gospel (v. 9) In other words, meet their physical needs and also their spiritual needs– by sharing the gospel. While we always have the authority to share the gospel, often they are more receptive to hearing it when we show that we love them in a practical way. But beware: don’t use service or meeting physical needs as an excuse to not share the gospel. Servant evangelism alone is not a substitute for preaching. James Harvey is a missionary to an unreached people in Nashville, Tennessee. He says, “people use it [servant evangelism] as an excuse to be lazy and non-strategic in declaring the gospel message up front with people in their first meeting/encounter, whether it’s a waitress at a lunch meeting, a worldly relative at a family reunion, or a lost co-worker they pass by every day.”

8. Don’t take rejection personally (v. 10-12). If they reject you, they are actually rejecting Jesus, not you. You’re only accountable for sharing the gospel; you are not accountable for their response. When Lottie Moon first went to China, the Chinese called her a “devil woman” because she was a foreigner. She patiently responded, “Do not curse me. I am a human like you.” It took time for them to even accept her. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 158.)

9. Celebrate spiritual victories. (v. 17-19) When the 70 returned with joy that the demons submitted, Jesus rejoiced with them that Satan was being defeated. Whether you experience small victories, such as a person listening to the gospel, or great victories, such as a person coming to faith in Jesus, it is always reason to celebrate God’s work.

10. Find your greatest satisfaction in your own salvation (v. 20) Jesus reminded them that the greatest rejoicing was that their own names are written in the Book of Life. If you have been obedient to your call to be on mission, you will always be successful, no matter what numerical results you see in your lifetime.

A famous artist was asked to paint a picture of a dying church. One would expect that he would paint a small congregation in a dilapidated building. Instead, he painted a beautiful edifice with a rich pulpit and magnificent stained glass windows—and near the door, an offering box marked “Missions,” with the contribution slot covered with cobwebs. (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 378.)

It’s very true. If the church of Jesus neglects mission, the church will die, for the heart of Christ is a heart for missions. But if a church will follow the words of Christ for missions listed here in Luke 10, that church will be alive.

Which kind of church will we be? What kind of missionary will you be?

What really matters

Arizona Cardinals v Philadelphia Eagles
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

Millions of people gather around their television sets to watch sports championship games. Some will be very happy after the game, and others will be very disappointed. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter.

Philippians 2:10-11 says that in the end, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

In the end, it will not matter what team you follow, but it will matter whether or not you followed Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what nation you lived in, but it will matter whether you were you in the kingdom of God. In the end, it will not matter what terrorists you feared, but whether you feared God. In the end, it will not matter which church you attended, but whether you were part of the body of Christ.

In the end, it will not matter what your political affiliation was, but whether your affiliation was with Jesus. In the end, it will not matter where you worked, but whether you served Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what family or culture you were born in, but whether you were born again into the family of God. Because in the end, what will matter is not whether you got your name in the history books, but did you get your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Some simple gift suggestions for Christmas

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

A lady didn’t have time to purchase gifts for her circle of friends, so she rushed to the store and bought a box of pretty Christmas cards, and mailed them without even reading the message inside. When she finally had time to relax on New Year’s, she picked up one of the unused cards and to her horror she read the message she had sent: “This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on the way!”
In all of our rushing around this Christmas season, let’s not forget the little gift, the baby Jesus, whom God sent to become the big gift for our eternal life. And let’s ask ourselves what gifts we are giving this Christmas. May I suggest a few?
The gift of time. Spend time doing things that matter– with your family, in worship, and in personal reflection.
The gift of love. Look people in the eye, give them a hug, truly listen to what they are saying. Show them they are important to you.
The gift of the gospel. Share the real meaning of Christmas with your Christmas decorations, using a nativity scene, a lighted cross, and so on.  Ask a friend or co-worker, “What does Christmas mean to you?” and after they answer, tell them what it means to you.
The gift of money. Yes, money, but not like you may think. After all, it’s not your birthday or my birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday. So why not spend at least as much money in honor of Jesus as we do on our own family members? Share generously with the missions offering to spread the gospel to those who have never heard. Share generously with people in need. And don’t forget your tithes to your own church, to continue the ministries that focus on the real reason for the season.
The gift of song. Christmas is a time for singing and rejoicing! Surround yourself with Christmas carols, and share it with everybody you meet. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood and share fresh-baked cookies with an invitation to our Christmas Eve service. This is one time of the year when the whole world likes to hear songs about Jesus, so spread the joy! Like the wise men who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh, what gifts can you and I bring Jesus?

Why Men Hate Going to Church

It has always concerned me that there are more women than men in church, which is why I was eager to read Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow.

Murrow says that men like challenge and taking risks, but Christians have made church a place of nurturing and building relationships.

Murrow says that there are three gender gaps in the church: the gap of presence, the gap of participation, and the gap of personality.

The Gap of Presence: He says that in the USA, 61% of the church attendees are women, but only 39% are men. This trend is also found in other nations around the world. Interestingly, nondenominational churches had the smallest gap, while the biggest gap was found in Episcopal Churches.

The Gap of Participation: He says that women are 57% more likely to participate in Sunday School, and 33% more likely to volunteer for a church than men. Christian book sales are 75% to women, and the Christian radio audience is 63% female.

The Gap of Personality: He says that while 62% of the general population has a passive personality, 85% of Christians have passive personalities. There are greater numbers of artistic and homosexual men in church than the general population, but lower numbers of what he calls “risk takers, fun lovers and dangerous men.”

After I read this book a few years ago, I asked readers on a previous blog to tell me why they thought fewer men went to church. I received over 100 comments in one week! Here are the top reasons they gave:

1) Failure to let men lead. This may be controversial, but it was the most-often mentioned reason, both from men and women who commented. Many blamed women who would not let men be leaders in church. Others, especially men, blamed the men for not taking their leadership role.

2) Overemphasis on relationships. Women are social beings who cherish relationships; men not so much. It is interesting that this was the most common answer given by women who shared why their husbands did not come, but it was also mentioned by several men. Telling men they need a “personal relationship” with Jesus and “fall in love with Jesus” does not appeal to men as much as it does to women.

3) Overemphasis on sensitivity. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” and “sharing what’s on your heart” may make a man feel like he is stripped of his masculinity.

4) Not enough action. Most men want to be active; they don’t want to just sit and listen to a long sermon. They want to do things. David Murrow says, “men learn side by side, women learn face to face.” That’s why he recommends women have a conference to learn together, but men go fishing or hiking or build something together.

5) Men lack spirituality. Several who gave comments, mostly men, seem to blame men for lacking spirituality.

6) Need a challenge. This answer came almost exclusively from men. Several men mentioned that men need to be challenged.

7) Music is too feminine. This was another answer given by men themselves. They feel that too many songs are about “loving Jesus” in ways that are very feminine and the lyrics are words men would never say to another man.

So what do you think? Leave me a comment and join the conversation.

What is a healthy church?

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

Recently, Outreach magazine published its list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.

But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we do not find a list of fastest-growing churches. Not many numerical reports are even given, other than the 3,000 baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and the fact that the number had grown to 5,000 a little while later (Acts 4:4). After that, numbers are rarely given. We don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?

It’s time to change our terminology. Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.

1. Leaders who equip

“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)

Healthy churches have leaders who equip their members. The best test of the leader is that he has followers who learn from his teaching and example. Healthy churches have leadership that inspires the overall congregation to follow Christ and serve their community.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”

Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.

Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.

Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.

If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.

2. Members who serve

“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)

Healthy churches have members who serve. Don’t join this church to sit back and be entertained. If that’s what you are looking for, please go somewhere else. We need members who serve.

The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.

It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
Rick Warren asks, “If you are not involved in service or ministry, what excuse have you been using?
Abraham was old; Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive; Joseph was abused; Moses stuttered. Gideon was poor; Samson was codependent; Rahab was immoral; David had an affair; Elijah was suicidal; Jeremiah was depressed; Jonah was reluctant; Naomi was a widow. John the Baptist was eccentric; Peter was impulsive; Martha worried a lot; the Samaritan woman had five failed marriages; Zacchaeus was unpopular; Thomas had doubts; Paul had poor health; and Timothy was timid. God used each of them in his service. He will use you, too, if you stop making excuses.” (Rick Warren’s Daily Devotional, Day 357)

Healthy churches have members who serve.

3. Unity in the faith

“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)

Healthy churches are united. Unhealthy churches are divided. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”). I heard about a pastor who was called to a church with only 51% voting in favor of his call. A year later, they fired him. It was a unanimous. The pastor said, “I finally united the church.” Of course, that’s not the way we want to unify the church, but the church does need to be united.

Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!

4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness

“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)

Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth. And it is true that healthy churches should have numerical growth. However, there are churches that have numerical growth but they are not healthy. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.

Imagine a church board meeting with Jesus. Pete calls the meeting to order, and says, “Jesus, we’ve been following you around for some time, and we are getting concerned about the attendance figures. Tom, how many were on the hill yesterday?”

Tom answers, “Thirty-seven.”

Pete says, “It’s getting ridiculous. You’re going to have to pep things up.”

John says, “I’d like to suggest you pull off more miracles, but more people need to see it so our crowds will get bigger.”

Pete agrees, and adds, “Publicity is essential, and you tell half the people you cure to keep it quiet. Let the word get around.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Judas adds, “I’d like tos ay that if we are going to continue to meet in this upper room, we ought to do something about the carpet…” (Adapted from Richard K. Wallarab, Christianity Today, January 17, 1979.)

Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.

Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.

5. Teaching that provides stability

“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)

Another great sign of a healthy church is that the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by heresy and false teaching. If some clever teacher comes into the church and tries to lead people astray, a healthy church recognizes it right away and puts a stop to it.

A decade ago, we had a powerful wind storm blow an oak tree on our youth building. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.

6. Honest and loving relationships

“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)

Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.

Years ago, The Betty Ford Story aired on television. It was a movie that told the story of the addiction and recovery of Betty Ford, the wife of President Gerald Ford. At one point in the film, there is an emotional scene where the family is sitting together confronting Betty Ford. Her son says, “Mother, you are destroying yourself; you are destroying this family, and you are killing yourself. Mother, you are a drunk; you are an addict.” His mother was infuriated. She told her son he was being very disrespectful and said, “How can you say these things to me? I am your mother!” Her son said, “Mother, I can say it because it is the truth.” As hard as it was, this confrontation was the catalyst for the establishment of the Betty Ford Clinic. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 333-334)

A healthy church is a place where people speak the truth in love. Relationships are honest and loving. We don’t play games or try to please people, but we go out of our way to love people.

7. An environment that encourages involvement

“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)

Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”

Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into flight. The whole nation was shocked. An investigation revealed that it happened because of one inexpensive O-ring. There were one million components in the space shuttle, but that one part destroyed the whole. Like the seemingly insignificant O-ring, one person failing to take his place in the church keeps the whole from being healthy. (Richard Swenson, Margin, 1992, p. 48)

A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?

“Love Out Loud: Face to Face”

Some 400 members of First Baptist Church of Rincon wore their blue jeans and t-shirts to Sunday morning worship on February 12, because they came ready to go out and work in the community that afternoon.
Members spent the afternoon doing 15 different community service projects that touched over a thousand lives all over Effingham County, Georgia. “Too often, the world hears what we are against,” said the pastor, Dr. Bob Rogers. “We want them to hear loud and clear what we are for. We are for Jesus, we are for love and we are for loving our community personally in the name of Jesus. That’s why this is called ‘Love Out Loud: Face to Face.'”
With that in mind, everything was done for free. Free food was distributed to first responders. There was a free car wash and vehicle safety check on the church grounds– no money accepted. Several people offered the volunteers money, but they politely refused, explaining it was an illustration of God’s grace, that we cannot earn.
Some members went to local laundromats and offered to pay for people’s laundry, while others washed windshields for free at a local drive-in restaurant. Still others grabbed rakes and gloves and cleaned the yards of the sick and elderly, or took their tools to do minor repairs in homes of those in need. Back at the church, a group of volunteers were giving a party for special needs children, while a large host of volunteers descended on the local nursing home and retirement home, visiting the residents, and giving cards and goody bags to the workers.
Some volunteers focused specifically on spiritual and emotional needs, praying with people in homes where volunteer work was being done, as well as making numerous visits to the homebound. One family who has to stay at home due to illness was visited, and said, “We are blessed to be members of such an awesome church who reaches out to our community.” Free Bibles were given away in many different sites, both in English and Spanish. Volunteers from the church’s Hispanic mission participated in several of the projects.
Even though this is the third year that the church has done a “Love Out Loud” day near Valentine’s, it still required weeks of preparation, led by coordinators Beth Pye and Sherri Gordy. A group of volunteers who gave away handmade cards and goody bags, spent hours in preparation before the day of distribution. Organizers had to prepare hundreds of box lunches that could be distributed quickly, so that volunteers had time to eat and go out to serve.
Members of First Baptist Rincon who participated seemed to feel as blessed as those they helped. Kim Callahan said, “First time doing Love Out Loud. It was awesome.” Angie Griffin said, “Our trip to the nursing home was so amazing. Our grandson Carson said after we left, ‘Meme, I feel so good coming here today and spreading Gods love.'” Leonard Zeigler visited the county jail to pray with inmates, and found he was deeply moved by one inmate as they stood on opposite sides of the glass, hands touching the same window, until he saw condensation start rolling down the window.
Kim Weaver, a beautician who helped cut hair for free that day, said, “We let God out of the box.” Joseph Douberly drove around with a team that randomly approached people and offered to pray for them. While some people refused, others were eager for prayer, even calling family out of their homes to join them in prayer. Douberly said that he got “way outside my comfort zone.”
A teenager who participated was inspired to keep serving even after the day was over. Ryan Cole shared, “I had fun washing cars, trucks and our two fire trucks. At the end of church on my way home I saw a lady who needed help. No one stopped to help so I stopped; she was very nice.”
Team coordinator Beth Pye said, “It’s exciting to be part of a church family that actively takes Christ into the community. When we get out there and get involved in other people’s lives, share their pain and their joy, we’re giving them a glimpse of how God can be the fundamental source of their strength and life.”
Logistics coordinator Sherri Gordy said, “It is one thing to talk about “helping people” but that never compares with the feeling of actually reaching down, out, and over to help another person. Love out Loud crosses age, race, denomination, and does exactly what Jesus does for us, if we let Him work in our lives.”
At least five people allowed God to work in their lives in a very personal way, praying to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Country carnival at FBC Rincon

Country carnival at FBC Rincon

There was a good crowd for the Country Carnival at First Baptist Church of Rincon.