When one begins to examine the health and spiritual condition of the local church, there are seven areas of emphasis that need to be evaluated and strengthened. This article will discuss these seven areas as an overview. Each one of these sections deserves its own full review.
There are two considerations in each of these areas of church life. The most important question is whether what we are doing pleases God. That is, does the Bible teach us to do what we are doing or have we merely been doing these things because that’s the way things have always been done around here?
The second question is whether or not the methods we have chosen to accomplish God’s will are the best and most effective ways to do them. In many cases, God has told us what to do, but He has left the how to do it up to us. We need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” in our choice of effective (and scriptural) methods of doing His will.
We are taught to worship God in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). How we are to worship is outlined on the pages of the New Testament. Worship is to serve two purposes. First and foremost, it is to praise and thank God. Secondly, it is for the building up of one another.
At times, we may need to have some training about worship. We might need to have some singing training to learn how to do that well. There needs to be an emphasis on the Lord’s Supper during worship as we recall on a weekly basis what Jesus did for us on the cross. Those who lead in any aspect of our services should be trained in how to do it well. And we must not merely worship based on the teaching of the New Testament but we must also worship with the right kind of heart (or spirit). Our attitude should be correct before God.
We should examine every aspect of our worship and see if there are ways we can praise Him better (without changing how we worship to please us).
Spiritual education and training
We have written already of the benefits of having an organized teaching curriculum for both adults and children. There should also be some teacher training by qualified instructors so that we do the very best job we can of teaching God’s word. Special classes outside of our regular curriculum can help fill in some gaps in our Bible knowledge. There should be an intentional closeness between teachers, shepherds and parents to provide feedback for one another to the spiritual benefit of our young people.
Jesus calls His followers to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Much of this work is done individually by disciples who seek to help others to become disciples as well. Classes need to be held to equip and train Christians to learn how to best teach the lost. We should encourage not only public classes but home Bible studies as well. There must also be follow up studies to help new Christians grow mature in Christ.
We are taught by the Lord to be hospitable to one another and to strangers (1 Peter 4:9). Christians should spend much time together outside of assemblies as we seek to help each other to remain strong in Christ. We should have other disciples over to our homes for parties and singings and other social activities. We should go on outings together and should desire to spend quality time with other Christians in many different settings.
In addition to our individual efforts, there should be church level evangelistic events and opportunities for us to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Gospel meetings, Vacation Bible Schools, and social media should all be utilized to open up doors of opportunity for the lost to learn about the Savior. The church is to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and we should intentionally plan to provide chances for the lost to attend and learn the truth.
The leaders of the local church (shepherds, elders, pastors, overseers, bishops) should model the right kind of spiritual example for others to follow. They should set the pace for evangelistic work and be personally involved in people’s lives so as to help them become more like Christ and develop strength in areas where they need to grow.
There should be on-going training for future men who can serve God’s people as shepherds, rather than waiting until something happens to current leadership before we begin to think about the future. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated, but far too many churches have underestimated the need to train new leaders.
From the pulpit
The preaching from the pulpit should be balanced to meet the spiritual needs of both new Christians and long time members. There should be an emphasis on evangelism and a focus on Jesus that reminds us of the One to whom we belong and whom we serve (Acts 27:23).
It is incumbent on the pulpit preaching to raise the level of commitment in the church as a whole. And the preacher must both teach what is right and show the way as well.
These seven areas of emphasis are vitally important if we want to be the church that the Lord expects us to be. Some of these things deal with our personal obligations to God and some have to do with collective actions of the congregation.
There is nothing negative about our need to constantly examine our practices to make certain that they are both true to the Bible and being successful in accomplishing what God wants us to do. If we need to improve in some areas, let us prayerfully plan to grow in our devotion and dedication for Him.
And let us never forget that we are to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I have been especially encouraged about the condition of God’s church this week. I hope that you have too.
My family and I spent the first part of the week with a church in Cleveland, TN (near Chattanooga). They asked me to preach a series six lessons from Sunday to Wednesday. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, they asked if we could meet an hour earlier and have two lessons each of those nights. And it was such a powerfully encouraging thing, because I knew they were not interested in hearing me—they were there to hear the Word.
Those four days were also characterized by several long conversations that went deep into questions about who God is, group behavior of God’s people, and various ones’ personal walks with Christ. In many ways, we spent more time in the word while out of the pulpit than we did while I was in it. And again, the encouragement that brought was powerful, because we saw God’s people hungering to know him. And when they saw truth in his word, they rejoiced in that.
And all of it reminded us of our immense gratitude for our Eastland church family. Because the mentality behind those experiences is the same mentality we experience here all the time: a hunger to know God’s ways and genuine joy in learning them. We found ourselves frequently talking about how much we love you—our church family—and how much we look forward to coming home every time that we’re away. And it just reminded us what a joyful thing it is to be among people—both away and at home—who love our Lord.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice." (Prov. 16:8)
It's all too easy to look at our lives and focus on what we don't have. We feel like we do not have enough time, enough energy, or enough money. Maybe we feel that we do not take enough vacations, we do not have enough friends, or we are not respected enough.
While there may be legitimacy to some of that kind of perspective, the verse above reminds us that it does not take much to have what is best for us. If our lives are governed by God's righteousness, we will find contentment in him. And so even if we do not have enough time to do all that we want to, if we use our time in righteous ways, it is enough. If we do not have as many friends as we would like, we can still be righteous with the friendships we do have, and it is enough. If we are not as highly revered in a particular realm of life as we would prefer, we can be an influence for righteousness in a small circle and that is enough.
May God give us the ability to be perpetually content with whatever portion he gives us. And may we have the determination to be wholly righteous with our portion in life.
- Dan Lankford, minister
For those who have grown up around churches of Christ, the term, gospel meeting, will be a familiar one. But for those who grew up with a denominational background or no religious history at all, this term will not have much meaning.
In the past, churches would have a series of gospel messages in consecutive evening (or morning) meetings. So the phrase, gospel meeting, refers to an effort to preach the gospel to both the church and any unbelievers that Christians could convince to attend. Some denominations (and perhaps some faithful churches as well) used the term, revival, to describe such meetings as the hope was to renew and encourage a new sense of spiritual commitment to God.
Years ago, many churches did not have a full-time paid preacher who spoke almost every Sunday. A lot of churches (but not all) in the southern and central Illinois area where I grew up would only have “preaching services” one or maybe two Sundays per month. On the other Sundays, the church would meet for Bible study and then have a short worship service that would include the Lord’s Supper, and maybe, a short talk by one of the men and then everyone would go home until next week.
But once a year, the church would have a gospel meeting. It would often be held in the Summer months because many of the members were farmers and they were busy planting in the Spring and harvesting in the Fall. The Winter always threatened bad weather so the Summer months were usually the best time to have such an effort. In the early and middle parts of the twentieth century, such meetings would be 2-3 weeks or even a month or more long, if the interest remained high. People didn’t have as many distractions as we seem to have now and it was not uncommon for these long meetings to include many sincere people who would visit from their denominational churches and when they heard the true gospel, many of those who were genuinely seeking the truth would respond in obedience. If you invited family, friends, and neighbors, many of them would attend. Even among the local families in the church, some people would wait until the gospel meeting to be baptized and so it was not uncommon to hear of gospel meetings that would last a month and scores of people would be baptized into Christ.
When I was just getting started trying to preach, I preached for a while at a small church in central Illinois one Sunday per month and different members would tell me on Sunday afternoon when it was their turn to feed the preacher about the gospel meeting in the 1970’s when 13 young people were baptized on the same night of a meeting. Although they didn’t have 13 young people attending any more when I was preaching there, their dream was always to repeat the success of that one meeting.
As people’s schedules got fuller and busier, churches began to shorten the length of gospel meetings, but perhaps have two per year, one in the Spring and another in the Fall. Most meetings started on Monday night and went through the following Sunday. Then they switched from Sunday through Friday and now, many meetings run Sunday through Wednesday (or maybe Tuesday). And of course, we now try to encourage people not to wait for anything once they are convinced they need to be baptized. So most people aren’t even baptized during a regular service time, but many are immersed during the week as soon as they know they shouldn’t put it off.
We have very few baptisms these days in gospel meetings (although every one that we have is important and precious in the sight of God). I do not have any scientific research to back up this statement, but I have noted, in the places I have worshiped, that more meetings have no baptisms than those that may have one or two.
I am not writing this to convince us to quit having meetings, but there are a few things we can do to make them more effective.
First, although some preachers will think I am speaking blasphemy, perhaps in some cases, we should not call them gospel meetings. I say that only because most of our unsaved friends won’t know what we mean if we invite them to a gospel meeting. Of course, we can explain it to them and if they come, that is great. But, it is just as appropriate to call them a teaching seminar or a Bible lectureship, or, as the preacher where I worship likes to call them, a guest speaker series. We only call them gospel meetings by tradition (gospel meeting is not a phrase that the Bible uses either) and perhaps a different designation might stir up more interest and bring more sincere people who are seeking the truth. This is just something to consider.
Secondly, we should ask ourselves, what are we wanting to accomplish with this series of Bible lessons? Because our member’s schedules (and those of our lost friends) are so busy, we need to be wise about the time it takes to attend a week-long series (or even one night for some people). Let’s use the time wisely. Isn’t that what Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5 teach us? Make it really worth their while to attend and have a theme or series of lessons that really speaks to their every day lives and then show them how that applies to their eternity as well.
Maybe we can use the time as a focused, intensive study time on a particular subject or a book or series of books from the Bible. Perhaps we should have fewer meetings but make them more targeted times of Bible instruction.
Several years ago I was away in a gospel meeting and my wife got a phone call from the preacher at another church where I was supposed to speak in about a month. He told her they didn’t really have a theme in mind but they wanted me to preach lessons that would appeal to non-Christians. That’s a great idea, of course, one I highly recommend, and so she asked him if they typically had a lot of non-Christians attend their meetings. He admitted they almost never had anyone to visit their meetings and so she asked him if they were doing something different this time that might attract non-believers to this meeting. Again he said no, so she kindly and politely asked him why they wanted me to preach sermons for non-Christians if they weren’t going to be there? He told her that they just hoped that maybe this time some might come. (That was in 1986; we had about 250 souls there on Sunday morning and now, 30 some years later, that church has about 40 on a good Sunday morning.)
Wouldn’t it make more sense to preach to the people who typically come to such services or to have a theme or study that might appeal to those who didn’t normally attend? But to just randomly preach lessons that would help unbelievers if they were there, in the empty hope that they might accidentally show up is not wise.
We cannot afford to waste the Lord’s money and the efforts, energy, time and good will of the members, just because 50 years ago, we had a gospel meeting and a dozen people were baptized. Without changing the message, we need to change the methods we are using to try to spread the best news in the universe to those who desperately need it.
This post is from our minister, Dan Lankford. He currently runs all of our social media platforms, so I asked for some of his input in this series on how congregations can do things well. - Roger Hillis
The power of social media is no secret anymore. Particularly if you live in an urban area, its presence is powerful. And while we probably spend more of our church assembly time warning about its pitfalls, the fact is that it presents several open doors for the church too. If we use it thoughtfully, it has the potential to be a blessed tool for a congregation.
Like everything we do, a church’s use of any of the mainstream platforms—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest—must be governed by the wisdom of God. Jesus' instruction to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16) applies as much in what you post as in what you preach. Paul’s example of not holding back the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) should govern us here too. Even something as simple as the Bible’s usage of the word “church” should guide what kind of content we are generating. This whole undertaking is more than marketing. Because we are spiritual people, it is a decidedly spiritual activity.
So what should our goals be when managing social media threads? Here are some things that our experience has taught us:
- Churches must do posts about people. This is why I said the Bible’s usage of the word “church” is an important governing idea for us. Whether we’re trying to engage the unchurched or keep our members connected, the key to doing that online is the same key to doing that in daily life—it’s about people. Most churches post lots of words on their websites and social threads (scripture quotes, explanations of doctrine, and articles). But the digital world works like the analog world: most people engage with the words (the Bible) only after they have come to know the people who are living it.
- Don’t spam your followers’ threads. If you do too much of a good thing, your content quickly begins to be overlooked.
- Keep things current. Neglected websites and social threads give an impression that a congregation just doesn’t do things well. Don’t let someone stumble across your Twitter and see that your last tweet is from six months ago.
- Be open about the teachings of the Bible. It’s tempting to just post things that are “nice,” like sentimental cliches, pictures of sunsets, and feel-good verses taken out of context. But we need to make sure that we are open about what the Bible really teaches. If we get nasty responses in the comments section, so be it. If we’ve chosen to use social media, the light has already been placed on the lamp stand. Don’t be afraid to let it shine.
- This one is the most important: the church that people see online should look like the church they will see when they visit. You want posts that highlight the church’s actual beliefs and actual personality. Don’t advertise yourself as the church that you want to be—advertise yourself as the church that you are. If your congregation is low-key and more reserved, communicate that. If you are an energetic and boisterous group, communicate that. If you tend to be more focused on practical teaching for daily living, communicate that. If you tend to be more focused on deep theology, communicate that. Whatever the church is like, that is what it should look like.
- Give your best thoughts to keeping a balanced perspective on the things that matter about a church: God (his love, his will, and his word) and people.
Now, with those goals in mind, what works? Here are some practical suggestions.
- Post pictures of people. This cannot be stressed enough. Children’s and adults’ Bible classes, worship assemblies, handshakes and hugs in the church lobby, impromptu Bible discussions that you see happening after a service… all of these make great fodder for posts. Keep your phone handy, and keep your eyes open for encouraging interactions between people.
- Post helpful audio and video quotes from sermons.
- Advertise all upcoming events. Do countdowns to VBS, introduce the guest speaker for an upcoming series, or advertise an upcoming sermon series. And during events, post synopses of messages, pictures of kids in VBS classes, sermon quotes, and anything else that gives a good vibe of what the event was like.
- Take pictures of every guest speaker that fills your pulpit. Even if it’s one of your own members, highlight the different faces of the men who preach the word in your assemblies.
- Use content that you are already generating. Share your bulletin articles and sermon recordings. These will never become your most-liked content, but they are helpful nonetheless. Link your social threads to your website that they can generate automatic content. We use a free service called “If This Then That” (IFTTT on app stores) to post every new blog article and sermon recording to Facebook & Twitter.
- We also use the same service to instantly share every new Instagram photo to Facebook & Twitter. This saves valuable time for the minister (or whoever is running the social stuff) to do more important things.
- Highlight things that happen outside of the facility. Sharing pictures from youth devos, Bible study meetups, elders meetings, and even something as simple as dinners between church members keeps people engaged outside of assembly times.
- If you have a marquee message out in front of your facility, post pictures of the messages you put out there.
- Post Bible verses. Share them as images rather than just a tweet or a Facebook status. Images get lots more attention on every social sight.
- Be creative in taking photos and designing layouts. Try different angles, highlight various groupings of members, use apps like Hyperlapse and Instagram’s native video tools to play with the timing in videos.
- Get other people to take videos and pictures for you. You don’t want every picture of a service to have obviously been taken from the same seat, and you don’t want to be the only person working on this effort.
- Use relevant hashtags and occasionally pay to promote your best content. It’s annoying to have to do that, but it is necessary to reach wider audiences with our crucial message.
If you’re not committed to using these platforms well, we seriously suggest that you don’t use them at all. For all that we could say about the good that can be accomplished through them, we also recognize that they are not necessary to spread the message of Jesus Christ. And so, if working in this particular vein proves itself a distraction from effective ministry, get rid of it and focus on ministering in more effective ways. But if you’re going to use them, hopefully these considerations will help you to do that in ways that are powerful, faithful, and encouraging.
I don’t mean how is the local church doing? I mean, how involved are you personally in the work of the Lord?
Too many Christians are content to sit back and let others do the behind the scenes work in the church. And then, some are quick to criticize and complain that the church just doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. If that is true, how much of that is your fault?
God’s design for the church is for every part of the body to be active and working. We learn this all through the New Testament, in passages like Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.
Are you doing your part?
As you examine your relationship with God (2 Corinthians 13:5) and the things you do for Him as a disciple of Christ, think about how long it has been since you did some of these basic, easy things. When was the last time you…
- Visited a person who is sad and lonely, just to try to cheer them up?
- Told a teenager how proud you are of him (or her) spiritually?
- Invited a non-Christian to services?
- Told someone that you love them? It might be your spouse, your children, your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or simply friends.
- Sacrificed a personal item you wanted so you could give a little more money to the Lord’s work?
- Hugged your children for no real reason?
- Thanked the elders for doing their often thankless job of trying to help us make it to heaven?
- Invited another family to come to your home for a Bible study or maybe for a fun evening of food and games?
- Wrote a card of love and encouragement to someone who is hurting for attention and understanding?
- Read through the New Testament in your Bible? (You could easily read the entire New Testament in six months.)
- Wrote a note of appreciation to your adult Bible class teacher or those who teach your children?
- Expressed your appreciation to our great song leaders for the marvelous job they do in leading us in worship?
- Thanked the deacons for their hard, mostly behind the scenes work?
- Prayed for more laborers to enter the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38)?
- Offered to babysit for a young couple so they could have a date night without their small children?
- Thanked the Lord for the good church where you worship and all the godly people who are not perfect but are trying with all their heart to serve the Lord.
- “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the LORD your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV). Did you catch that word, abounding? Could your work for the Lord be described as abounding? Or is it lacking? Or missing entirely? Could you do more?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me?” That could easily be the motto of every disciple of Christ. If we would all take the personal initiative to do what we can in the Lord’s service, this world would be a much better place in which to live. And more souls would be saved for eternity in heaven.
Are you familiar with the 80/20 rule? That’s the situation in too many churches where 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The key to success is to change that statistic, having every member (100%) doing all that he or she can. Everyone is important to God and we are all needed to accomplish what we can.
What are you doing to help the local church to grow, numerically or spiritually?
One of the keys to converting people is learning how to initiate a spiritual conversation.
Direct – a question that opens up a discussion of spiritual things
- Are you saved?
- If you died tonight, would you go to heaven? (only with a close friend)
- Do you go to church anywhere? (this was Grover Stevens’ favorite opener)
Indirect – talking about something else, you shift the conversation to spiritual things
Verses 1-6 – just an ordinary meeting (we pass up a lot of opportunities)
In many cases, there are no second chances.
Verses 7-9 – made personal contact
Treated her as important; friendly and kind in spite of her wickedness
Verses 10-14 – shifted from secular to spiritual
Listen to what they are saying – issues in their lives, what’s important to them
Let them know that Jesus has the answers
Verses 15-26 – showed her need for God
Notice what happened:
Verses 27-30 – she became a believer
Verses 39-42 – many others became disciples (the multiplying effect)
- Things that can indicate a spiritual need: a job change, moving into a new town, birth of a child, sickness, death of a loved one, a divorce, family problems
- A political discussion – many issues have spiritual implications (avoid harsh criticisms of other viewpoints) – we want to save their souls, not convert them to a political party
- Current headlines – almost always have a spiritual dimension
- My favorite – “That reminds me of something we talked about in Bible class recently”
- At a restaurant, grocery store, gas station, drug store, barber shop – “Thank you for helping us today. We are part of an undenominational church and I’d like to invite you to visit with us sometime.” Give her a card and leave.
- If you’ve been afraid to bring up the Lord to a long-time friend – “You know, Bill, we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve wanted to talk to you about spiritual things, but I’ve always been afraid to bring it up.” See how he reacts.
- Colossians 4:5-6
It is fair to assume that most people who attend Bible classes and worship services on a regular basis do so because of their desire to know the Bible better and, therefore, to learn how to obey God and serve Him. Even for guests, who may not realize how important the Bible is, we need to be teaching them the word of God.
All Christians need to grow spiritually and young people need to learn God’s word and both of those things happen the same way, through Bible study, in our private lives and corporately, in the teaching program at the church. (Much learning should also take place at the home and family level and both private and public Bible study can work together in that way.)
“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18).
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Many Christians have been in the church for a long time, some for almost their entire lives, and still have not studied certain parts of the Bible (especially in the Old Testament) in an organized Bible class with a qualified teacher. This should be a matter of concern for those who lead local churches, whether they are elders or those who have to lead in the absence of elders.
You have to be able to help new Christians and teach them to grow and develop spiritually in their knowledge of the Bible and in their relationship with God. It is helpful to have a plan for how you are going to accomplish that important work (the Bible calls it edification).
Every local church needs an organized teaching program that is planned out and is not random or accidental. It should also be flexible enough to change in order to meet specific needs that will arise both in young people and in the lives of those of us who are older.
We need to teach the whole church what is said in the whole Bible and then take that same message to a lost and dying world. We can make a difference in people’s lives and in their eternity. Every Bible class has the potential to take someone who is headed for hell and point them toward heaven. We need to teach others to love Jesus the way we love Him, with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
There are several organized programs that Christians have developed over the years and many churches rely heavily on these curriculums to spiritually educate their members. Other churches have come up with their own schedule and some are hybrids of the available commercial material, combined with material that local members have written themselves.
There are difficulties with a schedule of this type. Singings, special meetings, etc. sometimes cause classes to be missed. The teacher must be able to catch up by covering the material in fewer weeks. Workbooks and other printed literature are not all equal in quality. Some are excellent and some are not. Some of the literature may be out of print at various times. But, even with the problems, a planned curriculum is much more effective than a haphazard method of study or no method at all. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
Suggestions to consider
- If it is possible, teachers should be alternated regularly. If enough teachers are available, those who teach in one year’s classes should be allowed to rest the next year. Of course, smaller churches have fewer teachers to work with and some may have to teach on a regular basis until the church grows and new teachers are added to the number.
- When using a workbook or class outline, consider these thoughts:
- Every part of the lesson does not have to be read word for word, every question does not have to be answered, and even every scripture does not have to be read in class. A good teacher will use the text, questions and scriptures which will be the most helpful to the class.
- Never forget that you are studying the Bible, not the workbook. The workbook is only an aid to Bible study.
Goals of the Curriculum
Here are some ideas about the goals that we should want to reach in developing a structured, quality teaching program in the local church.
1. To help people grow to be more like Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:21)
2. To teach the entire word of God (Acts 20:27)
3. To instill a sense of “doing” (James 1:22)
4. To develop positive attitudes about the word of God and how it applies to every day life (Philippians 4:8)
5. To develop each person’s individual faith and conviction (Romans 10:17)
You can reword these principles or come up with your own goals, but the idea is to teach people to love and obey God and His word. Let me know if I can help in some way.
This past week, I was blessed to sit and talk for over an hour with a brother who has been preaching for more than 60 years. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was actively engaged in debates over what has come to be known as “institutionalism” (if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, send me an email). One thing that he said stuck with me: “During that time, and for several years afterward, we considered that the most fundamental principles to teach someone were 1) that you must be baptized to be saved, and 2) the Biblical doctrines of church organization. Looking back, the fundamental lessons we should have been teaching them were about God—who he is, how he loves us, and then what he wants from us. Because once you know about God, you will have what you need to make all the right decisions about whether you will obey him.”
His realization about fundamentals seems to have been understood well by the Israelites, who based the spiritual education of their children upon the book of Leviticus—a book which describes holiness with instructions about holy things, holy places, and holy rules, which all belong to a holy God. In that, of course they taught their children the God-given laws of national organization, and yet they did so in parallel with the principles of God’s own holy nature.
This is further reinforced by Jesus’ reminding us of the most important commandment. In Mark 12, he said, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God...” The first principle—the one on which all other vital commandments are founded—is a statement of God’s identity and our responsibility to love him. Does this rob the teachings of church organization of importance? No. In fact, it gives them even more credence as they are fundamentally founded upon an understanding and love for the God who gave them. All of God’s teachings are important, and we believe that because we believe that God himself comes first.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Lord Jesus Christ offered this invitation. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew -30). He simply invited people to “come.”
When two disciples began to follow Christ, they asked Him where He was staying. His answer was uncomplicated, “Come and see” (John -39). He invited them to “come.”
When Philip heard the Lord and went to tell Nathanael that he had found the Messiah, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of
The Samaritan woman became convinced through her personal discussion of spiritual matters with Jesus that He was truly the Christ and she went back to her friends and acquaintances and told them, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). She just invited those closest to her to “come.”
The New Testament ends with a similar offer. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation ).
All too often, we want to take what is very simple and make it much more complex. We read books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” We study the latest sales techniques to figure out more clever ways to package the gospel. We bring in the latest “Personal Evangelism” specialist in the brotherhood for a weekend gospel meeting. And, all of that is fine. There can be some value to those approaches.
But, the bottom line is really that we just have to invite them. We have to learn how to overcome our reservations and fears and just open our mouths around our friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, fellow students, and ask them to “come.” This is one of those areas of life where, when all is said and done, too often much more is said than done.
The most successful efforts we will make along these lines are with those we know well. “Cold call” selling is not very productive in the business world, although this does work occasionally. Knocking on doors in a given neighborhood may produce a few meager results (hence, the unflagging zeal of our Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness friends). But, by far, the people we know and have already developed a relationship with are going to be our best “prospects” for reaching with the gospel.
But, at some point, we just have to swallow hard and say, “Come and see.”
There are some practical suggestions we can make to help you develop this courage.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to come up with some fancy, slick sounding sales presentation. A simple, “I’d love to have you to come to our services this Sunday” is really all you need. When you are friends with someone, it will be harder for them to turn you down than to throw away a flyer from the church that they get in the mail.
- Use special services, like gospel meetings or Vacation Bible School, to invite. Let them know the theme of the week or the specific topic on particular nights. Tell them, “We are going to have a sermon this Tuesday evening that I think will help you as a parent to train your children in the right way. I know I need that and I’d like for you to hear it also.”
- If they don’t come to that service, follow up by handing them a CD of the sermon and say, “I know you couldn’t make it the other night, so I made you a copy of the lesson. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.” And then, be sure to follow up on that. Let them know regularly when a class or sermon would be useful for them. Don’t be pushy, but do be persistent.
- Mention the church’s website and point out some of the things on it that might help them spiritually.
- Be excited about the local church where you are a member. Mention exciting things that happen from time to time. If you can show them the difference that being a member of Christ’s church has made in your life, maybe they will realize that there is something good for them there also.
We need to just focus on those we know and love. They will appreciate our sincerity, they have seen our lives up close for years, and they will not think we are inviting them out of some impure motive.
Three words might be all it takes to set someone on a path that will lead them to heaven. Three words can change an eternal destiny. Three words can save more souls than we can ever imagine. “Come and see.”