Last week I wrote about should we as churches strive to be big or to have a big impact. The conclusion was the Jesus has called us to have a big impact on the world, not to necessarily have a big church. The question that came up most often after writing that blog was this, how do we accomplish this? That is a fair question, and so I hope to answer it in this blog.
The first thing we need to do is to reject a certain mentality that seems to prevalent in many churches. That mentality is “it’s the leaders job to grow the church.” This mentality is dangerous for two reasons. It sets up a man to do God’s job. Paul was very careful to point out in 1 Corinthians 3 that he planted, Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the increase. My dear church leaders, we could not save ourselves, what makes us think we can save anyone else? Salvation is of God and by God and we need to remember that. The other thing this mentality does is it disengages church members. When we focus on growth being a leaders job, that means that I as a member can perform my weekly duty of showing up at church, singing a few songs, listening to a sermon while not being touched by it, sing an invitation hymn, and then go home. My fear is, this is exactly what we have created in many of our churches today. We have created a church system in which church leaders are hands-on, while many church members are hands-off. This is leading to a decline in evangelism which is allowing many people to slip into eternity unprepared and awakening to the reality of a literal hell. Thom Rainer of Lifeway said that the statistics are showing that for every 40 to 60 church members, one person is getting saved at that church. You don’t have to be a math wiz to know that is not a good ratio. While leaders are to lead by example in evangelism and reaching out to people, they are only a part of the body, they are not the whole body. The Great Commission in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and Acts 1 was not given to a bunch of professional ministers. It was given to men who were sold out to Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is important that we all see our role in being a part of God building His church.
Secondly, we don’t need a new program to reach the lost. Let’s be honest, we are program poor. There is the FAITH, Evangelism Explosion, Way of the Master, and more. Godly men and women have sat down and written out these programs, and churches have run them and taught their people how to share the Gospel. That is great, the problem is not the program, the problem unfortunately in this case is the people. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You can lead a Christian to a program, train him, but you can’t make him or her do it. There has to be a burden in their heart for the lost.
I have given you two things that we don’t need, so let’s look at what we do need. Finally, what we need are passionate people with a burden for the lost. Do you feel a little let down by that answer? You got all excited, you have been agreeing with me so far, and then you read that answer and the first thing you may have thought of was, “is that it? Is that the best you’ve got?” In short “yes.” Paul was writing to the church at Thessalonica, and he marked three things about the Thessalonians that I think sum up how we are to reach the lost. They are found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” The three keys are “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.” If we are going to reach the lost it is going to take a “work of faith.” Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy! Becoming an world class athlete, becoming a CEO of a company, or even shedding those extra few pounds is hard work. So why do we expect taking the truth of God to a world that doesn’t understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) and have them understand it and accept it is going to be easy? It is a work of faith, because all we can do and all we are called to do is to present the Gospel to them. The results are up to God. The second thing that is important to reaching the lost is it must be a “labor of love.” We are commanded by God to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love others as ourself (Mt. 22:37-39). Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 said that even if he was the best preacher in the world and did the most incredible things, if he didn’t have love, he was nothing. To reach the lost we are going to have to do more than just go through the motions. We are going to have to get past the cheesy cliches, and we are going to have to genuinely love God and love others. Finally there is the “patience of hope.” We can see two applications here. The first application is that we must be patient with people as we share the Gospel, believing that God can save anyone. The vast majority of people do not accept the Gospel the first time they hear it. In fact it takes many times before most people accept Christ. So when we present the Gospel, but the person doesn’t turn their heart and life over to Christ, we can’t get discouraged and give up hope. We need to eagerly pray for them and when the time is right, present the Gospel again, and maybe again, and maybe again, and maybe even a few more times after that. The key is that as long as there is breath in the body, there is hope for the soul. Keep the faith, keep sharing, and keep praying. The other application is that we should share the Gospel until we see our “hope” face to face which is as Paul says is in our “Lord Jesus Christ.” I encouraged our church in the sermon yesterday to pray for the lost by name each day, and to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel each day. How are we going to reach the lost? The same way you eat an elephant, one bite (one person) at a time.
By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him