Don’t KNOW Nobody?? Can’t REACH Nobody!

Don’t KNOW Nobody?? Can’t REACH Nobody!

Excuse the bad English in the title, but I’m making a point. Distance is dead in evangelism. If you are going to make an impact on people you must have contact with people. It is arguably the weakest feature of Adventist evangelism. We have often isolated ourselves to the point of irrelevance.

There is no Impact without Contact

I just left a powerful Ministers Conference at Hampton University in Virginia. Over 9000 ministers were in attendance from various Christian denominations. For years I have attended this conference and others for the amazing preaching, insightful workshops, and fellowship. Yes, the fellowship. I have developed valued personal and professional relationships with ministers of other denominations as we worship and study together.

This year the new African American hymnal by GIA publications was introduced at Hampton. The previous hymnal was a classic. It’s an ecumenical/non-denominational hymnal that pays particular attention to contributions by people of color. It will be enjoyed by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Christians across the globe. Dr. Jason Ferdinand was on the organizing committee that selected the hymns, and many Adventist classics are included.

From the host of religious communities involved, 3 religious leaders were asked to pray at the special service introducing the hymnal. I was one of the 3 religious leaders. I was asked, not necessarily because of my position or perceived talent. But I was asked because of a confidence and comfort forged through relationships.

I listened with pride as Jason led the group in the Adventist standard, “Watch Ye Saints.” His relationships gave him a platform to remind the crowd of our passion for the second advent- “Lo He Comes!” It was a musical testimony to the power and importance of relationships.

When Your Friends All Look Like You

When we prepare local churches for public evangelism, we always include a request for the members to identify and invite their non-Christian friends to the meeting. Like Jesus, that lost sheep is our priority. Inevitably we discover that the saints have a problem. They don’t have many friends that fit that category.

Now for new Christians, it’s good counsel to be extremely careful about your exposure. It’s safe. And each of us needs to know our limits and then ere on the side of caution. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, it’s time to grow up! How can you be salt if you don’t mingle? How can you be the light of the world if you’re avoiding the world?

Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. ..As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:15-18
Paul put it this way, “When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too……Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. I Corinthians 9:21-22 LB

We have to forge relationships with Christians and non-Christians that disagree with us on scripture and points of doctrine. Now the depth of the relationships will vary based on our maturity and other variables, but effective evangelism won’t happen without it.

To those who are concerned that their faith might be challenged or compromised by exposure to other beliefs, perhaps you’re right. Continue to develop and ask God for openings. For those who are convinced that they may be “contaminated” by exposure to other believers because they are obviously sinners who “know better.” Please don’t go! Your attitude will kill your opportunity.

But this is how I feel. If I don’t have a faith that can stand a challenge, then I don’t have a faith at all. I have had opportunities to explain my beliefs to religious leaders because we were friends in discussion, not enemies in debate. We need to put a premium on developing relationships that God can use to build his kingdom.

So, what do you think? Do you have many friends outside of your faith tradition? Why or why not? What are the dangers? How can you protect yourself?

The Question Most Leaders Are Afraid To Ask

The Question Most Leaders Are Afraid to Ask

It’s like Kryptonite to otherwise bold leaders. (Kryptonite: A radioactive material that made Superman seek personal counseling.) This question is harder for most leaders than the perplexing questions of the ages. Questions like:

  • What is truth?
  • How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
  • Should vegetarians eat animal crackers?
  • If God sneezes, what do you say?
  • If you are bald, what hair color do you put on your driver’s license?

No, this question is much harder. Want to hear it? Here it goes. I’m convinced that the question most leaders are afraid to ask is, How Am I Doing? It’s a hard question because it forces us to take a pause from our evaluation of others and take an honest look at ourselves. How Am I Doing?

Now, to get an honest answer to that question, you have to involve someone outside of yourself. Which brings up the real problem with that frightening question- Accountability. There are a number of different but closely related definitions of accountability, but let’s go with this one.  Accountability is the willingness to hear who we are, where we are, and what we are doing. How am I doing? That is the accountability question.

What Is Your Real Condition?

Once or twice a year I get a complete physical. It’s not my favorite thing to do but it’s pretty close to the most important thing I do. After my physical, my primary physician sits down and goes over my numbers with me. Cholesterol. Blood pressure. PSA. He gives me a count….a count. Those numbers tell me how healthy I really am. Not how I feel about my health, but what’s actually happening with my health.

And in essence that is what accountability does. It gives you a count. It lets you know where you really are.  It pushes you to look at your numbers.  It forces you to face your real condition. Without these real numbers and this honest objective evaluation, we could think everything is fine, not realizing we are seriously ill. As it is with the body, so it is with leadership. We need honest evaluation.

What Are You Really Accomplishing?

It’s easy for leaders to lose focus. To get distracted from their primary responsibility or mission. It’s cliché, but it’s true- there is a temptation to work hard but not smart. This is often the case because there is no regular point of evaluation that reminds the leaders of their roles and responsibilities.

It seems to me that this idea of evaluation and accountability is easier for a younger generation to accept. For many leaders my age, evaluations have been punitive in the past and not redemptive, or at least that’s the perception. Past experiences notwithstanding, if you are not regularly asking the accountability question you might be doing a good work but not the right work. You could be doing a lot of things, but not the main thing.

Who Are Your Real Friends?

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The text speaks of the need for fellowship and community and accountability for us to reach our true potential. It also implies that the friction that comes from honest communication can be our salvation. That’s a real friend. Someone who will risk offending or upsetting us, to tell us the truth about us. This is the element that’s missing from the lives of many potentially great leaders. Honest, redemptive accountability. Someone or something that will be truthful with you- about you.

And frankly it gets harder to hear an honest voice the higher you ascend on the leadership ladder. I speak often about the leadership “echo chamber.”  It’s when the only voices you hear are familiar voices. The more “important” you become, the more people you have around you who have a vested interest in you staying where you are. It might not be good for you but it’s great for them!

We need honest and effective evaluation and accountability. It reveals our real condition, it evaluates what we are really accomplishing, and it lets us know who our real friends are.

What do you think? Do you have friends like that? Are you being effectively and honestly evaluated at the job or church?

Non-Christian Friends? 7 Reasons You Need Them

Non-Christian Friends? 7 Reasons You Need Them

Actually, the original title for this blog was, 7 Reasons You Need Some Heathen Friends. But that was a bit harsh. Plus, when I say heathen, I don’t see a hopeless sinner, I see Aunt Esther calling Fred a heathen in Sanford and Son. (Consult your parents or Netflix…and yes, I did watch too much TV.)

For years we have known that the longer we remain members of a good bible believing church, the fewer friends we’ll have outside of that church. Now, that’s understandable and at times absolutely necessary. There are some friends we don’t need to keep. But you can’t cut them all off! How can you expand the kingdom of God if all of your friends are already inside?  I believe the church is paying a steep price for its reluctance to engage a lost world. Not through research and revivals, but through relationships.

So, let me give you 7 reasons you should have some non- Christian friends

Because that was you. I’ve noted the results of the historic Arn survey before. They asked the question, “Who was the person primarily responsible for introducing you to Christ or your church?” The results were clear. The vast majority of us, more than 70%, came to Christ because of the influence of a friend or relative. One friend telling another friend what worked for them. It works for Amway, it works even better for the gospel.

Because that was your family. From the time my kids could crawl, I was obsessing over how soon they would accept the gospel. Sure, my head told me that God was in control, but my heart wasn’t’ settled until I felt they were safe. That non-Christian neighbor is not only God’s creation, but someone’s’ son or daughter.  Treat them the way you’d like someone to treat your lost family member.

Because some things shouldn’t bother you now. We need to be careful of compromise. We need to be aware of how bad company can influence us. We need to avoid people and places that corrupt our morals. But you shouldn’t be as vulnerable and as sensitive about certain things today as you were when you were a young Christian. It’s called maturity.

I have four children. When they were babies I made all of their decisions for them. I told them what to eat, what to wear, what to drink, when to go to bed… get the picture. Now if I was making the same decisions for them at 12 that I did when they were 2, then something would be wrong. Their development would be stunted. And I’m afraid that’s a problem with some Christians. They see separation from the world as super spiritual when it might actually be arrested development.

Because it makes you share. Having non-Christian friends makes you share your faith. Because inevitably matters of faith will come up. The importance of cultivating non-Christian friendships is that generally before people trust Christ, they need to trust a Christian. Christians are called to be salt and light. It’s impossible to do that if we’re not in relationship with those who need Christ.

Because it makes you sharp. Most Christians don’t know how little they know, until they try to share what they know. Many Christians don’t realize how wacky some of their beliefs sound, until they try to explain them. Everything is great as long as you’re with your own little group. But when you get outside that clique and someone asks the simple one word question, “Why?”, then you’re in trouble.

Years ago, I befriended a Mormon couple in Franklin, Tennessee. At some point, they challenged my explanation of Ellen White. It surprised me but it motivated me to reexamine a few things. I was challenged, I checked it out, I changed, and it’s been a blessing to this day.

Because your church is shrinking. A practical benefit of having non-Christian friends is that they are candidates for the body of Christ, the church. And make no mistake about it, there’s nothing inherently holy about a shrinking church. Some churches are remnant churches because the ones who are left ran the other ones out!  Luke 13:6-9 and John 15:16 represent passages that remind us that God is looking for us to bear fruit. Fruit in our lives and fruit from our witness.

I conduct evangelistic campaigns regularly, and when we ask members to invite their friends to the meetings many quickly realize that they don’t have any.  All of their friends are right there in the church. Is it a sin? Probably not. Is it a shame? Absolutely.

Because it imitates Christ.  Christ is known by over 200 titles and names in the Bible. Everything from Bread of life to Son of God to Prince of peace. I love them all, but I’m particularly drawn to one. Friend of Sinners. Why? Well it’s pretty simple and a bit selfish. Because if He was a friend of sinners then, He’s a friend of sinners now.  I need that kind of friend.

Look at Luke 5:29-32. “And Levi gave a big reception for Jesus in his house, and there was a great crowd of tax gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners? And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Seems pretty clear to me. We serve a God who keeps bad company. And it’s also clear that He expects the same passion from us. Jesus put it this way in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” Let’s get busy.