How we pray for those we know who aren’t followers of Jesus

As a pastor, I often ponder how my church can be more effective at sharing the love and gospel of Jesus with our community. Ours is not a large town. We are a community of roughly 1700 people in a county of around 18,000. This presents certain challenges to evangelism: many people are commuters, we don’t really have a “town center” where large numbers of people regularly gather (well, maybe the football field in the fall), and many people said a prayer and were baptized as a kid in VBS or the likes, so they don’t think they need anything else despite the fact that little in their life resembles a follower of Jesus.

At the foundation of everything we have attempted as a church, we have prayed about reaching those without Jesus, but at the start of 2017 I was convicted that we need to refocus our prayers: We need to pray, specifically and by name, for individuals to come to know Jesus.

This is something that I had encouraged on a private and individual level in the past, but I decided we needed to do more together as a church. So, I put the following plan into motion.

First, I preached on the need to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus. For the better part of 2017, I have been working through John 13-21 in my sermons as we lead up to Easter. Halfway through John 14, Jesus said:

Truly, Truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. ~ John 14:12-14 (ESV)

I am convinced that these “greater works” relate to the mission to see people come to know Jesus. Despite thousands showing up to hear his teachings and see his miracles from time to time, at the end of his ministry Jesus was only left with 100 or so followers and a core group of 11 (Acts 1). Once the Holy Spirit came on the scene in Acts 2, this quickly ballooned to 3000 and growing (Acts 2). But, from a numbers perspective, Jesus’ ministry was not all that impressive, especially for one who claimed to bring salvation to the whole world.

We must remember, however, that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to complete this task in his three-year ministry, but to provide the means of salvation. He then gave the command to us as his followers to go out with his gospel and disciple the nations.

If I have John 14:12 correct, then it adds focus to 14:13-14. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask according to his character, purpose, and will. That also involves the salvation of a “people for his own possession,” as Paul would say. So, many of our prayers should be related to our mission. I forget who said it, but I love the quote: If you look at most of our prayer lists, it seems we spend more time praying to keep people out of heaven (health concerns) than to get people into heaven (salvation). There’s nothing wrong with us praying for people’s health, family situation, jobs, or finances; but in the end a person’s soul is far more important than their broken leg. We should be zealous about praying for people’s health and we should be even more zealous about praying for their souls.

Second, I challenged my congregation to commit to pray for the salvation of at least two people they know who are not followers of Jesus. These could be their coworkers, neighbors, classmates, or family members. For three weeks, we provided a sheet of paper in the bulletin. The top half contained room and instructions for writing down and committing to pray for these names. On the bottom half, they could duplicate these names and turn them in to me, so that…

Third, we took the submitted names and produced a 4-week, 28-day prayer calendar. The submitted names were divided alphabetically across six days each week. The seventh day was set aside to pray for a specific unreached people group, in our case the Turkish-speaking Kurds of Turkey. I got the URPG information from www.joshuaproject.net (a site I highly recommend as a prayer resource. They even have a prayer app you can download). Then over the next three weeks, these names and URPG were repeated.

Each week was given a different set of verses and a theme to pray. Week 1 is Romans 10:8-17 with the theme: “That these might hear the gospel, and in hearing turn to Jesus in faith.” Week 2 is 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and John 10:10, “That these would find liberty from sin and come to have the fullness of life in Jesus.” Week 3 is John 3:3-8, “That these might experience a new birth by the Holy Spirit.” And Week 4 is Colossians 4:2-6, “That God would open a door for us and others to share the gospel with these.” When the 28-days are up, we can use days 29-31 to catch up on any days we missed or pray for new people God has laid on our hearts, and when the next month begins, we start back at day 1.

Altogether, we had 70 names turned in for our calendar. That’s not yet two people per attendee, but it’s a start.

The beautiful thing about this list is that, even though no one person in the church knows everybody listed, everybody listed is connected to at least one person in the church. These are specific and known people that we are praying for.

Fourth, I am having the deacons pray for 5 or 6 of these names during their Sunday Morning prayer time. We incorporate several periods of prayer in our worship gathering. We have an opening scripture reading and prayer, we pray before the offering, I pray before the sermon, and we have a responsive prayer after the sermon. Also, planned into this is a time of intercessory prayer, usually led by one of the deacons. Like in many of our Baptist churches, this list typically is dominated by health concerns. Now, they include names from our 28-day prayer calendar.

So… Here’s my question for you: What are you doing in your own life and church in order to pray specific prayers for individuals in your life and community who are without Jesus? If the answer is not much, then I challenge you to start. Maybe the example from my church will inspire something similar at yours. I’ve also attached a copy of our prayer calendar here, so you can see what it is that we are doing.

Red Cup Redux (or: missions giving must be in our blood)

It was about a year ago that us Southern Baptists learned a somber truth: our International Mission Board had been deficit spending for several years and selling property to try to make ends meet to support the almost 5000 foreign missionaries on the field. This was not sustainable and to break even the IMB would need to find a way to bring hundreds of missionaries back home.

The shock rippled throughout our churches and challenges were issued. If we did not find a way to increase support to our missions organizations then we were going to lose many seasoned frontline troops in the war to push back spiritual darkness. Here, as one small voice among many, I published an article called About Those Red Cups. I wrote it during a time that a few loud people were making a big deal about Starbucks using plain red cups at Christmas time, as if such were a great offense to the gospel (it’s not).

In my article, I said that if 8 million Southern Baptists would commit to give just an additional $5 each (or about the price of a cup of coffee or two in a fancy red cup) to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, then we could instantly increase the IMB’s funds by $40 million, covering and surpassing the projected $25 million shortfall.

Many others urged similar things. In 2015, Lottie Moon brought in a record high $165.8 million, surpassing the old record by almost $10 million dollars. That is a thing to be praised, but it can only begin to lay the foundation for the future. The year was already too far gone. About 1000 of our missionaries had to come home. And if our uptick in giving was only for a year then it still leaves a precarious road ahead for our foreign mission teams.

As Southern Baptists we claim to be all about the gospel and missions. We need to put feet and dollars to our words.

As followers of Jesus we are each tasked to be disciple-making disciples where we live, work, and play. God has placed each of us in the here and now to make his glory known through the message of Jesus. For most of us, our personal mission field will rarely extend beyond our communities.

But then there are those who he leads to uproot from their homes and go to different cities, states, and countries to take his gospel and make disciples. It is the responsibility of those of us who stay behind to do all we can to support through prayer and giving those who go to the far reaches of the globe.

Paul lauded the Philippians church for their partnership with him in the gospel. Amazingly, he was able to say, “You have given me enough. I am well provided for; you don’t have to keep sending me money for this trip” (Philippians 4:10-20). What a glorious thing that would be if we could have missionaries taking the gospel to every unreached people group throughout our world and the word come back to us, “Thank you for your gift! We are well supplied.” This can only happen if missions giving is in our blood.

We can talk the talk all we want, but do we live “worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27), which would include supporting those who spread the gospel far and wide? Are we willing to make sacrifices as individuals, families, and churches to see more and more people come to know Jesus?

Of course, the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering are just two of many ways we can support foreign missions work, but they are the two ways, along with the North American Mission Board, we have banded together as Southern Baptists for years to support the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

At the moment, we have a little more than five months before we celebrate Christmas. The 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering campaign will be here before we know it. So I want to issue to you a challenge to give more to missions in three ways: First, as an individual commit to give an additional $5 to the LMCO this year. This is the same “red cup” challenge from last year. Forgo a cup of coffee or two. Forgo a soda or two. If you were planning on giving $0 to Lottie Moon, then give $5. If you were planning on giving $5, then make it $10; $100 then $105; $1000 then $1005. The math still works: 6 to 8 million Southern Baptists each giving an additional $5 adds up to $30-$40 million additional dollars for the IMB.

Second, as a family eat at home one night that you planned on eating out and give that as an additional offering to the LMCO this year. If you go to Pizza Hut and buy two large pizzas, it will run you at least $20-$30, not even counting the drinks. If you go to WalMart for a loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, and bag of apples, you can feed the same number of people for under $10. I like eating out just as much as the next guy. I’m not asking you to change your lifestyle here (unless you feel convicted about that), but to change just one meal. Take that $10+ you save and give it as a little extra gift to Lottie Moon.

Third, as a church commit to give an extra 1% to the Cooperative Program. The 1% Challenge has been around for a while. When it was first issued, we raised our CP giving and associational giving by 1% each. Many churches have done that; some churches have given more. If that’s your church, then great. If not, then commit as a church to examine your finances and give an extra 1% as able.

Each of these challenges are small sacrifices in and of themselves, but thousands of churches and millions of people together making small sacrifices add up to large gains. That is why we cooperate as a convention of churches—we can do more together than we can do apart. However you choose to respond, let us band together and show that missions and the gospel is what we are about in both our going and giving, and let our record numbers of 2015 be eclipsed in 2016 and beyond.

“1 of 4 SBC Baptisms Result from VBS,” can that be right?

i-love-vbs

Summer is almost here, that means the annual Vacation Bible School across the SBC.

Here’s what Baptist Press (reporting the ACP) said about VBS in 2006.

Vacation Bible School continues to have the greatest evangelistic impact in the Southern Baptist Convention, with 26 percent of baptisms in SBC churches a direct result of VBS.

A more recent article has roughly the same numbers.

25 percent of baptisms reported by the SBC come from VBS. Every one person trained in VBS results in 1.1 salvation decisions.

I’d like to hear what everyone thinks of those kind of figures. Do they hold true in your church? If this is such an excellent tool why are we not doing more kids Bible school?

And while we’re talking. I’m curious about the curriculum people are using, your typical schedule, and how much your church invests in the event.

Dave’s out of town, so I can’t promise moderation : )

Refugees: We might disagree, but can we at least agree that this is a terrible reason?

If by now you have not heard about the Syrian refugee crisis, then you’ve been hiding in the no man’s land of northern Canada. Based on everything I’ve seen on the news, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, my guess would be that if polled your church, family, and friends about what should be done then you would find sharply divided opinions.

It should not surprise us. Disagreement runs in our blood.

Personally, I think we should accept those we can. Yes, we should vet them and check their backgrounds to the best of our ability; but we should not let the threat of a few terrorists stop us from doing good to people in need, as individuals, churches, and a nation—we can walk the line of compassion and national security.

refugees_badreasonBut this picture is a snippet of a photo I’ve seen passed around social media that disturbs me to the core. Not so much that someone would post it and that people would share it, but that Christians would share it again and again.

You don’t have to agree with my position on the refugees. You might have good arguments for why you don’t think we should accept them. That’s fine. We can agree to disagree and seek to spur one another on as brothers in Christ (iron sharpening iron produces a few sparks, after all). But the argument in this portion of this picture is: Don’t let those Muslims come to America when there are plenty of Muslim countries they can go to.

Let’s think about that for a second. Obviously this is based on the idea that Islam is incompatible with our American way of life. And in many ways sharia law is. BUT from a gospel perspective this arguments amounts to: Let these people burn in hell so they don’t threaten our comfort and safety.

No Christian should ever favor an argument for the people of any religious group, “Let them go to a country filled with people of their own beliefs instead of coming here.” Most of these Muslim countries are either closed off to the gospel or it is difficult for missionaries to live, work, and share within their borders. This argument is only acceptable if we believe that a faithful Muslim can enter the joy of eternity through their Muslim faith.

You have to rip pages from the Bible to make that plausible.

Yes, our culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity, but as it stands today: immigrants or refugees from most people groups have a better opportunity to be impacted by church ministries and the gospel in our country than in many others, especially those countries of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South East Asia.

If you want to argue on the grounds of safety and protecting our families, that’s one thing. But to say, “They have Muslim countries of their own they can go to,” is both anti-gospel and unchristian. So let’s talk, debate, and argue our sides; but let’s not like and share photos and articles that basically argue for consigning people to hell in the name of culture and comfort.