The Monday Morning Prayer (by Dr. Mark Tolbert)

Monday has been given a bad rap! Perhaps the least favorite day of the week, Monday has a negative reputation. Pastors joke about how many times they have almost resigned, usually on a Monday morning. A popular song from the seventies described it like this: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” But Monday has become one of my favorite and most strategic days of the week, since I began praying “The Monday Morning Prayer.” The Monday Morning Prayer launches me into each new week and serves as a catalyst for stimulating gospel conversations.

In five decades of following Jesus, I have discovered a sobering reality in my journey – I do not drift toward evangelism. I drift away from evangelism. I do not mean to do so. It is not a decision I make. It is not that I determine never again speak of Jesus. I just drift.

We drift from evangelism in spite of our joy in seeing people come to Christ. This, in spite of our desire to be obedient to Christ’s command to proclaim the gospel. This, in spite of the promise that Jesus gave to His first followers, in saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). What prevents us from experiencing this realty in our walk with Jesus? Why do we not naturally fish for men? Why do we drift away from evangelism and what can we do to change this? We drift from evangelism because of internal and external forces. Internally, there are forces that pull us from evangelism. The fear of man and the weakness of our flesh work against us. The fear of man along with the weakness of the flesh are common roadblocks for witness. Even the Apostle Paul, experienced it. To the church at Corinth he wrote: “… I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Externally, we are engaged in spiritual warfare when we attempt to witness for Christ. Satan will seek to discourage the witness (1 Thes. 2:18) as well as blind the eyes of the unbeliever (2 Cor. 4:4). He will also seduce us into being a silent witness, convincing us that words are unnecessary. Although we witness by our life, we must witness by a combination of our life and our lips. The “witness” who witnesses only by his life, witnesses only of himself. Jesus said, “You shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). Romans 10:14 asks: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”

How do we counterbalance these forces? How do we overcome the internal and external forces that war against us? Several measures will enable a Christian to resist the drift. A simple tool can allow us to be consistent in our witness.

We must be intentional in our witness for Christ. How can we be intentional? A simple, yet profound technique is what I call “The Monday Morning Prayer.” Although not a scripted, literal prayer, what I am suggesting is a moment at the beginning of the week, Monday morning, when you ask the Lord to present you with the opportunity to share the gospel during the week.

Let Monday morning be a trigger for you to begin to be intentional about seeking a divine appointment to have a gospel-conversation with at least one person during that week. Be serious about asking God to place a person in your path, to lay someone upon your heart, to guide you into an opportunity where you seek to talk with an individual whom God has prepared to hear the message of the gospel.

The Monday Morning Prayer is about intentionality. We do not drift toward evangelism; we drift away. We do not drift back. If we practice personal evangelism it is because we are intentional.

The Monday Morning Prayer is also about spirituality. We do not do this on our own. We do not just begin talking to people. We pray. We ask the Lord of the harvest to send us into His harvest field. We ask the Lord to convict people of sin and draw them to Himself (John 16:8). Although we can proclaim truth, only the Spirit of God can impart truth and transform lives.

Scripture highlights the strategic value of prayer in evangelism. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest’” (Matt. 9:37-38). The Apostle Paul said, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). The Bible urges us to pray for those to whom God intends for us to witness. It has been said, before we talk to people about God, we would do well to talk to God about people! This scriptural mandate is at the heart of the Monday Morning Prayer.

The Monday Morning Prayer is about focus –– focusing on the harvest and the Lord of the harvest. It prevents the drift that we all have experienced. It is a reminder every week to be about the Father’s business.

Dr. Mark Tolbert is Director of the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in the program for the 2017 SBC Pastors’ C0nference.

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 : )