Network News - July 14, 2017



     


Scattering seeds and faith the size of a mustard seed...the analogies in the Bible are many. The two major themes are sharing the Good News and having faith. According to some studies, both of these areas are suffering in some churches and in others they are growing dramatically. In a recent newsletter we posted an article called "How to Read the News Like a Christian" by Scott Slayton. Two of the points were "Read the News Like Your Hope Is Real" and "Read the News Like You Love Your Neighbor." These two points really bring home that in order to scatter seeds of the Gospel and faith, we can't give up our hope and faith because of what is happening in the world around us, and we can never stop loving and caring for the people in our communities.
In this newsletter, several articles about evangelism and hope are included. May they challenge and encourage you as much as they have us.



"Evangelism has the side effect of reinforcing our confidence in the faith we’re sharing." from the article "Regaining Your Spiritual Momentum" by Thom S. Rainer for LifeWay Pastors


“The gospel will always be good news and an offense to those on both sides of our increasingly divided spectrum.” from the article Bob Hyatt: Culture and Discipleship  by Taylor Bird from Outreach Magazine


“Inspiring and training believers to share their faith is one of the biggest challenges we have in the Western church.” from Tom Doyle: Culture and Discipleship  by Taylor Bird in Outreach Magazine


Quit Squirming: 3 Reasons We Don't Share the Gospel by Jerry Root from Outreach Magazine
I’ve seen people fidget whenever the topic of evangelism is mentioned. Of course, the reasons for squirming vary from person to person.

1. Awkardness

I wonder if some feel awkward engaging in an activity they’ve never, or seldom, done. They are awkward when it comes to sharing their faith.

I’m convinced that none of us is very life-skilled. For instance, nobody is ready to get married; if we waited until we were, we would miss those joys of life. Nobody is ready to have children; if we waited until we were, the whole human race would end in this generation.

And nobody is ready to share their faith; if we waited until we were, the mission of God, mediated through his people, would come to a halt.

We cannot wait until we are ready. We have to accept that we function awkwardly throughout life—and that is OK. A toddler learning to walk falls down and gets bruised. A 6-year-old taking the training wheels off his two-wheeler falls down and gets abrasions. Every new endeavor in life reveals that we are awkward. One could say if we are not awkward some place in our lives, then we are just not growing.

2. Historical Baggage

For others, the squirming may be a result of watching those who shared the gospel abusively. There are those who use the Bible as if it were a club to coerce and bludgeon people to God. Such insensitivity seldom bears kingdom fruit. Nevertheless, those who are turned off by abuse fail to realize that silence in matters of the gospel also contributes to the failure of the church; it does not correct the abuse.

Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica, “An abuse does not nullify a proper use.” If we judged any segment of society by its worst examples, nobody could stand. I can’t help but think we should fix what is broken rather than give up on the mission of the church.

To cease our witness because of these abuses is like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. In an age where abuse or silence is the option, sharing the gospel with a graceful demeanor affirms the message and goes a long way toward correcting such deficiencies.

3. Fear

Others squirm at the idea of presenting the gospel, fearing what people might think of them. Certainly, it is important to be sensitive about what people think of us when it keeps in check insensitivity and obnoxiousness. Nevertheless, if we fear what people might think of us, then we may inadvertently drift toward idolatry.

Let me explain: We should be motivated by what God thinks about us—and he loves us. Giving greater preference to what others think of me instead of what God thinks of me honors others more than God and is a form of idolatry. The antidote to this idolatry is to grow deeper in the love of God and to discover our identity in that love. Squirming ceases, and a witness for the gospel of Christ flows naturally out of this love.

So, why push past the squirming?

Why be concerned with this tendency to squirm rather than share Jesus with the world?
Read the rest of the article here.


Dispelling the 80 Percent Myth of Declining Churches by Thom S. Rainer
Buckle your seat belts.

Over the next several posts, I will be sharing with you the results of an incredible research project on 1,000 churches. At the risk of overstatement, I think this data may point us to some exciting and positive opportunities. Indeed, I hope to share a plan for the evangelistic renewal and growth of our churches in the weeks ahead.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Allow me to share, at the risk of boredom, the basis of this research:

Our program randomly selected 1,000 churches with available data for 2013 and 2016.

The strength of the study is its accuracy. The margin of error at the 95% percent confidence level is +/- 3.1%. If you’re not a numbers nerd, that means this data is incredibly accurate.

The possible weakness of this study is that it only includes churches of my denomination. We took this path because we have a gold mine of data. I do believe, however, this data can be a good approximation of evangelical churches, and a rough approximation of all Protestant churches in North America.

The Research Says 80 Percent Is Not Correct

Have you ever heard, “80 percent of churches are either plateaued or declining”?

I have. It’s wrong.

Here are the results of our research. We used average worship attendance as our metric rather than church membership. Unfortunately, church membership is fast becoming a meaningless metric.

56 percent of churches are declining.
9 percent of churches are plateaued.
35 percent of churches are growing.

So here is the new and correct statement of reality: 65 percent of churches are declining or plateaued. There is a huge statistical difference between 80 percent, the myth, and 65 percent, the reality.

So what?
Read more here. 

Also by Thom S. Rainer, Five Sobering Realities about Evangelism in Our Churches
and a new program he's launching called Evangelism Renewal. You can check it out here. You can also receive a free ebook by Thom S. Rainer, Rainer on Evangelism at this same link.


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People Aren't Projects and other lessons I learned as a rural pastor by Brad Roth from CTPastors
Early in my pastorate, a woman stopped by our church in rural Washington State looking for moving boxes. I was happy to help her out. We had just arrived in town, so we had plenty of boxes. “Thanks, Pastor,” she said. “You saved my life.”

Perfect. Life-saving was just the sort of work I had gone west to do, and the life-saving I imagined mostly involved making myself useful and fixing things. I was hooked.

Training and circumstances set me up for a fixit ministry. Somewhere in the thick of my studies at Harvard Divinity School, I chose the lofty goal of making my education useful to the larger church. I imagined myself helping people tidy up their theology: a little nip and tuck to their hermeneutical presuppositions. Read the Didache and call me in the morning. The tiny, urban congregation my wife and I joined during graduate school made plenty of space for an eager student to exercise his gifts, and when I started to sense the first inklings of a call, the congregation encouraged me and sent me off. After completing ministry training at the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, we set out to serve a small, rural congregation in eastern Washington. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

There was plenty to do. Our rural community was not exactly the stuff of bucolic dreams. It had come into its own some 50 years earlier when the Grand Coulee Dam was completed, and water from the Columbia River made irrigation possible on a vast scale. Homesteaders arrived in waves, and the town became a melting pot of Hispanic and white cultures straddling a wide socioeconomic spectrum. We had gang problems and hunger problems and the 10,000 indignities of poverty. It was perfect, the kind of tumbledown place that matched my hankering to put my faith into practice and really live the gospel.

I launched into my ministry with relish, setting about trying to fix things at the church. I dragged a cardboard box into the congregational library and proceeded to clear the shelves of Christian romance novels and Left Behind books. I didn’t ask anyone. Zeal for my Father’s house consumed me, and I just did it. I made plans to get rid of the old hymnals, which in my mind featured a few rather questionable hymns. We didn’t sing from them, but no matter; they had to go. I proposed removing a few pews and replacing them with chairs. None of this went over well.

In the community, I convened a committee with a vision to revamp the Senior Center into a Senior and Youth Center. I got involved with a neighborhood development outfit. I walked around town with a grabber claw in one hand and a bag in the other, picking up trash.

My fixit spirit didn’t stop with the congregation and community. I wanted to fix people too. I wanted to take hold of people’s lives and do a little spiritual chiropractic. Crunch them into shape. Maybe if I could get that divorcing couple to sit down with me, or counsel the young man who was slipping into gang life, or incisively—yet gently—point out the doctrinal weak spots in the theology of those folks who rarely showed up in church, things would work out. All these people needed was for someone to apply a bit of spiritual elbow grease. And all I wanted was to save a few lives.

My Fixit Theology

I thought I had to engineer all the changes I wanted to see. But the deepest changes can’t be imposed from outside. They come about slowly, through the patient alchemy of the Holy Spirit. The most important changes happen because of the cross. My theology lacked a practical cruciformity. Instead, I had adopted a fixit theology.

It wasn’t that I was doing the wrong things. Most of what I did was alright in and of itself. The problem was the spirit in which I carried out my ministry. I didn’t recognize it at first, but I was working so hard to fix the congregation and community that I was turning them into projects.
Read the full article here.


Evangelism in Small Church America: Exlcusive Research by Ed Stetzer and Jeffrey Farmer from Outreach Magazine
Pastor, no one in your church will share the gospel more than you.” This is a statement we regularly make when talking with pastors who serve in smaller-membership churches. The importance of intentional personal evangelism by the pastor cannot be overstated. Churches of all sizes can struggle with keeping evangelism the focus, but small churches often have significant hurdles to overcome.

Small churches tend to be more relationally focused—one of their most positive characteristics. In his book Taking Your Church to the Next Level, Gary McIntosh writes, “The core values of smaller churches cause them to look for a highly relational pastor who serves church members by listening to their concerns, ministering to their personal needs and following their lead.” But, if pastors are not careful, this relational focus can become a hindrance to advancing the kingdom vision of making disciples who make disciples. Often, small-church members are so inwardly focused, they are unable—or unwilling—to connect with their community and share the gospel.

To counter this tendency, the pastor must lead the way by being intentional in personal evangelism to focus the congregation on the community. Modeling a lifestyle of evangelism, sharing it publicly from the pulpit and inviting others into evangelism are keys to helping small churches thrive in sharing the gospel.

A recent study on the personal evangelism practices of small-church pastors was conducted by the Caskey Center for Church Excellence and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, in partnership with a dozen denominations (see “Methodology” section at the end of the article). LifeWay Research, which conducted the survey, contacted 1,500 pastors. The calling list was a random sample, stratified by church membership and denominational groups, drawn from a list of all evangelical and black Protestant churches. The results provide a snapshot of the personal evangelism habits of small-church pastors—those pastoring churches of 200 or fewer attendees. A comparison between the top 20 percent of churches that retained new commitments with the bottom 50 percent of churches reveal the key to reaching a community with the gospel through intentionality in personal evangelism, creating a climate of evangelism within the church and leading members to make disciples.

New Attendees, More Commitments, Greater Retention

Intentionally evangelistic pastors (top 20 percent) are more likely to see an increase in the numbers of attendees in worship services, and also are more likely to see new commitments to Christ. In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Missional Christians who see the scope of their lives as mission fields are the laborers the Lord sends in answer to this prayer. Pastors must lead their congregations to be diligent in this endeavor. As pastors are intentional in personal evangelism, God provides the harvest.

When asked to estimate the percentage of new church attendees who did not previously attend church, intentionally evangelistic pastors reported a higher percentage (more than half) compared to the bottom 50 percent of churches, which reported fewer than 1 in 5 were previously unchurched. Not surprisingly, then, intentionally evangelistic pastors reported a greater number of new commitments.

Small churches reported an average of 12 new commitments per year, but 60 percent of the responding churches had between zero and nine new commitments. Intentionally evangelistic pastors reported their churches averaged between 10 and 19 new commitments per year. The lowest 50 percent of churches averaged between zero and four new commitments each year.

Churches that offer new believers a course on the basics of how to live the Christian life saw greater retention of the new believers in their membership. Of the more effective churches, 78 percent indicated they offer a “New Believers” course, and on average, 57 percent of new commitments were retained. When asked how often the class was offered, 68 percent reported offering a class at least once in six months.

The influence of a small-church pastor on the congregation can be crucial in seeing these numbers rise, especially in the number of new commitments per year. Often, a new believer in a small church develops a strong connection with the pastor as a spiritual mentor. Statistically, the “New Believers” course has a high retention rate. Imagine if a pastor can excite other volunteers or lay leaders to assist with a new-member class, creating a greater connection between a new believer and lay leaders within the church. This can model discipleship to established church leaders that might not regularly interact with nonbelievers, and also help inspire them toward their own personal evangelistic endeavors.

Relational and Outwardly Focused

Perhaps the greatest indicator of a pastor’s effectiveness in personal evangelism is intentionality. In a small church, a pastor can very easily get caught up in addressing the needs of the congregation. For “one stop shop” pastors, they already feel overwhelmed, overworked and underresourced.

Leadership in smaller congregations tends to be more relational and can become inwardly focused unless intentional efforts are made to reach beyond the congregation. This inward focus is often brought on by church structures that depend on the senior pastor as the doer and implementer of vision. It also places the pastor at the center of “doing” ministry, which feeds into many people’s desires to be liked, appreciated and needed. This produces a challenging combination of codependency that many pastors unknowingly and unwittingly fall into.

One way to rise above the immediate needs of a small church and refocus on evangelism is evangelistic prayer. A full 92 percent of pastors specifically pray for non-Christian people by name each week. Furthermore, 82 percent of these pastors lead their church to pray for non-Christians by name at least once a month. Intentionally evangelistic pastors reported praying for non-Christian people by name weekly at 96 percent, versus the bottom 50 percent of pastors at 90 percent.

The Caskey Center encourages small-church and bivocational pastors to make a list of 100 people who do not know Christ. We encourage them to pray for these friends and family by name, that God would precede the witness and prepare them to receive the gospel.

The hard work of evangelism begins in the preparation of prayer. Prayer both changes our hearts and makes us sensitive to where God is already moving in a community or individual.

The Monday-morning prayer is a challenge the Caskey Center promotes to pastors, encouraging them to pray every Monday that God would direct them to intentional, gospel-centered conversations. As we pray, God’s Spirit helps give us spiritual eyes and spiritual discernment to see the needs of others and how to address them. Again, the power is in the preparation. Dr. Mark Tolbert, director of the Caskey Center, says, “Ask God to put someone in your path, place someone on your heart and give you boldness as you share the gospel.”

Intentionally evangelistic pastors have developed the discipline of sharing the gospel on a weekly basis. Three out of 4 pastors responded that they attempt to share their faith at least once a week, but we see the difference in the most evangelistic and the least. Among those who are most evangelistic, 87 percent of these pastors intentionally share their faith at least once a week, and 98 percent attempt to share the gospel at least once a month. Those who are least evangelistic are not nearly as intentional.

Pastors who are bold in sharing their faith, especially around other members of the congregation, model for others what it looks like to witness. It could be as simple as asking someone how you can pray for them, but looking and engaging with opportunities for spiritual dialogue is critical. As a pastor, think about where you frequently meet with lay leaders and volunteers. Choose places where you can model boldness for the gospel so others can see you do it, and thus be inspired to boldness themselves.
Read the full article here.



Influencing the Culture from the Bottom Up by MIchael Frost and Christiana Rice from Outreach Magazine
There has been a plethora of books in recent years about how Christians can change the world. Many of them urge us to engage society, mobilize our forces and win the culture wars.

But let’s face it—whenever the church tries to rule the world it never goes well for us. Indeed, we would suggest most of the criticisms leveled at the church by its detractors relate to the church’s abuse of temporal power. It’s nice to imagine the church as an ancient remedy that brings healing and repair to a diseased system, but increasingly, people have spoken of the church more in terms of a virus than a tonic.

Journalist Christopher Hitchens wasn’t one to pull punches. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he said, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”

For Hitchens, Christianity is responsible for widespread intolerance, the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery and a litany of wickedness.

Adopting this same line is John Loftus, a former Christian minister and now an atheist. In 2014, he published the anthology Christianity Is Not Great, in which a group of scholars focused on what they perceived to be the damage done by the church throughout history covering everything from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and witch hunts to bogus faith healing.

Loftus concludes, “The Christian faith can be empirically tested by the amount of harm it has done and continues to do in our world. Jesus reportedly said: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:20). When we evaluate the fruits of Christianity, the result is that it fails miserably.”

We’ve all had conversations with antagonistic non-Christians who remind us of the Inquisition, the number of incidents of sexual abuse by clergy, particularly in the Catholic Church, the belittling and condemnatory treatment of women and the LGBTQ community, and the offensive behavior and statements of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

And often all we can do is take it on the chin and admit that our brothers and sisters (though usually our brothers) have not represented the teachings of Jesus very well. If all this was the sum total of Christianity’s contribution to society, it would be reasonable to ask what Christianity ever did for us.

But, of course, that’s only half the story (maybe much less than half). Whenever we hear an atheist attacking the poisonous nature of Christianity we’re reminded of that scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where John Cleese asks the People’s Liberation Front of Judea, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” When the members of his audience start listing things like sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health and peace, he deadpans, “What have the Romans ever done for us except sanitation, medicine, education … ?”

The fact is that Christianity has altered European culture, indeed Western society as a whole, for the better in extraordinary ways.

What have the Christians ever done for us?

Seeking to counter all this bad news, British scholar Jonathan Hill wrote What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us?, an exploration of the positive contributions the faith has made to culture and thought, the arts, education, politics and society.
Read the full article here.


“God is on the move, extending the reign of Jesus throughout culture and society, and it’s our job to join in with what God is doing.”
from the article Michael Frost: Culture and Discipleship by Taylor Bird for Outreach Magazine


A video about Muslims coming to Christ from Open Doors.


Good News for Difficult Times by Scott Slayton
When difficult times come along, is your first instinct to remember the goodness of God and rest in him, or to allow panic mode to set in? If we’re all honest, our first instinct is not to stop, think, and reflect on great and glorious truths when times are hard. All too often, it takes time before we turn to the wonderful truths that sustain our souls when we walk through trials.

The last month has thrown several difficult trials my way and I have noticed that I allow myself to get in the habit of thinking more about the difficulty of my trials than of the overwhelming grace of my God. I listen to my fears, my anxiety, and my frustrations before I listen to the good news of the Gospel.

In falling into these patterns, I have had to revisit some of the most important advice I have ever heard. In his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us of the importance of reminding ourselves of important truths instead of listening to our fears and anxieties

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”

Lloyd-Jones offers sound wisdom here. We listen to ourselves as our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us. A genuine change in perspective begins to happen though when we begin to talk to ourselves and remind ourselves of great Gospel truths.
Read the full article here.


4 Ways to Stand Strong Against Spiritual Attacks by Matt Brown from Outreach Magazine
I’m not sure when the term “spiritual warfare” was coined, but in my research, I’ve discovered it mentioned as early as the 1600s.

Spiritual warfare is depicted (without using the term) in the writing of the New Testament, as Paul stated:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:11-12)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

Spiritual warfare is very real. It doesn’t have to be some weird, confusing, overly spiritual thing. It can be recognized, clearly labeled and endured in God’s strength.

Here are four proven ways to stand strong in the face of spiritual warfare.

1. Don’t call everything spiritual warfare.

We will all face hardship in this life. Even as believers, we will face hardships—sometimes even because of our faith! Jesus promised this, and the church will always experience this reality.

But not every hardship in life is spiritual warfare. As it has been said, “Don’t look for a demon under every rock.”

Sometimes what we perceive as spiritual warfare may actually be God testing and refining us (Psalm 66:10, 1 Peter 1:7, Isaiah 48:10, Proverbs 17:3), or it could even be us reaping what we’ve sown (Galatians 6:7-8, Proverbs 19:3).

That being said, we should also recognize that sometimes there’s a spiritual reality to what we are facing.

How do you recognize spiritual warfare? Here is what it often looks like:

Spiritual warfare most often happens right before or after God uses us for powerful ministry impact, or right before or after God moves in our own spiritual lives in a significant way.

Spiritual warfare often comes in an attempt to steal our happiness in God and his work in our lives. If God has opened a door of opportunity for you, or is furthering you along in his calling on your life, and suddenly something happens that dampens your joy, that could very well be spiritual warfare in an attempt to draw you away from your joy in God.

Spiritual warfare may look like unusual adversity that has unusual timing right before or after God uses you for kingdom impact or does something significant in you.

Spiritual warfare can also look like unusual temptation right before or after God uses you for kingdom impact or does something significant in you. Years ago, I read Jim Elliot’s journals, and noticed he experienced unusual temptation the month before he was martyred for bringing the gospel to an unreached tribe. The story of his sacrifice has influenced millions of believers to abandon all for the sake of getting the gospel to the unreached.

For pastors, spiritual warfare often comes in the way of unusual relationship struggles, in which a deacon or member in the church creates abnormal issues for the pastor, causing the pastor to be exhausted and discouraged. My grandfather-in-law and father-in-law led our church for a half century, and most often their greatest challenges were specific individuals in the church, especially a deacon who would cause abnormal issues that resulted in most of the pain of their ministry. My grandfather-in-law would often take it to private prayer. His prayer was, “God, change their hearts or move them out.”

2. Double back on your joy and peace in the Lord.

Spiritual warfare often comes right before unprecedented seasons of God’s blessing. If you are experiencing unusual adversity and the timing seems odd as you are simply trying to make an impact for the kingdom of God, be encouraged that God may be about to bless your efforts significantly.

Often, spiritual warfare is the Enemy’s attempt to steal our happiness about what God is doing in our lives. Don’t take the bait! Double back on your peace and joy in God, and his sovereignty over every situation in your life.

Nehemiah told the people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength“ (Neh. 8:10) In moments where God is moving, and blessing and spiritual warfare comes your way, don’t let it steal your joy—enjoy and be satisfied and grateful for everything God has done for you, and is about to do through you!

If you need to, pray with David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Ps. 51:12).

Jesus promised he would give us a peace that this world cannot take away, and that surpasses understanding (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7).

3. Know you’re making a difference.

Spiritual warfare often comes when we are about to make a dent for God’s kingdom that brings glory to God.

If you are encountering spiritual warfare, know that God is using you, and you are making a difference. In fact, the greater the spiritual warfare, the greater the impact you are having for the kingdom.

My friend Jon Bloom (he’s also my favorite author!) shared a powerful blog about spiritual warfare that has helped me immensely. He writes:

In war a breakthrough only really matters if it occurs at a strategic location. And the evidence that a location is strategic is almost always revealed by the amount of enemy forces amassed to protect it. An enemy led by skilled generals plans to ferociously protect what it prizes highly.

But we must keep in mind that strategic ground is not yielded easily. Whether we’re battling for breakthroughs against our own stubborn sin or the unbelief of a loved one or breakthroughs in the missional advance of our local church, reaching unreached peoples, rescuing persecuted believers, orphans, sex slaves, or the unborn, we are up against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We don’t know exactly what that means, except that these forces are very strong.

So, if you are encountering spiritual warfare, you may be about to see a strategic breakthrough for the kingdom of God, for freedom in people’s lives, and for the glory of God. Keep going!

Keep praying and trusting the Lord.

There’s an event recorded in the Gospels about the disciples praying for a boy to be delivered from demons, but it didn’t work. Jesus came along, and the boy was set free. The disciples had already been used by God to see this in other people’s lives—what were they failing to do here? Jesus said, “This kind can only come out by prayer” (Mark 9:29).

Jesus was teaching them about prevailing prayer. Some things must be prayed through over a period of years. Never lose faith that God can and will move on your behalf.
Read the full article here.



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A 2,000-Year-Old Strategy for Engaging Culture with the Christian Faith by Phil Cooke for Pastors.com
The thing I love about reading is that you never know where you’ll find creative advice. I was recently reading about the Christian writer and theologian Tatian who was a Syrian who lived in the second century. He was born in Assyria (Mesopotamia), and as an adult he journeyed to Rome, where he first discovered Christianity. He was shocked at the pagan cults he witnessed throughout the city and as a result, began reflecting on religious issues. During his investigation, he read the Old Testament, and the more he read, the more he realized just how unreasonable paganism was. As a result, he decided to become a Christian.

In reading Tatian’s Address to the Greeks, written about AD 170, the story of his conversion was so compelling, that I immediately thought it a model for how we can engage the secular culture of today – 2,000 years after Tatian. Here’s his story:

I withdrew myself and sought best how to discover the truth. While I was earnestly employed in this matter, I happened to light upon certain ‘barbaric’ (i.e., non-Greek) writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks and too divine to be compared with their error. I found myself convinced by these writings, because of the unpretentious cast of the language, the unstudied character of the writers, the ready comprehension of the making of the universe, the foreknowledge of things to come, the excellence of the precepts and the placing of all things under the rule of one principle. My soul being thus taught by God, I understood that the pagan writings led to condemnation, whereas these put an end to the slavery that is in the world, rescuing us from many rulers, yes, from ten thousand tyrants. These writings do not indeed give us something which we had not received before but rather something which we had indeed received but were prevented by error from making our own.

Let’s review his revelation from reading the Old Testament Scriptures and consider how we could use the same ideas to engage today’s culture. He became convinced of the reality of the Christian faith because of:
1. The unpretentious language – He was a learned man, but he wasn’t moved by an overly academic approach. He was moved by the sincere and unpretentious attitude of the Scriptures.
2. The unstudied character of the writers – God didn’t choose the most brilliant to write the Old Testament, he chose the most willing.
3. The ready comprehension of the universe – The Gospel is a unified vision of how and why we exist.
4. The foreknowledge of things to come – The Bible didn’t leave us hanging. It points to a greater future.
5. The excellence of the precepts – He couldn’t argue with the logic and excellence of the Bible’s principles.
6. All things being placed under one principle – There’s that unified vision once again. Remember, the Old Testament he was reading was pointing to Jesus.

And perhaps most important:
7. Pagan writings led to condemnation, but Christian writings put an end to the slavery that is in the world. – There’s little else that needs to be said about that.
Read the full article here.



Uniting a Violence-Plagued City in Prayer by Matt Woodley and Trevor McMaken from CTPastors
"Neither death threats nor tepid response discouraged two pastors from praying over every murder site in their city for years."
n October 27, 1994, Armando Mendez’s car ran out of gas five blocks from his home near downtown Aurora, Illinois. When he pulled into a gas station, five gang members ambushed and started beating him. As the dazed and bloodied Mendez tried to escape, one of the gang members shot and killed him. Armando Mendez, a community college student, former high school football player, and beloved son, was dead at the age of 19.

By the end of the year, Aurora had logged 15 execution-style or drive-by murders, most gang related. Eventually Aurora, the second-largest city in Illinois, caught the attention of the national media. A U.S. News & World Report claimed that Aurora’s Police Department was “moving from shooting to shooting so quickly they could hardly keep up, much less close cases.” As businesses and factories fled the deteriorating East and West sides of the city, gangs moved in, vying for their stake of turf. As Greg Thomas, the police chief at the time, told FBI agent Paul Bock, "The only problem with Aurora is there's about 50 or 60 people who shoot people for fun." Thomas later added, “It was not a good time to be in Aurora. … It was horrible.”

And it only got worse. The next year, there were 24 murders. In 1996, the city tallied 26—three times the national average. Aurora was reeling from the violence.

But then the murders stopped. Not overnight of course. The murder rate rose and then dipped and rose and dipped again, but by 2006 it dropped to six. In 2008 it plummeted to two. And then, astoundingly, in 2012 Aurora had its first murder-free year in decades.

Some people credited innovative, aggressive tactics from the police. Others pointed to the leadership of the mayor and city government. Both factors were important, but many people, including former Police Chief Greg Thomas and Aurora’s local newspaper, also praised the steadfast work of two gritty local pastors—Dan Haas, the pastor of a non-denominational, charismatic church, and David Engbarth, a Catholic priest at a largely Hispanic congregation.
Read the rest of the article here.


How God Uses Average People by Adam Weber for LifeWay Pastors
I grew up in a home filled with music. My mom started playing piano when she was three years old and played weekly in church starting in seventh grade.

My favorite song to sing with her was “Here I Am, Lord”:

Who will bear My light to them?…

I will go Lord, if You lead me.

I didn’t understand the words I was singing. But early on, this song was planted within me. It was a song I would cross paths with again.
***
One of my greatest struggles in life has been and continues to be the feeling of being completely inadequate. Even in my adult years, I have felt disqualified from being used to do anything important, particularly by God.

When you feel ordinary, average, or less skilled, it’s always easier to play things safe, isn’t it? To blend in. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t step out. Take no chances. Don’t try to be used by God.

In the Bible, we see all kinds of ordinary people being used by God. Abraham was too old. Moses stuttered. You’ve heard the stories. Their stories are powerful accounts of God using average people for great things. But I still struggled to connect with them. Yes, they appeared to be quite average, but how average could they be if they’re mentioned in the Bible? I know I’m not mentioned in the Bible.
***
Some years passed by, and on a visit home from college, my mom pulled out the hymnal and we sang “Here I Am, Lord” again.

Who will bear My light to them? Whom shall I send?

This time around, the words took on a completely different meaning. I thought of how God had brought light into my darkness, how knowing Jesus had changed everything about me.

Whom shall I send?

My answer: Someone else.

Sitting on that piano bench, a tug-of-war took place within me. I longed to tell the whole world what God had done in my life. But I figured it was probably best for me to stay out of the way so a more qualified person could do so.

As we sang on, however, I heard my soul speak the words:

I will go Lord, if You lead me.

Over the following weeks and months, I kept hearing myself quietly speak the words, “Here I am, Lord.” If you lead, I’ll follow. Then it’s on you, right?
***
A few more years would pass before I sang “Here I Am, Lord” again. The next time was in Bismarck, North Dakota. I had finished seminary and was being ordained. At the very end of the ordination service, of all songs, we sang:

Who will bear My light to them?…

I will go Lord, if You lead me.

I was overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness. For years he had been speaking to me. Preparing me. Directing me. He wanted to use me.

The truth is that, on our own, we are in inadequate. In every way. On our own, we are disqualified from being used by God.

Thankfully, it’s not about who we are. It’s only about who God is. It’s about his gifts. His abilities. His strength. His wisdom. And his potential. Not ours.

Oddly enough, the only time we can’t be used by God is when we think we are adequate.
***
Looking back, I’ve never been adequate. It’s been God the whole time. If you need proof that God can use you, look no further. I’m your guy.

Feel inadequate? Lacking? Insufficient? Disqualified to be used?

We’re right where we need to be in order to be used by God. All we have to do is say yes.

When we start saying yes to him, he’ll begin to do the impossible in and through us. Things that blow us away. Things that we could never ever imagine. Things that will leave us completely speechless.

When we’re willing to say yes to the small things, he’ll give us opportunities to say yes to big things. This is the story of my life.
Read the full article here.


“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20, NLT)


Free Materials
The Gospel Project for Adults
FBC Lincoln has both leader guides and learner study books from the original 3 year series of The Gospel Project for Adults.  We would be happy to donate them to any small group wishing to study through the scriptures. 

“Some people see the Bible as a collection of stories with morals for life application. But it is so much more than that. Sure, the Bible has some stories in it, but it is also full of poetry, history, codes of law and civilization, songs, prophecy, letters — even a love letter. When you tie it all together, something remarkable happens. A story is revealed. One story. The story of redemption through Jesus.  The Gospel Project is a Christ-centered curriculum that examines the grand narrative of Scripture and how the gospel transforms the lives of those it touches. Over a three-year plan of study, each session immerses participants in the gospel through every story, theological concept, and call to missions from Genesis to Revelation.”

Email webadmin@FirstBaptistLincoln.org or call the church at 916-645-2428 if you are interested in receiving these materials. 


Job & Ministry Opportunities
Youth Leader Internship
First Baptist Church of Winters (FBCW) is seeking a Youth Leader Intern.
The job requires about 15 hours of work each week, offers a competitive salary along with a generous budget for Youth activities. The youth group consists of 10-20 students at the Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday gatherings.
For more information, contact the church at 530-795-2821 or fbcw@fbcwinters.org.

Education Internship 
Education internship with stipend, housing, and airfare at Lake Tahoe, California
August 9 through December 22, 2017
1 Preschool intern and 4 School age interns needed.
We are looking for energetic, diligent, and happy people to join our team. We need leaders who possess strong character, are teachable, and who have a heart for working with children.
We will train you and invest in your life. All our lead staff have been either summer or semester staff. You will work with a team of eight other college students.
For more information, contact Debbie Wohler Reasoner at 530-583-2925or530448-9359 or www.tahoeministries.com or debbie@fbctahoe.com
Apply at: 
https://fs25.formsite.com/firstbaptisttahoe/form3/index.html

Youth Director 
New Hope Community Church (NHCC) in South Sacramento is searching for a part time (20 hr/wk) youth director. The position will report directly to the senior pastor and offers a competitive salary and some flexibility of work hours. The intent is to grow the position to full time and eventually a pastoral position. Some Bible college or seminary study is a plus, and candidate must be a self-starter.
For a full job description and other information, please contact NHCC board of deacons: deacons@newhopemeadowview.com
or
Board of Deacons
New Hope Community Church
1821 Meadowview Road
Sacramento, CA  95832

Camp Volunteers


Calendar

July
8      2nd Saturday Outreach

        www.thegracenetwork.org
        10 AM - 1st Time orientation

9-12   Kids Camp, 4-6 grades, $155 

11   Pastor and Staff Lunch
       12:00-1:30, bring your lunch
       Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way

10-8/5 Centrifuge at Jenness Park
           $333 per person, weekly youth camps

13-15 Kids Camp, 1-3 grades $140 

16-20 Middle/High School Wilderness Camp 
          Session 2, Camp Alta, $225 

23-27 Middle/High School Wilderness Camp 
          Session 3, Camp Alta, $225 

29      Evidence Quartet Concert 
          
Country Oaks Baptist Church
          9717 Bond Road, Elk Grove
          7 pm, free concert, any questions: 916-685-4019

August
4-5     Free Women's Conference
          Country Oaks Baptist Church

7-10 Special Ministries Camp 
        18 & older, $280, (volunteers free)

8   Pastor and Staff Lunch
     12:00-1:30 pm, Bring your lunch
      Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way 

10-11 Global Leadership Summit simulcast
         $189, http://willowcreek.com/events/leadership/

12    2nd Saturday Outreach
        www.thegracenetwork.org
        10 AM - 1st Time orientation

15-16  Church Multiplication School
           $99 (limited scholarships are available for SBC planters and their spouses)
           Info and to register: http://nwbaptistplanting.com/hidden-pages/cms

September
7-9   Disaster Relief Chaplain Retreat 
        $100 per person. Register online here.
        More information at http://www.csbc.com/events/dr-chaplains-retreat 

9      2nd Saturday Outreach
        www.thegracenetwork.org
        10 AM - 1st Time orientation

12   Pastor and Staff Lunch
      12:00-1:30 pm, Bring your lunch
       Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way 

29   Deep Love Live Simulcast with Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot
       Take a step toward deepening the marriages in your church
       Call 1-888-235-7948 for more information

30   Prepared to Answer: Where Faith and Culture Collide, Simulcast
       
with Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg, Inciite Events

October
5-7   Beth Moore - Living Proof Live and You Lead Training
         
More information: lifeway.com/livingproof  or lifeway.com/youlead
         or call 800-254-2022

6-8   Mother/Daughter Retreat at Jenness Park
        Pricing, details, and online registration at
        http://www.csbc.com/events/mother-daughter-retreat-2017

10   Pastor and Staff Lunch
      12:00-1:30 pm, Bring your lunch
       Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way

13-23  Malawi Mission Trip with Internatonal Commission
           
Contact Sonia Burnell  at soniab@IC-World.org or 916-784-2372

14    2nd Saturday Outreach
        www.thegracenetwork.org
        10 AM - 1st Time orientation

24-25  CSBC Annual Meeting
           Magnolia Church, Riverside, CA
           For More information: http://www.csbc.com/events/csbc-annual-meeting-2017

November
7   Minister and Staff Lunch
     12 pm to 1:30 pm, bring your own lunch
     Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way

11    2nd Saturday Outreach
        www.thegracenetwork.org
        10 AM - 1st Time orientation

December
1-2  Disaster Relief Roundtable for Cal Blue Caps
       
More details: http://www.csbc.com/events/dr-blue-caps

5   Minister and Staff Lunch
     12 pm to 1:30 pm, bring your own lunch
     Roseville Baptist Church, 1301 Coloma Way

9   2nd Saturday Outreach
     www.thegracenetwork.org
     10 AM - 1st Time orientation

28-30  Ignition Student Conference
          Sacramento Convention Center
          Learn more: https://www.studentignition.com/


Just for fun, a satirical article from The Babylon Bee for all you hard-working VBS workers:
Monster Energy Introduces New Extra Strength Formula for VBS Volunteers.
CORONA, CA—Monster Beverage Corporation announced Friday the company is introducing a new “maximum strength” formula of its popular energy drink, specifically targeted at Vacation Bible School volunteers.

The drink claims to have “the absolute maximum amount” of Vitamins B12, B6, B3, caffeine, and taurine a human can ingest at one time without dying, in addition to newly discovered proprietary chemicals designed to help VBS volunteers labor for hours each day.

“Whether you’re expected to display almost creepy levels of enthusiasm and excitement in the daily VBS skits or rallies, or your hands are bleeding from making insanely complex spaceship crafts out of aluminum foil and Elmer’s glue, Monster Energy: VBS Blend is for you,” a spokesperson said. “Nursery workers, games organizers, and especially children’s ministers are going to love this new product.”

The energy drink is shipping now in three flavors: Watered-Down Punch, Cheesy Casserole, and Baptist Grape.


 

 

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