07.24.14

Ask Yourself, Ask Your Church

Every Christian and ministry faces the slow, subtle, suffocating pressure of the ordinary. The creeping clutch of worldly concerns confronts us all. We settle into routines and ruts. Our zeal cools as we have our minds and then our hearts drawn off into the mundane, everyday aspects of life. We don’t plan for this to happen. It just does. It’s part of our creatureliness.

And that’s why we need questions—usually fundamental, identity-shaping questions—to reorient us to our Creator and our purpose. Unless we habitually come back to the north star of Christian life and ministry, we’ll drift off course.

Recently I attended a missions conference that helped snap me back on course with some basic questions. The questions assume we’re fulfilling (or at least interested in fulfilling) our roles as people called to make disciples of all nations. Think of them as aids in helping us to live a mission-oriented lifestyle. I hope these queries might be useful to you as you think them through and apply the answers to your life as a Christian and perhaps a leader.

  1. What is your entry strategy for your community?

In other words, how do we plan to connect with people? How do we plan to expand our circle of friends, colleagues and neighbors with an eye toward telling them about Jesus? How do we enter new fields?

I find this question helpful—especially as an introvert. I love people and I enjoy being with people—in planned doses! People exhaust me. I don’t mean that negatively; I simply mean that it takes a lot of energy from me to do the people thing. My wife… she feeds on people like pac man. She’s the classic extrovert. We make a good team because she keeps me living outside myself when my bent is to retreat inside my own head and stay there! So I have to ask myself, Self, what’s your plan for connecting with people?

  1. What are you going to do with people once you connect with them?

What will you say to them or ask them to do? Will you use a particular approach to sharing the gospel (say, Two Ways to Live), invite them to a Bible study, or take them to church with you? How will you connect your new friend with Jesus?

Most people tremble in fear when they hear the word “evangelism.” We know we’re all supposed to do it, but we somehow find every excuse for not. Fear of man paralyzes many a would-be evangelist. But we can take a good bit of fear out of evangelism if we settle on an approach or two. We can master a set of resources until using them becomes “old hat.” Then we can go on to master the art of conversation itself until we’re able to naturally turn conversations to Jesus in most circumstances. But it all starts with knowing what we’re going to say when we do meet people.

  1. What do I do if they say ‘yes’?

Believe it or not, people do convert to faith in Christ. It’s easy to forget that or to be suspicious of it if we’re not active in sharing our faith or we’ve not had the privilege of being used by the Lord in converting a person. A subtle, sneaky unbelief sets in and we turn to other things. But people do repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as their God and Savior—all the time! When that happens, what are we going to do with them?

imagesI’ve heard more than one evangelist say they prefer to catch the fish but let someone else clean them. When I hear that, I tend to think either that evangelist has a shallow view of evangelism or they’ve not tasted the joy of seeing people grow in the Lord. Besides, the Lord commands that we make disciples not merely decisions.

And making disciples requires process. It doesn’t need to be fancy or even particularly structured. But we do need to know what process we’re using to help new Christians grow if we want to avoid drifting off mission. The good news is that there are a ton of resources available to us—from online material to books to the brothers and sisters that attend our local church. All are useful for helping us move our new friends and acquaintances toward growing Christian discipleship.

  1. How should we organize people?

Do we simply keep individual contact with new Christians, involve them in our existing friendship networks, or something more? This is really the church question. Do we help new Christians join existing churches or are we working to form new churches?

Failing to answer this question also quietly cools our missionary zeal. Our many conversations and hours of prayer on behalf of someone’s conversion dissipates into a misty nothingness when we don’t have a good understanding of the centrality and necessity of the local church. That’s why it makes so little sense for missionaries and Christians attempting to live “on mission” to absent themselves from the local church. What do they plan to do with those converts to Christ? Are they planning to leave them like sheep without a shepherd wandering through this bristle-and-brier thatched world? I hope not. I hope we see that the local church is both the means and the penultimate ends of the missionary endeavor. What do we reach the lost for but to see the lost formed into churches?

  1. How do we multiply leaders?

We are looking for disciples who make disciples. The gospel isn’t meant to be preached to a particular person then bottled up in that person’s heart, never to be spread to others. We’re meant to be strainers or sieves, dispersing gospel water through many holes and outlets into the community around us. For that to happen, we need to reproduce leaders and evangelists ().

One missionary said recently, “Sustainability is wrapped up in a convert’s walk with Christ. If you deny responsibility to someone you guarantee they will remain spiritual infants.” I think that’s well said. So, our plan for living with purpose ought to include passing that purpose on to others who in turn will pass it to others.

CONCLUSION

Taken together, these five questions yield a strategy for (1) entering new relationships or fields, (2) presenting the gospel to others, (3) making disciples of converts, (4) forming or growing local churches, and (5) multiplying the leadership and maturity of individuals and churches. Taken together, these questions keep us on mission. I, for one, need to keep these questions before me so I’m busy about my Father’s business when He comes.

and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

C’mon Up!

  • Craig Carlton

    Pastor Anyabwile,
    Excellent article!
    With respect to the 2nd question, I’ve always admired the Two Ways to Live approach, and another useful tool of late has been expressing the gospel story in some form of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.
    On another note, I made a comment and asked a question in a recent post, “Elements of Style in Black Preaching” that was not responded to. My initial thought was that maybe it was missed, got lost in the shuffle, or perhaps you and the brothers may have been too busy to see it because of your demanding pastoral duties. However, when I saw a couple of new posts, I started to wonder, “was it something I said?” If it was, please forgive me, I meant no harm whatsoever, and I hope to hear from you soon sir.
    In Him,
    Craig J. Carlton

    • Thabiti

      Hi Craig,
      Thanks for joining us on the porch, brother, and leaving a word of encouragement. I pray you’re well, brother. I must apologize. I don’t recall your comment, but I’ll look back and offer a thought if I have any.
      Grace and peace,
      T-

      • Craig Carlton

        Pastor Anyabwile,
        No worries and no problem sir!
        I did get your response on the other article as well, and I will keep Dr. Andrews in prayer. I hope he re-emerges, because I think he adds much value to the church at large and perhaps the Black church in particular.
        I won’t take up much more of your time sir, but let me just say that conversing with you has been a lunch hour well spent! LOL…
        I wish you much godly success in your new church planting endeavor in Anacostia, and perhaps when it gets off the ground the family and I will pay a visit to you. We are in the Shenandoah Valley area, in the same town as James Madison University and only about 2 1/2 hours from D.C. In the interim though, it would also be a joy to scoot up to Capitol Hill Baptist and experience a Lord’s Day fellowship with the saints, including yourself and pastor Dever. I pray we will have an opportunity to do so.
        In HIm,
        Craig