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Revival Meeting? Evangelistic Services? Gospel Conference??

I have wrestled with the practice of having a church event which consists of a week or half-week of nightly services, the objective of which is evangelizing unbelievers and “reviving” Christians.  The churches I have ministered in over the years have held these events consistently, at least once a year.  This post is not intended to be an analysis of the biblical or philosophical bases (or lack thereof) of this practice, so I won’t go into that.  But, I say again, I have wrestled with the idea, specifically with whether or not it is truly beneficial to the church.

REASONS FOR MY STRUGGLE
There are two very pragmatic reasons for my struggle with this practice in recent years.

  • One is low attendance. In our experience the attendance at weeknight services, especially Monday and Tuesday evenings, is very low.
  • The other reason is a lack of evangelistic fruitfulness. If one of the primary purposes of these special services is to reach the lost with the Gospel, then the effort is an abysmal failure.  Hardly any unbelievers attend, and very occasionally one or two make professions of faith in Christ.  Even with attempts to disciple those few, hardly any take the steps of baptism and connecting with church life.

Low attendance and lack of immediate, observable fruitfulness are hard realities.

DIFFERENT APPROACH
This week we have such an event, with an exceptional speaker and team.  By the way, the outside itinerant speakers, AKA “evangelists,” that I have speak at our church are limited to a select few that I know well, who preach expositorily, and whose understanding of how people are saved and how they grow spiritually fits that of our church.

We determined to tag the Sunday-Wednesday services and sessions this time around as a Gospel Conference and to carry out the event with more of a conference approach than a series of church services.

  • The front of the informational brochure says, The Gospel for Real Life, A Gospel-Centered Conference Featuring Bible Preaching, Teaching, and Music. The key issues being addressed in our Gospel Conference are, What is the Gospel? and, What difference does the Gospel make in my life?
  • Some of the sessions have included clear, thorough explanations of the Gospel from Scripture that are intended to give an unbeliever an understanding of the Gospel and an opportunity to respond to it.
  • Others have been directed at the implications of the Gospel for believers, with themes including The Gospel and My Purpose and The Gospel and My Purity.
  • There have been clear, concise Gospel messages presented in targeted group settings, including a dinner for senior adults, the guys from the community that play basketball in our gym every Tuesday night, and a Gospel-focused session for teens.
  • There has also been one daytime session in which our speaker equipped the teachers in our preschool for having Gospel conversations with parents who follow a particular false belief system.

It might not seem much different from a “revival meeting” or “evangelistic services,” but I have appreciated the difference in emphasis.

WHAT MAKES THIS DIFFERENT?

  • Without going into a lot of detail, I will just say that the idea of “revival” carries with it some theological confusion and cultural association that I don’t want to identify with. And if you invite unbelievers to “evangelistic services” they know they’re the targets for the “evangelist,” and what neighbor wants to show up for that?  And why should church people go to the effort to attend a Tuesday night evangelistic service if they’re already saved, unless they’re bringing someone to be “evangelisted” :)? And who wants to risk losing a friendship or straining a work relationship doing that?
  • In our Gospel Conference, we’re exploring the truths of the Gospel and explaining how it makes a difference in everyone’s life, whether believer or unbeliever. We are all here as learners of Gospel truth.  And there are no manipulative techniques, no “do it now or else” pressure to walk an aisle.  We are all invited to respond privately, and anyone wanting further explanation or assistance in responding to the Gospel is encouraged to talk with a pastor or counselor when the session ends or anytime in the near future.
  • The tone of the Sunday morning service is pretty much like our usual worship and preaching/teaching, but the Sunday evening and weeknight sessions are less formal, with more of a conference feel. And the way the team and up-front people are dressed would make the average neighbor or coworker who shows up feel comfortable, not like he or she is underdressed for the occasion.
  • The speaker’s team is providing music, but again, there’s a difference. They are not just performing well-rehearsed musical selections.  They sing and play with energy and skill, but in many of the songs, they are leading all of us to join them in singing a stanza or more, and each song gives attention to some aspect of the Gospel.  It is definitely not an audience watching a group perform. We are singing Gospel truth and meditating on it through the music that is shared.

THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WEEK SO FAR
Is anything really different?  Is it just terminology?  Do these things matter?  Will more people attend?  Will there be more fruit?  Well, this is the first time we’ve done it, and it’s only Tuesday, so I don’t have the answers to those questions.  We’ll see.  I definitely feel more confident encouraging our people to participate and to invite their unbelieving friends.  Maybe our church people will be encouraged by the difference in emphasis this time around and be more likely to participate and bring others next time we have a Gospel Conference.  I think the average Christian could comfortably invite an unbelieving friend to a conference where someone will explain the Gospel and the difference it makes in your life.

All of this leads to the resolution of my struggle with the concept and practice of this kind of event.  I’m pretty sure we’ll do another Gospel Conference.  My mind is already spinning out ideas for making it even more beneficial to our people and hopefully more effective in explaining the Gospel to unbelievers and inviting them to respond.  If our church people will see the value and have more passion for investigating the multifaceted truth and mining the precious treasures of the Gospel for 1, 2, 3, 4 days in a row and experience significant growth in grace from sustained concentration on these things, maybe they will put Gospel Conference on their personal calendars for those Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings.  And if they realize they won’t be embarrassed by what their non-Christian friend might see or hear that would hurt their relationship or hinder future Gospel opportunities, they might extend an invitation to attend a Gospel Conference session where their friend will hear about what the Gospel is and what difference it makes in his or her life.

. . . Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.  Philippians 1:18

 

Planning and Preaching Expositional Sermon Series

My approach to preaching on Lord’s Day mornings for the past few years has been to deliver a series of messages that spans a few months. I used to preach through a book of the Bible, taking a year or more, depending on the length of the book.  I may do that again someday.  But I have found that people’s attention can wane in a series that goes on and on.  There are definitely very capable expositors and communicators who can carry a congregation through a long series.  And there are many benefits to both the pastor and congregation who engage in a sustained study of one book that lasts a year or more.  But this is how I’ve been doing it lately.

In this approach, I usually plan the series to fit in a period of time that naturally follows the church calendar and people’s cycle of life.  For example, I usually start a Fall series in mid-September, when most people have settled into the “school year” schedule.  That series continues either through mid-November, or sometimes through December just before Christmas.  Then I often preach a series in January, sometimes through early February – a “get the year started” series, or just a 4-6 week study of a book of the Bible.  Then I do a Spring series from February through April.  I may pause the series for Easter, unless the section of Scripture we’re in lends itself to an Easter message.  Then I do a Summer series, June – August.

I almost always select a section of Scripture or a book of the Bible for the series.  Right now we’re going through the entire book of 1 Thessalonians.  I started in September and it will end in December.  Last summer we studied Hosea.  I couldn’t go through every verse in detail, but I selected key passages and preached them expositorily.  Last Spring the series focused on Big Questions, the questions seekers have about God, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, the Christian life, and church.  I taught from various passages, starting in Genesis and ending up in Ephesians.  Last Fall, I preached from the book of Job.  It would have taken a very long time to preach through it all, verse by verse.  My approach was to focus on the theme, Seeing Through Suffering and Pain, and explain some sections in detail and others as more of a survey, highlighting key parts.

That leads to another element of my planning and preaching series.  I almost always see a theme emerge from my initial study of a section or book of Scripture.  I work on the wording of this theme and try to craft it into something that conveys the message of the whole section and that is a key truth that I can develop everything else around.  For example, the theme of our 1 Thessalonians study is More, based on the several times in the letter where Paul tells them to “abound more and more” or something similar.  The theme of the Hosea study was Pursuing the Knowledge of God, based on the numerous occurrences of the idea of “knowing God” found in Hosea.  A summer study we did a couple of years ago was, A Better Way to Live, from Hebrews chapters 10-13.  The book of Hebrews elevates Jesus Christ as being “better” in various ways.  The closing chapters focus on how we live in light of that.

My selection and initial preparation takes place when I get away a few times a year for a Prayer and Planning Retreat.  You can read about that here.

And here is a page with themes and links to my preaching series from the past couple of years.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Pastoral Ministry

 

10 Reasons to Move Out of the Country

Paul traveled to foreign cities, telling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners everywhere he went.  He supported himself by making tents (Acts 18:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:9).  This model for self-supporting Gospel work has become known as “tentmaking.”  I encourage you to consider it, whether you are called to vocational mission work or you are a Christian who has a job, career, or profession that might allow you to work out of the country.  (I am primarily addressing US citizens, but the concept applies to others as well).

In a recent message, I presented 10 reasons why Christians should consider moving out of the country to a gospel-starved area, working to support themselves while having Gospel impact on the people around them.  The globalization of business, education, and medicine, and the possibility of working from anywhere with a high-speed Internet connection has greatly increased the opportunities for this.  If you haven’t heard the message, please listen to it here.  The main points are reproduced below without comment.  I have borrowed from various sources, including Worldwide Tentmakers and Globalopps.org.

Here are 10 reasons to consider the tentmaking model:

  1. Build relationships with people who are far from God.
  2. Establish the credibility of Christianity.
  3. Give people opportunity to see and know a Christian firsthand.
  4. Conserve missions funds for those who can’t go without support.
  5. Make Christ known in places where mission work is restricted.
  6. Overcome resistance with love.
  7. Maximize the portability of your occupation or profession.
  8. Help existing Gospel work.
  9. Use your skills for a Kingdom purpose.
  10. Experience the ultimate in adventure and fulfillment.
 
 
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