What Now? Two Church Stories

It’s all very good to discuss what church, church ministry, and the role of pastors are and aren’t, but it’s quite another to know what it ought to be and how to get there from here.

The answer is, “I don’t know.” I’m not sure the way we do things are different, but I don’t think that just changing from one for to another is the answer. There are pastor/congregations that are abusive and controlling, but people have left the institutional church to establish home churches that are abusive and controlling as well. There are home churches that are living out life in Christ in a wonderful way, and there are institutional pastors/congregations that are too. There are some who are preaching about living in relationship apart from the church, who I think are losing their way, but others who I believe have found their way. One is Wayne Jacobsen. He has written wonderful series of articles about the CHURCH that I think are worth reading.  about the CHURCH in a way that I believe reveals what it ought to be, could be. For links to his articles, click HERE.

John DeVries, founder of Mission India, wrote a wonderful little book called Why Pray? He shares two stories that I think are worth pondering that touch on the subjects of pastors and the Church. I’d like to share them with you:

Who is First–He or I?

They asked me to be their church growth consultant. As pastors of a large suburban church, they had recently returned from a church-growth seminar and had designed an exceptional organizational plan for their church. They thought I could help them implement it and asked if I’d be interested in a one-year contract.

I listened to the three pastors for longer than two and a half hours as they explained the organizational plan. When they completed the presentation, the walls were covered with flowcharts and boxes. I observed that the plan was very impressive, and I had no doubt that they would fill their large auditorium several times each Sunday if they followed the plan carefully. “But,” I said, “I don’t see the gas tank!”

“What do you mean?” they asked.

“What makes this flow chart Christian? You could use the same thing to sell fast food or life insurance. I have listened to you for more than two hours, but I have not heard a word about prayer! Where does prayer fit in?’

They assured me they intended to “bathe” it in prayer; and I responded skeptically: “That sounds like little more than good intentions. Unless prayer is at the center from which all of this flows, bathing it in prayer is little more than asking God to bless your programs to show the world how smart you are.”

I said I was not interested in helping to implement the organizational plan. I did, however, make a proposal. Since my devotional life was in pretty rough shape and I had no one to hold me accountable, I offered to meet with them monthly to pray for four hours.

One of the pastors got tears in his eyes as God convicted him. Quietly and firmly the three replied, “You have a deal.” They volunteered to set aside the flowchart and let God have full reign in their lives.

What happened over the next four years is virtually impossible to chart, but we all agreed that if ever the truth of Ephesians 3:20 was illustrated, it was demonstrated both in our personal lives and in our ministries: “[God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” We set aside our ministry and personal agendas and asked God to reach deep into our hearts and lead us into His ministry.

Within a month, one of the pastors accepted a call to the local Pregnancy Resource Center, and left the church. “What was this?” I thought. I wanted to show how marvelously God would work in that church, and the first thing He did was take a pastor away. The other two pastors stayed, but all four of us kept meeting for prayer, and God started His work deep in our lives. Various aspects of our marriages were touched and healed; our pasts were dealt with; our devotional lives were deepened. One pastor’s teaching took on new perspective; the other pastor’s stomach problems disappeared as he rejoiced in not having to carry God’s load but just to be himself! The pregnancy resource ministry struggled awhile and then exploded nationally and internationally. God led Mission India into a whole new emphasis on prayer, out of which this book was born. The pastors’ church grew to be far more vital than it could have been under a man-made growth plan.
All of this reminds me of what a pastor said to me after I gave a message on praying according to the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. I stressed that we should start as Jesus does, praying first that God’s name be hallowed and that people discover how great He is through His revealing names. The pastor remarked that, during the first year of his pastorate, his prayer life had been powerful but that, during the past nineteen years, it had been impotent. He decided, as he was listening, the difference was that during the first year he had prayed for God’s name to be glorified, but in the past nineteen he had prayed that God would bless his programs.More than ever, we need to be praying for families–for our own and for others in the church. In praying for our homes we need to start where Christ started in the Lord’s prayer. We are constantly prone to pray for solutions to family problems, and that can seem so hopeless. But consider instead–we should lift our eyes to the Father and pray that His name to glorified, His kingdom come, and His will be done…in our families, in whatever way He sees fit.

Praying can become so dusty-dry and boring when all we do is concentrate on our problems. We must rather concentrate on God’s name, kingdom, and will, affirming that He will work toward those great goals in all the family challenges we might face.

You’ll be amazed at what will happen. God’s will is going to be done, and hope will come.

The Foolishness of “Pluck and Plop” Evangelism

Have you heard of “pluck and plop” evangelism? It’s the most common form of evangelism practiced in the West. It’s also the main reason not a single county in America showed a net increase in Christians in the past thirty years–despite all our “frantic” attempts to share the Gospel. We practice “pluck and plop” evangelism instead of “flip and flow.” We concentrate on winning individuals to Christ, attempting to pluck them out of their natural neighborhoods and to plop them into our “mission compound,” thus sterilizing them.

A good example of this method is found in an old book by J. Wascom Picket: Mass Movements in India A mission labored for thirty years in India at the close of the nineteenth century, with only five converts to show for all its efforts. At the end of this period, God used one of those converts to lead Mr. Ditt, a tribesman, to Christ. Mr. Ditt, who was in what used to be called the “untouchable” caste, tanned hides for a living. He was illiterate, but when missionaries brought him to the mission compound and questioned him, they found he knew enough about the Gospel to be baptized into the Christian church–something that he deeply desired. After the baptism the missionaries insisted that he remain on the compound, for his tribe would persecute him and perhaps kill him. They also wanted to offer him more training in the Christian faith.

But providentially Mr. Ditt refused to stay on the compound. Instead, he returned to his family. His antagonistic brothers found out about his conversion and nearly killed him. But Mr. Ditt persisted–and a few months after his baptism he showed up at the mission compound with his wife and daughters, asking that they be baptized. The missionaries were amazed that an illiterate man who had no catechism training could so well prepare someone else for baptism, and they gladly baptized his family. They again invited Mr. Ditt to remain, but he insisted on returning home. A few months later he returned again, bringing his brothers for baptism.

In the next thirty years Mr. Ditt helped to win 300,000 of his tribe’s people to Christ, while the mission sat on its compound, insisting on “pluck and plop” evangelism! The missionaries could not get beyond the concept of “winning individuals to Christ one at a time.” They did not understand that God has placed us in neighborhoods. They did not understanding that when Christ sent out seventy-two disciples to spread the Gospel by finding persons of peace in each village (see Luke 10), He was telling them to reach neighborhoods by winning individuals and not removing them from their surroundings. The disciples were to see those individuals as doors to the homes that should be “flipped” open so that the Gospel could “flow” in.

People are not merely isolated individuals to be won to Christ one at a time. A person is always part of a social fabric. A person has a home, relative,s friends, and neighbors, all who influence each other. When we pray for people we should always be praying for their home, their family, and their sphere of influence. In India new converts often want to immediately turn their homes into homes of prayer every day. We too much think beyond individuals, making certain that when they do come to Christ we do not “tear them out of their sphere of influence!”

Every Christian should be praying for three kinds of homes: Jerusalem homes, Samaria homes, and worldwide homes (see Acts 1:8). Jerusalem homes are the ones we live in. They consist of people we meet with regularly–next door neighbors, friends, coworkers, and people at church. Samaria homes are the ones nearby, with which we seldom have contact. These may be suburbia or the inner city. Worldwide homes are all the other places and peoples.

Families are God’s natural channels of communication. When one person, especially a child, becomes a disciple of Jesus, the entire home is blessed. The primary method of winning adults to Christ is to have their little ones lead them! As parents see the transformation of their children, they are opened to hearing about Christ in the most powerful way possible.

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