At my church, we have just completed the fifth week of an eight week segment concerning outreach in a postmodern world. I have greatly enjoyed the discussion. Yet, I know that nothing I will say in these discussions will change anything if the folks in my church do not grasp the present value of the gospel in their lives.
What do I mean? In Classis this past week, a fellow pastor stood up and shared his experiences in the CRC and our outreach efforts. He shared that since the mid-1980s, we have twice the amount of the churches we once did with the result of hundreds of thousands less on our membership roles. He shared that we have raced after different outreach models- the Crystal Cathedral, Willow Creek, Saddleback- and still nothing changed. Finally, he concluded that none of us know how to reach out into this culture and that evangelism is next to impossible. Why? All we do is shift the sheep from smaller to larger churches.
Well then. What incredible sadness this brings me. Yet, I believe he is stating the truth- he has no idea how to reach out and most likely his church has no idea how to reach those in our post-modern culture.
This does not mean it is impossible! It means that he needs better self-understanding and a better understanding of how our culture thinks and processes truth. Outreach is impossible if we insist on using the same old forms and church processes that illustrate a lack of adequate self-understanding and a lack of acknowledgment that our culture has changed.
Today I wish to focus on one dimension of this problem. I wish to help us gain some self-understanding by presenting how the gospel must be a present day issue and not a story of some long-ago past.
I was thinking today of how often believers in Christ do not present a compelling story of God's powerful work in their lives. I know that years ago, 1988 to be exact, God entered into my life in dramatic and powerful ways. He transformed me by His grace. He brought me to faith, and I could not help but declare His presence and truth to all who would listen.
At that time, people could easily see God's work in my life and my story was compelling. Many came to faith and many more were open to listening to the gospel because of my story. I praise God for remembering these wonderful times!
Yet, as time went on my story grew more stale and less compelling. Telling freshman in college my experience of three years ago did not have the weightiness that it did before. Why? I was a different person and my story of the past lost its luster. I was sharing a history lesson instead of a present reality.
After leaving college, my personal witness for Christ remained fairly lame for years. I did see some come to faith, but I also lost confidence in witnessing because it seemed no one really cared about my old, and growing older, story of God's work. The incredible fruitfulness of my first love of Christ slowly died away.
How about you? Does my story match your experience?
It took time, but I finally learned how to escape my barren witnessing. How? I learned that the gospel of Christ's love and grace is new every morning. I learned that people were still interested in what God is doing even as they were skeptical and bored with that God had done decades ago.
I know that many believers in Christ have not been encouraged to think in these terms. I offer the advice that if you wish your life and witness to count in the building of the Kingdom, you might need to change your thinking. The gospel story of grace given to sinners applies to each of us daily!
Where in your life are you struggling with sin? Please understand that these struggles are not about your lack of will-power. You lack will-power because your heart or soul is not right. In other words, your daily struggle with sin is due to your lack faith or trust in Christ to meet your needs and give you life. Instead of resting in Christ's love, we look to other sources for life, peace, acceptance, and joy.
The prophet Jeremiah describes this very human condition well. He declares from the Lord,
My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Friends, this is the heart of sin and rebellion from God. It also matches the reality of all fallen humans! It sure matches my life. What can be done about it? I can try to ignore the truth. I can attempt to diminish its reality. I can compare myself to others and assure myself I am better than they are. I have tried all of these and they surely do not change me. All I get from these attempts is self-delusion and self-righteousness.
I offer that there is another answer. I should repent of my sin and believe in Jesus as my only hope. I should ask for and receive His love and grace. I should allow this grace to transform my heart. This is not merely the road to conversion, but also the less taken path to transforming daily grace.
When I walk in repentance and faith, I have a new story to tell. A new story of repentance and faith from today. A fresh tale of God's redemptive work in my life. A compelling story that matches the experience of all.
May the Lord lead us to repentance and faith today and this new week so we have a living and active witness to God's grace!