The Few Can Touch Many by Steve Sjogren

It doesn’t take a large crew to make leave a big footprint.

Victory in God’s kingdom has always gone to the underdogs. God nearly always anoints a miniscule group to do his bidding. I find this encouraging since all that I have started has been small – usually for a long time if not forever. What God builds usually starts (and typically stays) on the smallish side.

I used to say that it started small but then would grow large, but now I see that often numbers usually only grow fat. I now see that it is almost always the case that a radical but small fringe gets the Kingdom lifestyle and message. Why does it stay small? It’s all about the offensive cost of mercy. Jesus said “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 18). The context of that verse could well be restated, “Many are called but few choose” the Kingdom. The Kingdom, as God defines it, is always something that is set up according to his parameters, not ours. Most don’t like that much, so they protest, they decide it’s not for them, and vote themselves out of it like the religious people in Matthew chapter 18 (yes, it was the religious people who decided not to participate in the Kingdom once they figured out how the mercy of God works as in this story).

This Jesus story is fresh with me today. A few of us went out mixing it up with dozens of lost people who, like those in Nineveh, didn’t know their left hand from their right. We did a $1 carwash. We washed people’s cars and paid them a dollar for the privilege of serving them. We stunned many. Numbers teared up. We teared up! I’m always amazed what can happen when a few, enthused, dedicated people move in a common direction and pour their hearts into something. Do something great with God. It only takes a few.

Bullhorn Evangelism… Is There A Better Way? by Steve Sjogren

Have you ever been dogged by someone that was excited about their faith? I was in the New York City area a while back when I got off a subway overpass in Queens to the sound of some Spanish preaching Pentecostals who were taking turns preaching (yelling loudly more accurately) into a bullhorn. As one finished his turn he turned the mic over to the next with a high five and a chuckle. Those guys were having a good time at what they were doing, but clearly they were not connecting with the crowd. My ears were nearly bleeding! The crowd was trying to ignore them and everyone wished they would unplug themselves and go home. They were overly aggressive and not connecting with the passing crowds. I believe God will use any approach to sharing the Gospel we make available to him, but some approaches are awfully difficult for him to use!

Just below there another church was doing an outreach based on serving. They were washing cars, trucks – even a huge metro garbage truck pulled up to test the sincerity of the team’s faith! (Yes, they passed the test and made it spick and span!) This was a study in contrasts. The group below the overpass was attracting a crowd, bit by bit, little by little, and making an impact one person at a time with no sound reinforcement other than to say, “We are showing Jesus’ love in a practical way…” (There were plenty of conversations that followed those introductory words.)

Before I became a Believer I met an occasional person who was downright excited about Christ – not many of them, but a few along the way. Those people got me thinking about the possibility of following Jesus. It began to occur to me that there was something out there that was worth giving my life for. Positive zeal is powerful and beautiful. Our zeal needs to be a lot like the oath doctors take upon graduation before they treat their first patient: “First, do no harm…!”

Was Osama Bin Laden Saved?

Osama Bin LadenThe cover of Time magazine recently featured Pastor Rob Bell and his controversial new book that hones in on the weighty issue of eternity. In spite of Bell’s interview sidestepping since the book came out, the book flatly endorses Universalism – the notion that all will get a chance to come to Christ after death no matter what beliefs they held to in this life. I find that position impossible to hold in light of a multitude of scriptures.

I see the heart of God broken for the Lost, but they are still the Lost as the Bible addresses them.

The Lord is…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV) Clearly the heart of God is that all come to know Christ and spend eternity in the presence of God. Will that choosing of God be violated? Clearly yes.

For many are called, but few chosen. (Matt. 20:16, NKJV) Based on the context of Jesus’ words we could easily restate that concluding statement to this: “Many are called but few choose.” Most want to choose their own way forward and violate God’s choosing of them for relationship with God. It is particularly true that religious people choose their own way versus the way of humility into relationship with God. Few choose the way of humility. Few (something less than 50%) find authentic relationship with God through Jesus’ atoning death for them.

Bottom line, was Bin Laden a follower of Jesus? Of course he wasn’t. I don’t mean to be a party pooper but here’s what I think. Though millions of Americans are celebrating the shooting of this notorious criminal, there is a sense in which God is not celebrating. Yes, evil has been judged. For that we are grateful. On the other hand, this man has gone into a christless eternity. For those who understand the heart of God, this is nothing to get overly excited about, regardless of the evil he stood for.

 

Six Prayers To Increase Your Outreach IQ by Steve Sjogren

prayer in outreachNormally it is thought that one’s IQ is a fairly static number, that it can’t be increased, but not in the case of Outreach IQ. When it comes to outreach you can increase your level of intelligence. It’s a matter of doing some practical things—prayerful things. 

Prayer is the lifeblood of all vital outreach. You can pray without doing outreach, but you can’t do outreach without prayer.

You can pray without doing outreach, but you can’t do outreach without prayer.

It is easy to fall into the trap of being busy in outreach activities without walking in a spirit of prayer. Such a routine will only stir up lots of activity but little lasting fruit. Operating in this mode won’t yield the results we seek. 

God communicates with us all the time. The only hold up is on our end—the receiving end of things. As we pray we are able to hear his voice clearly. There are certain prayers that bear more fruit than others. Some prayers are easy to answer. They are the kinds that express his heart without hesitation.

If we hope to be effective in outreach we need to offer up prayers in faith, with no reservation.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting. James 1:5,6 NKJV  

We are wise if we choose our prayers well. If we hope to pray enthusiastically our prayers need to express the heart of God as revealed in his word. Consider the following as part of your prayer arsenal.

Prayer 1. “Bring People To You O Lord”
Pray for the Lost.

God shapes our hearts by the things we pray. 

The beginning point of prayer for outreach is to focus on THE point of it all—the Lost. Pray for the Lost around you. God will sensitize you to their plight, their pain, their struggle as you lift them up to God. Until we pray for the Lost we will likely only be irritated by the them. We are likely to lose patience until we enthusiastically welcome them in—in word and action.

Prayer 2. “Capture My Heart”
Ask God to Move Your Heart.

God will take a risky prayer like that seriously and move in your life. This can be a dangerous prayer to utter—at least dangerous if you don’t wish to participate in the action of the kingdom. Once God has gotten hold of your life he will take you, use you and send you to do his work. 

Prayer 3. “Increase My Anointing
Ask God for more power.

Praying this prayer is Part A. Being available to obey is Part B.
Practice doing the will of God. Practice a LOT. We get better at any skill as we do it frequently. Evangelism works in the same way. Get among others to practice your outreach chops frequently. God will build his momentum in you as you walk out his power. 

Prayer 4. “Stir Up My Gifts
Ask God for greater skill.

The Bible says the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. God has clearly gifted you whether you can see the extent of his gifting in you or not. Life is about seeing more of the gifting he has given us and we explore our way forward. Flow with your gifting. Allow him to explore your gifting. Allow him to pour more gifting into you. Don’t demand perfection. If you do you will miss out on the majority of what he has for you. God will use you in new ways as you pray to that end. 

Prayer 5. “Give Me Favor
Ask God for greater effectiveness.

As God moves in your life, he gives you his favor and you are able to move forward with momentum. One of the first things you will need is a cadre of people to support you in your mission. You will need a team to help carry out the mission God has called you to. His favor needs to rest upon you if you hope to walk out the vision he has given. 

A prayer that goes hand in hand with this one is this:

Prayer 6. “Bring Contagious People To Me”
Jesus prayed this with slightly different wording.
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Luke 10:1-3, NKJV 

The key verse is Luke 10:2, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” A friend of mine encourages people to set their watches and cell phone alarms to sound at 10:02 every day to remind them to pray in agreement that the Lord would send laborers into the harvest. Thus twice a day (AM and PM) people all over the globe are praying in agreement that God will send out workers into the harvest field. A great reminder!

Spend time with those who have the outreach virus. We catch it from others more than we are taught it in a head-to-head fashion. It’s about catching outreach. You don’t so much learn about it in a classroom setting. It’s vital that we walk with those who are already fluent in outreach. Catch on as you catch it from those who have it. Better yet, let’s pray our way forward.

The Ideal-Sized Congregation? Try 500! by Steve Sjogren

congregationGreat churches come in a variety of sizes, very large ones, medium-sized ones and smaller ones.

Some are frustrated with the mega church scene in our day for a variety of reasons. It is a mistake to discount the vital role mega churches play in God’s strategy for reaching the world. God has in mind to use mega churches in great ways in our day. Above all else he wants to redeem these churches to do great works of evangelism across America. Done rightly such churches can serve as catalysts for the greater community they find themselves in so that churches of all sizes can gain confidence for evangelism.

I believe the most efficient church size is…500.
I stated this conclusion several years ago in a book based on the numerous observations made in that book (Making A Good Church Great, Regal, 2010). I am more convinced now than ever that my original hunch was correct.

Ponder this: it would be more productive to produce 10 life-giving churches of 500 in weekend attendance than in building one mega church of 5,000. I believe there is abundant evidence to make the point that the per capita level of spiritual vitality is usually greater at a medium-sized church versus a single mega one. The individual Believer will likely evidence greater fruit of discipleship in medium sized churches than in mega ones.

Mega church pastors are called by God to accomplish great things.
I don’t wish anything ominous upon the shoulders of my mega church brethren, yet it is a fact that to whom much is given much is required. Those who lead very large congregations will stand before God in the not too distant future to give an account of the way they acted as stewards of the provision of God in their time as the leader of an immense congregation with immense resources.

How did I do as a teacher? Did I boldly and lovingly present to my people the uncompromising truth of the Gospel?
How did I do as a model? Did I show my people the life of Jesus through my life?
Did we do the work of evangelism? Did we consistently, profoundly seek to bring our city to Jesus?
Were the poor shown an abundance of the mercy of God?

Such questions put the fear of the Lord in me. With this burden of responsibility in mind I don’t miss a day of my time of leading a mega church. I pray mercy upon you if you are a pastor in a congregation of this sort.

If you are a pastor in another size congregation you have it easier in many ways. Pray for mega church pastors near you. I hope you will mutually stir up the “love and good deeds” Scripture calls us to walk in.


Steve Sjogren is a veteran church planter and pastor of five churches in he US and Europe, several of which have grown to mega church status. He is currently operating in his ideal role by leading an outward-focused congregation of 500 in the Greater Portland area. He is the author of several best-selling books and many free PDF booklets. The Steve Sjogren Blog is published daily as a focus on evangelism, outreach and the power of the Spirit to accomplish this.

Let Love Flow! by Steve Sjogren

Love for Valentine's Day
Love for Valentine's Day

As we reach out with the love of Jesus it doesn’t take very long to figure this out: the cupboard is sometimes bare.

As we aim beyond ourselves it seems there are regular shortages. At times there are too few supplies. Then there’s the issue of too few people to carry out the mission. Sometimes we come up short on vision. As my grandma used to say, “It’s all too little too late!”

No matter what your apparent limitations there is great good news. Be encouraged: God’s favor rests upon those who reach out to those He loves with acts of mercy. God anoints us when we reach out to love the not-yet included. Love is our only asset. Love has ALWAYS been our only asset.

When we act as though we have other tools and strategies going for us to accomplish God’s mission we make it clear we don’t understand the basic strategy of Jesus. I recently read a book that bemoaned the loss of the so-called Emergent generation in the Church today (those between ages 18 and 40). The author of this bestselling book examined the situation and then offered a number of responses to this dilemma the Church is facing. It struck me that the most obvious solution to connecting with this generation was not touched upon. What about plain old love?

It may sound cliché but as I understand the theory, it’s love that causes people to respond to the life of Christ. When love is present among God’s people, and through God’s people, those on the outside are drawn to Jesus in magnetic ways.

Yes, we need to learn to listen to those outside the Church far better. Yes, we need to stop judging non-Christians as they make their way into relationship with Jesus. Those are vital skills to develop. There is a need to repent for shabby attitudes in the Church these days. But those skill sets aren’t going to patch the leak in the bucket that is causing Emergent people to leave the Church.

First Century Believers lived at a time similar to ours, but the concern wasn’t just for a single age group. They were concerned for all the age groups of all the world. There was enormous concern. No one outside the Church was listening at the time. There was a real possibility that Christianity might be a one-generation thing. Peter addressed that concern the best.

“Love one another deeply for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). That love is not limited to just those who think like us, who believe like us. Loving those outside the Church will happen spontaneously as we walk in the Spirit, as we walk in the example and power of Jesus. He exported his practical love and mercy to all who were open hearted who crossed his path.

There are open-hearted Believers and Not-Yet Believers right around you now. Let love flow!

The Power of Words by Steve Sjogren

What to Say / What Not to Say

The verbal encounter we have with people as we are doing outreach is vital. That is, what we say – and what we don’t say — can make or break an encounter in outreach. There are ways of saying things that are more effective than others. We don’t want to say whatever pops into your head in general. We are connecting with people who are by and large are fearful, mistrusting, and even though they are curious about what we are doing they are at the same time not willing to put their trust in us — after all we are total strangers. The best way to do outreach verbally is to take a bit of time to think through what it is that we are trying to accomplish. As we are doing outreach to large numbers of people in our community we have lots of a opportunities to convey a verbal message as well as the strong action of giving them a gift – either something physical or a service.

We are wise to say just enough but not too much that they would draw back. I recommend we convey the following:

1. “This is free…”

2. “…this is to show you God’s kindness…”

Then stand back and watch what God does. Sometimes we will have people draw into the action and ask questions about why we are doing this. At other times we are just scattering seeds that are going to bear fruit over the long haul as their hearts are conditioned.

This matter of verbalizing with people you are connecting with is something that will grow as you invest more time to the process of outreach. You will learn the more ideal ways of saying things that fits in your neck of the woods.

I bless you to live, learn and grow in your outreach efforts!

Serve! interviews Sjogren

Steve SjogrenServe:  “Do you see any interesting developments in the Church at large with outreach?”

Sjogren:  “The Church seems to be seeing outreach as normal behavior these days. Outreach Pastors are becoming increasingly common on church staffs.”

Serve:  “Do you see any encouraging trends regarding outreach across the board?”

Sjogren:  “There is certainly more focus on the topic of outreach now than at any point in my years in the Church. People seem genuinely interested in growing in outreach effectiveness. My hope is that this discussion will become many acts of obedience and that creativity will kick in in a big way,”

Serve:  “What do you see as the challenges the church is facing right now in order to become outward?”

Sjogren:  “Two main subjects come up here–leadership and finances. First, most are trying to find someone to lead outreach in their church. The actual physical work and organizing can be delegated. However, leadership in outreach will only be accomplished as the senior leader(s) are involved. Second, finances are an issue for everyone in this economy. Just recognize that and quit complaining. The only thing worse than a difficult economy is leaders who don’t seem to be able to fixate on any other topic. I recommend you dedicate a certain (and generous!) percentage of your budget to outreach. Dollar amounts don’t mean as much as dedicated, consistent funding that comes in week after week.”

Serve:  “What is the main thing a leader needs to know in order to properly launch outreach?”

Sjogren:  “Outreach will either start to launch or it will languish and frustrate your people depending on the actions of your senior level leaders–and particularly the senior most leader. As with all matters of leadership, outreach success is a team effort that will include numbers of people. However in this case it is vital that you involve senior leadership from the get go–and for the long haul–in order to properly see your people “get it.” As these few but key people get involved and talk up what they are doing your people will follow suit.

Serve:  “What if our leaders aren’t naturally gifted at outreach? Our leaders are more the studious, introverted type.

Sjogren:  “Your type or inclination doesn’t really matter. I have been doing this stuff for many years out of sheer commitment (at first anyway–it eventually became a joy). I come up as an introvert on personality inventories. The mark of a leader is she or he sees what is needed to be done and then simply does it. Forget natural inclinations. Do the right thing. God will bless your efforts abundantly. He will show pin the wake of your obedience.”

Serve:  “Read any good books lately?”

Sjogren:  “You are hitting upon a sore subject with me. I read a LOT as you may know. There is a dearth of original thinking on the Christian scene these days. If I see one more Christian author attempting to cook down a great secular book in hopes of addressing the church audience I think I will scream. Let’s get back to originality with seminal books being penned by Believers. We are in dwelt by the Spirit of God. That means we can so a heck of a lot better job with originality than we have been doing.”

Looking Outward by Steve Sjogren

I recently sat on a two hour flight next to a guy who initially was a bit miffed when I asked if I could sit next to the window where his ticket read because I have great difficulty getting up and down on planes (my damaged legs and all). This tall guy reluctantly agreed. I am no little person myself. As we got airborne I engaged him in conversation and the mood shifted. He was wearing the shirt of his company. I have been a big fan of their culture, their founder-CEO, his amazing pioneering spirit that is rare these days. I asked him a number of burning questions I had about their inner workings. In short, we were engaged in conversation quickly.

As we spoke he mentioned he had recently moved to Tampa from Ohio… specifically Cincinnati. I asked if he had ever heard of something called the Vineyard. He said “Everyone in Cincinnati knows the Vineyard.” I told him Janie and I got the ball rolling with all the Vineyard churches in Cincinnati a bit over twenty years ago. He was unbelieving. He said, “I don’t think so – nobody started the Vineyard – it has just always been there…” I laughed! “Well, everything has a tendency to start if you think about it… Look up my name in Google.”

He started to look at me differently – like I was “them” and he was “us.” I’m used to that look. I quelled that quickly by telling him my story – how starting at age seven when my mom very rarely drug me to a certain Lutheran church I would tell her “Please don’t take me back there – that guy who speaks is a flipping hypocrite!” Since then, my challenge was not entirely with God and his reality, but with what turned out to be the linear, Americanization of the message of Jesus. Now I realize that has been the problem all along… That continues to be the problem. That will likely be the problem for a long time to come. We parted as friends. We have been emailing. He has read one of my books and we are setting up lunch that will take place soon.

Why Toxic?

If you have taken a sociology class in college you are familiar with a helpful word that described an aspect of the brokenness of all the sons and daughters of Adam – all people groups on the planet are ‘ethnocentric.’ That word means we all think our culture, our way of life is the best way of life. Further, if all the rest of the world could just see things the way we do, life on the planet would be oh so much better. If you are an American do you see how our well intentioned efforts have not been necessarily been equally received worldwide?

Also, can you see how it is virtually impossible for teachers of the scriptures in the western world (namely the U.S.) to present the scriptures without laying a lot of the U.S. – western perspective upon our teaching – impartation to those we are influencing?

That influence is what amounts to us as leaders being toxic.

Freedom from toxicity is an encyclopedia full of discussion. Step one – humility. We come before God and his word with a heart of honesty. Our prayer (in general) follows:

“On my own I will simply regurgitate what I have seen with my own eyes. I will simply react and place upon your word my humanness and my culture. Holy Spirit give me your capacity to see as you see…”