Talk Up The Gospel by Steve Sjogren

I have heard a lot of speculation about the utter demise of spontaneous evangelistic conversations such as verbalizing the Gospel to strangers. I understand the observations of these prognosticators but I disagree with them. It’s true that people are more isolated than ever as they burrow more and more deeply into their self-made digital worlds, but there’s another side to this digital coin. It’s also true that an emotional vacuum is created when people cut themselves off from significant people contact and a greater openness is created for connections with others – yes, even strangers. As people around you venture further into their digital rabbit holes at the same time they grow increasingly open to people contact.

Here’s what I think: people are lonelier now than they were just a few years ago before the digital world made the advances it has. They are now open to conversations with strangers as they once were. A familiar cycle has been created. What was true a few decades ago – people acting friendly to total strangers and being open to conversation about the Gospel – is true once again. This is not just good news – it groundbreaking for all who love Jesus and are seeking to extend the Kingdom of God. This is an amazing time to be alive in this world. This will be a lasting trend worldwide. After all, cell phones are everywhere – so is the isolation and influence that goes with it.

Let’s be wise in these ways and move on the opportunities before us.

The Power Of Consistency by Steve Bowen

con·sist·en·cy 

The steadfast adherence to the same principles, or set course, staying the course day in and day out, week in and week out and year in and year out.

I’m reminded of the movie Galaxy Quest. The captain who was usually in trouble stated, “Never surrender, never give up.”

For a decade a simple sign was on my desk which declared,”Never give up. It’s aways too soon to give up.”

Consistency doesn’t give up. It sets it’s course and stays true to it’s principles.

Consistency is the common thread woven into the life of those who are called to change their world for Jesus.

David Wilkerson living in NY was always there…going out into the community, talking with people, encouraging seekers, and taking risks.

Floyd McClung living in Amsterdam and Afghanistan was out day by day, having conversations with people along the Hippy Trail, breaking down barriers, building bridges and loving people into a relationship with Jesus.

Billy Graham really didn’t ever change… His message was simple, direct to the point month by month year by year. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Loren Cunningham mobilized the youth of many generations into their world encouraging young people to pray, to go, to believe, to serve, and to care.

Steve Sjogren learned the art of serving his community by going, doing and serving. He lives out his values by serving others with small acts of kindness consistently.

Mike Pilivochi and Soul Survivor in the U.K. serve, worship and share the good news, impacting thousands in Manchester, and London with Soul in the City.

How do you know when serving is beginning to impact a community?

1. People you serve begin to define your church in a positive manner. 

Hint: we are all already defined by our community, both positively and negatively.

The good news, we have a major part to play in creating a positive image.

If you want to know how your community defines your church go out into your community and ask.

A sample question: When you hear the name of our church (say name of church) what comes to your mind?

A few years ago living in Florida I went out into our community.  I asked. I found out we were known as the church that no longer existed. We were the church that had a nasty in-house disagreement and had split and died.

Slowly, but surely the tide turned. The church is now know as a major caring force and is respected in the community with 6 satellite locations. How did they change? They began to identify who they were and who they were call to be. They also discovered their mission and began pursue their mission and to serve others.

Oh, you’re that pretty good church that serves the community!

A couple of years ago I lost my phone. I went to my phone provider with an old phone to activate. When I went to the desk I was asked, “What business name is your phone under?” I said, “the Dayton Vineyard.” The lady standing next to me exclaimed: “Oh you’re that pretty good church that serves the community! I’ve heard about what you guys do.” I asked, “What have your heard?’ she then related examples of the positive things she and others have heard and seen us do. Humbly, but joyfully I replied, “Yep that’s us, we’re just pretty good.” I walked away encouraged. I thought, it really does work. What you sow is you reap.

How does happen? It’s simple, hard work. Sixteen years of hard work sowing, caring, praying, going, being out there in season and out of season.

We are consistent. Our consistency has given us favor and redefined ‘church’ to much of our community. Often people come to see what a pretty good church looks and feels like. Many become Christ followers as they hear our message and and observe our lifestyle.

2. You will discover you have favor with your community.

We know we need God’s favor to be upon our lives and upon what we do. So we seek to humble ourselves and ask Jesus to place His favor upon us as a church. He is the one who builds His Church. He is the only one who can bring the increase. He is the only one who opens doors and gives us favor with the people in our community. He is the one who gives us favor with mayors, school systems, park departments, and people of influence.

God’s favor is what empowered Daniel, Esther, Joseph and Jesus to impact the people within their sphere of influence. In fact the early church‘had the favor of all the people’ and Jesus ‘grew in favor with God and man.’

How do you gain favor with God and man?

You ask Jesus for His un-merited favor to increase upon you and your church. 

You serve where you are, with what you have, while you can.

God honors faithfulness. As you faithfully serve others your heart will most probably lean toward loving what God loves. Having his heart for your community will also increase His favor upon your actions bringing you favor with the people you serve.

You learn to serve others with the attitude of Christ. (see Philippians Chapter 2.) The chapter defines true humility, embracing genuine love, developing a serving attitude, and serving others with a servant heart.

How do you learn to love like Jesus loves? By serving others.

In season and out of season…consistency is the key.

It’s consistently showering your community with good deeds done with the love Jesus gives.  It’s living consistently with the favor and grace that God provides. It’s being out in the community in which we live, day in, day out. It’s being wise. It’s how you act toward every person who talks to you about the hope you have within you.

Paul sums it up this way…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NIV

No great secret why serving churches are energized, thriving, and growing. It’s simple: Someone is praying. Someone is serving. Someone is loving. Someone is caring. Someone is going out into the community and sharing Gods love… consistently.

Don’t Retire… Refire! by Dr. Gary Sweeten

Every Tuesday a group of us geezers play golf together. We have a lot of competitive fun and we share some about what God is doing in and through us. You see, geezers in today’s world are not like they were even a generation ago.  In fact, one of my favorite books is entitled, “Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace” by Mary Furlong.  Although the author focuses on money, her ideas are on the cutting edge of a new zeitgeist that is taking the western world by storm and those understand it are benefitting enormously.

Unfortunately, only a few Christians even seem to be aware of what is going on culturally, spiritually and relationally and yet it may be the most important spiritual movement since Luther sang, “If I had a Hammer” and went to Wittenberg Castle.  For example, how many of your “Outreach Oriented” folk has heard of “The Purpose Prize”? Recently five innovative men and women had received $100,000.00 Purpose Prize Awards for their “Social Innovation” and involvement in “Encore Careers”! I am hoping to be one of the next recipients.

These people are all over 55 and have refused to retire. Instead they decided to refire to use their time, wisdom, experience and money to do something great for the world.

http://www.encore.org/prize?utm_source=cv&utm_medium=email&utm_content=textlink&utm_campaign=endoct )

Compare that with what too often happens in the churches around the USA. I once sat next to a retiring Vice President of a multinational corporation while flying to Singapore. When he discovered my missionary intentions he share that he was a Believer who was teaching Sunday school every week.  He was on his way to speak at a conference about using video teleconferencing to train managers around the world. I asked what he was going to do when he retired. “Play golf,” he said.

I urged him to consider working with a Christian organization to set up conferences for people like me. I could stay home and still teach around the world.  He said, “I don’t think my Pastor would allow me to do that. I haven’t been to seminary or anything. I am just a layman. I’m pretty sure he will let me continue to teach Sunday school though.” YIKES” I thought! “Teach Sunday school when  the Christian world desperately needs internationally trained leaders; with money?”

Cincinnati has over twenty thousand men and women retired from P&G, GE, Kroger, etc who have financial resources, time, broad experiences, creative minds and spiritual depth. How many Pastors but are equipping them to use their gifts, talents and ideas to reach the world?  One of my Seasoned Believing friends has over 200 patents but his church has no idea how to unleash his creativity. Another is founder of a $100 million dollar company that every church, ministry and mission in America could use. The only time he is approached by his ministers is to donate on another building. One man is regularly asked to train non profits about ethics but is not asked to teach in his home church.

The old church paradigm of top down organizational bureaucracies with huge buildings is finished. Most leaders are still trying to build for past generations of pew sitters. Just think, they could be offering prizes to innovative entrepreneurs who change the world Monday through Saturday.  “Seasoned Believers” don’t fit into anyone’s strategic plan unless it is to support the budget or hire a retired minister to take bus tours of the Creation Museum.

The leadership magazines talk about recruiting young people who are open to new ideas. In fact many youth are stuck in their own myopic friendships. We who have been innovators all our lives are ready to lead new ventures for the Kingdom.  Treat us with respect and understanding and ask us to create our own ways of reaching out to those around us. Reward us by understanding that we know what is going on and the silver in our hair can be gold to any Pastor with the guts to turn us loose.

Here is a secret about Steve Sjogren. As a Pastor he was not afraid to recruit older, wiser gray beards more experienced than he.  Steve sought out strong men and women then promoted and affirmed them. As a result he looked like the hero. Be a genius. Recruit a bunch of Seasoned Believers but DO NOT hold their hands or suggest bus rides to visit a museum!

PS. Since originally writing this article in 2009, God gave some Seasoned Believers in SLS a chance to reach out to families with disabled kids.  The churches have ignored them but they desperately want to learn how to have a relationship with God to help them through their struggles.

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What’s In A Name? by Randy Bohlender

History does not tell us if Earnest Shackleton was a particularly religious man, but surely he was prophesying when he christened his ship The Endurance.  Even though he understood the overwhelming challenge he face in attempting the first march across Antartica, so much happened that he could not possibly have anticipated.

How would he have known…

  • That the ice would be early in the fall of 1914, leaving them trapped in the ice, far from their goal by January of 1915?
  • That the spring melt of 1915 would not free their ship, but that it would remain fast until October?
  • That once the ice did begin to shift, rather than breaking free, his ship would be crushed, leaving his men to abandon the craft, only to stand on the ice staring down through the hole where the ship used to be?

How would he have known…

  • That he and his men would spend 497 days either on the ship or on ice floes before they set foot on land once again?
  • That once they found their way to land, it would be Elephant Island, one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
  • That he would be forced to split the party, and a portion of them would have to once again take to their open boats for a fifteen day sail through a storm that sunk a 500 ton steamer?
  • That his portion of the party would include McNish, a carpenter that he threatened to shoot for insubordination, but recognized that he would need his skills later.

How would he have known…

  • That on their second landing, they would put ashore on an island that was inhabited, but find themselves on the opposite side of the whaling camp, separated by a glacier never before crossed by man?
  • That after climbing the glacier with little or no climbing equipment, they would need to slide down the other side through thick fog, sitting in shovels for sleds?  When his men objected, Shackleton is credited with saying “Well, we very well can’t go back…”.

In the end, Shackleton worked to collect each of his men and returned to England having not lost a life in the journey.  How could he possibly have known that when he named his ship The Endurance?

As leaders, we chart the course for our initiatives early with a hundred finite decisions that work together to establish the culture for our ministry.

  • Do you cancel an outreach because it rains?  You’ll cancel it for other reasons.
  • Do you boldly approach strangers or hang back, waiting for them to make the first move?  You’ll hang back your entire life.
  • Do you lead by example, knowing it’s going to be harder – and more rewarding – than you expected?

Ministry – as much as Shackleton’s odyssey – requires an uncommon endurance. The same goes for those of you on the adoption journey.  Going in, you know there’s a lot to it.

You can’t pre-imagine every struggle that will materialize.  At the end of the journey, you innately know it was worth it all, even if it required every bit of your endurance.

You might as well get used to the idea and call it what it is.

The Crystal Cathedral – BTW, How’s Your Definition Going? by Steve Sjogren

What lessons can we draw from the demise of the Crystal Cathedral?

No matter what you think of that congregation, know that at one time it was a thriving model on the American landscape of churches. It was an amazing, trend-setting place that was super creative.

Things slowly changed however. Mostly the Cathedral stopped defining itself to the public, both locally and nationally. For whatever reason her leaders assumed that the public knew all about this place. That was a common but poor assumption. They were forgotten.

Church plants usually do a good job of defining themselves to their community in their initial phase. It’s imperative that a new church clarify why they exist and how they are distinct in their community. I’m not too worried about new plants, but I am quite concerned about the next phase most plants go through. It’s easy to forget those initial lessons learned and fall into a pattern of an inward focused on money, facilities, staff – and forget what got us to that point of initial momentum. Then BOOM! We become stuck in a cycle of irrelevancy.

If we don’t regularly, clearly define ourselves to our community – through strong acts of generosity, love and service – those around us will have no idea that we even exist. We will soon have no worries about our facilities, money or staff because there will be no one coming!

The church I lead in Oregon has been in Newberg for over 100 years (just SW of Portland). It is well-known to other Christians (18% of the city) but virtually camouflaged to the rest of the people for whom God so loves that he sent Jesus to suffer and die.

Things are beginning to change. We have taken to serving the city in a variety of ways. We are going door to door with hamburgers – squeegeeing windshields at gas stations – cleaning toilets at public places – and using the doors those projects create as connections to share Christ at whatever level fits.

To get back to where we started – if we do a bang up job of defining ourselves by serving we will soon become relevant. We need to make a profound impression on those around us in a truckload of ways. The ways you serve can vary greatly according to your community’s needs. God will speak to you are you pray a famous biblical prayer, “Here we are. Send us!” He absolutely loves to answer that prayer. Count on it. He will speak to you. You will not be forgotten.

Photo by Sarah Mount