PRAYER AS A SMOKESCREEN

prayer-handsAfter a hiatus from writing, we are cranking back up our website as a way to enhance and equip the ministry of evangelism and discipleship in the local church.  Five years ago, Steve Sjogren wrote an important article on prayer and evangelism.  We offer it here to you today. – STEVE DUNN

BY STEVE SJOGREN

Prayer is absolutely essential for any ministry longevity.I used to use the word “success” flippantly to describe what I one day realized was really longevity. What most of us are really aiming for is long-term fruitfulness — something that will endure for the long haul. All too often in modern Church history it is common for a flash in the pan of ministry momentum to appear. A decade later that “ministry” or “minister” is no where to be found. The unique idea the person was proclaiming is no longer spoken of.Indeed, what we are seeking after is longevity.Question 1: How do we gain longevity in life and ministry?Prayer is the beginning and the end of that which will last. It is in a life that trusts in our hearts at all times, relies upon and clings to God that is ultimately blessed. I am known by my friends as being an “idea person” or a “brainstormer” but I am quick to confess that my well of creativity, thoughts, the flow of originality would dry up in a New York minute without the stirring up of the Holy Spirit within and upon me. I lean into the Holy Spirit constantly to get ideas for outreach.

Hold that thought. Let’s switch gears for a moment.

Jesus calls us to step out of our safety zones and become extenders of his kingdom. Prayer is more often than not used as a cop out for obedience or an alternative to taking the obvious risk involved in these steps.

You do know that is what you are don’t you? You are more than anything a Kingdom Extender.

Jesus made clear it as can be in Matthew 28 on the Mount of Ascenscion when he called the original Apostles to go to the ends of the earth exporting this message — this life that he had shown them — the life he had lived before them. It was a simple enough matter. It was a matter of obedience.

Question 2: What is the greatest barrier to God’s invitation to us to export his kingdom across the span of Planet Earth?

From where I have been and what I have experienced in the last three decades of Church history it seems obvious that the greatest obstacle is “Fear of the future” or perhaps, “Fear of change.” In any case it is some form of fear. Fear stated simply is “loss of control.”

As a new believer and in a great Bible Institute in the Los Angeles area, one of the hallowed ministries that budding “spiritual giants” got involved with was the “Street Witnessing Team.” Being the incredibly shy person that I am, I felt immediately called to this outreach (that’s a joke about being shy). Long story short, a dozen of us met every single Friday evening for an entire school year from 7:00 to 10:00 PM and prayed in preparation for going out to do ministry. We prayed for everything imaginable and then some things not even a highly creative person could conceive of.

By about our Spring break it dawned on me — we were never going to actually go out to do anything. At the end of the year I was correct AND I was asked to pray and fast as to whether God might be leading me to take over as leader of this group for the upcoming school year. I told the leader, “Pray and fast about that? You may have several years on me as a believer but, pardon my French — you are a spiritual flake and are stuck in a place of fear. I love you bro, but please drop this prayer and fasting smokescreen stuff. You are confusing new believers and making outreach seem mysterious, complex and ultimately miscommunicating what Jesus clearly had in mind. I will lead the group but not because I have gone off on a prayer and fasting jag – –it is obvious I am the one to lead it. Enough said.” Of course he shook his head and said something about me learning my lesson one day…blah, blah.

The last I heard that super spiritual guy has had a string of jobs over the past 30 years from selling vacuum cleaners to used cars. I wonder if he prayed and fasted for days on end for each of those moves… He was so spiritual he was like Brer Rabbit in the midst of thorns. The only question at hand was, “How many pokes am I going to receive, hundreds or thousands?” He set himself up for punishment by his super-small confining life.

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A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH ATHEISM–DANCING TO OUR DNA

Modern atheism as expressed by persons such as Stephen Hawkings claims the “high ground” of reason when in reality, it is not reasonable. Nor is the world view presented by atheism affirming to the human spirit or supportive of true freedom. This video expresses quite well, the flaw of atheism’s arguments.

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BE A WITNESS, NOT A JUDGE

Todd Rhoades recently shared this post in his blog.  We welcome your comments. – STEVE

Be a Witness, Not a Judge

I think you’ll enjoy a quick excerpt from my friend Mark Wilson’s new book, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus:

Some church folks, as Marshall Shelley observed, are “well intentioned dragons. Their earnest desire for setting things (and people) right comes off wrong. “Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony,” said Watchman Nee, “than our trying to be right and demanding right of others.”

A Barna group survey conducted a few years ago found that 90 percent of non-Christian young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine view Christians as judgmental. Perhaps one reason for this is because we have assumed the wrong role in the courthouse. We play the part of judge, jury, or prosecuting attorney, rather than witness.

JUDGE
It’s tempting to assume the role of judge, especially when so many evils abound. But if you find yourself pounding the gavel, you’d better step off the bench. Jesus warned us not to judge or we will be judged (Matt. 7:1). God alone is the judge—not us. That’s quite a relief. Who in their right mind wants to carry such a burden of responsibility anyway? “There is no point trying to size people up,” said Ann Voskamp, “because souls defy measuring.”
JURY
Some church people see themselves as self-selected juries, but it’s not our job to convict people. That role belongs to the Holy Spirit. There is a huge difference between conviction by the Holy Spirit and condemnation by a narrow group of priggish people with shriveled hearts.PROSECUTING ATTORNEY
Others take the prosecutor position: “You are guilty, and I’m going to prove it.” Prosecutors are the ones who protest with placards and engage in heated arguments about religion. That approach is terribly ineffective. I have never seen a soul argued into God’s kingdom. When you become the spiritual prosecutor, you are not assuming God’s role at that point—but rather, the Devil’s. He is “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10).WITNESS
Your role as a Christ follower is to simply be a witness. You don’t have to pound gavels, point fingers, or cast blame. All you need to do is share your story. The beautiful thing about sharing your faith story is that nobody can deny it. No one can argue with your own personal experience. When you share personally, it touches hearts deeply. What is most personal is most universal.

We are not called to push anybody into our way of thinking. Rather, we bear witness to what God has done for us, and then leave the outcome in his hands.

“Evangelism is less about trying to manage an outcome as it is sharing events and offering an advent alternative for what everyone clearly sees,” said Leonard Sweet. “Rather than wrestling the sinner’s prayer out of a person who will say anything to get out of the headlock, it is a nudge toward the undeniable truth that is alive in all of us.”

Like the redeemed beggar, all you need to say is, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25).

A few pointers on sharing your faith story:
1. Pray that God will open doors for you to share.
2. When the door opens, have courage to speak.
3. Stay humble and never portray an attitude of superiority.
4. Keep it simple and brief. Don’t share more than they want to know.
5. Tell them what you experienced, rather than what they should do.
6. Focus on the message (Jesus) rather than the mess.
7. Don’t engage in argument. If they protest what you’re saying, back off and let the Holy Spirit work.

——————
Filled with humor and heartwarming stories, author Mark O. Wilson presents in Purple Fish an approach for sharing Jesus that is engaging, nonthreatening, and genuine. Rather than a canned program or script, Wisconsin pastor reveals his “fishin’ with a mission” that leaves everyone saying, “I want to do that!”
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THE “5 AWAKENINGS”

The ‘5 Awakenings’ To Help People Find Their Way Back To God
Dave Ferguson shares learnings and insight from his new book

It has now been 25 years since my wife and I, along with my brother Jon and three friends from college, started Community Christian Church. During that time, I’ve had the privilege of journeying with thousands of people who describe their salvation experience as finding their way back to God. Over the years, we began to notice that certain events seemed to happen over and over again to almost everyone as they came to faith. We never took the time to label those events, but we would notice similarities in people’s spiritual journeys.

It wasn’t until Jon and I started working on our newest book, Finding Your Way Back To God, that we focused on identifying these similar spiritual events. We chose a select and diverse group of 25 people and did in-depth interviews with them. We listened closely to each of their stories and studied their individual experiences. In time, we were able to name the parallel events that everyone experienced on their journey to God. We call them the “5 Awakenings.”

At the same time, our study of Scripture led us to the story of the prodigal son. I’m convinced this is the greatest short story in literature and that Jesus told this story as a narrative for how to find your way back to God. So, out of 25 years of experience, intense interviews with a diverse focus group and studying Scripture, we discovered “5 Awakenings” that we believe everyone experiences on their way back to God. Here’s a brief overview:
The Five Awakenings

Awakening to Longing This is the feeling that “there’s got to be more.” We all feel the longing for love, purpose and meaning. The quest to satisfy these basic longings sends all of us on a journey. The common experience lies in not understanding that God gave these longings to us, so we try to satisfy those longings by running away from God rather than toward Him.

Awakening to Regret We pursue those primitive longings without God and when we do, we find ourselves alone, directionless and confused. Regret finds us saying, I wish I could start over. Many people get stuck repeating these first two awakenings. Jon and I call that repetition the “sorry cycle”–pursuing God-given longings outside of a relationship with God, which leads to regrettable decisions and actions. Many people get stuck in the “sorry cycle” for months, some for years. Others never escape it.

Awakening to Help After repeating the “sorry cycle” of trying to fulfill these longings without God and ending up with regret over and over again, we acknowledge that something has to change. We come to the end of ourselves and say, I can’t do this on my own. We hit rock bottom. We come to our senses. We need help. And that help is Jesus.

Awakening to Love Jesus is the one who leads us back to God. As we come back to God, we’re ambushed by grace and discover God, loves me deeply after all. However, a shadow of shame and guilt follows us home, and we struggle to believe we’re loved just as we are.

Awakening to Life Through following Jesus, we discover “life and have it to the full.” The New Testament uses two words for life: bios and zoe. Bios refers to chronological life as in days, months and years. But zoe has a deeper meaning, referring to life as it was meant to be lived. Zoe is eternal life. When Jesus offers to His followers, “life and have it to the full,” He uses the word zoe. As we experience this final awakening we realize, Now, this is living!
How We Find God & How You Stay Close To God

One of the surprising personal discoveries in writing this book is how helpful the “5 Awakenings” have been for me. Like Alcoholics Anonymous says, “You work the 12-steps to get sober and to stay sober,” I would say, “You work the ‘5 Awakenings’ to find God and stay close to God.” I now use these awakenings on a weekly basis in my own prayer life. Finding your way back to God is something you do the first time, but also again and again.

Inherited Faith to Investigative Faith

We live at a very important time in the spiritual trajectory of our country and world. According to Gallup, 92 percent of people in the United States believe in God. When asked with whom they affiliate, the majority responds, “none.” “None” is how the majority of Americans now identify their religious or spiritual affiliation. This group of “nones” is in transition, on a journey and searching. A generation ago, people inherited faith from their parents. If mom and dad were Presbyterian, then you were Presbyterian. But “nones”–while still believing in God–have left behind an inherited faith and are now investigating faith on their own.

Jon and I wrote Finding Your Way Back To God as a guide to those who are investigating faith and searching for a God who feels distant or non-existent. But I also wrote this book for me. I’m still a prodigal who finds myself far from home. As we walk through life, all of us–whether we’re leading a church, came to faith decades ago, went to seminary–all of us need to understand how to find our way back to God.

For more information on Finding Your Way Back To God, go to http://www.yourwayback.org. For more information on Dave Ferguson, visit his website: http://www.daveferguson.org

Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of COMMUNITY an innovative multi-site missional church that’s passionate about “helping people find their way back to God”. COMMUNITY has grown from a few college friends to thousands every weekend meeting at fourteen locations throughout Chicagoland and was recognized as one of the most influential churches in America. Dave provides visionary leadership for NewThing whose dream is to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches. He is an award-winning author of books such as The Big Idea, Exponential, On The Verge and Discover Your Mission Now!. He recently released Finding Your Way Back to God.

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44 EVANGELISM CONVERSATION STARTERS

From Chris Walker, the Evangelism Coach, comes these thoughts–a great follow-up to our Summit for Evangelism and Discipleship.

 
Evangelism Questions

One of the blogs I read (Gilbert’s Coaching Tips) wrote Questions Leading into Spiritual Conversations and complied the following List of 44 evangelism conversation starter questions.

Where are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?
In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
What single thing would you like to make absolutely certain you do (if at all possible) during your lifetime?
How do you think a person can keep from becoming a workaholic?
What character can you imagine yourself to be? (any period of history)
What are you reading that is not an assignment or required by your work?
How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?
How are your growing personally?
In a conversation with someone who has never heard about God, what would you say about Him from your experience?
In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
How would you describe your father and his impact on your life?
Tell me about your mentor and his/her impact on your life.
What do you think would probably surprise most people about you? Why?
What is your greatest strength, and what are you doing to develop it?
Why do people do what they do? What are the assumptions you make about people?
How do you handle pressure? When the pressure is really on, what do you need from your friends?
Has anything ever happened to you that was dramatic, personal or spectacular enough to cause you to be certain there is a God who is both infinite and personally caring?
What do you consider to be two major turning points in your life?
What is something you consider to be a great personal success? Why was it so significant?
What is the key to maintaining balance in your life?
What are 2 or 3 major truths upon which you have based your decision-making?
Tell me about two of your life-long friends and why they have such an impact on your life. What made you choose them?
Have you dealt with the questions? “How much money is enough, and what do I do with the rest?”
How would you describe your mother and the impact she has had on your life?
In your opinion, who was/is Jesus Christ?
If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
How would you define materialism, and how do you deal with it in your life?
What have you found to be the best way of absorbing disappointment, rejection, distress and discouragement?
When you get to heaven, what will be the first three questions you will ask God?
If you were to inherit a million dollars today, and couldn’t spend it on your own enterprise or keep it for yourself, what would you do with it and why?
What do you find most attractive about Christianity/the person of Christ? What do you find least attractive about Christianity/the person of Christ?
Do you consider yourself a seeker of the truth?
What is your spiritual background?
Have you ever read the Bible?
Have your views on religion changed since you started college? How?
Have you ever discussed what Biblical Christianity is?
Why do you think you feel the way you do toward Jesus Christ and his message of love and forgiveness?
What is your philosophy of life based on?
Do you believe what you’ve been brought up with?
Why do you think Christianity isn’t relevant to your life?
If Christ was who He claimed to be, how would that affect your life?
What are you living for? What do you value most?
If your questions could be answered in a way that would satisfy you, would you then believe in Christ?
The Kennedy questions: First ask–”If you died today, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?” Then ask–”If you died and stood before God and He asked you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’ What would you say?”

The key here is simply to begin conversations and then to listen to the heart of the one we are talking with. Sometimes it is hardest bringing up the gospel with our friends. We just need to keep asking questions that will reveal who they are.

Chris wants to help you increase the number of conversations that lead people towards Christ. He has studied evangelism and church growth ever since working for a Billy Graham crusade over 20 years ago, and has led countless training seminars throughout North and South America in many different denominations.

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BAD WAYS TO WITNESS

Great teaching tool from the Skit Guys…..

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3 KEYS TO IMPACTING YOUR KIDS

FROM DALE HUDSON COMES THIS THOUGHTFUL, INSTRUCTIVE VIDEO

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