Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ category

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #8: Point People to Jesus

May 4, 2009

Let me ask a question of those that teach Sunday School or lead a small-group Bible study – If someone were to attend your class for, say six weeks, would they have encountered Jesus?

No, I’m not speaking of a vision or audible voice. But would that person have understood that Jesus is at the center of who we are, what we do and why we exist as a church? Would that person know that the gospel message is all about Jesus? Would that person have any idea how to have a relationship with Jesus, or sense that such a relationship made a difference in the life of the group leader or other members of the group?

I ask these rather blunt questions because the answers tell us whether we’re pointing people to Jesus or to something else – “church-ianity,” moralism, legalism, or perhaps an inoffensive Jesus who was a nice teacher and said some nice things but didn’t really mean all those things about being the only way to the Father.

I’ve become convicted of the urgency of Christ-centered teaching of late, so if you sense that I’m pointing a finger, rest assured that four are pointing back at me. Although I do not teach a small group every week, I teach on a fairly regular basis as a fill-in. I often wonder, especially if someone is present for the first time in a class, whether the lesson I teach ultimately points a person to Christ – or at the very least, helps them along the way to meeting Him.

Yes, I believe in teaching the “whole counsel of God,” in the sense that I believe all of the Bible is God-breathed and serves to teach us about God’s character and our need for redemption. But I fear that we sometimes miss the bigger picture in our teaching. Do we connect the dots between the fall of man in Genesis and our need for a redeemer in the gospels? Are we helping people see the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that clearly point to birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ? Is our first priority, as Paul proclaimed, to “proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified?” If that is not at the forefront of our teaching, then I believe we neglect the central message of scripture.

If our mission is to be about kingdom business, then it behooves us to introduce people to the King. The person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – is that King. He is the one who humbled himself, taking on the form of a mere man – born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, healed the sick, raised the dead, ate with sinners, taught with authority, confounded the religious, lived a sinless life, gave his life willingly on a Roman cross, paid the penalty for our sins through His death, overcame death and the grave when he rose again on the third day, appeared to many, ascended to heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, gave the great commission, and promised to return one day. That is the One we point to.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Without Him, everything else is meaningless – just empty ritual and dead religion. As Paul said –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 10-11.

There are many wonderful priniciples to be found in the Bible. We should teach them all. But let’s make sure that we let people know that Jesus is at the center of it all. If we do not, all of our doctrine, beliefs, practices and effort are meaningless. Above all, the world needs Jesus – undiluted, undiminished and without apology – the risen Savior and Redeemer for all mankind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:15-16

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40

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Listen and Learn

February 17, 2009

Recently, I read an article about “reverse mentoring.” (Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author’s name, nor the magazine. If this should ring a bell with you, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment). The idea began to resonate with me, so I thought I’d put down my own thoughts regarding the concept.

In short, reverse mentoring involves the old listening to the young, the experienced listening to the inexperienced, and the insider listening to the outsider. It has the value of opening our eyes to different perspectives and, perhaps, clearing up misconceptions between generations or groups. I think it has particular value for those steeped in the culture of “church.”

Most of the evangelism training I’ve had over the years focused on sharing my personal Christian testimony and/or how to present the plan of salvation in x number of steps. These courses had value as they helped me articulate my faith in a clear and concise manner. Unfortunately, the majority of these courses left me ill-equipped to actually listen to those with whom I wished to share. Too often, I felt as if I were giving a sales presentation rather than building a bridge with a living soul. That has been a source of frustration with me for many years. However, when individuals have sensed that I was genuinely interested in them, they were more apt to listen to me.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned the value of listening – even to those with whom I may not agree. In the process of reverse mentoring, we allow someone to share their perspective on a variety of issues – from faith and culture to politics and the economy. It’s an eye-opening experience to hear from those with completely different perspectives, and it challenges us to be better equipped to defend our own positions. We can do this is a respectful, engaging manner (despite what we often see on the public stage, particularly in the area of political discourse.)

The apostle Paul encouraged his young protoge’, Timothy, in this regard. Timothy was a very young pastor, serving in a culture where age and experience was revered and the younger generation was generally tolerated but not taken seriously. In 1 Timothy 4:12, he tells Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Obviously, Paul was speaking as a mentor himself. But he encouraged Timothy to exercise his faith as a young man – to be ready to mentor those older than him. In our modern context, all to often our various generations and groups speak past one another without really comprehending each other. That is a tragedy, particularly for the church as we seek to impact our broad culture for Christ.

If we simply view people as projects rather than individuals who are created in the image of God, we can fall into the trap of an “us” v. “them” mindset. The goal of reverse mentoring is not to compromise our beliefs. The goal is to build relationships between the younger and the older, between the follower of Christ and the agnostic or skeptic, and between the traditional and the fringe. Look to the gospels and see how Jesus accomplished that very thing. It may feel awkward and there will be  deep chasms to cross created by differing ideas, values, and world-views. Building bridges is hard work. But as we learn more about those we call “different” or those with whom we disagree, we become better equipped to engage them in serious conversation.

And isn’t that where the Great Commission begins?