Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Effective Evangelism: Start Young

We hear it a lot in ministry...most people who are following Christ made the decision to do so before the age of...blank. The most recent numbers, I hear, came out to 75% before they are 13 years old, and close to 90% by the time they are 18. That says to me that children's ministry automatically steps to the front as the key evangelistic ministry in the church.

I wonder if a sweeping review of our church budgets would reflect this urgent truth? I wonder if a sweeping review of our church vision statements (goals, programs, strategies, or whatever catch phrase you may have glommed onto), would prove that we get the enormous impact of these statistics? In the priorities of your church, where does "Children's Ministry" fall?

It seems these questions should be paramount in our leadership planning and vision-casting:

How can we minister to the children of our community in the most effective way?
Are we opening the way to Jesus for the kids in our community, or are we hindering them from coming to him with our own rules and expectations?
Is our church kid-friendly?
Do our classrooms look sanitary or age-appropriate?
Are our teachers filling a spot for us, or do they love these kids?
How often are we calling the kids to follow Jesus?
How much money and time can we free up to reach more children with the love of Jesus?

I am not recommending avoiding or abolishing other ministries for the sake of children's ministry, but if your people are stretched beyond your church's resources and you have to cut something, DON'T CUT CHILDREN'S MINISTRY!

I know some of you think that a blog should be about societal trends and finding contemporary new ways to reach lost people. Let's address that way of thinking and the topic I have introduced, here.

Contemporary trends:

Single moms, child abuse, divorce in the church and outside the church at an even level, educational failings, teenage girls becoming moms, the church's anti-abortion stand, the unchurched nature of our current society, homosexual "marriages", two working parents, latchkey kids, child abuse, blended families, child pornography on the internet.

Are we addressing these societal trends from the child's view of things? We often try to deal with the adults in these issues, but what is the church doing to reach out to these kids who are suffering from their parents' bad choices, or the failure of government to educate them or keep them safe? Does the church have a role in this? Can we? Should we?

Most likely by the time a child is thirteen years old, she has had offers for some kind of drugs, some sort of sexual behavior and/or some form of minor crime. And most likely by this time, they have decided what they think of Jesus. What we used to think of as High School issues are now issues in the 5th grade or younger. We don't want it to happen or be this way, but it is, and turning a blind eye to this truth doesn't help those children.

If you don't have many children in your church, that doesn't mean that this isn't your issue. It means you need to give that much more to the cause of reaching children for Christ

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Batteries Not Included?

Maybe some of you have had the experience where you either give or receive a gift that requires batteries, but none were included in the package, and the giver failed to purchase any. The result is that you now have in your posession an item that looks great, is capable of great things and would really be nice to use right away, but it doesn't accomplish its purpose because the power source is missing.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul describes spiritual gifts. He specifically teaches these things because, according to 1 Corinthians 12:1, he does not want the church to be "ignorant" about spiritual gifts. The church at Corinth had apparently been bragging about how great they were because of the gift of speaking in tongues. They seem to have thought they were better or more spiritual than other churches because of their "gift". Because of their "ignorance", Paul makes great effort to correct this church's way of thinking and behaving.

Interestingly, while chapters 12 and 14 go into great detail about the gifts, chapter 13 cuts in with a very important qualifying factor: "Love".

In chapter 12, Paul introduces some of the power of the Holy Spirit that is manifest in us through the gifting He gives. He tells us why it is given, to whom it is given, and how it is divided among the entire body to connect us all, not to divide us. Then, after describing the amazing things God can do through us, Paul comes back in chapter 13 and starts to describe how completely ineffective these gifts - all of them - are without love abiding in us as the motivator...the batteries, if you will.

What gift do you think is the greatest? Speaking in tongues? Well, I could literally speak in heaven's own language (the tongues of angels), but if I do not love, it is just empty noise. A gong is sounded to announce that someone great is being introduced, or something great is about to happen. Imagine sounding that gong, calling everyone's attention to something great, then having nothing to offer them. That is the value of speaking in tongues without love. You might grab someone's attention, but then you have nothing to offer them. The gift you are giving is missing its power - its batteries.

Why are so many churches blowing up, today? Why is there more divorce going on inside the church than outside the church? Why are almost as many Christian teens sexually active as non-christian teens? Why are so many ministers on all levels morally failing?

Is it possible that we have forsaken our first love? We are addressing spiritual gifting to get people involved in ministry, but are we also addressing a love that puts others above ourselves? We are addressing compassion ministries to the poor and needy of our world, but what about the call to love the brotherhood of believers deeply, from the heart? We jokingly say we love some people in the church because, "We have to to get to heaven," but is that the love God has for us? We have trained leaders, organized volunteers, and made creative Sunday Morning meetings, but has the organization of the church crippled the organism that is the church; the body of Jesus Christ? Have we handicapped Jesus' actions in the world by doing so much in His Name without His Love?

You know how frustrating it is to receive a gift that doesn't have any power. I wonder how much we are frustrating God, right now? Love is a choice, not a feeling. Read 1 Corinthians 13. See if those terms describe you. Let God melt your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, once again.