Fishers of Men- Part 1
Fishers Of Men
Have you ever wondered why God leaves us here on earth, with all its pain, sorrow, and sin, after we become a Christian? Why doesn’t He just zap us immediately to heaven and spare us from all this? After all, we can worship, pray, sing, hear God’s Word, and even have fun in heaven. In fact, it seems like there are only a few things you can’t do in heaven that you can do on earth: two I can think of would be to sin, and share the gospel with unbelievers. Now, which of these two things do you think that Jesus left us here to do?
There are many passages which reveal that being a Christian just naturally includes the privilege of telling others about God: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16); "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19); "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest" (John 4:35); "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you" (1 Thessalonians 1:8); "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4); "that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
- You will attract who you are, not who you want: Congregations need to realize that they will attract people who are comfortable with the personality or feel of the congregation. If we want to attract zealous, outgoing, and enthusiastic people, then we first need to become that type of person.
* Growing churches focus on reaching receptive people. Nongrowing churches focus on reenlisting inactive people: "And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet" (Matthew 10:14); "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine" (7:6); "we are turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).As I read the New Testament, I don’t find Jesus or the apostles spending a whole lot of time trying to convert someone who has rejected the gospel. In fact, Jesus basically told us not to worry about the unresponsive. Jesus told the disciples that He didn’t want them staying around unresponsive people. Is it good stewardship to continue badgering someone who has rejected Christ a dozen times when there is a whole community of receptive people waiting to hear the Gospel for the first time? One writer noted that he had found that the following groups were often very receptive to the gospel: 1. Second-time visitors to the worship services. 2. Close friends and relatives of new converts. 3. People going through a divorce. 4. Those who are struggling with sinful addictions (alcohol, drugs, sexual, and so forth). 5. First-time parents. 6. The terminally ill and their families. 7. Couples with major marriage problems. 8. Parents with problem children. 9. Recently unemployed or those with major financial problems. 10. New residents in the community. Sometimes we focus exclusively on a certain group of people. Often we only try to find someone who is already religious and who looks like they already have their lives together. But of all people, who were the people that gladly listened to Jesus? "Now all the taxgatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him" (Luke 15:1; Matthew 9:10). May I suggest to you, keep your eyes open at work, in the neighborhood or in the community for the outcast, the person who just doesn’t seem to fit in, as well as the religiously misguided.
- The longer you are a believer, the less you think like an unbeliever: Yes, Christians are to think differently than the world(Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 4:8; 1 John 2:15). What I want to emphasize at this point is that there is always the danger that the longer one is a Christian, the less contact he or she has with the world, and thus the less influence. "The problem with most small churches is that they are all core and nothing else. The same fifty people come to everything the church does. They’ve all been Christians for so long they have few, if any, unbelieving friends" (The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren p. 139). The way that a Christian can remain in touch with what unbelievers are thinking, especially about God, the Bible, and Christianity, is to talk to them. "One of the greatest barriers to evangelism is that most believers spend all their time with other Christians. They don’t have any non-believing friends" (pp. 189-190).
- Anticipate their objections (1 Peter 3:15): One writer found the following basic complaints which unbelievers have towards Christianity: 1. "Church is boring, especially the sermons. The messages don’t relate to my life": You can answer this complaint by giving them a sermon handout that you found to be very practical and relevant or give them a tape of the sermon itself. In addition, help the preacher keep in touch with sermons that would catch the attention of somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about the Bible. 2. "Church members are unfriendly to visitors. If I go to church I want to feel welcomed without being embarrassed":Some people feel like the church is a clique. When they didn’t know the inside terminology, songs, etc…, they felt foolish and felt the members were watching them in judgment. Probably the greatest emotion that a first time visitor feels is fear. Note, all of the above feelings may be completely false---but somehow we must make visitors feel as welcomed as possible. 3. "The church is more interested in my money than in me": Due to the highly visible fund-raising efforts of televangelists and other supposed Christian organizations, unbelievers are incredibly sensitive to appeals for money. Many believe that preachers are just in it for the money. In a day and age of opulent church buildings, or churches who resemble exclusive health clubs and businesses, unbelievers may find our modest building and modest budget appealing.
One writer observed, "In evangelism, ‘reading the defense’ means understanding and anticipating the objections unbelievers will have before they voice them. What seemed most interesting to me about our survey was that none of the complaints from unbelievers in our area were theological. I didn’t meet a single person who said, ‘I don’t go to church because I don’t believe in God’. However I did meet a lot of people who said, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t feel church has anything I need’" (p. 193).
- Long before the preacher preaches, the visitors are already deciding if they will come back: Churches which grow are those who hold conservative beliefs and who are loving outsiders. If we want to grow, then we must learn to love new people. We must love visitors and love the lost. "It is a myth that large churches are always cold and impersonal, and that small churches are automatically warm and loving. Size has nothing to do with love or friendliness" (p. 210). "there were added that day about three thousand souls…And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common…And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart" (Acts 2:41-46).
Remember, love is not just an attitude or an emotion, rather, love is action, love is expressed in behavior, and so is a lack of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The following are a few practical ways in which we can manifest love for our visitors, or how we can love our neighbors as ourselves when they attend:
- Memorize names: Remembering names shows that you’re interested in people. Nothing sounds sweeter to a second-time visitor than hearing you use his or her name.
- Personally greet people before and after services: Be approachable. Don’t hide out in your favorite pew. Immediately after the closing prayer stand up and look for new faces, get to the back and greet as many visitors as you can before they leave. Before services, make people feel welcome, have them sit next to you, make room for them in the pew.
- Touch People: Hugs, handshakes, pats on the back are very important. "Our world is filled with lonely people who are starving for the affirmation of a loving touch. Many individuals live by themselves and have told me the only loving physical contact they ever get is at church".
- Use a warm, personal style in relating and writing to visitors: Take it upon yourself to get the address of a visitor and write them a welcome note. You don’t have to write like you’re drafting correspondence for British royalty, rather, simply say something like, "It was really great to have you. Hope you can come back". Then sign your name.
* Go the extra mile and invite them to lunch. If we are going to reach people, then we also need to be prepared to make some financial sacrifices and sacrifices with our time and schedule. In order to reach visitors with the gospel we might have to spend some money, forgo a Sunday nap, miss the ball game, etc…. In a day and age when people live behind their fences and doors, an invitation to your home will be appreciated. For when is the last time you walked into a new organization and someone invited you over for dinner? (1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2).
- We cannot expect unbelievers to act like believers until they are believers. Give the unbelieving visitor credit for having the courage just to attend. God does give people time to learn and grow (Hebrews 5:12-14), and every bad habit or sin isn’t going to disappear after attending one service or hearing one sermon. So let’s avoid making the mistake of hitting them over the head with everything they’re doing wrong. If a person has a good heart, as they keep on attending and studying, a good number of things which just naturally change for the better over time (Luke 8:15).
The Importance of New Converts
The unbeliever who is attending is a great blessing to this congregation. New converts are so important: 1. They forces us to examine our own attitudes and behavior. 2. They force us to answer some hard questions and study our bibles. 3. When they convert, they aren’t set in their ways, they are eager to learn, their zeal and enthusiasm for God can motivate us. One congregation informs all new members of its purpose to serve God and reach its particular community. They inform all Christians who are moving or transferring from other congregations that they are welcome only if they are willing to serve and share the gospel with others. "If all you intend to do is attend services, we’d rather save your seat for someone who is an unbeliever".
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/644-9017