The Gospel & The Church

What you do with the gospel is the determining factor in whether your church is remembered. What you do with the gospel is the determining factor in whether you are remembered.

1. The Gospel must be Delivered

2. The Gospel will be Welcomed

3. The Gospel brings Results

4. The Gospel changes Lives

Listen to this message from 1 Thessalonians

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Why it’s important to visit the mission trip location before your group goes?

Your group loads up in the van and you set out on mission. With Google maps guiding your every turn you feel confident about how to get there. You pull up in the parking lot of the church, at least what you think is the church, but no one is there. The building looks abandoned. A quick call to the pastor and now you have new directions. They moved from that location six months ago but their website just hasn’t been updated yet. The youth in the back are restless and then your phone rings. A parent wonders why you are lost. “Where are you taking my kid? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Once you get to the church it appears evident that what you had planned for the Bible Clubs just isn’t going to work in this neighborhood. Nobody has a yard. There is no place to play soccer. Now you are scrambling to update your ministry plan and the kids are quick to express their boredom. What are you going to do? The answer lies in having asked that question at least a month before.

Having led many mission trips, sometimes I took a pre-trip and others times I did not, I can say unequivocally that the best practice is to visit the mission trip location before you take your group. This is even more important when you are traveling to a location very different than your home. If you are going to another country, a different state, a city (when you live in the country) or some other highly distinct area, you need to see the place, experience the people, learn how to travel and how long it takes to travel. I know for many this seems impossible for your budget, but it’s important enough that you should make the short pre-trip part of your overall trip budget. If the pre-trip is prohibitive, then you need to enlist someone to help you who has visited the site before. You need to amass as much information as possible or get a great guide to help make your mission trip a success.

Here are 4 reasons you should take a pre-trip before your group leaves your church parking lot:

  1. You need to learn about getting around on your mission trip. What are the easiest ways to move your group? How long does it take to get to and from the airport? To the church? What roads should we avoid? What parts of town should we avoid? It’s always better to learn these things before you have a van full of teenagers or senior adults.
  2. You need to learn about the people and the neighborhoods. There are some things best learned by observation and experience, not merely reading. Look at the venue. Get a feel for the people and what works to reach them. See the space and think of creative ways to use it.
  3. You need to meet the people you will be working with, the pastors and missionaries. Visiting in person is different than over the phone or even in a video conference. It’s important to meet people face to face to both understand them and their passion as well as to help them understand you and your passion. Asking questions and solidifying a plan is much easier when you can sit across the coffee table from someone. Having confidence in one another makes a positive impact on your mission trip.
  4. You need to get a feel for the things that will and won’t work on your mission trip. Whatever preconceived ideas you might have about what you will do on your mission trip must be subject to the reality on the ground. When you see the location, meet the people, and experience the culture you can get a clearer picture of the things that will be effective. Being able to properly plan before you leave is better than having to change everything once you arrive.

None of these mean you won’t still have to invoke one of the cardinal verses of mission trips: Steve 4:6 “Be flexible.” Making that early visit to the site does allow you to have a better beginning from which to change.

One last thing: If you can’t afford to take an overseas pre-trip, you can help yourself by arriving a day or two before the rest of the group. On that extra day, which will only cost you housing and meals, you can do much of the legwork to help with travel and you can also begin thinking about any other program changes you might need to make.

3 Key Questions to answer as you search for your Church Mission Strategy

strategy-promoChurches usually strive to be strategic when it comes to outreach, worship, discipleship and putting together the yearly calendar. Why then do we tend to ignore being strategic when it comes to mission? We will hear about an opportunity, know someone in need, see a news story about tragedy and fire up the church van to take a group to do missions. Not that these are wrong, but are they strategic ways of involving your church in the work of spreading the gospel?

When we talk about a mission strategy what we are referring to is a specific plan to engage our church in the work of mission around the world that is unique to us, that fits us and that challenges us to accomplish the mission better at home. To begin, try to answer these 3 questions:

1. Where is the heart of our church?

Think about countries, people groups, states and communities that are on the heart of your church body. Expand that thought to types of ministries that are on your heart. Do you have a burden for planting churches, revitalizing churches, engaging in social ministries and/or reaching unreached groups.

2. What if money were no object? What would you do? Where would you go?

It helps to push yourself to think beyond all limits. We are prone to self-censorship when it comes to mission. We eliminate some options without even realizing it because they are expensive to get to or expensive to accomplish. Expand your thinking to allow God room to share His dream with you.

3. What are the benefits to our church of going on mission trips and of sending our own to the mission field?

We must begin to see how participating in the mission helps our church become who God intended and that without going we are stifling the work of God in our midst. Mission is not merely a good option to include in the list of things your church is involved with. Mission is the purpose, it is the reason for your church’s existence. There are things God does through mission trips that can not be accomplished by staying home.

Answer these three questions and then begin praying asking God to open your eyes to His desire for your church. Ask Him to expand your thinking, to give you wisdom and guidance and to burden the heart of your church for the places and ministries He desires for you.

Where will we go on our mission trip?

6360794828408897211891631757_mission-trips-1The Great Commission is clear; we must go to the world. Every day we walk outside our home we are going, but we also must go outside our normal patterns, our normal life path. When we get beyond our day to day life we are given the opportunity to grow, to be challenged, to learn new things, to explore new paths and perhaps to hear something fresh from the Lord. This is one of the best things about going on mission trips and one of the reasons church leaders want to see their members on mission trips both near and far.

But where will you go? How will you decide where to go? I can’t say I know where you should go, though I’d love to make a few suggestions J. I can say I have a learned a little over the years about how to find the place that fits your church, your goals and your ministry.

  1. Always begin with PRAYER. The number one goal is to find the place where God wants you to go. If we can agree that the Lord has called us all to go, then the only question is to discern His leadership as to the place. Don’t get so spiritual here that you are looking for God to form the clouds in the shape of the country, but do begin by seeking His guidance and asking Him to guide you as you seek His direction.

There are some practical things you can do that I believe God uses to help us understand what He wants. Don’t throw darts at the map, prayerfully seek Him as you work towards His guidance.

  1. What is your budget and how much will you ask people to spend on a trip? It is not unspiritual to ask this question. Funds are a limiter for most people and groups. Obviously the more you have available the farther you can go, but that doesn’t mean you should go as far as your money will take you. It can mean that you understand the limits you have on where you will look.

Of course, the Lord can burden your heart and provide the funds to go beyond your perceived ability, but don’t take that step before the Lord has led you to do so.

  1. What kind of group do you want to take? Think of this in two ways, size and age. Are you taking youth, families, senior adults, median adults? Different ages can go different places to do different things.

Are you planning to take 150, 50, 25, or 5? Again, the size of your group directly affects the places you can go and be helpful. A large group may overwhelm a small church and leave large numbers of your group with nothing to do. A small group may not be able to accomplish the task, meet the need at one location but would fit perfectly at another.

  1. When are you planning to go? How long will you be gone? Will this be a summer trip? Spring break? Fall? Of course, this affects who will go but it also impacts how far you can go, how long you can stay. Don’t plan a week-long trip where you will spend 2 days driving up and 2 driving back, leaving only 3 days for ministry. At the same time, it’s difficult to recruit people to spend $3000 to go overseas if they only get to spend a few days in the country. Not many people will give up their entire spring break for a mission trip either. Plan accordingly.
  1. What skills do your church members, potential mission team members, have? What have you done in the past? Consider not only what you have done on mission trips but also at your own church, in your own ministry field. Do you have people who will go who are good at construction or experience working with children or teens? The answers to these questions may help guide you as you explore opportunities to serve, but don’t limit yourself to past experiences.
  1. Are there some things you haven’t done but would like to do? The mission trip can be an opportunity to train your team in new skills that will be useful on the trip and also when they return. Jump start evangelism training by taking your team on a trip where part of the task is street evangelism. By training to do something on a mission trip they will learn skills to use at home and gain confidence to share their faith at work or school. I learned to share my faith while I was in high school, preparing for a mission trip to Pittsburgh.
  1. God often uses past relationships or passing acquaintances to open doors for you. Who do you know already who is in a place that could use your group? Who have you met recently that might be able to open a door for ministry? Call them or send a quick email. They may not need a team but they might know someone who does.

Ask your friends in the ministry where they have been. Talk to other pastors, denominational leaders or mission leaders to discover good opportunities.

  1. Finally, consider what kind of strategy you want to have as a church as you approach the world of mission opportunities before you. I’ll talk more about this in a later post, but you should begin to ask questions like: How do we want to impact the kingdom? Where in the world is the heart of our church? Do we want a long-term relationship?

Pray, Pray, Pray. The Lord will lead you and your church to the opportunities He has for you.

The Olympics Provide Many Gospel Opportunities

Rio 2016 - 2016-08-02 11.33.31 (Alicengrace G.)
The Rio Olympic Games closed yesterday but the effect of the games will go on. There will be many stories in the coming months and years about the legacy of the games in Rio. Will the new building fall into disrepair or will they be repurposed for the fast growing population? Will the economy really see a rebound because of the games? Will the press from the games help or will the Ryan Lochte incident further erode the reputation of Rio? The answers to these questions will be debated among many, but the real difference will be the spiritual legacy left by those who took this opportunity to impact Rio with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every 4 years the Olympics visits a major city in the world, and almost always this is a city

Rio 2016 - 2016-08-03 14.25.37 (Stephen B.)

We walked the streets of the slums. You didn’t see these on NBC.

in desperate need of the gospel. This was the third time I have had the privilege of leading a team on mission during the Olympics and I am even more convinced today that this is a key opportunity that must be capitalized on by believers, and especially by Southern Baptists. In

 

In Beijing we were able to support and encourage believers while also building relationships with local business people and taxi drivers. We gave the gift of the gospel message to many people even though there was a great language barrier. In London we worked with local churches that took advantage of the Olympic spirit to hold children’s Holiday Clubs and other activities. These were doors that opened in part because of the
presence of the Olympics. In Rio our opportunities were greatly increased by the work of our great translators who helped us take conversations from the Olympics to the gospel. In each of these cities I’ve seen the effect of the Olympics on the ability to have conversations with locals.

The Olympic presence goes far beyond the events and those working at the venues. Everyone in the host city, and in the host country, is tuned in to what is happening.

Rio 2016 - 2016-08-03 18.30.10 (Stephen B.)

Roberta prayed to receive Christ right here in her store.

They watch the opening ceremonies and take pride in the presenting their history to the world. They see the increased traffic. They have watched the building of venues and special housing. They have seen the Olympic signs go up, local TV coverage, and special lanes cordoned off for the participants. The entire city is affected by the Olympics and they are ready to talk about it. They know there are many visitors from out of the country and they are ready to be official hosts for the Olympics. I’ve found so many who are willing to visit, to ask where we are from, to hear why we have come. Conversations are easy to have during the Olympics because everyone is talking about it. Almost every person we met would eventually ask, “Are you here for the Olympics?” Our answer was always, “Yes, and we’ve also come to pray with people.” That answer would lead us to a presentation of the gospel that yielded at least 16 professions of faith in Christ.

 

 

Some fear going to the Olympics  because of the threat of terrorism or other violence. MyRio 2016 - 2016-08-05 17.48.19 (Stephen B.)
experience has been that the security around the Olympics is higher and it is usually safer to travel during the games. Cities and countries have so much pressure to not be the place
where something happened that they go to great lengths to keep everyone safe. In Rio there was abundant police and military presence, but they were also very kind. They were helpful and evening willing to have their pictures taken.

Of course, when you are putting together a mission team it doesn’t hurt to be going to the Olympics. The games are exciting to attend and unique in the realm of sports events. Often you attend a game or event where you have no real rooting interest. We watched Brazil and Canada play men’s volleyball. With no one to cheer we just enjoyed the game and the Brazilian fans who were definitely enthusiastic. Those games also provide opportunities for witness and for impact. We loved taking our new found missionary friends to the games and blessing their lives.

Which brings me to one of the other reasons to go to the Olympics, and overseas for mission. As Southern Baptists we have many missionaries serving overseas who need our encouragement. We encourage them by giving to missions and by praying and sending notes of encouragement. But there is nothing better than being on the field with them and seeing where they are and what they are doing. Stand alongside them, walk the streets with them, give them a hug and stand with them in prayer. Learn what their lives are really like and then you will be a real giver to missions. I believe that one of the best things you can do on a mission trip is to encourage those who are doing the work everyday. Local pastors and missionaries living on the field need to know they are supported and prayed for by others. The Olympics is a great opportunity for them to impact their field. We need to stand side by side with them to help them increase their footprint.

We loved staying with Eric and Ramona Reese and getting to know their two beautiful daughters. It was a privilege to be able to help them with the ministry they have established in Rio. The Olympics provided us a great opportunity to take the gospel to the city. That opportunity will come again in four years in Tokyo. We must begin preparing now for the open doors that will be abundant in Japan. Southern Baptists, let’s begin today making plans, saving money, preparing ourselves to take the gospel to the Far East. These are unique opportunities. We must walk through these doors while they remain open.

The Open Door

In Revelation 3 John records a letter from Christ to the church in Philadelphia. In this letter the Lord says to the church:

I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.
Revelation 3:8

The church in Philadelphia wasn’t a big church and had undergone a lot of persecution. They didn’t have much influence and it might seem they were insignificant. But the Lord had plans for them. He had placed before them an open door that no one would be able to close. I believe this describes an opportunity for obedience and effectiveness that would be beyond anything they might have imagined for themselves. I believe God continues to place open doors in front of the church and even individual believers.

The question I have is: Why do some churches not walk through the open doors and others do? Here is an answer, perhaps you have your own ideas.

– Why do churches pass up open doors?

  1. No vision – don’t see the open door, aren’t looking for it
  2. No obedience – don’t want to be anything but what they are
  3. No leadership – leaders won’t lead, followers won’t follow
  4. No love – don’t care about the lost – selfish/self-centered
  5. No faith – a small view of God – He can’t use me/us to do that!
  6. Fear – Afraid of change, losing influence/power, failure, success

 

– Why do churches go through the open door?

  1. Clear Vision – have heard from the Lord and are committed to His leadership
  2. Radical Obedience – committed to go anywhere, do anything, and sacrifice everything in His service
  3. Trust their Leadership – believe those leading are selfless God lovers
  4. Love the World – passionately evangelistic because they love their neighbors
  5. Full of Faith – know it isn’t the size of the church but faith in the call and command of the Lord
  6. Courageous – will walk forward because staying put is death

Why didn’t He tell Paul to begin with?

Yesterday I preached at Spring Baptist Church (video will be on later this week) from Acts 16:6-10, where Paul and Silas are seeking God’s will as they embark on Paul’s second missionary journey. They try to go to Asia, then to Bithynia and end up in Troas where Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man asking them to bring the gospel to Macedonia.

It occurred to me in between services that there was one question I hadn’t talked about in the first service. I addressed it briefly in the second one and I thought I’d throw out some thoughts on it here: Why didn’t God just give Paul the vision to begin with instead of letting them walk around the desert for a couple of weeks?

This is a question most of us ask when we are searching for God’s will. We just want God to give us the directions now, show us the road map and we’ll get on our way. But most often the process of finding His will is a journey, not a moment.

I can’t say I know the answer to the question, but I can think of some possibilities:
1. The search forced Paul to seek God and not rely merely on his past experience.
2. Paul’s call was going to be so dramatically different that the Lord had to get Paul in the right spot to be ready to listen.
3. Paul’s experience was as much for Silas, and maybe us, as it was for Paul. We needed to see the lesson found in the journey of Paul. So maybe it wasn’t about Paul at all, but about us.

I’m sure there are other reasons but these are a few I thought of this morning.