Thursday, December 8, 2022

"Reach Out or Fade Out!"


Roger E. Shepherd, DMiss

Every seed is a possible flower (Luther Burbank). We say, “Every sinner is a possible Christian.” The disciples of Jesus are instructed to sow the seed which is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). The seed of the kingdom cannot grow another Christian unless it is sown in the heart of lost people according to God’s will (1 Cor. 3:6–9). The seed sown in the human heart yields spiritual growth by multiplying disciples. Jesus encourages disciples to evangelize by sowing the seed of the kingdom reaching out into the community (Matt. 13:3). A church that seeks to reach out to the lost is not going to fade out! However, saints are encouraged “Reach out or Fade Out!” Some have chosen to “Reach Out!” Will you join the outreach efforts of the body of Christ? Personal teaching of the lost is exciting and profitable to kingdom growth. There is joy in heaven over sinners that repent (Luke 15:7).Sinners cannot repent unless they are taught. Otherwise, the church will fade out because Christianity is a taught religion.

The early disciples of Christ were trained to teach the gospel of the kingdom in ministry practice (Matt. 4:23–25). Disciples follow the example of Jesus to: 1) teach the Gospel, 2) preach the Gospel, and 3) minister to the needs of people. The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16). Discipleship is specifically designed to search for souls interested in a home Bible study. The goal is to sow the seed of the kingdom so God can give the increase in souls converted to Christ.

God’s mission leaders are ready to help you learn how to effectively do outreach evangelism. The following things will aid you in this work:

  1. Know and appreciate the value of one soul (Matt. 16:26).
  2. Develop a likeable personality. Don’t get caught up in a clique. The lost need a friend (John 15:12–17).
  3. Have a genuine love and appreciation for lost people (Mark 6:34).
  4. Learn to effective do personal teaching in your local community.

In doing personal teaching in reaching the lost with the gospel, your sight of the present can preclude your view of the future. This is demonstrated by a wise Native American. He held an acorn before his two sons and asked: “What do you see?” One said, “An acorn.” He could only see the present. The other answered, “An oak tree.” To the second the father commented, “With your vision, some day you should be chief.” It makes a significant difference which one is seen; the present or a vision of the future. What do you see when you look at the world? Do you see lost souls? Do you see yourself teaching sinners how to be saved? Do you see that one can make a significant difference in the salvation of the lost? May that one be you!

Teaching of the gospel is a good investment! You are investing your money some way. One dollar spent for lunch last five hours. One dollar spent for a necktie lasts five weeks. One dollar spent for a cap lasts five months. One dollar spent for an automobile lasts five years. One dollar spent in the mission of God lasts for eternity (Roger Babson). You cannot take your money with you, but you can send it on ahead of you by teaching the gospel to the world (Matt. 6:19–20).

A tree, although it must have water to live, cannot stay alive simply by receiving water. It must give away gallons of it every day through its leaves. If in some way a tree should stop giving, it would also stop growing and would soon die (Raymond Balcomb). You are encouraged to start giving in abundance of your time, efforts, money, and teaching the gospel so many souls can live eternally. One hour spent in Bible study with the lost has eternal rewards.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy (opinions, ideas) of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Likewise, the ideas of the biblical classroom will be the vision and direction of the church in all generations. Sowing the seed of the gospel of the kingdom in the lives of your children at a young age is very significant to their spirituality. Kingdom Dreamers evangelize the world. Our focus is evangelizing the world one person at a time. The Bible school is a great way to accomplish the mission of God that is make disciples.

The growing church continues to be about the Father’s business. Local evangelism is being revived with the leadership of good people. You can make a difference. Victory does not come from the will to win, but the will to prepare (Coach Bud Wilkinson). Preparation is always the hardest part of a job. Preparation sounds like a lot of hard work, pain, and sacrifice. It is! However, it is worth all the effort. You can prepare to make a difference in life. We have opportunity throughout the world to preach the gospel to the lost.

Talents are useful only when used in reaching out into the world with the gospel. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent” (Calvin Coolidge). Persistence will put talent to work. God has given Christians the talent to evangelize the world.

Disciples are a team with God in sowing the seed of the kingdom to evangelize the world. The word team means Together Everyone Accomplishes More! Personal teachers are “workers together with Him” (2 Cor. 6:1). A team is a small number of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves accountable to God (Katzenbach and Smith, The Wisdom of Teams, 112). The church can use your talent to help evangelize the world. Together we can Reach Out rather than Fade Out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Ministry Choices and Evangelism


by C. Philip Slate

To pose the challenge on the front end, Why did we cease having the week-long “gospel meetings” in the USA? Did someone decide they were unscriptural? Did we run out of good preachers? No, something else was happening that is well summarized by a comment I heard the late Jimmy Allen make at a preachers’ meeting in Memphis thirty years ago: “Brothers, me and my ten sermons have been around a while, and I can tell you we ain’t gettin’ the results we used to get!” He didn’t bother to analyze the situation, but someone needed to do so.

No, Jimmy had not forgotten how to describe human sinfulness and the good news about what Jesus offered them. Nor had a lot of other preachers. Those series of meetings, called in earlier years “protracted meetings”, were a good legacy from the 18th and 19th centuries in North America. People would come and listen. Many people became Jesus-followers through those efforts. Then they largely ceased to come; the very people for whom the meetings were intended no longer attended in significant numbers. We responded slowly. Some of those meeting lasted several weeks, and then they were reduced to two weeks, then one, then week-end efforts, and finally dropped, appropriately. Whenever a method of doing God’s work no longer achieves the desired end, it is prudent to put something in its place that is more effective.

When he was head of the Church Growth Institute in Houston, our brother John Ellas did many congregational analyses. He used those endeavors to do research, and out of it wrote his helpful Clear Choices for Churches: Trends among Growing and Declining Churches (1994). His research revealed five areas in which ministry choices are important, but the bottom line was and is that churches often grow or decline because of the ministry choices that are made, not so much the doctrinal beliefs. We all know churches that love God and want to serve his purposes but remain small, while some churches hold to few biblical principles grow into megachurches. Size of church is no indication of doctrinal purity, but size of doctrinally sound churches may indicate their level of ministry choices. Let me take this a bit farther.

Of over half a century it has been known that people have a way of escaping messages we want desperately for them to hear. While some people are searching for options because they are empty, many others seek to avoid the gospel. It does not strike them as “good news.” Church buildings do not attract them, church websites must be carefully developed if they are to grab people’s attention within ten seconds, and they may never see our literature. Passing over the known reasons people want to avoid messages from churches, it is known that they may avoid them in one or more of four ways.

  1. Selective Exposure. People simply make choices in what they read, watch on television, check out on the Internet, or listen to in person.
  2. Selective Attention. At times people are compelled to be exposed to a message—given a tract, be in a room where someone is watching a religious program, visiting a religious event at the invitation of a friend. They may deliberately think about something else, open their phone or tablet, or just let their minds wonder. We all do it, don’t we, when many of the television commercials are on? We have the capacity to “turn them off” inside our heads. It is a matter of interest or not.
  3. Selective Memory. This has been going on a long time. Peter mentioned that the people of his day who held that “all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” held to that view because “they deliberately ignore” (some translations have “forget”) what happened in the day of Noah (2 Pet. 3:4-5). Because of the capacity to forget messages and evidence, Peter “reminded” his readers no less than three times (2 Pet. 3:1-2).
  4. Selective Perception. People can twist messages to make them conform to what they already believe. This has been done by even physical scientists for many centuries. That is one reason scientific revolutions come slowly.[1] Even scientists are slow to accept views contrary to what they believe. It takes time to build up a reservoir of tension before action is taken.

The acts of avoidance are not evil within themselves. Some of us would like to be able to forget some things! There is just too much “stuff” to hear and read; we can’t handle all of it. In the case of non-Christians, it is important to make ministry decisions by which they can perceive the important of taking Jesus Christ seriously. Meanwhile, it can be a sobering thing to pull together several members of your congregation and list by name the people you know to have been exposed to the gospel message during the past year—sermon, class, Bible correspondence course, reading a tract, personal study, etc. Of course, we do not know when someone picks up a tract, tunes in to a television or radio broadcast, overhears a Christian conversation, or checks out a church website. When that is done it would be their initiative. What has your congregation done that has resulted in people’s being exposed to the good news? I have had students who preach to do it, and it is usually a disappointing discovery.

Happily, various researchers over the past two decades, and longer, indicate that the bridge most unbelievers cross to become Christians is a bridge constructed by family and friends at a more personal level. Here are a few things that people can do for people they already know in various settings:

  • Invite them to an event of interest where they can meet some of your wholesome friends.
  • Invite them to your Sunday morning Bible class and introduce them to your friends.
  • Invite them to go on a “church trip.” In many congregations, groups will take trips together to see a play, hear a concern, see a display for flowering trees or flowers, go to a zoo--just wholesome events Christians enjoy doing together. It will be good for your non-Christian friends to meet wholesome and joyous people. These are acts of “cultivation” by which your non-Christian friends may be more inclined to hear the message when they see your fellow-Christians are not kooks!
  • Enroll someone in a Bible correspondence course, either paper or electronic.
  • Following a specific kind of conversation, give a person a well-selected tract or offer to foreword to them a digital article you have found useful.
  • Cultivate a relationship with someone by having lunch or coffee from time to time. Pray for wisdom to know when to take the relationship another step, such as, “Would you be willing for us to talk about that sometime?” Then you can prepare what you want to say.

Most of the research books and articles I have read over the past half century indicate that non-Christians are predominately won through the efforts of family members or valued friends. Isn’t there a message in that? Doesn’t that say something about the kind of ministry decisions that need to be made? Avid the gimmicks! Some thoughtless efforts remind me of Martin Marty’s metaphor of “moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic!” Gimmicks do not evangelize. In addition to Bible content classes, is it not appropriate to provide training on how to make disciples? After all, isn’t that what Jesus said to do Matt. 28:18-20)? Is it not wise to provide training to equip people to do what Jesus said to do? There is good material available on how to make disciples for Jesus. Make good ministry choices.


[1]Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (4th ed.; University of Chicago Press, 2012), a landmark study by a philosopher of science, first published in 1962 but still valid in its 4th edition.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

So, We Get in Small Groups. Then What?


C. Philip Slate

It is likely that most of us have attended a funeral of a friend, or especially a fellow church member, and learned things about her or his life we wished we had known earlier. Those occurrences help to make up the statistic that regular church attendees will get to know no more than 42% of the people “at any level of significance.” The percentage might be higher in a small church where the numbers are more manageable. The percentage will usually be lower, however, in larger churches, unless those churches take steps to avoid being merely a “gathering of strangers.”

Knowing only a few fellow-Christians at a significant level might be tolerable in our individualistic society, but it hinders our “doing church” as specified in New Testament teaching. The Greek word allēlōn, meaning “one another”, “each other”, occurs nearly one hundred times in the New Testament, and fully a third of them refer to what Christians are to do in relationships: encourage, pray for, confess sins to, love, serve, weep with, and so forth (examples, Rom. 12:10, 16; 13:8; 14: 15:5; Eph. 4:2, 32; 5:21). Since most of those actions cannot be done while sitting row upon row, singing, partaking of the Lord’s supper, or listening to sermons—all good—thoughtful churches often use Bible classes or other groups to serve purposes beyond the assembly that are an inherent part of biblical church life.

Guide Groups to Productivity

It is known that when groups get together, especially in homes, they will talk! Usually, the subject matter, though not evil, fails to promote much godliness. I was once a member of a congregation with groups that met monthly in homes, had a light meal, reported on the work each had done (assignments given the previous week), and enjoyed each other. I created a list of eleven activities designed to let the group members know important things about each other. Without direction, groups tend to wander aimlessly. The following kind of questions were used successfully. Questions should vary, of course, depending on the makeup of the group, and the questions should be made known before the meeting.

  1. Who you are and why you are here in this place? (Grow up here, came for work or education?)
  2. Will you tell us how you became a Christian?
  3. May we ask you about one person who had an influence for godliness in your life—made you want to be a Christian or to be a better one?
  4. Will you tell us about some incident in your life that was especially meaningful and contributed to your Christian growth?
  5. Which song or hymn has been meaningful to you at some point in life?
  6. Likely we have all been blessed by a specific text if Scripture at some point in life. Will you tell us about one that has had meaning to you, fed you, encouraged you?
  7. Have you been favorably impressed by a Christian family at some point in your life? If so, will you tell us briefly about them?
  8. If you have had a very good experience in a Bible study—a class or with an individual—will you tell us about it?
  9. Have you ever heard a sermon that really connected with where you were at the time? Or one that answered an important question you had? Or one that motivated you to act?
  10. Has anyone ever helped you, been an encouragement to you, when you were having a tough time in life? If so, will you tell us briefly about it?
  11. (Usually it takes two weeks to do this one because it occurs at end of the year. By this time the group has heard from everyone else several times). Have all group members to answer the question, “What do you appreciate about . . . ?” In this manner every group member has a chance to say something about every other group member. People will say things they would rarely say otherwise. It is an upbuilding exercise.

Response to our Culture

There is much loneliness and anonymity in our culture. Some crime is attributed to mental illness or less serious emotional disturbances. What Christians can do for one another contributes to emotional wellbeing, to wholesomeness, as well as to encourage spiritual growth and service. Smaller units of behavior enable people to interact healthily, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). Lacking smaller settings for interaction at a significant level, I don’t see how it can do its best for the Lord.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Few Lessons from the Life of Timothy

A Few Lessons from the Life of Timothy

By Timothy Gunnells

We are first introduced to Timothy in Acts 16:1-5: “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.”

Notice that Timothy was already a disciple, as was his mother. His family background is significant to his usefulness to Paul (and to Christ) in that his father was Greek (a Gentile) and his mother was Jewish. Timothy knew the Scriptures because his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, taught them to him (2 Timothy 1:5). So, Timothy was not only a disciple of Christ, but he had been reared by devout women. At the same time, his father was a Greek who evidently did not believe. This unique mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and Greek culture made Timothy an ideal missionary to the Gentiles.

Timothy is mentioned 26 times in the New Testament (Acts and several of Paul’s letters). Two of Paul’s letters bear his name and are written to him with both personal admonitions and instructions for setting things in order in the churches where Timothy served. The book of Acts makes it clear that he accompanied Paul in his travels but that Paul often trusted him to go on his own to certain locations. In fact, in Acts 17, Silas and Timothy stay in Berea while Paul goes on to Athens where they will later come to him.

In several of Paul’s letters, he invokes Timothy’s name in the greeting as one who also sends his greeting and agrees with Paul’s writings. This seems to imply that Timothy was not only well thought of in his native Lystra, but that all the churches to which he travelled with Paul also held him in very high regard.

Paul wrote this to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18-19: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” Notice three things: 1) Paul addresses him as a “son” and gives him admonitions as a father would; 2) Paul said there were prophecies about Timothy and his faithfulness; and 3) He warns Timothy not to reject faith in Christ.

What are some lessons that we can take away from Timothy’s life?

First, our personal background can often make us more useful in certain circumstances. Timothy's family of origin gave him a unique perspective in working with churches made up of Jews and Gentiles. When I have an understanding of the culture and of history of the people I am teaching then I am more able to speak truth to them more clearly.

Second, devout women of faith carry considerable influence over a child’s spiritual development. My mother, grandmother, and many Sunday school teachers instilled a love of the Lord in me.

Third, a more mature mentor can strengthen us and give us clear direction in serving the Lord. My own father and another older minister mentored me and helped me to grow as a minister and disciple.

Fourth and finally, while spiritual maturity happens over time, it is up to us to serve well, continue to grow, and finish well. Timothy was a disciple when Paul met him. He served faithfully beside him, but Paul knew the trials of life and ministry could derail Timothy's faith. He urged him to fight the good fight of faith and remain faithful.

I urge you to think about your own life. Who have been the powerful influences? Who can you encourage in the faith? Are your practices, choices, and goals insuring that you will continue to grow so that you will keep the faith and finish well?

Note: The image above is an ancient Orthodox icon of Timothy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Three Ways We Can Live Out the Greatest Commandments

Three Ways We Can Live Out the Greatest Commandments

By Timothy Gunnells

All the words written in Scripture have a purpose and value, but some are certainly more important and applicable for daily living. For instance, when I was translating from the Book of Numbers in my Hebrew Reading class several years ago, I was translating numbers. This chief of this tribe brought this many silver bowls, etc., and one after another they brought the same number. When I began to translate some of the Psalms, however, there was a sense of awe and reverence that came over me. The language is different. Words have meaning. Some words have more meaning for life than others do.

So, when I read Matthew 22:36-40 and see Jesus answer a profound question, I pay even closer attention than I did to the number of silver bowls. One is a fact; the other is a foundational principle for living.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40, NASB)

When Jesus speaks, everyone should listen. Here he tells us plainly that all of the commandments, and by extension the entire Bible up to this point, hang on these two commandments. They can be summed up as Love God and Love People. So, how do we live out these commandments?

This is not an exhaustive commentary on how to live out these commandments, but the three basic principles I am suggesting will certainly guide you and provide a pathway for growth in living out the commandments to love God and love people.


While corporate worship is vital to spiritual health, so is individual time with the Lord. There are several examples in Scripture of Jesus being in solitude with the Father. The same goes for Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, John, Peter, Paul, and on and on. If Jesus and these spiritual giants needed to be alone with God, then why am I not setting aside regular time for it? Just 15 minutes of undistracted time alone with God each day can make a big difference in your relationship with God, and with other people. Longer periods regularly will be transformative.

Sacred Reading

Reading the Bible for the sake of gaining knowledge and insight is important, very important. I have read through the entire Bible from cover to cover multiple times. I love to do it, and it has been vital to my growth. At the same time, I have spent a week on a short Psalm or in the Beatitudes or some other short passage. I have meditated on them, prayed over them, and used them as guides to prayer. When I do this, I am not seeking head knowledge I am seeking to be transformed more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. When I read short passages and savor every word to be changed from the inside out, I approach Scripture in a more sacred way. The Bible is not an ordinary book to be read for pleasure alone or to prepare for an assessment. The Bible is written for our transformation and we must approach every moment with it as sacred. Sacred reading will help us to love God and love people.


If you haven’t spent time in John 13 lately, you may have forgotten an important example Jesus set for us. This is where He washes His disciples’ feet, including a man who would betray Him to His death. In the passage, he sets the example and always states very directly that serving others is part of serving God. Some people aren’t easily served. Some people annoy us, mistreat us, talk down to us and even betray us, but we must seek to serve those most of all. We can serve in small ways, like putting our shopping cart away or picking up litter in the bathroom. We can serve in big ways, like aiding after natural disasters or caring for the sick. The bottom line is service is a way to show that we love God and love people. It should be what we do all day long. There are no shortages of opportunities to serve; we just need to open our eyes.

To recap, we can better live out the greatest commands to love God and love people by pursuing three things: solitude with God, sacred reading of Scripture, and serving our fellow human beings. If we will do these three things consistently we will be transformed and those around us will be transformed as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Firecracker Theology?


C. Philip Slate

My wife and I were in Taiwan for the 1980 Far East Mission Workshop, guests of Enoch and Janneane Thweatt. By then they had already worked in the country several years. At one point Enoch informed me that he did an analysis of the literature that had been produced by our people for use in Taiwan. “Between 80% and 90% of it was addressed our issues with Protestants and Roman Catholics,” he said. In terms of world religions, literature was intramural in nature.

This is what I mean. In the later 1970s Taiwan was 48.5% Folk religion and 43 % Buddhist. The combined total of the motley Christian groups formed only 7.4% of the population. The remaining 1.1% was made up of Muslims, atheists, Baha’is, Jews, secularists, and all others.[2] Although the majority of the national population was not receptive, some groups and individuals were. David Liao had pointed out that historically the Hakka Chinese people had been receptive to the gospel.[3] He argued that in Taiwan they had been just neglected.

Firecrackers. Meanwhile, when I walked through residential areas of Taipei, especially earlier in the day, I noticed on the sidewalks fluffy paper left from spent firecrackers. I inquired what that meant. I learned that often people light a pack of small firecrackers and toss them out the front door to scare away the evil spirits before residents leave the house for work, perhaps to work in sophisticated technology. Evil spirits? Yes, and it was likely that over half of the national population regarded them as real and active.

Along another route I noticed a small box-like structure, not more than 24 inches high. “What is that?” I asked. I was told it was the dwelling place of some spirit or minor deity. Such structures can be seen at the edge of rice fields and other places where the people felt the need of some kind of power or force to help them with life.

“The Old Man in the sky.” One night, just past midnight, we heard horrific explosions, much like one hears in the USA around New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July. The following morning, we inquired what that noise meant. The Thweatts asked a local Chinese girl about it. She thought for a moment and said, “Oh, it’s the birthday of the Old Man in the Sky.”

Over and over one could see evidence of traditional religions and Buddhism, but our literature dealt with the proper form of baptism, the right church, and appropriate worship—all important for people who want to follow the New Testament order of things, but hardly appropriate as beginning points with pagans. Later, at Harding School of Theology Edward Short wrote a fine M.A. thesis on an evaluation of the pai pai feasts in Taiwan in view of the New Testament teaching about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Short had worked many years in Taiwan and learned Chinese. The purpose of his thesis research was eventually to help Chinese Christians determine to what extent they could participate in that feature of their society without being idolaters. That thesis was a useful encounter with the local culture at a valid point of tension, but it was exceptional.

It seemed to me that somewhere along the line someone should have developed what might be called “firecracker theology” addressed to a society that fears evil spirits. There would have been much material for it in the Gospels, and even Ephesians 6:10-20, on the availability to the Christian of means of dealing with whatever active evil forces there might be in their lives. There is nothing “Pentecostal” about the items of Christian armor in Ephesians 6:10-20, nor does that armor look like even the gifts seen in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Those items in Ephesians 6 are available to every child of God, with the promise that through them one may wage a winning warfare. Paul’s letter addressed some of the pressing concerns in first century Ephesus. As surely as that was a “principalities-and-powers” theology, there is place for various beginning points in contemporary evangelism and post-baptismal nurturing. What form should that take in your area?

The Purpose Here

The purpose of this article is not to analyze the past work in Taiwan by our workers. Rather, it is to raise the question in our own country about where to begin in our evangelistic efforts and nurturing work in a changing culture. No matter how biblical a point might be, if it does not initially “scratch people where they itch,” to quote B. C. Goodpasture, it is unlikely to lead to a useful engagement between Christians and non-Christians.

To illustrate this point, I refer to efforts at a meeting of the minds with Buddhists and Hindus. Historically, both religions have yielded many converts to one form or another of Christianity. The initial contact, however, is very important. A Scottish teacher in a seminary in India was once asked to speak to the students in an Ashram (Hindu “seminary”) on the meaning of Christmas. After the missionary’s presentation, the Hindu Headmaster asked, “Sir, is it not true that for you Christians forgiveness of sins is primary, whereas to us Hindus that action is not possible, and if it were it would be immoral?” In their worldview sins of all sorts are to be punished, not forgiven. There is a way of making meaningful initial encounters with Buddhists and Hindus who hold such views, but the promise of forgiveness of sins is not that point! Forgiveness is, of course, good theology to us but not good news to them.

A Japanese missionary to Thailand, Kosuke Koyama, has written engagingly about how he tried to make sense to rural farmers among whom he worked. He remarked, “I decided to subordinate great theological thoughts, like those of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth,[4] to intellectual and spiritual needs of the farmers. . . . I also decided that I have not really understood Summa Theologiae and Church Dogmatics until I am able to use them for the benefit of the farmers.”[5] His theology apart—I do not know what his basic message was—one should think the same way about using solid biblical teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-22). Did not Paul begin his preaching at different points with Gentiles and Jews? Check out book of Acts and notice the differences between sermons to Jews and those to Gentiles.

Timothy Tennent has provided a good, general overview of the varying wordviews and assumptions found in various regions and religions of the world and suggested points of engagement.[6] Reading that work helps one to ask the right questions about one’s own culture.

A big question for would-be bearers of good news is, where do I begin in my zip code? All the surveys in recent years indicate a slight increase in the number of atheists but a large increase of the “Nones.” Among those who call themselves “spiritual,” even “Christian,” when asked with which church they identify or are a member, they answer, “None.” Finding the right church is not a big priority with them, or if it is, they think in terms of what a church can do for them, regardless of its name or theological stance.

People who think that way grant the spiritual category of life, but they are very straightforward about what does or does not make sense to them. They seem to be attracted initially to behavior more than to belief. Yes, we know that behavior without the underpinning of biblical meaning is in the long run mere humanism and futile, about like being baptized as an act of magic or to please a girlfriend. The Nones seem to be attracted to the compassionate work of churches and to the consistently lived Christian life of individuals.[7] The question is, What are the pressing concerns in various regions of North America?

Once people become Christians today, they bring with them baggage that is different from the common baggage of fifty years ago, and this has a bearing on the content of our post-baptismal nurturing of new converts. There is no single path to disciple-making and nurturing in our pluralistic society. It is important to note people’s background as we work to teach and re-educate them in the Christian worldview. We can gain insight from nationwide surveys like Thom Rainer’s Surprising Insight from the Unchurched, but it is still necessary to think in terms of our own zip codes.


[1] A slightly different version of this article appeared in PreacherStuff a year or so ago. Joel Stephen Williams suggested I submit it to Christian Ministry and Missions.

[2] David Barrett, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982): 235.

[3] David H.C. Liao, The Unresponsive: Resistant or Neglected? (2nd ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).

[4] A product of his Western/USA education at Drew and Princeton.

[5] Kosuke Koyama, Water Buffalo Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974): viii.

[6] Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the context of World Christianity: how the global church is influencing the way we think about and discuss theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

[7] See Art Lindsley, Love, The Ultimate Apologetic, The Heart of Christian Witness (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008); Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

Monday, January 10, 2022

Avoiding Burnout

Avoiding Burnout

By Timothy C. Gunnells

Burnout is a common problem for leaders in almost any profession and almost any type of organization, but I know first-hand that burnout is a common problem for spiritual leaders, especially those in full-time ministry. Most people go into ministry because of a sincere and passionate desire to lead people closer to the Lord. They want to be an active part of carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). However, all too often the burdens of working with people, tending to needs, and laboring in ways that most people cannot understand lead to burnout. In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton uses Moses’ life as a case-study for today’s leader.

Barton recalls how overworked and burned-out Moses had gotten when Jethro, his father-in-law, returned with Moses' wife and sons:

“Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace." So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.” (Exodus 18:14-24)

Jethro saw the signs of burnout and offered a solution to Moses and Moses listened to him. Barton lists the signs of a spiritual leader who is “dangerously depleted” and running on fumes:

  1. Irritability or hypersensitivity – Things that normally don’t bother us send us over the edge.
  2. Restlessness – Uneasiness during the day and the inability to rest or sleep at night.
  3. Compulsive overworking – There are no boundaries between work and other parts of our life.
  4. Emotional numbness – We aren’t in touch with our emotions, things don’t seem to affect us.
  5. Escapist Behaviors – Compulsive eating, drinking, substance abuse, or even surfing the internet.
  6. Disconnected from our identity and calling – We find ourselves going through the motions. Where once we were passionate, now we are tired.
  7. Not able to attend to human needs – We don’t exercise, eat right, or sleep enough.
  8. Hoarding energy – We become overly self-protective or even reclusive, to avoid people.
  9. Slippage in our spiritual practices – We don’t have the energy for solitude, silence, or prayer. This leaves us with nothing to offer anyone else.

If even a few of these conditions describe you, then chances are you are like Moses and “what you are doing is not good”. Just like Moses, we should delegate responsibilities to other spiritually mature people who can, in turn, minister to the people that we don’t have the time or energy to help. If we don’t learn to delegate, decompress, and spend adequate personal time with God, then burnout is coming. Make changes now and chart a new course for a healthier life. If I can help, let me know.


[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, IVP Books, 2008.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Global Evangelizing: Doing It Better


by C. Philip Slate

Few churches of any theological persuasion doubt that God wants the good news of Jesus Christ taught throughout the world, to every person. Jesus made that clear, and the story of the early church (Acts of the Apostles) shows that the believers understood it. For those in our day who want to carry out our Lord’s desire, the question of how to do it is always present. Crossing national and cultural lines involves many variables, and those variables often change over time: languages, finances, national politics, human values, and the like. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Failure to learn some of those variables and to think and pray through them invites great disappointment.

Mistakes and Defeats: Some churches and missionary societies have labored for many years with almost nothing of permanence to show for their work, while others in the same area do well. Often, workers about the task in the wrong way. Some human groups, of course, are so resistant to new things that no method of evangelism brings a big harvest. In other cases, however, groups might be very open to wise approaches to them. It has been easy for many Protestant churches simply to pour money into a missionary society since such groups are supposed to know how to do the work effectively, but several societies are known to have made some of the biggest mistakes in missions history. The big factor is having knowledge of the processes, and that is open to any and all who will put forth the effort to learn.

Using the local church rather than a missionary society has been a matter of principle, a matter of belief, with churches of Christ in the USA since the 19th century.[1] Happily, we have a lot of good, tangible results from this approach as God has worked through his people. Worldwide, the typical (if there is such a thing) member of the churches of Christ as we know them is a person of color; he or she is not a white Euro-American. It is estimated that sixty-five to seventy-five percent of “our” members live outside of North America and Europe. Comparatively, we have enjoyed much better success than some missionary societies. Nevertheless, some big mistakes have been made that hinder the spread of the gospel. When churches fund missionaries who do not have available knowledge about the tasks they undertake, disappointments come easily. Obviously, the only kind of workers God has for use are those who are flawed, so learning all we can still makes us “vessels of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7) so the power may be seen to be God’s.

Resource Servants: Some churches have persisted in practices that have been known for two hundred years and more to be a faulty way of going about the work. For example, as a rule it is a mistake for churches in one country to put national workers in another country on direct support without appropriate arrangements. Several churches continue to engage in that practice without circumscribing it with important provisions. The point is, in a church-sponsored approach to global work—and churches of Christ are not the only ones who do that—all the decisions about selecting workers, providing emotional and financial support, and evaluations fall to the sending church. That means those churches need to become informed about the nature of the task. Perhaps the best way to achieve such understanding is to form a group of willing workers within the congregation who are willing to learn the processes and thus become a good resource of information for the shepherds of the congregation. Whether such groups are called “missions committees”, “global evangelism teams”, or “global ministry committees”, they can be a valuable resource for the elders to make final and prayerful decisions about the work the congregation supports. Of course, outside resource persons can be used as well. Smaller churches can join larger churches in the financial, prayerful, and emotional support of the work. To meet this need of information at the local church level, Missions Resource Network requested a few years ago that I write a little handbook on the subject.[2] If resource groups, global evangelism committees, will work through that booklet their decisions will be much better. MRN has a vast collection of helpful and free materials. Check the resources on their website:

Globalizing evangelistic work is God’s work that he does through his servants. That is one reason Paul mentioned being “workers together with God” (2 Cor. 5:16-6:1; cf. Eph.6:10). In reference to his teaching and warning, Paul referred to his “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). I see no reason to believe that that kind of divine help was an exclusive apostolic power. Paul rejoiced that the church at Philippi has been used by God to minister to his needs (Phil. 4:10-20). No matter how well informed we are, how many articles and books we have read, how many classes and lectures attended, we never get beyond the need repeatedly to seek wisdom from above and strength to endure. With all the help God gives (2 Cor. 4:7), we still need, as we sing, to “give of your best to the Master.” That applies to churches as well as individuals.

[1] For a good recent statement, see Barry Baggott, “Missionary Societies: When Expediency was Allowed to Trump the Biblical Pattern,” Gospel Advocate (November 2005): 31-33.

[2] Philip Slate, Missions Handbook for Local Churches (Bedford, TX: Missions Resource Network, 2008). Contact them at or (517) 267-2727.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Unintended Messages

Unintended Messages

Bill Bagents

We know we must be exceedingly careful to avoid judgmentalism in all its forms. Because it flows from arrogance and/or fear, a condemning “gotcha” spirit is repeatedly rejected by Jesus (Matt 9:9–13, Matt 12:1–8, Luke 9:51–56, John 8:1–12). Scripture forbids judging others by a standard we don’t first apply to ourselves (Matt 7:1–5). It forbids judging by mere appearance (John 7:24). It forbids judging when it’s not our place to judge (Rom 14:1–13). I offer these warnings to myself in preparation for the thoughts that follow.

We know that practicing sound judgment is both virtuous and essential to healthy living. Sound judgment starts with healthy biblical self-evaluation (Matt 7:1–5, 2 Cor 13:5). It includes welcoming, verifying, and following God’s word (Acts 17:11).

We know it is far easier to evaluate actions and words than it is to discern the motives behind them. That commonsense statement gains support from both Matthew 7:15–20 and James 3:13–18. Still, we must watch our words (James 3:1–12). We often don’t say what we intend. We often send errant and confusing messages, even when we intend—or even think that we’ve expressed—the very opposite. Thus, we offer the list below of unintended messages that we must guard against.

We never want to say to others, “I’m better, smarter, or more important than you.” Such messages deny the truth of Genesis 1:26–27 and Romans 3:23. But that’s just the message we send if we bully, discount, or disrespect anyone made in God’s image. When we send mixed or contradictory messages, we impede communication. We open the door for those who hear us to choose the worst possible option and the pain that it brings.

We never want to say to others, “You have nothing to offer me. God can’t use you to bless me.” That contradicts the beautiful descriptions of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11–16. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we listen poorly, don’t listen, or reject wise counsel. When our actions contradict our words, people strongly tend to believe the actions. Not only that, they often judge the words to be insincere or deceitful. Some will even conclude that the incongruence reveals our motive—“I know pride when I see it.”

We never want to say to others, “You’re not worthy of my help. You don’t count in my world.” That contradicts the loving teaching of Matthew 7:12, John 13:34–35, and Philippians 2:1–4. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we fail to step up, lean in, and serve when God gives us opportunity to help others. Think of the priest and the Levite in Luke 10. Think of the rich man who did not bless poor Lazarus (Luke 16).

We never want to say to God, “I don’t need you today. I have life well in hand.” That contradicts the clear teaching of Acts 17:22–31 and Proverbs 3:5–6. That has us embracing the philosophy of the rich fool from Luke 12:16–21. But, intended or not, we tell God that we don’t need Him whenever we neglect prayer (Luke 18:1, 1 Thess 5:17). People left to their own wisdom do not fare well (Prov 16:25).

We never want to say to ourselves, “Just this once, this tiny sin won’t matter. God won’t notice—even if He does, He won’t care.” That contradicts both the strong warning of Romans 6:23 and the powerful encouragement of Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 1:13–15. It opens the door to being bound and blinded by sin (Rom 6:11–16). But, intended or not, any time we dabble in sin, we’ve said to God, “I don’t really believe You, my understanding of spiritual reality is superior to Yours, and I have not truly given You my heart.” What a fearsome, deluded message! What a stunning rejection of the first and great commandment (Matt 22:36–40)! The God who made us, sustains us, and gave His Son for us, deserves so much better!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

On "Leading in Prayer"

Man Praying

On “Leading in Prayer”

by C. Philip Slate

The words “leading in prayer” are shorthand for one person’s voicing thoughts to which others assent, agree, or affirm. It is a biblical concept with a useful Old Testament backdrop and a New Testament example.

A Biblical Concept

When the ark of the covenant was brought from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David and placed in the tent David had prepared for it, great celebration accompanied the procession. David directed Asaph and his brothers to sing a song of thanksgiving (1 Chron. 16:7). The song occupies twenty-nine verses in our Bibles (vs. 8-36). When they finished, the people said, “Amen!”, thus assenting to the words, approving what was sung. Thereby they participated in the thanksgiving. “Amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word by which people expressed agreement.

An interesting occurrence is found in Ps. 106:48. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD!” The people were assenting to, affirming agreement or identify with the sentiments expressed. Similarly, in Deut. 27 a dozen curses are pronounced from the law, and in each case the listening Israelites affirmed them by saying “Amen” (vs. 15-24).

The word “Amen” has other uses in both Old and New Testaments, such as simply affirming a statement made by oneself, but the concern here is the manner in which one person voices statements which others may affirm or make their own. Often, one who leads prayer will begin appropriately by inviting the congregation to “pray with me.”

Paul urges the Corinthian believers to avoid “giving thanks” in a tongue without interpreting it since those who hear the verbal sounds would be unable to “say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying” (1 Cor. 14:16). One person expressed thanksgiving; others identified with it and made it their own by saying “Amen.” This “amen” could be uttered at any time and more than once; it was not the signal that the prayer has finished. How, then, may one who leads prayer thoughts do it well?

When One Leads Prayer . . .

Leading others: There is a difference between praying in the presence of others and leading others in prayer. I have heard men who were supposed to be leading a congregation in prayer to thank God for “my good family” or “my loving wife” or “my good health.” Everyone cannot engage in those expressions. One who leads prayer should voice sentiments with which most of the congregation can identify, to which they can say the “Amen.” It is appropriate to state at times, “Lord, some of us . . . . “ rather than putting everyone in the same position.

Categories: There are values in mentioning categories of prayer and then giving the congregation time to pray silently and personally. One might say, “Now let each of us ask our great God to help us with one problem with which we are dealing.” That suggests a category, but the problems will vary with the individual. The leader might suggest such categories as thanksgiving “for one person who has helped you in your Christian growth”, confessing a sin or some weakness, or requesting strength to carry out a righteous resolution you have made. Many people like to be reminded of such categories because they do not think of them when they pray.

Planning: It is advisable to know ahead of time when one is to lead a group in prayer, for then he (or she in appropriate cases) can plan the components of prayer. It is useful to make a list of things to mention in prayer. As early as 1807 writers were using the components of thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and praise; but there is a clear example of grouping those components by the acronym, ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. There are other dimensions of prayer, but these four are vital. In my experience among Christians, there is much more Thanksgiving and Supplication (requests) than Adoration and Confession. Adoration appears in several of our songs and hymns, and it means “praise”, “veneration”, “worship”. Of course, the Psalms are full of praise and adoration sentiments. Confession is an important element of maintaining relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:8-9). Read Nehemiah’s prayer of confession of Israel’s sins (Neh. 1:5-4-11). Each time we ask for forgiveness we are tacitly confessing we have transgressed in some way, but it is spiritually healthy to name some of those errors, things that we have committed or omitted, what we have wrongly done or neglected. People who follow you in prayer will appreciate you helping them to name errors of life, but it is likely best to say, “. . . some of us confess . . .” because everyone in the congregation is not in the same position. Be thoughtful about things for which you express Thanksgiving; mention items that are often neglected. We are in our right to make Supplications, requests (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), because our heavenly Father cares about us and gives good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11).

Commonly, we do a lot of asking, requesting don’t we? In this regard it is important to remember “D.v.” Often our brothers and sisters in the British Isles will insert “(D.v.)” in their letters and articles at points where they are referring to plans and intentions for the future. Those two letters stand for the Latin, Deo volente, which mean “God willing.” Lest we be presumptive about life, and even our requests, James instructed that we should have a “D.v.” attitude (Jas. 4:13-17). That should be the case in our requests to God.

We Learn to Pray

People tend to pray the words they hear others using. Thus, when mature, thoughtful people lead us in prayer, they are also providing useful models for us. Jesus’ disciples asked him to “teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). He did. We can also learn from the prayers recorded in Paul’s epistles. Herbert Lockyer’s All the Prayers of the Bible provides a useful collection of prayers.

William Barclay, Scottish biblical scholar who wrote many popular books, was once interviewed by a writer for The British Weekly. “Professor Barclay, you have written many books,” the interviewer began. “Which of those has given you the greatest satisfaction?” Barclay replied, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers.” He reported that in response to it he had heard from people all over the world, monarchs and inmates, wealthy and poor, well-educated and poorly educated—many types of people. “People don’t know how to pray,” Barclay observed. At least most of us can use some help. One who does a good job of preparing to “lead us in prayer” can both help us to pray and provide some useful models of how to go about it. Strive to do your best when asked to “lead the prayer” or “lead us in prayer”.