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As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be engaging the lost. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there are times when I fall into a subconscious pattern of thinking that I only need to spend enough time with lost people to share the gospel with them. Or even worse, I start to think: I need to get to know some lost people so they can come to my church.
Have you ever thought like this? As a pastor, tangible measures of success can be very tempting. Before I even realize it, I can begin to treat people like faceless data. There are certainly godly motives for caring about numbers in our churches (which I wrote about in my previous post), but in general, this mindset is deeply flawed for three reasons.It’s sniffable
I bet you’ve done this before. You come into your church’s sanctuary on a Sunday morning, and as you sit in your normal spot, you notice someone new sitting a few rows away. It’s a young family with a few toddlers — just the kind of people you are hoping to add to your congregation! Reluctantly you go up and thrust a hand in their direction, offering a firm handshake and your heartiest “Welcome to our church!” After asking their names and where they are from, you quickly say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do! Thanks for coming!” and you retreat to your seat.
Let’s admit it. The only reason we greeted them was in hopes that they would come back the next week. In that moment of interaction, we have allowed this thought to worm into our brain: So what if they come back? Are we just trying to get as many people to sit next to each other inside a building one day a week?
It is fantastic to invite people to church, and there are God-glorifying reasons to want people to continue to come to church. However, when we have conversations with non-Christians and our primary goal is to get them to come to our church, they can sniff us out. When we are just trying to boost our Sunday attendance, they can tell.
So, quit. In a world where everyone is working an angle, let us stand out. When non-Christians talk with us, may they smell the aroma of Christ. Let us be men and women “of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God [speaking] in Christ” with heartfelt compassion, genuine interest, and humble concern (2 Cor. 2:17).It’s not enough
If we think the only responsibility of the Christian to the lost world is to get a greater number of them into church, we have misunderstood the mission of Christ. The kingdom of heaven is the stone of Daniel 2:35 that “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” The rule of Christ must bleed into every area of our lives. His healing and live-giving blood has to reach into the deepest parts of human existence.
I have a feeling that we like inviting someone to church because it is so clean. But when we see Jesus, he’s constantly getting dirty: touching lepers, putting mud on the eyes of the blind, allowing prostitutes to wash his feet, washing his disciples’ feet, sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, and having conversations with loose women. Here was his motive: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt. 9:37).
We have to capture this compassion and make it our own. The people of your city are not prospective church attendees, they are sheep without a shepherd. They are harassed and helpless. They have dirty lives full of problems and issues. We have to be willing to bring the love of Christ into their very particular and sticky situations—”For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Like Jesus, we must refuse to be satisfied with merely shake hands with sinners on Sundays. We must allow our lives to become entangled with the problems, sins, and struggles of people who need Christ’s love through us.It’s degrading
Your neighbor is not just an opportunity for you to tally your conversions chart. Your co-worker is not just a chance to boost your church’s baptisms record. Your waitress is not merely a number to add to your Sunday attendance. She is a person made in the image of God dying in a dark and hateful world without anyone to care for her. What she needs is not another person trying to use her, but someone who treats her like creature of such value that the Almighty Son of God would stoop to dying on a cross to rescue her.
Every group on earth is trying to boost their ranks, improve their attendance, and grow their influence. Jesus calls us to value every single person, to love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love is motivated, shaped by, and empowered through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are sent to shine the light of the cross and the warmth of reconciliation that comes through repenting and believing in Jesus. This is a love-soaked message. It must be accompanied by actual genuine love.How do we test our love?
Here’s a simple way to discern your motives. Anytime you feel the impulse to engage a lost person, ask yourself this question: How will I respond if they refuse the gospel? Will you move on to the next one? If you immediately begin to feel that a relationship with that person is a waste of time because they won’t come to your church or immediately become a Christian, you have your answer.
We have to be willing to build relationships with the lost in order to show them the love of Christ. Faithfully share the gospel with them. Allow them time to see that the gospel is not merely a set of beliefs, but a life-changing relationship with the savior, King Jesus. Walk with them through what repentance and forgiveness look like. Show them the value of brotherly love in the church. And plead to God for them. If you do these things, you can be satisfied the numbers will take care of themselves.
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After His resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ gave His last instructions for the expansion of the Gospel:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The task of evangelizing and discipling all of the ethnic groups (in Greek panta ta ethne) is very clear in the command of the resurrected Christ. We also see here the task of teaching the believers all the things that Jesus taught His disciples. In the book of Acts, we find that the disciples took very seriously what Jesus had commanded: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (2:42).
As we study the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we find out that he also took very seriously the training of leaders for the work of the ministry. To Timothy, whom he personally trained, Paul gave instructions on how he, in turn, should train others:
You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary takes the Great Commission very seriously. In all of its classes (especially the missions, evangelism and discipleship classes) and in chapel, the task of making disciples is continuously emphasized. Every week, under the direction of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, groups of students go out to evangelize in homes, shopping centers and universities that surround the seminary.
One of the ways in which Southwestern Seminary is addressing the “ta ethne” dimension of the Great Commission is by making extraordinary efforts to train leaders to reach the Hispanic population in this country. To accomplish this, Southwestern Seminary has designed a Master in Theological Studies degree that is totally in Spanish, totally online and astonishingly affordable. This degree plan, which consists of 12 courses of 3 credit hours each, provides biblical and theological instruction that sets a solid foundation for ministry. The response has been so enthusiastic that today there are more than 400 Spanish-speaking students enrolled.
The U.S. Hispanic population continues to grow rapidly every year. In 1970, there were 9.6 million Hispanics in this country. In 2017, the number of Hispanics surpassed 58 million. The projections are that by 2050 there will be 128 million Hispanics, which will be a third of the population of this country. A very encouraging fact is that the Hispanic population in the U.S. is responding more favorably to the Gospel message than at any other time in the history of this country. Today, close to 25 percent of Hispanic Americans identify themselves as Protestant/Evangelical. With regard to Hispanics, we can truly say that “the fields are ripe unto the harvest.”
In light of the explosive growth of the Hispanic population and their unprecedented response to the Gospel, it is truly encouraging that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is taking extraordinary measures to train the largest number of Spanish-speaking persons possible to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed in the Hispanic churches and ministries.
For information on Southwestern’s Spanish-language courses, visit swbts.edu/espanol or call 817-923-1921, ext. 2700.
Aren’t we all tired of churches that seem to care too much about numbers? We all know the ones. They always want to compare Sunday morning attendance figures with you. They structure their ministry goals like a corporation trying to boost third-quarter figures. Some of them seem willing to use any form of manipulation to coerce people into snap decisions just so that they can dunk them in the baptismal pool. It can be sickening.
But what if numbers are actually very important? Could I convince you that how many people gathered Sunday at your sanctuary should be a big deal? In fact, I would argue that the number of people who come to Christ and join your church should be of great concern. I believe you should care how many people are on your membership list — down to the very last one.
Three reasons why.The Glory of God
In the Ten Commandments, God forbids making, serving, and worshipping idols because “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:3-5). Later in the same book, he reiterates his unwillingness to share his glory with other gods: “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34:14). God’s plan, his purposes, and his work of salvation are all centered around bringing glory to his name through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As his people, we are to be filled with the same zealous desire for his name to be praised among all peoples and nations. The psalmist puts it this way: “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Ps. 86:9). Nearly every epistle of the New Testament contains some sort of doxology shouting forth “to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!” (1 Tim. 1:17). We live to see our saving King glorified by every man, woman, child, rock, tree, fox, and star. We want everything that has breath to praise the Lord (Ps. 150:6) we want the entire creation to burst forth with God’s glory (Isa. 55:12-13).
What does this have to do with numbers? Well, if we are truly jealous for God’s glory, then every person who chooses not to gather with God’s people to worship God is choosing to give glory to false gods. This should be unacceptable. Every empty seat in your sanctuary is another person who is choosing to give what belongs to God to something less than God. We should not be satisfied until every tongue in our city cries forth his glorious praise.The salvation of man
Every face you see is the face of a man or woman in need of the cleansing power of Jesus. Every person walking the sidewalks, riding the subways, or shopping in the grocery is a person who was designed to worship and commune with God. Every single one of them is a sinner justly deserving God’s wrath and in need of a Savior. Every single one.
Our churches should care about the number of individuals who are being saved because we should care about every individual. Every person who finds forgiveness of sins at the cross is one more brother, one more sister, one more person who is no longer separated from God.
We cannot simply content ourselves, saying, “We won’t worry about the numbers. God will take care of the numbers.” It’s true, God will take care of the numbers. However, until every man and woman is saved from the wages of their sin, we should never be content. Our hearts should throb with the desire of our God who does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This passion for the salvation of men was the fuel for Paul’s evangelistic mission: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14).The health of the church
Your church should care about the number of members at the church—not so you can throw your ecclesiological heft around or so you can pat yourselves on the back. The number of members should matter because members are not just names on a page. They are the precious sheep of Jesus’s flock. He is not willing to lose even one (John 10:27-30).
How many of our churches see people fall off the grid every year? We might be tempted to argue that 1 John 2:19 leaves us guiltless; perhaps they left because they weren’t truly believers. That is certainly possible in some cases. But I suspect something else might be afoot. Ask yourself: How hard is my church trying to make sure to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13)? Could it be that our churches are shirking their Spirit-empowered duty to be the means of perseverance for the saints?Go hard after them
We’re all familiar with the story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out the one wandering sheep. In Matthew 18, Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the necessity of church discipline. Church discipline is all about the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep. It’s an unwillingness of the church to say numbers don’t matter. We will chase every last sheep who wanders away from her Savior and into sin if it kills us!
Which of us wants to be the one to explain to the Good Shepherd why we allowed one of his to go astray, and we chose not to chase after that invaluable sheep? Numbers matter because we want to see every single one of our brothers and sisters persevere to the end. As a member of your church, you have a covenant responsibility to every name on that membership to be pursuing them in love. Your church should be about the numbers. Down to the very last sheep.