Q&A with Thom Rainer | Becoming a Welcoming Church

Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of the new book Becoming a Welcoming Church. Matt O’Reilly of Orthodoxy for Everyone (OFE) recently asked Thom six questions about the book. And check out Matt’s video review of Becoming a Welcoming Church at the end of the interview.

  1. What prompted you to write Becoming a Welcoming Church?
    It was one of the key topics that kept being discussed at my podcast, my blog, and ChurchAnswers.com.
  2. Several times in the book you mention the relationship between evangelism and being a welcoming church. How does intentional focus on becoming a welcoming church help us lead people to Jesus?
    A welcoming church is an outwardly-focused church. An outwardly-focused church is more likely to have opportunities for gospel conversations.
  3. What are the dangers of not being a welcoming church?
    The members will become inwardly-focused and miss opportunities to share the gospel. Also, guests will not return.
  4. What’s the difference between a friendly church and a welcoming church?
    A friendly church loves to take care of its members. A welcoming churches also loves those on the outside.
  5. If a church has little or no focused attention on welcoming guests, what are the most important first steps?
    Get your church’s website to be welcoming website for guests. That’s where they come first. Then train members to become welcoming members.
  6. What is the pastor’s role in becoming a welcoming church?
    Be the example. Keep the importance of becoming a welcoming church before the members.

Buy Becoming a Welcoming Church on Amazon.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

When is a church not a church? | Mulholland on Revelation #UMC

The book of Revelation is full of practical application for today’s church. One of my favorite things about Bob Mulholland’s commentary on Revelation is the attention he gives to the formative power of the Apocalypse. One good example of this comes in his analysis of the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. Mulholland observes that, according to Acts 19-20, when the gospel first came to Ephesus, believers responded in a way that carried significant impact in the city, economic not least. They believed the gospel and they behaved in a way that brought the implications of the gospel to bear on the city of Ephesus. But by the time Revelation is written, while the Ephesians still believe the right things (Rev 2:2), they have lost their first love (Rev 2:4). They remain orthodox, but they’re no longer evangelistic. So Mulholland says

…we see that orthodoxy and evangelism are the inseparable foci of a healthy church. Both must be kept in dynamic balance. Evangelism without orthodoxy becomes a tolerant pluralism and results in a community formed around diffuse human values and criteria. Orthodoxy without evangelism becomes a cold, harsh legalism and results in a community formed around debilitating “do’s and don’ts.” Sound orthodoxy and fervent evangelism result in a community of faith whose growing wholeness of life is a powerful witness of the cleansing, healing, liberating life in Christ to a soiled, wounded, and imprisoned world (435).

Mulholland seems to be using the language of evangelism to refer broadly to the various ways churches might engage their community in ministry, even though that language typically refers to a clear articulation of the truth of the gospel and a call to faith in Jesus. In any case, his point is made. And some may think he doesn’t go far enough, since there are segments of some denominations that are neither orthodox nor evangelistic.

Commitment to truth is important, but it’s not enough. And that commitment must translate into action. Likewise, engaging the culture must be grounded in truth. If it isn’t, there are consequences. Jesus commanded the church in Ephesus to remember and do the works they did at first (Rev 2:5). If they do not, he will remove their lampstand. That is, their status as a church. What’s the point? A church that doesn’t maintain the balance between orthodoxy and evangelism will not long be a church. And that, of course, raises another question. When is a church no longer a church?

Have you ever been in a church setting that did a good job keeping the balance between evangelism and orthodoxy ? A church that did not? What are the keys to keeping the balance? Why do churches struggle to keep that balance? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and experience.

Get your copy of Revelation by Robert Mulholland.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Why evangelism? It’s about worship.

Why must we do evangelism? What is the goal? A great many answers to these questions have been put forward. We do it to see people converted, to see them become disciples of Jesus increasingly conformed to his image. We evangelize out of obedience to Christ, love for the lost, and for the glory of God. All of these reasons are good and right. But there’s another word that comes to mind, one that we don’t always hear associated with evangelism. What is that word? It’s worship. Evangelism is about worship.
In the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul celebrates the manner in which the the good news first came to the believers in that city. He says that when he first preached the gospel to them, it came “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:5). For Paul, the gospel is about the saving work of God through the death and resurrection of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 1:16-17; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 15:1-4). And evangelism, as the announcement of that good news, is a means of grace by which the Holy Spirit works powerfully to produce conviction in the one who hears enabling them to respond with believing obedience to the message they’ve heard. 
But that is not all that Paul celebrates. That means of grace serves a greater end. Near the end of the same chapter he commends the Thessalonians because word about them has spread to other regions. And what were people saying? They were talking about how the Thessalonians had turned “to God from idols” (1:9). Why does Paul get really excited about evangelism? Why did he give his life to evangelizing the Roman Empire? He did it because there were people out there who did not worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead (cf. 1:10). The goal of evangelism is to bring people into the worship of the one living and true God.
One pastor is well-known for saying that, “Mission exists because worship does not.” We can easily, and for the same reasons, say that evangelism exists because worship does not. There are great and untold numbers of people who have not yet come into the life-giving worship of the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth. When they do, our evangelistic imperative will come to an end. But until that day, God has granted his people the privilege of announcing the good news of “the one who loved us and gave himself for us.” This is our joyful duty until that day. 

Catching a Fresh Vision of Faith

You no longer have to go to church to hear about faith. We are constantly surrounded with talk of faith and belief. From Hollywood to popular music; professional sports to political campaigns; the language of faith is everywhere. And in each context, it seems to take on a new meaning. The problem, though, is that a word that can mean anything usually ends up meaning nothing. More importantly, when that happens to a word that comes to us from the heart of the gospel, it is of the greatest importance for the church to reclaim her language by recapturing and defining her words. So, in light of the cultural watering-down of the language of faith, I’d like to offer four reflections on the nature of faith: what it is and what it isn’t.

Read the rest of this post offering four brief reflections on faith at Seedbed.
Image: Janaka Dharmasena/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Evangelism & Love

Evangelism can sometimes come across as unloving. Various “techniques” and lack of relational depth are often perceived as manipulative and concerned more with success than people. As a result, evangelism has gotten a bad reputation in some circles. Alternatively, J. I. Packer offers wisdom on how evangelism should be done in love as an expression of love for the other. He writes:
As an apostle of Christ, (Paul) was more than a teacher of truth; he was a shepherd of souls, sent into the world, not to lecture sinners, but to love them. For he was an apostle second, and a Christian first; and, as a Christian, he was a man called to love his neighbor. This meant simply that in every situation, and by every means in his power, it was his business to seek other people’s good. From this standpoint, the significance of his apostolic commission to evangelize and found churches was simply that this was the particular way in which Christ was calling him to fulfil the law of love to his neighbour.
And all our own evangelism must be done in the same spirit. As love to our neighbour suggests and demands that we evangelize, so the command to evangelize is a specific application of the command to love others for Christ’s sake, and must be fulfilled as such.
Such was evangelism according to Paul: going out in love, as Christ’s agent in the world, to teach sinners the truth of the gospel with a view to converting them and saving them (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, IVP, 1961, 51-53).
Perhaps if we approached evangelsim like that, it would more easily taught, practiced, and received.

Advent Evangelism

It’s Christmas time. So, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time reading the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. As I was taking a look at Luke’s account of the angelic appearance to the shepherds near Bethlehem, something occurred to me that before had not. Take a look at Luke 2:17. After the sheep herders go to see the child spoken of by the angels, Luke says that “they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” After they heard the good news about the birth of Jesus, and after they encountered him just as they had been told, their response was to begin spreading the news. They told others what they had heard and seen. I didn’t expect to find the evangelistic imperative in the birth narratives, but the more I think about it, the more it makes a great deal of sense. Evangelism is at the heart of Advent. A couple of things in this text jump out at me.
First, the shepherds didn’t mess with the message. They are said to have made known that which was said to them. They are courriers for the message, not the authors of the message. Likewise, when we engage in the ministry of evangelism, we are courriers of the message. We are not responsible for altering the gospel; we must simply share what we have heard. Indeed, if we were to alter the good news, it would no longer be the good news; it would be some other news. Like those shepherds, we must make known what we’ve heard.
Second, Luke reports that all who heard their message were filled with wondrous awe. This reminds us that Jesus is not boring. He comes into the world as the God-man on a rescue mission. He comes with good news for the poor and the marginalized. He comes to offer new life and abundant life. He comes to make new creation. He comes to make his blessing known. And if we are to be faithful, then we should tell the story in a way that evokes amazement, wonder, and awe. If we don’t, we may not have the story straight.
The birth of Christ the Savior is good news. And we see in the shepherds that an appropriate response to receiving that news is to spread that news. We may not always think of it this way, but Advent should motivate among us a passionate evangelistic zeal that evokes a response of amazement from those who hear.

I want to share my faith, but I’m not sure how

Originally published in the Union Springs Herald on September 14, 2011.
It can be very difficult to talk to other people about our faith in Jesus. There are a variety of reasons for this. We know something happened to us when we came to believe in him, but we’re not quite sure how to describe it. We may really want to share our faith, but the thought of it scares us to death. Life is so busy. We work; we have family; we have things that must be done. And, after all, how often do we run into people that don’t have some church or religious affiliation? I can come up with excuses to avoid sharing my faith all day long, and I bet you can too. And, as a result of those excuses, there was a time in my life when I rarely had evangelistic conversations with people. Here are a few simple ideas that have helped me become increasingly faithful in sharing my faith.
The first one is this: think about what you might say ahead of time. Take some time to sit down and write out your testimony on paper. Think through it. What changed about your life after you came into a new and living relationship with Jesus Christ? Write these things down and commit them to memory. When you come to the point of your conversion, be sure to explain what it means that Christ died for your sins. This is the key element where God promises his power will show up in your story. It is also helpful to memorize a some key passages of scripture. John 3:16-18 and Romans 10:9 are clear and concise summaries of what God wants to do in the lives of every person that he has made.
Another idea is to think of a few people that may not have a church or may not know Christ, and begin to pray for them, asking God to provide an opportunity for you to talk to them about faith in Jesus. Sometimes we overlook those who are nearest to us. So take some time to simply think through some people you already know, and look for opportunities to talk to them about the gospel.
The last thing is intentionality. What do I mean by that? To borrow the slogan of a well-known athletic clothing manufacturer, just do it. This is really the big one for me. When I realize it’s been far too long since I’ve talked to someone about Jesus, then I just have to make myself get out and go talk to people. I’ve discovered that it’s really quite fun. I’ve met all sorts of interesting people and have had some great conversations about Jesus. And let me tell you, there is little in life more exciting than being there when someone meets Jesus for the first time. The Bible says that the angels rejoice when that happens; you will too.
At the end of the day, sharing the good news with people is really just a matter of following Jesus. He is the one who told his followers to teach the nations to obey everything he commanded. And helping people find faith in Christ is the first step in learning to obey him. My prayer is that these reflections will help you to become an increasingly faithful follower of Christ as you share with others what he has done for you.