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Thanks for visiting our website! This month’s picture is of a seminar in Guatemala at Ezell Clinic, December 2018. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Seminar in Guatemala

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the task of ministry and mission work for over 50 years! (We traveled together to preaching appointments during the year before we were married.) Countless people have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob" or "Hermano Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and to help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature as disciples of Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!


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Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Evangelism: Finding Interested Persons, Developing Interest

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

A preacher, one of my former students, wrote me with a question. He was in contact with a person who wanted to be baptized in a church that baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He asked me about my experience with such situations. I responded to his question, also noting that my experience in Latin America is often the opposite—-those who insist on being baptized in the name of Jesus only. Both situations, although they arrive at opposite conclusions, suggest the same themes and verses for the Bible study.

Our communication was obviously more involved. Saturday morning I received his report.
“So…it went really well. She is new to Christianity and about a month ago started reading the NT. She made it to the end of Matthew and decided she wanted to get baptized, having not read anything else. So, we journeyed through the other gospel accounts and Acts and it came clear to her that her “issue” wasn’t what she thought. It led to a bunch of other questions and turned out to be a really great first Bible study. Thanks for your insights and clarity.”
Although I do not have all the details about the “who, how and why” of this contact, I applaud all who have contact with interested persons who are diligent and serious seekers.

We in the church face many problems with regard to evangelism. An increasing number of Christians fail to grasp that the Lord commissioned his followers to share his message, the average member does not know how to tell their story and share their faith, more and more Christians do not believe it is necessary, the church has developed a “come and see” attractional approach focused on the corporate body rather than a commitment to incarnational presence by individual members, the church has become dependent on a “clergy class” that is charged with ministry, ministry and mission have been redefined in humanitarian terms that have taken precedence over spiritual concerns…the list goes on and on.

In the midst of such challenges, it strikes me that the greatest problem may be that the average church in the U.S. has little contact with or connection to the unchurched masses all around us. We are not in touch with the people who are interested in spiritual things and are seeking spiritual answers. Let us pray for such contacts, let us pray for open eyes so that we can see, let us pray for soft hearts (ours and theirs), let us pray for the ability to say and do the right things to initiate Jesus-sharing conversations with the multitudes around us.

[Note: One of the first topics I present in my evangelism workshop is how to develop interest in studying and understanding the Bible. By learning how to initiate Jesus-sharing conversations, we can find more people who already have interest in spiritual things. By learning how to develop interest, we can motivate interest in those who do not recognize their interest, those who have lost interest, and those who will automatically reject more traditional, confrontational encounters.]

Not By My Power

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

If you are like me, you want to be successful at whatever you attempt. Even more, you want to be perceived as successful by your peers. Maybe this attitude is a cultural thing, or perhaps it is a “man” thing (which is also a cultural thing). I know this: getting older often causes one to contemplate the accomplishments of life. It is easy to see one’s life as a failure.

Over a dozen years ago, Jan and I decided to leave my academic administration and teaching position at Ohio Valley University. Both of our fathers were experiencing severe declines in health, and we felt a strong need to be back in the center of the U.S. nearer our parents. We resigned with no place to go. We were not certain where God would lead. We were confident that God would provide.

A few months later, we ‘landed’ in McAlester, Oklahoma and spent almost two years in a delightful ministry, equipping a local church, developing new leadership, preaching and teaching, and relishing our return to the close relationships of local ministry. We were also blessed during this time to increase significantly our involvement in mission work.

Almost exactly two years after our resignation at Ohio Valley, Oklahoma Christian offered me the position of director of graduate Bible programs (in what is now the Graduate School of Theology) with primary responsibility to help get a new M.Div. program off the ground. I began in spring 2004, finishing out the 2003-04 academic year. I have described those months from April to August as getting one year’s work done in only four months. Through the next three and a half years, I worked in student development, financial and grants development, curriculum, program and track development, advertising and public relations, and taught several graduate classes. I got my “ministry fix” in a continuing string of interim ministry invitations—Blackwell, 29th and Yale in Tulsa, and Wellston. Along the way I also taught a regular Sunday afternoon Spanish Bible class at the Capitol Hill work in Oklahoma City. In 2006-2007 I served as Hispanic minister at the Edmond congregation to help get a new Spanish ministry off the ground.

As Jan and I look back over our life of ministry and service, we have been in quite a few places over 40 years of full-time ministry and academic administration. We have experienced the good times and the lean times. We have experienced those years where we witnessed (on average) a baptism every week. We have seen the church grow marvelously (I could say miraculously, meaning only that it was by God’s power). In 20 years of ministry with two different churches, we saw one church double over a decade and another church increase by 50% over a decade. We have also experienced the times of drought. We have preached in places where not one person signed on to follow Jesus for an entire year. We have enjoyed the fruit of God; we have patiently sowed the seed when it seemed nothing was happening. We have sowed the seed and seen it sprout in the most unlikely places; we have sowed it in seemingly good fields and seen it lay dormant with no results.

As I look back, I don’t remember what kind of results I expected when I began preaching. There weren’t many decisions to follow Christ in the little congregation where I grew up—mostly just the young people in the church were baptized. My early interactions with missionaries made clear that the goal in missions was bringing people to Jesus. It took me quite a while longer to see that goal also applied in our local congregations. Interestingly, in ministry I have always (for some reason unknown) counted baptisms. God eventually gave fruit in our ministry, and we didn’t even know what we were doing—only that he intended us to share the gospel message with everyone who would listen. The greatest fruit has come when we got out of the way and had no personal agenda or interest in recognition.

The challenge I see is that we who minister (and our churches) conclude if “we can make it happen” in one place, “we can make it happen” somewhere else. We expect amazing results always, and quickly. How arrogant and foolish! In a world that praises effective leaders and attributes success or failure in a ministry to people, it’s a reasonable expectation. But the conclusion is false. It is not by our power, but by God’s power.

When we learn this lesson afresh in our success-oriented churches and world, I believe we will return to the only source of power upon which we can depend. The gospel is God’s power for salvation. The church is powerless, weak, and diminishing exactly to the extent that it is failing to declare the marvelous mercies and glorious riches of the gospel. The church is shrinking because it has become hesitant to share the gospel, less certain that people outside of Jesus are lost. The church can reverse the trend when it learns where the real power is. The key is not in what we do, what kind of programs we offer, what kind of church we become, nor magic leaders. The power is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Who can you tell today?

Rethinking Evangelism

Friday, August 16th, 2013

What is the goal of evangelism? Give me a one word or one phrase answer–quickly! What do you think?

The movie, Stolen Summer, is the story of a boy who wants everyone to go to heaven. As a result, he tries to convert his friend, the son of a Jewish rabbi. The story revolves around the desire of the boy that everyone go to heaven, a desire complicated by fact that rabbi’s son has terminal cancer. The complicated storyline fails to focus clearly that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but the movie challenges superficial thinking about Christianity in that it defines evangelism in terms of wanting others to go to heaven (instead of wanting others to be baptized, wanting others to become a certain kind of Christian, wanting others to become a member of the church, etc.).

Question: is our concept of evangelism too human-centered and not enough God-centered? Just thinking…just asking!


Friday, April 12th, 2013

A few years ago, I preached a sermon that recounted numerous evangelistic stories from the life and ministry Jan and I have shared. One person described the sermon as “your life in less than 30 minutes.” God marvelously blessed us with 20 years of local church ministry in two evangelistic, rapidly growing churches. Later, we spent a dozen years in Christian higher education with a focus on training ministers. Along the way we became involved in mission work. Always our ministry has been about saving souls. God blessed us in our early ministry with an understanding of the power of the gospel, and we have been part of hundreds of baptisms—teaching, preaching, encouraging, and asking people to accept salvation in Christ.

In recent years, the church has made evangelism hard and unnatural. Sharing good news should be one of the easiest, most natural things in the world. We have made it artificial and difficult. We have developed programs that seek “converts” and depend more on human wisdom and power than on God’s wisdom and power. While we quote Bible passages that speak of God’s power (in his Word, grace, the gospel, and preaching), we have failed to see God’s power in the obvious places.

The power of God is in unlikely and unseen places—the power of the ordinary, the power of relationships, the power of encouragement, the power of caring, the power of a vision and goal, and the power of asking. In these simple rhythms of our lives, the power of the gospel is available to us. God sends us forth according to his plan and purpose in the ordinary days of our lives, through the relationships and people in our lives, with opportunities to encourage and care, with boldness to ask.
Evangelism is something we are more than something we do. Perhaps we are less than effective because we have focused on “doing” rather than “asking.” Jesus promised, “Ask and ye shall receive.” If evangelism is by God’s power, it should be a constant subject of our prayers.

One Measures What Matters

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Among the most important things a church does: it learns who it is, and it learns what is God’s purpose for the church. Leaders must work constantly to focus the identity of the church. It is the responsibility of leaders to remind the church of its purpose.
Jan and I were in Fort Gibson Sunday, spending time with one of our favorite churches. It was Mission Sunday–the church gave almost $50000 for missions! Missions is a part of the heart of the church. We ministered with the Fort Gibson church for eight years. The church helps us in our mission work. As we walked in the door, one of the first things we noticed was a prominent display in the main foyer: “New Births.” It was one of those old wooden display boards with changeable numbers. As we entered, the preacher was changing the number from 10 to 11. During the announcements, we found out that there had been another baptism earlier in the day.

I do not remember where I first heard it: “You count what matters to you.” What is important in the church where you attend? The answer is, “What you count.” Most churches count and publish attendance and contribution. The Fort Gibson church counts (and publishes in the bulletin each week) souls won to Christ.
One can say lots of things about the Fort Gibson church. It is a unique community of believers from various backgrounds and preferences, united under the cross and allegiance to Christ. They spend significant amounts of time caring and sharing for one another, enjoying fellowship and sharing spiritual nurturing. They are generous and involved in lots of activities. But above all, they are soul-conscious, and that motivates their generosity and desire to touch lives for Jesus. Because they are soul-conscious they make concerted efforts to touch lives in their community and around the world. To remind themselves of God’s purpose and their identity and involvement in that purpose, they keep their eyes focused on souls won through the local church work.

Developing Missionary Churches

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

In our mission work, we often talk about the goal of developing missionary churches. What do we mean by a missionary church? A missionary church can be developed in various ways, but the normal process is that (1) a church is planted or established with intense, focused evangelistic efforts, followed by (2) a continuing process of edifying and strengthening the members and the local church so that the development of teachers and leaders occurs naturally. As we use the term, a missionary church is a self-governed local church that (3) accepts the responsibility for its own affairs (including local evangelism) and (4) is willing and capable of duplicating itself in the establishment of additional missionary churches.
The first step toward the development of this kind of missionary church is usually a focused effort in evangelism. Historically, this has been done by “inserted” missionaries who help the church get a foothold in a new area. Such missionaries often leave the field after a time of church planting and intense evangelism.
The second step toward the development of effective missionary churches is the development of teachers and leaders so the church can become self-governed. This is a process of edifying and strengthening local churches , with the goal of naturally developing leaders within the local churches. This process includes helping every member find a place to work and contribute to the ministry of the church.
The third step in the development of effective missionary churches is that the local church accepts responsibility for its own functioning, without the need for outside continuing support. If the church desires a located “minister” with primary responsibilities within the local congregation and community, this third step includes that the local church accepts responsibility for the support of that person. A biblical model uses evangelists who work in congregations already established and also work toward establishing new congregations. In this case, such evangelists often continue to receive financial support from planting churches or mothering churches outside the local region (most often churches in the U.S.).
The fourth step is that the missionary church is willing and able to duplicate itself in the establishing of new congregations, thus becoming a planting church. This requires an intense evangelistic effort which is done by the evangelist, members of the missionary church, and visiting teams or groups from other missionary churches (or from the U.S.)

The fourth step in the development of a missionary church is the first step in the development of a new missionary church. Note that the new church is developed without an inserted missionary team. The gospel echoes forth in a certain region as the result of the work and life of the churches that already exist in that region.

An Evangelistic Church: Sharing the Good News

Monday, April 8th, 2013

One can say it in many ways–a church that walks in and shares the story of God, a church that tells the Good News, a church that reaches out, a church that touches hearts and transforms lives, an evangelistic church. In my mission work, I outline and guide churches through steps for the development of a “missionary church.” Regardless of how one says it, one must constantly keep in mind: IT IS NOT OPTIONAL!
All of the above phrases are descriptions of a church that grows numerically through evangelism and is involved in planting and strengthening more churches that will become missionary churches. The church is an integral part of God’s plan for sharing the gospel. God’s people are God’s ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation.

What are some of the characteristics of an evangelistic church?
First, an evangelistic church is a church convinced that everyone must learn about Jesus, believe in Jesus, obey Jesus’ gospel, and becomes faithful disciples of Jesus or they will die in their sins. This foundational belief defines the church. Evangelism is the focus of the ministry of the church. The preacher talks about evangelism, the preacher is constantly evangelizing. Evangelism is a primary focus and work of the leaders. A significant part of elders’ meetings focuses on evangelism. This focus on evangelism is reflected in public prayers. The responsibility of the local church for evangelism is a part of the belief system of the church.

Second, because of this foundational belief that defines the culture of the church, the church is actively involved in seeking and saving the lost. The worship, Bible classes, small groups, church programs, and special events point toward evangelism. Some of the activities of the church may not receive sufficient attention and may not operate smoothly, but evangelism is never a secondary activity. Evangelism is what the church does. The focus on evangelism is apparent in the church’s publications–bulletin, tracts, and announcements. Evangelism is the lifeblood of the church. Evangelism is what the church does.

Third, an evangelistic church is a church where all the members of the body are involved in the functioning of the church. Because the primary function of the church is evangelism, every member is involved in evangelism. The church provides training and encouragement for its members. The church inspires its members to faithfulness and involvement in evangelism. The church provides multiple tracks for evangelistic involvement according to the gifts of the members. Evangelism is what the members do.

Fourth, an evangelistic church is interested in saving souls and is also interested in keeping souls saved. An evangelistic church loves, edifies, and spiritually strengthens souls. Toward this end, an evangelistic church develops activities and programs broad enough to interest and involve every member, including new members. These activities and programs maintain an evangelistic focus, helping new members share the good news with their friends and acquaintances. New members quickly learn that evangelism is the task of every member.

Fifth, an evangelistic church lifts up its eyes to the harvest beyond the local church. An evangelistic church will be involved in establishing in winning souls and establishing more churches in its local region and around the world. An evangelistic church will be concerned about how new churches are edified and strengthened, how new churches are developed with internal teachers and leaders, and how new churches become missionary churches capable of duplicating themselves and establishing even more new churches.

What is the result? Evangelism becomes a constant reality because the evangelistic church is not paralyzed by fear, discouraged by failure, nor satisfied with success.

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