Friday, May 30, 2014

Meet Luke Norsworthy: A Church Planter's Take on the E Word

Luke Norsworthy is the founding pastor of the Venture Community, an inter-denominational church in the Dallas suburb of Corinth, TX. Luke hosts the Newsworthy with Norsworthy Podcast, a weekly podcast discussing spirituality, Christianity, and anything else that seems Newsworthy. I am a weekly listener of the show and would highly recommend that you subscribe to his podcast on iTunes.

If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly killed every last inhabitant of Persia. -Hans Bethe (the nuclear physicist who during World War II was head of the Theoretical Division at the secret Los Alamos laboratory which developed the first atomic bombs)

A few months ago I was struggling to finish my work out at my gym when a guy in his forties walks over to me to strike up a conversation. He doesn’t seem to notice or care that I’m in the middle of my workout. I’m fine with his interruption because I try to make people more important than workouts. Or at least I do on a good day. And this was one of those good days.

The conversation quickly devolves into a monologue and the preacher isn’t the one giving the speech. The guy starts telling me a story about how he’s gotten in the best shape of his life. I am hearing the story because of my ears, but I am having trouble believing the story because of my eyes. Then he tells me the magic shortcut to how he’s gotten to this current level of fitness, some new health product.

And guess what? It’s my lucky day because he just so happens to sell that very product. And double guess what? He’s got samples in his bag right here. He will even give a sample to me, and all he wants in return is my phone number.

With all due respect to Dickinson, I don’t like a sales pitch on slant.

A few weeks later, my workout partner, also named Luke, had just informed me that the older gentleman walking over to talk coached him in junior high. And he wasn’t just any coach, but his favorite coach.  He hadn’t seen him for years and Luke was noticeably excited to reconnect with him.

Luke took a few steps towards him, so I wasn’t in the whole conversation, but I did hear his coach say,
“I’ve got something I really want to tell you about Luke. It’s an easy way to make some money. Easy money my man.”

From a few feet away I could see the feelings of excitement of reconnecting sour.

I’m a church planter and I don’t like evangelism. That’s like a beach town police chief being scared of the water. 

But I’m really not afraid of evangelism, as in the Biblical version of it. You know, telling the Good News. What I’m really afraid of is the commodification of relationships caused by “friendship evangelism.” I love the desire to tell your friends about Jesus, but what concerns me is the dark side of using your friendships for evangelism.  When your friendships become used as a place to sell people, no matter how good the product is, there is a problem. 

When you steer conversations so blatantly to make a pitch for your church or your religion that you make people feel like you only care for them if they come to your church, there is a problem. And the problem is with you.

In his book Money, Possessions, and Eternity Randy Alcorn tells the story of a couple having dinner with some longstanding Christian friends when the host “accidentally” spills some gravy on the table clothe. While cleaning the stain he began a pitch describing the cleaning product along with the company that sells the cleaning solution. That sales pitch ended and so did the longstanding relationship, not because they tried to sell them on a product, but how they did.

Ruth Carter, in Amway Motivational Organizations: Behind the Smoke and Mirrors, argues that of the 45 million who have been involved in multi-level marketing, only 1% have made a profit with only 1/10 of that 1% making the large profit. The few who succeed, which included Ruth Carter, often pay a terrible personal and relational price. If we are going to use similar methods of selling Christianity, should we expect any different results?

So am I saying you shouldn’t evangelize with your friends? No.

Our church has half a dozen families that have at some point or another gotten connected from that same gym. So on first glance it might appear that I’m a hypocrite, but I think what I do is different.

And I think there is a way to tell if it is different: How you treat people. If you treat people better if they come to your church or cut off the relationship because they don’t come to your church, there’s a problem.

I’m obviously assuming people have a spirituality that’s deep enough to be discussed naturally in conversation and I’m assuming people are committed to creating a community worth inviting people to join. If neither of those are the case, then you probably need to go back to Evangelism 101 because you have to be smoking what you are selling.

Jesus once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If our evangelistic approach doesn’t pass that rule, then as my more rural friends would say, “That dog just don’t hunt.” We communicate our message in the way that we communicate it. If we befriend people just to build a relationship to convert them, then our message is that you aren’t worth being a friend without converting. When we treat people with dignity, respect ,and compassion, then we have a message worth proclaiming that doesn’t require sales pitches and guided conversations. 

And that’s some good news.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Meet Justin Thompson: A Missionary's Take on the E Word

Justin Thompson is a missionary in Lima, Peru. I asked Justin to write because I know him to be a humble disciple of Jesus and the Littleton Church of Christ happens to partner with the Thompsons. Justin is blessed to walk this life with his wife Alison. They have three children - Cailyn, Corban and Carter - and are set to welcome Chloe to the family in July. As Christ followers and missionaries, the Thompsons are committed to sharing the gospel with the Peruvian people, desiring to make disciples of Jesus.
As a foreign missionary in Lima, Peru, most people would probably assume that I'm a gifted evangelist. Most would probably figure my abilities in this area are sharp and refined. If only that were true. Evangelism, believe it or not, is one of the biggest things that has caused me to feel guilt in my calling as a missionary. I know that evangelism is important, yet there are times when I attempt to justify my struggles with evangelism as a means for leaving it to the folks who are clearly gifted to be evangelists.
Now please don't misunderstand me. I've grown as an evangelist in my five years on the field. Would I call myself a "gifted" evangelist? Not yet. Hopefully someday. But I've certainly learned a few things that have helped me become a better evangelist. Even more so I think that I've learned to ask for the Lord to gift me more in this area.!
So what is it that I have learned about evangelism as a foreign missionary?!
I have to be a student of society and culture. As a stranger in a foreign land, I daily face a plethora of societal and cultural differences that force me to consciously deal with issues and scenarios. When I lived in the States, culture was more subconscious and was something that I reflected on less. So why should I be a student of society and culture? Because the good news we have in Jesus is something that we should aim at the heart. Society and culture reveal the accepted norms surrounding us, whether good or bad, and give us a better idea of how to share the gospel. Allow me to give two examples.
Example 1. Peru is a very familial culture. It's not uncommon to see multigenerational homes. There is certainly a core to their identity that revolves around family. In contrast, American culture is more individualistic. While there is generally a familial core, there can be great distance between members. In the States, my approach to evangelism has been much more individualistic while my approach in Peru leans more towards a familial type of evangelism. We (my teammates and I) have evangelized in both ways during our time in Peru, and it is overwhelmingly obvious that our evangelism among families has been vastly more potent compared to our evangelism among individuals. Neither way is better except when we take into account the societal and cultural forces that define our contexts. By studying society and culture, we come to understand our surroundings better, and thus we formulate methods of evangelism for our particular context.!
Example 2. Peruvian education lacks the breadth and quality of an education from the States. By education I am specifically speaking of public school education. Peruvian education teaches students the answers without teaching the methods or invoking the creativity to arrive at those answers. The education in many ways is a regurgitation of whatever information is presented. The States, in a much more holistic way, teaches us to question and experiment. There is a more of an experiential degree to learning when compared to the Peruvian context. I have seen culturally shaped evangelistic methods in Peru that reflect their educational system, which cause people to speak about the Bible as something to be regurgitated as opposed to God's redemption story. In most of these cases, however, I fail to see the evangelist's concern for heart transformation. In my humble opinion, we cannot fail in this same way. Jesus cares more about our heart's transformation than he seems to care about our ability to blindly regurgitate the Law.
Thus, in my humble opinion, being a good evangelist requires that we be students of society and culture. We certainly are creatures of our environment, and this environment can teach us many things about speaking to the hearts of others.
In general, my methods of evangelism have been far too complicated. What I mean here is that I tend to overthink how I should present the good news. Good news does not need build up. It does not need me to make it better news because it is already good news. I don't give the Good News it's power. It has that without me. Also, it's not just my tendency to overthink, it's also my propensity to think that what I am teaching needs to impress others. This, for me, is simply a lie. I have been struck time and time again by Paul's words to the Corinthians, "When I came to you I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God... My message and my preaching we're not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." Paul understood the Corinthian culture. Moreover, he didn't overdress the Good News to "give it it's power," he was resolved to know nothing except for "Jesus Christ and him crucified." We don't need to doctor up the Good News. We simply need to share it.
What I think is clear about evangelism is that it is proclamation. It is something that requires us to speak. It requires that we share the Good News wherever and whenever. I, for one, am not great at doing this. I tend to overanalyze and overthink situations before I share the Good News. I don’t think it should be this difficult.
Evangelism needs relationship. In evangelism, I believe my desires in sharing the Good News should reflect what Jesus desired. He desired repentance (turning away from an old lifestyle to live a new one) and participation in the kingdom (the kingdom here and now). This is where I think my own personal actions and lifestyles carry their weight. My words should proclaim who Jesus is. And then my actions should validate those words. Thus, as I proclaim the Good News to others and allow these same people to experience life and relationship with me, the message I share will be more potent and find more validity. (I am not saying that the potency or validity of the Good News comes from me. I am only trying to speak towards a practical understanding of doing evangelism, though I hope this goes without saying.) We see the same type of evangelism taking place between Jesus and the disciples. He proclaimed to them the Good News and allowed them watch him as he proclaimed the Good News. This is the same Good News that he later commissions them to carry into all the world. The disciples’ desire to evangelize came from their experiences of proclamation and observation. Jesus invited them to repent and participate in the kingdom. Relationship fused the two, and this gives us practical insight into the nature of what I consider to be good evangelism.
I have primarily spoken here in the first person because I hesitate to make implications that others need to do evangelism as I do evangelism. In actuality, I would rather people evangelize better than I do. However, I do hope that we can sharpen each other to grow as evangelists. Sharing the Good News with others can be intimidating. Yet, we can’t overlook our need as a church to better do evangelism. We have good news to share and a world that wants to hear it (whether they know it or not).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Do You Have Anything to Learn? - The E Word - Part 7

Part of my problem with evangelism has always been the worry that I don't know enough to share the good news.

What if they ask a question I don't know the answer to? What then?

Honestly, looking back, it's hard to imagine that this was a concern of mine. But I believe there are many people who don't share the gospel because they don't believe they know enough.

But this concern reveals larger problems with our Christianity:

First, we've lost our value for mystery. The Western church, especially after the Enlightenment, has specialized on information. We've taught the Christian religion as a series of doctrines that we have to get exactly right or we are in danger of the fires of hell.

Much of our division has focused on what we believe. Just look at how many Christian denominations currently exist. All it takes is one point of doctrinal disagreement for a new 501c3 is to emerge. 

And while we have focused on our doctrine, many of our lives look nothing like what we claim to believe. But that's not of any concern because at least we believe correctly, right?

We have lost our value for the mystery of God. 

The minute we claim to know exactly who God is, we become heretics. It is impossible to know every little detail about God. It is the sin of pride to claim to have perfect revelation of him. Now, God has revealed much of himself through Scripture and our experience, but God is still a mystery. 

If people ask a question you don't know the answer to in evangelism, feel free to tell them, "I don't know. But I'd love to study more with you on your question." That kind of honesty is much more refreshing than a "know-it-all" Christian who fools everyone about their knowledge of God except for God himself.

Second, we've forgotten that we need the Holy Spirit in our evangelism.

There are methods of evangelism that completely dismiss the role of the Holy Spirit in leading people into a relationship with Jesus.

In these methods, we have our lessons to present. The evangelistic target has 6 lessons to respond. If they don't respond, we wipe the dust off of our feet and move on because the person is not "receptive."


We plant seeds. We water the seeds. But God brings the growth.

The Holy Spirit must be a vital part of our evangelism, our sharing of good news. 

If we come to a point where we don't know the answer to a question, we shouldn't dismiss the question and go back to our study. The question might just be the very place we need to dwell and seek answers together. That point of resistance doesn't need to be ignored. It needs to be prayed over, talked about, and discerned together.

Which leads me to my third concern about the evangelistic concern about not knowing enough...

Third, evangelism is an opportunity to learn more about the gospel.

Have you ever noticed that outsiders have eyes to see the gospel in ways insiders cannot? After you've underlined your Bible, you tend to notice the underlined portions and stop noticing the things the Spirit still wants to teach you.

We love to master things. We want to know the five steps that will make us a better Christian. And after we master something, we put our degree on the wall and bask in the glory of our Master of Divinity degree. (I have a Master of Divinity degree and I don't think there's a more arrogant degree title than the one I own. Master of the Divine? Not quite!)

One of the biggest tests of evangelism is if we believe we have anything to learn when we share the good news with people who are seeking Jesus.

When you study with people who are trying to find Jesus, do you believe you have anything to learn? 

Your answer to that question is so important.

Because evangelism is not an opportunity to put another notch in your belt. Evangelism is an opportunity to learn more about the gospel than you currently know.

If you've ever taught a class, you know that the teacher always learns more than the student. It's one of the reasons I love my job so much. I believe one of the reasons God called me to preaching is because he knew I needed the structured study of Scripture as part of my job to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

One of the most humbling experiences I've ever had is reading Scripture with someone who is reading it for the first time and hearing the Holy Spirit reveal things to me through that person!

Do you have anything to learn? 

If not, you might not be ready to share the good news.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Human Gospel (Neither Animal Nor Angel) - The E Word - Part 6

It was C. S. Lewis who made famous the Animal-Angel Impulse we all struggle with. Rob Bell popularized it in chapter 3 of Sex God.

Here is their premise: When humans mess things up in the world, it's because we tend to drift on one of two directions. We either drift toward acting like animals or angels.

The Animal Impulse: Humans are bodies who should deny our spirits. We are destined to live into every instinct and urge our body gives us.

Popular music has specialized in this theory. We are our instincts.
"I was born this way."
"I can't change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted to..."

Perhaps you've taken a safari or watched a Discovery Channel documentary on the mating habits of animals. The animals mate the same time every year. It's in their DNA, in their blood, and in their environment. They aren't living out there in that field thinking, "I just don't feel you're as committed to this relationship as I am."

Animals thrive on pure instinct. It's biology. Period.

Which sounds quite similar to some of the humans I know. If you were to visit Spring Break at Daytona, Cancun, or South Padre, you'd see thousands of students from all over the country gathering to consume large amounts of alcohol and share their bodies promiscuously.

What's the point, you ask? Spring Break has become a week to let yourself go, to lose yourself, to give into whatever cravings, desires, or urges you have. Because whatever happens in Cancun stays in Cancun...Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

And what are the stories that are brought home? They usually begin...
I can't believe I...
We totally lost our minds...
It was so out of control...
The next morning I couldn't remember...

Maybe you've heard the phrase "Give into your animal instinct" or "Party animal." They are derived from the drift humans sometimes make toward living like animals.

The other day I saw a guy with an FBI t-shirt on. But he didn't work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Instead, his shirt clued me in on the fact that he was a Female Body Inspector. As if there are women who wake up in the morning hoping to meet a man like that.

In our highly sexualized culture, we have perfected the art of leering at people like objects. From pornography to pants with words blinged on pre-teen girls' backsides, we have objectified women in shameful ways.

The Animal Impulse says that humans are bodies who should deny our spirits.

The Angel Impulse: Humans are spirits who should deny our bodies.

The church has often rejected the Animal Impulse. Rather than letting our cravings rule us, the Angel Impulse is the opposite.

The Christian subculture has perfected and normalized the Angel Impulse. Often, the Christian religion has taught us to repress our desires. We're to pretend as if they don't exist.

The church hasn't been a place to engage in conversation about sex. The sum of our sex education curriculum in youth groups around the country has been to use tactics of fear to scare our kids away from sex.

I vividly remember the night our youth minister invited the "True Love Waits" group to come and talk to us about sex. The motivation abstinence sales pitch went like this: "Don't have sex before you get married. Because if you do, you might end up like young Jenny who got AIDS and 17 other STDs the first time she had sex. Oh, and she happened to have triplets too!"

We've used fear (a worldly narrative) to teach our kids not to have sex before marriage. We scare kids to death, have them sign a pledge, and three weeks later they're back to sleeping around.

I can't tell you how many young couples who grew up in church I have counseled who are still trying to work through the narrative they learned growing up that sex is bad. They grew up hearing it as the constant story about sex and somehow they were supposed to flip a switch on their wedding night to "Be fruitful and multiply."

The Angel Impulse says that humans are spirits who should deny our bodies.

But God didn't make us to be animals or angels. He made us to be humans. And humans have bodies and spirits. To be human is a high calling.

I'm so tired of people who make the excuse, "I'm only human!" Only human? What does that phrase even mean?

Jesus showed us what it means to be human. To be human is to experience and delight in all of God's good gifts within the boundaries he has given us. His commandments are not to keep us from pleasure. They are given to allow his good gifts to remain pleasurable.

Because there is nothing worse than an addict who overuses God's good gifts and wreaks destruction. Addictions are usually fun at first. But eventually, God's good substances are no longer good when abused.

So, what does all of this have to do with evangelism?

In my last post, I argued that true evangelism includes good news for people and society. Most of our churches have specialized in one or the other and been very suspicious of "other" gospels. But the gospel is good news for individuals and the world.

In a similar way, I'd argue that most of our evangelism has often been Animal or Angel evangelism. We have centered our good news in one of two areas.

Conservatives have focused their gospel reward system on the Angel Impulse. They have promised spiritual blessings to people who "put on Jesus as Lord." There is an eternal reward awaiting those who keep their bodies from wanton pleasure while on the earth. If you live a righteous life, eternal happiness is yours in the clouds with harps, pearly gates, and golden streets.

Liberals have focused their gospel reward system on the Animal Impulse. They have focused on physical blessings for those who live their lives on the earth. There is an earthly reward awaiting the society that finally chooses to keep just laws on the books. And evangelism is a dirty word. Instead, mission trips focus on building homes, ending child trafficking, and drilling water wells for the disadvantaged in our world.

In the gospels, I don't find Jesus satisfied with Angel or Animal Evangelism. He engaged in Human Evangelism. He helped people walk and he forgave their sins.

The good news is not good news if it denies either part of any human.

I am human. I have a body and spirit. And I need healing for my body and spirit.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for every part of us.

So, share the good news of Jesus Christ. And build houses and drill wells in his name.

It's all gift. And it's all gospel.