Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely

With the most recent discovery of the moral failure of Ravi Zacharias, many have wondered how it is that such a thing could happen again. But there is a common denominator among many of these men that we must address because although our own fall may not be publicized to the same extent, there is no doubt that it will have similar destructive results.

Whether it was Zacharias, James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, Jack Schapp, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or any of the seemingly endless list of failures, there is a commonness to their ability to go so far in their sin before they crashed and burned. You don’t need to look far and you will see that each of these people were able to get so far in their sin because they built a structure around them of yes-men that they knew would not stand up to them and hold them accountable to biblical standards of holiness.

Whether it is gold, girls, glory, or a combination of these, each failure achieved such great heights because they had constructed a system that assured them that their lusts could grow unchecked. In essence they set a trap for themselves, as the Proverbs say:

For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” (Proverbs 1:17–19, ESV)

The threat is not only for the A-list celebrity Christian though. We may not be able to attain to the great heights from which they fall, but we shall fall nonetheless. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy of words that must be ever-present in our lives: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV)

How can we avoid the same end?

  1. Make sure you are in the Word and in prayer daily. This doesn’t point to a legalistic requirement, but a need for the Spirit to continuously work in our hearts through the Sword of the Spirit.
  2. Make sure you have submitted yourself to a pastor or elder(s) to hold you accountable. This means that if you are a pastor, you are allowing another godly elder or elders to confront you and ask you the hard questions when necessary.
  3. Be aware of your own propensities and weaknesses, but do not put too much trust in your own judgment. Allow those closest to you to point out your blind spots and then you must listen to their wise counsel and correction.
  4. Allow trusted men of God access to you. Don’t cut yourself off from those who will be most honest with you because they love you.
  5. Be careful not to shut out those who disagree with you. “Yes men” might make your plans go smoother, but you need those who will look at things differently from you and might point out those things you (and your yes-men) might fail to see.
  6. When you are wrong, confess it, repent, and ask forgiveness. Don’t cover your sin or make excuses for it. We all mess up, but there is no excuse for prideful avoidance of guilt.
  7. Be willing to listen to criticism with a humble heart. Try to find truth and helpful counsel, even in those complaints that might be unfair and even mean-spirited.
  8. Be an open book to several trusted people in your life. You should be unafraid to open up any area of your life to a trusted friend who asks, especially in the areas where there may be a potential risk of failure.
  9. Don’t develop a form of church government that cordons you off from any form of biblical scrutiny. Special committees that don’t answer to or communicate with anyone but the pastor have great potential to be a hiding place for sin.

Satan loves to work in shadows and whispers. The more light that we allow to shine on our ministry, the less there is a possibility that sin can grow or remain hidden for long.

What Happened to Evangelistic Visitation?

If we are honest, we would have to admit that many churches in the U.S. are not growing from conversions but from transfers from other churches. I’ll admit that there are some valid reasons for a Christian to leave one church to attend another, but the Great Commission isn’t about shuffling believers from one church to another. There are many things a church can do to bolster its outreach, but one that is consistently missed in the vast majority of churches today is evangelistic visitation. What is that you ask? Keep reading and I’ll explain.

Every Saturday for many years there were at least two people from Grace Baptist Church that would go out to share the gospel with our community—myself and one of our deacons named Everett. Some Saturdays there were others that would join us, but many times it was just the two of us. Everett and I shared Christ with gang members, homeless people in the park, people in half-way houses, and everyday people that look like you and me.

We had dogs chase us, people scream at us, a couple of doors slammed in our faces, and even a few people that I am convinced were demon possessed. Although we visited door to door in order to hopefully share Christ with our neighbors, we found that this method wasn’t too successful. Instead we found that evangelistic visitation was far more productive.

Whenever a person visited our church, they would receive a bulletin and a small visitor’s card that we asked them to fill out as a record of their visit. These cards were placed in the offering plate when the offering was received. When the deacons counted the offering, they would take out these cards and give them to me for follow up.

In my discussions with many pastors and church leaders, many churches don’t do anything to record visitors anymore. I’m not sure why, but they don’t seem to even collect a card to record visitors. In my many visits to different churches, most didn’t request a card to be filled out, and of those that I have filled out, only one has ever done something with it.

On Tuesday when I came into the office, I would send out a welcome letter thanking the visitor for coming. If they wrote the name of who invited them on their visitor card, I would include that as well. Sometimes I would call the friend of our visitor and ask them some questions to find out more about what brought them to our church.

But my follow up didn’t stop there. On the following Saturday, Everett and I would take that card and drive over to the visitor’s house to pay them a visit. Yes, you read that right! We actually showed up at their front door! When we did this, we followed a few rules that worked for us:

1. We only visited on Saturdays from 10am-12pm. This is because before 10 some people were sleeping in and after noon they would be leaving for the day. Three day holidays were almost worthless as far as visiting goes.

2. We took a church flyer or business card with us to leave if they didn’t answer the door. We wanted our visitor to know we came by and missed them. A quick note on a church invite flyer or the back of my business card was slipped in the door jamb for the visitor to find when they returned home.

3. We didn’t call to make an appointment. We found that when we made arrangements we would often find nobody home. It was better to surprise our visitors. Even so, the vast majority were happy to see us.

4. We thanked them for their visit and asked if they had any questions about what they heard. Their visit showed us that they had some interest in church and the Bible. Our conversation helped us determine if the visitors were Christians or needed to hear the gospel.

5. We made sure to express that we were there because we had an important message that we wanted them to hear. We assumed God had sent us as His messengers and we were not ashamed, but bold ambassadors for Christ.

6. We invited them to come back Sunday (the next day). Many people were shocked that the man that preached the sermon had taken the time to personally visit them. This impression made them more open to come back, and it showed them in a tangible way that we truly cared for them.

Having successfully visited our visitor, we usually asked them if we could pray for them and if they had any special prayer needs. The visit often ended with smiles, laughs, and a new relationship begun. Of all the people that returned a second time, many were those that had been visited by someone in our church.

When you think about what connected you to your church, what sticks out the most? What were the things that turned you off about visiting a new church?

The Ministry Is No Place for Lazy Men

 

“The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might! Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow; and, as Cassiodorus says: ‘Here the common level of knowledge is not to be the limit; here a true ambition is demonstrated; the more a deep knowledge is sought after, the greater the honor in attaining it.’ But especially be laborious in the practice and exercise of your knowledge. Let Paul’s words ring continually in your ears, ‘Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! ”

—Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor