Out of the Huddle and Into the Game
BY BARRY J. MEGUIAR
Pastors are generally tempted to evaluate the spiritual health of people by what they observe on the church campus. Lively services, packed pews, filled altars, and income in excess of budget are viewed as conclusive evidence that God is doing great things within the hearts of people. But is this kind of visual evaluation conclusive?
How is it that we have so many energetic worshipers on Sunday morning, yet many of our churches are almost empty on Sunday night? Should this be accepted as the by-product of our fast-paced society, or is it symptomatic of a larger problem?
Why are some churches inside and outside the United States enjoying explosive growth while others are not? The defining difference seems to occur when laypeople move from being mere spectators to participants in ministryoutside the church walls.
COMMAND OR MINISTRY OPTION?
With more than half of the worldwide Assemblies of God constituents now living within the borders of Brazil, the church in that country presents a powerful model for revival. In the November 9, 1997, Pentecostal Evangel, Terry Johnson was asked, "What can American Christians learn from Brazilian Christians?" His response:
To be witnesses, to evangelize and pray. The Brazilian Christians lives are filled with prayer, and they take every opportunity they can to witness. This is why the church in Brazil is always growing. They are always evangelizing and integrating new converts into the church and teaching them to evangelize as well. Our thrust continues to be evangelism and to motivate the church to evangelize.
It is important to note that Brazilian Christians are normally expected to evangelize without thought to their personal giftings and talents or other responsibilities in the church.
What a contrast this is to the conventional thinking here in the United States. We view evangelism as a ministry option for laypeople on an equal par with singing in the choir or serving on the church board. In fact, lay evangelism is often viewed as a ministry for those not capable of filling higher profile roles in the church. Laypeople often view evangelism in the context of an outreach group to follow up on first-time attenders. We should not be surprised by the lack of church growth in America when many have lost sight of our universal calling to be salt and light in a dark and depraved world.
God commands everyone to be actively involved in personal evangelism for two reasons: (1) The priority of personally sharing our faith with others keeps us, as laypeople, on our knees, in the Word, and in the church services. (2) Personally sharing our faith helps fulfill the Great Commission.
As a layperson I can tell you that it is entirely possible to be a regular attender, serve on the board, sing in the choir, be a good steward, and even go on mission tripsbut have no joy. I have been there many times wondering where my joy went and how I could get it back. At other times I was full of joy and convinced I would never lose it again. What was the difference?
In both cases I was attending, serving, and giving. In both cases I was held in high regard within my church, even though I was vacillating between two different people within my spirit. It was only after a long period of time that the answer became obvious. Without exception, the times when my joy was full were the times when I was sharing my faith. The personal sharing of my faith made all the difference! Jesus said: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might remain full" (John 15:8,11). This has been my experience.
HOW TO OBTAIN FULLNESS OF JOY
The first work of new converts is the automatic sharing of their faith with everyone around them. It has been said, "You can always spot a new Christian; they have so much zeal, but theyll get over it." The question that must be asked is: Why do we expect new Christians to lose their zeal as a result of spiritual maturity or cultural expectations? It doesnt seem true of new Christians in Brazil. And our growing churches here at home are filled with people who are boldly sharing their faith throughout the week and enthusiastically inviting people to come to church (see sidebar Mobilize the Membership).
Gods promise to us is that our joy will remain full as long as we are personally leading people to the Lord. Are our laypeople hearing this message? They attend church, serve, and give out of a sense of responsibility. But do they know of the joy of serving the Lord that comes from witnessing for Him?
In the December 8, 1997, issue of Christianity Today, Billy Graham said:
A Christian who fails to express Christs love for humanity through compassionate service is not living a life of full discipleship. In like manner, a Christian who fails to express Christs love for humanity through clear verbal witness is also not living a life of full discipleship. For too long we have assumed that evangelism was the province of only a few professionals or a task that the pastor alone could do. Such a view is not faithful to the New Testament, nor is it realistic if the challenges of the coming decades are to be met. The task is simply too overwhelming.
In our early years of growth in the United States, clergy and laity were actively sharing their faith and proclaiming the gospel. We were a church on fire. Along with our growth, however, came the improved skills of our clergy. This helped diminish the perceived value of laypeople proclaiming the gospel. Over time this led to the redirection of lay activity into the much needed infrastructure of our growing churches.
Today, we generally have a lower expectation of laypeople leading people to the Lord. Many lay Christians do not feel a personal burden to reach the unsaved people who surround them daily. When laypeople do not feel a personal responsibility to share their faith, they are less likely to bear fruit, to not have joy, to grow detached and apathetic, to be slack in church attendance, to be easily provoked into criticism, and to be more open to falling into grievous sin.
Laypeople are often two-sided when it comes to their Christian walk. Inside the church they can be generous givers and active participants held in high esteem by their pastor. But many do not give any thought to ministry outside the church. Lots of people know how to play church inside the church.
We all know that the church is not just brick and mortar but is comprised of people. Isolating our Christian experience and exuberance to the inside of the church keeps the world from hearing our message. However, when we live our faith outside the walls of the church, we are able to change our world.
John Maxwell likens our lives to a football game and our churches to the huddle. He points out that most Christians never get out of the huddle to play the game. We have over 2 million laypeople in America who average 7 meaningful conversations with non-Christians every week. With these 14 million people under the direct influence of Christian laypeople every week, we have the potential for changing countless lives and reaching our world.
The promise to laypeople is the fullness of joy that will be restored as they begin to personally share their faith. And all we need for this to happen is for pastors to help laypeople see themselves as the churchoutside the walls.
Barry J. Meguiar is president and CEO of Meguiars Inc., Irvine, California.