During the recent EPIC trip to Ireland we held an event in Belfast where we opened the floor up for questions. Here are a few of the questions and answers from Ireland. (Strangely, as I post this I’ve just returned from a similar event in Sydney, Australia.)
How can we reignite the passion for evangelism within reformed theology?
That question of Reformed Theology and evangelism is a tricky one because we know in our heads that Reformed Theology has within it what should propel us to mission, right. Look, we understand Reformed Theology ought to be propelling us, and yet somehow it seems to make us lax and that’s something those who are not reformed often hold against us, and I think rightly so.
That, in our church, it’s very much our experience that people get saved into Pentecostalism. They’re the ones who are really reaching out and doing the hard ministry and sharing the gospel and drawing people in. Now many of them get saved there and then a lot of those who are truly saved develop a hunger and they realize they’re not being fed and so they migrate over to a church like ours. But it’s been to our shame as a church that we’re just kind of, I don’t want to say sheep stealing, that’s not the right expression. We’re truly feeding people who need to be fed, but we want to be the people who are sharing the Gospel and seeing those results.
So, I don’t know what we do about that other than just dive deeper and not allow ourselves to be complacent.
I think some of the evangelism in the non-reformed world happens for poor motives, but it still happens.
I think we need to look back to the heroes and, you know, we can look at the Whitefields or people who were truly reformed. Most of the great missionaries were truly reformed in their theology and that propelled them to mission.
I think we tend to lean on them a little bit. I’d rather be able to say, look at my church and my life as proof that Reformed Theology propels mission, versus having to say, yes well look at Whitefield and look at John Paton and all those people, but yes, I think that’s something as a Reformed movement, Reformed church, whatever, Reformed Christians, that is to our shame. It’s not universally true. There are some people out there who are really, really doing that hard work, but I don’t think it’s as common as it ought to be.
What do you think is the biggest problem the church faces theologically?
The biggest problem the church faces in a theological sense; I think, what we tend to fear as Christians is outside encroachment in the church, right. And so today we’re hearing lots of talk about new sexual norms, transgenderism, all of these things. I think we sort of have that mentality of, we need to hold all that at bay. I suspect that’s just a great distraction so Satan can undermine the church from within. He’s always done his most effective work from within.
So there’s a deep sense in which our apathy, I think, is our great enemy. If we’re not continuing to dive deeper into truth, if we’re not really arming our people, I think Satan can sneak in from the inside. So, our defense there, I believe, is really to equip our people theologically, and yet at the same time to continue to grow the church, to continue to develop evangelistically as well.
But, I really do fear, and in Canada, we feel a lot of that. You know the government is going to take away our rights. The government is going to come in and deny us this or pull away that, but I really fear that the true damage is being done from the inside and we’re just too focused outward. Historically of course, as the government cracks down on the church, it tends to actually spread the Gospel, not hinder it. But the real hindrance to the Gospel comes from Christians being apathetic, throwing away truth.
How much focus should the local church have on modern forms of communication?
Well, the sad reality or just the reality is, that’s where the people are. So if you want to reach people, you’ve got to reach them through social media. That’s where people are spending time, that’s where people are engaging, that’s where people are sharing ideas, that’s where people are encountering ideas.
100% of the people who come to our church have been to our website before they visit. So, we’ve got to have a good website. It doesn’t need to be hipster, it doesn’t need to be over the top, but we have to be able to answer the questions that they’re … we have to try and understand what questions are they bringing to this website, that they want answered in order to come in.
And a lot of that is, who are you like? So, it’s not, they don’t care if we’re Reformed Baptist or Reformed Prespaterian. They want to know who we’re associated with. Because they’ve encountered someone online, they’ve listened to a Paul Washer sermon and they’ve grasped that kind of theology. Now they’re coming and saying, is your church kind of like Paul Washer? Or, they’ve heard John Piper, and they’re saying, you know, is this like a Piperesque type of church? And those connections, I think, are very important.
So, on our website, we have a little listing of, we like this ministry or we like this person for these reasons. And that’s just a helpful way of giving people a little hook into our church. That’s the questions they’re asking.
Another question is, what do I wear to church, right? A very intimidating thing. If you’re unchurched, or you’re from a different tradition, you don’t want to be the guy who shows up in a suite, when everybody else is in jeans. Or the guy who shows up in jeans, when everyone else is in a suite.
Social media is a great way of breaking down that barrier. Just answering those kinds of questions that may keep people from actually encountering church. So, the big difficulty or one of the big difficulties with social media is that the young people migrate to it before the older people. And so churches that have stopped sending out a printed newsletter or a printed church directory, and do it all through a website now, have essentially taken something away from the elderly people in the church.
They’ve also perhaps taken something away from the very young people in church, whose parents may not be allowing them onto those things.
Or the kids, I mean when grandma got on Facebook, the grandkids got off, right. It just wasn’t cool anymore. And so you start to keep people apart. Something like paper, you can always give to everybody equally, and they’ll all have access to it.
So, I think we need to weigh things carefully before we make those big and sudden shifts, to make sure we’re still reaching everybody in the church, and serving everybody equally. But, if you want to go where the people are, you’ve got to have some social media presence, a website at least, and probably some presence on Facebook and Twitter. But we found that our Facebook for the church basically just becomes like a Craigslist kind of thing; I’ve got this junk, do you want my junk? And so, it becomes a little bit weird too.