Sharing Keys

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The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with?

We used to have neighbors who would come over to our house when we were gone for the holidays and get our cat and take the cat to their house, because they said they didn’t want her to be alone on the holidays.

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who have our key and we have theirs. We’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town.

When keys are exchanged there is a relationship. There is trust. There is authority and access.

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus tells his followers, “I will give you keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” [my translation].

Keys allow you to access the purpose of the object they are applied. The purpose of a house is for living in it. A key can open the door to enter or close it shut. If it is a car, a key can start it or shut it off. If it is a post office box, a key can unlock or lock it. Keys are all about accessing the intended purpose.

Jesus’ keys are for the purpose of entering the realm of the King. Jesus’ kingdom keys allow access to the space where God rules and reigns. This is where things are as they should be and whatever is brought into God’s realm is made right.

I love Eugene Peterson’s take on Jesus’ words in Matthew, “You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”

Most of us here can tell a story of how someone used their key to give us access to the kingdom. The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others. What will you open, close, start, stop, unlock, or lock with the keys you’ve been given?

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You Are the Key

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How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

Sharing keys with neighbors
Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with? We shared keys with Jim and Kathy Lee, next door to our first home. If we were gone for the day, they would get our cat. They didn’t want her to be lonely, so they would keep her at their house. We ended up giving the cat to them.

Giving someone access

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who they have our key and we have theirs (or the garage key code) and we’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town. Neighbors have hired my kids to take care of pets while on vacation. Giving someone access to your home means there is relationship and trust.

Keys are all about access

Keys are all about access. After Jesus’ promise to build his church, he went on to say, “I will give you my keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” (my paraphrase of Mt 16:19). Jesus handed his followers his keys. What are the ramifications of this?

Christians making entrance

Craig Blomberg comments, “[T]he imagery of keys that close and open, lock and unlock (based on Isa 22:22) … take the binding and loosing (and Jesus is not just saying this to Peter because in 18:18 he says the same thing and it is in the plural) as referring to Christians’ making entrance to God’s kingdom available or unavailable to people through their witness, preaching, and ministry.”

More open doors

Complaints are often made in the church as to why we don’t see more open doors for the gospel. Three that come to mind are [extra points for the alliteration]:

  1. Resources
  2. Relevance
  3. Receptivity

Resources lacking

People argue that a lack of resources is keeping doors from opening. If only they had more money, were better equipped, or developed more training. It’s not true! We have everything we need to accomplish what God has asked.

Relevancy of the church

People say we need to make ministry more relevant. People criticize the church for not being technologically or culturally relevant. That is always misapplied energy. This probably deserves a separate conversation.

Receptivity of the culture

Others still, complain about the receptivity of the culture. It is true, there are places where gospel growth is faster than other places. Jesus spoke about hearts that produce more growth than others. But the fact is, we can’t blame culture for not being more open to the gospel. The Bible says people are dead in sin. Are we saying people are more dead in some places?

The problem is access

The church does not need more resources. Our problem is not relevancy. I don’t think we should even pray for more receptivity. The problem is access. Jesus has left the building of the church to our utilization of the keys he’s given us. It’s up to us to share access with others. We are the key!

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon offers a great exercise for living a life of access in their book The Art of Neighboring. Draw a tic-tac-toe box with you in the middle and write down the names of the neighbors around you. If you don’t know their names, that’s the first step. If you can name them, are you praying for them? If not, that’s the second step. Then create a practical plan for how to give them access to your life. For me, taking a van full of neighborhood kids to Awana that has been one way of creating access.

We are the key

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world? Access becomes an acute descriptor when we realize there are areas of the world which will never have access to the gospel unless someone from the outside uses their key to go to them.

When it comes down to it, we are the key! We are the bearers of the gospel message. The issue is not resources, relevance, or receptivity. The issue is accessibility. Our lives in proximity to others is what opens access to the gospel.

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The Overwhelmed, Overflow

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Glowing Door Opportunity

My story of access to the gospel, the story of saving faith, goes back to a couple named Don and Adrianne Badgley. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents did so much to “train me in the way” as the Proverb says, but despite their best efforts, I was far from God going into the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

The Badgleys had a son my age and every Wednesday night for 5 years, along with 10 or so other classmates, they opened up their home, fed us dinner, and talked to us. Sometimes it was a video about the wonder of the world, the transformation that took place in someone’s life, or a lesson from the Bible. One weekend this couple took all of us to a youth concert. At this event, the chance to go to Albania for the summer to do street dramas was presented. For some reason that sounded like something I wanted to do.

The Badgley’s church took a risk on me. This was a small church of, maybe, 30 people. My life up to that point did not show much promise. But they helped raise the $4,000 to pay for me to experience this (and this was over 20 years ago, so that would be more today). The trip transformed my life. Why would people do that? Especially for someone who showed so little promise? I think they were aware of what God did for them and it simply overflowed onto the opportunity presented to them—me! These people had been overwhelmed by the rich blessing and sheer gift of grace. And the overwhelmed, overflowed.

I was part of a wonderful church, Muncie Alliance Church, at a time when this kind of overwhelming overflow was taking place. About 10 years ago, 5 new churches were started by Muncie Alliance Church. I was part of a team that started one of those in Huntington IN. Muncie Alliance gave away 100’s of people and good leaders to make that happen. Why would a church do that? I would submit that is simply an example of the generosity that results from the joy of realizing what one has been given. We don’t hold on. The overwhelmed, overflow.

My current church in Bloomingdale is a great example, too. That community has sent almost a dozen people to work internationally. Just in the past two years we have sent a single guy to Central Asia, a single gal to South Asia, a couple to North Africa, a couple to Guadalajara, Mexico, and another couple to Uruguay. These are amazing people. Was this painful to have so much staff leave? You bet! In more ways than one. All of these people had been in our church for several years, not just floating through over a couple of months. Why would a church do that? I would submit that is simply an example of the generosity that results from the joy of access. We don’t hold on. The overwhelmed, overflow.

God is a God that didn’t hold on—and doesn’t hold on. He doesn’t hoard. And this same trait marks his people. Paul commented about one church saying, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity….For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:2,9) I think this principle speaks to how we handle everything we’ve been given, whether money, family, buildings, or people. Assets are for access, in God’s economy.

You happened to be born in a time, place, and to people who brought you the opportunity to hear the message of Christ. May the joy of realizing the access (the opportunity, riches, and sheer gift) you’ve been given, overwhelm you and cause you to overflow to make the gospel accessible to others.

 

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The Issue Is Access

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Joy of Gospel Access-Tim-HAMS Instr

What is happening with Jesus’ name in your city? There are multiple categories that are often listed, identifying the reason for (or not) the impact of the church in a city. Some look to the resources (re: money, buildings, assets) available. Some look to relevancy (re: decor, music, presentation, attractional ministry). I would submit the most important category is access.

 

When resources and/or relevancy is focused upon as the fulcrum of impact, there is a limit. Missiologists (I heard this from Alan Hirsch) indicate only 40% of the population in the US have the potential to enter the doors of our churches. That means statistically 60% of the people in your city cannot be reached through ministry within the four walls of your church. Access must be created by other means. I would submit this means those that name the name of Christ must build relational bridges with those around them.

 

That is the limit in the US. The issue is different in other countries. The number of people who name the name of Christ is so few in some countries that access is not an option. The image above illustrates different access ratios. If you think of a person knocking on doors, attempting to find someone to tell them about Jesus, it would take about 6 knocks here in the US. Our friends Dan and Katie moved last year to a country where it would take 30,000 knocks for that to happen. But that kind of context is another conversation.

 

The most important measure is not growth of the individual church, the increase in resources generated by your church compared to last year, or that your programs are judged more culturally clued in. The bottom line is if a gospel witness is available to more people in your city. In the NT, growth was not calculated by the number of people in attendance, but that the word of God was growing in a city and more people were naming the name of Jesus as Lord.

 

Leaders must continually challenge the mindset in the local church that sees the fulfillment of their guiding mandate as making the gospel accessible to all. That is not to say the expectation is for everyone to become a follower of Christ in a city. Salvation is not up to them. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. However, giving every man, woman, and child the opportunity to accept or reject Christ in a repeatable and accessible manner is the mandate of the local church. The church cannot define success by any other measure.

 

How does the idea of access change the way you think about the impact of the church in your city?

 

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Do You Have a Plan?

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visitor-parking

The topic of assimilation seems appropriate right after Easter. Inevitably churches see at least a few blasted Creasters. Did you see any at your church? For some of these CEOs (Christmas/Easter Only) perhaps it was their first visit to your church. What do you think the chance is they will be back next week?

Do you have a plan for guests to your church becoming part of the life of the church? Is the plan working? “One hundred percent of all your future members come to your church as first time guests.” So says Bill Calvin, associate pastor at Bloomingdale Alliance Church. Think about the logic of that statement. Read it one more time. However, most pastors approach the phenomena of the visitor as though they have never considered the importance of getting them to return. Because of that, those already part of the life of the church typically do not have this on their radar.

Over the period of time you have been at your church how many visitors would you estimate have attended? Your estimate is probably low if you have not consciously tracked this. One statistic estimates that per one hundred people in attendance there are five visitors on average each week. So a church of two hundred would have ten visitors on a given week. A church of a thousand would have fifty. On a scale of 1-10, how detailed do you feel your assimilation process is? How many guests can you identify over the past 12 months that have become part of the life of the church? Can you track that process?

One church that has tracked this process and worked hard to create a plan for people to integrate into the life of the church is Bloomingdale Church. After district conference this month, Bill Calvin, who created their assimilation process, will be sharing how Bloomingdale has been able to average twenty-two percent visitor retention for the last ten years. During that time they have witnessed 379 conversions and 227 baptisms. The attendance has doubled. Bill would be the first to say Bloomingdale is a very average church. What has taken place has nothing to do with great music, great preaching, or a great facility. He would say they have been intentional about a few specific things. That is what he will be sharing about at the post-conference luncheon.

If you believe in providence you know a person does not happen upon the church. Nelson Searcy says, “By sending that guest to you, God is giving you the privilege of cooperating with Him to move someone forward in their journey toward Jesus.” If you desire to better steward the gift of first-time guests, register below for the post-conference luncheon with Bill Calvin where he will share his story of assimilation.

  1. 2 critical statistics about your first-time visitors
  2. Pastor Bill Calvin’s Alpha Story
  3. What’s your church’s FQ?
  4. The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church

Register here for the post-conference interaction with Bill

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Reaching Muslims

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93d3dd2a-cc63-4c89-ab7e-dd808c83f0f9

Below is a review of the book Reaching Muslims by Matthew Stone. Reviewed by Don Little, Islamic Missiologist, Pioneers and Pioneers Missionary Scholar in Residence, Houghton College. Review provided courtesy of  Pioneers, USA and SEEDBED: Practitioners in Conversation. To Purchase: request seedbed.editor@sent.com to get in touch with the author who is willing to sell the book for $15.

Though he does not identify himself or give any background information about himself, the author of this little book on approaches to sharing our faith with Muslims has a background that gives him a unique perspective on his topic. Matthew Stone is Caucasian American, with Jewish heritage, who converted to Islam while doing his doctorate in philosophy. He spent a number of years as the leading American preacher/apologist for Islam before being led to faith in Christ through friendship with some caring professors in a Christian college. Stone has doctorates in both philosophy and psychology, and he serves as a therapist and pastor. He has been on both sides of the experience of seeking to urge someone to leave their faith and confess a different one. It is thus instructive that he begins by suggesting that his ‘model’ is the ‘Indiana Jones’ model—‘I’m making this up as I go.’ Stone repeatedly stresses that every Muslim and every situation is different, so one has to adapt one’s approach to the person with whom one is talking.

This first edition shows many signs of being a rush job (which the author told me it was) and it clearly needs a good editor and a re-publication (which I understand is in the works). Nevertheless, Stone offers a great deal of wisdom for our witness without really giving us a ‘method’. He conveys more a general attitude and heart for Muslims than a ‘model’ for an effective means of sharing the Gospel. Here are some of his most valuable points of discussion.

Since Muslims are people and are all different, every approach to a Muslim is a fresh encounter that has to be undertaken with an open and loving heart, ready to listen to and understand the person with whom you are in discussion. Thus bringing a ‘method’ to such relational conversations is inappropriate. ‘My goal is to explore the ways in which we interact with Muslims and the pitfalls in doing so and to think seriously about how we can do it lovingly and respectfully’.

Stone uses both his philosophical and psychological training in the counsel he offers. As a philosopher, he offers some helpful and penetrating analyses of the kinds of unhelpful and faulty arguments that Muslims and Christians use in their ‘evangelistic’ conversations and materials. He suggests a number of valuable tips to help us use more compelling arguments. At the same time, as a psychologist and Christian counselor, he offers some wise insights into how people respond to others, and how to communicate one’s love and respect for those with whom one is talking. To illustrate, here are some of his recommendations: (1) know what you are talking about (2) be fair (3) build bridges (4) touch the emotions (5) use stories and (6) and be timely.

A helpful discussion that I have not encountered before is Stone’s description and analysis of bad arguments that both Christians and Muslims use (Chap 3), and his discussion of how Muslims try to use poor science in defense of the Qur’an (Chap 5).

In Chapters 6-7 Stone discusses five different approaches to Muslim ministry and then presents and analyzes the contrasting approaches of Carl Medearis and Georges Houssney, and observes that despite their differences, both approaches are very relational. He then suggests that we can learn a lot from the way Jesus interacted with people in the Gospels, and in effect, follow the ‘Jesus model’ for reaching Muslims with Christ’s love.

Stone suggests that there are two groups of Muslims living in the West who ought to receive special attention from Christians: refugees and Western converts to Islam. Both are in vulnerable situations and can benefit from Christians reaching out in love to them. This is the first time I have seen anyone encouraging us to reach out to Western converts to Islam. This is a good word and comes, I suspect, from his experience and intimate acquaintance with Western converts to Islam. He reminds us that the conversion process often has a long phase of ambiguity and uncertainty, and that it can be quite stressful. A Christian lovingly caring for and listening to a convert to Islam can provide them with needed support that also reminds them of the love that Christians have in their midst.

Stone concludes with two brief chapters in which he gives counsel on examining our own attitudes and advises on how to develop healthy attitudes towards Muslims whom we are seeking to reach He finishes with a helpful list of warnings about what not to say to Muslims, and an appeal for humility in our attitude toward them.

This little book is a quick read containing much practical wisdom. Stone has a great sense of humor and his writing is filled with wit. It is written primarily for those encountering Muslims in the West, but has plenty of gems for anyone loving and talking with Muslims anywhere.

Used with Permission. Not to be reproduced by any mechanical or photographic means nor copied for public use without the written permission of Pioneers, 10123 William Carey Drive, Orlando, FL 32832

Links List November 20

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  1. Don’t give up. Look for what God can do.
  2. In praise of simplicity. Ugly, but functional websites.
  3. [4] Ways to Equip New Elders. From the latest 9Marks journal.
  4. Being with others. Disciplemaking via presence and conversation.
  5. Discipline is the other side of discipleship which is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God.
  6. An every person ministry. [3] dynamics toward bridging missional and evangelism.
  7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s high view of Christian fellowship. It is only in Christ.

For Fun:

Andy Griffith comedy routine: “What It Was It Was Football”

Quote:

“Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?”
Abraham Lincoln

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