If you know Bill Iverson you would have to call him a force of nature. He can delight you and make you terribly uncomfortable at the same time. If you are caught with him in public you have to be ready because at any moment he will start talking to a stranger, ask them a riddle or pose a question, and then while he is joking with them steer the conversation to Christ. If you are his friend he will try to enroll you in some new scheme in winning the city to Jesus, or changing the denomination. I love him dearly, and though at times I confess to getting protective of myself when he communicates with me, I wonder how come there are not more like him.
In these last years Bill has been on a kick about how many people in one church it takes to bring in a new Christian. He cites statistics that show after you add up all the people who died or left a given church in the last year, and then add those who not only made a profession of faith but actually joined that church, it is embarrassing when you compare the amount of members with those who have been added. Numbers like 50 for 1, or even 200 for 1. Then he goes further and talks about how much money a congregation puts into itself, and then divides the number of new people into that overall budget figure. Isn't that just irritating?
I have some suppositions about the state of the Evangelical church in America, and I am wondering if they are true. I am wondering that if when a church planting network parachutes a church planter into a city, with the money for a praise band, large facility, and good programming that it doesn't really actuate into a mass conversion of unsaved people but more a sucking sound of saved people from dying churches, which will now surely die? I am wondering that even though there are small percentages of unsaved folk who get saved around a new church plant, built on transfer growth, that we are not really making much of a dent among the unsaved or in the culture? I am wondering if we have created an illusion (maybe a self-delusion) of speed, size, and power for what is really a retreat into mega "Fort Apache"s where we feel safe, but don't really change the community, the city, or the culture?
I am wondering how many church planters actually do programmed evangelism? I am wondering if church planters and pastors, and even Christians for that matter, have any idea of the disproportionate effort we are now experiencing between "speed" and "depth?"
Now this is just my personal speculation and would be happy to see someone else write a book about it, if anyone would read it, but it seems to me we have moved from the"Dale Carnegie' school of evangelistic method to the "Starbucks" method. I mean moving from the Bill Bright type of packaged salesmanship and marketing to the present concept of forming a long term relationship with someone and bringing them along in philosophical discussions until they not only get it, but want to get it.
We have broken away from speed so we could experience a more honest depth. This feels much better, except of course for the souls who are speeding on to hell. Personally I find the prepackaged presentation often distasteful and artificial, sometimes manipulative. I find the "no presentation" worse.
I mean, if it is true that people do go to hell who don't know Jesus, that they are lost without him, that their lives don't really come to full meaning without a relationship with him, then why is our comfort level so important?
As a pastor I felt it important that our congregation have some basic method or program for systematically getting the Gospel out. We built our programming on children in the inner city, so we could meet them and then meet their families. We did open air Bible clubs in their neighborhoods and essentially preached to them, in very simple Gospel messages, the Gospel. Everything else was built on that. Many adults came to Jesus in our church by coming to the morning worship service, and I was certainly glad for that, but that was not our programmed approach. We did not attempt to train everyone in a systematic method, but we did offer training in how to share your faith. Was I satisfied with my effort or with that of my people? Oh no, we certainly could have done more, with better results. My joy is that we never ceased to do something.
I have seen inner city missionaries go into neighborhoods and attempt to build discipling relationships over the years. Good, but not good enough. Too many people, too little time. I advocate both speed and depth, absolute honesty and never manipulation,a willingness for vulnerable relationships and bold confrontation and presentation.
I don't think I can be indicted on simply trying to save souls and not caring about bodies or the wholeness of human beings. We have preached, taught, trained and modeled mercy (both charity and development) for too long to be found guilty of not really caring for people. Jesus cares for real human beings, body and soul. He takes care of all of me; I trust him for my daily bread and my eternal life.
But I realize several Biblical truths, and I know I need to realize them more intensely everyday; that to those who are perishing we are the smell of death (and people really are perishing in their sins into an eternity of separation from God) and, that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.
I was with Bill Iverson this morning at breakfast, and he is still at it. Still reaching out to the lost, still wondering where the Church is, and when it will it come to its senses that it will shrink and die unless it recaptures a fervency for sharing a saving Gospel.