During a cycle of evangelistic drought among Southern Baptists, any read that urges evangelism sparks my interest. That's why I read I read Dr. Nathan Lorick’s book, Dying to Grow. Consequently, during this particular period of evangelistic stagnation, fewer books surface surrounding evangelism, which also makes Lorick’s material even more refreshing. Upon closer observation, the author possesses specific qualifications that provide an authoritative platform to speak a timely, prophetic word into the life of pastors, evangelists, and the church at large. (See bio of author HERE.)
Dying to Grow consists of sixteen chapters and two appendices. Nathan pinpoints his struggles and identifies current discrepancies within our churches’ evangelistic endeavors, or the lack thereof. Although much can be said about the entire book, due to the brevity of this review, I will focus attention on five critical areas that resonate with me.
First, Lorick opens chapter two with an illustration concerning his children. Many times, one will beg for his undivided attention in order to show off his latest trick or acting ability. They eagerly demonstrate their talents in high hopes of impressing their father. Lorick confesses that he isn’t impressed or awed by their current skills, although they attempt their very best for him. On the other hand, if one of his children hurts him/herself, he makes a beeline to offer help. No matter the obstacle standing between him and his hurting child, who is screaming for help, Lorick, like all of us, would manage somehow to be by his child’s side instantaneously. (9-10)
Similarly, many believers operate their lives by their abilities to preach, sing, build buildings, develop programs, and more, attempting their very best for God, in order to impress Him. Lorick states that God must be in heaven saying, “You preached a great message, but remember, I wrote the book,” or “The worship was great; however, you haven’t heard the angelic choir of heaven yet.” We seek and expend our energy attempting to impress God more than we cry out for Him in desperation. (10)
Lorick highlights one of the greatest needs of the church today…desperation. When we realize that our families, friends, and communities are dying without Christ and will spend an eternity in hell, our only model of worship ought to be desperation. Desperate for His power! Desperate for His presence! Desperate for His work! Desperate for His gospel! Desperate for His transformation! Desperate for His grace! Desperate for His mercy! Desperate, desperate, desperate for Him! Not only for our lives but we desire this for the lost in our communities, states, nation, and world as well! At this point, God will make a beeline for us!
PRAYING FOR THE LOST
Lorick begins chapter seven by asking the questions, “Has it ever occurred to you that the reason we are not seeing people come to faith in Jesus, as we know we should, is because we aren’t for praying them?” He continues by stating, “Perhaps it’s not a sermon problem or a preaching problem. Maybe it’s a praying problem.” (43) Once again, he provides his readers with a proper rebuke. When was the last time you prayed for a lost friend, family member, or neighbor? When was the last time, you were awakened in the middle of the night broken for a lost soul and spent the next few hours pleading with God to save them?
Many churches still meet on Wednesday evenings for a time of prayer. True, but the majority of the time is spent on praying for health issues, rather than, spiritual issues regarding salvation. (44) Praying for healing is biblical! (James 5:13-16) Praying for physical healing; however, is less important that praying for spiritual healing, salvation! Recently, I preached a sermon from Colossians 4:2-6. Concerning praying for the lost, I stated, “Prayer isn’t for God, prayer is for us. However, prayer isn’t about us, prayer is about God.” We do not pray to get what we want, but we pray, in order to get what God wants! Praying for the lost removes the spotlight on our lives and places it on the real MVP and hero…the Lord Jesus Christ!
The question arises, what does the Lord desire? What does He want? 2 Peter 3:9 states:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
The Lord desires for the people in our communities, work, schools, states, nation, and world to surrender their entire lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, the same should be said about His church. That ought to be our desire. If so, I plead with you to begin praying daily for those that you know, and even those you do not know, to trust in Christ!
One last thought on this subject before moving on. Lorick concludes chapter seven by stating, “One of the great things about praying this way for the lost is that God will inevitably burden the hearts of those who are praying to be the ones sharing the gospel.” (48) While developing a deeper conviction about praying for the lost and implementing it, refrain from allowing your prayers to act as a substitute to verbally proclaiming the gospel to those you are praying for. Prayer moves us to action, not complacency. Pray, then go! For additional reading concerning the partnership between prayer and action, I highly encourage you to read Dr. Alvin Reid’s recent article, "Prayer for Revival."
Third, Lorick encourages churches to thoughtfully develop a strategy for reaching people with the gospel. I would venture to say that most Southern Baptist churches have no clue of the basic demographic makeup of their communities or the spiritual understanding of the residences. If, for some reason, I am wrong, then what a tragedy it is to know such vital information but refuse to engage it. For further understanding of this statement CLICK HERE.
Developing a strategy with thorough and accurate information will enhance the need, passion, and excitement to reach your community for Christ. Lorick introduces five important questions to begin the process:
(1) What is the demographic makeup of your community?
(2) What has been done in evangelism at your church in the past that was successful?
(3) What will the people in your church be willing to do to reach the community?
(4) Are you, as the leader, willing to risk it all for this vision?
(5) What can you identify today that is holding you back from developing a great evangelism strategy for your church? (84)
I exhort you, as a pastor, to think through these questions and more. Afterwards, heighten the evangelistic climate in your church by introducing these questions to your people, discussing the answers, implementing a plan, and enforcing the strategy. Your church will look and feel completely different in the near future if you take this seriously. Lorick quotes Ed Stetzer, “It must come from the pastor because God has uniquely anointed the pastor to present His vision to the congregation.” (85) (Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2006), 317.)
Fourth, Lorick shares a personal and vulnerable story of his wife giving birth to their stillborn baby, Konner. This heartbreaking, devastating, and debilitating circumstance possesses the potential to lead a person, or in this case, a family, down a darkened path of lost hope and belief. During Lorick’s moment of despair, God spoke to him and said, “Nathan, I am not doing this to you; I am doing this through you for someone else down the road.” Thus, he and his wife clung to the words he previously spoke to her, “Whatever is happening, we will walk in faith.” Please read his full description of these events. (103-104)
Many pastors and evangelists experience life-altering occasions as well. Maybe a church lied, forced you out, betrayed you, or even worse. Maybe you are in a season of ministry where you struggle to find hope and belief. Regardless of your past, regardless of your circumstances, God desires to use you in the process of true, biblical growth in your church and community. Trust Him! God wants to give you hope and belief again. If you have lost it, right now, drop to your knees and plead with Almighty God to restore and renew you once again.
If you find yourself wondering if God can still use you or move in your community, please let me assure you He does and He will! Focus not on your ability but on God’s ability. You can believe again. Begin praying for the lost, develop a plan, and release it in your ministry.
UTILIZING FULL-TIME EVANGELISTS
Fifth, Lorick declares, “Crusades (Revivals) have been very successful for many years and have seen millions of people come to faith in Christ. One of the crucial elements for a crusade is a full-time evangelist, who will be gifted in sharing the gospel and drawing in the net during the invitation time. Many churches have forgotten this method or have deemed it irrelevant for today’s society. However, a church that does this with excellence will see excellent results.” (140) This comes as a breath of fresh air for young evangelists, like myself. When many assume the ministry of the evangelist is unnecessary, Lorick offers encouragement and insight to pastors and our convention.
The author understands that local churches will never reach their full potential or effectiveness without utilizing a gift God provided them. Although the term “evangelist” only appears on three occasions in the New Testament, these appearances offer support and critical information for not only the pastor but the church as well.
In Ephesians 4:11-13, God provides the local church with the gift of the evangelist, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
In Acts 21:8, the Lord provides an example of this gift from Ephesians 4:11-13, “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.”
In 2 Timothy 4:5, God illustrates the ministry and co-laboring of the evangelist and pastor, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.’ Notice that the pastor is unable to fulfill his ministry if he neglects the work of an evangelist.
Lorick provides his readers with a helpful and insightful tool with his book, Dying to Grow. While reading its content, I was convicted, encouraged, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. America is facing a quick spiritual downward spiral that forces the church to self-examine, repent, and once again flood our cities with the gospel message of Jesus Christ!
Let’s refocus our attention on what really matters … sharing the gospel and discipling new converts! I encourage you to purchase a copy of “Dying to Grow.” You can do so at Nathan Lorick’s website.
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