Stories of Hope
Since the fall of last year, our congregation has been planning for three evangelistic services that we called _Stories of Hope. _We gave this event this title for three basic reasons: 1) the messages came from the three parables that Jesus told in Luke 15; 2) we had a testimony shared by a member of the church that tied into the theme of the evening; and 3) we believe every person's life is a God-given story in which the hope of the gospel is to be offered.
These meetings took place over the past three Sunday evenings and just concluded last night. To give God glory for what we have seen Him do in our midst and to offer encouragement to others, I thought I would share the following.
To prepare the congregation for this time, our pastors organized what they called "Mission Briefings" over the eight or nine months leading up to _Stories of Hope. _They took time once a month in an evening service to encourage the church in such areas as praying specifically for friends, practicing hospitality, and asking kingdom-oriented questions. This training, along with regular exhortations through emails, announcements, and especially sermon references, stirred the congregation to be intentional in developing friendships more deeply and sharing Christ more readily.
That the congregation was truly stirred was seen in the enthusiasm for these meetings and the encouraging number of friends people brought. Our evening services, like those of many congregations, often lag in attendance. Yet for each of these past three weeks the sanctuary was full. Numbers are not the goal, but seeing such people as a discouraged widow come with her neighbors; a school-aged girl from a broken home come with a classmate; a teenage boy who openly professes unbelief come with teammates; or a disabled woman come with her neighbors and say she's now found a church home gave powerful, visual reminders that the kingdom of God still bids people to come.
The services themselves were simple in nature. We welcomed everyone, prayed, heard a testimony, sang a psalm, and then had a message. Again, the evangelistic messages were based on the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Three different pastors preached with these messages entitled "Been Wandering?", "Feeling Worthless?", and "Living Wastefully?" respectively. We then prayed and concluded with a final song. Last night we ended with a Q&A time, with questions received from the people in attendance asked to the three pastors who preached. Refreshments followed each evening, allowing for a great deal of conversation afterward.
I'm convinced once again about the power of people sharing their testimonies. Hearing the great work God has done in the life of each of the three people who shared created a dynamic like no other. The testimonies were not only beneficial to those visiting. Many times these past weeks I have heard members of the congregation say, "I never knew..." then recount what they had learned about a brother or sister from their testimony. The children were attentive, learning how God converts people. And we also are trusting the Holy Spirit will create new testimonies in the lives of those who came.
One of the encouraging by-products of this "banner-raising" event is the boldness the Lord put into the hearts of the people of the congregation through it. Many have told me of evangelistic encounters they have had in having people into their homes and/or inviting people to _Stories of Hope, _many of which who ended up not coming to the services. Thus, many more were reached than the ones who came. As we sought to stress throughout, the evangelism was not just to be done in those services, but before, during, and after them.
Though I could share much more, let me conclude by addressing one of the issues Reformed churches face in having services like these. The issue is the proper use of the Lord's Day and remembering it is primarily a day to worship God. After all, to use John Piper's words, worship is ultimate, not missions. We do not want to go down the trail of the Arminian, church growth congregations of our day that have turned worship into an event whose sole orientation seems to be to attract people so as to increase the church's size and influence.
However, here is where balance needs to and must be called for. Beyond the public worship of God, Reformed congregations regularly have other activities on the Lord's Day, such as classes, meals, fellowship, physical rest, catechizing times, and acts of mercy such as prison or nursing home visitations. Yet is not the sharing of Christ's death and resurrection, which is marked by this very day, the greatest act of mercy of all? Did not our Lord do some of His greatest acts of mercy on the Sabbath and use them as opportunities to preach the gospel? Should we not do likewise?
Lloyd-Jones preached with more edification emphasis in morning worship but then also regularly preached more evangelistically in the evening services. Certainly most Reformed ministers believe he was blessed of God. Could the lack of conversions in most Reformed congregations and even attendance in their evening services be because we have settled for comfortable ritual rather than a wise and passionate use of the Lord's Day? Based on these last few weeks, I am starting to wonder.