Some significant changes are coming up for The Payneful Truth. I’ll talk about those changes below, but first (and more importantly) to this week’s topic and guest.
A conversation on evangelism with John Lavender
One of the things I’ve loved most about doing The Payneful Truth over the past couple of years is the interaction with readers and listeners. Of all those who’ve sent in encouraging comments and questions, the prize for quantity with quality easily goes to John Lavender. John is a church planter and minister here in Sydney, who has been working over the last couple of years with Evangelism and New Churches (an organization within the Sydney Anglican diocese that promotes and resources evangelism). His main job over the past couple of years has been to visit churches and work with them to encourage and improve evangelism, and for a while now I’ve been wanting to talk with him about what he’s learned doing this. What’s the state of play around Sydney evangelistically?
Here’s an edited version of the conversation John and I recently had.
TP: John, in your work with ENC, you get quite a picture of what’s happening evangelistically in churches around Sydney. We keep being told in the media that Christianity is declining (as the Census data apparently tells us) and that all is doom and gloom. But where do you see good things happening?
JL: I hear so many good news stories. Little things like a guy who meets a new neighbour, strikes up a conversation and boldly asks him to read the Bible with him. And the neighbour says yes, and so he works through the Bible with him, and invites him to church.
Or a group of ladies who meet new people who move into their street, provide meals for them, and then invite them to church.
I see lots of little things like that where people take the initiative to invite, to read the Bible—that’s wonderful.
In terms of the bigger picture, some of the churches I’ve visited are just so committed to helping people come to know Jesus. They have a really good structure: there’s good training, the church is welcoming, you arrive and are followed up, the vibe is good, people show interest in you, the sermon is engaging, and you’re invited into a follow-up course. It’s really good!
There are churches where there are only one or two converted every now and then, but I’ve been in other contexts that are having 10 or 20 or 30 new people coming each week, where there are significant numbers of people hearing, responding, and wanting to hear more. It’s very encouraging.
TP: What about where it’s not working so well. What weaknesses have you seen?
JL: This can be a bit sad, because you see people who aren’t gripped by who Jesus is, or they don’t see they have a role to play in speaking about Jesus. There are churches that just haven’t connected at all with their suburb or the community around them, and that’s really sad. Some churches aren’t really sure how to actively reach the people around them. The people are reluctant or afraid or not sure how to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation.
But I’m encouraged because the ministers will say me to me, “John, can you help us? How can we raise the evangelistic temperature at our church? How can the congregation be better equipped? How can we connect with people, and follow them up?” It’s encouraging that they see the problems, and want to give it a crack.
TP: What do you think is the main problem?
JL: Before I point at others I want to think about myself. Two passages I’m passionate about are 2 Cor 4 and 2 Cor 5.
In 2 Cor 4, the contrast is between the temporary things of this world and eternity, and I’m just so conscious how often I’ve got my eyes set on the things of this world rather than on eternity.
In 2 Cor 5, Paul talks about being compelled or convinced of Christ’s love—I want to be convinced and compelled by that every day! He talks about the urgency. As I think about myself and our churches, I’m conscious that we’re lured into chasing the things of this world. We’re not fully convinced of the need to be Christ’s ambassadors (as 2 Cor 5 says); we’re not gripped by the urgency of the whole thing. I want to work hard to change the focus; to help people see that eternity is at stake; to be convinced and compelled by what Christ has done for us. That’s what I want to encourage people and churches to be on about.
I think the other issue is love. I’ve been reading Before you Share your Faith by Matt Smethurst, and reckons that one of the major reasons is simply that we don’t love people. What a slap in the face that is! If we loved people we’d be ready to talk to them about Jesus and about their future and about why Jesus is so good.
TP: How do you address this? How do you raise the temperature of evangelism and love and conviction?
JL: Well, one way would be by working through chapters like 2 Cor 4 and 5! Another one is Matt 9, where Jesus sees the people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. It’s encouraging them to look out, and to seek to have Jesus’ vision of the world.
To go back to 2 Cor 4—I’ve heard Rico Tice talk about how Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the glory of Christ. He has this line, “We preach Christ, and God opens blind eyes”. I want to help people see that we’re involved in this kind of spiritual battle. Will we pray for the people that God brings across our path, that we’d be bold enough to speak to them about Jesus? And to pray that as we speak to them, God would open their blind eyes, and unblock their deaf ears, and soften their hard hearts so that they would be able to see the glory of Christ.
That’s what I talk about with people. Will you be bold? Will you pray? Will you ‘cross the pain line’, as Rico Tice says, to bring Jesus into the conversation? And whether you get hostility or hunger, keep talking to people about Jesus.
TP: What about practical ideas? What sort of approaches do you recommend?
JL: Jesus calls people to ‘fish for people’. These days, we do a lot of our fishing on our own—we sit in a boat on our own, or go down to the rock ledge on our own. But a lot of 1st century fishing was done together.
I want to encourage churches to do more fishing together—to set up groups of 2, 5, or 10 people, to work together in evangelism. It means that as a group they are praying for connections and contacts; they can share their frustrations and disappointments; they can pray for people they’re having conversations with; they can do things together, like lunches and dinners to invite people to. To have groups and structures like that in place is really helpful I think. Fishing alone can be discouraging, but fishing in a group is a very helpful structure and strategy.
Over the years, I’ve also been a real fan of Christianity Explained. We adapted it into something that was done over four weeks. You bring a friend along to sit in with you. (We found it hard to get people to commit to longer than four weeks.)
Those sorts of evangelistic courses can be really helpful. But I’ve also become more aware recently of the power of the simple question: ‘Would you like to read the Bible with me?’. There are some excellent resources for this, like The Word One to One. I know of churches that get people together for wine and cheese, and then everyone sits down one-to-one and works through the Gospel of John. I’ve heard terrific stories of people using The Word One to One to read the Bible with friends and workmates.
TP: As a variation on that, one of the structures a number of campus ministries are using these days is evangelistic Bible-reading triplets. So the question you ask is not ‘Would you like to read the Bible with me?’ but ‘I’m going to be reading the Bible with my friend, Geoff. Would you like to join us?’ Sometimes this is an easier invitation. And having a third person in the conversation can often help.
JL: Yes, there are so many good resources and approaches. All the work you’ve done on reworking the Two ways to live material, for example, is really useful. It helps people to have clarity about what the gospel really is, and what the different aspects of the gospel mean. It’s a framework to guide the conversation.
I also encourage people to develop their own 20-30 second testimony about the difference that Jesus has made to them, so that they can explain in just 30 seconds who Jesus is, what he’s done, and the difference he has made in my life.
In my observation, churches that are doing well have a good mix of ‘Go and tell’ and ‘Come and see’. They’re equipping their people to go out in the world and talk about Jesus, but also have good structures and opportunities for inviting people to events and courses and church and so on.
TP: John, all this has been your own life over many decades. You’ve planted and grown an evangelistically vibrant church in Sydney’s West. Looking back over all that work, what would you do differently?
JL: I’ve recently been reading the book of Acts. There were things that came up for the early church that could easily have distracted them—persecution from outside; opposition from within; problems with leadership. Those distractions could have distracted them from proclaiming Jesus.
I think this is what happens in real life. Looking back, I’d want to be more alert to the fact that distractions will come and derail things. They just do. I would have liked to be more conscious and aware of these, and to stay focused; to be like the apostles in Acts 6, who address the issue and remain devoted to their main ministry.
As a church grows, it’s also very easy to move from mission mode to maintenance mode. Maintaining the trellis takes a lot of time. So I’d say that one of the things I learned over time is the importance of maintaining the discipline to stay in mission mode; to not let distractions divert me.
Some exciting changes for The Payneful Truth
Over the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about this newsletter/podcast, and where to take it from here. I’ve had two main thoughts:
I’d like to keep doing it! In God’s kindness, I think it’s been worthwhile.
I’d like to find a partner in crime—someone to work with regularly, not just to share the load, but so that mine is not the only voice that you hear.
Well, it turns out that I’ve found a partner in crime—an old crim that I’ve done many jobs with in the past: Phillip Jensen.
Phillip has recently started a podcast and has been looking for ways to improve and grow it. It seemed a logical step for the two of us to join forces again, and see what we could do together. And given that Phillip has a nice, gospel-sounding name for his ministry (Two Ways Ministries), it also gave me a chance to change the name (I’ve never been totally happy with The Payneful Truth).
So, in few weeks time, The Payneful Truth will relaunch as Two Ways News. (The new site address will be twoways.news)
I’ll still be editing and driving the weekly newsletter, and will write the main article every second week. On the alternative week, Phillip will generate the main content. And each week we’ll have a podcast conversation together, in which we will talk through whatever the week’s topic happens to be.
We’re also planning to bring in other voices, and we have ideas for additional podcasts and content down the track. But all that will develop as we go along.
What will it mean for you?
Things will stay mostly the same. You don’t have to re-subscribe or change anything. I’ll basically just be changing the name of the newsletter/podcast and joining up with Phillip as a regular partner.
But there will be one practical change:
Every edition of Two Ways News will be available free, every week
We’ve decided to change things up a bit regarding who gets what, and how the paid subscription side of things will work. The weekly newsletter and podcast will be available free for anyone who wants it—either by signing up to receive the weekly email newsletter or by subscribing to the podcast in your app of choice.
Those who are currently paid subscribers will become members of a new Supporters Club. Supporters Club members will get some special benefits (like bonus content), but the main reason to become a Supporter is … that you want to support me in doing the work! It will be less of a paywall and more of a gospel partnership.
So if you’re currently a free subscriber or free podcast listener—you don’t need to do anything. When we relaunch, you’ll just be getting more content from us than before. And if you’d like to join the Supporters Club at some point, you’ll be able to do so at whatever amount you can afford.
There’s still a bit of work to do in getting the new thing together, and I’m also due to be away on holidays for a couple of weeks in late September and early October. So the plan over the next few weeks is as follows:
This will be the final edition of the newsletter/podcast under the ‘Payneful Truth’ name. I’ll be pressing pause while I do the work needed for the changeover and go on holidays for a couple of weeks.
The first edition of Two Ways News will drop on Thursday, October 13.
I hope all that makes sense. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
Thanks again for reading and listening. I’m really looking forward to whatever God has in store for us next.