You Are Welcome

welcome mat

welcome mat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  First time here.  I’m white from the West Coast.  I have a black lady friend on the West Coast.  Would she be welcome here?  I know there are many blacks in and around Savannah.  Is this church reaching out to them?  Honestly, I have been the only white in a black [church], and it is hard to be totally comfortable.  Maybe that is what is going on here.  Just like to hear your take on it.

I suppose every person has their “button” that, when pushed, opens a floodgate of emotion that many have never seen.  One of my “buttons” is when someone who claims to have a relationship with an unconditionally-loving God chooses to disregard or discriminate against someone of a different race.

I know of few ways that a believer in Christ could be any more unlike Jesus Christ than when they act in such ways.  Jesus demonstrated His intense love for others regardless of racial background or identity.  One of the clearest demonstrations was when He invested His life in the life of an outcast Samaritan woman in John 4.  Samaritans in the first century were completely avoided by supposedly “upstanding” Jews because of animosity based largely upon race.  Jesus did not hesitate to cross that barrier and destroy that horrendous mindset.

In one of His most famous parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He chose to make the “villains” a couple of Jewish religious leaders and the “hero” a Samaritan traveler (Luke 10:25-37).  I would have loved to have seen the faces of His hearers when He jerked the curtain back on that jewel of a story!

In one of Paul’s letters, Ephesians 2:14-16 can certainly be applied to showing the unity that should exist between races because of the unity that comes through relationship with Christ.

I absolutely despise any form of discrimination against another person because of their race.  So, the answer to the first part of this question is that any person of any background and any race is welcomed at First Baptist Church of the Islands and should be in any church that claims Christ as their Lord.  We also take steps to GO with Gospel to others in our city regardless of race, with one of the more recent steps being to involve ourselves in ministry to an urban community in our city.  The day our doors close to a segment of our population because of their skin color is the day that God likely chooses to distance Himself from this church.

Sadly, the fact exists that the most segregated hour in America continues to be 11:00am-Noon on Sunday mornings.  Perhaps greater steps could be taken by every believer of every race in churches across our country . . . steps that seek to embrace and work alongside one another for the furthering of the Gospel.  What a reflection of Christ that would be.  And what a testimony to the world that God is a God who reconciles lost people to Himself and saved people to one another!

Evangelism vs. Discipleship

Even scales icon

Even scales icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  What is the balance between evangelism and discipleship?

This question, turned in recently as part of our Burning Questions series, is a question that every local church ministry must deal with.  I title this entry “Evangelism vs. Discipleship” not because of the question (which is actually worded very well) but because some view evangelism and discipleship as “either/or”.  According to the Bible, evangelism and discipleship are treated as “both/and”.

In the passage known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ perspective is one of evangelism and discipleship.  This passage could actually be used as much as a rallying point for believers and churches to engage in discipleship just as much as it is used to call us to evangelism.  Jesus’ reference to “all the nations” (v.19) aims us outward in evangelism, but His references to “make disciples” (v.19) and to teach new believers to observe and obey His commands (v.20) are clearly emphasizing the real need to nurture new believers in their faith, which is discipleship.

Acts 2:41-42 also shows such a great balance in the early church in Jerusalem.  There was a natural step from evangelism to discipleship and the result was that Christianity rocked the world.

At First Baptist Church of the Islands, our mission statement summarizes what we aim to accomplish in four simple words:  Know, Grow, Show, and Go.  It is under the heading of GROW that we seek to provide opportunities for believers to mature in their walks with God.  This is the discipleship function of our church.  It is under the heading of GO that we seek to provide training and opportunities for believers to GO with the Gospel and to share the life-changing, eternity-altering message of the cross.  From a local church perspective, these two functions are where the rubber meets the road.  Success in our mission is rarely defined by how many attend morning worship services but rather by how many people are truly being reached and matured regarding faith in Christ.

Every church should prioritize these two extremely important functions of evangelism and discipleship.  They never compete with one another but rather fit hand-in-hand.  As people are introduced to Christ in salvation (evangelism), they are then nurtured and cared for (discipleship) in order to grow in their relationship with Christ.  Never a 50/50 balance (or even a 60/40 or some other ratio).  Rather, it should be a 100/100 balance of reaching out with the Gospel and reaching in to disciple new believers in their relationship with the Lord.

By the way, this is not something that we each sit back and wait for the “institutional” church to accomplish.  Every individual believer contributes to make the church what it is.  Our Christian life gets very exciting when we use it to GO with the Gospel and when we invest it to help others GROW deeply in their walk with God!