Preaching to the masses

Many lovers of art and history around the world mourned the recent fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. “We lost a teacher,” is their cry. I heard someone fittingly point out that today we construct church buildings to house our teachers, but the Notre Dame was the teacher. This is true in the sense that during the Dark Ages when the Cathedral was built, the majority of the public was illiterate. People had to learn with pictures or with the spoken word. Art was often used to teach those who could not read.

Today we are dealing with a different kind of illiteracy, ignorance of Who is God. Yes, people do and can read books, but what are they reading the most? Their social media.

So, how do we reach them? Do we continue the same methods we have used for the past 50 years, and then scratch our heads and wonder why it’s not as effective as it used to be?  Well, if the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results, are we insane?

From Genesis to Revelation we observe that God is always coming down from Heaven to the people. From coming down to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2), to Jesus coming to earth to die for our sins, and even in the future when the new heaven and the new earth descend (Rev. 21). Therefore, as His instruments with the mission of making disciples, what are we to do? Do we continue to expect them to come to us looking for Jesus, inviting the unsaved to a worship service that they won’t even understand because they don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them? Or, should we go to them?

Yes, first and foremost, we go to the unsaved by building one-on-one redemptive relationships with our unsaved neighbors, coworkers, and classmates.

When Jesus came to earth He was able to personally interact with some. We thank the Lord for the friendships we have formed with our neighbors and others in the community. A few even agreed to study the Bible together with us!

However, Jesus also preached to the masses. How can we preach to the masses in today’s context? Maybe inviting people to church or special meetings worked in the past, but is that the most effective method today?

At our church, we do continue to canvas once a month with the goal of reaching every house in our municipality of Pilar with an invitation flyer once every five years. We still hand out tracts, but it has its limits.

One method to reach beyond our personal circles of influence that is actually working is social media. We know social media can reach the masses, and so we are using it to preach to the masses. Taking advantage of the algorithms of Facebook and Instagram, we publish “micro” sermons throughout the week. Our goal is to point people’s thoughts to God through His Word, presented in a modern way. The message has not changed, but the method has.   

Social media is often the first contact someone will have with our church, whether they are searching for something or one of their contacts shared one of our posts. We present God’s Word in a variety of ways – Bible verses, quotes, clips from sermons, and links to articles. (We try to stick with the 80/20 rule – 80% teaching/encouragement and only 20% church announcements.) Through our interaction, they feel like they “know” us before they ever decide to visit our church. We see anywhere from one to five visitors each service because they follow us on social media.

They walked through the front door. Now, what happens? This is the vital point that cannot be missed:

If our visitors do not experience a welcoming, friendly atmosphere of a disciple-making culture that cares about people’s souls, they will not come back.

In other words, I can sit in my office all week long and create amazing content for social media, but if we are not discipling our people during the 167 hours per week that they are outside of the worship service, they will not minister to the visitors during the one hour they show up on Sunday morning. And it must come from the church people, not just the pastor and his wife. Believe me, we know.

Following Jesus’ example, here’s how we try to invest our time in making disciples:

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Winning more battles than we’re losing

One way we like to measure spiritual growth is to ask the question,

“Are you winning more battles than you were losing at this time last year?”

This question helps to put the sanctification process in perspective for the leader/mentor and his disciple.

For many years we struggled with getting our church people to do more than just say “hello” to our new people. We taught and showed them over and over that they need to engage in conversation and show interest in them as people. This was a frustration for us at worship services as well as at church events.

Finally, something clicked.

During the past several months the church has seen more and more visitors who found us on the internet. Literally, every week total strangers show up at our services. Normally, they would walk in the front door, receive a customary kiss on the cheek with a “Hello, how are you?” from a handful of church folks, and then sit down. Alone.

However, that is not happening anymore! Our people are stepping out of their comfort zone to engage with visitors and new people. Ladies are going with the moms to take their children to their classes. The youth are inviting the new youth to go play ping-pong after the service. They are exchanging phone numbers and then communicating during the week.

On Friday we had our second “annual” Good Friday church picnic. (I’m not sure how many consecutive years you need to do something for it to be called an “annual” event.)

Last year, most of the church youth made an effort to reach out to the visitors… until they didn’t. Many got tired or bored of the attempt and decided to play games, to the exclusion of everyone else.

This year was a totally different story. All day long the youth included the new kids, the shy ones, the introverts, the not-so-athletic ones… The adults, as well, stepped out of their comfort zones to get to know the new people. They were ministering to others with an eternal perspective. They demonstrated that they have a better grasp of how to shepherd someone’s soul much better than they did last year.

So, is this Disciple-Making church winning more battles than they were losing at this time last year? Are they engaging with new folks better than they were at this time last year?  Are they growing to become more like Christ? From the evidence, it would be safe to say, “Yes!”

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Small Groups

Two years ago we began to implement a culture of disciple-making in our personal lives and in the church in Pilar. Since that process began, we have seen growth in the Word and growth in numbers. It’s now time for the ministry to take the next step to add another dimension to our evangelism and discipleship.

In order to reach those who are not yet in a one-on-one mentoring relationship, we are launching four new small groups. Each group has a leader who we have been training as well as an apprentice who, Lord willing, will begin and lead his own small group in 12 months. One of the groups is strategically located in the home of a faithful deacon who lives about 20 minutes away, with the hopes that a church plant would grow out of that Bible study one day. We are excited about how God will work through this next phase of ministry!

There are a myriad of definitions of small groups as well as the way they are structured and implemented in a church, but here is what we are doing in Pilar.

SMALL GROUPS copy.jpgThe purpose of small groups is to Glorify God.

The mission:

  • Evangelize unbelievers – inviting new people to the group to study the Bible
  • Disciple the saved – studying the Bible with believers, encouraging them to greater commitment to the Lord
  • Train leaders – equipping them to be leaders of their own future group

→ This is NOT a substitute for one-on-one discipleship; It is another layer in the process of discipleship.

Objectives:

  • Establish small groups that increase spiritual growth in the following activities:
    • study of the Word
    • biblical fellowship
    • prayer
  • Train believers to be leaders of their own small group while ministering to unbelievers and/or other believers.

Healthy small groups combine all the elements necessary to grow healthy and reproduce disciples. They offer food and spiritual support, development of skills for ministry, responsibility, training to reach others, long-term relationships, and worship. They develop the skills for leadership and they are the best instrument the church has to bring people together. (Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship)

Small Group Principles:

  • Be intentional in maintaining your own commitment and surrender to the sanctification process of deepening your relationship with Christ
  • Provide structure in attending, participating and being punctual
  • Promote intimacy by establishing relationships and bonds with others, showing love and support that provides the strongest form of mutual responsibility
  • Insist on growth (open groups) by having a mission outside of oneself (evangelizing)
  • Make a commitment to multiply each year (train leaders to start their own groups)

Requirements for leaders: Each leader must

  • Be an example in their character (1 Cor 11: 1, Mark 3: 13-14, Acts 6: 1-7, 1 Tim 3: 1-16, Titus 1)
  • be faithful in his service (1 Cor 4: 2; 2 Tim 2: 2)
  • be an active member of the Independent Baptist Church of Pilar
  • follow a more mature believer in the faith (each one follow one)
  • guide a newer believer in the faith (each one lead one)
  • take a Bible Institute class or inductive study per year (each one take one)
  • go through a previous training time with the Pastor to share the philosophy and purpose of the small groups and be able to continue growing during the time of their leadership
  • Be fit to lead
  • Be available to devote the necessary time to the project

If you want to be the kind of leader that others follow, you must pass the simple spiritual test of being teachable, humble and always progressing.

Materials to study: We follow the church’s established “Recommended Resources” list. Each member of the group must obtain a copy of the study book in order to read and meditate on it during the month, before arriving at the small group meeting. Not only is it more profitable for learning, but it also protects the group from the risk of shared ignorance and false teachings.

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Encouraging Like-Minded Pastors

Arch Ministries Pastors’ Fellowship

When we left the States late October, we thought we would not be back until our next furlough. However, the Lord graciously provided for us to attend the 2019 Arch Ministries Pastors’ Fellowship in Bradenton, Florida. It was an exceptional time of instruction from God’s Word, reconnecting with long-time friends, and forging new friendships. Although we were able to help out a little, it was nothing in comparison to all the blessings we received!

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Encouraging Like-Minded Pastors and Churches

Just as our minds were instructed and our hearts were encouraged at the pastors’ fellowship in Florida, we desire to continue to encourage and equip other missionaries and national pastors in disciple-making in South America. This year, we will offer another pastors’ seminar, with a focus on personal evangelism. Pastor Jeff Musgrave will be here to teach the Exchange Bible study.

In order to make this conference accessible to national pastors all over Argentina, we are offering assistance with transportation, lodging, and meals. An individual has already given half of the $5,000 we need to raise for this need. If you would like to contribute toward this project, you may do so by mail or online by simply noting “Greenwood 2019 Conference.” Any additional funds given beyond the $5,000 needed for the 2019 conference will be designated toward the 2020 Disciple-Making Conference.

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Disciple-Making Q & A

How often do we attend a class, camp or a conference and come away blessed, but there is no lasting change? After last month’s Disciple-Making Conference, many pastors went away nourished with biblical teaching and renewed with hope for the future, and several are already beginning to implement changes in their homes and ministries.

As each ministry is unique, the manner and timing in which they will practically implement changes will vary according to each pastor and his church. For example, one church is studying the Foundations Bible study in small groups during their mid-week service, while another is doing the same study, but only with their leaders for now. Another more established ministry is teaching the concepts to the leaders and making changes slowly and methodically. All the reports from the pastors are very encouraging as they seek to obey the Great Commission in this way.

You may view the videos of the Disciple-Making Conference (in English and Spanish!) here.

Q&AOver the past several months, and especially during the Disciple-Making Conference last month, many ministry leaders have asked questions regarding creating a disciple-making culture in one’s church. Maybe some of you have similar questions lingering in your minds, so we are laying out a few of the questions and their answers here for you!

 

Q: Isn’t this just another church program?

A: Our goal is not to create another program that must be maintained or it will die. Creating a disciple-making culture means that we are equipping the believers to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), who will in turn win others to Christ through intentional disciple-making relationships and then mentor them, hence repeating the cycle for generations.

 

Q: We already do discipleship in our church. What makes this different?

A: The idea of disciple-making encompasses obeying both aspects of the Great Commission—evangelizing the lost (“teach all nations” in Matthew 28:19) and discipling believers (“teaching them to observe all things” in Matthew 28:20).

 

Q: “Discipleship” seems to be a trendy term these days. Is this a new fad?

A: We believe that creating a culture of disciple-making may be a break away from modern church tradition, but only to go back to a first century, New Testament model.

 

Q: In the States, only those churches that compromise in their music and other standards see the type of “success” you report. Are you compromising?

A: Definitely not. By God’s grace, we have not changed our standards nor are we on the path to compromise.

 

If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to ask!

Unexpected, God-intended consequences

God has done some pretty amazing things since we have begun to implement changes in order to create a disciple-making culture in our church! As believers realize the implications of being a true follower of Jesus Christ, they have begun to take their Christian walk seriously, to pray earnestly for and witness to their unsaved contacts, to practice love and good works and to mentor believers less mature in the faith. In the past seven months, 16 adults have trusted Christ as Savior and almost all of them are being discipled. Last week, L., the adult son of one of our church members, as well as R., the father of a church member, both trusted Christ!

Creation Conference

On July 19-21, our church hosted a Creation Conference with Missionary Jonathan Rehfeldt as an evangelistic outreach. This conference was originally planned to take place at a another church here in Buenos Aires, but the church had to cancel. We (James and Amy) were already scheduled to be a part of a conference in Brazil during that time, but our church leaders agreed to go ahead and host it. Just a few hours before it was to begin, there was no electricity in the church building! It’s winter here, so that meant no heat either. The business next-door had power, so they allowed us to run an extension cord so that we could at least have basic lights and run the audio and PowerPoint.

Our church people had to overcome several other major obstacles during the week, but at the end of it all, the Lord was glorified. There were about 40 visitors each of the three nights and one lady, M., got saved. Because of the event promotion, people who had been looking for a church found us and started attending.

As a side note, the power company fixed the problem ten days and four official complaints later! 

Disciple-Making Seminar

Please pray for the preparations for our first South American Disciple-Making Seminar this September 11-13 for missionaries and national pastors. Our church in Pilar is generously preparing the meals for this three-day conference. As of today, 95 missionaries, national pastors and their wives from 6 different provinces in Argentina, as well as the countries of Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, United States and even Australia are registered to attend. Please pray for the Lord to work in the many, many details of this important event—transportation, meals, lodging, logistics, etc.

 Our prayer is that this conference will challenge each attendee to be a disciple maker and that we would be able to create a network of like-minded churches that can help one another start more churches.

Family Matters

In July, we were privileged to go to Curitiba, Brazil, for James to speak at a missionary training conference for Brazilian missionaries. It was such a blessing to observe how God is working in our neighboring Brazil and to be able to minister to fellow missionaries who are serving in the cities and jungles of Brazil, as well as Mozambique, Africa.  We also spent time learning from our hosts and veteran missionaries, Ed and Jan Alexander, about ministry in Brazil.

By His grace alone,

the Greenwoods

Gospel Growth

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied… greatly…”

(Acts 6:7)

Thank the Lord for not only the increase in church attendance, but even more so for the increase of the Word of God in believers, drawing them into mutually edifying fellowship with one another. How does that play out? Every day, all over the city of Pilar, believers from our church are meeting to study the Bible and exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13). Men, women and teens are getting together one-on-one and in small groups—mature believers leading less mature Christians, new Christians and/or unbelievers. That’s Gospel growth!

One of the Bible study groups consists of men at all different levels of spiritual growth. They are able to share problems and receive biblical counsel as well as pray with and for one another.

#HacedDiscípulos Discipulado 2017 Los Fundamentos @IBIPilar

Gospel Growth through small group Bible studies

One of the beautiful things about creating a culture of disciple-making is that people are receiving the mentoring they need to grow spiritually, and those who are mentoring are growing through the challenge of being an example to others.

In March, Amy and Lauren began leading a Bible study in a Peruvian immigrant neighborhood, because two ladies were willing to host it but did not feel capable of leading it. Amy will tell you that she felt extremely inadequate to minister to these folks because of the cultural differences. The Lord used each of the ladies in their weakness! As a direct result of these Bible studies, Daisy and Belén have come to know Christ, and are now being mentored by mature believers (Rosa and Martha, the hosts of the Bible study)!

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Amy, Belén (on the day of her new birth!), Rosa and Martha

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Amy, Daisy (new believer), Rosa, Martha and Lauren