Here, There & Everywhere

go-matt-28-19

As a Director of Missions, I’m often asked the question, “Why should we engage in missions in other parts of the country and world when we have so many needs at home?”  Maybe you’ve been asked that question.  Maybe you’ve asked that question.  Let me just say that I love this question.  Because it gives me an opportunity to talk about God’s love for the whole world, not just my little part of it.

As I think about ways to respond to this question, I often think about verses like Psalm 96:1-3: “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!  Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”

I think about verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

I think about verses like Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

I think about verses like Romans 10:13-17: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

I think about verses like John 20:21: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’”

I think about verses like Luke 24:47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

I think about verses like Matthew 28:18-20: “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

But if I only have time to share one verse, I usually respond with Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In this one verse, Jesus provides the church with our “missions roadmap.”  In other words, we are to be His witnesses here (locally), there (state & North America), and everywhere (all nations).  Notice that Jesus did not say that we are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria or the ends of the earth.  No, He didn’t say or; He said and.

Which means that the answer to the question as to why we should engage in missions at home and in other parts of the country and world is because Jesus has commanded us to do so.  It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.

Besides, if God so loved the world, His church should too.

Creating An Outward Focus For Your Church

What is the mission of the church?  That’s a big question, and it’s one that I won’t even attempt to fully answer in this post.  After all, entire books have been written on that topic!  But a quick summary is that the mission of the church should focus on the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ who can multiply themselves by making more disciples of Jesus Christ.  In other words, the church should exist to make disciples who make disciples.  And that mission applies both locally and globally.

That’s the heartbeat of most pastors and church leaders that I know.  But, it’s not necessarily the heartbeat of most churches.  In fact, it’s a common observation that churches tend to drift from an outward focus toward an inward focus over time, unless intentional steps are taken to maintain an outward focus.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a church that has experienced this “mission drift”?  How do you help change the culture slowly back to an outward, missional focus?  Consider some of these ideas to help get you started:

  1. Pray for a missional focus. We often have not because we ask not (James 4:2).  Spend time begging the Lord to stir the hearts of your church members toward a greater missional focus.  Use part of your weekly prayer meeting to specifically pray in this way. Consider sharing missional opportunities (both locally & globally) to pray for during these times.
  1. Assess your church’s current missional focus. Ask good questions.  What are some of the missions activities in which the church has had direct involvement during the past few years?  What percentage of the church’s budget is being spent on evangelism and/or missions?
  1. Rediscover your church’s mission (if necessary). Get a group of leaders together and talk about the mission of the church and how the church has been engaged in that mission in the past.  It’s probably the case that the church once had a very active missions/evangelism ministry.  Learn those stories, retell them to the congregation, and rediscover together what God has called your church to be and do.
  1. Continually raise awareness of lostness, both locally and globally. Share lostness stats and stories as often as you can and in as many settings as you can.  Make sure to describe the numbers in terms that are easily understood.  For example, instead of saying that your community is 92% unchurched, you could share that 11 out of every 12 people don’t go to church on any given Sunday.  You are saying the same thing, but in a way that is easily understood.
  1. Make organizational changes as necessary. Notice that this isn’t step #1, but it may be necessary to make some organizational changes.  Don’t make these decisions on your own, but build consensus that these changes are necessary to help accomplish your church’s mission before actually making the changes.
  1. Start small & create some easy wins. If you are not already doing so, involve your church in local missions projects.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter or pregnancy care center.  Pass out free bottles of water in the park.  Contact the local schools to see if there are any needs that you can help with.  Start small and build some momentum for missions!
  1. Develop strategic missions partnerships. Take Acts 1:8 as your missions roadmap and develop local, state, North American, and international partnerships.  Lead the church to pray, give, and go.
  1. Publicly recognize and celebrate members engaging in mission. I have heard it said that what gets celebrated is more likely to get emulated.  If you know of church members that have actively been engaged in missions & evangelism, make sure to tell those stories to your whole congregation!
  1. Anticipate opposition. Not everyone in your church will be happy when you begin to move from an inward to an outward focus.  Don’t be surprised when the opposition comes.
  1. Keep moving forward. Don’t be resistant to make changes or adjustments to your missions strategy if one particular missions initiative doesn’t produce the desired participation levels or faces significant opposition.  But, also don’t give up either!  Keep praying!  Keep sharing about the needs!  Keep providing opportunities to engage in mission!  Keep moving forward!

As Far As The East Is From The West: A New Study on Lostness in Kentucky

In December 2012, the Kentucky Baptist Convention released a report titled Lostness Indicators For Kentucky.  This report revealed that “many Kentuckians are unclaimed by any religious group, and most of those who identified with a religious group don’t attend services of any sort on a regular basis.

The report included a breakdown of all 120 Kentucky counties, using three metrics:

  • Percentage of population which self-identify as religious “Adherents”.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as “Members” of a specific religious congregation.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as regular “Attenders” of religious worship services.

The results from the report indicated that only 51.6% of Kentuckians are identified with any religious group, and only 13.9% of Kentuckians attend a religious gathering on a regular basis.  While these results were troubling enough, the county-by-county breakdown revealed that the percentages in some Kentucky counties were far worse.

Over the past few years, the findings from this report have been used by local pastors, Directors of Missions, as well as KBC leaders to raise awareness of the great spiritual darkness that still permeates the state.  And it served as a catalyst for the new study that I am releasing today.

The new study is titled “As Far As The East Is From The West”, and it expands the 2012 report in 3 significant ways:

  1. This new study examines the spiritual differences among the 6 geographic regions of the state identified by the Kentucky Baptist Convention as the “consultant regions.”  (See map below.)
  2. This new study takes into account not only the percentage of lostness in the 6 regions and the 120 counties, but also the population of lostness in the 6 regions and 120 counties.
  3. This new study identifies the regions and counties in Kentucky that are in most desperate need of intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.

You can read the full report here, but a quick summary is provided below.

kbc-regional-consultant-group

Population:

  • The Central region has the most people (1,303,806) while the South region has the fewest people (388,048).
  • The East region has the most counties (29) while the Central region has the fewest (15).

 

KBC Churches & Church Plants:

  • The West region has the most KBC churches (506) while the East region has the fewest (247).
  • The North Central region has the worst KBC church to population ratio (1:2886) while the South region has the best (1:888).
  • The Central region has the most KBC-funded church plants (20) while the East region has the fewest (1).

 

Lostness Indicators (By Percentage):

  • The East region has the lowest percentage of religious adherents (34.2%) while the West region has the highest (65.0%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of members (25.8%) while the West region has the highest (48.4%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of attenders (10.0%) while the West region has the highest (19.4%).
  • Nineteen out of the top 25 most lost counties (based upon percentage) are located in the East region.

 

Lostness Indicators (By Population):

  • The Central region has the most religious non-adherents (611,505) while the West region has the fewest (166,444).
  • The Central region has the most non-members (902,291) while the South region has the fewest (225,343).
  • The Central region has the most non-attenders (1,152,492) while the South region has the fewest (329,497).
  • The Central & North Central regions have the most counties (7 each) in the top 25 most lost (by population) while the South and West regions have the fewest (2 each).

 

Based upon all of this data, I developed a “church planting priority index” to be used to help identify the regions and counties that are in the most desperate need for intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.  Here’s what the data said:

Church Planting Priorities – By Region

  • Priority #1: East Region
  • Priority #2: North Central Region
  • Priority #3: Central Region

Church Planting Priorities – By County

  • Priority #1: Campbell County (North Central region)
  • Priority #2: Jessamine County (North Central region)
  • Priority #3: Bullitt County (Central region)
  • Priority #4: Rowan County (East region)
  • Priority #5: Pike County (East region)

Obviously, there is much more detail included in this study; this post is simply meant to be an introduction to the study.  I will publish several subsequent posts to discuss some fascinating observations from the report, but feel free to go and read the full report now:

New Report on Lostness in Kentucky

2012 Report on Lostness in Kentucky

How To Form A Pastor Search Committee

FreeColorfulPuzzlePieces

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are four general steps in a Pastor Search Process: (1) Preparation, (2) Search, (3) Selection, & (4) Support.  Over the next few posts, I will discuss each of these steps in greater detail.  However, before you can start this process, your church needs to determine who will actually conduct your pastor search.

Keep in mind that not all churches will form a pastor search committee.  In some churches, the elders or the deacons will conduct the search.  In other churches, a new pastor will be appointed by an outside source.  However, for the purpose of this post, I am going to describe how to form a pastor search committee from the perspective of a church with a congregational polity.  With that understanding, here are some of my thoughts and suggestions for forming your search committee:

  1. Consult your church’s Constitution & Bylaws. Are there any written policies that may specify that a person who holds certain offices (e.g. Chairman of Deacons or Sunday School Director) are automatically included on the pastor search committee?  Most church constitutions that I have read don’t get that specific, but you do need to check at least before you form your search committee.
  1. Keep the committee small. The larger the search committee, the more opinions that you will have in the room.  And the more opinions you have in the room, the harder it will be to form a consensus, which will most likely make your pastor search last longer.  If the committee determines that they must be unanimous with the selection of a candidate, you may end in a stalemate several times with a larger committee.  Therefore, in my experience, the most efficient committee size has been either 5 or 7 (but not 6; it’s best to keep an odd number on the committee).
  1. Select members that are spiritually mature/Word-centered. This should go without saying, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.  You need people on the search committee who are humble, discerning, and who don’t just believe the Bible, but they live obediently to what God’s Word says.
  1. Select members that don’t have an agenda. In other words, they are not concerned with finding a pastor that will cater just to their needs, particular ministry, or particular group in the church.  Instead, select people who are committed to finding a pastor that will be best for the church as a whole, even if he’s not what’s best for their particular interests.
  1. Select members who are available to serve. There may be people in your church that meet the criteria listed in the first four suggestions, and you are confident that they would be a valuable member of the search committee.  However, they maintain a very busy schedule and would not be available to attend all of your meetings.  In my experience, it would be best to look for other candidates to serve on the committee instead.

There are many other considerations to keep in mind when forming your search committee, but I have found these suggestions to be most important.  If you would like more detailed suggestions in forming your search committee, check out the following helpful resources:

How To Conduct a Pastor Search

Pastor-Search-Southeast-Texas

So, you’re looking for a new pastor?  Maybe so and maybe not.  If you remain an active church member long enough, there is a really good chance that your church will have to do so in the future.  And it may be sooner than you think.  Why?  Because Thom Rainer reports that the average tenure of a pastor is only between three and four years.

In my much more limited experience as a Director of Missions, that number seems to be about right.  As I write this post, 5 out of the 25 churches in my association (20%) are currently searching for new pastors, and 3 other churches have called a new pastor during the past three years.  Not only do churches frequently have to conduct pastor searches, it is also a long and time-consuming process when they do.  According to William Vanderbloemen, the average church takes between twelve to twenty-four months to find a new pastor.

As I have consulted with churches during their pastor search, here’s what I have discovered: no two pastor search processes are the same because no two churches are exactly the same.  Every church will conduct their search differently, and that’s ok.

Although the details of the search may be different for each church, is there a general template that churches can follow when conducting their pastor search?  I believe that the answer is yes.  Here is a simple 4-step process that I advise Southern Baptist churches in my association to follow:

  1. Preparation: Before the search committee jumps headfirst into reviewing resumes, they need to take the time to prepare for the search. This includes both spiritual preparation as well as practical preparation.  Although it will delay the start of your search, it will save you a lot of time (and tears!) later.
  2. Search: This is the step in the process that church members think about the most: soliciting, collecting, and reviewing resumes.
  3. Selection: This is the step when the search committee selects the man that they will present to the church as their recommendation to become the next pastor.
  4. Support: This is the step that I have found is most likely to be forgotten or neglected in pastor searches. During the transition time, the church should do everything in their power to help make the transition as easy as possible on the new pastor and his family.

Keep in mind that there is certainly more than one way to conduct a pastor search, but I do believe that if you follow these four general steps, it will make a very difficult task a little easier.  Over the next several posts, I will share more practical suggestions on how to implement each of these steps in the pastor search process.  If your church is currently searching for a pastor, please know that I am praying for you, and I hope that these posts will be helpful to you!

 

Every Church On Mission Locally

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending an event at the North American Mission Board with approximately 100 other Directors of Missions from several states.  During our time together, I was reminded of the vision of this great missions organization: “Every Church On Mission”.

IMG_0917

It’s a simple, yet powerful statement.  The goal of the North American Mission Board is that every Southern Baptist church will be actively engaged in the mission of God through praying, giving, and going.  While I haven’t officially adopted this vision statement for the association that I serve, that is the goal that our association’s leaders have for the churches of the Pike Association as well.  In fact, I would hope that this would be the goal of every pastor: every church on mission, and ultimately, every believer on mission.

Being on mission can take several forms.  It may be local or global or anywhere in between.  Currently, our association is preparing for our second annual LoveLoud event, a local missions event in which individuals from our local churches take a week to blitz our communities with the love of Christ both in word and deed.

If you are looking for a great first step in leading your church to be on mission, local mission projects with other churches from your area is a great place to start.  Here are six benefits to partnering with other churches in order to be on mission locally:

1. Your church will experience an evangelistic spark.  When a church develops or regains an outward focus, good things usually happen.  By design, local mission projects are outward-focused.  If you need to become more evangelistic and outward-focused, local missions participation will certainly help!

2. Your church will develop a greater kingdom mindset, both locally and globally.  When local churches work together on different projects, folks begin to see that we are all in this together.  In other words, churches begin to see that we are in cooperation with sister churches, not in competition with them.  This is the greater kingdom mindset on a local scale.  On the global scale, as your church engages in mission locally, they will probably develop greater appreciation and support (in all of its forms) for our full-time NAMB and IMB missionaries as well.

3. The kingdom of darkness will be pushed back.  Just a little bit of research will reveal vast amounts of spiritual lostness right around your community.  The darkness is everywhere, but when local churches work together throughout a specified time frame, there is no doubt that the kingdom of darkness will be pushed back as the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in deed and in truth.

4. Your community will take notice.  Random acts of kindness certainly make an impact. No matter where you live, your church has tremendous opportunities to make a tangible impact on the people that live right around you!

5. Your church will gain ideas about projects that can be brought back and implemented in your church throughout the year.  Almost all mission projects can be reproduced as often as you like in your local church.  If you need ideas right now, click here.

6. God is glorified!  The Great Commission is not an optional endeavor for you or for me.  God has commanded us to live on mission for Him, both locally and globally.  As we do so, we proclaim the fame of Jesus’ name, and God is glorified.  There is no greater benefit than this!

Engaging in local missions is a great way to jumpstart (or restart) your church on its missions journey.  How have you partnered with other churches in your local area to be on mission together?

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 4

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Note: This is the final part in a series of posts on how to pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.

In Matthew 9:35-38, we have already examined how Jesus teaches us to pray with the proper motivation and with the proper understanding of the needs.  In verse 38, He teaches us how to pray with the proper goal: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

There it is.  The goal of our prayer.  More laborers.  It’s a pretty simple prayer really.  But, it’s a specific type of laborer that we are to pray for: those who are sent out into the harvest.  We don’t need more laborers who are content to simply sit in our pews, but we desperately need more laborers who are sent out throughout eastern Kentucky proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s the type of laborers that we should pray for.

And here is an amazing truth: you and I are the answer to our own prayer.

Even as Jesus commanded His disciples to pray for more laborers at the end of Matthew 9, He turns around and sends out those very same disciples at the beginning of Matthew 10.  And the same principle still applies today. Even as Jesus commands us to pray for more laborers to be sent out, the truth is that we are the answer to our own prayer.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have been given the same gospel that the disciples were given.  You have been given the same power of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were given.  You have been given the same opportunities to share the gospel that the disciples were given.  And so you and I have been sent just as the early disciples were sent.  Jesus says in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, as you and I respond to Christ’s sending call, God will use us to bring in His harvest!  This is both an encouraging and humbling truth.  We are sent on behalf of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to a lost and dying world.  And that certainly includes the 781,903 unchurched people of eastern Kentucky.

So, here’s specifically what I’m praying for.  I am praying for God to raise up and send out an army of church planters from among the already established churches in eastern Kentucky.  I am also praying for God to send church planters from outside of eastern Kentucky to our region to help us establish new churches.  And I’m praying for hundreds of new churches to be planted throughout our area.  In other words, I am praying for more laborers that result in more conversions that result in more churches.

The harvest in eastern Kentucky is plentiful, but the laborers are so few.  Therefore, let us pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.  Will you join me in that prayer?

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 3

Note: This is Part 3 in a series on how to pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  If you haven’t already done so, you may want to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Matthew 9:35 serves as a good summary of Jesus’ ministry up until this point in Matthew’s gospel: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”  But it also describes the fact that up until this point, Jesus has been the only one involved in the ministry.  The disciples had been mere spectators thus far.  They had followed Jesus and watched him teach and minister, but they had not been involved in the work themselves.

Although Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man.  Therefore, he could only be in one place at one time, which meant that there was only so many people that He could minister to during His earthly ministry.  That’s why He says in Matthew 9:37: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  In fact, up until this point in Matthew’s gospel, the laborers were one: Jesus himself.  And Jesus knew that He could not physically conduct all of the ministry that was needed by himself.

And after 2000 years, the situation has not changed: the harvest is still plentiful, and the workers are still few.  According to the data published in the latest Glenmary Report, the harvest is very plentiful in eastern Kentucky.  Out of the 872,048 people who live in counties located east of I-75:

  • 522,324 do not claim adherence to any religion.
  • 624,969 are not a member of any church of any denomination
  • 781,903 do not attend worship services on any given Sunday.

In other words, at least 522,324 people are not saved in eastern Kentucky.  At least 624,969 people are not church members in eastern Kentucky.  At least 781,903 are unchurched in eastern Kentucky.  And as I have mentioned in a previous post, 21 out of the 25 most lost counties in the entire state of Kentucky are located east of I-75.  The harvest truly is plentiful.

And yet the workers are so few.  While there are hundreds of thousands of eastern Kentuckians who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there are less than 300 Kentucky Baptist churches working to reach all of these thousands of lost people.  And unfortunately, the combined total baptisms from all of our eastern Kentucky Baptist churches amounted to reaching less than 0.3% of the lost in the region last year.  Furthermore, the vast majority of our eastern Kentucky churches are like most other Southern Baptist churches: they are plateaued and/or declining.

So, there is a great need for our churches to be strengthened and revitalized across eastern Kentucky. And I’m so thankful that the Kentucky Baptist Convention and others are working diligently to see revitalization take place all across the region.  Church revitalization is certainly part of the solution.

But, it’s only part of the solution.  If we are going to see a great spiritual harvest across eastern Kentucky, I firmly believe that we need healthier churches, but we also need more churches.  Many more churches, in fact.  Missiologist C. Peter Wagner asserts that “planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”  And the data backs up his claim.  According to a study cited by the North American Mission Board, new churches have a much greater evangelistic effectiveness.  According to the study, established Southern Baptist churches baptized 3.4 people per 100 resident members, while new churches baptized 11.7 people per 100 resident members.  That’s nearly three and half times as many!

No wonder Jesus commanded us to pray for more laborers to be sent out into the harvest.  More laborers means more churches which means more of our friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers coming to faith in Christ.  And yet, right now, as the map below (produced by the Kentucky Baptist Convention) shows, there are no churches being planted throughout the entire eastern Kentucky region.  That’s why it is time to pray, and time to get to work to change that.

KBC Church Planting Map 2015

So, as you pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky, understand two things: (1) We need our current churches to be strengthened, and (2) we desperately need more churches in eastern Kentucky.

Will you join me in prayer?

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 2

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Note: In Part 1 of this series, I briefly described 3 different components that should be present as we pray for a spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky.  Part 2 deals with the first component: praying with the proper motivation.

As Jesus went about his ministry, crowds flocked to him.  In Matthew 9:36, we read how Jesus reacted to the crowds: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The term “shepherd” is frequently used in the Bible to describe spiritual leaders.  In fact, the Greek word translated as “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11 is translated as “shepherd” every other time that it appears in the New Testament.  And the crowds of Jesus’ day were supposed to have spiritual shepherds: the scribes and Pharisees.  However, these “shepherds” were anything but shepherds.  They were uncaring and unloving, and they spiritually abused the people with heavy burdens and rules that they could not keep.  Indeed, the crowds were sheep without a shepherd.  So, Jesus sees their helpless condition and he has compassion on them.

And just as Jesus’ compassion led to his command to pray, that same compassion is what must drive our desire to see a great spiritual harvest take place across eastern Kentucky.  But that will only happen when we begin to see the 781,000 unchurched people in our region the way that Jesus sees them.

And yet I have a confession to make.  I am often tempted to view the lost around me not with compassion, but with contempt.  In other words, I’m tempted to view them as my enemy.

In this political season, it is tempting for me to view those of a different political persuasion as my enemy.  It is tempting to view those who practice and promote an unbiblical view of marriage as my enemy.  It is tempting to view those who sacrifice their family to feed their addictions as my enemy.  And when I view them as my enemy, I’m not seeing them the way that Jesus sees them, and it will be very difficult to have compassion for them.

And yet the Apostle Paul identifies my true enemy in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  In other words, the lost around us are not our true enemy; our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil.

But the sad reality is that all unbelievers have been blinded by our true enemy: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  If you were to see a blind man or woman about to step out into oncoming traffic, I’m sure you would do everything in your power to prevent them from doing so.  Why? Because you would have compassion on them because they could not see where they were going.

And Paul says that unbelievers today have been spiritually blinded and brutalized by our true enemy.  In a very real sense, they are casualties of war, harassed and helpless.  This is true for every lost person in eastern Kentucky and around the world.  They are headed down a path to destruction.  If they do not repent, they will perish.

And when we begin to see our lost friends and neighbors this way, we will begin to see them the way that Jesus sees them.  And when we see them the way that Jesus sees them, we will have compassion on them.  And when we have compassion for them, it will drive us to our knees in prayer.

That’s what it means to pray with the proper motivation.

In Part 3 in this series, we will examine how to pray with the proper understanding of the needs in eastern Kentucky.  Until then, please continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Praying For An Eastern Kentucky Harvest, Pt. 1

Person in Wheat Field Religious Stock Photograph

Two months ago, I was invited to write an article about the church planting needs in eastern Kentucky for kychurchplanting.com, and I was happy to do so.  (You can read it here.)  I freely confess now that I have been amazed by the response to that article.  Since it was published, I have been contacted by church planters, pastors, missionaries, and others who share a common desire to see a church planting movement spread across the region.  And for that, I praise the Lord!

So, now that folks are starting to learn about the spiritual landscape in eastern Kentucky, where do we go from here?  As I mentioned at the end of the article, I firmly believe that a church planting movement will spread across the region only after God’s people fervently and frequently pray for such a movement.

However, as much as I want to see a church planting movement in eastern Kentucky, such a movement is severely deficient unless it coincides with a great spiritual harvest of souls.  But the good news is that if we witness a great spiritual harvest, I believe that we will also witness a church planting movement throughout the region.  In other words, I don’t believe that we will see one without the other.  Therefore, I want to spend the next few posts describing how I believe that God would have us pray to that end.

In Matthew 9:35-38, we read: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’

 In this familiar passage, I believe we can see 3 different components that should be present as we pray for a great spiritual harvest in eastern Kentucky:

  1. Pray with the proper motivation.
  2. Pray with the proper understanding.
  3. Pray with the proper goal.

I will cover each of these in greater detail over the next few posts, but here is a brief summary:

Prayer Component #1: Praying with the Proper Motivation

Jesus saw that the crowds were spiritual orphans.  Because of this, he had compassion on them.  As you and I pray for a great spiritual harvest across eastern Kentucky and beyond, we must do so because of our love and compassion for our lost neighbors.

Prayer Component #2: Praying with the Proper Understanding

Jesus states the situation very well: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  That was true in the first century and it is certainly true today.  I’ll share more about the vast amounts of lostness throughout the region in a later post, but according to Census Bureau data and the Glenmary Report, approximately 781,000 of the 872,000 Kentuckians who live east of I-75 are unchurched.  The fields truly are white unto harvest.  Therefore, we must pray with this understanding in mind.

Prayer Component #3: Praying with the Proper Goal

Because of his compassion and his proper understanding of the needs, Jesus commands his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  That’s the goal: more laborers to be sent out into the harvest throughout eastern Kentucky.  As these laborers are sent, our current churches should become healthier and more evangelistic.  But many of these sent ones will also start new churches, and these new churches have the potential to reach many people with the gospel as well.

My heart still aches for the people of eastern Kentucky, and I now know that many others share that burden as well.  May we unite our hearts in prayer to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest on a daily basis!  Will you pray with me?

Note: Part 2 in this series will be coming soon.