(devouring?) your book I only wish I had spoken with you more! Your
book really resonated with me. It was written in such a way that I
felt a close connection with you; the way you wrote about your
experiences was like a friend sitting next to me telling these
stories. It gives me hope in my struggles as a young woman.”
Years ago I was invited to teach a workshop at a large denominational convention. I was given an hour to teach on Islam and Muslim evangelism. However, at the last minute I was told I would be sharing my teaching time with a Native American brother who was going to teach on reaching his nation.
In less than 30 minutes, we were each expected to give solutions to some of the most complex challenges facing the American church. To add insult to injury, directly across from our classroom was going to be a very well known mega church pastor teaching a workshop on “church growth”.
Having faced situations like this over and over again for many years, I decided to even out the odds and placed a sign on the other workshop’s door telling the attendees that the room was switched to ours.
Within a few minutes before our class was to start, pastors began to pour in trying to grab any seat they could find. Eventually, the class was filled to its capacity with standing room only. That’s when I calmly got up to introduce myself.
“Hi, my name is Shahrokh Afshar. My friends call me Shah, but you can call me Shahrokh. Next to me is Pastor ‘Pretty on the Top’ and we are going to be your teachers for the next 60 minutes.”
That’s when one of the pastors in the back shouted, “Where’s Pastor Jack?”
“Jack who?” I replied
Needless to say, within a few seconds my class emptied— as if the rapture had taken place and only seven of us were left behind. It was obvious that to most of those pastors, church growth took precedence over evangelism, including Muslim and Native American evangelism, which are two of the least evangelized people groups in the entire world.
Four of the five pastors in the room had intended to be there all along, but after realizing the prank I’d pulled, the fifth guy stayed because he told himself, “Anyone who can pull something like this on Pastor Jack is worth listening to.” Ted and I have been great friends ever since.
It frustrates me to no end to see that even after 9/11 how much most pastors in America still operate with the above mindset—looking for the magic formula that can turn their small fellowship into a mega church overnight instead of doing the work of an evangelist, especially among these two grossly under-reached groups.
Every once in a while, I challenge believers to do the following the next time they are at church:
Before the service starts, request that your pastor ask the church members this question: ‘How many of you were saved at this church and how many of you transferred here from another church?’ If the pastor is willing to ask such a question, you’ll be shocked by the result. You’ll find out that a good 80-90% of your church members have transferred from other churches for whatever reason and are what I call “Recycled Christians”.
By the way, I’ve been to churches where 100% of the members were Recycled Christians.
“Look around you,” I often direct American pastors. “You and your church members can all be missionaries to any people group you desire without having to ever leave your home. God has brought people of every nation and language to your doorsteps for a reason. You don’t need to spend a penny traveling to their foreign lands because they have already spent their own money to be here. You don’t need to learn their languages or cultures (although it’s very help if you do so) because they’re trying hard to learn English and the American way of life. You don’t need to learn how to eat their foods because they’re desperately trying to keep their Big Macs down. All the Lord is asking you is to, in Christ’s name, take a glass of cool water across the street to the guy that may wear a turban and speak with an accent.”
According to some of the studies I’ve seen, the church attendance in America is dropping every Sunday. No doubt there are many reasons for this phenomenon, but as far as I’m concerned there are two extremely prominent causes for this occurrence.
First, a majority of Americans who are born in this country have lost interest in church attendance and don’t consider Christianity relevant.
Second, we’ve finally run out of Christians to recycle. Is it possible that after decades of recycling old disciples rather than baptizing new ones, we’re finally running out of recyclable Christians? Could the answer to the next great revival in America lie not in building another mega church building filled with English speaking believers who have transferred from smaller churches, but in Christian leaders who are willing to build their churches one person at a time by reaching out to those who’ve never heard the Good News and are more open—the internationals God has brought to our doorsteps?
Having heard that phrase many times before, I wasn’t about to just let it go without a response. I called his bluff.
“Absolutely!” I replied. “When?”
He was caught quite off guard. He didn’t expect me to call him on his offer.
“Well, I’ve got to get back to you on it.”
I wanted to scream, “Hey, I didn’t ask to have lunch with you. You’re the one who suggested it while knowing it was an empty gesture.”
Do you know what happens when we give our word to do something and then renege?
1. We destroy the very foundation of all true relationships—trust. Without trust, there’s no true relationship. However, trust will be established when we stay true to our promises.
2. We give the impression that the person on the receiving end of our empty promise is neither important nor needed. Unfortunately, most of us tend to treat a person we esteem important or needed more differently than an average Joe Christian.
I was raised in a culture where to blindly trust people was your demise. In that society, we were expected not to trust, so everyone went around with his guard up 24/7. Shouldn’t we Christians be a bit different than those from my old culture? Shouldn’t all our leadership – our pastors – be people of their words?
A majority of young people I come across today are longing for a community, a place where the people are trustworthy and transparent. A place were the people’s “yes” is “yes” and “no” is “no”.
Creating such an environment starts with us as individuals. The next time you promise to do something for someone, regardless of how unimportant the person might be to you, for Christ’s sake, DO IT. This way, you create a highly sought-after commodity within God’s community—trustworthiness. Let the person know he’s important not because he’s got something that you need, but because he’s made in God’s image.
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College student of mine, Jeremy.
you remember the advice you gave me 5 years ago? It was one of the best words
of advice I’ve ever received in my life,” he said.
for breakfast this morning, let alone a piece of advice I gave someone over five
years ago. So, being a good shame-based culture person that I am, I faked it
and said, “Yes, of course!”
something, you’ve committed two sins: not knowing something and admitting to not
and get yourself a degree that you can make a living with”.
I’m an engineer today making a living and taking care of my family.”
hear me taking such a stance, but I had my reasons, of which the most important
was the welfare of my students. It was within the second year of teaching at that college when I noticed a good number of my students were graduating college with
$20-30K debt and ending up working behind a counter, asking customers, “Would you
like a tall, grande or venti?”
college degree to pump syrup in a coffee cup or work as a bank teller,” I used
to tell them.
thing only: pastors. The problem was that the denomination the college belonged
to couldn’t provide enough churches for these graduates to pastor. On the other
hand, the available churches were usually 20-30 member churches not able to
support the new pastor fulltime, which again, put my students behind the same coffee
or bank teller-counter.
Knowing how difficult it is to pastor in general, I
knew we (the college) were setting many of my students up for failure. If you haven’t thought about it already, someone has and is
ready to write me about it: “Aren’t you taking these kids away from their godly
calling to be pastors?” To believe that is to believe the only way to serve God
is to stand behind a pulpit, which in and of itself is a false assumption that
has been shoved down our throats for many years. I don’t need a pulpit to serve
Christian organization in the United States, I was a civil engineer during the
day and a house-church planter at night, driving all over LA County preaching
the Gospel to a newly-arrived group of Iranian immigrants. Even if I had wanted
them to, these Iranians would have never been able to support my family and me for
what I was doing.
over my family’s head, food on our table and gas in my ‘69 VW Bug. Maybe even more important, I own my
home today – not because of the 30 years I pastored, but because of the 10
years I engineered. My salary as an Iranian pastor would have never been able
to purchase my family a house.
supporters before I was able to leave my engineering job. By then, I was also convinced
that was something I was called to do.
support her pastor fulltime, but those days are over. Today, to be fully
supported, the same pastor needs a church that is four to five times larger
than that. That was a reality that most of my students faced. Since, right off
the bat, pastoring a large church was out of the question, they needed to have
a job that would put a roof over their heads and food on their tables while
trying to pastor a small church.
the Bible College and first get a degree that would give them a solid base of financial
support. Meanwhile, they could do what I did for ten years: serve God where they were. If they never get into a “fulltime
ministry,” they haven’t wasted four years of college and thousands of dollars
getting an education they never needed. But, if they do, and feel they need
more Biblical education, they can always go back to Bible College and get their
Biblical degrees with the money they saved from their well-paying jobs.