The acrid tang of sweat hangs in the humid air like a mist. Echoes of screeching sneakers and the hollow thump of a dozen dodgeballs bouncing off the walls and floor fill the room, accompanied by shouts and “battle cries” of twenty or more high school students. In the midst of the adrenaline and organized chaos are a few key people who “run the show.” Whether it’s throwing dodgeballs with the rest of the kids, refereeing, or grabbing a quick water break and an escape from the stuffy back room where dodgeball is held, their focus is on those high school kids, making them feel welcome and loved. These are the staff and helpers of Sojourn. What is Sojourn? It’s probably not what you’re expecting. It’s not a school, not a sports camp. Sojourn is a church, but it’s not your typical church by any means. Sojourn is unique, engaging … life-changing.

What sets Sojourn apart? In what ways is it different? A more appropriate question may be, “In what ways is it not different?” When I tell people that my church is located in a mall, their reaction usually consists of raised eyebrows and repeating the statement back as a question, “It’s in a mall?” Yep, a mall. Shoppers can walk out of Bath and Body Works or GNC and discover our little niche at the end of a long dead-end hallway. When Sojourn was established five years ago, our pastor, Jim Parker, decided on “planting” the new church in the Mall of the Bluffs in order to have greater ministry outreach. This allows us to be more an active part of the community than we would be able to if we had a normal church building.

Our abnormal location is not the only factor that sets us apart from the usual stereotypes of church. During our service, we have what are called “worship stations.” Rather than conventional liturgy and traditions, worship stations bring a familiar topic home in a way that’s tangible. Worship stations can be anything from drawing a picture of something we’re thankful for, to game-like activities that demonstrate the topic of the sermon. The service has a very distinct youth-group atmosphere in that it’s very hands-on and encourages everyone to participate. Even the sermons are interactive. Rather than a podium, our pastor preaches sitting atop a tall wooden stool or walking back and forth in front of the stage, iPad Bible in hand. Throughout the sermon he makes use of slides, memes or funny photos, and an occasional movie clip. He also picks someone from the audience to be the “professional reader” for the day and read aloud the slide every time a Scripture verse appears.

Outside of Sunday morning, Sojourn sponsors several ministries throughout the week, two of the most influential being Celebrate Recovery and Dodgeball Night. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian based twelve step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but covering a broader range of topics. Dodgeball is a Friday night event that reaches out to high school and college kids who may have never set foot in a church. This ministry was created with the goal of providing these kids with positive recreation and role models.

One of the biggest success stories and proof of God’s blessing on the dodgeball ministry is Sojourn’s intern, Lucas Jones. Rewind about three years and you’ll see that Lucas had no interest in church. Like most high school students, he was on a journey of self-discovery, and although he didn’t know where that journey would take him, church was not on his list of places to look. “I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. … My identity was unknown to me and I didn’t know where to start.”

But things changed when a friend invited Lucas to Sojourn for Friday night dodgeball. At first, Lucas came just for the fun of playing a sport, but over the course of a few months, he developed a friendship with Pastor Jim and a few of the other Sojourners. After weeks of saying, “No thanks,” Lucas eventually conceded and decided to try out this “church thing” with his newfound friends. While sharing his story during a Bible study one night recently, Lucas said, “I thought that Jim and the other guys were cool, so their church might be cool too.” He wasn’t wrong. The crowd on Sunday morning was just as warm, energetic and fun as they were on Friday night, minus hitting each other in the face with dodgeballs.

Despite his general love for the unconventional church and its members, Lucas still didn’t understand the purpose behind Sojourn. Not for awhile. “I went for a couple months and he (Jim) shared the gospel in almost, if not every sermon. I just didn’t connect with it. One day, as I was driving home, I was thinking about it. All of a sudden, it just clicked in my head! It was in that moment that I realized that I understood what Jesus had done for me.  I didn’t have a hunger for finding myself, but Christ slowly revealed himself to me and it started slowly clicking in my head.”

Seeing this young pastor-in-training in action now, it’s astonishing to think back on how far he has come. He began as just another dodgeball kid, coming to Sojourn on Friday nights and avoiding church at all costs. Now three years later, he is our pastor’s “right hand man,” studying seminary and preparing to start his own church plant someday. All because some of our church members invested their time in this young man’s life.

I’m sure that if I sat down for coffee or lunch with anyone who has attended  Sojourn more than once, I would hear story after story of some unique way those people have been impacted by this little church at the end of a shopping mall hallway. The dictionary definition of the word sojourn is “a temporary stay as a traveler or guest.” Our mantra at Sojourn is that “We are on a daily, interactive, life-changing journey with Jesus,” and as such we believe that this mortal earth is but a temporary home. At Sojourn, church is not a building. It’s serving and loving others in every day life. Whether that means being an example at work or volunteering our time to hang out and chat with some sweaty dodgeball players. You never know what small action may impact someone’s life forever.

EvangelismWe want you to be involved in sharing the Gospel but the unfortunate truth is that most believers will not.  The reasons are usually related to fear or ignorance.  We launch new programs and campaigns and offer training in our church and we still have the same results; those people who are predisposed to sharing the gospel do  and all others have just add another area of their spiritual life where they feel failure.

I want you to be a success in your journey with Jesus. I want you to be able to think about the Gospel, about missions, about soul winning without feeling like a guilt-ridden failure.  I want to show you how believers can freely and enthusiastically be involved in evangelism.

Two Observations about Evangelism

  1. When Jesus and the Apostles talked to people about the Gospel they were often in a large group but sometimes in smaller groups and one on one.  In each of these groups, they were invited to speak about the Gospel.  The group expected to hear it, the group came for that purpose, or the group asked a leading question.
  1. In our culture, the people reject any effort to impose the Gospel on them.  They will resist an unsolicited presentation. However, if they initiate the conversation about Jesus, they will freely talk and listen.

You are at this moment freed from ever having to interrupt a person’s day with an unsolicited Gospel presentation.

 At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison, – Colossians 4:3

How can we all be involved in evangelism in the local church?

Pray

As the text tells us, pray that God opens a door for the message.  In 1 Timothy 2 we told to pray for everyone because God’s wants to save them all, in Luke 10:2 we are told to pray that God will send workers into the field.  The Bible is clear that God wants us to pray and to pray for people to hear the Gospel.  The movement of a non-believer to believer is a supernatural event that requires a supernatural force. We ask God to do the work in preparing the non-believer and the believer.

If you don’t do anything but pray you are heavily involved in evangelism.

Pause

Then we wait. John 6:44 tells us that no one comes to the Father except the Spirit draw him.  So we must wait for this drawing to take place.  We must wait on the Spirit to prepare us and to prepare others.

This is evangelism you can do every day for as long as you want.  You haven’t spoke to a soul yet you are still involved in the ministry.

While you are in Pause, you could still Pray.

Proclaim

Now, this is where we could have a break down but we won’t. See, we are waiting for the invitation.  When you are “prayed up” and watching for God’s movement, you’ll also be ready.  Someone will say something to you that indicates they are ready to hear from the Lord.  You are not going to miss it, they will ask you a question and all you have to do is answer the question.  I don’t know what they’ll ask, but if you have  a good handle on your own salvation story and a good handle on Jesus’ story you’ll be able to answer those questions.

I  was working  in a “serving” type ministry one day when a person who had been watching stopped me and asked “Why do you do this?”  This is a clear invitation to speak.  I simply answered the question.  “I like people.  I became a follower of Jesus Christ and He lead me to this job to help people.”  They person continued, “what does following Jesus have to do with this?”  I said,  “When I heard the Good News that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, was buried and rose again on the third day and is alive today and that I can be forgiven and changed, I became his follower and have been in this process of becoming like Him.  He has put into me this desire to love people as He does and to serve them as He does.  I wouldn’t  be able to do this without Jesus Christ.”

It was that easy.  I just answering a question.  The fellow was not offended  and didn’t yell or argue or do anything negative.  He said, “Interesting” and wandered away.

You might not get an opportunity everyday, but you’ll get them. You’ll be able to enthusiastically talk about your faith because someone asked you a simple question.  You’ll be involved in the ministry of evangelism every day and we’ll be fulfilling the Great Commission of “as you go make di
sciples… “

Image  —  Posted: April 29, 2014 in Church Planting at Sojourn, Evangelism
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About that meeting…

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

We don’t have a lot of business-type meetings at sojourn. We like to keep our processes simple.  We communicate well. We have the same vision. When we have them, meetings help us to clarify decisions, brainstorm ideas, and disseminate information.  We try to keep it short.  Last Tuesday, March 25, we had a meeting with some people who were in a leadership position at Sojourn and a few others.  Here are the results of that meeting.

We talked about what we see God doing in and around Sojourn.  We talked about spiritual growth, relationship healing, and ministry. God’s work in and around us is evident and the group was very excited about it.

We talked about our vision.  We all see it as “we are on a daily, interactive, life-changing journey with Jesus.”  We all so that the application of this is to Read. Pray. Obey.  Within the obedience part is the Great Commission and our requirement to evangelize the world and disciple one another.

What is the one thing that needs to happen that only God can do?  The group agreed on a spiritual revival in Council Bluffs.  We agreed that this would be our primary prayer request.

We continued talking about some of the questions/issues on the pastor’s mind.

Should we push to have most people in small groups?

We determined that people were growing and being discipled without being in a small group.  We found that several people enjoy their group and it is beneficial to them.  We decided that we would not put all our discipleship efforts into small groups that meet each week but would continue with some small groups and add affinity groups that meet monthly or periodically.

Should we pursue online giving?

No one found the concept to be unbiblical.  Almost everyone stated that they do most of their banking and spending electronically.  We decided that we would continue with our offerings giving during worship taking checks and cash but that we would look into and pursue getting online giving also.

Should we push visitors to fill out a visitor’s card?

We decided that we still did not want to be pushy or smothering.  We would have a card available, we’d be more intentional about inviting the people to fill it out but we would not push.  If they want that level of connection they will make the effort. If we get a card, though, we most definitely need to follow up without being pushy or smothering.

We wrapped it up with this question; What is our plan of action from here?

Pray daily for revival in Council Bluffs.  Continue being friendly.  Participate in church fellowship.  Read. Pray. Obey.  Keep it simple.

There have been five periods of major spiritual revival in the US over the past 300 years. Each had it’s unique method; open air preaching, a focus on holiness and repentance, or small group bible studies but the one constant in all of them was prayer.  It seemed that in each instance people began to get together to pray to God.  These “prayer meetings” were not formal or organized but were simple gatherings of believers who prayed.  It wasn’t 24 hour prayer-a-thons, or prayer walks, or continuous prayer chains around the world events, just people praying.

The other constant was that the people felt a need to “get back to NT Christianity.”  I think it is easy for us to get  a little “mission creep” with whatever we are doing and church is no different. We devise methods and plans to accomplish the Great Commission and soon the plan begins to change and morph into something entirely different. Soon, we are no longer meeting the Great Commission. We become stale and stagnant in our spiritual lives until someone suggests we get “back to the basics.”

We could use a spiritual revival.  It would be nice to see some changes in our own lives as well as those around us.  It would be nice to see our communities begin to change and leave these destructive tendencies and see the healing of lives and families.    It would be great to see Jesus’ name lifted up and exalted about all others in our own homes and cities.

But, only God can bring about a spiritual awakening. The power is in God, not the prayer or the method.  We are but obedient servants, prayerfully obeying the will of God.  Our call and challenge is to obediently pray and wait for a movement of the Lord.  Can you pray?  Will you pray?

At this point, in our modern tendencies, I’d suggest that we all meet somewhere or we go to a conference or we schedule something.  Let’s not.  Let’s just pray.  You set aside a time, or now, and simply pray and ask God to bring a new spiritual fever in your own life and then in the life of others in your church and then in the life of your community.  That’s it.

“Hi, I’m Jim Parker,” he would say while extending his hand.
Strong and firm. He’d look directly in your eye, a twinkle in his, and a smile. It was very friendly and inviting.

It was one of the big characteristics of my father that I picked up. He was friendly with everyone, met everyone and treated them all with respect.

That firm handshake was the sign of maturity to me. It is what men did. They greeted one another with that same look, that same squeeze, that same eye contact, that same smile. It set them apart. It marked out the difference between the men and the boys.

My dad taught me how to shake hands, he told me the importance of it, he let me practice. Each night, before going to bed, my father required that we kiss our mother good night and them we shook his hand. A firm, manly handshake and then off we’d go. We did this each night until I moved out.

So I stood beside the bed of this same man, his frail body withering away, his breathing difficult, his words slurred and weak. He didn’t seem to be fully aware, fully conscious, fully engaged in the event. He was in and out, sometimes making sense, often not. But then, for one brief moment, he looked at me, reached out his hand like he always did, let that friendly smile cross his lips, that little twinkle, and “Hi, I’m Jim Parker.” Solid.

Image  —  Posted: February 25, 2014 in People
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Do the work of an evangelist – 2 Timothy 4:5

1. Evangelism is Action – Do

We do evangelism.  It is an activity.  We’ve tried to make a part of our everyday activities rather than a special event that requires us to gather in one spot, touch home base (the church building) then go out together following a program.  However, sometimes we get a little off-centered and we exchange other activities for evangelism.  Some of these activities include; fellowship gatherings, conferences, concerts, bible studies, community service, hanging out at the coffee shop together, hanging out at the park together, hanging out at the building together. We do a lot of stuff that doesn’t equal evangelism.  The Great Commission, the last instructions given to the church prior to Jesus ascension, is to make followers of Christ out of all nations.  That’s something specific to do.  Let’s do it.

2. Evangelism is Labor – the work.

This is not easy.  It will be much easier to talk about it, to preach about it, to read about it, to blog about it, to sing about it, to dream about it, to plan it, to program it, and to organize it,  The work is difficult and challenging.  The result do not come easy.  The risk is great. We are commanded to go (Matthew 28:19) but we are not sent alone  (Matthew 28:20).  So we must team up with Jesus and get to work.

 3. Evangelism has a Focus – of an evangelist.

We are to do the work of an evangelism which is evangelizing, which is telling people the simple good news of Jesus Christ.

Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor. – Spurgeon

(I took this outline from evangelismcoach.org)

no regrets

There is a current trend in social media to promote the worldly philosophy of “no regrets”.  Essentially, the philosophy is to not regret anything.  Don’t regret anything that once made you smile. Don’t regret because at one time that is what you wanted.  Don’t regret your past, just the time you spent with the wrong people.  Regret nothing.

If I understand the concept, people don’t like the feeling of regret, nor do they like the self-punishment that comes with it. They seek to alleviate these negative feelings with the philosophy; regret nothing. Social media and blog content list unfortunate actions that lead to regret; dating a jerk, getting a misspelled tattoo, buying a Prius, and staying in a miserable dead-end job. I highly recommend that for these behaviors and similar, move on and get over them. The rest of this article does NOT deal with these embarrassing situations.  However, there are numerous examples of immoral behavior that the proponents of this philosophy wish to escape;  drunkenness, becoming pregnant at 14, sex with a stranger, selfishly destroying a relationship, wasting time, and stealing.  It is in this area that I am concerned.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10

Regret and guilt are synonymous (the philosophers will say that guilt is extreme regret).  Sin leads to guilt.  It is best to respond to guilt with repentance rather than a stubborn denial of accountability.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.  You can live with no regrets with simple faith in Christ and repentance from sin.  That’s a much better deal than a mantra. Here are the easy steps

How to Deal with the Feelings of Regret

1.  Identify the source – regret is that nagging feeling that you wish you had done something differently.  What is that something?  Do you regret the action or the result?

2.  Recognize who you owe – “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  – Romans 3:23.  It is God whom we owe. So let’s deal with him concerning our guilt/regret.

3.  Confess your sins to God. – 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”

4.  Trust in God’s promise to remove the sin and thus the guilt/regret.

So, don’t fall into the world’s philosophy of ignoring the condition of your soul.  God has provided a simple (to us) way of dealing with the guilt associated with our sin.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and pay the penalty of our sin.  If we’ll trust in Him, He’ll remove our sin and forgive us. Thus no regrets.

This won’t fix that jerk you dated in 10th grade or your obsession with One Direction or the mullet.   Those decisions will keep you awake at night.  But you don’t have to carry the guilt/regret of your sin.  Just repent.

We’ve all been “church shopping.”  We’ve recently left a congregation (for whatever reason) and now we are looking for a new place where we feel like we fit.  You’ve found a church; it’s warm and friendly, it’s biblical and the worship is real and meaningful.  The Pastor is friendly and personable and preaches the Word of God.

What now?  Here are the next three actions you need to take.

1. Commit to the church

We need to commit to a local church and join it because

1.  We need to spiritual oversight and mentoring (Heb 13:17)
Pastors are better able to provide leadership and encouragement when they know you are “in the flock.”  Pastors don’t always keep an eye out for the occasional visitor and you could “fall through the cracks” and no one would know.  The commitment to the body lets the pastor know he can “meddle” into your spiritual life and provide leadership and guidance.

2.  We need the accountability of the body (Matthew 18:15-17)
When you commit to a body of believers they know they can help you in your spiritual walk. When you get “out of whack” they can be there to help. The body of believers are there to provide encouragement and help in times of need.

3.  We create a stronger group to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)
There is much work needed to do in fulfilling this mandate from our Lord and we need more folks to be “on the team.” Your commitment to the group puts you on the team and the people know they can count on you to be there.
There is much work needed to do in fulfilling this mandate from our Lord and we need more folks to be “on the team.” Your commitment to the group puts you on the team and the people know they can count on you to be there.

2. Join a small group Bible study

Besides the accountability and the discipleship you also get the fellowship and community.

There are  many self-taught type people who don’t need a big group to help them learn and grow. I get this. But we do need people for encouragement and community and they need us. I think the big picture that many self-taught types miss out on is that others need them.  Even if you never get anything out of a Bible study taught by another they group needs you.

We all need the encouragement and togetherness of a small group Bible study. This is where we build those lasting relationships that are so much a part of a healthy church.  Every Christian needs to be in a small group.

3.  Get involved in a  ministry

There is plenty to do.  The Great commission is a little more difficult than simply sitting at McDonald’s and telling folks who will listen about Jesus.  There is much work left and we don’t need to be “sitting on the sidelines” or letting someone else do it.  We don’t need to create jobs that are essentially “self-licking ice cream cones” but work that is meaningful, necessary and effective.  I like ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives and eventually gets the Gospel into their heads and hearts.  Membership in the local body gets you “into the game.”

"Scripture...sets before us Christ alone ...

I’m not even sure this is the correct question.  The latest church gurus say that believers want to be a part of the worship gathering; they want to experience it and be active.  Now, from what I’ve seen and heard this is true (my survey) and I want to help the believers connect with God.  I know that we don’t like to sit for a long time and we don’t like to be talked at for a long time and we want to do something that includes using our brains and skills in our community worship times.

So I’m struggling with how to create experiences of worship for the believers.  Let’s review worship.

Worship is Expressing to God How We Feel about Him

We must keep in mind during this conversation that we are simply discovering the way we can best ell God how we feel about Him.  How can we best declare of express His worth?

 

 Psalm 51:15-17 –

15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;  you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 Worship is about Ascribing Worth to God

We sing, proclaim and declare how awesome God is. This requires that we learn of God’s attributes and how He has worked through history and His plan of redemption.  When people encounter God it seems that the natural reaction is to worship Him.

 

1 Chronicles 16:23-27

23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day 24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples  25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise he is to be feared above all gods. 26 For all the gods of the nations are idols  but the LORD made the heavens 27 Splendor and majesty are before him;  strength and joy in his dwelling place.

Don’t get distracted by the argument/statement that “worship is about God not you.”  We can appreciate this, but WE are the ones worshiping and we’d like to do it the best we can.  Sometimes the sitting and watching doesn’t quite reach the level or worship we’d like.

How do we bring believers together and create an environment where they can express to God how they feel about Him? (I’m not addressing how we worship God all the time and not just at church).  The Scriptures give us plenty of examples of worship and from the Scriptures we can say that prayer, Scripture reading and hearing, confession of sin, sharing the Gospel, and proclaiming God’s awesomeness are all elements of worship.

Our challenge is to incorporate these elements into a worship gathering where each person can take part rather than watching the worship leaders do them.  I’m working on this right now.

 

images

You’ll need to read Revelation 11 for this story

“The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.” – Revelation 11:10

Have you ever wanted to punch a guy in the face for something he said, even though he was right?

John gives the prophesy of the Two Witnesses being killed because of what they were saying.  Why can’t people just ignore them or change the channel or walk away or laugh?  Why did they rejoice because the Two Witnesses were killed?

People Hate to be Displayed

John 3:19-22 tells us “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

People want to keep their sins hidden, in the dark, out of sight, beyond scrutiny, beyond judgment.  Sinners try to keep it hidden and when someone brings the sin to light, that person is attacked.  How many of us fear bringing something up to our friends and family because of the excoriating reaction we know we will encounter?

People Hate to be Disproved

“Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” – Proverbs 15:52

“A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” –  Proverbs 15:5

Few people seem to respond well to correction.  It’s bad enough to be told that your behavior is sinful, but then to be told that you are wrong is even bigger.  Our culture has created the environment where it is offensive to be told you are wrong, or that your decisions are wrong or that you are on the wrong track.  “Who says it’s wrong?”  “That’s your opinion.”  “Don’t judge me.”  People will continue to make bad decisions which cause more issues and drama which will be met with more bad decisions and cause more problems and rarely will they think they are the problem.  It is always something or someone else.

People Hate to be Disputed

“Bad doctrine leads to bad living.” – Larry Tapp

People generally have a contradictory mix of personal philosophy and religious sentiment which is the basis of their moral judgment.  The bottom line or precept for them is selfish; what’s in it for me and what satisfies me right now.  As a result their decisions are often immoral and hurtful to themselves and others.  When confronted they have very little logic or reason for their philosophies even though they may claim to be free or even “free thinkers.”  Confrontations to their belief system usually ends in name calling and irrational comments.  They hate to be challenged or disputed.

These are behaviors we see today from people who live apart from the truth of God’s Word.  During the Great Tribulation, as John prophesies, people will be even worse and they will react even more violently than we see now.

How about you?  Can you take it when people challenge your thinking and your beliefs?  Does your behavior line up with the Word of God and when it doesn’t, can you deal with people correcting you?  Arrogance will always keep you from spiritual growth.  Allow God to use other people to speak truth and correction into your life.

Image  —  Posted: June 25, 2013 in Discipleship
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