Dr. David Smith from Kingswood University located in Sussex, New Brunswick Canada invited me to teach a class as part of their Masters of Pastoral Theology. The class title is “The Missional Pastor: Evangelism and Discipleship.” Great school, great program! My part was via Skype, got to love technology, it makes things possible that otherwise might not happen!
At the end of the class, Professor Dean Blevins opened it up for discussion and one student asked what I meant by a “faith cultivating environment.” I was referring to our worship services at 12Stone® Church, and I thought he posed a really good question. I answered off the top, but thought it deserved a bit more attention.
The phrase “faith cultivating environment” is connected to evangelism. It is about the kind of place and experience we invite people into at 12Stone. We intentionally create our weekend services to be environments that connect with unchurched people and invite them to faith in Jesus. We recognize that people who are not walking with God come with a wide variety of religious influences, so we do not make assumptions about their faith. Nor do we presume upon a decision. We want the service to be a place where a person can pursue, discover and ultimately commit to faith in God. We also are intentional to ensure our services inspire believers to grow in their faith.
Our weekend services are designed for people both pre and post conversion. The pre and post conversion development of faith must be something intentional not something assumed. So let me break it down a little with more practical thoughts. This is by no means comprehensive, but just a few things to encourage your thoughts on this subject as you lead your church.
Kevin Myers, Senior Pastor of 12Stone teaches through well crafted and well-planned sermon series. Each series might vary in duration from two weeks to five or six weeks. Each series carries an intentional direction toward an invitation to the grace of God. Through that process we are well aware that many who hear the messages are far from believing in God, embrace other religious ideologies, have a variety of church influences and may even resist God. In the southeast, for instance, many consider themselves Christians but would not say they have deep or practicing faith.
We choose to intentionally “cultivate faith” in a safe and accepting environment by inspiring attenders toward a life in Christ that makes sense. We acknowledge that just like Jesus we have people in the crowd who are not yet followers. Attenders are invited to take the time they need to pursue God. They are reassured that God loves them, and wants a personal relationship with them through Jesus, but if they need time that’s okay.
This is not a lack of evangelistic zeal, it’s a realization that faith can’t be rushed. The Holy Spirit is moving and we like to give lots of room! In fact, if you force it, you may push the person away in the process. Faith contains a great element of freedom, not fear, so we treat each person with the respect they deserve to find their way to faith. This is all part of a faith-cultivating environment. It inspires people to seek God. It builds faith. It helps people trust God.
A Faith Cultivating Environment:
- Communicate hope. Developing faith is difficult in a world that beats faith down and a culture that confuses the issue. As church leaders we must give hope that God is real. Life isn’t all doom and gloom. There is hope for a better way. Don’t take it for granted that your congregation believes this is true.
- Make challenges doable. If you want to cultivate faith from the unbeliever to a relatively seasoned Christian, it’s important to offer challenges that people can actually do. For example, when challenging people to pray, don’t ask everyone to raise their hands and commit to pray daily for one hour. You have just committed the vast majority who raised their hands to failure. Instead, try something like this. Ask everyone to pray one more day a week than they normally to. Example, if they pray three days a week, challenge them to four! Cultivate faith, don’t crush it.
- Focus on do’s over don’ts. It’s true that the Scriptures contain plenty of things we should not do. However, a steady diet of “thou shall nots” defeats faith. It makes people believe Christianity is good on paper but not achievable. It’s not actually livable and therefore it doesn’t work. In order to cultivate faith, a worship service, (and the church over all), must have a strong balance, if not place a greater emphasis on things Scripture calls people to do.
- Lean into the Gospel. Faith is inescapable in the four gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Faith is naturally caught whenever discussed, taught or even mentioned from the gospels. Our purpose statement carries the verse found in John 10:10. “. . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This is great inspiration for one’s faith. Jesus is for you, not against you! Sin is real and must be confronted, that is true, but you can focus on sin or point to the Savior. Which one do you think cultivates faith? Grace is central to faith!
- Tell stories that inspire faith. Few things inspire more than real stories of people engaging their faith. Tell stories (show video interviews) of people trusting God with their money, trusting God with their time (serving), and of course salvation. Baptism stories are my favorite. In one minute you catch a glimpse of someone’s faith story. There is nothing more powerful, more captivating, or cultivates faith better than a fresh conversion story followed by a live baptism!
- Keep your investment high. Post conversion is also important. From a new believers course to great small group curriculum, keep stirring the faith of your people!
There is nothing new under the sun. True enough. But my hope is that these thoughts may be the catalyst for great conversations amongst key leaders on your team. How are you doing at cultivating faith at your church?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6