Entries tagged with “Evangelism”.

Just a note to say that I’m one of the presenters at the upcoming Reach Out Canada conference. This national outreach conference sponsored by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) and Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) is taking place July 5-7 in Winnipeg. As the title might suggest, it’s intended to get participants thinking about outreach. To that end, it will feature main speakers, workshops, worship events (including a special 25th Anniversary celebration for LCC, which many of our local congregations will also be attending), and joint events with the National Youth Gathering which is also taking place in Winnipeg at the same time.

I was asked to be one of the workshop presenters at Reach Out Canada. Here’s my blurb as it appears on LHM’s website.

m-block-edited-lhm-webPop-Culture Today: What’s God got to do with it?

Speaker: Mathew Block
Communications Manager of Lutheran Church–Canada
Editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine
Description: Christians in North America are inundated with Hollywood movies, internet videos, best-selling books, and countless new songs. Wherever we go, pop-culture is there. It’s on the radio in our cars. It’s our televisions at home and on our computers. It’s on the smartphones we’re carrying in our pockets. As Christians, we’re called to think critically about the culture we’re immersed in. So what’s God got to do with pop-culture? Come and find out—and in the process find out how pop-culture can be a tool for sharing your faith with others.

For more information on Reach Out Canada and to register, click here. Registrations are due at the beginning of July. Hope to see some of you there!


I’ve forgotten to mention a few of my recent articles, so this is somewhat of a clean-up post. These three articles appeared in The Canadian Lutheran between March and June, 2012. The titles and a brief selection appear below, followed by links to the articles online. Given that my column for the July/August issue will be appearing online soon, it makes sense to mention these older ones now.

Let’s start with the most recent article (appearing in the May/June issue). Entitled “A key named ‘Promise,'” the piece uses John Bunyan’s struggle with despair to encourage Christians today who struggle with guilt and worry whether God might not forgive them. Author and scholar Gene Veith had a positive response over at Cranach when this article first came out.

A key named ‘Promise’

Bunyan could find no cure for despair in himself. No, the cure could only be found in the promises of Christ—in the Gospel. And so it is that, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian only escapes Giant Despair when he remembers he carries a key in his bosom. The key’s name is ‘Promise,’ and it opens the prison doors.

Despair was not Bunyan’s problem alone. It existed long before Bunyan, and it continues to plague people long since. We see glimpses of it in ourselves when we worry that we have finally sinned too much. When we fear our faith is not strong enough to save. When we’ve let God down one too many times. But just as it did with Bunyan, Scripture comes running after us in these moments, reminding us of the promises of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Word, drawing us ever to Himself, opening our hearts to believe the promises of God.


The other two articles appeared in the March/April issue of The Canadian Lutheran. The first, “Gospel-motivated love,” is my column for the issue. It attempts to demonstrate how, in loving our neighbour, we can open the door to evangelism. The second, “Into Africa,” is a feature piece discussing how the Gospel gives us the desire to do social ministry in the first place, drawing on my (then) recent trip to Mozambique, Lesotho, and South Africa. The latter piece (“Into Africa”) was also reproduced in part in Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s May newsletter.


Gospel-motivated love

‘I thought I was in the the Twilight Zone,” he told The Christian Post. “These people are acting like what the Bible says a Christian does.” He saw genuine concern for his well-being, despite his opposition to Christianity. And so he turned to the Scriptures, eager to find what could motivate such selfless love. There, by the grace of God, he found Christ.

Let’s be clear: acts of love didn’t convert the man. But they did drive him to the Word of God, the very tool the Holy Spirit uses to engender faith. The good works of Christians pointed him back to the God who motivates good works.


Into Africa

Just as Christ took pity on the countless sick, the mourning, the poor, and the hungry, we too are called to show compassion to those less fortunate than us, and to share with them the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Indeed, it’s in acknowledging how good He has been to us that we find the impetus to love our neighbour. God first loved us—without our ever deserving it. That selfless love inspires us by the Holy Spirit to love others….

While thanks for salvation may motivate Christians to care for and love each others, that shouldn’t be the only role the Gospel plays. ‘In doing humanitarian work, we must do it in such a way that the world knows that the aid does not just fall from the sky or come out of our pockets,’ Dr. Neitzel explains. ‘We must be clear that there is is Someone who is the provider. And this Someone is the Creator who created us, sustains us, and gave His Son to die for us and save us.’ Loving our neighbours means caring for them in both body and soul. And caring for the soul means proclaiming the Gospel.


As a Christian linguist*, one of the things that particularly irks me is the failure of the Church (myself included) to be vigilant in ensuring that our witness to the world is an intelligible one. In our desire to preach the Gospel, we’re not always careful to make sure the language we’re speaking is a language our non-Christian neighbours can understand. In other words, sometimes we need to speak in other words.

That concern lies behind my latest article for The Canadian Lutheran.  In addressing the problem, I explore the story of Pentecost, Luther’s theology of translation, and the historical move from German to English in North American Lutheran churches.  At the same time, I can only hope that my exploration of the subject speaks to readers where they are – that it speaks their language, as it were. (I’m sure someone in my congregation will be sure to let me know if I’ve failed on this point).

To read the article, visit The Canadian Lutheran website and select the article entitled “Can you hear me now?: Evangelism for the 21st century.” While you’re at it, check out the rest of the July-August issue. In addition to my article, there’s some insightful thoughts on engaging youth in the life of the Church now (as opposed to at some ill-defined point in the future), a story on the 2010 LCC National Youth Gathering, a discussion of C.F.W. Walther’s take on the Confessions, and other news and views of interest.


* I use the term somewhat loosely. While I’m not employed as a linguist, I do have a linguistics degree.

Luther has a fascinating discussion on the priesthood of all believers, in his Right and Power of a Christian Church, where he discusses the layperson’s duty to preach (even if he has not been called to the vocation of a preacher). I think the implications for mission are obvious, but rather than saying too much about it, I’ll let Luther speak for himself. [Note: The context in which the passage arises is that of all Christians’ duty to judge their pastors, and their right to call their own pastors.]

No one can deny that every Christian has God’s Word and is taught by God and annointed by him to the priesthood. Thus Christ says in John 6 [:45], “They shall all be taught by God.” And in Psalm 45 [:7], “God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.” By “fellows” are meant Christians, Christ’s brethren, consecrated to be priests with him. As Peter also says in 1 Peter 2 [:9], “You are a royal priesthood, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you into his marvelous light.”

Now, if Christians have the Word of God and are anointed by him, they are in duty bound to confess, preach, and spread this Word. It is as Paul says in II Corinthians 4 [:13], “We have the same spirit of faith, and therefore we speak.” The prophet says in Psalm 116 [:10], “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” and in Psalm 51 [:13] he says in the name of all Christians, “I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.” These passages prove once more that a Christian not only has the right and power to teach God’s Word but is in duty bound to teach it on pain of losing his salvation and forfeiting God’s favor.

But you will say, “How is he to do this? For unless he has been called to do this he dare not preach, as you yourself have repeatedly taught!”

I reply: Here you must consider the Christian from a double point of view. On the one hand, if he is in a place where there are no Christians, he needs no other call than the fact that he is a Christian, inwardly called and anointed by God; he is bound by the duty of brotherly love to preach to the erring heathen or non-Christians and to teach them the gospel, even if no one has called him to this work. That is what St. Stephen did (Acts 6 and 7); the office of preaching was not committed to him by the apostles, yet he preached and performed great wonders among the people. Philip, Stephen’s fellow-deacon, did the same (Acts 8 [:5]) without having received the office of preaching. The same is true of Apollos (Acts 18 [:25-26]). In such circumstances the Christian looks in brotherly love on the needs of poor, perishing souls and waits for no commission or letter from pope or bishop. For necessity breaks every law and knows no law; moreover, love is bound to help where there is no one else to help.

On the other hand, if a man is in a place where there are other Christians who have the same power and right that he has, he should not thrust himself forward but should rather let himself be sought out and called to preach and teach in the stead and by the commission of the rest. Even among other Christians a Christian has the right and obligation to get up and teach without being called by men if he should find the teacher in that place to be in error, provided that this is done in a becoming and decent manner. Such a case is plainly described by St. Paul in I Corinthians 14 [:30], where he says, “If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent.” Notice what St. Paul does here. He commands the man who is teaching to be silent and to step aside (among Christians!) and commands the hearer to speak up, even without a call, because necessity knows no law.

…In the same passage St. Paul gives every Christian the right to teach among Christians whenever it becomes necessary: “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (I Corinthians 14 [:31]), and, “Desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order” [I Cor. 14:39-40]. Take this passage as a very sure ground which gives more than sufficient authority to the Christian community to preach, to permit men to preach, and to call preachers. Especially in case of necessity this passage itself summons each and every one without any call of men.

A powerful passage, no? It is certainly helpful in clarifying the meaning of Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession : “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” There are occasionally instances when any Christian must by necessity preach.


(The passage from The Right and Power of a Christian Church or Community to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proved from the Scriptures is selected from Steinhaeuser’s translation, as revised by Tappert in Selected Writings of Martin Luther: Volume 2. Fortress Press, 2007.)

A few years ago while in a class discussion, I remarked that the poem we were studying contained a reference to Noah’s Ark. Another student in the class turned to me and asked, quite seriously, “What’s Noah’s Ark?”

In Canada and the United States, we tend to delude ourselves into thinking we live in “Christian” nations. And at one time, that might have been somewhat true. But that time has long passed us by. If my above experience is any indication, we can no longer count on people knowing the most basic of biblical stories. And perhaps an even greater problem is posed by those who think they know the biblical stories, when all they’ve heard is related to anti-religious smears in popular culture. We are no longer a Christian society. We have moved into a post-Christian society.

Dr. Robert D. Newton has an excellent article in The Lutheran Witness addressing how evangelism today requires us to first recognize the reality of our post-Christian society. We cannot afford to continue “doing church” the way we always have, assuming that our neighbours recognize the Church as an authoritative voice in our world. The fact is, they don’t. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can begin preaching the Gospel clearly as we ought. Check out “Missionary Churches: Navigating in a Post-Church World,” an article that is truly necessary for these times.

So how do we put this message into practice? Any specific ideas on how we can be a missional church in today’s post-Christian society, while nonetheless retaining our doctrinal integrity?

An article in the Vancouver Sun suggests Canadian Aboriginal people are significantly more open to Christianity than might be expected considering the Residential School atrocities. In fact, 2 out of 3 Aboriginals identify themselves as Christian. And 54% of Aboriginal teens say they trust the church and religious leaders. Compare that to the national teen average of 39%.

This news should be cause for some celebration among the faithful. It means that many Aboriginal people are open to the Gospel – if only we would step out of our own comfort zones and bring it to them. I am certain, however, that many upon reading the news story linked above will also notice that the “Christianity” many of these Aboriginals are committed to is unfortunately synchretistic in nature. Many seem content to blend traditional Aboriginal spiritualism with Christianity.

I have no doubt that this synchretism will be the church’s excuse for abdicating its responsibility to Aboriginal people.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that synchretism is in any way acceptable. Jesus Christ is certainly the only Way, Truth and Life. But I am suggesting that, rather than running away from those who practice synchretism, we instead run towards them. We should run towards them with the fullness of the Gospel, to reveal the Truth… to show them what they are missing.

We would do well to learn from the example of Paul who used the opportunities afforded by the faiths of people to introduce the true faith of Jesus Christ. For it was Paul, according to Acts 17:16-32, who used the altars of other faiths, the poets of other faiths, and the religious meeting places of other faiths to introduce Christianity to the Athenians.

Consider Acts 17:16-22:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. They they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…

Let’s do the same.

In a comment on Ken Maher’s article Chew on this…, I began discussing the concern of lessening teen involvement in the Lutheran Church – Canada. There I suggested that while “we’ve got a strong, unshakable foundation in Jesus Christ,” it may well “be time to do some repairs on the ground floor.” In other words, while theologically our faith is strong, the practical application thereof has faced significant difficulties for many years. Ken then asked me what kind of repairs I thought might be in order. This is my response.

Before launching directly into the discussion, it is, I think, important to recognize that the problem of teen dropout is not merely a “teen” problem. This is in actuality merely symptomatic of a much graver issue in our denomination (and many others for that matter). In particular, I am thinking of the lack of spiritual fervour and discipline far too common among our congregants. When teens are raised by parents for whom faith is a Sunday-only concept rather than a life-encompassing reality, it is exceptionally hard for the teens to see the importance of Christianity itself to their daily lives, let alone the usefulness of church attendance. And these Sunday-Christian parents are taking significantly less of a role than previous generations in the spiritual upbringing of their children. They assume, no doubt, that this void will be filled with Sunday School and Confirmation.

No surprise, therefore, that teens are failing to connect with the Church.

In the Lutheran church, we pride ourselves on our strong theological heritage, and rightly so. And so we stress in our Confirmation classes the necessity of knowing the Bible, and texts like Luther’s Small Catechism (because they are faithful expositions of Holy Scripture). But we forget, and inexcusably so, the necessity of teaching devotional practice. We make our confirmants read the Bible in order to complete Confirmation homework, but we do not teach them how to read for daily devotional purposes. We make them memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s explanation thereof in the Small Catechism, but we do not have small prayer groups with them, nor make it clear what it is to talk daily with God. We make sure they know all the right answers to all the right theological questions, but we do not give them the tools to face life-problems outside the Catechism. Nor do we stress the necessity of Christian service in the congregation or mission outreach to the world at large.

The problem is clear: our youth have no spiritual grounding. They do not know how to read the Bible devotionally. They do not know how to pray individually or corporately. They are ill-equipped to recognize their own spiritual gifts, and as a result do not know where they should serve. More striking, they do not personally and fully understand the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves and, as such, feel no concern for evangelism.

Should we be surprised then that Lutheran youth are leaving the Church? We focus so strongly on the their intellectual assent to theological statements, but provide no practical guidance as to how this theology should impact their daily lives. As such, Confirmation becomes nothing more than a graduation exercise: “If I know the right answers, I’ll pass.” But where is the testing of their devotional lives? How many youth have we set before the Church and confirmed, all the while knowing that in their personal lives no evidence of faith is visible? “Faith without works is dead,” as James reminds us. And yet, for fear of being misunderstood as preaching works-righteousness, we do not stress the necessity of the evidence of faith in the lives of believers.

Forgive me if I sound blunt or go to far in my rhetoric. As I have said, the issue is close to my heart, as a young person myself, and it grieves my very soul to see such things in the Church.

My practical advice is as follows. Please note that it is by no means intended to be considered a “complete” response.

  1. Confirmation (and pre-Confirmation) should be expanded to include a continual focus on devotional maturing throughout the classes. Teachers and pastors should not be content to merely have students give the right answers; there should be evidence of spiritual growth in the lives of the confirmands.
  2. Confirmation should be delayed until youth are older. I know many would suggest that we have to “confirm them while they’re young and while their parents can still make them come to church” (I’ve had pastors tell me as much), but I believe this to be an error, however well-meant. Confirming young people merely because they’re still young enough to be forced to attend classes at the behest of their parents makes a mockery of the rite of Confirmation. After all, they stand before the congregation and make a profession of faith. If it is made merely to placate parents, then the pastor and congregation are, to put it frankly, guilty of bearing false witness before God. I suggest, therefore, that confirmation be delayed until about Grade 10 or 11. Youth at that age who desire to put in the work required for confirmation are far less likely to be doing it merely because their parents want them to.
  3. Finally, new emphasis should be placed on getting adults to attend Bible Studies and other small-groups. As I have said, the setting of teens’ religious foundations are intrinsically connected with the faith-lives of their parents and elders (see the article “The Truth about Men and the Church”). Older congregants are just as in need of devotional training as are the young.

How then should all this be implemented? To be honest, I really don’t know. And to be honest, I’m sure you’ll all agree that I’ve already ranted enough for today.

What do you think? How should we be approaching the issue of teen-dropout (or, for that matter, spiritual stuntedness in the Church at large)? Leave your comments.