Four Tips for Interfaith Ministry

God calls us to be Christ’s Church together and not neglect the fellowship of believers.  Meeting as a church is fairly easy, but the real challenge is following God into a world full of diverse beliefs, opinions, and views.  

For over a decade, I have worked with people of other faiths in interfaith ministry.  Although God does not call everyone to this task, God calls all of us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  How do we minister to people of other faiths or no faith at all?  How might you take a step towards bold mission to reach others who don’t think or look like you?  Here are some tips:

First, reflect on God’s work in the world.  Although many Christians find the world frightening, the Holy Spirit is present in the world.   The Bible gives us an example when Paul ministers in Athens, Greece, in Acts 17:16-33. 

Paul began his mission in a familiar place, the synagogue (Acts 17:17), and then went to the public market in Athens.  Paul did not berate the beliefs of others, but complimented them on their great faith (v. 22).  He then focused on their doubts and a statue to “an unknown god”.  He took the opportunity to preach about Jesus.  Paul’s ministry was relational because he believed God was already at work among unbelievers, and he did not have an “Us vs. Them” attitude.

Second, ask God to give you a passion for people who don’t know Jesus.  Paul was “deeply distressed” (Acts 17:16) when he saw people in Athens who did not know the Lord.  His heart broke for others, and his passion drove him into the streets, even in the face of criticism (v. 18) and persecution.  Interfaith work requires unyielding patience, fervent prayer, a deep abiding trust in the Holy Spirit, and a heart for people.

Third, pray for friendships across cultural and religious lines.  Before you can stand up for your faith, spend time on your knees before God asking for opportunities to meet new people.  Humble yourself and remember that you are not called to judge others, but be an eye-witness of your personal relationship with the living God.  Pray that God will place new friends in your life that need to hear your testimony. 

Fourth, be present, seek understanding, and listen.  Many Christians ask me why I do interfaith dialogue and ministry, and my response is always the same: You cannot be the presence of Christ if you’re not present.   Being present sometimes means listening, seeking understanding, and then asking God to help you witness. Every month in Vero Beach, an interfaith group meets for lunch and facilitate dialogues to learn about one another.  I am often discouraged, however, that there are not more evangelical Christians represented.  I pray for more volunteers in this work.

How do you Measure Church Growth during COVID?

For the last three decades, people “doing church” have been trying to measure growth in a post-Christian age.  It is true: for every generation of people that pass, fewer attend church.  Measuring a church’s growth by using the old methods do not work anymore.  The old methods  of measuring growth were, according to us Baptists, by the “Three Bs”: Buildings, Budgets, and Bodies-in-Pews.  You knew a church was successful if they had to build more, expand budgets, and count people coming to church.

That no longer works–people do not automatically “come to church” anymore.  Like politicians who fight for every vote, we Christians have to pray for every lost soul and bring people to Christ the hard way–by going out and sharing Jesus rather than waiting for people to come to us. 

Buildings are no longer viable–in fact, most church starts and successful churches renovate old spaces or meet in non-traditional venues, such as storefronts.  Many churches would rather invest in missions than maintain buildings. 

 And budgets are misleading.  Numbers and finances only tell a part of a church’s story.  Take First Baptist Church, for instance– We only devote a fraction of our annual budget to missions, but that number does not take into account all of the assets we use for missions.  We use our campus for missions and partnerships, including hosting the main office of IR Youth for Christ, breakfasts for the High School football and baseball teams for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Food Pantry of Indian River County.   

We also invest time in missions in the community–our staff serves on boards of non-profits, and many of our members volunteer in local endeavors, from Habitat for Humanity to Shining Light Gardens.  We have people who serve in Rotary and at Exchange Club.  You can’t put a number on those relationships! 

So, if you can’t measure church growth by the “Three Bs”, then how do you measure growth–because churches ought to grow!!  Replace the “Three Bs” with the “Three Ss”! 

The first “s” is Spiritual Maturity.  We may not have a lot of bodies in pews right now, but we need to grow spiritually–to put feet to our faith, be on mission in our local community, and exhibit a “fire for the Lord” in the world.  Spiritual maturity translates into church growth–people excited about the Lord attract excitement in others, and they want to visit the church that is on fire for the Lord! 

Filling our pews means we first must be filled with the Holy Spirit in demonstrations of power, in proclaiming Good News, and in modeling God’s victory in Jesus Christ in all we do!

The second “s” is Sustainability. We may not have a large budget, but we need to sustain the missions God has given us and provide for the welfare of our church, its ministries, and its outreach endeavors.  Sustainability does not come by way of gimmicks, but by being a healthy church that is a good stewards of all God provides, including using our gifts and skills for the Kingdom and utilizing the assets that make us unique in our community.

The last “s” is Shoes on the Ground.  As I mentioned, people no longer come to church in droves–we need to bring church to the people, and be Christ’s Church beyond the walls of the campus.  The only way to get bodies in pews is to put shoes on the ground and to participate in the mission of God, join the Holy Spirit, and be the Good News in our community.  Where are you called to be on mission–in family, at home, in the boardroom?  Then work as for the Lord, and bring the “shoes of the peace of the Gospel” into the battlefield and byways of life. 

As we continue to devote this year to vision-casting and dreaming of our church’s future, let’s consider these three Ss and our church’s growth.  Remember–the first s, spiritual maturity, begins with YOU.  You need to make an effort to fulfill these convictions, you can’t expect others to do it for you!