Author Archives: Rob Prince

Evangelism: Then and Now

Evangelism 50 years ago went like this: 

Step 1: See person (Personal knowledge of person’s life not required).
Step 2: Invite person to church.
Step 3: Person comes to church, hears a salvation message and accepts Jesus into his/her life.

That’s not how evangelism works these days. Evangelism in 2022 looks more like this:

Step 1: Listen to your friend speak on how all churches either: a) want your money; b) are anti-intellectuals; c) are political hacks; d) full of hypocrites; or e) all of the above.
Step 2: Listen to your friend tell you how they’ve been hurt in churches in the past. 
Step 3: Apologize for the church’s failure in your friend’s life.
Step 4: Serve in the community.
Step 5: Talk (don’t brag about serving in the community. Don’t even mention it, unless your friend says something like: “What did you do on Saturday?” And you say, “Oh, some folks from my church and me were sorting groceries at the food bank. Go back to talking about the weather or whatever small talk is the conversation of the hour).
Step 6: Listen to friend scoff, “Churches don’t serve in communities much.” 
Step 7: Listen some more without getting defensive. Just listen.
Step 8: Talk a little bit (mostly about regular life happenings. Occasionally mention how God helps you. Don’t worry as friend rolls eyes.)
Step 9: Serve in the community again (ask if the friend would like to serve too. Maybe the friend will. Maybe not.).
Step 10: Listen as the friend talks about how churches need to stay out of politics.
Step 11: Listen as friend talks about how bad things are in our world. 
Step 12: Talk a little bit about how Jesus really can help.
Step 13: Friend has personal troubles.
Step 14: Listen to your friend tell about a family crisis.
Step 15: Listen to friend’s worries.
Step 16: Listen about friend’s anxiety.
Step 17: Talk a little bit and offer to pray for your friend (Maybe they will let you. Maybe not).
Step 18: Invite the friend to watch last Sunday’s church service on-line. Tell them it helped you.
Step 19: Listen as friend says they don’t have time. 
Step 20: Listen as friend talks about more troubles.
Step 21: Listen as friend says they watched a little bit of the worship service.
Step 22: Smile. God is working– you know it. It’s a secret. Don’t tell your friend why you are smiling. 
Step 23: Get coffee together and invite friend to join you at church.
Step 24: Listen as friend comes up with an excuse about how busy he/she is.
Step 25: Listen as friend says “Christianity is good for you, but probably won’t work for me.”
Step 26: Talk a little bit and say, “I don’t know, Jesus might surprise you.”
Step 27: Invite friend to watch a church service on-line again and tell friend “If you have questions, I will be happy to talk about it.”
Step 28: Listen to friend say, “Hey, I watched a service.”
Step 29: Listen as friend says, “Thank you. I did feel a little something.”
Step 30: Talk a little bit about how Jesus is speaking and how Jesus loves your friend.
Step 31: Listen to friend’s doubts.
Step 32: Listen to friend’s fears.
Step 33: Tell friend what a change Jesus has made in your life.
Step 34: Listen to friend’s questions.
Step 35: Try to answer friend’s questions.
Step 36: Pray with friend as they invite Jesus to be Lord of their life.
Step 37: Invite friend, who is now a believer, to join you in church on Sunday.
Step 38: Friend comes to church.
Step 39: Begin to disciple your friend.

Evangelism takes longer these days. But it is still worth it!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

The Most Unheeded and Un-obeyed words of Jesus (by the church)

A DIVIDED world needs a UNITED Church! That’s not my quote, I read those words somewhere last week. It’s true.

What we are experiencing in America is not unprecedented. There have been other times in US history when our nation was divided (Hello? We had a Civil War).  I am not suggesting that opposing sides are ready to bear arms, I am suggesting that there are similarities. The healing remedy then and now is for the Church of Jesus Christ to come together in love and mission. 

Today… it’s not north and south.
It’s left and right. 

It’s not Yankees and Rebels.
It’s Conservatives and Liberals.

It’s not blue and grey.
It’s red and blue.

It’s not slavery v. freedom.
It’s Roe v. Wade II.

Read it again: What our divided world needs is a united church.

“Impossible,” you say. Churches are dividing more than ever (Exhibit A: The schism in the “United” Methodist Church). It’s not just our Methodist sisters and brothers driving in opposite directions on a divided highway. Churches, individual churches of all denominations, are divided more now than ever (Exhibit B: The Mask v. No Mask debates). Sadly, as we in the church debate such things, our world is going down the tubes. 

Under our watch, we are seeing the greatest decline in Christianity in America. Read that previous sentence again. Slowly. We are living in a post-Christian America. It’s an avalanche. It’s happening in our families. People are walking away from the divided church in unprecedented numbers. Now think about what you are actively doing about this reality? The church must be united in love and mission to face this daunting task. Here’s (a seemingly novel) idea: How about if we listened and strove to obey Jesus’ final prayer for us, when He prayed:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  John 17:20-23

Could it be that those words of Jesus are the most unheeded and un-obeyed words by the church? According to Jesus prayer, when we are one the world will know and hear the message. If we aren’t one, how can they hear? If we aren’t one, how can they see Jesus?

What our divided world needs is a united church. 

Pro-Life? Pro-Choice? I am Pro-People

The cultural wars in our country have been on full display this week with the leaked Supreme Court document regarding the upcoming Roe v. Wade ruling. There is anger and shouting on all sides. I am unapologetically pro-life. All life. Notice I did not write pro-unborn. That’s part of it. I am pro-unborn. I am also… 

Pro-elementary child. 
Pro-college student. 
Pro-everyone else.

I am pro-people. 

That’s what pro-life means to me: Pro-everyone living and breathing on planet earth. No exceptions. As such, I rejoice that the “least of these” might be protected, but I am also heartbroken that we do not have an adequate health and social service system to manage the turmoil, stress and health (mental, emotional and spiritual health) of the women seeking abortions. I am pro-life, but I am also pro-we-have-to-do-better-for-these-women. Is it ok to be pro both of these things? Can’t someone be pro-people? That’s what I am. 

Being pro-people means I am also…

Pro-adequate housing. 
Pro-better health care.
Pro-better mental health treatment.
Pro-better foster care.

Being pro-people also means…

Pro-ending genocide in Ukraine.
Pro-ending gun violence in America.
Pro-ending drug addiction.
Pro-ending the suicide epidemic.
Pro-ending racism.
Pro-ending the vitriol rhetoric.
Pro-ending the demonization of those who disagree with me.
Pro-ending all those things that divide us.

Being Pro-people also means…

Pro-pray harder.
Pro-hate less.
Pro-love more.

I pray that God’s Kingdom would come and His will done in Flint (on Earth) as it is in heaven. That means that I am fighting for the things Jesus would fight for—that is, people. That’s why he came to earth and went to the cross: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Jesus is pro-people. Me too.

The 6 Words Our Society Needs Church Leaders to Say

John Maxwell once said, “If no one is following you. then you are not leading. You are taking a walk.” There is a little bit of pressure in saying: “Do what I do. Follow me” But that’s what great leaders say. Jesus repeatedly said it. Paul did too. Paul gave early church leaders plenty of challenging words in his writings, but his biggest challenge was the one he put on himself. He told the rag-tag group in Corinth: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1). 

Dear church leader could you say what Paul said? Follow me, as I follow Christ.

Could you tell the people whom you influence: “Put me under a microscope. Examine my life. Look at my social media posts. Notice how I interact with those people who get under my skin. Checkout my time commitments. Look at my bank statements and how I spend my money. Hear my interactions with non-believers. Am I attempting to influence people toward Jesus? Watch me in a crowd or view me when I’m all alone. Look at my life, then do what I do.” Could you say that?

A defeatist would say, “Oh no, don’t look at me, I will mess up.” (Of course, you will mess up. You are a human, the last time I checked).  Visionary, godly leaders says, “I take on the challenge to live in a Christ-like manner in all of my relationships and in all areas of my life. Will I mess up? Hopefully not often. But when I do, I will get back up and move forward, because that’s what Christ-like leaders do. Follow me, as I follow Christ

Dear church leaders, here’s an even bigger challenge: Could we say the same thing about your church to other churches? “Look at us. Not in an arrogant, ‘look-at-me-I’m better-than-you’ sort of way, but look at the way we operate. Audit our books. Notice where we spend our monies. How do we treat one another? Pay attention to how we care for the ‘the least of these.’ Are we investing in our community? What are our evangelism techniques? Look at what we are doing for Jesus and then do that. Follow us as we follow Jesus.”

Could we say those words? Could you offer that challenge to your surrounding churches or to other churches across the country? If not, why not?

“The times– they are a changin.” There are challenges from the left and right. Temptations are all around. People are walking out of churches and not looking back. Our society is becoming more and more post-Christian. Under our watch is the greatest decline in Christianity in America. Right now. It’s happening under our noses. The message of Jesus is being shut out. Can this post-Christian trend be turned around? What are we doing about it?

I believe the tide can turn. I believe God can work in America. I believe revival can come. How? Change occurs when Godly leaders personally and local churches collectively say, “Follow us as we follow Jesus.” Then actually living into those expectations. 

The six words our society needs church leaders to say: Follow me, as I follow Christ.  

Can you say it? 

Will you say it?

Don’t just say it, live it out. Follow me, as I follow Christ!

“IN FLINT” Longer than Any Place Else

As of May 1, I will have officially been at Flint Central Church longer than any of my previous churches. I’ve been around these parts for 8 years and 6 months. My next longest tenure was Lenexa (Kansas) Central Church, 8 years and 5 months. Apparently, I like “Central” churches. I suspect I will retire here. Lord (and congregation) willing. The good people of Flint Central church have put up with my silly stories, my head slapping, my high-pitched exclamations, my stories of Karla, my love of Michigan sports and all the rest of my antics longer than any other church. 

Maybe we should give everyone who calls Central Church “home” a medal. The “I-Survived-Rob” medals should not be made out of gold, silver or bronze, but the jury is still out on which medal type is appropriate. Should it be platinum to reward those who have endured my goofiness or tin to reflect my goofiness? Hmmmm….

A few years ago, I was going through some deep soul searching. There was some trouble and drama. Aging and dealing with dementia In-laws. Personal health issues. Church messiness. Kids too far away. You know the deal. Blah. Blah. Blah. Ugh! During that time, I prayed, “God did you call me to the city of Flint or to the Flint Central Church of the Nazarene or to someplace else?” Should I “like a bread truck, move my buns” or like an oak tree plant my roots deep, deep, deep in the ground?

We decided to plant our roots deep. I’m glad we did.

Like all storms, the sun was always shinning. I just didn’t see it. The clouds moved, many of the troubles passed and God’s faithfulness was new every morning. Now, I’m amazed at the transformation taking place in our church.

  • I love our pastoral staff.
  • I love our church board.
  • I love our office staff, facility crew, and tech people. They are the best!
  • I love what God is doing here.
  • I love the generosity displayed in our IMAGINE Initiative.
  • I love that our nurseries are being refreshed. After 25 years, it’s time. The offices too.
  • I love that there will be new signage around the building
  • I love that our kiddos will have a place to play outside. Central Park is coming in 2023.
  • I love that our debt will soon be gone and we will be able to better invest in Flint in 2024.
  • I love how the Spirit of God is moving in our services.
  • I love what Central church people are doing for Jesus outside of our church walls.
  • I love that God is calling young people into ministry.
  • I love that Jesus is not done with our older people. (Myself included. You don’t retire from the Lord’s Army. You re-enlist).
  • I love that the Spirit is drawing new people; they are staying and getting involved. 
  • I love our church. 

All this to say: thanks for putting up with me. I love you all and can’t wait to see what Jesus does next at Central Church.

Fine Print at the bottom of the page: Central Church is not a perfect church. There is no perfect church. I’m the pastor and I’m far from perfect (ask Karla). The Enemy is still at work. He’s no dummy. He can see the good things God is doing too. Don’t be surprised if that Old Snake ups the attack. He hates what’s happening. Drama and messiness could return. Personal health isn’t guaranteed. Family junk happens. That’s why it is vital for all of us to keep our eyes on Jesus. You can be sure that Jesus never disappoints. Greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world!

The Demise of CNN+ and the Church

Did you see the news that CNN+ (the streaming service established by CNN) stopped operations just weeks after it was launched? Hundreds will lose their jobs. CNN lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the ill-fated attempt to enter the streaming world. While spending all that money hyping the new venture, CNN+ was averaging just 10,000 viewers a day (not exactly a flood of viewers in our connected planet of 7 billion people). This may go down as a bigger blunder than the “new Coke” fiasco in the 1980’s. I was not one of the 150,000 CNN+ subscribers (they wanted 2 million in the first year). I had no skin in the game (in other words).  Whatever your opinion of CNN, there is value in looking at what went wrong. Clearly, I don’t know the inner workings of a media giant. From an outside observer who is interested in the long-term health of an organization (the church), here are a few of my takeaways:

1) Count the cost. 
I’ve written before if you are not failing sometimes you aren’t trying. Sometimes things don’t work out. You gotta try. But whew… you also have to count the cost. Unlike a media giant my church (and probably yours) can’t afford to lose thousands (let alone millions). It’s important to know the cost whatever the task. This is a good lesson for trustees or building and finance committees. 

2) Understand the need (and what is not needed)
Was CNN+ trying to scratch and itch that no one had? Apparently. Most people thought they could find similar content for free elsewhere. The need for a news streaming service, simply wasn’t there. This point will come into play most with our mission endeavors. Churches need to assess the community needs and determine what can and cannot be done to make the biggest impact on their city for Jesus.

3). Unity is Essential
CNN’s former CEO resigned in a scandal; other scandals have rocked the network; and a merger happened where the new CEO viewed the CNN+ reality differently than the previous leadership. Instability and upheaval could best describe life at CNN. All this to say, it’s a mess. Jesus was so incredibly right (duh) when he said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25). The equation is simple: Division equals death. For any organization to be successful (churches included), it must be united. The old line is still true: In Essentials Unity; In non-essentials liberty; In all things Charity. 

4) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Clearly there was a failure to communicate in this process. Some people must have known this was coming; knew the trouble looming; knew the errors made and details but the message either wasn’t heard or wasn’t spoken. In any event, there was a failure to communicate. In new ventures, in any changes, in any mission type endeavors communicate the happenings to the church body to the point you are sick of it. Communicate and over-communicate. There must be buy in from the church to the mission at hand.

5. The Church isn’t a Media Corporation.
File this under: “It’s so Obvious, why are you pointing this out?” The Church isn’t a media corporation, but we have the BEST NEWS. As such, let’s keep proclaiming Jesus using whatever tools our modern world provides (read: print, social media, texting, anything, everything) to proclaim the good, good news! We don’t need CNN+. Let’s participate with God Almighty making the Church+. 

Twas the Day after Easter

‘Twas the day after Easter, and this preacher is spent
my energy’s missing. It got up and went.

The lights are all off. The Sanctuary’s bare
The pews are all empty, not a person is there,

The nurseries are closed, the children are gone,
remaining are only cross pictures they’ve drawn.

The staff’s ready for jammies, and I in my cap,
Everyone’s dreaming of a long Nazarene nap.

When into the office there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.

Away from my chair I flew like a flash,
ran into the wall, what a terrible crash.

when, what to my wondering ears should I hear,
but Karla saying, you’re not done, my sweet dear.

My little old lady, will be mad as a whip,
The moment she reads this silly little quip.

The Attendance Queen listed all the people who came,
 she whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“There’s a Joe and Shirley, a Billy and a Bob!
All these visitors make my pretty head throb!
On, Johnson! On, Smith!
On, Jones and On Jack!
To the top of each page!
the folder is packed!
Now write away! Write away!
Write to them all!”

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
I have no time to question or wonder why?

Each guest needs a note or a visitor letter
From the pastor saying church would be better

If only you’d only come more than twice a year
My preaching has a story you simply must hear

The Savior loves you so very, very much
He’ll bless your days with His gentle touch. 

His eyes–how they love you! His hands, how strong!
His message is always, you truly belong!

So come every Sunday, unless you are sick
Then watch on-line and get better quick.

We want you here, as much as you’re able
Sharing bread and wine at the Lord’s table 

But If your next visit is for a candle to light
You’ll hear me exclaim,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

What NOT to say when inviting your friends and neighbors to Central Church for Easter Services.

This Sunday is Easter, which is a great time to invite friends, neighbors and family to church services. People are inclined to attend on Easter if invited. The easy method is simply this: 

“Hey, this Sunday is Easter. I love Central Church and know we are going to have a great service. I’d love for you and your family to join me.” 

(Bonus stars given if you add: “And how about coming over for lunch following the service.” In a moment of full disclosure, “bonus stars” are referring to nothing in particular. Not jewels in your heavenly crown or anything at Starbucks, it’s just nonsensical fun.). 

 Here is what NOT to say when inviting friends to Easter Church:

1. Easter at Central Church is like eggs sunny side up with grits and gravy. (What does that even mean?)

2. If you come to Central Church on Easter Sunday you are entered in a contest to win a giant Easter basket. (Umm… no one will win an Easter basket—large or small–  for coming to Central Church).  

3. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? The Beatles? Pavarotti? Adele? Tin-voiced, amateurs in comparison to our choir, band and singers!  We do have wonderful singers and musicians, but it’s not a competition. Those others can sing a little too.

4. Four out of five dentists recommend Central Church (that’s Dentine gum). 

5. Our pews are like lazy boys, only with no foot-rests; and they don’t recline or swivel; and there aren’t armrests unless you are on the end. OK… our pews are nothing like Lazy-boys, but come anyway.   

6. Get a picture taken with the Easter Bunny. Photo Booth? Yes. Easter Bunny present? No.

7. If you come to Central Church on Easter, Tax Day is delayed until Monday. (Tax Day is Monday whether your friend comes to Central or not).

8. If I fill a pew with friends on Easter, I get a giant Easter basket. (I thought we already established that no giant Easter Baskets will be given out for any reason).

9. Come to Central Church, our pastor is more hippity and hoppity than Peter Cottontail (I don’t believe that is true at all) 

10. Easter Sunday—if you ain’t at my church. You ain’t my friend. (Friends might respectfully decline your invitation. That’s OK. They are still your friend. Be kind, respectful and please don’t use the word “ain’t” in your invite.)

Ok… this is pure silliness. 

Inviting friends to Central Church for Easter Services is not silliness. Who knows? Your friends might join you, discover Jesus and be forever grateful that you cared enough to invite them to Easter Services.

The Results Are In (see declining church numbers): The Church Growth Movement and the Church Leadership Development Movement have failed. What’s next?

The Church Growth Movement didn’t produce lasting growth (the Church is in massive decline in America). The Church Leadership Development Movement hasn’t produced effective leaders. (See the aforementioned parenthesis about church attendance tanking and think of the vast number of ineffective “leaders” that you know). We need a new, effective model, if we want to build back the body of Christ.

Maybe, I know this sounds wild and crazy, maybe we should be putting our emphasis on disciple making. Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do in the Great Commission?  “Go and make disciples”? I almost wish Jesus hadn’t said the second part of the Great Commission (please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me for even suggesting such a thing). I wish Jesus hadn’t said the “teaching them to obey” part, because I think that’s where the disciple making hits a major snafu. 

Every believer knows we need to make disciples, the problem is how are we going to make them? Most Christian folks hear “discipleship,” and think “Teach them the Bible.” That’s what Jesus said, “Teach them to obey…” Fill their brains with Bible teachings, then they will be better disciples. That’s the thinking of most Christians, but is it correct? Is head knowledge, knowing the “dos and don’ts” of Christianity, the main thing? Is sitting in a class or memorizing mountains of scripture (as important as that can be), what “making disciples” is all about?

I suggest it is not (again please keep the rotten tomatoes to yourself). I am not opposed to learning the Bible. We need to read God’s word and get it deep in our bones. But I’m not sure head knowledge alone will make the kind of disciples we are after. Who were the most learned men of Jesus day?  Wasn’t it the teachers of the law, the high priest, the religious scholars?  They knew the Torah, like the back of their hand, but they missed Jesus. Could the same malfeasance befall us?

John in his first letter wrote this:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

Putting John’s advice into practical disciple making terms, the discipleship method we should strive for is not with words or speech (read: head knowledge alone) but “actions and truth.”  

Actions = serving. 
Truth = personal experience with the Truth (Capital “C”). 

How do we make disciples?  We serve with people. Some Christians. Some not. The far-from-Jesus people see and hear through serving (read: love with actions). They see and hear the Truth lived out through the relationships built into serving alongside one another. Over time, prayer and the prevenient grace of God, these far-from-Jesus people will be drawn to and encounter the Truth.

This approach is not down playing the importance of the Bible. The Bible, following serving, reinforces the Truth that people have encountered. The Bible is the word that points us to the Word. The Bible strengthens our resolve to serve more and better. The Bible is essential. But let’s start with serving. It’s being a living example of the Word and Truth, before anyone reads the word.

Serving leads to making disciples. Continued serving makes better disciples. How are we going to bring God’s Kingdom on earth? It happens through serving, not teaching, not preaching. Serving. We don’t need “servant leaders.” We don’t need to use the word “servant” as an adjective. We need “servant” to be a noun again. The next big thing needs to be the old, old thing: Making Christ-like servants. 

The Week Before Holy Week Job Description: Pray and Invite

Easter is less than two weeks away. Most generally, a pastor will tell you that Holy Week is one of the busiest weeks of the year. There are three extra services (Easter Jam, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) and of course, every preacher wants his/her Easter sermon to be a “home run.” We want everything to be perfect (as perfect as can be). The week is hectic, tiring, and demanding. But this week (the week before the week of Easter) is just as crucial. This is the week for prayer and invitation.

We need to pray. Pray for the services. Pray for the pastors, office staff, facilities crew, singers, musicians, tech people, ushers, greeters, (did I miss anyone? If I did, pray for them). Pray that everything we do is pointing people to Jesus. Pray that we are prepared to welcome and show our guests love. Pray that when people enter they will sense the Holy Spirit is at work and when they leave they will not be the same person that entered. That prayer, by the way, is not simply for the newbies walking through the door, that prayer is for all of us. Me included. Pray for a Jesus-led transformation! 

We need to invite. Lately, I’ve written a few blogs about the “rise of the nones” (those people that claim no religious affiliation); the increase in “de-constructionists” (folks walking away from the church or faith) and decline of the church in general. But here’s a secret: most people (even the aforementioned groups) are curious about Jesus. Most people like Jesus. (It’s hard not to like Jesus). What better day to invite them to hear about Jesus than Easter? It is the most Jesus-centric service of the year (every Sunday should be Jesus centered but Resurrection Sunday for sure must be).  

I’m convinced that God is not done in our world. I’m so ready to see some of our loved “none” friends flip into becoming “Jesus followers.” I’m dying for revival. TRUTH ALERT: God wants revival even more. As such, I’m convinced that God will give each of us opportunities to share and invite folks this week. So pray for God to open doors to invite people to church this and next week, then boldly walk through those doors with the love of Jesus. Make the most of the opportunities that God’s prevenient grace provides. 

Be a part of God’s redemption plan for our world. May his Kingdom come and His will be done in Flint (on earth) as it is in heaven. And may he use you and me to accomplish this goal!

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5