It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s Coming

The title of this post is a spin-off of S. M. Lockridge’s sermon “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” In that sermon, Pastor Lockridge is encouraging those who are discouraged by the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion to look forward to Sunday. Because on Sunday, everything is different. In this post, I also want to challenge you to look toward Sunday, but for a different reason. But, before looking forward, let’s look backward.

How was church yesterday? is a common Monday morning question among Christian friends who attend different churches. Typically, what is meant by this question relates to how much that particular individual enjoyed his or her morning at church. It may solicit an evaluation of the sermon, the music, the crowd size, the fellowship, or even the temperature in the building.

I want to look at the question from a different angle. How was church yesterday (or last Sunday) for the visitor who didn’t know anybody there? The new person in town who was invited by the highway billboard that promised “A welcoming and friendly atmosphere.” The lonely person who responded to the 30-second television advertisement with b-roll clips of people happily engaged with others as the soothing voice described the warm fellowship that happens at your church. The one who found your church on a Google search. A Google search done not so much out of interest, but desperation because of his/her life is caving in?

Regarding the experience of visitors many church consultants think in terms of convenience. Here’s a list of focus points provided by Jayson D. Bradley (sponsored by Pushpay):

  1. Signage
  2. Presentation software
  3. Giving software
  4. Service planning software
  5. A plan for capturing visitor’s contact information.

All of those certainly have value. However, that list has a glaring deficiency. What is missing? The personal touch from real people. And here, I don’t mean the happy people dressed in logo shirts standing next to the entrance. I mean regular members … the people who show up week after week, but aren’t on the Impressions Team. The regular people.

Let’s go back to that visitor’s experience at your church. Did that person feel the warmth that others describe as the normal experience at church? Did anyone express a genuine interest in that person? Or, did you pass them in the hallway as you raced to see your friends? This scene is all too common in churches today. Friends huddled together, fellowshipping with each other as visitors try to find their way in this new environment. Sometimes those visitors are committed Christians who are seeking a new church and basically know the lay of the land. In other cases, the new person may be uninitiated in all things church and are simply looking for God. If that person wanders into your church, what will they experience? Will they walk away saying, “No one was interested in me.”

It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s coming. Looking toward Sunday: How can you help visitors experience what the advertisements say they will find at church? People – even “uninteresting” people – are interesting … if you slow down and talk with them. Everybody has a story. Who – that you didn’t already know – did you initiate a meaningful conversation with in the last month?

This Sunday, will you commit to finding someone you don’t know and start a conversation with them? I don’t mean the “Hi! My name is Craig, it’s nice to have you today” then spin on my heels and walk-away conversation. I mean the conversation that attempts to know them in some meaningful way. The conversation that recognizes them as people, not as a cog in the evangelical church wheel.

You can’t have a conversation about Jesus unless … you have a conversation. #TalkToSomeoneThisSunday

The Little Things Matter

In certain of my courses I assign Bible memorization. The goal and requirement of these assignments is “word perfect.” In this context, “word perfect” means the words appear exactly as they do when you read them in a published Bible. Each mistake (e.g., missing word, additional word, wrong order) reduces the score by ten points, and five mistakes is the maximum allowed. If a student makes more than five mistakes, their score is a ZERO. Thus, the possible grades for this type of assignment are 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, or 0.

The above explanation seems fairly simple and straightforward, but students often offer push back. Sometimes they wonder why five mistakes is acceptable and six is not. My answer: Even five mistakes is not acceptable; word perfect is the goal. And, although six mistakes is only one more than five, there is a certain point at which the student simply didn’t get enough correct to warrant credit or demonstrate any level of mastery. And, five mistakes is where I draw the line. While feeling “unfair” to those who make more than five mistakes, the above system seems to offer a measure of grace while still expecting perfection; i.e., it allows some points for mediocre, even poor performance. Yet it still requires the student to produce something.

The most interesting push back, though, is from those scoring 90, which means they made only one mistake. Frequently, the complaint is, “It’s just one word.” I understand the point they are trying to make, but I’m not sure they understand the point they are actually making. To whit: “one word does not matter.” Granted, all mistakes are not equal. But since this is a training exercise and the goal is perfection, all mistakes are treated equally. One must also remember that this is God’s word the students are memorizing, so forgetting or adding one word can be critical.

On a trip to Israel in 1995, my flight boarded but was delayed. A fifteen minute delay turned into a three-hour delay, before the flight was finally rescheduled for the next day. As the captain made the announcement of the cancellation, I was standing in the doorway beside an Israeli man whose countenance dropped to the floor upon hearing the news. I tried to cheer him up by saying (in Hebrew), “Don’t worry, they will give us a nice halon.” His puzzled look, puzzled me. He didn’t say anything; he simply turned and walked away. We deplaned and were bused to the hotel the airline had provided for us. I didn’t think anything more of the oddness of my “conversation” with the Israeli man until I saw him at breakfast the next morning. Immediately upon seeing him, it occurred to me what I had said. What I intended to say was “They will give us a nice hotel” (malon). What I actually said was “They will give us a nice window.” No wonder he looked puzzled. Embarrassing, to say the least. Oh well, sometimes a mistake is simply a mistake and amounts to nothing … but a little awkwardness or humor. On the other hand …

I once read an evangelistic blog article that was making a good argument for trusting in Christ, until … “all you have to do is except Jesus.” What she meant was “accept,” which means to “consent” or “receive.” What she actually wrote, “except,” essentially means the opposite, “to exclude.” But, it’s just one word; in fact, it’s just two letters. However, those two letters can make all the difference … in eternity.

Palestinian Muslims Converting to Christianity

Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank

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This document is my PhD dissertation, which is ©2014 University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.

It should be cited:
Dunning, CA 2014, “Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank”, PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

Interviews about the contents of this document can be obtained by contacting Prof Craig Dunning at (817) 461-8741, ext. 143.

ABSTRACT
This thesis provides the findings of an explanatory case study that utilized elements of ethnographic research to discover effective evangelistic methods being practiced among Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank. With the assistance of gatekeepers, twenty-four former Muslims were asked to explain how they were evangelized, with a particular focus on evangelistic methodology, the barriers to faith the respondents encountered, solutions to those barriers, and motivations to consider conversion.

This qualitative study follows the research model of Thom Rainer (2001) by asking those who have actually converted to describe the things that were helpful in the process of their coming to faith. For a theoretical framework it utilizes a nuance of McKnight’s (2002) theory of conversion with an emphasis on crisis providing an intersection of the natural and supernatural for the purpose of conversion.

This thesis investigates examples of effective evangelism within the context of the West Bank, giving thorough consideration to Palestinian Nationalism and Islam as overarching cultural influences. It considers fruitful practices being practiced globally among Muslims, comparing those with what was found being practiced in the West Bank. The advocates represented in this report were primarily Palestinians born and raised in the West Bank, with the exception of three messianic Jewish Israelis and an American missionary. Additionally, they were evangelicals who generally utilized a contextually sensitive, traditional mission approach rather than an Insider model.

The end result is a knowledge base that can be helpful for future evangelism of Muslims in the West Bank or other similar contexts.

Words: Improving my use of them

“Words can sometimes be a poor form of communication, but they are the tools that we have to work with.” – Barry Rubin, You bring the bagels I’ll bring the Gospel, 1997:93

I’m jealous of the way certain people use words. They make it look easy to paint a picture with words; beauty seems to simply flow from their keyboards. I know that some people do have a natural flair for communication, but communication with words is also a skill that can be honed into a craft. And those that make it look easy, usually have worked hard at honing their craft.

Some of the suggestions I’ve seen for improving writing skills are to spend significant time reading good writers, and then to write more. A friend once justified the time he invested in reading Sports Illustrated by saying “they have good writers.” I think he was serious and it seems to have helped because he is an effective writer and has been published by others.

So, even though I’m not much of a New-Year’s-Resolution-Type, one of my goals this year is to improve my writing. I have a few writing projects I intend to work on, which include some journal articles and other derivative works from my dissertation.

What are some of your plans for this year?

Too Good to be True Rental Phones

Shortly before my recent trip to Israel, I was made aware of TalknSave, a company that rents phones to tourists for an unbelievable [to me] price of $5 per day. That $5 per day provides unlimited calls to/from phones in Israel, Canada and the United States.

Having lived as long as I did in Israel, I was skeptical of the offer as being too good to be true. However, rather than dismiss it altogether, I contacted the company and started an interesting “you gotta prove it” relationship with Elie Mamann, the company rep.

I explained my reluctance, which was based on typical Israeli marketing of large promises followed by zero customer service. Eli had heard the same reluctance by others, and he confided that he, too, was skeptical before he began working with this company. He assured me that the service was everything promised or he would not work there. Of course, that sounds like all the other “trust me” sales pitches I have heard in Israel. However, he said one thing that gave me enough confidence to give it a try: “I’m from North America, so I know what you have in mind regarding customer service.”

He convinced me, … sorta. I’m afraid I’ll be eternally skeptical of salesmen from that region. But, I told Elie that I would give him a try … and if the service is all he’s made it out to be, I promised to be his biggest supporter. On the other hand, if the service was fluff, I would be a megaphone warning others to stay away.

The result of our group’s use of TalknSave was total satisfaction. Elie provided all the personal service he promised, including meeting the group at the airport to deliver the phones at the bus. They also provide pre-paid mailer envelopes and a drop box at the airport for ease of return on the way out of the country.

We had 15-18 people rent the phones (a few different plans), and all were completely satisfied. We also had a few bring their home plans for various reasons. Some were happy with the home plan decision, even though they likely paid more. Those that brought Verizon service were sorely disappointed. Verizon agents may tell you that they provide service in Israel, but members of my group (and a previous one, too) found out that isn’t true.

I know that some will wonder, “what’s the use/need of having a mobile phone while touring Israel?” Here are some of the benefits:

  1. A growing number of tourists are on vacation, but still managing things back at the office because of the instant contact culture (calling, texting, surfing) that we are moving toward. These phones offer unlimited, instant contact at a very low price.
  2. Most tourists’ families are unaware that when they hear news of rockets coming into Israel, those rockets aren’t landing in every location. These phones offer unlimited calls that might be helpful in assuring folks back home that things are okay.
  3. In the case that something serious – like war, or the Arab Spring, or hospitalization – happens, these phones are an inexpensive way to be in touch with people back home. That might be helpful for the tourist and their families.
  4. As the group leader, my phone gave me an inexpensive way to be in touch with the guide, driver, and other people I needed to reach.
  5. Tourists aren’t always where they are supposed to be. Those that had phones were easily located. 

Be aware that there are different plans available, including data and text plans. For those that want to take their own “Smart Phone,” a SIM card is available in this plan. Also, groups (10 or more) get some perks that singles don’t, so it’s wise to order the service under a group name, which can be arranged by calling Elie prior to ordering.

If this recommendation interests you at all, whether you are a single or group traveler, please call Elie Mamann at 212-444-1503 or 1-800-941-4909. Tell him that Craig Dunning recommended you do so.