NEW ORLEANS (BP)–While Christians must remain connected to the head of the church, Jesus Christ, they must also rethink the way they interact with other Christians and the world, said Harold Bullock, founding pastor of Hope Community Church, a 23-year-old church in Fort Worth, Texas, that ministers to nearly 1,000 people a week and has sent out at least 75 church planters from its membership.
Bullock, whose contemporary-style Southern Baptist church is housed in a former bowling alley, was the featured Layne Foundation lecturer at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 25-27. The annual lecture series focuses on church health, a theme that underscores the seminary’s mission.
“The health of our seminary is determined by the health of the churches our graduates lead,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said in introducing the Layne Lectures series. “We are doing everything we can as an institution to raise up God-called men and women who can help churches learn to grow again.”
Church leaders, Bullock said, must teach believers how to maintain an ongoing connection with Christ while rethinking their efforts to evangelize and otherwise communicate with today’s unbelievers. “With a strong connection to the head [Jesus Christ] and to one another, we can develop a life that the world has never seen, a life that you are not afraid to bring your friends around,” he said. “And if we do some thinking, we can bore through some of the barriers that media have created [so that] the love of God can pour into the lives of people.”
Emphasizing that a Christian’s life comes out of a dynamic and continuing flow from Christ, Bullock continued, “We are not simply part of a religion where we meet together, we worship, we pray, we walk through different religious times of the year. We are people in direct connection to the living God.
“That flow of life is everything to us. Whenever you lose the head, you’re dead.”
Bullock told the seminarians, “As you lead, as you run programs, as you design ministries over the years, you need to try to handle things in such a way that people make the connection.”
Moreover, individuals need not just get saved and join the church, Bullock said; they need to learn how to walk with the Lord Jesus in “a thousand little bitty circumstances throughout [their] daily lives.”
Most Christians’ walk with Jesus Christ is pretty mundane, Bullock said. “We keep looking forward to the day that God will do something dramatic in our lives,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get up one morning and work a miracle. Or we’ll go somewhere, go on staff and then become incredibly famous. Or someone will really like us and write a check for a million dollars, because we blessed him so much.”
Instead of looking forward to some kind of dramatic event, however, a Christian’s connection to Jesus reveals itself in the many daily choices Christians face.
“The connection to Jesus Christ happens early in the morning when two people who didn’t sleep well get up and put on a pot of coffee and one of them does something that offends the other, and the grace of God stops the harsh words on the lips and grace is ministered to this other person instead,” Bullock said. “[It] happens throughout the day as men and women who walk with God have an opportunity in their work to cheat, to lie, to slander fellow workers, to talk about people behind their back, and choose instead to do what is right before God, because they know their Lord and he gives them the courage and faith in the little bitty circumstances to do what’s really needed.”
Noting that there’s no substitute for that connection, Bullock said, “It’s over time that that kind of connection — and all those little mundane situations — marks out a person as very, very different from this world and from our culture.”
In addition to maintaining that flow in their personal lives, Christian leaders must focus their attention on helping others learn to sustain that same flow, Bullock said. This often requires a process, not just a one-time encounter, which ultimately means that leaders must rethink how they do evangelism, he asserted.
He cited how several people went forward and “got saved” at a revival service, but when following up with them, discovered that almost none of them became born-again Christians. “They went forward because they wanted to get closer to God,” he said. “They really didn’t understand the gospel yet.”
Acknowledging that there is a point when people become true believers and the Holy Spirit enters their lives, and after that point life eternal is flowing, he continued, “It happens to people who really do business with Jesus, not just those who raise their hands or those who pray a prayer.”
Bullock recounted a time he presented the gospel to a questioning single mother who responded, “Do you think I can really believe this?” He replied, “I think, after you do enough investigation, that you will,” to which the young woman said, “I really hope so, because it would be so wonderful if Christmas really meant something this year!”
Bullock said his heart went out to the single mother. “It would be really tempting to say, ‘If you would only believe,’ lead her in a prayer and declare her born-again, but if you’re not reasonably convinced in your mind, then a leap in the dark will not land you in the lap of Jesus,” he said.
“We need to have integrity in our evangelism with people and it usually involves a process,” Bullock said. Acknowledging that God works instantaneously in some people’s lives, he continued, “We cheapen it whenever we rush them across the line before they meet the Master.”
You need to be able to allow people to back up if they need to and let them watch you as you live a life of integrity before the Lord, Bullock said. Like a child who is learning to eat, potential believers have to see it in action before they attempt the challenge themselves, he said.
Modeling a life that is connected to Jesus is necessary to counteract the way the media presents the church, Bullock continued, sharing about a prospect he once reached out to with the message of Christ. “I don’t want to be like one of those Christians on the Simpsons!” the woman responded. Noting that the woman’s frame of reference about Christianity was formed by a secular prime-time cartoon, Bullock urged the seminary audience to be a people of integrity in the face of people’s perceptions that Christians are liars and hypocrites.
He told of another lady who labels certain churches as “spider” churches because they look good on the outside, then once a person gets on the inside, they get caught and “get stung real bad.” Too often, he said, Christians are trying to destroy each other, thereby affecting their witness to unbelievers.
Christians need to treat unbelievers — and each other — with kindness, compassion and understanding, Bullock said. “We need to genuinely care for them — and they need to know that.”
Christians need to understand where unbelievers are coming from, Bullock said. Understanding their point of view will affect the messages and even the architecture of buildings, he said.
In addition to preaching practical messages that reach issues unbelievers face, Bullock suggested that church leaders look at their building structure to see if it attracts or hinders guests.
He noted that the foyer of his church is a long passageway lit up by antique-looking lampposts, with storefront-style meeting rooms that are painted to resemble historic Fort Worth landmarks. Right away, visitors warm up to the church because of the way it looks, he said, and are more apt to hear his message.
In constructing events, his church leaders consistently think about the language and methods they use, attempting to always find connecting points for worldly guests. He uses contemporary worship, a casual atmosphere and modern-day translations of the Bible, all to help today’s unchurched generation understand the message of Jesus Christ and the importance of living a life connected to him.
“The challenge is up to us. We ought to speak in a clear manner,” he said. “And we have to present ourselves as trustworthy so that they will listen.”
Unbelievers will listen, he conceded, if Christians will remain connected to the head of the church, following his leadership and guidance.
“We have a great challenge before us,” Bullock said. “What’s more encouraging is that we have a great God!”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HAROLD BULLOCK.