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NOBTS: Prof — relationships reach the lost

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–It’s a theological issue that determines whether a church grows or a church declines: “whether or not they believe that people are lost,” Gary McIntosh, a professor of Christian ministry and leadership, said.

“[I]f people are lost, then they need to be found. If they’re not lost, then they don’t need to be found. That makes a big difference in how we do church.”

McIntosh, who teaches at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., spoke at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary while on campus for the annual meeting of the Great Commission Research Network (formerly known as the American Society for Church Growth).

McIntosh posed two questions to his audience: “Does God the Father still care about the lost? And do you still care about the lost?”

The professor said an incident on a family camping trip stirred him to a deeper level of thinking about lostness.

Following an argument with one of his sons, the son walked away from his family, leaving them in shock. The family expected the son to return for dinner but he didn’t.

The family knew their son had headed for a nearby town riddled with drugs and other dangers. “We prayed a bit, and we cried a bit and we hugged a bit, and I said, ‘I’m going to go look for him,'” McIntosh recounted. He searched for his son block by block, side street by side street.

“I was going to cover every inch of town, which I did,” McIntosh said. “Couldn’t find him.” He returned to the campsite and told his wife the news. The usual concerns ran through her head: Where is he? What would he eat? Who was he with? The more darkness deepened, the deeper the concern for their lost son.

At 10 p.m., McIntosh repeated his search, eventually leaving his car to search the streets on foot until after midnight. He returned to the campsite for more prayers, more tears, more worry, and no sleep.

“In my entire life, that’s the worst night of sleep I’ve ever received. I got an hour, maybe two,” McIntosh said. “… You just don’t know how badly I wanted to look out of our camper and see my son sitting in the chair by the campfire.”

In the predawn hours, McIntosh wondered if he would ever see his son again. Two hours later, he searched the town a third time. At around 11 a.m., he decided to sit in his car near a ferry landing and just watch people. Then, he saw his son leaving the boat.

“I came up behind him and called him by name. He turned and looked at me and I could see on his face, he was thinking, ‘What’s Dad going to do?'”

But, McIntosh said, the Holy Spirit provided the right words to say to the wayward son: “Are you hungry?” They went to a nearby pizza restaurant and talked “about nothing.” The events of the past 18 hours never came up. By the family’s checkout time, the son returned to the camp, ready for the journey home.

“The good news is we were able to reconcile our relationship. And the good news is, he walks with the Lord today,” McIntosh said.

For McIntosh, God has used the memory “in a powerful way” in understanding Luke 15’s three parables — the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. In each story, there is loss; then what was lost is found; and there is a celebration at the end. Particularly meaningful now to McIntosh is verse 20: The father saw his lost son a long way off and felt compassion and ran to embrace him.

“I’d read that story for years and never got it,” McIntosh said in his mid-November message at NOBTS. “The father was just like me…. The father was looking for him, just as I was looking for my son, hoping … maybe I can hug him … maybe I can reconcile with him.”

The parables of loss and recovery are evidence that God cares passionately for the lost, McIntosh said. “[T]hroughout Scripture, we are never the seeker. In spite of the good that seeker churches are doing … the seeker is always God.”

Turning to the question of whether believers care about the lost, McIntosh recalled the fervency of prayer when his son was lost. “My wife and I probably never prayed that much in our lives as we did that night,” he said.

“When do we pray like that for the lost?” he aside. “When do we pray with passion for the lost people in our neighborhoods, our towns, our friends and our family members? When do we pray for them with passion that they might be saved? … I’m afraid to say I don’t do that….

“When we pray, do we ask God for forgiveness for our lack of passion, our lack of compassion, our lack of taking the time to engage people?” McIntosh continued. “I looked intently for my son. Do we look intently to engage the lost? Do we look for ways to build relationships … to spend time with them? … Why do I have so much passion for my son, and I don’t have passion for the lost?

“The reason has to do with relationship,” McIntosh said, noting that research has shown that relationships are the driving force behind individuals coming to faith in Christ.

“Perhaps if we build relationships with people who don’t know Christ, then over time that relationship will also become a compassionate relationship, where we build such a close relationship with them that we desire to see them come to know the Christ that we know. And we will pray for them. And we will ask God to guide us and direct us. The answer is the relationship….

“When we have a relationship with somebody, we then have the right to be heard, and we are able to enter into evangelistic conversations with them appropriately. And that’s how people come to faith in Christ.”

STETZER NOTES KINGDOM’S SEGUE TO THE CHURCH — “This is the pivot point when Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God has birthed a church in its wake …,” Ed Stetzer noted in a message focusing on Matthew 16:13-20 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The passage is a key New Testament verse where Jesus “is talking about the church and He ties it together to the Kingdom of God,” Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, said in a chapel message at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Love the church,” Stetzer said. “The church is the sign and the instrument of the Kingdom of God.” He noted, “[T]he instrument, the tool, the vessel of the Kingdom of God today is your church and mine. It is the tool that God is using to proclaim the Gospel and to transform society so that His name and fame might be more widely known.” A full story on Stetzer’s message is posted at NOBTS’ website, www.nobts.edu/Publications/News/Stetzer11-09.html.

Stetzer was in New Orleans for the annual meeting of the Great Commission Research Network (formerly known as the American Society for Church Growth), Nov. 11-12 on the NOBTS campus.
Based on reporting by Paul F. South and Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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