Pastors Use 'Passion' to Evangelize





Churches are renting theaters and inviting unbelievers to showings of The Passion of the Christ.
Compiled By Eric Tiansay

The best evangelism tool in the last decade may be coming out of Hollywood, of all places. In January, Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion of the Christ, was shown to an audience of more than 5,000 pastors and Christian leaders at the Global Pastors Network's Beyond All Limits conference in Winter Park, Florida.

The attendees who viewed the film, which will be released to general audiences on February 25, almost universally acknowledge it as an accurate portrayal of the final hours of Jesus' life.

G. F. Watkins, pastor of Powerhouse Christian Center, in Katy, Texas, is impressed with the cinematic quality of the film, as well as what he considers its undiluted portrayal of the gospel. Watkins plans to rent several screens at a local theater and encourage members of his church to invite unbelieving friends to see the film.

"Every pastor is going to be held accountable to God for what we did with this film," Watkins told Ministries Today. "If we're not prepared now to take advantage of this great movie, then in 10 days after the movie is out, we'll lose this opportunity to share the gospel."

"I've hated a lot of the Christian films that have come out," says Robby Weatherholt, president and founder of Lakeland, Fla.- based Youth Solutions, a youth ministry consulting service. "But, this is a movie that teenagers will walk away from and talk about."

Weatherholt also serves as youth pastor at First Assembly of God, in Bartow, Fla. He says the church plans to rent a theater and invite unbelievers to view the film.

Of the 200 young people that attend the church's youth group services, Weatherholt estimates that 90 percent are nominal Christians. "For the first time, people will see the true horror of the crucifixion," he says.

In spite of its warm reception in the Christian community, the film has elicited negative response from some Jewish groups who argue that it portrays the Jews as responsible for the crucifixion. They believe that the film is historically inaccurate and fear that it will encourage anti-Semitism.

Stan Kellner is a Christian Jew who attended the Beyond All Limits screening. The former director of church relations for the International Bible Society is currently the president of Sheresh Ministries, an organization dedicated to teaching the Jewish roots of Christianity.

While Kellner endorses the film, he notes that Jews and Christians have a long history of misunderstanding that requires sensitivity on the part of Christians.

"We as the church need to understand that there has been persecution of Jews in the name of Christ," he said. "The Jew of today does not believe that the New Testament is the Word of God. It's just written by man, and it's not historically accurate. In the Jewish mind, they think we're perpetuating lies. We take it for granted that this is the Word of God."

Several organizations have partnered with Gibson's studio, Icon Productions, to help churches use the film as an evangelistic tool. Faith Highway has created 30-second personalized TV spots (www.passioncommercial.com), including clips of the film, inviting viewers to visit a church and encouraging them to see the film.

Outreach Inc. (www.thepassionoutreach.com), the American Tract Society (www.atstracts.org) and the International Bible Society (www.ibsdirect.com) have also produced tracts and illustrated Bibles for unbelievers for whom the film elicits questions of faith.

STUDIES

Worldviews at Risk

Among both leadership and laity, a biblical worldview is quickly becoming an endangered species.

A little over one-half (51 percent) of Protestant pastors possess a biblical worldview, according to a recent survey from the Barna Research Group (BRG).

The research defined a biblical worldview as having a firm belief in six specific religious views:

Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is an unmerited gift from God; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

The survey noted that the nation's two largest Protestant denominations (the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church) reflected the widest breadth of difference.

Southern Baptists had the highest percentage of pastors with a biblical worldview (71 percent), while Methodists had the lowest percentage of pastors with a biblical worldview among the six denominational segments evaluated (27 percent).

Among the other segments surveyed, 57 percent of pastors of Baptist churches (other than Southern Baptists), 51 percent of pastors of nondenominational Protestant churches, 44 percent of pastors of charismatic or Pentecostal churches, 35 percent of pastors of black churches and 28 percent of pastors leading mainline congregations possessed a biblical worldview (American Baptist Churches/U.S.A., United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.).

Several unexpected findings of the survey include the relationship of education, gender, age, geography and race to biblical worldview. To read the complete study, visit www.barna.org.

NEWSBITES

"China Cry" Author Nora Lam Dies

Chinese evangelist Nora Lam, who pioneered missionary ministry for women, has died after suffering a massive stroke. Lam, 71, died Feb. 2, in a nursing home in San Jose, Calif.

"Nora Lam liberated thousands of women for missionary ministry, and she especially helped Christians respond to the needs of persecuted underground believers in China on many different levels," William Bray, who serves on the board of directors of Nora Lam Ministries (NLM), said.

"Most people probably think of her work only in terms of Bible distribution, evangelism, and support for persecuted house churches and Bible schools in China, but she was also very concerned for children and the humanitarian needs of Chinese people everywhere," adds Bray, who is a staff member of Christian Aid Mission.

Lam, who fled her native Shanghai as a refugee from Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution (1966-76), is best-known for her book China Cry, which chronicles her suffering under communist persecution. China Cry, which was turned into a movie, tells how Lam refused to deny Christ even while enduring physical abuse late in her pregnancy.

"While we are saddened by our mother's passing," says her youngest son, Joseph, vice president of NLM, "every one of us is still inspired by the life of sacrifice and service which she taught us to live."

"Nora Lam's life on this earth is over, but the work she started goes on," he adds. "We are still distributing Bibles, saving orphaned babies and helping persecuted believers."

Lam, who immigrated to the United States in 1966, is survived by three daughters (two of whom were adopted), two sons and seven grandchildren. A memorial service for Lam was held Feb. 24 at Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, with pastor Dick Bernal officiating.

EXCERPT

A Theology Of Change

How will the church survive? ... What must it do to bounce back and see sunny days ahead? ... To bounce back, the waterlogged American church must take three strategic steps.

First, it must reach America's new, developing generations with the gospel. It seems the church is forever playing catch-up. About the time it begins to make some inroads into one generation, another generation comes along and catches it by surprise.

Second, to reach these new generations, the church must develop a theology of change--which is one of the larger struggles that the typical church faces. Most churches have become accustomed to doing church a certain way and are change-resistant. Many of them are afraid to implement change because they fear they might drift into heresy. Still, others prefer the status quo. But every church needs a theology of change that will help them decide what can change and what must not.

Finally, the church must understand how the new generations think. Churches that find themselves behind the curve tend to be asking and answering the wrong questions that younger generations are asking.

Adding to this problem, the nation seems to be shifting worldviews--from modernism to postmodernism. Younger generations think and act differently. Thus, the church should investigate postmodernism to understand its questions and to learn from those who are reading the postmodern generation effectively."
Source: Aubrey Malphurs and Michael Malphurs, Church Next (Kregel, 2003)

CULTURE CLIPS

Agree or Disagree?

Here's what some leaders are saying about the issues that shape our world. What do you think?

Then What Is Important?

"Abortion and homosexuality are minor concerns in our church. The bell we beat is that we must know Jesus. We are offering people a different and better way to live than secular America offers." ­ Lon Solomon, pastor, McLean Bible Church, McLean, Va., in U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 8, 2003

Crumbling Society

"If conservative groups fail to rally around marriage as a core value of our society and nation, there will be little left for them to stand on when activist groups try to remove the few remaining foundational principles of our nation. And they will try. Marriage has traditionally been a fundamental building block of all stable societies. When it is undermined--whether by heterosexuals or homosexuals--societies crumble. People have rights in our nation, including the right of consenting adults to live together. They do not have the right to demand society approve of any and every relationship and provide benefits reserved for married heterosexuals." -- from "The Future of Marriage," by Cal Thomas, in Jewish World Review, December 24, 2003

Paranoid or Prescient?

"The Rev. Ron Singleton's door is always open. That way, when the Methodist minister of a small congregation in Inman, S.C., is counseling a parishioner, his secretary across the hall is a witness in case Singleton is accused of inappropriate behavior. (When his secretary is not around, Singleton does his counseling at the local Burger King.) Singleton has a policy of no hugging from the front; just a chaste arm around the shoulders from the side. And he's developed a lame little hand pat to console the lost and grieving. The dearth of hugging is 'really sad,' he says, but what is he going to do? He could ill afford a lawsuit." ­ from "Civil Wars," in Newsweek, Dec. 15, 2003

YOUR TURN!

To respond to these and other issues in the news and to interact with ministry colleagues, log on to www.ministriestoday.com and visit our Pastors' Forum.

POLITICS

Church Attendees Lean Right

People who attend church regularly are twice as likely to vote Republican than those who don't. This is the discovery of a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The December study of 2,528 people found 63 percent of voters who frequently attend religious services tilt Republican, while those who never attend church lean similarly toward Democrats, 62 percent.

The gap emerged in the 1990s and became clear in the 2000 election, when voters who attended religious services more than once a week voted for George W. Bush by a 2-1 ratio. Those who never went to services voted for Democrat Al Gore by the same margin.

Web Site Connects Christian Voters

An Orlando, Fla.area pastor has launched a Web site (www.thechristiancitizen.net) to help believers connect to their local, state and federal representatives, and keep Christian voters notified about important issues.

The Christian Citizen is "a tool" that seeks to help believers "fulfill their responsibilities to the government and God."Members sign up to receive e-mail notices when there is a national issue that is of importance to Christians. Embedded in that e-mail are links that allow users to give input to the appropriate government representative or agency.

Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland: A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., explains, "My vision is that all Christians in the United States who are online would have this easy, simple, direct way to respond to issues and that they would ultimately follow through on their convictions with their votes." He adds: "In America, we owe more than merely our taxes. We owe the government our guidance."

NEWSBITES

Hotel Owner To Ministers: Take a Break!

This B&B owner knows what ministers and their families need: R&R.

Paul Cowell, a former pastor, runs a 300-acre bed-and-breakfast, which he bought and offers to missionaries and ministers for free. He is also the founder of Christian Hospitality Network (CHN), which features Christian innkeepers from all around the world, many of whom have agreed to offer at least a 25 percent discount to pastors, missionaries and other full-time Christian workers during midweek and the off-season, when they are not as crowded.

"There is a great need for an organized network of Christian innkeepers," he says. "Burnout rates for Christian workers are incredibly high, and they need places of rest and opportunities for renewal."

CHN has more than 800 inns, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and even a few castles in Europe that participate in the program, which is free to join.

"Through this program, over a million 'room nights' are available annually for kingdom workers to rest," Cowell says. "Our goal is for you to enjoy the God-given gift of hospitality. We want to see you strengthened and encouraged, so you can remain mentally, emotionally and spiritually refreshed."

For more information, visit: www.christianhospitalitynetwork.org.

Teaching Bible in Public Schools--Legally

A retired Louisiana judge has helped to bring the Bible back to public schools--legally. In the last few years, Darrell White's efforts to return the Bible to Louisiana's schools has resulted in 14 school districts in the state offering Bible-curriculum courses as electives to their students.

"Nothing is more satisfying than the knowledge that Louisiana students are once again able to learn of the vital role that the Bible played in America's founding and our constitutional republic," says White, who was a trial judge in Baton Rouge for 20 years and is an advisory board member of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS).

Elizabeth Ridenour, a former paralegal interested in students' rights, is president and founder of the Greensboro, N.C.-based nonprofit organization. The NCBCPS has worked diligently to dispel the misconception that teaching the Bible in public schools is a violation of separation of church and state. A 1963 Supreme Court ruling determined that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities.

Since the NCBCPS launched in 1993, 243 school districts in 33 states have elected to offer Bible-curriculum courses as an educational tool, and more than 150,000 students have been allowed to bring their Bibles to class to participate in the elective course.

The 250-page Bible curriculum has overwhelmingly been adopted in 92 percent of the school districts where it has been presented.

"It's amazing to watch the reaction of citizens, especially school-board members, when they learn that over 90 percent of our founding-era documents are grounded in biblical sources," White says.

For information on the Bible-curriculum courses, call 1-888-BIBLENOW (242-53669), or visit www.bibleinschools.net.

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