West Monroe, Louisiana—2005
It was the day that the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina first began to arrive at our church. As I drove up, I remember thinking it was chaos…organized chaos, but still chaos. There were people everywhere, both adults and children, evacuees fresh from the trauma of the hurricane and church members eager to help. Some volunteers were bringing in cots and bedding, while others looked for ways to help the evacuees. Luggage of all shapes and sizes—whatever the people from New Orleans had been able to bring—was carried, held, or stacked in piles. Cars, trucks, vans, and buses filled the driveway and the street.
Once inside, I saw that the gymnasium was filled with families trying to set up some semblance of a space of their own, a refuge in the midst of tragedy—a sanctuary in every sense. Adults were trying to find a television so that they could hear the latest news from New Orleans, desperate for any scrap of information about the homes or the families they were forced to leave behind. The church office area was turned into a place for check-in and check-out, where needs were determined and decisions were made for how a person or a family could be helped. There were physical needs, emotional, financial, and of course, spiritual. Our church had become a Rescue Site.
We served over five hundred people—as many as we could fit in the church and many more in homes across the area. Most of those who stayed in volunteers’ homes still ate meals at the church and came to visit during the day. We fit as many beds and cots in the gym as it would hold, and then we filled up the small-group classrooms as well.
One of the biggest concerns was medical needs. We had to quickly determine if evacuees were so ill that they needed to be isolated from the others. We took many people to doctors and hospitals, and thankfully, most of the doctors offered free services and medicine. Our church provided three meals a day and clothing as needed while other churches of a variety of denominations helped by donating food and clothes. We set up portable showers, and when more were needed, we arranged a schedule for taking evacuees to other churches and schools to use the showers there.
The needs were immense, and as the days passed, it soon became clear that the evacuees’ stay would not be short term. They needed help locating loved ones, finding new places to live, and obtaining work. During this time, we helped with all of these needs and everything in between. One of the first things we did was to make televisions available so the evacuees could continue to be updated on the aftermath of the hurricane. They watched anxiously, soaking up everything they could find out about their homes, families, and community.
The children needed to be enrolled in daycares or schools. We did not have a full-time daycare, so we began searching for openings around town for the younger ones. The elementary children were easily placed in nearby schools, but the high school students were more difficult to place. I remember driving the youth and their parents to the schools to register, and I tried to see things through the eyes of these kids: they were taken from their homes with few or none of their possessions. Their parents were distracted with their own problems of providing for their children and deciding whether to make a home in a new place or try to wait and return to New Orleans. Some of these kids were away from their families and friends, others had lost them. They were hurt, confused, grieving, and unsure of their futures, and now they had to carry on with life in a new school. Small wonder that they looked so lost . . . it broke my heart.
Yet in the midst of this heartache and despair, God acted through his people in a mighty way. Our church members volunteered day and night, and more importantly, they ministered out of love day and night. We provided activities for the children and the adults. School buses were routed to pick up children at the church, and help was given to prepare parents as they went to interview for jobs. There were some great athletes affected by the storm who had been recruited by schools in areas around the city, and we made provisions to help get them where they needed to be. We tried to meet needs wherever we could.
Our guests were incorporated into our church activities and we treated them as family. In fact, our Wednesday night supper felt like an old-time reunion as the whole church joined together. We cancelled many of our regular activities and added specific programs to assist the needs of the evacuees and their families. People at our church did so many extra things to help that I will never know them all.
It turned out to be an unforgettable, life-changing experience for all of us. We weren’t just ministering to the evacuees; God was ministering to us. He was so real and close—we could feel him guiding us. Even though it was such a tragedy, Scotty and I both consider it one of the most important ministries of our lives. We learned more in this time than in any other about who God is. We learned how he works in the lives of people in times of intense fear and worry, and out of this he brings peace and love. Some of the people of New Orleans stayed in West Monroe, have made homes there, and now continue their friendships with the members of the church.
God gave us a great opportunity to live out the command of “Love your neighbor,” and when we allowed him to send us as workers into his fields, the result was a harvest of peace, joy, renewed commitment, friendship, and salvation.
Tragedies like Hurricane Katrina highlight the human need for connection, particularly in the darkest times—the God-placed need for comfort, peace, and relationship. The need for Christ. As Christians, we know peace and joy in a way that is difficult to put into words. We know daily what it means to have a loving Father who has sent his Spirit to comfort us when we are hurting or afraid. So why are we not sharing this gift, God’s love, with anyone who will listen? Why are we not shouting it from the rooftops?
The truth is, the lost and hurting are not just those coming out of a national disaster or a wide-scale tragedy. They are all around us. They are our neighbors, our in-laws, our servers at restaurants, our postal workers. They are our flight attendants or the people who bag our groceries at the supermarket or deposit our checks at the bank. They surround us.
If we are to live as Christians—as Christ followers—we need to understand how Jesus views the lost. We need to know how he has asked us to show our love for him. The harvest is ready—we need to pick up our tools and start bringing it in.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
– Luke 10:2
Do You Love Me?
The harvest field is one of many metaphors that Jesus used when teaching about the importance of showing God’s love to others. After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples for the third time and had an interesting conversation with Simon Peter:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”John 21:15-17
When you love someone, you want to serve that person. How do we serve Jesus? Feed his sheep! Jesus is not only instructing Peter, he is also teaching us through his Word. Simon Peter was good at boasting out loud of his love for Christ, but was he good at demonstrating his love in action? Jesus gives the point extra emphasis by asking his question three times. Although he knows the answer—and it frustrates Simon Peter—it should give all of us something to carefully consider: are we living out the love for others that Jesus modeled?
Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. How do we accomplish these things? As Christians, we can take on the characteristics of a Shepherd who will care for, guide, and spiritually nurture others to the safe arms of a Heavenly Father. Ministering to the hurting, showing compassion to the needy, and providing spiritual food from God’s Word . . . all of these actions show Jesus’ love. These should not be “things” we do, but rather who we are. We should not simply do love, but be love on a daily basis—God’s hands and feet, allowing his love to change our very identities from the inside out.
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome … (1 John 5:2-3)
So if we have been given the greatest gift in all of history—the saving love of God through Christ Jesus—and God’s greatest wish is for us to share that love with others, then what is stopping us? What is keeping us back? Why are we not feeding his sheep or working in his harvest fields?
It is not my responsibility – I’m not a pastor…
It may surprise you to learn that one of the main reasons why people never share their faith is because they do not think it is their responsibility. One term we often hear from pastors is the word “revelation.” For many people, both in and out of church, it comes as a revelation—an “enlightening or astonishing disclosure” according to Mr. Webster—that carrying out the great commission from God is not optional but a requirement for all Christ followers. This may explain why very few people in our churches are engaged in evangelism.
Imagine being one of the original disciples. Jesus had died, and he had risen from the dead, but they were not sure what to do next. He came to the disciples once again to give them his last instructions.
On a mountain in Galilee, Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples and gave them the Great Commission. It was not just for the original disciples, but also for all who believe in Jesus. There could be no doubt about who Jesus was because he claimed all authority in heaven and earth. Upon that authority, he commanded his disciples to carry out this mission to the world:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
- “Go”—Reach out to others
- “Make disciples”—Evangelize, make new believers, and encourage spiritual growth
- “Baptizing”—Help these followers identify with Jesus as a public profession of faith
- “Teaching”—Lead people to grow in faith and personal relationship with Jesus
After Jesus shared what he wanted his disciples to do, he made them a promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Even though he gave them a huge job, the disciples had hope because they knew Jesus would be there to help them. He commanded them to reach out to others, living a life of ministry and following his example.
What does the Great Commission mean for us today? It is interesting that the first command is “Go.” In the original Greek, the word “go” means “as you go.” When Jesus spoke, he assumed that they would not be staying still, but would be going. Reaching out to others should not be a planned activity, but should happen naturally and as a part of our everyday lives.
“Making disciples” states what should be the top priority in the church’s mission. “Baptizing” will come when those who have become disciples take the next step in publicly making a stand for Christ. The final command—“Teaching”—is the continuing task of the church. This process begins but never ends.
When we obey God by fulfilling the Great Commission and sharing his love with others, we grow in our relationship with him. By learning to give Jesus’ love to others, you acquire more of him in your own life.
A believer, but not a follower?
Some people hear of the Great Commission and think, “That command is for missionaries overseas.” However, Jesus calls all his followers to share the Good News of salvation throughout the world. His plan is for all believers to grow into disciples, following his commandments and example of evangelism. Mission fields can be across the world or very near home. There are people all around us who need Jesus Christ; often it is someone right next door. There are approximately two billion Christians in the world. What if each one were to reach one person for Christ, and then that person were to reach one more? As you can see, theoretically, if each one reached one in a year there would be six billion Christians—approximately the world’s population.
Sadly, many adults cannot correctly identify the Great Commission as the commandment of Christ to tell the world his story, and therefore, they do not have a clue what it means. We are losing ground, partly because we focus on the wrong things in church most of the time. Jesus never intended us to make the Great Commission so complicated—we have made it that way. It is meant to be ONE reaching ONE reaching ONE . . .
Let us quit playing church and be the church God intended. Are you ready?
Christ in ME
I have been crucified in Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
Christ sends us into the world so that others, in seeing our lives, would see him. We are his ambassadors—his messengers to the world. In some ways, this is a scary thought! I think about all the cars I have seen with Christian stickers on them, loaded with people who are screaming or making gestures at cars around them. We are all sinners and make mistakes daily, and it is okay to let others know we are human. The important thing is to let them know we have a Savior who forgives and loves us anyway.
As witnesses, our primary function is to make known and manifest the life of Jesus. If we wait until we are perfect to share the love of Christ, we will never share. Are you worried because you feel too imperfect, too flawed to serve as God’s ambassador? Consider Moses—when God called him to serve, his first reaction was to make excuses.
Moses felt inferior and ill-equipped to serve God. He told God that he had a speech impediment and he was not equipped to direct people or lead others. God promised to supply the help Moses felt he needed, telling Moses that he could use his brother Aaron for the speeches that God would ask him to deliver. God covered all of Moses’ excuses and needs. But, you know, I don’t recall one time that Moses was caught speechless and was unable to clearly relate God’s plans and instructions. Even though Aaron was there and available, God raised Moses up to the task he had asked of him, and God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.
God will supply your every need, but with God needs often disappear, and what you felt was lacking, you find God placed within you all along. Take heart—a flawed Christian sharing Christ is all that is needed. Trust in God for a good outcome. He specializes in using the most unlikely of candidates.
The greatness of the commission
There are several things that are really “great” about the Great Commission:
- We don’t have to come up with anything original—we simply deliver the message of God.
- We are being sent by God and he will enable us every step of the way.
- We don’t have to be alone; the Holy Spirit is with us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
- We will receive power to represent Christ. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Would it be easier if we received a commission from God the way Isaiah did? To paraphrase, Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne in the temple with seraphs (angels) above him. The seraphs were calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
At the sound of the angels’ voices, everything around began to shake and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah was struck with terror and cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). One of the seraphs then touched his mouth with a hot coal and spoke to him these words: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
Believe it or not, the story gets better—Isaiah actually hears the voice of God! Isaiah writes in verse 8: “Then I hear the voice of the Lord say, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
Consider this situation for a moment. If this had happened to you and God asked “Whom shall I send?” how would you have responded? Would you have said, “Well, I really have a lot to do this week,” or “I get really nervous when I talk to strangers” (remember Moses)? If you think of it this way, then any and all excuses seem “lame,” as the teenagers used to say. What excuses would come to your mind if God asked for volunteers this very moment? Are you ready to let go of your excuses and grab onto God’s commission?
Go, make disciples, baptize—it is God’s plan.
Following the attacks of 9/11, there was a noticeable spike in church attendance as people found themselves in a desperate situation in a questionable time. Many church leaders expected to see an intense spiritual reaction to the terrorist attacks and prayed that the new interest would continue. The sad fact that there was no lasting impact from the most significant act of war against our country, on our own soil, says something about the spiritual complacency of the American public.
Statisticians say that 89 percent of churches in the U.S. are not experiencing healthy growth, which is another way of saying church attendance is on a definite decline. The integrity of the average American has drastically dropped and continues to deteriorate. This is why we must take a bolder, greater initiative in affecting our community.
This book is designed to inspire, equip, and challenge you to commit the next twelve months to showing one unsaved or unchurched individual the love of God. In one sense, this is a small request. Surely each of us can commit to being a continually faithful, Christ-like friend to another person who needs to meet Jesus. However, this is a God-sized goal when you look at the statistics in the average church . . .
- Less than 12 percent of church attendees share Christ each year.
- It takes fifty-three church members to reach one lost individual.
- Only 2 percent of church members are committed to building the Kingdom of God.
God Sends a Word
One day during my time with the Lord praying and reading Scripture, I felt an urgent word from him about a particular passage. On that day, God burned Luke 10:2 into my heart and mind: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
When I read that verse, I knew my calling with ONE Focus was to help pastors gather more workers into the harvest. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to meet with the pastor of First West, Dr. John Avant.
“Scotty, God has impressed a passage on my heart to share with you,” John told me. “Luke chapter 10, verse 2.” God had sent my first confirmation.
A second confirmation came recently as I was on a flight from Nashville to Dallas. My seat assignment was a middle seat, the least favorite spot of travelers everywhere, so when I arrived at the gate I requested an aisle or window seat. The nice lady behind the desk checked her computer.
“There’s only one seat available of this type, and it’s in the very back of the plane,” she said. “It’s very loud, and there’s not any view.”
“That’s fine,” I told her. “I’m planning on reading my book anyway.”
As I maneuvered to the back of the plane upon boarding, there was a gentleman sitting in the window seat with a large cowboy hat on. This should be fun!, I thought. I introduced myself and told him I had upgraded to this seat.
“I had a middle seat, too, and asked to be moved,” he replied. (God’s intervention?)
The man’s name was Donnie, and as I asked him a few questions, I found out he lives in Canada. He is a missionary with the North American Mission Board, and he works with Native Americans in the U.S. and First Nations in Canada. What were the chances? Donnie was in Nashville because his father had just passed away. I believe I was able to encourage and minister to him as well.
Now, here is the cool thing that happened. At 10:02 a.m., Donnie’s watch alarm went off.
“The alarm is a reminder to pray,” he said. “The 10:02 time is for Luke 10:2—to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers to the harvest.” Another confirmation from God for me to stay the course!
We are now asking everyone who is a part of ONE Focus to pray at 10:02, either a.m. or p.m. Also, as of this writing I am in dialogue with Donnie about rewriting our ONE Focus material to minister to Native Americans all over the U.S. and First Nations in Canada. God orders our steps!
In Webster’s dictionary, the definition of harvest is to “gather in.” We must reach out and “gather in” the people with whom we come into contact daily—those with an emptiness that only Jesus can fill. It is not our responsibility to save someone from sin, but it is definitely our responsibility to share the love of Jesus. As they experience Christ’s love through us, the Holy Spirit takes over and does the saving part!
Unfortunately, as Jesus observed, the workers are few. Statistics from the Barna Group’s website and the books Retreat or Risk: A Call for a Great Commission Resurgence and Unbinding the Gospel list concerns in these areas:
- 98% of Christians have never led one person to Christ.
- Only 35% of believers feel it is their responsibility to share their faith.
- Less than 12% share Christ once a year.
- Less than .1% (that’s less than 1/10 of one percent) share Christ regularly.
- 53% of Americans are not in church on any given weekend.
- From 1991-2004, the U.S. population grew 15%. The number of unchurched adults grew 92%.
- 89% of churches are experiencing a decline in healthy growth.
- Only 18% of people surveyed said that completely understanding and carrying out the principles of their faith was their highest priority.
- Baptism in the United States is at its lowest level in 12 years.
These statistics state the problem before us. Things cannot continue as usual. Tradition and comfort cannot outweigh salvation and eternity. We must change and follow the simple and clear example Christ demonstrated in his mission and ministry on earth.
Jesus spent most of his time showing us what we would need to do. He was the master originator of “show and tell.” It is his plan and example that ONE Focus follows. It is his plan that you are encouraged to emulate through ONE Focus living.
The Importance of ONE
Excerpt from an article by Lillian Kwon on www.ChristianPost.com
Half of pastors would leave the ministry tomorrow if they could. Seventy percent are fighting depression and ninety percent can’t cope with the challenge of ministry. Those are the statistics Pastor Jonathan Falwell laid out to thousands of ministers who were in Lynchburg, Va., Tuesday for the “Refuel” conference.
Part of the problem, he indicated, is trying to make it to the big numbers and most influential lists or aiming for the most Twitter followers. “I believe that we have self-imposed measurements of success that are skewed, that are wrong,” said Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church—which is notably one of the largest churches in the country. “The measurements of success are all messed up,” he said.
While there is nothing wrong with the ‘Top 25’ or ‘Top 100’ largest churches or most influential lists, trying to make it to those lists has forced many pastors to focus on the masses rather than ‘the one.’
“Stop focusing on the ‘big ministry’ and the ‘big outreach,’” he urged, noting that ministers place too much pressure on themselves. “Start focusing on one person, one hurting person, who’s lost . . . who’s desperate to hear the Gospel.”
[. . .] he reminded pastors on Tuesday, “We have a responsibility to minister to the one.” And when pastors are faithful in focusing on one person at a time, Falwell believes God will then fill their churches with lots of ‘ones.’ So he encouraged them, “Don’t make it about the lists, the fame . . . the respect. Make it about the one.”
This is where you can help. God never intended for pastors to carry the sole responsibility of spreading the Gospel. Apathy in the church, in its membership, is a major contributing factor to pastors leaving the ministry. The task is overwhelming, and it cannot be done without strategic mobilization of every confessing Christian. Some reports suggest that 15 percent or less of Christians are actually practicing what they profess to believe. Christians are generally living for self and not for Christ. Will you commit to follow Christ’s example and let him show his love through you?
This is Love
At one church soon after the ONE Focus initiative was first underway, a man who had committed to take part was killed in a car accident. On the front seat of his truck was found a list of the unsaved people he wanted to reach with God’s love. The man’s friends took the list and began praying for the names on it. One of the names was the man’s father . . . who has since fulfilled his son’s wish by giving his heart and life to Jesus Christ. Another accepted Christ the day of the man’s death when he heard of the accident and an explanation of the list his friend carried.
God can bring triumph out of tragedy, and God can use anyone—even you, even me—to fulfill the calling he has placed on all of our lives. It is my hope that this book will encourage and equip you as you reach the world by reaching one.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:10-12)
ONE Focus Living – Real Life Testimony
Hey, I wanted you to know that my ONE—Jessica—accepted Christ today in Camille’s Cafe. She grew up in Tulsa but didn’t know anything about the Bible or Christ. She is a great, professional person, but she just didn’t know. I asked her to lunch about a month ago, and we had a great visit, and then I asked her where she was spiritually.
She started out by saying she had been to church a few times, but she just didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t feel comfortable. After talking with me, she said she really didn’t know anything about the Bible or the whole Christian thing. She said, “I always thought I kind of missed out on all that.”
I decided I should start at the beginning, that we should work our way through the Bible stories, which she said she would love to do. We did Creation and the Fall of Man, but this week they found out that her father-in-law has stage 4 cancer, and it doesn’t look promising. So today I told her I thought we should skip to the end of the story, and then go back and fill in the blanks, so they—Jessica and her father-in-law—would know about eternal life and how to find it.
She was very receptive and God’s timing was perfect. It was a blessing.
Thanks for encouraging us with the ONE Focus emphasis. I’m looking forward to finishing the Bible stories with her. Now I will be looking for another ONE!
ONE Focus Challenge
There are four commitments you need to make. Approach these prayerfully, and then be prepared for God to move in your life as you say, “Here am I—send me!”
- Commit to step out in faith. Will you reach the world by reaching ONE?
- Commit to pray. Will you pray for yourself, for the ONE you are reaching out to, and for God’s will to be done in your lives?
- Commit to love. Will you be intentional and faithful in showing the love of Jesus to your ONE as you become a genuine friend?
- Commit to equip yourself. Will you study the Bible, spend time with God, be involved in a local church, and feed your spiritual life with what you do, think, watch, read, and listen to?
None of these commitments should be taken lightly. Yet none of the four are simply suggestions. They are requirements for the follower of Christ, and you can have faith that you will not be doing this alone. As you draw near to God, and as you actively carry out his commission, he will prepare you for these tasks even as his Spirit guides you through them.
It’s a dark world. Get ready to hold your light high.
- Do you feel the Lord pulling on your heart to help bring in the harvest? What do you sense that he is saying to you?
- Do you feel ready to take a step of faith to reach others with the love of Christ? If not, what do you feel is holding you back? Pray that God would work specifically on this area in your heart and prepare you for the task that, as a Christian, he has called you to—showing the world his love.
- An accountability partner for ONE Focus Living is someone who will hold you accountable—and you will hold accountable—not only as you study through this book together, but also as you live out its message. Do you know someone who could be your accountability partner?
©2011 Scotty Sanders. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.