“What does it take to influence someone to commit his or her life for Christ? How much effort must be put forth to impact a life for eternity?” asks church consultant Michael Wiles early on in these pages. His answer (my version): A lot. But the good news is: Anyone can do it.
Michael Wiles. The Influence of Community. $12.00, 120p., ChurchSmart Resources.
(Full disclosure alert: I was editor for this book. Then again, who better to tell you what’s in here? :))
Although the focus of this book is squarely evangelistic, the emphasis is on letting our lives and our actions do the talking. Every person who’s met Christ has a story, he exhorts, and when it’s actually shared, other lives change as well.
Throughout these pages, Michael emphasizes the importance of simply investing into others — and faithfully keeping the commitments we make to them. The backdrop, and tangible illustration, for much of this is his brother Bishop Terry Wiles’ church in East Hartford, Connecticut, Crossroads Community Cathedral (Assemblies of God). Over and over, Michael emphasizes the church living up to its “middle name.” As he points out (after surveying more than 1,000 believers at Crossroads), 95 percent of those who gave their lives to Christ were first impacted by a lay person — an invitation to church, one-on-one relationship, or simply the love and acceptance by a person or group there.
All the while, however, strong biblical teaching was a huge factor. This is about seeker-friendliness, not seeker sensitivity. People visiting Crossroads, and other hurches Michael has counseled, were confronted with the real Jesus, not a watered-down version. It’s about community and commitment.
My favorite chapter, then, is the penultimate one, “The Impact of Presence.” I’ll let it speak for itself here (after which it’ll be no surprise why it’s my favorite). After walking us through the Model of Change — potentially either a cycle or a progression from pre-conversion to salvation, and then to discipleship or to relapse (in which case, back around again), Michael observes:
To get to the Relapse portion of the wheel you have to go through—or rather, skip over—Discipleship. If you ignore Discipleship, then Salvation will lead straight to Relapse.
It is my belief that many churches place at least some level of intentional effort on getting people saved, but almost no intentional effort on Discipleship. Without discipleship, many new converts will fall by the wayside. Many who get saved at our altars have no clue how to live a Christian life. They don’t know the power of spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study. They don’t automatically realize that they need to be fed the Word of God by attending church. If someone doesn’t take the responsibility to nurture these new Christians along, they’ll go back to their former ways of living.
Discipleship is a necessity. And the person who helped someone see the need to become a Christian is, in many cases, the person best suited to help disciple that person, since he or she already have a relationship with with person.
I’ve often said that the unwillingness of mature Christians to go back and help newer Christians walk through the same things they have is the missing link in the church today; and it was nice to see someone else say it, too (especially in a book I had the privilege to work on).
The book closes with a more expanded “secret” of church growth, which Michael refers to as TINDER — Teach the Word of God; Instill a burden for the lost; Never settle for status quo; Develop Leaders; Empower the Congregation; Remain faithful. I think this speaks for itself — and if not, you can always go read the fuller version.
Each of the book’s 13 chapters contains a series of reflection and discussion questions, which are great for helping either groups or individuals turn their thoughts into action. A small group or Sunday school class could do far worse than to work their way through this book over a semester.
The Influence of Community has a simple message, but if it’s heeded — and acted upon — that influence has the potential to go way beyond church leadership.