he year my family bought our dream home I wanted to
teach my kids that it was only on loanGod was allowing us to live in it for a
In my fist, I have a dollar, I said, assuming an air of Father Knows Best. I
held a bill in each hand with just the edges sticking out.
If you can take this dollar out of my hand, its yours, I told them. An offer
of free cash is usually high motivation for children.
They grabbed the exposed corners of the bills and yanked. The more they
pulled, the harder I squeezed. The bills were almost torn in two, but I managed
to hang onto them.
Wait! I said, my lawyers instincts kicking in. Ripping a dollar bill is a
federal offense. Instead of going for strength, lets go for speed. Then I held
my hands palms up with a new dollar resting in each.
If you can grab the money before I close my fists, its yours. My kids, with
amazing speed, grabbed those two dollars from my open hands.
Guys, do you see how ugly those first dollars are? Look what I have done to
them by holding them so tightly. I said. These dollars represent our house. God
gave us this new home to enjoy for a while. But there may come a time when God
says, Hold that with an open palm and give it back. If we squeeze a dollar with
a clenched fist, it becomes ugly and detestable in the eyes of God. If we hold
it with an open palm, it stays beautiful in His sight.
From courtroom lawyer to street preacher in two years, said Randy Singer,
describing his recent journey of faith. Four years ago Randy left his position
as a prominent lawyer in Norfolk, Virginia, and moved to
Atlanta to serve with the North American Mission Board.
Two years into his new job, a downtown-witnessing encounter grew into a
weekly soapbox gig. Randy believes all Christians can share their faith where
they are. Thats why he had always buttoned down his collar and told his lawyer
pals about Jesus. And thats why he now dons jeans and a T-shirt and heads to
Atlantas Five Points plaza on Wednesday nights, pulling his wheeled trashcan
pulpit, karaoke boom-box and giant speakers.
Randy has found that the needs of peoplelawyers and addicts alikeare the
same. Everyone needs a relationship with Christ.
Here are some lessons he has learned that may help other on mission
1. People want to know God is real and He can meet their
needs. When witnessing to his law firm colleagues, Randy tried to
remove some of the intellectual barriers to belief. On the streets, his focus
is more emotional and needs-driven. Some of the people he meets are on their
way to getting their next drug fix. They need to hear that a loving God cares
about issues like homelessness and addiction.
2. Engage your audience. Be interactive and flexible. What
have you done with the claims of Christ? Randy asks, and his next words will
depend on the crowds response.
3. The message is more important than the messenger. On the
street, pedigree is unimportant. The Word of God has validity on its own.
4. Go beyond your comfort zone. Randy stands and preaches
in an area of town that he used to bustle through in shined shoes, keeping his
eyes on the ground to avoid annoying panhandlers. Now he works hard for that
eye contact, and hes noticed that methods that were a stretch for him are
giving him new opportunities to share Christ. Once you do it, God honors
5. The fear of rejection never goes away, so accept it.
Randy feels it every time he sets up his microphone and begins gathering a
crowd. Even when he shares the gospel one-on-one, the fear is there. It never
gets comfortable. You have to choose to do it anyway.
6. Expect persecution. Whether you are shunned by
well-to-do colleagues or reviled by down-and-out hecklers, if you stand and
tell others about Christ, somebody isnt going to like it. A Christ-like
response to persecution gives your message credibility, so welcome it as an
opportunity to glorify God.
7. Dont be discouraged. In his law firm, people acted like
they were listeningeven if they werent. On the street, people walk away, fall
asleep, holler abuse or even shake their fists. Randy has learned not to be
offended when it seems the Word is falling on deaf ears. He knows that someone
out there may be hearing the life-changing message of the gospel, possibly for
the first time. Randy Singer (right) shares with Craig Watson in downtown
8. The guy with the microphone wins! The power of the mike
is an amazing phenomenon. Amid the cacophony in a bustling plaza where hundreds
of pedestrians mill about, changing buses or subway trains, a person with a
microphone can attract a hearing.
9. Believe you are making a difference. One evening a
well-dressed man walked up to Randy and said, You dont remember me, do you?
Randy admitted he didnt recognize the man but asked him his story. Three months
ago, I was living on the streets, he said. I had no car, no home, no job and no
money. Looking at the mans neat appearance, Randy was amazed he had come so
far. I asked you what God could possibly do with a man like me. You prayed with
me and I rededicated my life to the Lord, the man continued. Now, I am dried
out, I have transportation, a job and a place to live.
--Connie Cavanaugh, Cochrane Alberta
When my kids looked at me, I knew Id gotten my point across.
Dad? they asked.
Can we still keep the dollar?
I look at the challenges facing the church today as we reach out to North
America with the gospel, and heres what I see:
The challenge of the pulpit is the challenge of the clenched
fist holding tight to the ministry instead of allowing the ministry to be
empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The challenge of the pew is the challenge of the clenched
jaw, thinking that pastors or missionariesanyone but mewill share the
The challenge of the people groups is the challenge of the
clenched arms that exclude cross-cultural fellowship with people
outside our own group.
The apostles of the early church, in Acts 8, never held with a clenched
The power of the Holy Spirit.
The importance of lay leadership.
The unifying potential of cross-cultural ministry.
So often in our churches we dont want to let loose the power of God because
were afraid it will turn out to be a fraudlike some TV evangelists we have
seen. But we cant let a few counterfeits keep us from unleashing the authentic,
life-changing, transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our churches.
Were so afraid things will get out of control in our churches, John
Yarbrough, vice president, Evangelization, North American Mission Board,
recently said in a sermon. Were holding so tight, our fists are clenched,
because we dont want to lose control. Maybe its time things got out of our
control. Maybe its time the Holy Spirit took over.
Were not talking about laughter in the aisles or barking like a dog. Were
not talking about charismania. Were talking about the authentic power of the
It is said that Thomas Jefferson put together his own New Testament entitled
The Life and Morals of Jesus, in which he edited out all the miracles
performed by Christ. In some of our churches we also cut out the miraculous
because we are not willing to let loose and let God take control.
When was the last time something happened in your church that could only be
explained as Gods awesome hand at work? When was the last time you tried
something in your church that people thought was crazy but ended up being easy
through the power of the Holy Spirit? Thats the message of Acts 8.
re we, the church, clenching the power of the Spirit
so tightly in our fists that it resembles a crumpled dollar bill?
Lately Ive been studying history, specifically the time period after the
Revolutionary War. The largest denomination in the colonies at that time was
Congregationalist, claiming more than 20 percent of churchgoers.
Where were the Baptists? They were far behind.
My study revealed that in a 25-year period the Congregationalists declined
from 20 percent to only 5 percent of churchgoers. What happened?
The Congregationalists were too satisfied with the fact that they were
growing in membership, according to The Churching of America:
1776-1900 by Roger Fink and Rodney Stark (Rutgers University Press 
1992). They failed to realize the general population was growing much faster
than their rate of growth until the first year their membership actually
declined. But by then it was too late.
The first year the membership of the Southern Baptist Convention actually
declined was 1998. Are we destined to repeat history? I hope not.
What mistake did the Congrega-tionalists make so that within 25 years they
fell to 5 percent and Baptists took their place of leadership? Adam Smith, in
The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library  1937), wrote:
The clergy of an established ... religion frequently became men of learning and
elegance ... But, Smith continued: All the arts of proselytizing ... are
constantly on the side of the [upstarts].
In 1853 only 100 out of 2,000 Baptist clergy had been educated beyond grade
In short, the well-educated clergy entered a prestigious, full-time
profession with a variety of career opportunities, whereas the uneducated
clergy answered a call from God ... to serve the local church in saving souls,
Fink and Stark reported.
Pastors, are you squeezing your calling? Is it just a career? Are you
looking for a bigger church, a better opportunity? Have we, as pastors,
clenched our fists around the calling of God? Are we squeezing it so tightly
were no longer trying to save souls?
The second point Adam Smith made was related to this challenge: Are you
holding tight or are you freeing up the lay leadership?
Among the Baptists the local preacher or farmer-preacher was often a man of
local origins. It was not uncommon for more than one member of a congregation
to receive Gods call. Those not selected to fill the local pulpit had to seek
one elsewhere, typically by starting a new congregation. The result was a
generous supply of clergy to fill any available slot. The Baptist
farmer-preachers attracted the people because they were the
If pastors will release church
members to minister, God will bless the church like Hes never blessed it
before, and the Baptists will be the Baptists again!
he challenge to the pew is this: Do you have a
clenched jaw? The biggest challenge for our church is that only about 10
percent of the people in the pews are actively sharing the gospel.
Weve got to unleash the other 90 percentthe silent majority. And the way we
do that is to take a page out of Acts 8 and duplicate what Philip did with the
Ethiopian eunuch: He took the mystery out of the gospel.
The ecclesiastical mystique, which says only pastors and
missionaries are supposed to win souls, must die.
The theological mystique, which says only those with the gift of
evangelism can tell others, must end.
The conformity mystique, which says we must use evangelistic
formulas that others find offensive, must end. Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch
right where he was.
We have to unleash the 90 percent in the pews. We must stop believing that
its somebody elses job to share the gospel. We must unlock the clenched
jaws of the folks in the pew.
he final challenge is that of the clenched arms of
fellowship: The challenge of reaching the people groups. Where did Philip go in
Acts 8? Philip the layman went to Samaria.
In biblical times Jews considered Samaritans to be despicable half-breeds.
They saw a race different from their own, a race that had sold out their Jewish
faith. But when Philip saw the Samaritans, he looked through the eyes of Jesus
Christ. He did not see race or color. Philip went to Samaria because Samaritans
needed the Lord.
We need to reach every people group in the United States. Heres the good
news: ethnic churches are growing.
In a sustained effort since 1990, the number of new Hispanic Southern
Baptist churches has grown one and a half times as fast as the Hispanic
The number of new Korean Southern Baptist churches has grown twice as fast
as the Korean population of the United States.
The number of African-American Southern Baptist churches in this decade has
grown six times as fast as the African-American population in the United
Heres the bad news. Separate but equal is not equal.
And separate but equal is not biblical. We must not only increase the number
of church plants among ethnic groups, but existing churches must make every
effort to become intentionally multi-cultural. Our churches must reflect the
heart of Christ and the rich diversity of their local culture. If we dont
unclench the arms of fellowship in Southern Baptist congregations and become
cross-cultural and multi-cultural at the local church level, then we are still
in the days of segregation as a denomination. If we are going to reach
North America, our Samaria, thats the only way we can do it.
Randy Singer is executive vice
president of the North American Mission Board.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC