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Bob Roberts: I think cool is out. I think hype is over. People are looking for real. I don't care if you're big or you're small, they're coming to encounter God. They're looking for what's real. I think that's the biggest thing. And I think if pastors can lean into it, it's a very freeing thing because it allows you to be real.
Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? My guest today is Bob Roberts and the subject is the small church in God's mission. Bob has a guest whose bio is hard to pin down, pastor author, global strategist and more. But he has a heart for Jesus, for the gospel, for people, and for the role of the small congregation in fulfilling God's mission. In this conversation, Bob and I talk about all of that in more in a freewheeling way that will have something for every church in every church leader.
And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question. Can this work in a small church?
Let's keep that conversation going because how do I, how do you categorize what you do? I read somewhere recently. What was it? They called you a modern-day missional Renaissance man. Which, which sounds like a pretty heavy title to bear, but how do you describe what you do now?
BR: I have a lot of fun with Jesus. In crazy places, crazy spaces with unlikely people. That's what I do.
KV: That is a wow. What a, what a phenomenal description of a great blessing to be able to do that.
BR: Yeah, it is, but it's not that abnormal. Here's the interesting thing. We use terms like, you know, a past and [inaudible], what he's talked and so forth.
And we look at apostles. A lot of times people think, well, they're apostle because look at all this stuff they multiplied or they grew. I don't agree with that. I think apostolic people they're not even pioneers; they're explorers. A pioneer takes what he has from somewhere else to a new place, with the same tools, same philosophy.
An explorer is going where nobody's gone before and they're kind of like Genghis Khan, they have to create it when they go into battle. They're not taking all their armaments and all their stuff with them. They got to think about, okay, what's my context? What do I have? And how do I get to where I'm going? That's an apostolic leader.
That's what the 12 apostles did. That's what the movement leaders in India and China do. That's what everybody does. I'm also obsessed with the kingdom of God. So if I ever, I'm not going to do it, but if I ever wrote a story of my life, I would write a book called The Many Conversions of Bob Roberts because I was regenerated once, but I've needed a lot of converting over the years as to what the world is, as to what the gospel is, as to who people are. How do we communicate? How do we love? How do we connect with people? Yeah. I've, I've, I've gotten saved a lot of times.
KV: How would you describe, or can you even describe, your most recent regeneration conversion, whatever you want to use as the phrase for that? What what's, what's the biggest change that's happened lately I guess.
BR: We really can be peacemakers. So we think about if I preach the gospel peace comes. Well, that's true. But when was the last time you sat down with two people that are at odds and you said, "Hey, I love you both. You both matter." That's been a big realization. Recently I was invited by a particular entity to train pastors, imams, and rabbis on how to be diplomatic peacemakers, because they've realized that clerics can create more good or more hell than anybody else.
So what if you made them the heroes? What if you taught them how to do peacemaking? And so that's, that's been a pretty radical thing. I think the most radical thing I'm still in the midst of, I realized about five years ago. I should love non-Christians as much as I love Christians.
And that was a pretty radical discovery for me to first shake my head and ask, "Am I sinning, is this right? Why do I feel this way? Is there a biblical basis for this?" It just happened. And it caught me off guard.
KV: Yeah. How, how is that different? Because I'm assuming that before that you had a theology that matched, we should love non-Christians as much as Christians, or maybe you didn't. It was that a shift in theology or was it simply a realization in behavior of previously held theology?
BR: I think it was a reflection of what my theology taught about that. And I realized it wasn't against it, but it never stated, I've never heard someone say to Christians "Love non-Christians as much as you love Christians." I've never heard someone say that.
BR: But they never said you couldn't. They just never said it. And it happened. And so once it happened, I thought, Wait a minute, is this sin?" So what happened was I began to practice something or experienced something I never had. I didn't leave my theology. I still think there's heaven and hell, and Jesus is the only way nothing's changed on that. I just learned that we are capable of loving people more than we think.
KV: I've noticed that recently, even in my ministry, often the most profound things are things like, well, you just said we believed it, but nobody said it before. Just the ability to state a truth that is lingering in the back of all of our heads. And you stay at it. And only after you hear it coming out of your own mouth, right?
How many times have you said something and afterwards gone wait a minute. I guess I believe that. Cause I just said it. And other times, of course we say things and we go, what did I just say that for? I don't believe that at all. But how powerful is it simply the, the mere stating of a truth that maybe hasn't been stated in that way before?
BR: It's almost like, like it's not regeneration, but it's experientially; it's almost like regeneration because it stops us dead in our tracks. You know, we think about, I mean, there's, we're talking today about engaging the world, small churches. I used to think we brought value to the world because we took the gospel around the world.
Well, that's true as Christians, but is that how Vietnam sees it or Qatar or Iran or Afghanistan? How, how do they define these Christians are bringing value to us and does it matter? Is it okay just to say, "We don't care if the world thinks we're bringing value or not, we're just going to go out and preach."
Should we slow down and ask the question? What gives us the right to do that? And is it enough just to say, "Well, Jesus told me to." Is there anything else that comes into that conversation that gives us credibility with people where they want to listen to our message? It's one thing to say, "I'm doing it because Jesus told me to, I don't care what you think."
It's another thing to do it. And the people you're doing it to are people that want to listen because they respect you for some reason. I guess it's the difference between taking the gospel to a culture and living the gospel in a culture.
KV: Oh, there's a huge statement. I think you're right. I think there is a profound difference between technically being obedient by saying the words that Jesus told us to say to the people he told us to say them to. And doing it in a way that actually has the impact that is what Jesus has really commanding us to do.
Is not about saying the word. It's kind of like so many of us, especially in evangelical circles, we look at it and we see those outside of what we would consider maybe mainstream American evangelicalism. And we look around and sometimes look down our noses at others, from other churches who have a repetition of prayer, for instance, a prayer that they repeat every day.
Whereas a mainstream evangelical typically doesn't. We, we do the extemporaneous prayer and we look down maybe upon the people who simply say, and sometimes we'll even pull Jesus' words in to the Pharisees where you're just repeating these nonsense words over and over again. I think you're going to be heard because of your many words.
And yet sometimes don't we do exactly the same thing? Where we go out and we give what is supposed to be good news, but we do it in such a culturally naive way at best; that it's simply, it often has the opposite impact of what we intend. And aren't, we responsible for the impact of our words. We can't be completely responsible for how someone else receives it, but I need to be responsible on my end for making sure it is received with as little baggage as possible.
BR: So I think Jesus and Paul did a good job of that. You know, if I would've been Jesus, I would have done mass mailers, social media campaign, Jesus and 12 apostles special concert come here at the local amphitheater. You know, son of God showing up get your picture taken with him, get an autograph t-shirt $12.99.
And yet he doesn't do any of that. Think about it. I mean, it was a, it was an 80-year-old preacher that helped me understand this. Look at what he does. He shows up. Touching people where they have needs healing, casting out demons, feeding. And what does he do? He says there's a different way to live. He didn't do it right.
He should have started out with there's a triune God. And I'm the son who's come to redeem your sins and here's this prayer. You pray and get all your unchurched friends. No, he's just living his life, walking with people. So Jesus brought value. So that he had credibility to be heard.
Paul, everybody wants to be the Paul of Romans. Nobody wants to be the Pall of Acts. And the difference is one is we're teaching information about what it means to know God and how we accept him. Acts is the story of Paul. So how did he live that in the public square? Do you realize everything Paul did to spread the gospel was in the public square. It wasn't in those little discipleship groups.
That's not how it spread. It was at Mars hill, the amphitheater, his businesses. So I'm a big fan of the house church, but I disagree with the house church when it says, you know, we just need these small gatherings to multiply. That's what they did in Acts. No, they didn't. In those little house groups, it was people who were accepting Christ that came in for discipleship.
They weren't necessarily evangelistic groups. The people were evangelistic. And then when people accepted Christ, they came in, but everything Paul does, it's right out there where the whole world can see. And that's the biggest shift in missions in the 21st century, that's going to be effective that we have to do.
There's no more secret evangelism, private, underground church planting, secretive stuff. There, there are no secrets anymore. If you heard the news yesterday with Facebook and everything, that's going on. There are no secrets. Everyone knows everything. They tolerate you, and maybe they don't tolerate you, and let you go into a country.
So the question becomes in a public world where we have no secrets and we can't sneak around, how do we live the gospel in a very public manner? And how do we move from paying religious people like you and me to be missionaries overseas and funding a few. How do we move where everybody gets to be involved?
And Karl, nobody has a better shot at that than the small church.
BR: I'll put, give me a church of a hundred to 300 who wants to change the world over a church of 2000 or more any day of the week, any day of the week. I work all over the world. Tough places where Christians can't go, I'm there. And I take churches with. And there's a reason for that. You want to know why?
KV: Absolutely. What is it?
BR: In a church a hundred to 300 everybody gets infected. In a big church it's a missions program that if you want to sign up for this trip and we're going to give a lot of money. So we do the work without the people and the passion.
And, and a lot of people look at what our church has done around the world, "Man, I could never do all that." Everything we did we started doing when we were 300 and we were 300 for many years. And the reason you work with leaders is not because you've got money and you do big stuff, but because you have people who keep going back again and again and again and serving what they say their needs are not what we say. And when we go in and we take people with their jobs and we begin to serve you get to know people, you build relationships and that's where everything changed.
KV: So, what would you say to the past the pastor of the smaller church? And you mentioned 100 to 300, but let's talk even, even more specifically to the pastor of the church of under 100, because the church of 20 is a more common expression of the body of Christ than the church of 200.
What would you speak to the discouraged pastor of a church of 20 who believes they're just there, there aren't enough resources. There aren't enough people here in our congregation. We will have impact when we get bigger. What, what do you say to them about the impact they can have at their current size?
BR: Tons. So there's one country where I work in and I think you know, what I love about this country is it's a tough place. And so they have a lot of house churches that meet and it's those house churches that are multiplying churches around the world. And those house churches are 20. If they're, if 20, but every house church is a team. And that team sometimes will send individual members of that team or that whole team across the border, into another particular country in order to do rice farming in that country, 50 miles from where they are to build relationships and see other things started.
Look this whole idea that we have to get bigger to impact the world, it's not just unbiblical. Sociologically and historically it's not true.
KV: No. Exactly.
BR: Look at the apostles. They didn't have any mega churches, let alone large churches at all. When Paul was multiplying churches, he'd called 20 people a success. We'd say no, we're trying to get off our feet. We can't leave yet. No, he said it's done. Here we go.
And if you look at church history, the early church, look at American history. I mean, poor Jonathan Edwards his church was barely 200. You know, God, God couldn't even do much through him could he? You know, he had his, he had his warts. He had his challenges on a little church. And until about 40 years ago, we didn't have mega churches like we have now.
And so everybody wants to be the mega church. By the way, the greatest missions movement in the world was right after world war II. And it was because all these GIs went around the world, they saw it, they get called a ministry. And so they want to be missionaries. Well, the churches that sent them were very small churches.
These were not big churches. Missions was not a big church endeavor. Look at China. The gospel has exploded, and is exploding, in China, house churches. India, house churches. Iran, house churches. And people are not thinking house church is the methodology that I'm using. You know, we look at house church as a methodology. It's not, it's just who they gathered with. We see it as an alternative to mega churches. These descriptions that we have are not necessarily how the rest of the world sees it.
So historically, one of the things I would say is the kingdom of God is more like jumping in to this fast, moving re river with an inner tube versus a huge cruise liner with a lot of people on it. And all those inner tubes on that river are grabbing people and serving and going over the falls laughing as they go. Hoping they come back up when they hit the bottom of that waterfall. I think that's the way that it works. And that's how it has spread historically. Why in the world are we thinking, "man, until I get 500 or a thousand, or when I get to be 2000, I'm going to change the world."
Well, if that were the case, we wouldn't see anything in what has happened historically or currently. And how the world is exploding.
KV: Oh, no, it's we've got the theory in our heads that obviously that if we had more people, we could have more impact. Theoretically, that seems to make sense. The problem is we in the church, don't often do what the scientist does, which is let's test our thesis in the real world.
And when you test the thesis of bigger has more impact in the real world. What you see is what you, what you've just talked about, which is this idea; I love this idea of the inner tube and the river. That's great. So, so you've encouraged the small church pastors paying attention to this, that they can do it at their current size.
But then the next question is okay but how? Because what we're talking about is a complete restructuring of starting with our thought process and then to our actual physical structure of the church. The way our churches are structured are, big and small, are typically you pay the pastor to do ministry. That is the predominant structure of the north American church, is that. So how do we begin to change our thought process? And then the structures to go along with it, to become what you're talking about that we know historically has been true.
BR: So, number one, you got to pick a place and you don't pick it. You need to pray and say, "God, where do you want us to go?" And think broader than Hawaii or Switzerland.
Think in terms of hell holes, closed countries, places you can't go. Let me just say one of the biggest movements in the world right now is by Filipino maids that go all over the world as maids. There are some ladies that are doing this on purpose and they're, I don't know. I don't want to get you in trouble. I don't know your position on all this. But bottom line, there are women starting churches all over the middle east and other parts of the world where they're maids. What's wrong with that? So I would say number one, you've got to pick a place, but you need to ask God, where do you want to go?
Let, let me tell you a quick story. So Leighton Ford discipled me, had a huge impact on my life. Talk to him this week. He'll be 90 tomorrow. If you don't know who he is, he was Billy Graham's brother-in-law and just a Presbyterian guy, even though he's not a Baptist, I still love him. Leighton came to town to do this evangelism thing at our seminary, where I went to, Southwestern seminary.
And I got real depressed. Because I got there and it was on missions. My wife and I always wanted to be missionaries, but she was in a car accident, two car accidents, frankly, that killed her mom and two sisters. Crushed her body in way she was supposed to have all these surgeries. So my tribe wouldn't appoint us because of all the surgeries I thought she might have to have.
Well, she didn't have to have any of them, but they were afraid we would. So, so I always had this thing in my life. I was upset. I thought this isn't fair God. I want to be a missionary. So I get to this thing and Leighton gets there. It's not only evangelism its own global evangelization and I really get upset then. He says, "We need our most creative." I'm a wild guy. I'm from east Texas, country fundamentalist ,cowboy background, and I love flowers and art and classical music. Now that's just dang weird if you understood my context and culture [inaudible]. I want to go. I'd finished my doctorate at fuller seminary. I said, "I'm educated. What's wrong with me?"
And I got up the next morning and the Lord, Holy Spirit showed up uninvited. It's always fun when he does that. And this little question came in my mind. I said, "Robert, you thought about the church different. I want you to think about missions different. What if the church was the missionary?"
I thought, whoa, where did that come from? What if the church were the missionary? And I thought, wait a minute. The great commission was given to the whole church. Just not preachers like me or missionary wannabes like me, it's everybody. Now I thought, oh my gosh, what have we done? We've taken the great commission. We've turned it into a job description for a handful of people. Oh, my word, this means everybody should be involved in, in missions. What have we done? What do I do?
And so I went back to my church the next Sunday, and I said, we had about 300 people at this time. And I said, I want you to grab the person's shirt. In front of you, this like 92 or three or four, somewhere in there. And I said, turn it inside out. And I want you to yell out the name of the country on the shirt tag. We at all these names go out. And then I said, "How many of you ever felt like God wanted you to be a missionary?"
Now this time about a third of our people were new Christians. Another third were existing Christians and a third were good, old Baptist. And so I made thought maybe 10 or 15 people, a third of the people raised their hands and I thought, "Whoa, what if God has been calling, but we as pastors didn't know what to do?" So we've got this prayer group together. And so we thought, "Okay, if we're all going to be missionaries and it's not going to be a person, it's going to be all of us together. How do we do that?"
So we had to come up with a spot. Well, my dad pastored near an air force base during the Vietnam war. Buried a lot of soldiers. Every Sunday afternoon after church, my mom would feed them lunch. They come home from us. Many ofthose soldiers didn't come back. It was pretty traumatic for my little brother and I. And I did not like Vietnam or the Vietnamese people. They were the ones that killed these guys that I'd eat lunch with at my house on Sunday afternoon.
So I'm struggling, but God is sovereign and is always orchestrating crazy stuff. And so we're praying, where do we go? And this guy goes, "Bob, let's go to Vietnam." And he's an atheist that I led to the Lord, but he was also a successful doctor who was shot down three times as a helicopter pilot, because he'd go and get the wounded or the dead soldiers. And he survived all three times.
He could tell I had something in my heart. I said, "Let's just pray about it." You know, that's a nice preacher way of saying no. And he said, "You know, Bob, what's wrong with you?" And I began to look at my heart and I realized I didn't like Vietnamese. And so my next thing was, I just got out of fuller seminary.
I said, "Well, Vietnam is a closed country." He said, "What are you talking about? What do you mean closed? I don't understand that I'm a doctor. I can go anywhere in the world." And so there were Vietnamese that lived in our community where our church was. Here's a ex-pilot. We're going to a place that there was tremendous tension between Americans and Vietnamese. It was the perfect storm, the perfect collision of multiple factors. And so we adopted Vietnam. I didn't want to go at first and, but I did. God broke my heart for the place we've been there 30 years. Our church won the Vietnamese friendship metal, that's the highest metal they give anybody. The previous year, they gave it to the president of China. The next year they gave it to our church.
But I'm evangelical Baptist, you can't brag about getting a commie metal, but we did by the country. We've had hundreds of people that go back and forth. So the first thing you've got to do is pick a spot and, and pray about it. God will open the door. There's all kinds of cool people around you. There's all kinds of refugees from hard places. And here's, what's cool. When you start working over there, you come back home and you start working right where you are. And a lot of those people get involved in your ministries and they're the most effective overseas.
Here's the second thing you do. Inventory your church, according to the job. So it's a concept. All societies are put together by something you can call domains. You can Google it or sectors of society, either word, same thing. Don't get into dominion theology don't necessarily buy into seven mountains. If you know what that is.
I believe societies have been put together the same way they have since the tower of Babel was formed. Economics, education, health, communications, agriculture, government, civil society, eight sectors or domains is what we go with. There's as few as three, as many as 24, if you're World Vision. So you look at your church, where do you work? Based on that you begin to work. If your church is 20, chances are you've got one or two school teachers, one or two businessmen, and maybe someone in the health sector.
And so all you do, you look for who do you have that can do what? So your strategy is not determined. Are you ready for this Karl? Your strategy is not determined by missiological strategies of church planting and spreading the church. It's determined by the people that are sitting in that group of 20.
Now you got something you can do together. So you begin to look at what it is and if it's a hodgepodge, then work with orphans, there's always things that you can do. And so you know who you are, you know what you've got, and you begin to go and you work with that and you work small and gradually it grows and don't get in a hurry.
So let's pretend like you're the biggest church in America. You're Joey Osteen, you got 50,000 every Sunday, you got $10 million in your mission budget. You're going to focus on a spot. So you show up at Vietnam and you do one big event and spend 10 million bucks. Right? Okay, good. The next question is, what are you going to do next year? You can't do anything else.
Here's what you're really going after relationships. When you go back and you do things, so let me tell you what a small group in our church. This was a small group. They wanted to adopt this place outside of Hanoi, that's a little village. And the way you get around in this village, they have all these motorcycle drivers. And so I talked to the leader of the motorcycle drivers for years. It's a little mopeds is what it is. I'd share my faith and he never accepted Christ, pretty hard to it. Somebody came back and said he accepted Christ. I didn't believe him. I've talked to him too many times.
So the next time, this was years ago. So the next time I was in Vietnam, I make it a point to see the guy. So I pick him up and I said, "Man, I heard you, you, you accepted Christ. Is that right?" He said, "I did." "So what happened?"
He said, "Here's what happened, Bob. My dad died and I had a little boy and I thought life is hopeless if this is all it is. And I was raised in a Buddhist context. So I looked at Buddhism, but I got to thinking the Christians keep coming to this community. And, Bob, there's a Christian doctor who comes here for free twice a year and he treats people. It's the Christians that came here. There are literally, Bob, this plumber comes from America in order to put water filters in the villages houses for free. And I got to think of that. And there's this Christian, these two Christian school teachers come every year to teach the teachers in the summer."
And here's what he's doing, Karl. He's literally describing a small group in our church and he doesn't know it. He sees them as individuals that are using their jobs and doing different things. And so here's a, it doesn't stop there. He said, "And I've been reading the book of Acts and, Bob, all the motorcycle drivers are now Christians and come to our Bible study tonight." So I did and nobody had discipled him.
Here's what's cool. So I go to their Bible study, they're smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and they've got their Bibles out and they're all saying, "Okay. He told us that you were going to share with us some stuff in the Bible. We're ready." And that's how it spreads. Let me just say this, those people in that village love that village. They're not thinking about, I want to go to the next village. I want to go to these, ah, we've got other members that are doing that.
KV: And now a 20 second break to talk about something else.
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I love this passion that you have because it, first of all, it's so relational, which is how Jesus did it, which is how Paul did it. They connected relationally with people. But there's this, there's this schism in the church today that I think is really un-biblical and unhealthy. You've got people on the one side who simply say, "Just declare the gospel that's enough and all of this talk about, you know, building relationships with people that's not preaching, you've got to just preach."
And on the other side, you've got people who were saying, "No, just build the relationships and God will take care of the rest." Like we never need to open our mouth and preach either. Right. But what, what we're talking about here is a combination of the two.
We are, first of all, simply loving people because they're made in the image of God and God loves them. So we want to have that expression of God's love flow through us. But because we're doing it as followers of Jesus, that then opens up a door for them to hear when we do make those statements and those declarations of faith. We then change how they perceive it.
Like for instance, when people want to go to help, I want our church in our community to be seen as a place where, when somebody does go through a crisis and they're wondering where they should go, our church is at least on the list. Right now, most churches aren't even on the list of the place to go to help. They're on the list of the places that caused me this problem. Deserved or undeserved, but that's the list we're on. We need to be on different lists.
BR: Here's what I'd tell people, Karl. What value are you bringing to the community so that they want to hear your message? You, you know what? I preached all over Vietnam to government gatherings, to leaders, we have diplomats at our church, Vietnamese diplomats. We have diplomats from other countries at an ambassador from a particular country.
Him and his wife came to a Christian Church for the first time. They're from a totally different background where there are very few Christians in their country. Guess what I'm doing right now? Helping them find a church in DC to go to. Here's the sad thing, where is that church? Where they can go and they can be who they are, but people want to be their friends because they're looking for community.
And here's what we want. We want to save people without being in relationship with them. That's why preaching is such a dangerous tool. It allows me to do evangelism without being in a relationship with you. And that's not what Jesus did. I, we have a little motto at our church serve not to convert, serve because you're converted. So the motive has to be, I love you. It's the whole goods. It's the whole Samaritan, but my word. Here's what's crazy. When you're dealing with non-Christians and they know you're a Christian and you don't keep it secret. All you do is talk about Jesus. They never stop asking questions.
Karl, one of my best friends, probably one of the top three best friends I have is an imam. We work all over the world. He's on the committee for Mecca. So literally the Saudi government he's he's, African-American, he's Sudanese, but anyhow, he has a little mosque of 30,000 in the DC area. He knows Rick Warren, all these people, but we're always talking about the gospel.
We're talking about grace. We're talking about the cross. We're talking about works. We're talking about how we see mercy, how you see mercy. How you see man, how we see it's a non-ending conversation. So the idea that you don't share is crazy.
KV: Yeah, I've seen that. You know, I'm blessed, I'm third generation pastor, and I was raised by people who lived what they preached. I'm talking about my parents in past tense. They're still around and still living what they preached. But, but my, my parents, and especially on my father's side, my grandparents who really lived what they preached.
And because of that, their faith was so fully integrated into their everyday lives. That it was really impossible to have a conversation with my parents or with my dad's parents or with my mother's mother in particular and not hear about Jesus. Not because you sense that they had some kind of an agenda, but simply because you can't talk to a Dallas Cowboys fan without hearing about the Dallas Cowboys.
You can't talk to these people who have that kind of a passionate love for Jesus and not hear about Jesus. And it doesn't sound like an agenda being pushed. It doesn't sound like I'm a project for them to be won over. It is simply so much a part of their life that they would have to work hard to; it would feel uncomfortable for them not to speak about Jesus because he simply so much a part of their life. And that I think is one of maybe one of the tragedies of, of many folks today. I don't want to, I was going to say of the American church and I don't like that broad brush because there are so many who are American Christians who are living it out in such a social way.
But I think there's a perception out there that we're not integrating the gospel into our everyday lives in such a way. That people are being won over to Christ simply because they're seeing that integration of word and action in such a true and genuine way with such integrity.
BR: Th think about it this way, integrity and the good Samaritan. He helped the guy because he was wounded on the side of the road. The question was not, are you going to join my religion? Now guarantee if you're close to somebody, you're going to have many conversations on that. So are you helping refugees just to convert them? Or do you help them because they're created in the image of God?
Are you feeding people to get them to convert or are you, are you helping people to get them to convert? I'm, I'm halfway charismatic and halfway reformed. And I know those are oxymorons with both of those phrases. But the reality is if you believe it's the spirit who reveals Jesus, the revelation of Jesus to people, and if you're halfway reformed like me and you believe that salvation is a sovereign act of God, I can't save anyone anyhow.
All I can do is love. And I don't like this. We have this mentality that says, shake your dust from people who reject the gospel. That's not what it says. People who curse you and give you a hard time, but it doesn't say that. And I think we have to treat the loss world the exact same way we treat lost children, lost relatives, lost close friends that we have that we grew up with. We have to see them in the same light.
Karl, one of my biggest shifts I went through. This is a big shift. I went through a few years ago. I really believe that we're sinners. No if, ands, or buts. But here's a question, Karl. Why is it when we see people who don't know Jesus, our first thought is sinners without Jesus, but why is that our first thought? Why isn't our first thought created in the image of God? Why, what was wrong with me that I couldn't see the image of God in people? I had to see their sin.
KV: When we connected with celebrate recovery a few years ago in our church, I had someone who came to me and said he didn't like it because he didn't like the term recover.
He says, "What is there to recover? We're just sinners." And I said, "Actually, you sound to me like, you're starting your theology a little bit late." You're starting your theology at the fall. And there was a couple of chapters before that where were made in the image of God. And that's what we're trying to recover, but I think that's the issue.
We start our theology late. We thought start out theology at the fall sometimes. And we need to start our theology earlier, not with all of the self-positivity and, and, you know, having a better positive image of ourselves or whatever, putting ourselves first, no. But a proper self-image that we are made in the image of God. And that we are loved by God. I don't have to go around to loving myself. That's not the, that's not the point here. It’s to recognize how much I am loved by the God who made me. That's a bigger, better story than me loving me.
BR: And here's, what's cool when you love people like that, they feel it. So let's talk about preaching just a minute. So here's, what's cool. I preach in mosques. All over the world. I preach in the third largest mosque in the world at their Friday prayers. I preach in mosques. I preach in synagogues. I preach in churches. We, we start a lot of churches here in the US, out of our church, and we have something I've told our pastors you've not preached till you've preached in a mosque.
Anyone can preach in a church. But think about the joy of preaching the gospel in a mosque or in the public square somewhere. So I'm invited to preach all over the place, just not in pulpits in churches on Sundays. Now that preaching is different. It's eight to 12 minutes. It's much like Paul would do, and he's at Mars hill or, or he's at Athens or other places. The preaching does come, but it's in a different format.
And then how you preach is radically different. Did you know that there's a passion event for Muslim kids? You know, you've heard of Louie Giglio's Passion event? I've spoke at that Passion event for Muslims three times. And to stand up to 30,000 Muslim screaming teenagers and to say, I love you with the love of Jesus is the most incredible experience maybe I've ever had in my life, Karl.
KV: So what, what does that message look like in that context?
BR: So I'm friends with their imams. It's, I mean, people don't download my sermons. I'm just friends with these imams and they know that I fight for religious freedom regardless of what your faith is. And I work in Muslim countries in very sensitive areas. And so when I got it, I was introduced the first time I spoke.
So I get up and I make the statement. I love you guys. And you know, what I love about y'all is the fact that you love Jesus. How many of you guys love Jesus in the house? Well to be a good Muslim you gotta love Jesus. So, you know, they're all screaming at the top of their lungs. You know, we love Jesus. How many of you believe that?
You know, he was born of a Virgin, so they're all clapping. They believe that. How many of you believe that he lived a sinless life? How many of you believe that he worked signs and wonders? How many of you believe that he's coming back again? How many of you believe that he died on the cross for your sins? And if you'll accept him, he'll come into your heart and life. And it got definitely. I said, yeah, I know you don't believe that, but I do. And I want you guys to know that there's one evangelical that loves you would love to baptize every single one of you, but whether you ever do that or not, I'm still going to love you because you are created in the image of God and you matter.
And I'm going to fight for your religious freedom, because I always want you to have your own mind. Where you can think about what you believe and why I believe it. And I want to work with you because together we can do far more to build bridges of understanding and stop persecution around the world. Whether it's Islamophobia in America or Christian persecution in Pakistan or somewhere else, we can do so much together.
KV: So you knocked down walls, you pushed the doors wide open and just say it reminds me of the prodigal son where the father, the son knew where, where to go to find the father. I'm not afraid of much, but maybe my only fear in the world is that I will, because I am the older son.
I'm third generation pastor. I'm the older son. I'm the older brother. And my only fear is that when the prodigal does look to come back home again, that I won't be standing next to the father to embrace the prodigal when they come home. And the message I just want to put out there is we're here. We're not moving. This is, this is home. And when you want to come back home again, we will be here. And then we have, we have to act in such a way that it is a place that they want to come back to, that they want to recover that.
BR: I love that, Karl. And I think, I think we've got to get over our fears. Like right now we pray. I think the last great missionary generation was the World War II generation that came home. And whenever I think everything else since then has been anticlimactic and not the same level of passion. I'm just going to be blunt with you that they had for what they did. I think the world has shifted. And we tried to hold onto old methodology, but instead of the kinds of things that we're talking about today.
But I also believe that when we're inviting people to come home, they are hungry for community, but we can't hate them. So I started getting to know Muslims in Afghanistan, and I won't bother you with that whole story, but incredible story. I became friends with the leading warlord of, of half of the country. And so we started working together, connected pastors in the US with imams and we did projects.
Everybody loved it, Karl, when we were working with Muslims over there. But when we started reaching out to the Muslim community around our church, we had events, we had hundreds of Muslims that came to our church? Karl, we lost a few hundred people. And even now here's what's sad. Our church, I'm so proud of Northwood. They've gone full bore into Afghan, you know, welcoming the refugees, helping out. We've raised probably over a hundred thousand dollars by now. We've got tons of cars that people are giving, paying rent, or getting people situated. And yet what breaks my heart is a response from the Christian community.
Some of them don't, they don't love unconditionally. And we've prayed, oh God, that missionary generation from World War II, oh, God opened the world to the gospel. Well, he's opened the world like it never has before. And we're screaming, bloody murder, go home. We don't want you. And we're afraid of you.
Who better to reach the world and the people that are coming from the different parts of the world to be able to go back and engage those parts of the world? We're missing it. And I mean, it breaks my heart. You know, our church has gotten hate email and phone calls and everything else. I don't understand. We were so committed as evangelical for missions, but over there, not here. And I like this little word glocal. By the way, you know, it's here and there. Missions does more for us than it does for the unchurched. Never forget that. I'm convinced missions is one of the most profound discipling tools the church has because I'll send people overseas and they may never see anyone except Christ. But man, they come back changed. Yeah. I mean, they're not the same.
KV: And that's one of the, one of the most encouraging things I'm seeing about younger generations too, is there is an increased desire in the younger generations to get their hands dirty and to get involved and to be a part of things rather than simply to pay someone else to do the job.
And yet, sometimes we're looking at it and going, well, no, there's, there's now so many things out there about the problem with, well, why are you, why are you wanting to do that? Oh, you got, if you're not involved yourself, if you're not right. And yes, there's some, you know, Instagram hungry people who are out there just for the photo. I get it.
But all I can tell you is in our congregation where the young people we're working with. I don't know anybody who has more passion and less of a personal agenda in their desire to simply reach out with the love of Christ that I'm seeing in younger generations. And their problem typically is not one they don't have a problem with the technology. They, they know how to use the tools. Secondly, they've got no problem with using the tools to say what they believe.
The biggest challenge they have is old grumps of our age sitting there going, that's not the way you're supposed to do it kid. And then what we do is we don't, we don't move them over to doing it a different or certainly not a better way. We simply discourage them from doing it at all.
BR: No, Karl, I tried to always tell our missions department. Your job is not to come up with mission strategy. The strategies in the pews based on their job. Your job is to be a traffic cop. How do I get you? How do I connect you from here to either the inner city, our churches have to do three things. They have to keep starting churches. We have a little saying, "Don't try to be the biggest church in the area, church the area." If you get big, you get big, but what's wrong with starting? There's 27 churches that are between a half mile and four miles from where I'm sitting right now that our church started. Second thing is work with the poorest of the poor, the inner city. And third is find a hard place in the world to go and stay there longterm. Don't be bought all over the place, stay there. And so, but if you're, if you work in missions, you really are that traffic cop. What is God calling you to?
How do I equip you and get you there? Here's what I would say. I love what you do, Karl, because. And I don't even know you that well, I've never met you before. This is the first time I've ever talked to you, but I read your stuff and I go, I like that guy. He's he's, he's thinking about small church pastors. They're not small church pastors. They are pastors of normal churches. So that's simple. But what I love about it is there are two things that I think thinking not large church or mega church, formats that for, for typical size churches, maybe that's the best phrase, 20 to a hundred typical sized churches. Number one, you can reach lost people a lot better. And number two, you can engage the world like nobody's business.
I mean, I tell guys all the time, right? So are you for house churches? You bet. I am some of the guys in our movement, our house search guys. I just say, don't think about one house church. We're going to start a house church. Start a network of house churches. Have one house church. That's good. You can be close, but if you're in a city and if you're in a rural area, different ballgame, but if you had a city, oh my gosh, the sky is the limit what you can do.
KV: Absolutely. I mean, so many different places. We could go on this. There's so much content in here already, but let's see what we can try to land this plane.
I've got a series of lightning round questions that everybody is subject to. So we're going to go from all this wonderful, serious talk to some a little more lighthearted, maybe. All right. First of all, what are, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years and how have you adapted to it?
We kind of touched on that, but maybe there's a little more in that.
BR: I think cool is out. I think hype is over. People are looking for real. I don't care if you're big or you're small, they they're coming to encounter God. They can get a better show than your church. They can get better services than what they get at your church.
They're looking for what's real. I think that's the biggest thing. And I think that's, if pastors can lean into it, it's a very freeing thing because it allows you to be real. So I think that's the biggest thing.
KV: When people can get the highest quality content in the world without getting out of bed on their phone, we better be offering them something completely different than that.
Which again is one of the strengths of the small church, because we can offer them real, in contact, genuine relationships as can our big church friends and small groups. But you, you can get the one-stop shopping at the church at a small church on a Sunday morning, you can get the relational and the worship and the discipleship, all of it in one place.
And that's what people, if people are going to get out of bed and off their phone, you better give them something they can't get on their phone. And that's the relational. Yeah. That's huge.
BR: That's it where you encounter God.
KV: Well, speaking of the phone though, do you have any free resource, like an app or website that has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?
BR: No, I read a whole lot. And so I'm just constantly reading articles and books and stuff. And I try to, but I don't read it. I try to interpret it. What does that mean for where I'm at? How do I practice that? So I'd say, read a lot.
KV: Have you read anything recently?
BR: Oh, my gosh, I have. I'm reading a book right now.
It's called Our Promised Land by a guy named Aubrey. Can't think of his last name. Most incredible book I've read on the Palestinian Israeli conflict in my life, perhaps. But another book that's rocking my world is by a guy named Makato Fujimura it's called Art in Faith, and it's only 120 pages.
But it has rocked my world because he talks about how we were created to create with God. And we think about getting back to the garden, you know, we got to get man, right? So he said, no, no, no, no. We don't get back to the garden to stay. The garden we got sidetrack at the very beginning. He said, so everything, what would a society look like?
The goal, the minerals, everything you needed to build a society was beneath the feet of Adam and Eve. So get back. Yeah, it's a, it's a phenomenal book. Made me think a lot.
KV: Both of those will be linked to in the show notes. And they're going to be added to my, to read list as well. One of the things I've discovered in recent years is in addition to trying to as best I can understand and master my own field of study. Trying to read a quality works outside of my own field of study, because that's the only way to bring something new into it. If all I'm doing is reading among the people that I'm already a part of, then I can't add anything new to it because the conversation is too, too tight, but you're, you're talking about reaching out in to bring things in that can be a benefit to us that we're not already experiencing.
So I love that. What is the best piece of ministry advice you've ever heard?
BR: Love them regardless. Just love them regardless. I get sad. You know, I used to, it was loving people that I feared. Now sometimes my struggle is loving people in my own tribe. I expect a lot more of them than what I've seen, but I still gotta love them.
They're my brothers in Christ. My wife reminds me of that. She said, "You know, Bob, we grew up in east Texas, and we always love going back home. But I think sometimes because of the hits we've taken and so forth, we have to remember, we got to love them too." I think she's right.
KV: Well, let's, let's end with something, light-hearted or strange.
What is the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?
BR: Oh, my gosh.
KV: Something tells me you've got way too many to draw from.
BR: I'll tell you what. So I'm in a particular country where there's a lot of poverty. And so they asked me to speak in this little bitty church. So I go to speak at the church and they're playing the guitars and singing, you know, all 40 of them at the top of their lungs in another language.
And the whole time I am, I noticed this guy, his hair kept blowing in the wind, but the closer I looked, I realized that what his hair blowing, he had a huge cockroach and the antennas from the cockroach were going back and forth. And the rest of the week, that was normal. They were, yeah. So I had to go, "Okay. Bob roaches are okay."
KV: Big enough that you thought it was his hair blowing in the wind. Wow. That is something.
BR: Hey, Hey, can I tell you about a website?
KV: Yeah, absolutely.
BR: So go visit glocal.net. If you want to find out more about this, if you want to engage a nation, we do nation cohorts online for four weeks, two hours a week for four weeks.
And then we take you to DC and mentor you for a couple of days. And then one of the countries we're working in, if you want to adopt that country, then we take you to that country to visit first-hand. So if there's a desire, visit glocal.net. If you want to know how we work with other religions, go to multi-faithneighborsnetwork.com.
KV: Great. And I know you're on social media as well, so people can reach out to you that way. Also
BR: Twitter, instagram @bobrobertsjr. I got a website, bobrobertsjr.com.
KV: Terrific. Yeah. All of those places will be put into the show notes. If you do need anything or you want to follow up with Bob on any of this, reach out to him and he or someone in his group will get back to you because he is a busy man indeed. And I am really honored that you took the time to be with us today, Bob. This is really, really helpful. Thank you so much.
BR: I'm honored to be here with you, grateful for what you do and, and all those pastors out there. Man, just keep plugging away guys. It's all about eternity.
KV: Terrific. Thanks. Bye.
Okay. So I had a list of questions for Bob, but aside from the lightning round, I didn't get to any of them because wow. There's just so much, he comes at you like a fire hose designee. That's what happens when you try to jump on board or runaway train like BR, not to mix my metaphor. And all of it of course, in the best possible way. You can just hear his passion for the Lord and for people, everything that he does. So the question becomes, can this work in a small church?
Can we have a local and global impact or what Bob calls glocal at our current size? And of course the answer is yes, but here are a couple of things that we need to do according to what Bob talked about. And I agree with him completely.
First of all, we need to find a need that God is calling us to reach, and it's going to be a need in a place that's probably overlooked by most, if not everybody else. Secondly, we need to connect to that through our current church DNA. It's not about trying to be like another church. It's trying to find out what's already on our table and connecting that to, to the need. Thirdly, we need to love people in Jesus name. Just love them. I love what he says about, we need to love non-Christians as much as we love Christians.
And while we believe that theologically. We've got to do it behaviorally as well. And then finally we have to change our thinking and our structures to match what God is doing now. Too much of our thinking too many of our structures are about the way things used to be done. And then not about the way people are thinking in receiving information or even trusting us in Jesus' name.
If you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need the most check out our Patreon link in the show notes. If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/KarlVaters. Find the link in the show notes.
This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Original theme music is written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsmusic.com. The podcast logo was created by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com and me? I'm KV, and I'm a small church pastor .
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