Gay Nazarene Christian?

A friend of mine sent me a copy of the position paper linked below. He asked for my response. As I began to read the paper I struggled with all kinds of emotions. Honestly a bit of frustration, combined with a dozen different thoughts about the theological approach the paper’s authors take. I am not sure I understand all my emotions yet, but I will offer some perspective on the questions they raise.


The paper  is saying that we need to allow the term “Gay Christian” to be used by Nazarene’s about themselves. We need to make accommodating changes to our doctrine of Entire Sanctification. These changes would be missional because the Gay community does not understand the use of the term “orientation” by Mildred Wykoop in her book The Theology of Love . They contend that those who resist using the term Gay Christian are merely debating over words not over an essential change to our traditions or theology. The paper does argue from historical Wesleyan and Nazarene sources. Dr. Timothy Cruther’s response at the end is helpful. The questions he raises to this approach are accurate.

How to reach the LGBT+ community

I thank God that Nazarene’s who have been delivered from the Gay lifestyle want to reach that community!  I suggest that they follow the example of the Alcoholic Christian community.  In an AA meeting they all confess they are alcoholic to the others in that community. “It has been 3 years since I had a drink.” However, in a church testCyprus building imony they say they are delivered from alcohol by faith in Christ. By using this pattern they contextualize their witness to the group they are speaking to. This is the real application of Paul’s statement about “weak to the weak…” The official Nazarene article of faith does not use the term “orientation.” So the misunderstanding of Entire Sanctification they are trying to tackle actually does not exist in our official statements. I frankly doubt that many in the Gay community are reading Dr. Wynkoop.

Holiness Today published an article in the winter of 2019 that their paper is partly responding to.

The best quote from that article is….

“Humanity is eternally called to give God everything and to serve only Him (1 Samuel 7:3). Every means by which we understand who we are, both individually and universally, must be obedient to God and His will (Exodus 19:5). To say “I am a gay Christian” is to say, “I am one who views my faith through the lens of my fleshly desires in a way that makes it okay for me to pursue both God and sin.” It places Christianity in a narrative defined by an opposing identity that is against the will of God.

The problem with this narrative is that humanity was not created to live in sin.

Christians proclaim the truth that we are created to exist in the measureless expanse of Christ Himself (Philippians 1:21). Christianity as presented in Scripture makes precisely zero allowances for any retention of self-definition that is false and not surrendered to the authority of Christ (Matthew 16:24-27). We are to completely and utterly submit to Christ and His will.”

Christians who are concerned with using “Gay Nazarene Christian” terminology are NOT squabbling over words. We are debating the deep meanings of the Gospel.

Sex, Sin and Theology

Good theology brings peace and healing. We are rightly related to God and then to others. I hope to bring some good theology to this question. The Board of General Superintendents for the Church of the Nazarene has an excellent statement about human sexuality.

Why does the Bible define sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman as sinful? Why is homosexual behavior, fornication, bestiality etc, included as sin?

Command? Only?

The Nazarene Manual has an excellent statement on human sexuality.   It has much deeper answers to the reasons for marriage than the perspective that we should follow the Scriptural pattern because God commands it.  While that answer is true  in todayGreek Orthodox image’s non-judgemental environment this perspective leaves us feeling that God is an abusive tyrant. “Just because I say so…” Most non-Christians feel that restrictions on sex are arbitrary.  They are a kind of test of obedience by an arbitrary God rather than anything deeper. Many argue that the act of marriage (sex) in and of itself does not matter.  The only thing that really matters is the faithfulness of two people keeping their promise to each other. For them, the command to not have sex outside of marriage is at the same level as not wearing clothing with a mixed weaving, or not eating shell-fish.

There are much deeper reasons that fornication, adultery and “gay” activities are sinful than a simple command. Here are some from my perspective.

Reflecting glory

In many places Scripture testifies that the act of marriage reflects the very nature of God Himself. I believe that the New Testament word “glory” is best understood as the quality of the agape relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (John 17) When we fall short of the glory of God – we are not clearly reflecting His agape because our righteousness does not flow from Him.  (Romans 3) The married sexual relationship reflects the intimacy of love – the glory of God. Anything outside of the act of marriage falls short of the glory of God.

Reflecting the Trinity

Marriage between one man and one woman was created by Yahweh to reflect the Trinity, (Genesis 1:24ff). Marriage was originally the most essential human reflection of God. Sex within marriage was a reflection of the agape “love” of the Trinity. Any other sexual pattern cannot reflect God. I will use this worldview throughout this article. I use “was” above because since the incarnation of Christ, the Bride of Christ, (Church), married to Christ, is the reflection of the Trinity, (Ephesians 5:15-33) This means that an unmarried person, as a member of His body, and married to Christ, can fully reflect the image of God. We are redeemed!

Nature of the Trinity

We understand that the one God, the Father, eternally begets the Son (Word) who always existed homoousios as the Father speaks the Logos. The Father and the Son send out the person of the Holy Spirit who will implement the will of God.  God is love – agape – from all eternity. The Father agape the Son and the Spirit; the Son agape the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit agape the Father and the Son, from all eternity.

Original reflection

God created one couple – Adam – naming them in unity. Adam was two persons, two genders, in one Adam. Adam’s genders reflected the Father and the Son – two persons of equal worth, and the same essence (substance, stuff, homoousios), but with different abilities and responsibilities.

Without gender (sexual differentiation) Adam cannot reflect Yahweh because it is the very act of marriage that creates new life – an essential reflection of the Trinity. Genesis 2 seems written to clearly show that Adam is not complete without agape expressed in gender. The woman was begotten of the man (created from a rib – of the same essence) to complete the essential need for agape in Adam. The sexual act is the physical representation of agape; the pleasure; the self-giving submission and the ability to form a new person – a child. (The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son). Children proceed from Adam when a child was born. Thus the human Adam fully reflects the three persons of the Trinity.

In the original design, each newly formed marriage (Adam) would be a clear reflection of a portion of Yahweh’s personality. Each human marriage would partially reflect God’s full personality with it’s own unique combination of two gendered human personalities. The expanding number of marriages (“fill the earth”) would more and more fully reflect the full personality of Yahweh, as each Adam would have been a new combination of agape personalities. The tree of life would stop Adam (man and woman) from dying. Thus, each marriage was a permanent eternal relationship (until death). Divorce would be like God dying.

Gay Marriage cannot reflect Yahweh

When viewed in this perspective it is clear that all other sexual activities outside of “Adam”  cannot reflect Yahweh the Trinity.  No type of homosexual relationship, even “marriage,” can reflect Adam or the Trinity.  It is important to see that a same-sex attraction is a sinful attraction because the sexual union, the act of marriage, was designed to reflect the agape of the Trinity.

Powerful Temptations

There are many powerful attractions that humans wrestle with as a temptation to sin. These all point to a perversion of God’s goal and design for us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Painful wrestling with desire is not unique to the Gay Nazarene Christian community. For example, the attraction to anything that belongs to my neighbor is a sinful attraction. The desire to protect myself with lies is a sinful desire. The desire to gamble is a sinful. Many struggle with the temptation to rebel against authority.  There are temptations to jealously and anger.  Hatred is a common human desire that overwhelms many leading even to murder.

World View

World-views are normally carried by a few (often short) stories. Everyone within a worldview looks for reinforcing stories similar to the ones they commonly tell each other, (confirmation bias).  Then they find complex ways to justify the worldview. The foundational stories are given all kinds of “back up” to make them seem true to everyone who shares the worldview. In this way a world-view arranges life and gives identities to all those who share the same view.


Identities are carried by world-views and shared cultures. Our identity tells us who we are and where we fit in the world. Our identities are always in relation to a community “I am a Monk…” Sometimes identity comes in the rejection of a community “I am not a Monk.”  Who we are is defined by how we are related to others.  Our claim to identity is also a claim to our most core culture or community. Our claim to an identity is a claim to the stories most important to us that show us where we fit in the relationships around us. It is possible and in fact common to have several identities at the same time. Some identities we take into ourselves other identities are given to us in the categories others want us to take.

Gay Community world view

In the Gay community / worldview the story they share among themselves is that they are being unfairly targeted by Christians and the general culture for a natural (God given) attraction they did not choose. This simple story is reinforced by other small stories. Some of the phrases they share are; “God made me this way.” “I was born this way.” “I don’t remember a time when I was not this way.” “This is a civil rights issue.” “Love = sexual attraction.” “I am being called crazy for just being myself.” “Why should anyone judge who I could love?” “We should accept anyone without judgment.” “Judgement is evil.”

In the linked article above, we have Nazarene members and pastors who agree with Nazarene doctrine and follow Nazarene ethics but they seem to wish to retain the worldview / culture and stories from the Gay community. They feel their identity is in the Gay community as well as in the Christian community. Is this a typical cross-cultural issue? Should we contextualize Nazarene Theology for this community in the same way we contextualize for other cultures around the world?

For the past forty years, especially since AIDS, the Gay community has pressed to be both legal and celebrated. They have pressed for the removal of sexual activity from all moral categories. We see this continued tendency in the definition of “gay” in the paper. They include all kinds of sexual attractions other than heterosexual attraction between a married couple. Every other attraction is “gay.”

Many Sinful Cultures

Since the very beginning of sin in the garden, cultures around the world have adopted sinful and idolatrous identities, Gen 4:23-24. In many of these, the very nature of worship was sexual. In some cultures human sacrifice was used. Recently we have seen cultures, in Papua New Guinea where betrayal leading to cannibalism was highly valued, (Peace Child, Youtube Spanish version). There have been many cultures across history and around the world where a wide range of sexual attractions and activities are morally neutral or even viewed positively. William Ramsay points out that the cultures of Asia Minor during Paul’s time despised marriage and any kind of sexual restraint. (Ramsay, “St Paul The Traveler and The Roman Citizen,” P. 138). Rolland Allen also points out the challenges in his “Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or ours?” Chapter 4, Moral and Social conditions.

God’s Response?

How has God called His people to responded to these sinful cultural challenges?

Yahweh called the Nation of Israel to totally destroy cultures of Canaan and become a nation of priests to the nations. They did not finish that work. They did not destroy the Canaanite cultures. They did not become a nation of priests – a light to the world. They failed at this task repeatedly. They adopted foreign gods and their sexual worship practices. They failed so completely that the mission of Israel to be a nation of priests to bring other nations to Yahweh was completely forgotten by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Everything under the sun is meaningless – but he never mentions the mission of Israel to the world!

In the New Testament Jesus directs His body to the Kingdom of Heaven. This dual citizenship becomes a light to the world – a city set on a hill – salt. In most cultures this means full engagement with the culture. The purity of holiness is expressed through the Christians, in and even through that culture, who reject the evil and keep the good. Sexual purity has been a point of friction and contention in many, even most, cultures that Christians have lived in.

The Apostle Paul – as quoted correctly by the Gay Nazarene Christians becomes as “weak to the weak, as under the law for the Jews, and as without the law to those who are without the law.” Paul carefully adds “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ.” This last phrase sets the limits of contextualization. We cannot contextualize sin. Can we contextualize a sinful tendency? A temptation? Paul is also clear earlier in this same letter that some kinds of behavior exclude a person from God’s Kingdom, 1 Cor. 6:9-11. He is clear that we should not be deceived in this matter.

The nature of temptation

The nature of temptation is worth a book. I can only touch on the major points here but, as with all Christian topics, each point could be a book of it’s own. I found an excellent article on Martin Luther’s understanding of temptation. I was greatly helped by Luther. I have included a short quote but it is very difficult to summarize the article.

Next we see Satan’s method and desire in temptation. Essentially, it is to challenge and overthrow the Word of God. This was his method before and after the fall of man. Luther comments extensively on the Devil’s desires in his lectures on Genesis 3.

For Luther, in man’s unfallen state, as well as after the fall, the Word of God is the basis of his life. The Reformer is insistent that God’s Word speaks with consummate authority and that man’s first duty is to trust that revelation. Adam and Eve were to continue in the exercise of faith in that Word: “Where the Word is, there necessarily faith also is. Here is the Word that he should not eat of this tree; otherwise he would die. Therefore, Adam and Eve ought to have believed that this tree was detrimental to their welfare. Thus faith is included in this very commandment.”[25]

This is all man’s wisdom. It also accounts for the gravity of the first sin:

Luther’s understanding is that God tests our hearts carefully and in many ways. God allows Satan to tempt us to sin. God himself brings us into many difficult situations to help us grow into His likeness. So that Temptation is core to understanding creation. The very concept of temptation reveals the potential for sin. This is a universal experience, all humans are tempted. Jesus and Christians who follow him are all tempted.

Entire Sanctification and temptation

The way that we understand the relationship between Entire Sanctification and temptation is key to the whole doctrine and a deep key to understanding the Gay Nazarene Christian question. What is the real change when a person is entirely sanctified? Mildred Wynkoop identified it as a change in orientation – from an internal selfish love to an outward love. The love of the person is re-oriented.

What is cleansed? The believer is cleansed from any self direction, rebellion against the will of God, and unwillingness to follow God’s commands. For each person there is a unique set of resistance to God’s will, (though within a common human range). The Holy Spirit reveals the heart of a person to themselves so that they can confess their own sin and be cleansed from it.

Not cleansed from temptation

Entire Sanctified people still experience temptation. It is a deep mistake to think that any person is freed from temptation by Entire Sanctification. It is true that for some Christians that some of their temptations are removed. This is consistent with God’s promise that we would not be tempted above what we can bear.

No pray the Gay away…

In this way Christians who expect that an Entirely Sanctified “Gay” person could “pray their “gay” away are deeply mistaken. In essence they are praying that a person’s temptations would be removed. Christ gives us power through the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Expecting temptation will be gone after Entire Sanctification leads to deep spiritual confusion.

Pure love is tested

The main question in every temptation is “do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). God allows temptations to stay so that we are able to have confidence in the deep work of the Holy Spirit that our hearts are truly single toward God. The ability to keep Jesus’ commands in the face of alternatives helps us see that we truly love God. The more that we resist a temptation the stronger we become. But temptation never completely goes away until the resurrection when we will no longer be tempted. Knowledge passes away and hope is fulfilled but love never ends. This is the point of a person consecrating themselves wholly to God. A full submission to the will of God flows from deep love for God and full trust in His goodness at all times. Temptation tests that submission – and verifies the deep righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Not the removal of doubt

Entire Sanctification does deal with unbelief. Unbelief looks clearly and openly at the miracle of God and with open eyes rejects God. This was the challenge of the Israelites in the desert after leaving Egypt. They had the miracle of the parting of the sea, the miracle of mana, the miracle of water, the punishment of Korah. Yet, looking right at those miracles they rejected Yahweh and complained He was not good. This is an evil heart of unbelief which looks at the good acts of God and calls them evil. This evil unbelief is forgiven by Christ and then cleansed by the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, an Entirely Sanctified person may have deep doubts about what God is doing. They may question the providence of God, wonder why a prayer is not answered, struggle with the silence of God, wonder at the tolerance of God for evil in the world. All these types of doubts are common to all Christians as long as they do not lead to a sinful turning from God.

Entire Sanctification gives a person a deep settled confidence in their relationship to God. They KNOW! They know they have been cleansed from all sin because the Holy Spirit has personally witnessed that to them in an unmistakable way. They know they are walking with God and doing His will fully from the heart without reservation. They may or may not receive any special guidance. They may or may not receive a sense of God’s presence. There may or may not be a burst of some emotion. They might have long seasons of dryness. But these are just temporary waves in a settled relationship of love.

Jesus was tempted

Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted with physical desire to cut short the painful test God called him to. Satan challenges him to use his power to transform stone and he replies that total submission is the right way to follow God’s will. He was tempted to prove his identity through a showy rescue. Jesus replies that we should not test the Lord our God as though we need him to do a miracle to prove who we are and who he is. He was tempted to worship Satan in exchange for power (the mark of the beast). But the Lord his God was the only one he would worship. So, lust, identity and power were all rejected by Jesus because he loved the Lord His God.

All are tempted

From the way that God setup the world it is human to be tempted. The question in every temptation is “Do you love this more than me?” These temptations cover the whole range of human experience and interactions. Each of us has a different set of backgrounds, environments and experiences. Each of us experience a different set of specific temptations.

The delivery from temptation

Gay conversion attempts are sometimes successful according to the paper. Yet, the definition is a bit strange. “Conversion” in the Gay Nazarene Christian definition means total deliverance from same sex types of temptation. There are constant testimonies that God delivers a few Christians from specific kinds of temptations – though not from all temptations. I have heard an alcoholic who had all temptation to drink removed immediately when he came to Christ. This rare event is in line with the promise that God will not tempt us above what we can bear but will provide a way of escape. For some people temptation would be overwhelming. The paper does say that 9% of Gay people do experience a change in their temptation so that their attraction to the same sex is changed to an attraction to the opposite. This is likely in line with the percentage of Christians freed from other kinds of temptation.

Is same sex attraction unique?

Is same sex attraction really that unusual or strange compared to other kinds of sin? The answer to that question flows from our theology of temptation. The Gay Nazarene Christian community has decided that its type of temptation is unique and that difference in temptation justifies unique approaches to community, identity, and theology. They view themselves as different from other Christians who are tempted in many ways. I deeply challenge that assumption.

Note that “original sin” applies to the initial sin of Adam. It can also apply to the nature we are born with inherited in some way from Adam (same problem as from the beginning).  All people are born lacking a living loving relationship with God. This means we are born with self centered love, the determination to have our own way, set our own standard, knowing good and evil as we personally define it. This is NOT unique to Gays or any of the various types of sexual temptations.

It is important for each of us to understand the way in which our specific sin harms our relationship with God and others around us.  Sin is harmful even when a culture accepts a kind of sin, or even celebrates it. All cultures celebrate some types of sin. Sin harms our relationship with God. All of us are still connected to God. Our life comes from him and our relationship with him is eternal because our existence comes from him. We will all be resurrected, both the good and the evil. 

The paper says that Gay Nazarene Christians are committed to the doctrinal statement of the Church of the Nazarene and to the ethics of celibacy. They avoid explaining why homosexual tendencies are a temptation to sin. This is a deep problem for the paper. Unless we understand how and why same sex attractions are a temptation to sin – we cannot understand much at all about the need for a special identity. This is the Gay Christian responsibility since they claim a special identity.

Christians other than Gay Nazarene Christians do not claim a special identity when they deal with constant temptations to sin. If it is possible for a Christian to adopt an identity around temptation we need to make that possible for all Christians regardless of the type of temptation they have.

To illustrate the problem, we would also need to accommodate the following kinds of identity.

  • Born liars = Liar Nazarene Christian (many children I know). I was lying from the time I was born and I don’t remember a time when I was not tempted to lie.
  • Born lusters = Philandering Nazarene Christian (most males and some females I know). From my earliest memories I lusted after women. While I am now a Christian the temptation remains.
  • Born alcoholics = Drunk or Alcoholic Nazarene Christian (some people are born with specific tendencies to alcoholism).
  • Born gossipers = Evil speaking Nazarene Christian (as soon as children begin to speak we see them accuse their siblings).
  • Born thieves = Thief Nazarne Christian (as soon as children begin to play together they steal each other’s toys.  We see this in many).
  • Born jealous = Jealous Nazarene Christian (as soon as children begin to play they are jealous of each other.  We see this in many).

Other Christians, who are all born with the above kinds of temptations, do not claim that Entire Sanctification removes all these temptations from their lives. Most testify that these temptations remain with them their whole life. Temptation to sin is clearly a HUMAN tendency that even Jesus, who is totally free from all sin, experienced.

Because temptation is a human tendency, the Gay Nazarene Christian claim that their type of temptation (same sexual attraction, or the multiple other attractions) gives them a special identity is confusing for other Christians since ALL Christians experience dealing with their own temptation struggle on a regular basis.

So the claim is divisive.

It separates out a class of Christians in a way that has never been done before.

COVID 19 is an opportunity for the small church to develop leaders for small groups.

We have a deep responsibility for shepherding the whole congregation. Many small churches resist having events in the homes of members because they have a church building for those things. Why come to their home for anything about the church? It takes time to clean and prepare. Who knows how long people would keep coming to their house? Getting ready all the time is hard. Many small beautiful church members have an intense loyalty to the facilities that they and often their parents have long invested in.

In the context of COVID many churches have moved to online videos and are not having services in their buildings. We are in danger of some people being lost because they are not interacting with anyone on a spiritual level for months. How do we make sure that all our members and close contacts stay engaged and growing spiritually?  This is why we consider COVID Small groups and developing leaders.  We aim at Shepherding the whole congregation.

There are two issues and opportunities

  • Developing leaders.
  • Making sure that people who are concerned during COVID have a group worship service and a level of pastoral care.

These are some steps you can consider taking in your local churches to integrate a video service with people isolated at home. You will need to adapt these to your local context.

First lay out a possible plan.

I have included a suggested one here.

  1. Map your members geographically and list the number of people per household.
    1. Use a physical map or an electronic map
    2. Determine the groupings – which families are within 15 to 20 minutes of each other.
    3. Aim for groups with at least 2 families and no more than 10 people.
    4. Try to pair up a single person or a 2 person couple with a family with children when possible.
    5. Groups as small as 3 to 4 people are OK.
  2. Volunteer form – Write up a leader guide and volunteer form.
    1. You will need a designated leader for each group.
    2. The leader guide shows the basic outline of activities for a Sunday morning house worship using a Video sermon and or singing.
      1. Suggested small group worship.
        • Include prayer for every member
        • Include scripture reading by someone in the group.
        • Announcements can be printed or a part of the video.
        • Discuss the sermon after the video – “what will you change this week because of the sermon?”
        • If there are children present – there should be a story or illustration for them.
    3. The leader should report to the pastor on the attendance each week and any major issues with the group.
    4. Make sure to put a time limit on this position. I suggest 1 month renewable.
    5. Make training a part of the expectations. I suggest 1 hour a week with the pastor and other leaders.
Get input and unity.

Discuss the shepherding the whole congregation plan with your local church board. Get their input on the various aspects of the plan. Make adjustments. Once they have unity about this move on to the next step.

Implement the plan
  1. Appoint leaders for these groups
    1. Use your judgment about who is the best suited for leadership.
      1. Consider using Teens or young people as well as older members.
    2. Call them and ask them to pray if they are willing to serve this way.
    3. If they are willing to pray about this send them a copy of the volunteer form showing them the expectations and the length of time commitment.
      1. I suggest that this be for one month and renew it each month.
    4. Give them one or two days to pray about this. Ask them if you can call them again in 2 days. Most will say yes.
    5. Call them back and verify they are willing.
      1. Pray with them and consecrate them to this work.
  2. Give the new leaders the names and contact information for the families they will be responsible for.
    1. Create a volunteer form that shows the expectations for a volunteer home.
    2. Suggested standards.
      • A one month commitment. Can be renewed.
      • Clean home – like this.
        • Chairs or seats for at least 10 people.
        • dishes washed up before the group comes
        • no loose clothing in the TV room where the video is shown.
        • Internet capacity and the ability to show a video on a TV.
    3. Ask them to contact potential host families. It is better if the leader uses a home other than their own if at all possible.
    4. Give them the Host Family volunteer form and expectations.
      1. Verify the expectations with each leader – that they agree with them or if they see improvements.
    5. Follow up with the leaders to see if they contact host families who have internet and are willing to clean their home.

This type of a plan helps to build leadership capacity in your members and helps to shepherd the whole congregation and encourage those in danger of backsliding.

From revivalism to management

Evangelism was the focus of American Christians for the past 150 years during the great revival and holiness movements and great awakenings. There were great outdoor campaigns aimed at bringing people to Christ. The Holiness movement published thousands of books and held hundreds of prayer meetings mostly by lay people. Evangelism and Holiness were everywhere in society. Some towns even closed their jails because all the criminals had become Christians. By 1900 the population to Church ration in the USA was 1 to 74. Most were beautiful small churches.

In 1909 there was a revolution in management by Frederick W. Taylor. This revolution systematized business and had a great influence on the thinking of all American’s about the “most efficient way” to solve problems. Christian believers naturally applied this thinking to the process of personal evangelism leading to the new Birth and to the process of a believer becoming entirely sanctified. For an American, if a good system was applied the problem could be solved.

Evangelism systems
Small Church in Ohio

Through the first half of the 1900’s the question gradually became “how to present the Gospel to a person who was not yet saved?” Especially from the 1950’s to the 1990’s the focus was on having a pattern memorized to repeat to a person who was not yet a Christian. Examples of these are “The Roman Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Evangelism Explosion” with D. James Kennedy and Dr. Chic Shaver’s adaption of “Evangelism Explosion.” At times these presentations were detailed and at times simple but with all of them the focus was on moving a person from unbelieving to believing. In a mainly Christian culture with large numbers of shared stories these were powerful and helpful.  The systems built on the stories that were common in the culture at the time. Many came to Christ with these methods. Many are following Christ because of these system, but now we are loosing the shared stories. Today many families have not gone to church for two or three generations. They have never heard many of the Bible stories! Whatever happened to evangelism today? 

Small church challenges

The simple systems methods for evangelism have always had challenges. As a pastor I was exposed to many patterns for evangelism. Over and over I tried train my congregation in some evangelism method to bring people to Christ. The methods rarely seemed to fit. Trying to memorize a pattern and get people to actually implement it is very difficult in a small beautiful church.

There are many reasons but most of the people attending a small church don’t know how to use these simple systems with the close friends and family. They know few strangers in the small town. In the urban setting those “strangers” could be dangerous.  Whatever happened to evangelism?  Many believers could not understand how to apply it in their context.  When I present the gospel, (use a simple system), to my family and they don’t respond. What do I do now? 

From Evangelism to Discipleship

Whatever happened to evangelism?  The Mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. Church leaders have generally moved from using the term “evangelism” to using “discipleship.” Both of these are deeply Biblical concepts. I believe we are making a mistake by dropping the term “evangelism.” These are two distinct types of work though they blend with each other.

Jesus did both public evangelism and discipleship. Jesus started his ministry preaching alone and used a very SIMPLE sticky phrase. Matthew 4:17 “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (WEB). This simple sticky phrase built on John’s message and pointed to the new hope Jesus was giving. It was easy to share in a village. Jesus preaching would be the big news event of the day. For those who listened it was easy to repeat “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Likely there was a vigorous supper discussion about the preacher. Villages like to talk about strangers. This is clearly Evangelism. The presentation of Good News to those who have not heard it yet. Jesus, our example, shows that this is important.  In some ways we can follow His example. 

Jesus selected his first disciples after a few months. He began to teach them by example. They followed him, living where he lived and listening to his teaching both in public and in private. They watched Jesus heal thousands of people and cast out hundreds of demons. Their faith was increased by what they heard, saw and experienced over several months. They talked with each other about what he taught. Soon he was giving them various responsibilities for the ministry. He sent them out on their own two by two. He finally left and the whole work was in their hands. This is clearly discipleship, the molding of character and the development of ministry in another person.

Evangelism = proclaiming the good news to a not yet believer in Jesus.
Discipleship = Accountable conversations urging each other to full spiritual obedience to Christ.

How does this work in the small church?

We think deeply about our local church culture.

What stories do we tell? What kinds of victories do we celebrate? What do I hear people talking about? What kind of testimonies do they give?

The small church actually has an advantage in this process since everyone knows everyone else.  We need to leverage that advantage by building a culture of spiritual accountability. It is possible for every Christian to help anyone saint or sinner to move closer to Christ. The hostile person can become less hostile. The sinful can be encouraged with hope. Believers can pray for hurting people. Honest business and work practices set an example. If we overhear these stories from many in the congregation, and often hear public testimonies about them, we have a discipleship culture. If we rarely overhear these stories or testimonies we have work to do.

Discipleship is independent of church size or structure.

How to make cultural improvements

If we need to improve our culture, the best place to start is with the most spiritual people in the congregation. Help them to begin to tell the stories each week of their spiritual interactions with others. Share your stories with them, your failures and successes. How did either of you help someone toward Christ this week or this month?

The goal is making the spiritual progress of others and ourselves a congregation wide topic of conversation and celebration.  Culture is made by the stories we tell to each other which create a world view.  By using stories we can help people understand the subtle change in focus (from system to culture).  We give them a new picture of how they can engage in fruitful conversations.  We tell stories of how these kinds of actions help people come to Christ.

We are the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. So that wherever we go – Christ goes. We are literally the hands and feet of Christ. So we are able to be bold with wisdom for Christ with all the people we are already meeting on a regular basis. We also don’t need to be responsible for their whole response to Christ. We just need to help everyone move one step closer.

How do you see the relationship between Evangelism and Discipleship?

Small? Really? YES!

You are NOT alone! You are a part of the Majority! In 1996 I sat down with the six people who remained in the small Nazarene church in Oklahoma. I agreed to be their pastor. My family added 4 and the little church had an immediate growth spurt! For sure that was a small beautiful church! But what do I mean by small? If you want some background to my thinking on this please read the book “Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell.

I consider a small church to be any church of 150 or less in worship attendance on a normal Sunday morning. I would group the small churches as follows.

Building Yes or No Very small Small Avg Small Larger Small
Rural no  3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Rural yes 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Urban no 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Urban yes 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150

None of these sizes is better than any other – they are just different. I plan to address each of these types in various blogs.

The distinctions in the chart are institutional or structural considerations. Every church of every size (large or small) is able to Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. The main differences have to do with the structural challenges each faces. These three structural issues (Worship attendance size, Urban/Rural, building no building) combine to make the organizational or administrative challenges different. Similar kinds of churches in these categories have similar challenges.

The difference between Rural and Urban is vast.

The difference between the church renting something and owning it’s own building is vast. The difference between 20 and 120 is huge. While each of these church types has it’s own challenges each is a beautiful small church.

I am sizing the small church as less that 150 in attendance because above that number the organizational structure changes dramatically from informal to formal. This is a basic limit on the number of relationships that humans can handle and within all human organizations sets the way we are able to organize ourselves.

Thus the small church is defined by the WAY it can and normally does organize – using informal structures. The large church is defined by the WAY it needs to organize. A large church cannot organize the way a small church does. It is possible for a small church to use large church organization but it does not need to. It can take advantage of an informal structure very effectively. If a growing congregation passes 150 in average worship and does not structure as a formal organization it will usually fall back to a smaller size. This is the challenge for churches that want to grow or are able to grow larger than 150. They MUST restructure. That is a painful process and most do not succeed.

Finally, look at this chart from the research team of the Church of the Nazarene. Notice that the largest percentage of Nazarene churches around the world is in the range 41 to 120 while nearly 1/2 of all Nazarene churches (12,276) are less than 40 people. From 120 to 300 we have a total of 2008 churches. So that the overwhelming majority of Nazarene churches in the world are less than 300 members.

Church of the Nazarene Congregations by Church Size (2019)









1 to 20 6,336 27.3% 4,034 15%
21 to 30 3,712 16.0% 4,007 15%
31 to 40 2,228 9.6% 3,837 14%
41 to 120 8,486 36.5% 10,725 40%
120 to 300 2,008 8.6% 3,498 13%
301 to 500 273 1.2% 657 2%
501 to 1000 147 0.6% 270 1%
1000 + 48 0.2% 84 0%
Total 23,238 100.0% 27,112 100%

How would you define the small beautiful church? What do you see that I have not considered?

Space invaders in the Church!

Not little green men but imported false expectations.

Expectations that small beautiful churches fail to meet.

Expectations that frustrate our mission and our focus.

A cultural contextualization that becomes a syncretism. 

The false idea that a disciple is a person who watches others present the Gospel and Worship.  Attendance = Discipleship. 


We feel like failures. For many small beautiful church pastors Sunday is heartbreaking. We come to the building each week and feel like we have failed.  We have no idea how to meet these culture driven entertainment expectations with the resources of a small church.  The music person did not show up.  The sound system did not work. Our sermon seems flat to the few people in front of us.  We feel like failures because we are trying to live up to the wrong expectations. I hope to relieve you of some guilt and help you find a good focus.  You are not a failure to Christ!


Church = Entertainment NOT

The entertainment expectation is one of the greatest FALSE challenges we face in small churches. Producing quality entertainment is challenging for every size church and is nearly impossible to sustain in the small beautiful church. Entertainment is hard. It takes skill, equipment, long long practice, and a setting that is difficult to ensure in a small church. It needs several people  highly skilled in lighting, sound, music, video, and power point. Sermons need to be excellent orations. Power points just right.

Today, Covid 19, we need to learn to do all this online! We have to learn all the skills of photography and videography and meet the expectations that the essence of the Gospel can be condensed into a video format. Something people will watch but don’t take action on in their lives.  We are being forced into an online medium and most of us struggle with that, especially the small beautiful church.  The pastor is being challenged to become an expert in all these areas because in the small beautiful church the ministry of most believers is in their full time work.  They don’t have extra energy and the time to become skilled in these technical areas. If they are skilled they don’t have the time to apply that skill for the local church.

I want to be clear here.   Using media skills is fine.  Even small beautiful churches can have a significant online presence if a pastor is skilled enough or has enough time to develop it.   The question is how to turn online presence into true discipleship leading to obedience?

Alien Focus

The main problem is not that entertainment is difficult but that the entertainment FOCUS is alien to the purpose of the Body of Christ.  Entertainment aims to move our emotions.  It hopes to change our attitudes and perhaps actions by appealing to our emotions.  Entertainment is always temporary.   Emotions might feel good or bad but a focus on emotion leaves out thought and action. 

An entertainment focus is clearly taking over a church when the congregation hardly participates in worship. That wrong focus can be seen in constant praise for the presentation.  Many churches are setting up as concert halls.   We also see a major financial investment at times.   None of this is wrong of itself, but when it becomes a substitute for obedience it becomes a subtle form of cultural syncretism that blends the Christian message with the drive to make everything entertaining, everything about an emotional response to “worship,” we feel good because we have been to Church. 

We see a wrong focus when we worry more about the quality of the coffee and the type of instruments than we do about the quality of the saints.   An obedient church asks questions about obedience in their leadership meetings.  An entertainment church asks questions about equipment and presentation in their leadership meetings.  

Jesus said where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in the midst. This means that Jesus’ expectation for what we do when we gather as Christians is possible with two or three people.  Does our small beautiful church meet Jesus’ expectations? 

Obedience is the Goal

Jesus expectation is for us to encourage each other to obedience. That is the actual command in Matthew 28:20 “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded.”   The idea behind “observe” is to “keep the commandments” Matthew 19:17; “guidelines to follow” Matthew 23:3; “keep a close eye one to keep a prisoner from escaping,” Matthew 27:36 & 54, 28:4.  “Observe” in Matthew 28:20 clearly means to teach a person to obey everything Jesus has commanded.  

Keep in Step with the Spirit

How do we meet Jesus’ expectations? Keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

Step out of the entertainment trap.
Step into an atmosphere of obedience.

Obedience brings deep joy – and real emotion as we heal from our sins.

Change your own mind first.

Study the real purpose of the Body of Christ – to make saints into the image of Christ.

Examine the methods Christ used as he started ministry. How did he help the first disciples to obey?

Examine the methods Paul used as he started new churches. How did Paul and his team set the example of obedience for their new churches?

What level of technical expertise is really needed to meet the expectations of Christ for this small beautiful church?

If I use social media how do I do more than present an idea?  How do I encourage accountability?

Start small

This is a beautiful small church! If you change the perspective of one other Godly receptive person, you have moved a large percentage of the congregation.

Teach what you learned in step one to the most Godly and open person you know.

Pray with them about how to refocus the congregation.

Now you are two!

After a few weeks start again with another very receptive person and have the first Godly believer also personally teach a second Godly prayerful person.

Now you are 4!

Then the second believer can teach another as well.

Now you are 8!

This is multiplication. Each believer is responsible for the mission of Christ.

Aim for 30%

Aim to reach about 30% of your worship attendance with the message of the purpose of the congregation.  The whole congregation’s attitude will change when we change the perspective of about 30% of the most receptive in the congregation. With 20 in worship this means just 6 people, with 50 the means just 15 people.  These few people thinking and acting differently will change the whole atmosphere. 

Corporate Worship

Move toward a focus on Corporate worship more than presentation.
Allow those with strong skill to use and express it with great joy! Corporate worship is one of the key parts of the Body.  We are commanded to gather together.  We are commanded to not forsake that gathering.   Gathering as believers gives us an opportunity to exercise our spiritual gifts together with other believers.   All Christians have a spiritual gift.  This gift is not the same as a skill.  It is a special ability to help others walk with Christ in some way.  Some can sing, some can testify, some can read scripture, others can tell us how we are out of line with what Christ wants.  Some can pray for physical healing and God heals us.  Others have words of wisdom that help us see how God is at work in the world.  Exercising our spiritual gifts gives us deep joy.  The joy of a spiritual gift is far better than any excitement from entertainment.  The greatest joy comes from sharing Christ with others. 

Celebrate obedience rather than skill.

When we celebrate the obedience of those exercising their spiritual gifts, the congregation learns that all can participate in worship together.  We should emphasize to those with skill that they are to lead the whole body to participate as a whole body.  Their skill should encourage others to join in.  Teach people to say “Amen” to an act of obedience.   Publicly praise obedience to the body of believers.  Often we praise music, but we do not praise scripture reading, or a clear testimony of costly obedience to Christ while at work.   We should equally praise (or not) all aspects of worship.   Just two people could do a dramatic Scripture reading.

Use a wide range of Worship activities

Use a wide range of elements for corporate worship and involve as many people as possible, balancing the time between the elements. 

Prayer, (all kinds)


Scripture reading

Corporate singing

Selected testimonies that emphasize current spiritual growth and obedience.


Small group responses to the sermon

Encourage Creativity in each of these so that people express Joy! 

Make sure that obedience is the focus of all aspects of worship. What is the obedient response we are looking for from each element of worship? The more the Pastor can identify obedience in worship the more the congregation will be able to identify obedience.

Have a wonderful Resurrection Sunday!


About 15 years ago the Church of the Nazarene adopted a beautiful mission statement

“To Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations”

Today, most churches use the discipleship meme. How do small beautiful churches disciple? In this overview we will look at why we do what we do in discipleship. Later we will expand the how to’s so that pastors and leaders in small churches have practical concepts and tools to move forward. Discipleship in a small church seems difficult but Small beautiful churches CAN disciple well. This is an important contribution to the whole body of Christ. Jesus made disciples and commands us to make disciples. We can obey that command even with a few people (where two or three are gathered). Paul made disciples and his example has some aspect of all three frameworks. Both Jesus and Paul worked with very limited resources as they started.


Today there are many different definitions for discipleship which mostly fit into three main frameworks.

Education – a disciple is a believer who knows stuff. Sunday School
Structure – a disciple is a person following the right structure or organizational form. G-12
Obedience – a disciple is a person who is obedient to Christ’s commands. Real Life Discipleship.

Each framework above focuses a problem and assumes that the other two aspects will be taken care of when the framework is correct. So that we assume if a person is properly educated they will learn to obey Christ and fix harmful structures. We assume that if a person is in a right (love your neighbor) structure the structure will help them obey Christ and learn what is necessary for that. If a person is obedient to Christ they will learn what is necessary to live as a fully obedient Christian and repair harmful structures.

The framework we adopt to make disciples shows what we think is THE sin of all of humanity. The framework addresses that problem (sin). The other two aspects grow out of the frame.

So the discipleship question today is what is the real essential problem (sin) and what is simply a tool to help or a good result of using the framework?

Let’s look at these three frameworks.

1. Education.

Education assumes the basic problem with people is that they lack understanding or skill. (Ignorance is sin). If they know enough they will do right. So the framework uses curriculum focused on understanding Scripture, or understanding psychology, or sociology, or finance. We hope that education will help people obey Christ. We hope that education will help us deal with bad structures and put in their place structures that love our neighbor as ourself. The problem with an educational framework is that knowledge (by itself) does not transform. Knowledge is NOT righteousness. We are not judged in the end by what we know. This was the Gnostic heresy. James is clear about this when he says that the devils believe there is one God and they tremble. The devils know perfectly but the devils don’t obey. Not only this but Education is not universal. It can be helpful to a Christian but many Christians have never had access to education. If something is not universal it cannot be what Jesus is commanding.

2. Structure

Structure assumes that the basic problem with people is that they are in a bad system. (The system is sin). The relationships we participate in are causing us to sin. Perhaps we are not accountable enough. Perhaps we are not organized enough to make sure we do what is right. It is true that accountability helps us avoid sin. It is true that accountability is helpful for reaching others for Christ. But structure does not deal with the inner motivation of a person. Why does someone conform to a system or structure? Are they always motivated by loving obedience or can pride, acceptance, the fear of others, or a sense of self-righteousness motivate them? If a right structure is what we need – why did the Nation of Israel continue to sin after Yahweh gave them his commands? There is no better stBuddist Pagoda Myanmarructure than the law of God. Also various cultures around the world and through time have used an amazing range of ways to organize themselves. If structure were what made us holy we would see some cultures that are structure d “correctly” becoming saints because of that structure. From scripture and history we see that the Apostle Paul structured churches using a team of Elders and Deacons without a lead pastor. The Apostle John structured churches with a lead pastor. These two inspired Apostles of Christ used different structures to accomplish the mission of Christ. Structures cannot change the heart of a person.

3. Obedience.

The obedience framework assumes that the problem with people is choosing to disobey God, or choosing to go their own way. (Disobedience to God is sin). Jesus says “if you love me you will keep my commands.” For Jesus, obedience is the evidence of love. It means that our external actions are in line with our internal motivation and that our internal motivation is in line with our external actions. Obedience to Christ’s commands includes all our internal attitudes as well as our external actions.

Obedience requires some knowledge. We need to know what Christ wants from us. We need to know how to apply love to our neighbor. The better our theology the easier it is to obey correctly. Bad (wrong or evil) theology often leads to wrong actions.

Obedience requires some structure – husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. The Church is the body of Christ. Deacons are appointed to a congregation. Pastors are ordained into the ministry by the laying on of hands. There is always structure to the Church.

Obedience to Christ’s commands is possible across all cultures and societies. Obedience is universally possible.

This is why all discipleship should focus obedience. “Teaching them to obey all I have commanded you..” Jesus did NOT say “Teaching them to understand all I have commanded you.” Jesus did not say “Teaching them to organize themselves correctly.”  Discipleship in a small church is obedience to Christ.  Simple obedience. 

Methods discipleship in a small church.

Education resources

Sunday School curriculum.

There are many of these and they are normally expensive for a small church.
You can find the latest prices for a good curriculum at the Foundry publishing.
You can also find a good curriculum from the Wesleyan Church at
The costs for these depend on the number of classes, students, grade level and teachers you have. They can be from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars a year.


It is also possible for the small church to train teachers to use the Bible itself for it’s curriculum. The stories and resources there can be used by a teacher to help saints grow in Christ. This is a low cost way to approach education but requires training teachers how to use the Bible well. I recommend this approach for most small churches.
The internet has vast amounts of materials but many of these are wrong or actually hostile to a Wesleyan Arminian perspective. I will suggest good free educational materials in the coming blogs.
Each of these materials assumes that you have a structure to deliver an educational curriculum. You will need places to put the students, teachers and some type of accountability system. For a very small church these educational structures can be challenging. Many churches of 100 people still struggle to deliver a Sunday School on a regular basis. I will suggest practical solutions in the days to come.


G-12 and similar approaches. I do not recommend this approach but it is good to understand the approach and why, especially in Latin America, it has been popular.
This is a cell church structure that focuses on high accountability through personal development.
It seems to model after Jesus approach of selecting 12 men to disciple.
The basic approach is found at this site
The approach builds on John Wesley’s use of class meetings and band meetings with high spiritual accountability and constant leadership development.
It structures everyone into a single accountability structure so that the person at the top of the structure becomes the spiritual leader for ALL those under them. This can be very abusive since everyone is encouraged to confess sin to their leader. Those confessions can be manipulated.
If used carefully with limits and restrictions it can be a useful tool.


The focus here is freedom from sin or obedience to Christ’s commands. The method is personal and group accountability.  Discipleship in a small church makes sure that all the members, attenders and contacts are growing in obedience to Christ.  All people go through stages from pre-believer to new believer to mature believer. It is possible to finish the discipleship process and move into being a part of the mutual body of believers. It is possible to be a full grown Christian.
Jim Putnam is an excellent example of this approach. His book “Real Life Discipleship” explains the concepts well.
The goal for discipleship in a small church is to help a person move from a sinner to a fully sanctified saint. Form small groups that have a life span and that are designed to help everyone see their own sins and faults and overcome them.
The actual situation of each person is dealt with.  We use structures that help people obey without becoming manipulative, or abusive – (both are sins). So that structures are flexible.  Educational curriculum is used as a point of development for the person and for the body. But this development is understood to be separate from the discipleship process. Entire Sanctification and a mature Christian walk are promised and hopeful for every Christian.

We will explore the types of actions a pastor needs to take in our next posts. How do we institute discipleship as obedience in a small congregation?