Shane Lems is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Lisa, have 4 kids. Prior to ministry, Shane was in the US Army Reserves for 6 years and worked in the auto parts industry. He is a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California, and was a church planter in the URCNA in Sunnyside, WA.
This week, we share the Shane’s answers to our first 3 questions in the interview….
Question: What is something that you believe and/or do in regards to outreach that has changed over your time in ministry?
Shane: In my fourteen years of ministry, I have seen various cultural changes that have affected the way the church engages in outreach. One of the major changes is the internet and social media. When I first started the ministry, social media was in its early stages. Now, of course, it is absolutely everywhere. Without going into many details, I do believe the internet and social media have changed the way people interact with one another. For example, the internet and social media have kept people indoors. Rather than socializing face-to-face, many do so virtually. Furthermore, “online church” is in people’s vocabulary today. People can go for quite some time without a meaningful face-to-face conversation. I could go on, of course. But these things have seriously made the church re-think how to reach out in our digital culture. How do you reach people whom you can’t interact with in person? How do you share the gospel with someone who “lives” online and is lonely and isolated? The Christian church and the Christian life are very much in-person, face-to-face realities, so outreach in a digital culture is quite the challenge!
Question: If the OPC and OPC churches want to continue to grow in our effectiveness in reaching the lost-what is the most important thing we need to work on and how or in what way(s) should we be working on it?
Shane: If we want to reach the lost more effectively, one thing we can do better is to work on being more outward focused and less inward focused.
For example, sometimes a local church family shares similar views on politics, methods of schooling their children, and they hold tightly to various non-essential aspects of the Christian tradition or Reformed practices. In addition, the preaching and teaching is often full of terminology that people outside the church family have a difficult time understanding. These and other similar factors often result in a church becoming inward focused rather than outward focused.
When a church becomes “tribal” like this it hinders outreach in two main ways: 1) the above similar non-essential views often become part of outreach either inadvertently or purposely. This prevents outsiders who have different views from coming in. 2) Tribalism also hinders outreach because when or if an outsider does come in, there is pressure for him or her to become part of the tribe–including the adoption of the above similar views or customs.
I believe that by becoming less tribal we can better reach the lost. Yes, our church families should be close-knit. And yes, sometimes Christians hold tightly to various non-essential aspects of the faith. But these things need not hinder our outreach. First, we should be close-knit with a view to opening our doors and arms to people who are not like us. Christian love is an outward and open thing – it looks for people we can help and it is open to helping anyone in need. And if the Lord is pleased to bring the lost to himself through the ministry of our local church, we welcome them with love even if they have different views, customs, and a different ethnic background than us. People don’t need to become like us in every way. Second, another way to avoid tribalism is to preach and teach with the aim that average people in our context will be able to understand the message. While we need to use biblical terms, of course, we should be careful to explain them in a way that average people can understand.
Question: What is something that has surprised you about outreach and evangelism to the lost as you have done it?
Shane: One surprising aspect about outreach/evangelism in my experience is that there are fruitful years and lean years. In other words, sometimes an outreach event has almost no visible fruit. Three years later the same outreach event bears quite a bit of visible fruit. I’ve seen this in my own ministry.