‘Not one sermon you preach is wasted’
Mark Clifton will be among the speakers at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference in February. He serves as executive director of church replanting and rural strategy for the North American Mission Board and as teaching pastor at Linwood Baptist Church in Linwood, Kan. He recently talked with the Texan about some of the topics he plans on speaking about at Empower.
On the role evangelism plays in church revitalization:
Mark Clifton: [Churches needing revitalization] must spend their time and energy on reaching the lost. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to exist in the next couple of decades. If you reach two or three families who don’t know Jesus, and they’re baptized and then their kids are baptized, guess what? Most of their friends don’t know Jesus, either. … That’s how we see churches come back to life—not through programs, not through events and attracting church people to come to their place, but through evangelism. If you will focus this year on finding one person you can lead to Christ and disciple, it will change the trajectory of your church.
On the need—and challenge—for dying churches to reach younger generations:
MC: [Reaching younger generations is] really the bread and butter for a dying church. If you don’t reach the next generation, you’re not going to have a future. … I just think we’ve gotten way off target sometimes thinking we have to attract young people with young people things. You attract young people by loving them and being authentic with them. If your church will just be who you are authentically and love people with sacrificial love, man, young people will embrace that. You don’t need cool music to reach the next generation. You need authentic music to reach the next generation. If the next generation comes in and hears your older people singing at the top of their lungs … they will love that.
[Churches] always want to reach young people. They just don’t want young people changing anything. But young people are going to come in and they’re going to change some things. They’re going to want to bring coffee in the sanctuary because they bring coffee everywhere they go. They may not dress the same. Some of them may wear their hats in the worship center. Those are the kinds of things older adults are going to have to get over. They can’t give the stink eye to young people for doing that and then expect young people to stay around. They won’t stay.
On his message to discouraged pastors leading struggling churches:
MC: Only eternity is going to reveal the results of your labor. God, in His sovereignty, chose to put you not in an easy place, but in a hard place. He chose to put you in that place because He trusts you and values you with this very difficult task. You’re probably not going to get your reward this side of heaven. Nobody’s going to write a book about you. You’re probably not going to get tweeted about. You may not get asked to preach on the platform someplace. But trust me, not one Scripture you read, not one prayer you lead, not one sermon you preach, not one Bible study you lead, not one funeral you conduct—none of that’s wasted, because His Word never goes out and comes back void. You’ve got to go to bed every night knowing that only eternity is going to reveal the true results of your labor. God will take everything I’ve done in my ministry for Him, and if I’ve done it obediently, He’s going to knit together a story that, when we get to heaven, the angels are going to be amazed with.