Practical Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World with Dave Ferguson
How do you mobilize your church to develop meaningful relationships with people outside the church and outside the faith?
Over the years of experience I’ve had with churches, it appears that there has been an inverse relationship between the amount of evangelism training churches were doing and the number of people that were actually inviting people to take a step toward Jesus: the more evangelism training, the fewer people were coming to Jesus and connecting to the church.
I think many churches were finding it challenging to help people actually develop friendships and relationships with people outside the faith in a way where having a conversation about faith or inviting them to church could happen and be successful.
This is why I’m excited I got to sit down with Dave Ferguson this week to share practical ways you can help lead your church to bless people outside the faith. I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for years! In this episode, Dave and I talk through practical strategies for blessing and reaching our neighbors:
- 5 practical ways to bless your neighbors and reach people outside the faith
- The why behind B.L.E.S.S. and how it can change your church culture
- How to lead well and mobilize your church to practice B.L.E.S.S.
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Download the FREE teaching series on the BLESS practices
- Pick up a copy of Dave Ferguson’s new book BLESS
- Barna Research What Non-Christians Want from Faith Conversations
- The definition of the Innovation Curve
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Photo Credit: Anna Darlak
There have been very few books through the years that have transformed my thinking about how churches need to approach their ministry strategy and at the same time impacted my personal faith journey like your book has.
Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In a recent study, Barna Research found that 62% of non-Christian adults would have a conversation about faith with someone who would listen to them without judgment. But often our evangelism strategies begin with telling rather than listening. On today’s podcast, Tony sits down with Dave Ferguson, pastor and author of the book, BLESS, for a conversation about “five everyday ways to love your neighbor and change the world.” If you want to make today’s podcast experience great, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with this week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, as well as access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now here’s Tony’s conversation with Dave Ferguson.
Dave, first of all, let me just express some of the challenges I’ve experienced with churches in the past, and I have a feeling some of this you’ve either experienced too or certainly it’s impacted your thinking, because your book addresses these challenges in so many ways. First of all, let me express this. It appeared there was an inverse relationship between the amount of evangelism training churches were doing and the number of people that were actually inviting people to take a step toward Jesus and connecting to the church. And so the more the evangelism training, the fewer people were coming to Jesus and connecting to the church. That’s one piece that I’ve noticed through the years. The other piece, and again, some churches kind of took it a step further. They talked about investing and inviting, and I fully believe in that concept, by the way, but there wasn’t a lot of explanation of what that investing looked like. And because of that, I think many churches were finding challenge to help people, not even about sharing the gospel. It’s about actually developing friendship and relationship with people to get to the place where the invite could happen. And so I have been waiting for years for this book to come out, Dave, because I’ve heard you talk about this in the past, but I’ve never had something to hand to people, but it’s, BLESS. It’s your new book that’s out with your brother, Jon. And, first of all, I’m suspecting that was kind of a key piece of why you wrote the book, but unpack that a little bit further. Why did you decide we need to write this book, we need to get this message out?
Yeah. Well said, Tony, and thanks for having me on. I think it came out of a personal frustration and then also I’ll say, exactly like you said, also having that same kind of frustration in our local church. As a young person, I was absolutely on fire, excited about the grace that I’d experienced, the guy that wanted to share with other people. And I did all kinds of crazy things, you know, in an effort to try to share the good news with other people. I mean, if I go all the way back to when I was in college, I mean, I literally started something called the Soul Winners Club.
That’s a cool club. Did you have a logo and t-shirts too, Dave?
No, but I had a lot of guilt and manipulation.
And it was a small Christian college, but I had almost every faculty member too, going out doing like basically door-to-door, kind of canvassing share. And it was a terrible idea, but I think I was able to guilt them into it cause I think we all feel obligated, and I could go on and on. But what I found is kind of like a pendulum swing where I was trying to do it through my words. And I was creating awkward conversations, sometimes offending people, and it just wasn’t really that great. And so by the time we probably, almost the time we planted the church, I’d kind of swung the other way. And it was like, you know what, I’m just gonna let people observe my life. And one of the good things is some outreach and evangelism and we talk about community, people found their way back to God. That happened, but it actually happened like through our small groups, through community, through friendships and stuff. But I wasn’t, personally, I wasn’t reaching my neighbors or the people that I was necessarily, you know, my kids little league and all that kind of stuff. I mean, I think they probably thought I was a good guy because of my life, but it wasn’t translated into like sharing the good news. And so there was kind of this pendulum swing of words and then life, and neither one made a difference. And I wrote a book about 10 years ago with Alan Hirsch called, “On The Verge.” And the whole idea was this idea of how do you mobilize your people for mission? And actually we were just starting to kind of figure out, okay, what are the practices that we want people to use? And we tried a couple of different things in that community that didn’t work. And it was really after that book got published, right after it, right as it was getting published, then we finally said, Hey, we began to use these practices. And in some ways, I mean, it kind of drove us right back to the gospels. And there’s some things we just discovered in the life of Jesus that he did that we’re going like, well, what if we started doing those things? And so it came out of both a personal frustration, but also kind of a desire to see my church also be on mission and give them some practices that they just didn’t have.
So before we dive into some of the practical ways that we can live out the principles that you wrote about in BLESS, can you just walk us through and give us an overview of those five practices?
Yeah, sure. I’d be glad to. Maybe I’ll give one story and then I can jump in. While we were kind of trying to figure this out, I remember a guy sent me his doctoral dissertation, and the doctoral dissertation was simply titled, “Blessers Versus Converters.” So I don’t know if I ever told you this before, but so anyway, he did a study where there were two teams of missionaries, both sent to Thailand for two years. One went with the express purpose of trying to convert people, kind of like, you know, win souls, like I used to talk about back in the day. The other, then, went just to bless people. Wherever they would go they’d say, hey, we feel a calling just to share, you know, God’s grace however it expresses itself. After two years, the converters saw two people actually become Christians. The blessers, there was two outcomes. One thing that he documented was there was actually created a lot more social capital in the community where they were. But the second thing was they saw a hundred people who actually said yes to Jesus during that timeframe, just by being a blessing. And for me, that’s where then I began to go, okay, hold on. Let’s back up. I’m going to Genesis 12. And then the life of Jesus. And basically we began to look at the life of Jesus and said, hey, what are the practices he used? And then we kind of pared it down to these five and put it in a simple acrostic that people could could remember, which, we can dive into these if you want. The first one is, B, and this is a little bit of a stretch, but stick with me. Begin with prayer. And we see that’s both how Jesus started his earthly ministry, and I would tell people too, it’s both how you do the mission, but it’s also how you discover your mission. L stands for listen, and there’s a lot to talk about there. E stands for eat. The first S stands for serve, and then the last S stands for story. And there’s quite a bit to unpack in each of those. And there’s also a reason, I think, for that order.
So, I want to jump in on the L part, the listen part. Not that I’m trying to skip past prayer. But I think the folks listening to the podcast understand the priority of that. I hope they do. I mean, maybe too often as churches, we skipped past things, recognizing that’s everything we do, certainly in the relationships we’re developing outside of the context of our church worlds, too. We need to begin with prayer, but I often find that for Christ-followers, talking is a lot easier than listening. And actually we think we need to find the right words to talk first. And listening, actually it’s not something we’re prioritizing as we’re thinking about the folks that we’re trying to engage. So how give us some encouragement or challenge around that, Dave. How do we really lean in a little bit deeper on the L, the listening part?
Well, first of all, I mean, Barna did some research on this, and they actually talked to people who are not Christians, and they asked them, who would you be most likely to have discussed spiritual matters with? And the number one thing that they said, okay, so this is like the people who live next door to me that I’m praying for, on both sides, your neighbors, your friends, you know, people that we love, but maybe haven’t experienced God’s grace yet. The number one thing that they said they wanted in order to have a spiritual conversation was someone who would listen without judgment, who would listen without judgment. And from my own experience, too, I think I was so eager. And in my own immaturity that I got to tell people, cause I got it figured out and I need to tell them, that I thought that was the right approach. And, you know, I think Christians are more known for their talking and it might show up in yeah, just telling them conversation, or it might be in a billboard or a placard somewhere, than we are listening. And listening might be the most loving thing we can do for someone. And we know, from what Barna’s telling us that no, that’s what the world wants. They would like to talk about spiritual things. But would you listen to me, you know, is what they’re saying. Hear my story, hear what I’m going through.
So the combination of listening and then eating together or spending that intentional time together with somebody, it helps to point out where we can serve that person, the first S. And that’s what I love about, too, this model is I think too many times in church world, it’s our sense we have to wait for our church to organize the serving opportunities so that we can serve other people. But really what you’re encouraging through these practices is as you take these steps of prayer and listening and eating, spending intentional time with folks, the serving opportunities are, they’re almost going to reveal themselves, aren’t they?
Oh, sure they will. Yeah. I mean, in some ways this is like a remedial course on how to become a friend with somebody. I mean, imagine, I mean, think about the people that live around you, Tony. If you’re praying for those people, and you’re being intentional about listening to them, you know, when you see them in the front yard, in the backyard, or different things around town, and you’re really kind of interacting, but you have a bias towards, Hey, well tell me how’s it going? How are you doing in the pandemic? You know, whatever it is, you’re listening. And then on top of that, you know, you’re getting together and having, you know, even during this time, if it’s social distancing, maybe outside, you’re eating together, you know, that kind of thing. In the conversation, you’re going to find out what’s going on in their life. They will. I guarantee your listeners a hundred percent. They will tell you how you can serve them. It happens over and over again. I mean, for those of us that are married, we did all this stuff when we pursued our spouse.
You know what I mean? We, yeah, we listened. We said, hey, want to grab lunch, want to get breakfast, want to go out to dinner? And then boy, when there was an opportunity for something they needed, I mean, we tried to come through for them because we were interested in that person.
And then the crazy thing is if you follow those first four practices, you’re not going to have to force your story, and the story of what God’s done in your life, on that person. They’re going to pull that out of you almost, aren’t they?
Oh, absolutely. Right. And it’ll have so much more power now because there’s a friendship that’s built there. And there’s nothing more relevant than a friend’s experience. I mean, when a friend tells you, oh yeah, you need to go check out this restaurant. Or when a friend tells you, Oh yeah. Here’s a great mechanic. I mean, if it’s a trusted friend, you’re going, Oh, that’s a done deal. And it’s the same kind of thing. When you’ve invested in the relationship like that. I call it, paying the relational rent. When you’ve paid the relational rent, yeah. The equity is there.
So, I’m going to ask this question, then I want to turn the corner because the practices themselves, you go into a lot of detail in the book, and I actually want people to pick up the book, Dave. So I want them to read that. We’re going to talk, though, about how you’re implementing the BLESS principles at your church, because I think the listeners are going to be curious about this. But just give me your experience and from what you’re hearing from others in your church, how does blessing others bless us then? Because I think part of what we’re going to have to overcome for people is why should I do this? Why should I do this? And certainly there’s a kingdom impact to this. And hopefully that’s the primary driver and motivation for us to engage these five practices. But what might this do for us, as individuals, if we try to bless others?
Yeah. One is I would go right back to Genesis 12. I think God’s strategy for creating the world the way he wanted it to be was that he was going to bless us. And then we’re going to be a blessing to other people. And that’s how both the world and our own lives will flourish. So there is a meta kind of plan at work here, but I think even more personally, this is just a better way to build quality relationships with people. And one of the things that we stress in the book too, is, you know, and kind of goes back to that doctoral dissertation. It’s not your job to convert anybody. The Holy Spirit already has that job. He’s the one who convicts. So let him have that job. And you just have the job of you bless, and you love your neighbors. And that is so freeing and again, kind of back to where we came from. I mean, it was just really base-line Hey, so I just have to be friends with people. I mean, like a real friend? Yeah. Just like Jesus, who was nicknamed the friend of sinners. So I would suggest it’s just a better way to live, to build better relationships.
And our world needs this right now. There’s just no doubt about it. So I, again, Dave, I don’t know where in the last number of years I first heard this, maybe it was just in one of our conversations that you were sharing these five practices. And as soon as I heard them, I thought, my word, this is exactly what the church needs, because it really does. It puts practical handles, it helps us to talk about what that investment in relationship really needs to look like to encourage people to take their next steps toward Jesus. But because you’ve been thinking about practicing these things for a number of years, your church has also been doing that. And that’s what I want to hear from you in these closing moments of our conversation today is for pastors and church leaders that are listening to this, and they’re having that same reaction. Oh, my word, our church needs this. How would you encourage pastors to take these practices and help their church embrace these as well?
Yeah. Love it. Great question. And I’ll tell you, it’s kind of much about what we did and what we are doing. Number one, I would tell pastors that are listening, you are a culture creator. Okay. So part of your job is you’re creating culture. Okay. How do we create culture? Because what we want to create is we want to create a culture where all of our people are mobilized to go out and bless their neighbors, bless their friends. Right? So, when I kind of explained this, and I’ve done this with other things too, but I think it totally works with this, is where I first, I think, discovered the idea around culture is kind of think of three expanding concentric circles. At the core of it is values. And the second circle is narrative. And then the third one is behaviors. So my hunch is most local churches already have the value that yes, we ought to be on mission, we ought to be fulfilling the great commission. We gotta be loving our neighbors, right? So we have the scriptural values. So that’s probably already in place. So what you really need to focus on next is what I would call the narrative, which is language and story. So if you’re going to define narrative it’s language and story. I think we’re giving you some of the language here in the book. We also actually, there’s 18 different stories that come from people that have used it. It’s much more effective in time, where you start to have your own stories. But then the third circle is these practices, and these practices are these BLESS practices. So now, once you read the book and you go like, okay, so I can shift my culture just by making sure we all have these values around mission, we have this narrative around mission, and we have these behaviors, these BLESS practices now around mission. Not quite, because what we found has to happen is it needs to start. First of all, you need to do it. So as much as I would love to have everybody, you know, read the book and then go buy a hundred copies for everybody in your church, you probably should wait because what you need to do, you need to do it first yourself. And after you start doing it for a little while, then I would say, there’s a second step. Think about if you have staff or key leaders, you need to get them doing it. So if your listeners are familiar with the innovation curve, and if you’re not go ahead and just Google it right now, innovation curve. It’s how things adapt. What you want to get is like the top 17% of people.
We need those early adopters.
Exactly right. And you are one of them. As the people that are listening, you’re one of them. So you do it, but then think about your staff and maybe your small group leaders or Sunday school teachers of every age. Okay. If you get them and maybe key influencers, if you get all of them, and I would have like, even a private training saying, Hey, just for them, and we’re all gonna do this for the next, you know, three, six, however many months it takes. Once you get all of them bought in, then what you want to do, then you teach this as a series to the whole church and it becomes a part of your annual, what you do every year. And in fact, we’re at a place now where we actually, we have a metric, we keep track of how many people are actually using the BLESS practices and all that kind of stuff, because it’s that important for us. But I mean, maybe just to recap, you are a culture creator. Understand that culture is created by values, narratives, behaviors. Don’t teach it to everybody first. And it is a great series. And in fact, I probably could give you a series, if you want, to teach.
I have a feeling there’s some pastors that are going to want that, Dave. So…
Yeah. I’d love to give it to them. But I would say, first of all, do it with your key leaders and, you know, like small group leaders, Sunday school teachers and key influencers. Do it with a small group that makes up about 17 to 20% of the people. And after they are doing it, then you teach it to the whole church because what’ll happen is that 20% will be advocates, they’ll be like, Oh yeah, I’ve been doing this for the last several months. This is awesome. It works. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And that’ll actually move the whole thing forward.
Yeah, and I can’t overemphasize too on important things like this that need to shape the culture of your ministry. You need to not just teach it once. So not one series this year, but this does need to be every year. You need to come back to this. And the great thing is in future years, the longer you do this, the more stories you’re going to have to share too of the life change that’s happening because of these practices.
That’s exactly right. Because if the pastor is doing it and these key leaders are doing it, and he’s telling his story about, you know, and again, and then sometimes you have to remind Christians, all of them count. If you just pray for your neighbor, that counts. If you’re just listening to that guy, you can start to yeah, I was, you know, and so you get to share those simple stories. It gains momentum.
So yeah, one follow-up question to what you just mentioned. You, I think, alluded to the fact that you kind of have some metrics or ways to monitor how this is happening in your church. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that, Dave?
Yeah. We’ve just started doing this too. So we’ll do a survey of our whole church on, we’re starting to do this now on a regular basis where we ask we’ll ask them, okay. How many of you are aware of the BLESS practice? How many of you actually are using them in your life on a daily basis? And, I think for us, even, the book and a new awareness about this, we’ve kind of made a shift where before, this may be more detail than you want, but we’re one of the changes we’re making as we come out of this pandemic is the key metric that we are going to measure is discipleship. And the way we measure that is what we call 3-C Christ followers. Celebrate your relationship with God, connect your relationship with the church, contribute your relationship in the world. In the past, we used to kind of count the contribute piece would count if you’re serving in the church, we’re going to move that into our connect number, the second C. Cause that’s the church. What we’re really looking for is everybody to use the BLESS practices. That’s the way that we contribute to the world and that’s what counts. So that’s a shift in how we’re kind of thinking about discipleship and even what we’re counting more than attendance and engagement and all the other stuff.
Very good Dave, so first of all, and my podcast listeners know this, I have very few book authors on this podcast and the reason why is I want this podcast to continue to remain very practical, very focused on ministry strategy, helping church leaders thinking about engaging the mission that God’s called the church to. And so I have very few authors on this podcast. Second, the second thing is I read a lot of books, and there have been very few books through the years that have transformed my thinking about how churches need to approach their ministry strategy. And at the same time impacted my personal faith journey like your book has. And so I can’t strongly endorse enough pastors, church leaders. You need to pick this up. And as Dave said, you need to engage it first. But I think once you do, you’re going to see there’s an opportunity for your church unlike many that you’ve had ever in the past. And so I do, I hope you’ll take advantage of Dave and Jon’s new book. It’s called BLESS. And Dave, thank you again, not only for your ministry, but again, for your friendship through the years. I just, I’m so encouraged every time I get to talk with you. So thank you for what you’re doing in the kingdom, but thank you for. what you’re doing in my life as well.
Well, thanks for having me on. I’m grateful that you’re willing to use your platform and help us share the good news about this practice.
Well, thanks for joining us on today’s podcast. If you’d like to pick up the book, BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, just go to bless-book.org or anywhere that books are sold. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast and this podcast has been helpful for you, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.