NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Much like Peter’s rooftop vision experience, author and evangelist Dennis Pethers says a clearer understanding of God’s vision for a city and people can be found from a rooftop overview.
Pethers, an author and evangelist from London, spoke during the group sessions of the Dec. 6-8, 2011, State Convention Summit held at the home office of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn. The annual meeting brings discipleship directors and other network partners to Lifeway to engage in ministry dialog and collaboration.
As recounted in Acts 10, the apostle Peter went up on a rooftop in Joppa to pray, but what he got was so much more. He received an attitude adjustment that rocked his whole world, according to Pethers.
In Peter’s vision, he saw all kinds of animals that Jewish law said could not be eaten. Peter, a good Jew, would know that condemnation would come upon him if he ate anything unclean, Pethers described. In the vision, three times the voice of God told Peter to “kill and eat” and each time Peter said, “no.”
“Peter wouldn’t obey God because he wanted to be obedient to God,” Pethers said. “Doesn’t that sound confusing to you?”
Pethers, author of the “More to Life” line of evangelism resources, said we make the same kind of senseless decision as Peter.
“We look at our traditions and our customs, none of which may be bad in themselves, but then we miss it when God is telling us to do something different,” he said.
“But finally, Peter understood,” Pethers said. “And because he understood and he encountered God on the rooftop, Peter was freed to go to the house of Cornelius to preach the gospel to non-Jews.
“Without that encounter, he’d never have associated with a Gentile,” Pethers said. “Peter was out of his comfort zone, but he understood that God wants to have relationship with all people – even Gentiles.”
Using the metaphor of the rooftop, Pethers and Lifeway have designed a new resource called The Rooftop. Pethers has traveled throughout the United States and in several other countries where he and local ministry leaders literally go up on the rooftop of a building to get a view of a city or area and pray that God will give them a vision, like He did Peter, for God’s plan for the area and how they can be a part of it.
“Sometimes it takes getting on a rooftop to get a clear vision of what God wants to do,” Pethers said.
Summit participants were divided into groups sent to different areas of the Lifeway buildings to get a view of part of the city of Nashville. The activity gave them an idea of how the rooftop idea would work in their own towns. As they looked out at the city views, they were asked to pray for the people represented in those areas who need to be reached with the gospel.
According to Pethers, a century ago about 94 percent of people in England were churchgoers. Today about 94 percent don’t attend church. Pethers cautioned summit attendees that America is heading toward the same future if things don’t change immediately.
“Over decades in England, people have been sliding away from church and a belief in God,” Pethers said. “Generation after generation have stopped coming to church until now most people not only have never been to church, but they don’t know anyone else who has ever gone to church.”
He said that most of these people haven’t rejected Jesus or turned their backs on Jesus. They just don’t know who He is.
“The real tragedy is that they don’t even know that they don’t know,” he said.
“It can’t be about what happens inside the church,” Pethers said. “What is more difficult: to get people outside the church interested in Jesus or to get the people inside the church interested enough in the people outside the church to tell them about Jesus? Unfortunately, it is much harder to get the people to go outside.”
Pethers admitted that it broke his heart to realize it’s more critical for Christians to be changed than for nonbelievers to be changed.
“If Christians change and gain confidence and power to share their stories of how God is working in their lives right now, not in the past, but right now, the nonbelievers would be taken care of,” he said.
According to Pethers, there are four crucial areas to help equip churched people to go to the world:
— Sunday school – Trains people to know how to go out and invest their lives in others.
— Small groups – People sharing their life stories in small groups will have the confidence to go out and share with people outside the church, he said.
— Church starts – Pethers said in England, a church start is usually just a few people in a home sharing about their lives while in the U.S, it’s more likely to be an actual new place.
— Collegiate ministry – “This is the most pivotal age for turning around the hemorrhage of people leaving the church,” Pethers said, “but also calling those who still have a memory of their parents or grandparents attending church to come back before they are lost for good.”
“We must get Jesus not just in the church, but also out into the world,” he said. “I believe that the measure of a church is not how many come, but how many people go.
“Revival used to look like this: How many people are lined up to get in the church? But true revival will look like this: How many people are lined up to leave?” he asked. “I’m just afraid that our churches may be full of people who aren’t Christian, but they don’t know that they don’t know.”
Lifeway and Pethers will host a Nationwide Rooftop Experience Simulcast Oct. 1, 2012. A website, LifeWay.com/TheRooftop offers information on how people and churches can join in the experience.
by Polly House, Communications Department