Pethers, from London, addressed the State Convention Summit at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., an annual meeting that brings discipleship directors and other network partners to LifeWay to engage in ministry dialog and collaboration.
As recounted in Acts 10, Peter went up on a rooftop in Joppa to pray, but what the apostle got was an attitude adjustment that rocked his world, Pethers said in the Dec. 6-8 summit's group sessions.
In Peter's vision, he saw all kinds of animals that, according to Jewish law, could not be eaten. Peter, as a good Jew, would know that condemnation would come upon him if he ate anything unclean, Pethers said.
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 people 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 continued. "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 named "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 a rooftop view 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.
A century ago, Pethers noted, about 94 percent of people in England were churchgoers, whereas today about 94 percent don't attend church. He 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."
Most of these people haven't rejected Jesus or turned their backs on Jesus, Pethers said. 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.
Pethers cited four crucial avenues for helping equip churched people to go to the world:
-- Sunday School, in training people to know how to go out and invest their lives in others.
-- Small groups, where people share their life stories in small groups and gain the confidence to go out and share with people outside the church.
-- Church starts. In England, Pethers observed, a church start is usually just a few people in a home sharing about their lives while in the United States, 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 said. "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."
Polly House writes for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. LifeWay and Dennis Pethers will host a Nationwide Rooftop Experience Simulcast on Oct. 1, 2012. A website, LifeWay.com/TheRooftop, is being constructed and will offer information on how people and churches can join in the experience.
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