Devoted To Church Community!

-But, Satan Opposes It!

Unity is always God’s will for His Church! Satan, on the other hand, is always working to sow seeds of “DISUNITY” among those individuals that comprise a local church community! Because Satan has been so successful—at promoting disunity—many believers have determined to live a life of “isolation” while still attending church; and, others have elected to “quit” church altogether! Listen believer: “God never intended for you to live your Christian life in a vacuum!” I am so sorry that you’ve been “wounded”! I truly am! The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone; but, in the context of a “community.”

-Is It Like Joining A Commune?

Now, I’ve noticed that all it takes for some of us to “check out” is to hear that word “community.” Your eyes kind of roll to the back of your head! You cross your fingers & hope we’ll quickly change the subject! It’s like you’re afraid I’m going to tell you to sell everything you own, join a commune, and, raise organic fruits & vegetables! If that’s what you think, it’s because you misunderstand what community means in the Biblical context of a local church. It’s something that, once you grasp it’s meaning,  you’ll never let go of it because of it’s relational beauty!

-Biblical Community Is Beautiful!

In our hearts, we all want Biblical community—it makes no difference your personality type! Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or, socially awkward, all of us long for meaningful human relationships! That’s how God “wired” us—in HIS “image”—in the “community” of the Triune Godhead! He is, Himself, a “community” of 3 persons—ONE God existing in the perfect, loving, community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even those of us, who’ve been “wounded” by someone, still keep searching for deep, authentic, relationships. The word “community” is a compound word: “COM” meaning “with”; and, “UNITY” meaning… “unity.” So, it means to “be unified”; or, having “common union.” In the church it just means to share our common life “IN” Christ.  Now that’s a problem, in America, where the typical response is to look for a church where WE can “be fed”; where, our family can be ministered “unto.” That response is foreign in Scripture! It’s is an unbiblical, unhealthy, consumer-driven mindset that has hi-jacked Jesus Christ’s intended purpose for HIS CHURCH! It requires repentance!

-We’re Not Just Here For You!

The church—the followers of Jesus—is NOT made up of those who “minister”; and, those who are “ministered to”! Rather, ALL are to minister!  “And, let us (ALL of us!) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Bear one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). More than 60 times the phrase “each other” or “one another” is found in the N.T. commanding the church in the ways they’re to minister & care for one another! Every person can say, “We’re not just here for you; you’re here for us also!” That’s the responsibility of everyone in the faith community! The church that fails in that is crippled; and, guilty of “man-centered” narcissistic consumerism!

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More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!

Growing Up Spiritually In Community

While The World Obsesses Over The “Self”

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self”;  while, God—in the Scriptures—directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, that, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” The community of faith is recognized as “supplemental”, not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.

Build Up The Body

God uses our local church—our faith community—to grow us “at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.” Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” was to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish, in us individually, happens in the context of the local church body—it’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes in our interaction with other believers!

Isolation Welcomes Spiritual Defeat

When we live an isolated life on the outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous! Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He answers to no one! We, however, will ultimately give account to God for our lives; and, He has devised the Church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “Well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “Bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book, DiscipleShift.

 

 

Is Church Missions Biblical?

Does It Fit With Jesus’ Plan?

What does the Bible say about “missions”; and, how does it fit with Jesus’ plan for His Church? Let me say, at the start, that I don’t find the term “missions” to be very helpful! In fact, I don’t find it anywhere in Scripture & neither will you!

Confusion Over Missions

Unfortunately, it seems, in my 40 years of ministry involvement, that the term “missions” has created a kind of dichotomy in our thinking when it comes to sharing the Gospel—there’s “our church” evangelism effort at home here in America; and, then there’s “missions” or our evangelism effort outside our borders. But, let’s revisit Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church in Matthew 28:19,20.

One Verbal Imperative

Go, and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Now, there is only one verbal imperative; or, one single action word; and, it’s NOT the word “GO” as I’ve often heard preached! It’s “make disciples”; or, literally “disciple.” Just “disciple”— “…disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father…” Jesus’ plan was & always has been all-world encompassing! It’s not an either-or-proposition; that we have either a strong evangelism effort here at home; or, we have a reputation for being missions minded! Both are the unacceptable extremes of Jesus’ plan for His Church; rather, it’s “BOTH-AND”!

Jesus Died For The World

Jesus’ death on the cross was for the world! God loves the world! Someday, in the eternal state, there will be those from “…every tribe & every nation gathered ‘round the throne of God…” in worship & praise to the Lamb of God. I much prefer the term “making disciples” to “missions.” It’s Biblical! It’s what Jesus called it! So, do you want to be a “world changer”? If you really want to impact the world…be a disciple maker for God. Ultimately, it’s not a “missions program” we need; but, Holy Spirit power to disciple His Church!

The Power We Need

What is the single most important factor in our disciple making efforts? Some might say “love for God” or “love for others”; but, I would argue that that is our motivation to disciple! The most important factor is probably Holy Spirit “power”— “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Everywhere in the world—when there is “much” Holy Spirit power there’s effective disciple making happening! Where there is “little” Holy Spirit power there is very little disciple making going on. Holy Spirit power is essential to being an effective disciple maker! More important than knowledge! More important than choosing the right words! Holy Spirit power is critical to how effective we are at sharing the Gospel!

Growing In Church Community:

Called To Be Rugged Individualists?

We live in a culture where “rugged individualism” is heralded as a good thing! The individual “self” is celebrated! The Apostle Peter—by divine inspiration—seems to offer an alternative view for the follower of Jesus: “Coming to Him (to Jesus) a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5.

Who Are You?

He’s talking about our “identity”! This is “who” we are in Christ! First, we are “living stones.” By coming to Jesus, THE “living stone”, we become “living stones”, Peter says. Second, as “living stones” we are “being built into a spiritual house.” We were like dead rocks until Jesus saved us! But, now we’re “living stones”; and, becoming more like Jesus, THE “living stone.” And, He’s building a “spiritual house” with us! This is the coolest picture because it establishes our “identity” as “individuals” & as “community.” It confirms the prominence of “community” in our “individual” lives!

Conformed To His Image In Community

If you don’t “get” this, than you don’t “get” Jesus’ Church! This “building” process is how He sanctifies us; and, He uses the rest of the individual “living stones” who make up the Church—specifically, those in our individual “local” churches—to conform us to the image of Christ! He doesn’t build us, or sanctify us, in isolation! He uses the rest of the body, the “living stones”, to mature our faith! Practically, that means personal conflicts must not be viewed as a reason for leaving your local church; but, as God’s means to alter our own behavior for the unity of the body! Only then do we become a “holy priesthood”; and, a faith community that intercedes between Holy God & sinful man! Only then can we serve our nation; and, our cities as God’s mediators; and, faithful disciple makers! Only then do we become a city, set on a hill, that cannot be hid; a light that draws unbelievers away from the darkness of this broken world!

The Church Is Not Brick & Mortar

We are “living stones” that God is building into a living community of saints; a, spiritual house full of “priests.” We’re not a passive building, church! Don’t GO to Church; BE the Church! God indwells—not a building—but, a “people.” We will only find our true “identity” as Jesus builds us & adds us into His Church; this, spiritual house! When we know who we are, relationships will be birthed that will stand the test of time! We’ll take our ministry seriously—as a sacrifice of praise—with a sense of urgency! Our worship together will be sweet because Jesus is infinitely precious to us!

 

 

What Should We Value In Church Ministry?

The American Church Landscape

For most of the last 36 years of my life I have been on the staff of a local church; so, I like to think that gives me some “depth perception” — I’ve observed the landscape of the church for nearly 4 decades! That said, the health of the church in America has never been more alarming. According to the United States Census Bureau Records, 4000 churches close their doors each year while only 1000 new churches start up. Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity; or, put another way, people are leaving the church! Since 1992, church attendance has dropped around 13% while population growth as increased by 9%. If we all do the math we’ll all come up with the same conclusion — we’re losing ground! And, it’s snow balling! “Humanly” speaking it’s an irreversible trend!

Thankfully, we serve a God that is neither limited by nor impressed with human trends. He transcends human trends! He loves to step into our world supernaturally & overcome all human logic and wisdom by His eternal power; and, He does it for the glory of His name!

How Should We Respond?

I’m privileged to be part of an Elder team that really cares about the church to whom we minister. We begin each of our meetings in prayer — sometimes lengthy prayer — seeking God’s direction for our meeting and for His church.

One of our Biblical titles is “Overseer” — pretty straight forward, isn’t it? We’re responsible for the “oversight” of our local church ministry. It means we’re “stewards”! We’re not “bosses”; nor, are we “owners” of the church! It belongs to Jesus because He “bought” us; and, we’re not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)! As Elders, we “oversee” the work on His behalf.

We concluded that too much of our ministry effort, in the past, has been the pooling of human wisdom. We had bowed down to the “Idol of Pragmatism” which led us to “add this ministry” or “do it this way” because it worked at Mega Bible Church in Big City, USA. Which begs the question, if it’s Jesus’ church why don’t we ask Him how to run His church? And, so we did!

What Should We Value In Ministry?

What you’re reading, in this series of posts, is the result of months of prayer time & Scripture study in an all-out effort to discover what Jesus would have us “value” in our local church ministry — “Ministry Values”! And let me be clear about something from the start: these are NOT our Ministry Values because we say they are! As an Elder team, we’ve carefully studied God’s Word in an attempt to “confirm” what He wants us to value in ministry!

You may not come to the same conclusions as we have! And, I’m okay with that! Can you be okay with that? Every local church should be an individual expression of our Awesome God’s creative character! My son has his own little saying when we play games together as a family: “You be you,” he says. In other words, play the game the way you play it! You don’t have to play it like everyone else!

Let’s stop trying to be like every other church! You need to uncover who God made you to be through prayer, fasting, and a healthy diet of the God’s Word! Be still; and, know who God made you to be! When you discover “who” that is, it will set you free; and, provide passion & meaning to your local church ministry that trying to copy all the “big dogs” never will!

Right now we find ourselves on an exhilarating journey as a church. It’s a paradigm shift in the way we do church — rather than sitting around a table wringing our hands over “church business” we are learning to pray together and seek God’s help for the work He has given us to oversee!

We’ve Focused On All The Wrong Thing

I submit to you that the reason for decline in the church has been one of FOCUS — for decades we’ve focused on all the wrong things: politics, issues, music & worship styles, church attire, seekers, etc. We’ve made church about our agenda; our personal “hobby horses”! Not only have we been guilty of asking the wrong questions; we’ve asked the wrong person! We’ve sought answers from man instead of the All-Knowing One!

Let’s be gracious; and, assume that the church meant well! Her motives may have been right! But, in reality, too much church ministry has been done in the flesh for the last 50 years — when we work hard & pray little we’re telling the world that we have a weak God! When we pray hard we’re telling the world we need His presence in our ministry or nothing will happen!

If you’re like me, you long to see something happen! I long for a great moving of God’s Holy Spirit — one that brings the saints to their knees in repentant broken humility; and, one that brings the lost to an awareness of their lostness and their need for Jesus, the Savior!

I hunger for the presence of God to be manifested in our local church community of faith; to see the trail of His glory made known through the changed lives of our people. That’s the “Ministry Value” I plan to flesh out in my next post — Living each day in a way that brings God glory!

Thanks for blessing me with your time! Hope you’ll share some encouraging feedback! Like Jesus told Peter: “Feed My Sheep!”