Author Archives: JMorgan

Can You Spot the Christian in the Crowd?

Nov 08, 17
JMorgan
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Today’s topic is the culmination and unfortunate consequence of the “Top 10” lists we’ve reviewed over the past 5 weeks:

10 Words No Longer Heard in Church or Christian Music

10 Popular Bible Verses Taken Out of Context

10 Ways Jesus’ Church Growth Model Differs from Yours

10 Practices You Rarely See in Church Anymore

10 Ways Churches Underutilize Their Facilities

Yes, studies and empirical evidence confirm what you may have observed already from personal experience – that most of those self-identifying as “Christian” in America today don’t act markedly different from non-believers.  Note that I used the term “Christian” and not “Disciple”.  There was a time, frankly most of recorded history, when those terms were interchangeable.  Roughly 80% of Americans self-report as Christian in polls yet their answers vary widely when asked how they would respond if confronted at the pearly gates with the question, “Why should I let you in?”  Clearly the definition of “Christian” has been stretched beyond its reasonable limit when professing believers stammer replies to that question that begin with “I never (did certain bad things)…” or “I always tried to (do certain nice things)…”

Confession and belief alone may assign the modern label “Christian” but it’s surrender and transformation that earn the moniker “Disciple”.  However, that standard has been lowered to the point where anyone who attends church, even as infrequently as CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only), is considered a “Christian”.  “Christian” is even by default often applied to Americans who have no identified affiliations with other religions.

Clearly those are not disciples.  Disciples have studied deeply, committed fully and changed drastically.  They’ve assumed the attributes of Jesus and live like Him, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit.  As the Book of James repeatedly emphasizes, faith without works is dead.  In Jesus’ time, disciples of a rabbi were called Talmudine.  It was considered a great honor to be asked by a rabbi to “come follow me”.  It meant they were deemed worthy, with potential to become exactly like their rabbi one day.  To attain that goal, disciples imitated who they followed in all respects – literally every step of the way.  In fact, a common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you.”

Too many Christians talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  Most “Christians” are willing to gather, pray and worship occasionally but struggle when it comes to altering their mode or standard of living.  As a result, surveys reveal that Christians in name only closely resemble their non-believing counterparts in 10 important ways:

  1. Not Vocal about their Faith – The vast majority of Christians understand their obligation to share the Gospel, but a far lower percentage have done so in the past year or feel comfortable doing so.  It’s not entirely their fault.  Churches have become increasingly reluctant to ask members to endure the training needed to answer the tough (yet predictable) questions that likely follow a Gospel presentation.  Companies train sales staff to memorize and rehearse answers to typical objections, but pastors simply encourage congregants to give their testimony, invite people to church and let the “professionals” handle conversions.  Disciples take personal responsibility for telling others about Jesus and discipling them.  Christians who aren’t disciples can’t make disciples.
  2. Volunteer the Same Amount (outside of church) – Believers are not more likely to invest hours in helping the poor or homeless. Congregants volunteer at church regularly, but are not shown opportunities to serve outside the 4 walls on a year-round basis.  Spiritual gifts assessments point members back to “church chores” rather than to external avenues and outlets for putting those gifts to Kingdom use.
  3. Comparable Moral Failure Rates – Self-identified Christians gamble, cuss, illegally download music, view sexually explicit material and get intoxicated nearly as often as the average American. Churches enable continuation of immoral behavior by disassociating conversion from discipleship.  By reducing discipleship to voluntary small group meetings and not holding churchgoers accountable to the Great Commission standard, new Christians are left with the impression that the gift of eternal life carries with it no moral obligations that should naturally and necessarily accompany following Jesus.
  4. Equally Worried and Concerned – Christians suffer from anxiety and depression at roughly the same clip as other Americans, despite Jesus’ cautionary parable about the plants choked out by thorns.
  5. Respond Much the Same Way in Crisis – Besides prayer, the knee-jerk reaction of Christians in the face of unexpected difficulties is typically not noticeably different from others going through the same situation.
  6. Not More Generous (if you exclude giving to churches) – Reports that Christians donate substantially more than non-Christians fail to exclude donations to churches.
  7. Not Viewed as More Loving – On the contrary, Christians are widely seen as more about judgment than justice and condemnation than compassion.
  8. High Divorce Rates – While active church members are far less likely to divorce than the average American, some studies show that divorce rates for “nominal” Christians (e.g. infrequent churchgoers) are actually higher than the national average.
  9. Similar Emphasis on Financial Security – Despite Jesus’ warnings during His encounter with the rich young ruler, in essence citing His earlier proclamation that we can’t serve both God and money, what is your personal experience doing business with those who display the Christian “fish” symbol on their business card?  Is that profession of faith intended to engender trust or are they truly trustworthy?
  10. Self-Orientation – Few churches today emphasize Paul’s inspired edict to die to self, “crucify the flesh” and “no longer live” except as a vessel for Christ.  That’s not exactly an attractive proposition in our nation’s consumeristic, happiness-driven day and age.  So again, it’s not surprising that recent polls show most Americans do not see much difference between the actions and behaviors of their Christian and non-Christian neighbors.

It’s Your Turn

In light of all this, let’s rephrase our original question, “Can you spot the disciple in the crowd?”  Statistics show the crowd in America is full of “Christians”, but the token disciple should stand out like a sore thumb.  That person will be the authentic Christ follower who exemplifies the opposite of each of those 10 characteristics listed above…

10 Ways Churches Underutilize Their Facilities

Nov 01, 17
JMorgan
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Admit it – on a weekday at some point somewhere, you were driving by church after church with 1 or 2 cars in the parking lot noticing that all of those buildings sit largely idle six days a week.  If you wondered whether that’s a responsible use of donated dollars, you’re not alone.  Many Christians and non-believers alike question the stewardship of such poor capacity utilization – so don’t feel bad if that question popped into your head.

A company would close and sell any facility that was only well utilized one or two days per week.  Many of us who don’t own second or third homes consider the ultra-rich irresponsible for spending so much on properties they only visit a few weeks per year.  We ask in disgust, “Wow, just imagine how many families in need those wasted dollars could have helped?”  So if most of us wouldn’t pay a mortgage on a house we lived in only 15% of the time, shouldn’t we expect churches to be better stewards than the ultra rich?

Some may argue that church is not a business or house, so that’s not a fair comparison.  They may correlate a church building instead to a drama theater where performances only take place on weekends.  Hopefully you see the problem with that line of reasoning – church is not meant to be a production, but it is the Lord’s house.  God gave explicit instructions for the design of the temple that Solomon built and the tabernacle that Moses built.  He’s fine with building projects – but He’s not ok with a relatively barren sanctuary, classrooms and property 6 days per week.  The Lord wants His house to be utilized at all times to its maximum potential doing His work.

Let’s look at 10 questions that will help you determine whether your church is a faithful steward of member giving and of the facilities the Lord has entrusted to it…

  1. Was community engagement and service a consideration in the design or purchase of the buildings and grounds?  Church planting and building consultants bring floor plans, recommended dimensions, seating capacity calculations, sanctuary layouts, parking requirements and even standard church aisle widths.  However, they don’t bring models for how to optimize utilization of the facilities to maximize Kingdom impact throughout the entire week.  Consultants want to get paid and there’s no money in a church building consultant not defining church as the building.  Yet the evaluation criteria for church property are quite different when members (and not the building) are seen as the embodiment of church and the goal is to equip and send disciples out of that building.  The bottom line is that if the design isn’t ideal for intensive, personal discipleship and community outreach all week long, don’t buy or build it.
  2. Is church leadership seeking to maximize capacity utilization to be a better steward of its real estate?  Studies are needed of how to deploy available space throughout the entire week, with models taking into consideration discipleship needs, community issues, existing ministries, potential partnerships, decentralization opportunities, etc.  Notice that none of those variables dominate capacity utilization discussions today, which are centered around weekend services.  The potential is tremendous for dedicating space Monday through Friday to ministry incubation and reaching out to the public through career coaching, tutoring, recovery ministries, parenting and marriage courses, health and wellness classes, etc. – all geared toward demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ and His Church to a waiting and watching world.
  3. Does the church have many members on campus every day of the week?  A Great Commission and Great Commandment driven church should have a crowded parking lot day and night – and not just staff preparing for weekend services but church members and attenders doing deep-dive discipleship classes, prayer meetings, worship, family gatherings, and community engagement activities.  It’s poor stewardship to reserve such a big space for a weekly gathering and not find a way to do as much ministry as possible in that space after weekend services are over.  Our blog post last week explains how that space came to be so underutilized as contemporary church practices have shifted the workload from members to staff and redefined church as a place and an event.
  4. Are many non-members also on the property each week for (or as a result of) some kind of community engagement or outreach initiative?  Throughout history, church buildings buzzed with activity.  Church was the center of town – the food bank, homeless shelter and support system for communities.  Today, public perception of churches suffers because they no longer lead with compassion, as Jesus did.  Even in wealthier communities where needs are not so obvious, there are still a host of opportunities for churches to become a tractor beam of light, drawing people in for help and hope – alcohol abuse, rocky marriages, parenting problems, depression, poor health, etc.
  5. If your church were struggling (and over 90% aren’t growing today), would your leadership consider alternative options or fight to keep the institutional model intact?  Busy buildings during the week are also usually filled on the weekends.  However, what if weekend crowds are dwindling too despite prolonged efforts and tactics to revitalize a shrinking congregation?  That’s not an uncommon story these days.  Would the pastor start to realize that maintaining such a large space for a small crowd is as irresponsible as a small family living in an enormous home?  We’ve seen many plateaued churches reach that conclusion and convert to compassion ministries.  However, we’ve seen others not address the root cause of their challenges (i.e. failure to build disciples who mightily impact those around them) but instead cling to their properties by finding alternative sources of revenue (e.g. selling land or using the property to run a side “business”).
  6. Are the size of the congregation and budget no longer seen as reliable measures of church “health”?  Does your church gauge success by nickels and noses?  Or is “health” defined as Kingdom impact using metrics like the # engaged in discipleship, # of ministries launched, # of families outside church being served, and % of budget invested in reach the “lost”?  Many ambitious churches with plans for multi-site expansion look for “dying” churches to take over, thereby increasing another size-based indicator – “footprint”.  But if we measure “footprint” by impact for Christ and not square footage or membership, then planting a new church with the same flawed, internally-focused model as the “mother ship” isn’t truly “taking ground” for the Kingdom.
  7. Is your church actively decentralizing by empowering members to BE the church, decreasing dependence on a central campus to DO church?  “Taking ground” requires leverage created by redefining members as church and equipping them for bold, productive ministry.  There are countless ways to decentralize and empower such as launching one-on-one or triad discipleship, house churches, neighborhood groups and mission-shaped communities.  Setting aside classroom space for those initiatives is great, but maybe Starbucks or Panera are better (and certainly lower cost) options.  Listen carefully to whether your church leaders are characterizing church as a place or honestly conveying the truth – that anytime we talk and act together with other believers, we are “doing” church right there, wherever we are.
  8. Is your church saddled with mortgage debt and having difficulty paying it off?  High, fixed costs create mixed motives.  We can’t serve God and money, but more church debt increases the odds of compromise – such as inadvertently treating members like “customers”, attracting and retaining (by asking less of them and doing more for them) versus equipping and sending them (asking more of them).
  9. Is your church reallocating budget away from infrastructure, salaries and putting on a weekend production toward personalized discipleship and following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion?  Church leaders can’t simply talk “prayer, care and share”; they must put their money where their proverbial mouth is.  That entails reallocating the church’s budget to generously fund discipleship and member-led local ministry efforts.  To drive impact through capacity utilization, a church must stand behind its commitment to make disciples who make disciples and underwrite externally-focused groups.  Without a proper definition of “church” (as people, the “ekklesia”) and the “customer” (as the “lost” all believers are called to pursue), a church won’t make the hard decision to redistribute resources away from facilities.
  10. Is the church investing in innovating to deliver content and engage the community in ways that are intended to reach more people, reduce costs and diminish reliance on buildings?  People drive in Sunday morning, stay for a non-interactional presentation, possibly hang around a few minutes afterward to chat, then head home.  That single sermon cannot deliver the depth needed by mature Christians because pastors have to design messages to accommodate the mix of maturity levels within the congregation.  Aren’t tailored messages based on discipleship progress more efficiently delivered while people are out exercising or driving to work?  There’s been little innovation in (or adoption by churches of) content delivery vehicles for discipleship or for serving others.  Technology vendors invest in building solutions that churches have set aside budget to purchase, so there is significant innovation in online streaming of conventional church services, but little around discipleship or local missions (besides Meet The Need).

It’s Your Turn

How did we get in this situation where church buildings are so underutilized?  A former Senior Pastor told me last week he was astonished driving through Lynchburg, VA (home of Liberty University) at how much unoccupied real estate was tied up in the form of church buildings.  Is there any connection to how hard seminaries recruit aspiring pastors, who soon graduate looking for a church to run hoping eventually to reach the point of ultimate ministry validation – building or expanding facilities?

10 Practices You Rarely See in Church Anymore

Oct 18, 17
JMorgan
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Not only have church growth models changed in recent years to accommodate American culture, but traditional practices churches leveraged for centuries to foster evangelism, discipleship and service have also been scrapped.  Church leaders contend that new practices are necessary to adapt to culture.  When comparing the new practices to the ones they replaced, it becomes clear that churches have in fact adapted to accommodate 21st century America – a nation of consumers, accustomed to convenience, increasingly secularized, unprecedentedly materialistic, while daily becoming more tolerant of immorality and less accepting of certainty.

A necessary consequence of adaptation to suit those traits has been the redefinition of “Church” from people to a place.  In other words, each of the 10 traditional, common practices we’ll evaluate in this post has been replaced by a new practice that shifts responsibility for being the embodiment of “Church” from members to pastors and alters the ostensible goal from building disciples to building congregations.  Pastors have conformed church to fit our busy schedules in this hectic day and age out of fear of the consequences of asking us to conform our schedules to our intended role as the church personified.

See the “Payoff Matrix” below where we compare the “costs” and “benefits” of each traditional church practice (shown as 1A-10A in black font) with the corresponding new practice (shown as 1B-10B in blue font) where…

  • Costs of Discipleship = Inconvenience, time and money that the practice requires church members invest in discipleship, evangelism and compassion
  • Kingdom Payoff = Amount of discipleship, evangelism and compassion brought by the church to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”
  • Arrows point from the former practices to the conventional practices that supplanted them
  • The numbering of the 10 practices is in no particular order of priority or importance
  • The four quadrants are labeled at the top with a phrase in quotes and in colors indicating whether a practice within that quadrant should be done more or be done less based on the relative level of investment required by church members (Costs) and the anticipated effectiveness in advancing the Kingdom (Payoff), with…
    • Green = High or Low Cost, but High Payoff
    • Yellow = High Cost, but Low Payoff
    • Red = Low Cost, but Low Payoff
  • The dotted triangle highlights the grouping of modern church practices toward the Lower Cost and Lower Payoff section of the chart, where the demands for member commitment are lower, yet so is the expected benefit from living out the Great Commission mandate to make disciples who then make more disciples

Does this chart help illustrate how nearly all church practices have shifted in the same direction – toward catering and away from challenging?

It’s Your Turn

How have efforts to make church and Christianity more “palatable” compromised biblical practices and imperatives?

10 Ways Jesus’ Church Growth Model Differs from Yours

Oct 11, 17
JMorgan
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Many church leaders contend that it’s necessary to adapt to culture.  They see older conventions for planting a church and growing a congregation as outdated.  However, Jesus was countercultural and counterintuitive.  Therefore, it’s worth evaluating, as we do in today’s post, whether modern deviations from Jesus’ model for building a following (i.e. church) represent compromise to accommodate:

  1. The Shortcomings of American Culture – e.g. consumerism, laziness, secularism, flightiness, worldliness, immorality, and uncertainty (viewing certainty about anything as arrogance)
  2. Redefinition of Church as a Place – i.e. shifting responsibility for being the embodiment of “church” from members to pastors and from building disciples to building a congregation

Let’s review 10 of the ways that Jesus’ strategies for growing a following were nearly the antithesis of those most pastors use today to grow a church

  1. Narrowed Down the Flock – Jesus weeded out the uncommitted quickly.  He set the bar high, then raised it.  Jesus extended the invitation to all but quickly demanded a deep, unreserved commitment to follow Him.  He didn’t let half-hearted, fence-sitters loiter for long, challenging them to repent and transform or make a bee-line back to their self-centered lives.  Setting the bar high necessarily means saying goodbye to those who at some point still aren’t willing to jump over the bar.

Increase the Size of the Flock – Churches are content to let “window shoppers” stare at the merchandise for months on end, while frequent attenders slip out the back door every Sunday and even card-carrying members remain unrepentant and spiritually stagnant for decades.

  1. Resisted Notoriety – At the height of his popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, gut-wrenching sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

Build Brand Equity – Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, challenging message members have ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would ever come back again.  Imagine that same pastor then laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.

  1. Disappeared at the Least Opportune Times – When the iron was hottest, Jesus often went AWOL.  His disciples encouraged Jesus to seize the moment, acting as His marketing reps, but were often disappointed when He was nowhere to be found.  Inevitably, when crowds were the largest Jesus had once again run off to a remote location to pray.  Rather than make a grand appearance at the festival in John 7, He snuck in discretely. Rather than brilliantly defend himself and save His life in front of Pilate, He hardly said a word.  All bystanders were incredulous.

Be Highly Visible – Pastors are the faces of their churches today.  They’re pictured on billboards and marketing materials.  They’re the voice of the congregation, the public spokeperson.  They’re highly accessible, particularly to loyal members (whereas even the disciples often couldn’t find Jesus).  Because church today is viewed as a place and pastors, too much of the church’s future rests in the hands of a single personality.  If they disappear, the church could disappear as well.

  1. Spent Nearly all His Time Discipling a Few People – Jesus built a Church but didn’t run one.  He understood that His followers are the personification of church – so He built disciples and not buildings.  He suffered no administrative headaches or performance anxiety, because He wasn’t putting on a show intended to please anyone.  Jesus spent roughly 90% of His ministry time discipling a few people; however conventional church growth models simply don’t allow for pastors and staff to follow suit.

Consumed with Running a Church – Pastors and staff devote an inordinate amount of time to putting on a well-organized, professional-grade event every weekend.  Pastors run themselves ragged, often unnecessarily burning out, by assuming responsibilities that rightfully belong to those in the pews.  Yet insisting churchgoers BE the “church” personified would send most “nominal”, “cultural” Christians today heading for the exits.  Therefore, instead of equipping and empowering disciples, pastors wind up hopelessly stuck in an endless performance loop.

  1. Low Tech, High Touch – Jesus’ ministry was no frills, letting nothing detract or distract from the simple truths He espoused.  His appearance was ordinary – likely not dressed up or clean-shaven.  His pulpit was rugged – a side of a mountain or a small fishing boat.  His worship services were impromptu – stopping where He was to address those around Him at the time.  Yet His message was personal – convicting individual sinners to repent and follow Him.

Create an Experience – Churches meticulously plan and script an emotional build-up for an audience from the music crescendo, to announcements of exciting activities, to an encouraging message, all the way through to the closing song and prayer.  Articles abound advising pastors how to apply the science of “customer” experience design to optimize services, like the ideal # of parking spaces per attendee, % of seats to fill before starting a second service, decibel levels, visual effects – even down to seat spacing and cushioning.

  1. Humbled the Most Influential – Jesus reserved His most harsh words for those you would think had the potential to do His ministry the most good.  He didn’t try to win over religious leaders – Jesus insulted them.  He didn’t ask the rich young ruler to “come as you are” – Jesus told him to go sell all he owned.  He didn’t tolerate the leader of His followers ignorantly questioning the Lord’s plan – Jesus called him “Satan”.

Enlist the Most Influential – In small churches, a handful of members typically have an inordinate amount of control.  Pastors worry about the reactions of a patriarch to changes, even those that are seemingly insignificant.  They hesitate to confront prominent members and large contributors about sin, knowing that could cause an irreparable split.  Moreover, church leaders readily accept criticisms from those same people and make changes to pacify them.

  1. Went to the Lowly to Build His Church – Of all the places Jesus could have gone to look for His first followers, Jesus went to a lake.  Commercial fishermen in that day were less educated and influential than practically any other candidate pool Jesus could have fished in for men.  Then, of all people in Jericho, he approached the most reviled man in the city, a traitor collecting tax from his own people for the occupying Roman government – and cheating his fellow Jews on top of that.

Strategic in Planting in an Area that can Sustain a Church – Few pastors have the temerity to locate either in a poor or godless community.  However, Jesus knew that those with the least amount of money and the most sin are the most desperate for a Savior – and consequently most willing to submit and endure the costs of discipleship.

  1. Said Following Him Would be Hard – Even to non-believers and new converts, Jesus clearly spelled out the costs of following Him, carrying your cross and leaving those you love, dropping any unfinished business, and possibly winding up homeless.  That’s not exactly an attractive marketing pitch for prospective candidates, and few enlisted for that level of commitment given the potential ramifications.

Says Coming to Church will be Easy – Many churches advertise in flyers and billboards how unintimidating, comfortable, casual, and fun the experience will be at their worship service.  Not only “seeker” churches, but the vast majority of churches today stay true to their word (but not God’s word) and avoid any false advertising or “bait and switch” that would accompany laying out the costs of discipleship as boldly as Jesus did.  The primary commitment consistently emphasized is to serve and give (to a place) versus to transform (as a person).

  1. Compassion was Jesus’ Calling Card – Jesus almost always healed and fed, demonstrating His compassion and love, before telling people who He was.  He didn’t just preach.  He served – every day, everywhere He went.  Likewise, Jesus sent the disciples out into the world around them, giving them the power to perform miracles and instructing them to follow His lead, preceding words with action.

Local Missions is < 1% of the Average Church’s Budget – Few churches engage in significant, coordinated community service activities between Sundays.  Outreach is largely restricted to occasional service events, particularly during the holiday season, designed largely to build name recognition and check the proverbial “box” without adequate follow up – consequently doing more harm than good.

  1. Jesus Went Out – He spent time in the temple, but the bulk of his preaching was done out in the community.  He engaged those in need – not just with words, but with deeds – exactly where they were.  He didn’t wait for them to darken the doors of a church building.  He went to them.

Churches Try to Bring Them In – Few churches today follow Jesus’ model.  No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, yet most separate words from action.  They’ve replaced as a central mission equipping and sending disciples into community service and evangelism (care and share) with attracting and retaining members.

It’s Your Turn

In what other ways did Jesus’ ministry differ from the Church’s ministry today?

10 Popular Bible Verses Taken out of Context

Oct 04, 17
JMorgan
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The last straw for us was the sermon series immediately following Easter – “What Jesus’ resurrection gives to you”.  My wife and I left the church before the end of the 6 week series.  I think we made it through “Victory”, “Freedom”, “Power” and “Joy” before we could no longer stomach the concept that Jesus suffered and died to make us more happy and comfortable.  To me it felt as dirty as when I finished going through the Titanic exhibit, only to be forcibly routed through the gift shop profiteering off the deaths of hundreds of passengers.

Megachurch consultants had recently been hired to rejuvenate that aging church.  Much had changed – discipleship and local missions were disbanded, worship music became a concert, the kid’s ministry was converted to Romper Room, and teaching focused on what God does FOR “me” and not what God requires OF “me”.  Throughout the post-Easter sermon series the pastor fed us a steady diet of Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 but failed to provide context to those verses – not mentioning the adjacent verses that qualified those promises.

That church, like most today, worries that it won’t survive in this day and age if it fails to attract and retain members.  Therefore, pastors are more careful about the words they use and the scripture passages they read.

As the measuring stick for “success” has become more size-based than impact-based, the filter through which churches process every decision has shifted from “how do we make them disciples” to “how do we get them to commit to Jesus and our church.”  We count professions and baptisms but as we discussed last week, the buck shouldn’t stop there.  Jesus wants us to make sold-out, transformed disciples – however, pastors and staff have in effect already moved on the next unsaved person once a new believer comes to Christ.

Yes, we are saved by grace through faith but I doubt the sincerity of a profession of faith if that person’s life doesn’t change significantly.  Given the magnitude of the gift Jesus gave us and how much He suffered on our behalf, shouldn’t we be transformed by His grace?  Wouldn’t we want to serve others eagerly and share our good news widely.  How can so many go back to business as usual, cussing a little less but keeping their newfound salvation to themselves outside their circle of Christian friends.

We’re left to wonder whether nominal or carnal Christians are really Christians at all.  Are they truly saved?  Yet churches in America implicitly approve of converts living as they did before by making discipleship, repentance and sanctification optional out of fear of asking too much of people that they want to come back next Sunday.  As a consequence, recent studies have found that Americans don’t believe their Christian neighbors live or act any differently than their non-Christian neighbors.

It’s a disservice to churchgoers everywhere and to the Lord to regularly quote attractive-sounding verses while withholding the less alluring context of those passages of scripture…

10 Popular Verses & Their Overlooked Counterparts

1. Romans 8:28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:29 – “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Context – Jesus defines “those who love Him” in John 14, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”.  Obedience and discipleship are joined at the hip.  The latter part of verse 28 and verse 29 are typically avoided because they reference calling and predestination, a touchy, uncomfortable subject for most churchgoers – we’d prefer to have control than leave it in God’s hand.  “Conformed to the image of His Son” is also challenging because Jesus was first and foremost obedient to the Father.

2. Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Context – These two verses seem at odds, but though salvation is a free gift, we should respond by exhibiting the same mercy and grace we have received in how we treat others.

3. Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:2-40 – Examples of how the great heroes of faith did more than believe, but acted in dramatic fashion on that belief.

Context – Faith is not just belief; it is belief that inspires action.  As James says in 2:18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

4.  Matthew 6:33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 5 and 6 – We prefer the 2nd half of 33, getting “all these things”, and rarely analyze what “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” really means, which is explained in detail by the long sermon Jesus gave “on the mount” in chapters 5 and 6.

Context – Verse 6:33 is rarely connected back to the sermon it concludes, meticulously defining how Christ’s followers are expected to behave.

5.  Romans 12:3-8 – Pastors routinely cite these verses about using our spiritual gifts (parts of the Body) to serve the (institution of) church.

Romans 12:1-2 – “In view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Context – Pastors don’t often relate vs. 3-8 to the verses that precede them, more willing to tell us what we should do for the (collective) church than how we should undergo (individual) transformation.  Likewise, they put in place more support structures around the former (internal ministries) than the latter (discipleship).

6. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 – “Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

1 Corinthians 9:15-27 – Whereas 13-14 refers to pastors and church staff, Paul goes on to describe the responsibilities, training, dedication, and endurance necessary to live out the ministry calling every Christian shares as the embodiment of church (the “called out ones”; “those belonging to the Lord”).

Context – Few churchgoers want to hear how hard they would have to work to win the Great Commission “race” or “boxing match” Paul refers to in those verses.

7.  Philippians 2:1-2 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

Philippians 2:12 – “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

Context – In verses 3-11, Paul goes on to define the love of Jesus referenced in verses 1-2 – in humble obedience to the Father and putting the interests of others above your own.  The challenges of obedience and selflessness are so counter to our natures that in the verse that follows (v. 12) Paul describes the ongoing process of sanctification (and discipleship) as one that involves “fear and trembling”.

8.  Galations 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”

Galations 5:24 – “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Context – Without the transformation in Christ’s image that accompanies being “crucified” such that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”, we can’t bear the fruit of the Spirit.  Churchgoers also don’t want to hear the list of terrible sins and dire consequences outlined in the immediately preceding verses (vs. 19-21), knowing they may be guilty of a few.

9.  Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (NASB)

Philippians 4:12 – “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Context – Pastors and churchgoers prefer the NASB translation because it stands alone, delinking from the prior verse about being content in every situation.  The NIV phrases v. 13 as “I can do all this”, referring directly to Paul enduring hardships as a result of living out his faith no matter what the cost.

10.  Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:12-13 – “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Context – The book of Jeremiah leading up to chapter 29 is about Israel’s disobedience and God’s punishment.  In fact, chapter 29 is written to the exiles in Babylon, who were there because of disobedience (see chapter 25 and 27).  The promises in chapter 29 are for restoration following judgment understanding that discipline will bring obedience (vs. 12-13).

It’s Your Turn

What other verses have you heard churches take out of context, offering cheap grace and a better life without any need for repentance or discipleship?

10 Words No Longer Heard in Church or Christian Music

Sep 27, 17
JMorgan
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American churches eagerly accommodate Christians who have professed belief but have no intention of becoming disciples.  In fact, churches have worked so hard to build an environment that will attract and retain nominal Christians (and non-believers) that nearly all have abandoned discipleship entirely, replacing intensive and personal mentoring with optional fellowship groups.

The starting line (salvation) has become the finish line.  “Follow Me” and “take up your cross” are simply too time-consuming and costly in our consumer culture.  We prefer experiences and events over transformation.  We count professions, not disciples.  We require only that non-believers repeat the Sinner’s Prayer – everything else is optional.

Yet Jesus demands much more.  Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but sanctification is a process – one Paul described as “beating my body to make it my slave” and “working out your salvation”.  It does not culminate with repetition of a few words in the heat of the moment, as evidenced by the single-digit percentage of those still walking with the Lord a few years after professing their faith at Billy Graham crusades.

In Jesus’ time, disciples of a rabbi were called Talmudine.  It was considered a great honor to be asked by a rabbi to “come follow me”.  It meant they were deemed worthy, with potential to become exactly like their rabbi one day.  To attain that goal, disciples imitated who they followed in every respect – literally every step of the way.  In fact, a common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you.”

But we live in a salvation culture rather than a repentance or discipleship culture.  Churches offer what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”, where the goal is avoidance of a penalty, not obedience to the Master.  The gift of eternal life brings along with it no moral or evangelistic obligations or other disruptions that should necessarily accompany following Jesus.  We entrust those responsibilities to pastors and staff, who fail to fully disclose that the Bible defines you and me as the embodiment of “church”.  We may cuss less and do more nice things but the end goal of salvation doesn’t necessitate being transformed into Christ’s image.  In fact, two recent studies have found that Americans don’t believe their Christian neighbors live or act any differently than their non-Christian neighbors.

To entice consumers, churches and Christian music go one step further, stressing all that Jesus will do for us.  Pastors tell us what Jesus’ resurrection will save us from, but not what it requires of us.  As a result, the more pastors pursue members, the less members pursue the lost in the community.  Too many professing Christians go on living largely as they did before, even though that would seem unconscionable for a true believer given the magnitude of that gift and the consequences awaiting those who don’t believe.

Words Frequently Heard…

What God does for me…

Get Me Out of Trouble

  • “Rescue”
  • “Storms”
  • “Shelter”
  • “Rock”
  • “Fortress”
  • “Chains”
  • “Prisoner”
  • “Ransom”
  • “Stronghold”
  • “Weary”

Give Me a Better Life

  • “Victory”
  • “Freedom”
  • “Rest”
  • “Comfort”
  • “Healer”
  • “Power”
  • “Strength”
  • “Affirmation”
  • “Joy”
  • “New/Fresh”

Save Me from Hell

  • “My Redeemer”
  • “My Deliverer”
  • “My Savior”
  • “Cancel My Debt”
  • “Forgiven”

Words Rarely Heard…

Americans are fickle, accustomed to convenience and blessed with options, quick to “vote with their feet” or demand “their money back” if not completely satisfied.  Pastors are reluctant to challenge and eager to cater, knowing there are plenty of churches down the road that still define church as a place, asking only that they give and invite their friends.  Christian radio stations and artists realize that we can change the station with the push of a button.  We want to enjoy and be inspired by music, not be guilted into adding any more responsibilities to our overloaded schedules.  Therefore, pastors tip-toe gingerly around the following words and musicians avoid them entirely:

What I should do for God and His Kingdom…

Making Disciples is Not Optional

  1. “Discipleship” (only loosely used to refer to small group meetings, which don’t make disciples)
  2. “Obedience” (the essence of discipleship)
  3. “Accountability” (for the Great Commission)

Taking up a Cross Requires Radical Change

  1. “Repentance”
  2. “Sin”
  3. “Confession”
  4. “Transformation”

Following Jesus is Going to be Hard

  1. “Sacrifice”
  2. “Commitment”
  3. “Sanctification”

In some cases you do hear challenging words inside of a church or on the radio, but they’ve taken on entirely different meanings or their emphasis has shifted to benefit us rather than glorify Him.  As the narcissism of a salvation culture overtook the selflessness of a repentance culture, the focus of linchpin terms of the Christian faith skewed in our favor…

  • “Grace” – The mercy shown to me by God versus the mercy I show to others
  • “Holy” – Our standing in God’s eyes versus His standing in ours
  • “Outreach” – Marketing our church versus our individual obligation to serve others
  • “Ministry” – Serving at our church versus Jesus’ command for us to share the Gospel

It’s Your Turn…

What other “it’s all about me” words do you regularly hear on Christian radio or at church?

What Does Obedience Have to Do with Discipleship?

Aug 23, 17
JMorgan
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Everything.  We spent the past few weeks walking through a series on “blind spots”, each of which qualify as disobedience.  As we discussed, the Church in America today largely ignores or allows others to assume its God-given responsibilities to care for persecuted brothers and sistersorphanswidows and the poor.  The vision of church leaders became obstructed not unwittingly, but despite countless biblical examples and commands by Jesus to live Prayer, Care and (then) Share lifestyles.

The Church increasingly abdicated compassion as it gradually, yet consciously redefined the word “Church” from believers to buildings and from people to places.  That slippery slope also impacted their interpretation of the Church’s target “customer”, from the “lost” in the community to the “found” in the pews.  In that light, it becomes clear why the solar eclipse of evangelism and discipleship has blocked the Son’s rays.  Asking those currently treated as “customers” (i.e. by definition, those who leaders seek to attract and retain) to be the “Church” (and pursue the real “customer”) is far too risky to impose on those who pastors would like to come back next Sunday.  It’s also too challenging, time consuming, costly and uncomfortable for those who now see that as the pastor’s job.

A company wouldn’t ask customers to study the owner’s manual, go through extensive training and risk life and limb as prerequisites for purchasing a product, much less a very expensive one.  Yet that’s exactly what pastors are called to do with members of their church – because they are not “customers”.  Members are the “Church”, therefore they are more like employees of that same company who are expected to study the employee manual (Bible), undergo countless hours of training (discipleship) and work late nights away from family (missions) as prerequisites for employment, particularly for a higher paying occupation like Kingdom-building that brings priceless eternal rewards.

The Importance of Obedience

Therefore, the redefinitions of “Church” and “customers” have created a dichotomy between obedience and discipleship where none exists.  Obedience and discipleship are joined at the hip – obedience is just the hardest part for those now accustomed to a lower level of commitment to living out their faith.  Pastors are particularly cautious in our consumer culture about asking members to truly obey the Great Commandment and Great Commission:

Whereas…

  • Studying the Bible isn’t difficult (at least not in America where we’re not jailed if caught doing so)
  • Praying isn’t risky
  • Worshipping God isn’t costly

But…

  • Walking away from sins and addictions is difficult
  • Sharing the Gospel with non-believers is risky
  • Giving up the American dream for God’s plan is costly

Yet those are exactly what Jesus asks His Church to do as prerequisites for following Him:

  • Repent Humbly – Obeying God’s laws, directly confronting sin within the Body (Matthew 18:15-17)
  • Witness Aggressively – Obeying the Great Commission, realizing that although we often quote Matthew 28:19 (“go and make disciples”), we rarely hear about Jesus’ next and final words in verse 20 “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
  • Love Unreservedly – Obeying the Great Commandment, understanding that loving the Lord and obeying Him are synonymous (John 14:21, 23-24) and that truly living out “loving your neighbor” will make us look much different than our non-believing neighbors (which, as we’ll discuss next week, studies show is not the case today)

Scriptures don’t stop there, but go several steps further, citing obedience to God’s Word as a condition for:

Churches in our day and age seem to have divided into three camps on the topic of obedience, claiming the moral high ground over other churches or denominations because they either:

  • Associate calls to obedience with legalism, emphasizing that we’re saved by Christ alone
  • Possess a more biblical interpretation of God’s laws, and therefore are more obedient
  • Understand that both faith and obedience matter, meaning we should obey out of love for Christ and never in a futile attempt to “earn” or “deserve” salvation

Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith but must remember that:

  • Obedience is validation of our faith, not the origin of it
  • Obedience is evidence of our salvation, not the cause of it
  • Obedience is the essence of discipleship, and the result of it

How Are Churchgoers Disobedient?

Not seeing themselves as the personification of church but rather as participants in church, most members and attenders are not living lives as sold-out disciples of Jesus Christ.  “Christian” and “Disciple” should be redundant, but today we call “Christians” anyone who:

  • Believes in Jesus
  • Repeated a profession of faith
  • Talks about religion
  • Speaks out about the sin of others
  • Attends church
  • Serves at a church
  • Grew up in a Christian household
  • Has read the Bible

Those are not necessarily disciples.  Disciples have studied deeply, committed fully and changed dramatically.  They’ve assumed the attributes of Jesus and live like Him, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit.  As the Book of James repeatedly emphasizes, faith without works is dead.  However, society sees a Church that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.  We sound like Christians (which according to surveys comes across more as condemnation than compassion), but not like Jesus (who “desires mercy, not sacrifice” – i.e. religious behavior).  Jesus is looking for followers who exemplify the meaning of “church” seen in Acts 4 – those so filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:23-31) that their praise and worship spilled over into evangelism and compassion (Acts 4:32-37) – faith AND works.  Most modern believers are willing to gather, pray and worship but struggle when it comes to compromising their standard of living (warnings Jesus addressed in His encounter with the rich young ruler and the parable of the sower and plants choked out by thorns).

How are Church Leaders Disobedient?

Obedience is scary for pastors in America.  Teaching, preaching and implementing any of the following can cost them everything they’ve worked so hard to build:

Church planters are more bold in making these demands because they have little to lose.  Once a Body begins to grow, there’s more risk in advancing biblical principles that are sure to send any luke-warm fence-sitters heading for the exits or to the church down the road.  Offending, confronting or challenging an influential family about disobedience (not just moral failures, but unwillingness to live out the Great Commandment or Great Commission) could cause a split that would threaten the viability of the entire church.  It’s easy and far too common for pastors to justify compromise when they have a church family to lead and personal family to feed.  Obedience may come at a price but that doesn’t make it optional.  Likewise, just because church leaders today don’t see the connection between compassion and church growth doesn’t alleviate that responsibility to follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is.  Anything less amounts to redefining “church” as a place and members as “customers”.

It’s Your Turn…

Has the fear of moral legalism (as opposed to trusting in Christ alone for salvation) obstructed your vision to the importance Jesus placed on obedience?  How do you reconcile the call to obedience and process of sanctification with justification by faith, not by works?

The Evaporation of Evangelism & Dearth of Discipleship

Aug 16, 17
JMorgan
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2 comments

The 5th and final “blind spot” in this series is also the most concerning.  Over these past few weeks, we’ve unpacked the reasons why churches have developed “blind spots”, largely ignoring their God-given responsibilities to care for persecuted brothers and sisters, orphans, widows and the poor.  Yet our modern-day redefinitions of “church” and its intended “customer” have obstructed the vision of most pastors and churchgoers to two other, far more critical mandates – sharing our faith and making disciples.

Evaporation of Evangelism

A study conducted by LifeWay Research in 2012 found:

  • Of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of mature believers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score among Protestant churchgoers
  • 61 percent had not told another person about how to become a Christian in the prior six months
  • 25 percent said they shared their faith once or twice
  • Only 4 percent shared the Gospel three or more times over the last six months

A Barna survery in 2013 came to similar conclusions.  While a high percentage of born again Christians said they should share their faith with non-believers, only 52% said they had actually witnessed to someone at least once in the past year.

In this case, as with our other “blind spots”, there is a striking dichotomy between conviction and execution.  A cursory review of Scriptures should compel Christians to reach out not only to those who are persecuted, abandoned, lonely and impoverished – but also “lost”.  Yet just as churches spend less than 2% of their budgets on local and international missions, individual believers invest obscenely little of their time and energy leading others to Christ.

Where the breakdown between belief and action occurs is again at the very beginning – the definition of “church” itself.  Permitting churchgoers to view “church” as a place (and not as the ekklesia, i.e. themselves) may keep them coming back (by alleviating their responsibilities to BE the church), but it stifles personal evangelism and discipleship.  Pastors would feel at liberty to hold church members accountable for the Great Commission if those in the pews rightly saw themselves as the embodiment of “church”, as the Bible repeatedly contends:

  • And now you have become living building-stones for God’s use in building his house. What’s more, you are his holy priests;(1 Peter 2:5)
  • “But Christ, God’s faithful Son, is in complete charge of God’s house. And we Christians are God’s house…” (Hebrews 3:6)
  • “And to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven;” (Hebrews 12:23)

Dearth of Discipleship

Another Barna survey of pastors revealed that:

  • Only 1% said “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers”
  • 60% felt that churches are discipling “not too well”
  • 8% believed their own church was discipling “very well”
  • 56% thought their church was doing “somewhat well at discipling new and young believers”

Church leaders give other churches lower marks but admit their churches aren’t excelling in discipleship either.  At the same time, the majority (52%) rely primarily on small groups as their preferred disciple-making format.  Again we see a dichotomy between conviction and execution.  Pastors realize they should do better at discipleship but fear for the institution’s survival if they reverted to the intensive, personalized discipleship method used by Jesus, Paul and the early church.  That form of discipleship is:

  • Hard Work – Much more time consuming than attending Sunday services or small groups
  • Costly – Luke 9 points out how much hardship being a disciple of Jesus entails
  • Risky – “Go and make disciples” may take people far from a predictable, secure existence

So leaders compromise, choosing institution-building over disciple-building by launching optional and occasional small groups that breed “sticky” fellowship rather than transformative discipleship.

Pastors also don’t act as though discipleship and evangelism training are critical today because they no longer see those outside the “4 walls” as their church’s biblical “customer”.  There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local missions.  Why prepare troops for battle if they’re not being deployed into the mission field?  In other words, if members’ personal responsibilities to live out the Great Commission have been reassigned to the “professionals” who work for a place called “church”, then why train them to do more than invite people to a service next Sunday.  And without adequate discipleship, churchgoers lack the inspiration, motivation and preparation to impact those around them for Christ.

As a result, studies show that churches and Christians come across to society as distant and judgmental, not engaged and compassionate.  Faith without works is dead.  Jesus modeled the power of works in demonstrating faith.  Yet society sees a Church that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.  We’ve largely separated words from actions – and the consequences are predictable and detrimental.

It’s Your Turn…

Over the years you’ve been a Christ-follower, how have you seen evangelism and discipleship diminish among Christians in the U.S. and in your city?

Compassion and Evangelism are Inseparable

Aug 09, 17
JMorgan
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Jesus discipled the lost, healed the sick and fed the hungry.  Jesus demonstrated His love before telling people who He is.  Without the works, He knew people wouldn’t listen to His words.  Jesus not only modeled the importance of caring for the helpless and hopeless, but He and His disciples regularly touted that as the first step toward living out – and even proving – our faith:

  • When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he still lacked after obeying the commandments, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Matthew 19:21)
  • When John’s disciples asked Jesus if He was the Christ, the evidence He provided was how He had served others: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the deal is raised and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5)
  • When Paul and Peter went their separate ways, Paul said “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galations 2:10)
  • James 2:15-16:  “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is that?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
  • James 1:27:  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

Our faith is dead without action?  The only flawless religion is caring for orphans and widows? 

Seriously?  Yes.

Understanding that, the apostles followed Jesus’ model – discipling, healing and serving the hurting and helpless.  The early church emphasized that connection between compassion and evangelism – realizing people don’t care what Christians know unless they know we care.  For 1900 years, churches didn’t try to “outpreach” Jesus – they became the local food banks and homeless shelters.  They started most hospitals and schools.  They were seen as the proverbial spiritual and charitable “center of town”.  Church members gave knowing a significant percentage of their gifts would be poured back into caring for the poor and reaching the lost.

What changed in recent decades?  Today, government and charities occupy the lead role in compassion.  Churches play a minor part, focusing on occasional service events to “check the box” but often do more harm than good in the process.  Look at the Facebook pages and websites of the average church in America – it’s all about Sunday services, classes, new campuses and sermons with little or no mention of serving struggling families in the community.

Why aren’t more churches and Christians making service and evangelism to the poor and lost a high priority?  Why does local missions occupy less than 2% of the average church’s budget?  How are pastors, staff and members blind to a message the Bible conveys so clearly?

5 Steps to Reconnect Compassion and Evangelism

Overlooking such an obvious, biblical linkage between Prayer, Care and Share required a fundamental shift in the definition of “church” and it’s biblical “customer”.  Only redefining church as a “place” and members as “customers” (rather than as “the called out ones” or ”those belonging to the Lord”, the Greek and English meanings of the word “church”) could blind pastors and churchgoers to their responsibilities and obligations to lead the way in serving “the least of these”.

Therefore, the only cure is to reengage in personalized, intensive discipleship geared toward “growing” and “going”.  Diving deep into the study of the life of Jesus will:

  1.  Convince…members that they ARE the church, not a “customer”

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.”  (Hebrews 3:6)

As the embodiment of “church”, reaching the lost and poor outside the “4 walls” is in their job description, not just the pastor’s.

  1.  Confess…”break hearts” for those in need of help and hope

One pastor told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.”  That should be our response too, but is it?  You can’t study Jesus’ life for long without seeing His heart for those hurting and hopeless.  However, it’s discipleship that convinces us to take on the attributes of Jesus.  As we become more like Him, our hearts meld with His, and compassion begins to outweigh comfort.

  1.  Coach…members on how to share their faith

With the shift toward treating members not as “church” but as “customers”, expectations for evangelism have been reduced to inviting a friend next Sunday – letting “professionals” handle conversions and discipleship.  Frankly, most Christians don’t feel they have the theological background to do a lot more anyway – lacking both the courage and the words.  However, as church members begin following Jesus’ example of leading with kindness, they suddenly have many more chances to tell people about Him.

  1.  Connect…to opportunities to serve the church’s true “customer”

The best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.  It’s rare that a church, at least one not using Meet The Need, puts local needs in front of its members on a real-time, year-round basis.  Church leaders should share the stories of how difficult life is for persecuted believers, orphans, and single moms – then make them aware of what they can do to bring them help and hope.

  1.  Coalesce…identify common causes around which to rally the church body

Once a church identifies pressing social issues, it has to decide (corporately and each as individuals) how it’s going to respond.  As disciples, signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of their responsibility to act.  Without a compelling external cause, the Great Commission, unity and discipleship in the church will continue to suffer.

It’s Your Turn…

What would happen if you church fully implemented the Five “C” model?  Would most members accept it, be excited or run to another church?  Would the Church in America increase in growth, impact and influence if more Christians followed the Five “C”s?

Jesus Cares More about Widows and Single Moms than Your Church Does

Aug 02, 17
JMorgan
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No founder, leader or prophet of any other major world religion loves and values women as much as Jesus does.  Throughout His ministry, He demonstrated His heart for widows and mothers…

  • Defended Them – “They (religious leaders) devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:40)
  • Praised Them – “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.’” (Mark 12:43)
  • Healed Them – “Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her.” (Luke 4:38)
  • Honored Their Requests – “People (mothers) were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”  (Mark 10:13, 16)
  • Performed Miracles for Them – “As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” (Luke 7:12-13)
  • Listened to their Prayers – “And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’” (Luke 18:3)
  • Elevated Their Needs above the Church’s – “But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God.’” (Matthew 15:5)
  • Warned Them – “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.” (Luke 21:23)
  • Kept Them from Becoming Single Moms – Twice in the book of Matthew, Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9)
  • Loved and Cared for His Own Mother – “and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:27)

The Apostles understood that Jesus held widows and mothers in high regard, continuing to emphasize to church leaders how important they should be to the Church…

  • James emphasized the call to serve them – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27)
  • Peter emphasized their role in evangelism – “He (Peter) took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows…” (Acts 9:41)
  • Paul emphasized our need to respect them – “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

The message from Jesus and His disciples is clear:  Each of us is to treat all women – old and young, inside or outside our churches – as we would treat our own mothers or sisters.  When Christians (who ARE the living, breathing personification of Church) encounter a widow or single mom, Jesus’ words should ring in our ears, “Here is your mother” (or “Here is your sister”).

What Should Your Church Be Doing?

1 Timothy 5 elaborates on the Church’s responsibilities: ”The church should take loving care of women whose husbands have died if they don’t have anyone else to help them.  But if they have children or grandchildren, these are the ones who should take the responsibility…  The church should care for widows who are poor and alone in the world if they are looking to God for his help and spending much time in prayer; but not if they are spending their time running around gossiping, seeking only pleasure and thus ruining their souls.  This should be your church rule so that the Christians will know and do what is right.  Let me remind you again that a widow’s relatives must take care of her and not leave this to the church to do. Then the church can spend its money for the care of widows who are all alone and have nowhere else to turn.” (1 Timothy 5:3-7, 16 – TLB)

As with children in need (which we discussed last week), widows and single moms who attend church should be in less distress than their unchurched counterparts if churches are fulfilling the biblical mandate to care for their “brothers and sisters”.  Women “in distress”, “poor” and “alone in the world” outside the church body are included in those James and Paul are urging churches to care for as their own mothers and sisters.  Otherwise the church is failing to practice “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.”

Jesus expects His Church to look out not only for widows but also single mothers – and for good reason.  Then as now, they’ve always had it rough…

  • Grieving a lost husband or marriage
  • Lonely for companionship, but often hard to find a new relationship when they’re older or have kids
  • Financially strapped, with the loss of a husband’s income and often a “deadbeat” dad delinquent on child support
  • Sometimes working more than one job, not able to spend much quality time with the children
  • Sole responsibility for chores around the house and solo parenting, which can be exhausting

Given their plight, Jesus’ example, and biblical imperatives, what should your church be doing to reach out to and serve widows and single moms inside and outside the church? (Note: Don’t forget that the word “church” means not only the collective body but you individually as a “called out one”…”belonging to the Lord”)…

  • First of all, ensure that there aren’t any struggling mothers or lonely widows within your church (Acts 2:44-46)
  • Form outreach teams or launch ministries specifically designed to identify and support single moms and widows in the community by providing free child care, meals, financial aid, legal services, etc.
  • Mentor and tutor children suffering from the loss of a father or victimized by broken relationships, knowing how little attention those kids will receive unless someone else steps into their lives and the high likelihood they will run off course without a Christian role model (e.g. 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes, and young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail).

Yet because few churches are engaged in those types of ministries (because “church” is now defined as a “place” and the lost in the community is no longer considered the Church’s “customer”), other ministries have had to bear those burdens.  Moreover, each of those ministries has struggled even to engage churches as partners in their work.  For example:

It’s Your Turn

How did churches today develop this blind spot, obstructing their view of responsibilities clearly spelled out in Scriptures to help widows and single mothers inside and outside the congregation?