Author Archives: JMorgan

Eternal Thinking in our Myopic Culture

Nov 14, 19
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What would it look like to truly follow Jesus’ warning not to “build our house on the sand”?  How can we be sure we’re obeying His command to avoid “working for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”?  I don’t want to waste a minute on activities with no eternal impact – but how is that possible?

The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to think eternally, yet there’s no time of year where we’re more tempted to operate in the here and now.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the Lord’s never-ending provision and promise, but even Christians and churches fall victim to America’s myopic, consumer-driven versions of those holidays.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the chapter and verse of John 12:25 are the same numbers as Christmas Day (12-25) – “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Hating and losing our lives sounds extreme and impractical.  But that’s exactly what Scriptures repeatedly asks of us – to die to selfish desires and worldly expectations, exchanging temporary happiness for eternal joy.  Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2).  Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in Scripture’s Hall of Faith endured immense suffering because they looked forward to what lay ahead.  My life verse is Acts 20:24 – “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race…

Isn’t it worth considering how we would live differently if we actually followed those examples this Christmas season, and focused solely on the eternal?  If you, me, our churches and even ministries refused to invest any time or money in what will not last, it would change everything…

You and I Would…

  • Shop Less – We frantically scour the malls, then watch kids rip open presents Christmas morning, only to stop playing with those toys or break them a couple days later.  God gave us the only gift that lasts forever – Jesus.
  • Relax More – It’s in the best interests of businesses for you to scramble and spend, so advertising encourages you to hastily go into debt buying food for parties and gifts for distant relatives.  Imitate Mary rather than Martha and sit at the feet of the Lord in Bible study and prayer this holiday season.
  • Stop Stressing – Strained family relationships, travel and social commitments raise our blood pressure but we can be calm in the midst of the storm by “fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
  • Invest in Relationships – “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galations 6:8)  Use holiday time with family and friends making disciples who make disciples, living out the Great Commission.
  • Love Our Neighbors – Perform an act of kindness for neighbors, coworkers or complete strangers and watch it open the door to sharing the “reason for the season”.  Lead people toward Christ in the way that He modeled, by first demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is.
  • Go Where Jesus Would Be – Instead of rushing from store to store, consider Where Would Jesus Be” (WWJB) over the holidays; likely wherever people are suffering and searching for eternal answers.  Don’t let perceived OBLIGATIONS to shop, spend, attend parties and see family redirect our attention away from our OPPORTUNITY to worship, serve and share the Gospel.
  • Donate to Ministries with Eternal Impact #GiveAnEternalGift by supporting charities that promote dignity by working with families down paths to self-sustainability and eternal hope, not short-term hand-outs.

And Churches Would…

  • Challenge Members – Equip churchgoers to take full advantage of the numerous chances Thanksgiving and Christmas provide to talk about eternity.  Teach members how to witness and ask hard questions, rather than simply inviting people to a church service.  Launch relational compassion initiatives that give them a chance to practice what they “preach”.
  • Choose Empowering over Experience – As we discussed the past few weeks, faithful Christ followers like Mark are leaving churches because they weren’t given ample opportunities for growth or impact.  Youth pastors tried to make church fun, but Mark’s daughter Emily found more interesting events and people elsewhere.  Designing church activities around institutional growth objectives instead of personal growth goals won’t engage those who take their faith very seriously.
  • Change Metrics – Optimize church offerings to meet eternal impact numbers (e.g. footprint expansion through disciple multiplication) rather than short-term measures (e.g. nickels and noses).  Heavy focus on attraction and retention strategies in recent decades is backfiring in our consumer culture as Americans increasingly “shop” and “swap” churches – while Church growth, influence, impact and perception continue to decline.
  • Maintain External Focus – It’s tempting to see Thanksgiving and Christmas as prime time to invite everyone into our churches.  Holiday attendance metrics have even made our outreach events more about advertising than eternal impact, hoping that those who want nothing to do with church will darken our doors.  When they don’t show up we blame them for their obstinance and worldliness, when it’s primarily the church’s lack of compassion and empathy at fault.  Seasonal events actually do more harm than good because families are still hungry and hurting in January, but the church is back in its “4 walls” celebrating its “kindness” back in December – and the community sees that hypocrisy.
  • Combat the Commercialization of Christmas – The answer to the secularization of Jesus’ birth isn’t boycotting stores for saying “Merry X-mas” or “Happy Holidays”.  That won’t “put Christ back in Christmas” or stop Black Friday and Cyber Monday from encroaching upon our Thanksgiving.  Our defense is to model an eternal perspective, not ephemeral consumerism.  Christians should prioritize BELIEVING over BUYING in how we invest our time, talents and treasures.  Pastors should prioritize COMPASSION over CONSUMPTION in how their churches challenge member to live out GC2 (Great Commission and Great Commandment) rather than catering to attract and retain “customers”.
  • Ensure Outreach Segues to Year-Round – The only cases where compassion events are (eternally) helpful is when they serve as catalysts for ongoing engagement.  The phrase “make Christmas last all year long” is trite but carries with it a powerful connotation.  Relational assistance that continues past the holidays inherently views each and every person in need, regardless of social or financial status, as a child of God – treating them as nobility, not a number.

And Local Ministries Would…

Stop transactional, temporary social service solutions that recent studies confirm are both demeaning and ineffective:

  • Creates a sense of shame in their inability to provide for their own families
  • Perpetuates the false dichotomy and narrative that the “rich” are coming to the rescue of the “poor”
  • Allows those helping to mentally “check the box” once their “good deed” is completed
  • Isn’t materially changing the fortunes of those in poverty

Start programs that are enduring and relational:

  • Empowering families to discover their own path to self-sustainability
  • Appointing mentors or advocates to walk alongside them, ensuring accountability as they progress down that path
  • Wrapping larger circles of support around those in need, building close and lasting relationships
  • Providing not just help but the only source of enduring hope, found in Jesus Christ alone

It’s Your Turn

After 2 years of design and development, Meet The Need is nearly ready to launch the first family support technology solution based entirely on relational, eternal principles.

Imagine the challenge widows and fatherless children face – coping with tremendous loss, particularly during the holiday season.  Research shows the enduring impact that forming a web of support has on the emotional and spiritual well-being of those dealing with trauma.  Meet The Need leverages Artificial Intelligence to rally friends, family, churches and charities around each family in need.  We provide information and resources to help families navigate their way to a better future.  All at no charge!  Beta tests are already underway with selected widow and orphan ministry partners.

For nearly two decades, Meet The Need has been on the forefront of innovation around city-wide collaboration, hunger relief, homelessness, foster care and disaster relief – all across the United States.  It’s exciting to be expanding our work specifically to bless widows and orphans.

#GiveAnEternalGift to enable Meet The Need to provide widows and their children help for today and hope for tomorrow.  Meet The Need Ministries, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit and public charity so your donations are tax deductible.  If you give by November 27th, your contribution will be doubled by a matching grant!

Why Strategies to Engage Church Members Don’t Work

Oct 31, 19
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Pastors and staff at the church Mark and Jessica attend are getting concerned.  They’ve noticed the family gradually pulling away.  Mark is clearly a gifted leader and strong in his faith, but he’s turned down multiple invitations to serve at church.  Jessica is willing to volunteer during Sunday services yet isn’t plugged into other church activities or events.  Emily was a fixture in youth group for a couple years but seems to have moved away from that social circle.  Ethan thrived in the children’s ministry; however, he’s about to face all the distractions of a being teenager in 2019.  The family has attended since 2016 and been highly visible – yet, to the surprise of members and even some staff, they never actually joined the church.

The First Leadership Meeting…

During a leadership meeting while considering candidates for committees, a deacon brings up Mark’s name.  When reminded that he’s not a member, a discussion ensues about the family’s reluctance to join.  The youth pastor raises concerns about Emily’s dwindling attendance.  An elder mentions that his wife has been asking Jessica to join her small group, to no avail.  The senior pastor praises Mark for his involvement in local ministries and helping families within the church.  The executive pastor says what everyone else in the room in already thinking – “We love this family; why are we losing them?”

The conversation turns to how to reengage Mark, Jessica and the kids – as well as families like them who seem to have one foot out the door.  Leadership drills down on the perceived issue – somehow our church isn’t meeting the family’s needs.  That perception prompts several suggestions.  Maybe organizing fun events and activities for the kids would help Emily and Ethan build some new relationships.  As the theory goes, if the kids love our church, parents are sure to follow.  Maybe a women’s retreat will get Jessica out of her shell.  At least Jessica is serving here, so she could be our best avenue to reach the rest of the family.  Maybe organizing a local missions project will show Mark that our church cares about the community.  He’s clearly the spiritual leader of the household so let’s figure out why his attention is diverted to external ministries.

Meeting #1 – Debrief & Discussion

In recommending solutions intended to pique interest and engender loyalty, this church is like most others today that inadvertently treat people like consumers.  Leadership assumes activities, events and programs will retain families on the verge of leaving.  Pastors know relationships are “sticky” so they push small groups that build friendships but not disciples.  Staff are measured by their contribution to growing the church, so they come up with short-term ideas designed to cater to churchgoers rather than challenge Christ-followers.

Those solutions stem from a definition of “church” and its intended “customer” that is not biblical.  Leaders who truly understood that “church” is by definition people and not a place would focus on disciple-making, not institution-building.  Pastors would see churchgoers as “employees to be trained” (to pursue the real “customers” – the “lost” in the community), not “customers to be entertained”.  They would stop asking the wrong questions when faced with disgruntled members and attenders, like:

  • “What is it that they want?”
  • “How can we utilize them better?”
  • “What programs should we offer to reengage them?”
  • “How can we keep them from leaving because others may follow them out the door?”

Those questions don’t get at the real reasons Mark, Jessica, Emily and Ethan aren’t more involved.  As a faithful follower of Jesus, Mark isn’t provided with enough opportunities to live out the Great Commission – but has found those in abundance elsewhere.  As an immature believer quietly struggling with fears and worries, Jessica isn’t experiencing life change through occasional church events, groups or sermons.  As teenagers encountering so many worldly distractions and philosophies, Emily and Ethan weren’t provided a firm enough foundation to withstand that onslaught because youth ministries were more focused on “fun” than “faith”.

To correctly assess those issues with each family member, leadership would have to abandon Americanized church growth models.  Rather than applying consumer strategies, they would realize that this family actually wants (and needs) to go deeper.  Mark never expected pastors and staff to exceed his (customer) expectations.  Instead, he sees his family as the personification of “church”.  But the church’s growth strategy of Invite (your friends to hear the Gospel from the “professionals), Involve (in church chores and groups) and Invest (in giving treasures to the church) does not align with taking personal responsibility for being the “church” between Sundays.  The Invite, Involve and Invest model was set up to create loyal customers, not to empower disciples.

The Next Leadership Meeting…

Mark and Jessica are back on the agenda the following week.  Four differing opinions are voiced about how to deal with families like theirs who aren’t fully committed to attending, joining, serving or giving:

  1. A staff member says he’s been praying about it and wants to offer a different perspective.  Rather than coming up with ways to engage Mark, Jessica and the kids, let’s ask why they aren’t committed enough to the Lord to help us achieve His vision of our church.  They should be using their gifts in submission to the vision Jesus gave to our senior pastor.  Maybe we shouldn’t cling to anyone who isn’t aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish here.  Doesn’t spiritual growth begin there – coming under the authority of church leaders and contributing time, talents and treasures to the body of Christ in whatever ways the Lord has equipped them?  Should we be more selective in determining who qualifies as a potential member based on their willingness to serve and receive counsel, rather than simply hoping or even pushing folks like Mark and Jessica to join?  What if whatever they bring to our table doesn’t really even fit our church’s mission anyway?
  2. An elder picks up on that line of thinking and goes in related direction.  Maybe we’re just doing a poor job of realizing the full potential of the people who attend.  We know this family has a lot to offer and they may be willing to do more but what if we aren’t providing ample opportunities to use their gifts and talents?  Our job here is to recognize the capabilities of each family member and show them how to put them to use to glorify God.  How can we unlock and release the stored value of our members?  That’s the path to moving them toward becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
  3. The executive pastor likes that idea and reiterates that the key is to figure out ways to accommodate their needs so we can get them more involved in serving and giving.  If we don’t ask “what we can we do for them” we’ll never find out “what can they do for our church”.  Mark could be tremendous asset here but he’s not going to step into a leadership role unless we figure out what we’re not providing him and his family.  Jessica is so well-liked and servant-minded – we can’t afford to lose her, so let’s focus on getting her more plugged in.  Could we see if they want to host a small group?  Imagine how helpful they could be in swaying other families to become more engaged here.
  4. With all due respect, could it be that we’re coming up with the wrong solutions because we’re asking the wrong questions?  A brave deacon suggests that groupthink is leading the meeting down a path where it sounds a lot like the discussions about customer retention that take place at his company.  Should we instead be asking deeper questions about the individuals themselves, getting to the root of each family member’s walk with Christ, like…
    • Are Mark, Jessica and Emily losing interest because they’re not growing closer to God as a result of attending our church? If so, what can we do about that?
    • Does Jessica’s greater involvement equate to greater spiritual maturity? If not, what are better indicators of maturity and how can we assess where she’s at?
    • Is Emily here for the right reasons? Does it matter why she’s here or just that she shows up?  If she doesn’t seem interested in conversations about Jesus anymore, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen to Ethan one day?

That last suggestion stirs quite a bit of controversy in the meeting.  Leaders fear if they get too personal and start asking those hard questions, they’ll drive people away from the church.

Meeting #2 – Debrief & Discussion

The first 3 recommendations at this meeting implicitly define “church” as a place and not as an “assembly of (individual) called out ones” (the biblical “ekklesia”).  They put the organization’s (growth or survival) interests ahead of each person’s (spiritual depth) interests.  They address the institution’s concerns (e.g. why are we losing this family) rather than digging into what’s truly ailing Mark, Jessica, Emily and Ethan.  Only #4 confronts the real, underlying issues affecting the health of the body (of Christ).  Dealing with the personal struggles, sin and doubts of each family member (who comprise the “church”) will remedy leadership’s perceived issues – the challenges facing the institution (which is not the biblical definition of “church”).  However, today’s church growth models don’t lend themselves to asking personal questions, so they’ll never know how deep Mark’s faith truly is or how shallow Jessica’s faith is.  Therefore, the first 3 options won’t lead to the ideal, biblical solution for that family – forums for discipleship that are far more intensive and personal than sermons and small groups, as well as more outlets for living out their faith through compassion and evangelism.

It’s Your Turn

Has this 4-part series about Mark, Jessica and their children helped illustrate why so many Christians are losing interest in organized “religion”, pursuing options outside of church for fellowship and worship (i.e. the “Dones”)?  Do you see why others walk away from the Lord entirely (i.e. the “Nones”), holding God accountable for mankind’s redefinition of “church” to fit our consumer culture?

Why Churches are Losing their Most Faithful Christ-Followers

Oct 17, 19
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Mark is seriously considering joining the “Dones”.  He’s not quite ready to call it quits, but like a growing number of Americans who’ve been active in church for decades, Mark isn’t happy with what church has become.  Scandals rocked the first church he attended, the next church closed largely because it was run by a “genius with 1,000 helpers”, and the last church abandoned discipleship and local missions after hiring consultants from a megachurch.

Mark endured all that and eventually found another church – less for his own sake than for Jessica and the kids.  But now he’s more dissatisfied and concerned than ever.  Emily has lost interest in youth group, Ethan isn’t learning much since the children’s ministry became more “fun”, and Jessica is still wrestling with her usual fears and worries.  Mark knows responsibility for spiritual leadership of the family falls primarily on him, but he wants a support system of other voices outside the home, including his church.

He’s beginning to think the problem doesn’t lie with those particular churches or their pastors.  Maybe it’s the underlying model.  Most pastors seem more concerned with numerical growth than spiritual growth.  They measure nickels and noses, not life change and surrender.  Mark wonders if church growth strategies are at least in part to blame for why his wife and kids aren’t more mature in their faith.

Mark is also bothered that everyone he speaks with about church, whether it’s colleagues at work or friends, seem to refer to “church” as a place people go on Sundays.  In his mind and according to Scripture, church should be much more than that.  Mark sees himself and his Christian brothers and sisters as “church” – whenever and wherever they are gathered.  That definition encourages Mark to see himself as the hands and feet of Christ between Sundays.

Yet hearing pastors talk about building campaigns, inviting friends and church chores looks a lot like a business and makes Mark feel like a “customer”.  But Mark is clearly an unconventional church shopper.  Rather than expecting pastors and staff to exceed his expectations, he holds himself accountable for being the embodiment of church.  Mark is beginning to believe that “church as we know it” is not set up to empower disciples like him, but to accommodate consumers.  Instead of supporting his efforts to personify church, Mark and his family are being asked to build an institutional church.

That centralized perspective is why Mark is underutilized.  He could do so much more to impact his community alongside a throng of fellow disciples, but Mark feels like he’s on an island because he’s surrounded by a bunch of churchgoers but very few disciples.  Instead of being equipped for the Great Commission, Mark is being asked to join committees and be a greeter.

It seems the organization’s goals have supplanted the personal missions of the individuals who comprise the organization (the “ekklesia”).  As a result, Jessica and the kids aren’t being challenged to grow.  They’re being catered to, hoping they’ll enjoy the experience enough to continue coming.  That strategy is working with Jessica and Ethan – they’re having fun.  But Mark and Emily had a hunger for growth, community and impact that were never satisfied.  They’re nearly “done” with church because, for them, those 3 needs have been better met elsewhere…

1. Growth

Mark is finding more discipleship opportunities with Christian brothers in Bible studies and on ministry Boards where he serves, whereas no one at church has offered to disciple him nor asked him to disciple anyone.

Emily believes she’s emerging from the fog since leaving youth group and is now experiencing personal growth as she opens her mind to more “inclusive”, worldly philosophies.

2. Community

Mark is building strong relationships with friends who are truly sold-out for Jesus, interacting with them almost daily, whereas at church it seems he only has short, weekly interactions with “casual” Christians.

Emily is finding her friends at school way “cooler”, more “real” and less hypocritical than those she grew up with at youth group.

3. Impact

Mark is ready for so much more than his church offers, wanting to get involved with struggling families and important causes in the community – but only hears at church about occasional mission trips or holiday outreach events that don’t sync with his abilities and passions.

Emily cares deeply about social justice, following her friends in speaking out about racism, gun control and women’s rights – issues she feels churches don’t support, but should.

How to Keep Mark from Leaving Your Church

Modern church growth models are not a good fit for Mark.  An institutional orientation isn’t designed to accommodate deeply spiritual people.  The Holy Spirit, hard truths, intensive prayer, full dependence on the Lord, absolute surrender, and preparing and releasing disciples for ministry are the deep stuff – but those are waning in today’s churches.  Many churches are “shallow”, inadvertently encouraging cultural Christians to check the boxes on God’s scoreboard by complying with frequent requests to give, serve and invite.

Alternative outlets for deep growth, authentic community and tremendous impact are emerging to fill the holes left open by the Americanized church.  Today there are countless discipleship programs, Christian associations and compassion ministries – mostly conceived and implemented outside of a church context.  The only way to engage the most faithful Christ-followers in a church is for the pastor to plug those 3 (growth, community and impact) holes.  But turning up the dial on the truth and mission meters risks scaring off some lukewarm believers and diverting resources away from catering to church “shoppers”.  That step of faith would require pastors to realize that churches exist for depth – leveraging disciples like Mark to lead the spiritually “shallow” deeper in their relationship with the Lord.

Without the help of a church willing to take that risk, Mark faces an uphill battle against powerful forces vying for the hearts and minds of Jessica, Emily and Ethan.  The forces resisting change within the Church are also quite strong – people’s jobs and livelihoods depend on attracting and retaining generous churchgoers.  So it’s likely that Jessica will be able to continue to conceal her lack of transformation and intimacy with God.  And Emily and Ethan could quite possibly keep losing interest in youth group – and stop short of committing their lives fully to Jesus.

It’s Your Turn

Are there enough opportunities within your church for growth, community and impact to keep your “Marks” and “Emilys” engaged?  Does your church even know who among the many members and frequent attenders are actually the most faithful followers of Jesus Christ?  Are those the ones most involved in church activities or is there a different standard of measure?

Why Youth Don’t Return to Church After College

Oct 04, 19
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As much as Mark and Jessica would like their kids to cling to the Christian values and faith they were taught, it’s an uphill battle.  Social media, television, teachers and friends compete for their hearts and minds.  They considered sending Emily and Ethan to a Christian school, but it wasn’t affordable.  They try to monitor the kids’ intake of sexual and violent content, but it’s coming from all directions.  Eventually all children must confront the realities of a society bent on eliminating Jesus from His own equation.  Mark and Jessica have resigned themselves to simply delaying Emily’s and Ethan’s inundation with worldliness and godlessness as long as possible.

Despite discipling the kids since they first learned to talk, Mark and Jessica needed help to prepare them to navigate today’s post-Christian culture.  It takes a “village” but in their minds only one bastion of Christian teaching and influence was available to walk alongside them in this journey to raise Christ-followers – their church, specifically its children’s ministry and youth group.


Emily is 16 and was active in youth group for years.  Recently though she’s been losing interest – not only in youth ministry but in matters of faith.  It seems that as Emily aged from a child to a young lady, her level of excitement about Jesus and the church waned.  She went from:

  • an engaged new believer at 10, to
  • an eager learner until 13, to
  • seeing youth group largely as social hour for a few years, but eventually
  • finding friends elsewhere where she’d prefer to spend her time

Not coincidentally, the church’s children’s and youth ministries seemed to follow that same path, from:

  • emphasizing coming to faith in Jesus as a young child, to
  • providing solid biblical teaching to preteens, to
  • fearing children would lose interest and making youth group more “fun”, but eventually
  • clinging to the few who were still around by the time they hit their mid-to-late teenage years

Rather than breaking this cycle by carrying forward true discipleship from children’s ministry all the way through youth group, their youth pastors felt discipleship was not compelling enough to keep today’s heavily-distracted, overly-stimulated teens coming back.  So instead of attending for Christian education and worship, the vast majority show up primarily because they like another girl or boy or want to hang out with friends.  Youth pastors don’t monitor those motives, happy they’re at least still coming – keeping the numbers up.

But Emily isn’t impressed with numbers.  She’s questioning her faith and becoming critical of youth group as she sees how those same kids (even those touted as “leaders”) act when they’re not at church.  They’re certainly not disciples of Jesus Christ.  They haven’t experienced any transformation – except on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  How can what she believes be real when it’s not real to the friends she grew up with at church?  At least the non-Christian kids in her public school are being true to themselves.  They’re coming out as homosexual, proclaiming their individuality and protesting injustice.  In her mind, being honest sure beats the hypocrisy Emily sees in the youth group members who attend her school.

Plus her teachers are presenting some pretty convincing scientific evidence that everything can be explained in the absence of God.  She’s being exposed to alternative ways of thinking, different cultures and other religions outside of Christianity.  And then there’s Emily’s biggest wake-up call – her realization that people don’t really seem as bad as the Bible says they are.  Her classmates believe that people are basically good and think Christians are hateful because they judge the “sins” of others.  Are Christians actually the bad ones, laying guilt trips on nice people, saying they need Jesus when they’re less “sinful” than her church friends?  Emily wonders how she could have been so cynical and naïve.

If she’s hanging on by a thread now, what will Emily’s belief system look like by the time she finishes college?


Emily’s brother is 13 and he’s still strong in his faith, but the shift in focus at church from biblical education to “engaging” teenagers is already starting to occur – no more memory verses and intensive Bible studies.  Those are being replaced by lot of “fun” activities with a hint of Scripture sprinkled in.  Ethan notices the change.  So do Mark and Jessica.  As Christian parents, they’ve always asked Ethan after church what he learned in the children’s ministry that day.  Ethan used to share the Bible stories and verses he was taught, but not anymore.  Now when he gets in the car, he gossips about what “so and so” said at youth group and how well he did in the games they played.  Mark and Jessica aren’t too concerned at this point – as long as Ethan had a good time and wants to keep going to church.

In fact, they understand that their pastors have intentionally designed the youth program to be so “cool” that kids will literally be asking their parents if they can go to church – hoping that parents who don’t attend that church (or any church) will come with them.  Where Mark gets concerned though is when he looks at what’s happening with Emily.  Has his church gone too far in trying to appeal to “Generation Screen”, competing with video games, cell phones and social media?  Is it necessary to give the kids so much free time, so many interactive games and so little Gospel?  Are the kids even paying attention during those short messages or passing notes to their friends?  Even if they are listening, is the message transformational?  Are Emily and Ethan leaving youth group knowing more about Jesus but not knowing Jesus more?

Mark and Jessica admit they have primary responsibility for spiritual leadership of their children, but they expected a little more help from their church.

What Should Youth Pastors Do Differently?

There is an answer to Mark and Jessica’s dilemma.  It is possible for their church to reorient its youth ministry where kids stay engaged while also advancing its mission of making disciples (who then make more disciples):

  1. Convey Biblical Truth – What if kids in youth ministry understood the truths of Scripture so well that they could clearly see through the thin veneer of false authenticity among their non-Christian classmates? Rather than being swayed to their side of the “inclusion” and “tolerance” debate, they would see a lost generation searching for purpose in their self-righteousness and seeking justification for their immorality.  Knowing Jesus intimately means never buying into the lie of moral relativism – that people are basically good, that we’re born the way we are, and our job is to be our true to ourselves.  A true believer knows we’re born in sin and therefore must be born again.  No one starts off the way we’re supposed to end up – we’re born flawed but born again righteous through Jesus Christ.  Being our authentic, original “self” by definition means being authentically self-centered, worldly and sinful.  Only by denying self and following Jesus can I become the “me” that God intended.
  2. Realize that Life Change is Exciting – Youth ministries whose goal is true transformation and not regular attendance will graduate kids who come back to church after college. Only a transformed teenager will endure four years of indoctrination in the world’s values and philosophies.  Living a life on mission is exciting.  Having true purpose and meaning is a far better path than the dead-end road of secularism.  Youth pastors must not back away from the call to give teenagers what they need and not what they “want” – they need the radical but all they get is the normal.  Otherwise teens eventually will find activities outside of church that are more interesting and walk away – likely joining the ranks of the “dones”, possibly never to return.  Instead, give kids what the Lord brought them to church for – personal transformation and enduring hope in a seemingly hopeless world – and they’ll return when they’re older.  Transformation also means the “hypocrites” Emily points to won’t be living differently all week than they do in youth group at church.
  3. Exchange Strategies for Discipleship – Rather than making a goal of children’s ministries and youth group to get parents to come to church, take the risk of continuing to challenge kids to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Keep driving home the Gospel and theology, preparing them to answer the tough questions they’ll face in high school and college.  Attractional church growth models may get some parents to come to church but won’t make disciples of either the parents of children.  Youth ministries shouldn’t be the execution of a strategy but the fulfillment of the Great Commission mandate.

Those three principles would likely drive away some non-believers, church consumers and lukewarm fence-sitters but Jesus did not intend for His Church to be designed to placate people who fit those profiles.  If Emily and Ethan are to navigate life with their faith intact, Mark and Jessica need their church to reinforce their discipleship efforts, but that requires that their youth pastors convey hard truths, call for radical transformation and require personalized discipleship – which are far too risky for today’s church attraction and retention models.

It’s Your Turn

What advice would you give to Emily and Ethan?  What about Mark and Jessica?  Do you have any thoughts for the youth pastors at their church?

The Last Person You’d Ever Suspect…

Sep 20, 19
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Jessica rarely misses a church service.  With Bible in hand, she smiles at the greeters and enters the foyer excitedly, saying hello to a few familiar faces as she makes her way toward the sanctuary doors.  She sees that her favorite pew is unoccupied and puts her bulletin in the seat next to her, reserving it for her husband.  As usual, Mark barely made it past the front entrance before stopping to chat with friends and staff members – and if history is any guide, he’ll miss at least the first worship song.  Even if he doesn’t join her until the pastor is well into his sermon, she’ll take copious notes and offer to catch Mark up on whatever he missed.

Jessica has a servant’s heart, faithfully volunteering nearly every month in some capacity at the church.  She’s been a greeter, served in the children’s ministry and helped with holiday outreach events.  Jessica doesn’t want the pressure of leading so when she and Mark host a Small Group, he facilitates.  She participates in occasional Bible studies and retreats offered by the church but is hesitant to open up about deeply personal matters in a group setting.

Jessica is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  She rarely says an unkind word about anyone and would give the shirt off her back to someone in need.  Her smile is contagious.  She wouldn’t dream of hurting a flea.  People love her.  It would be hard to imagine someone having any reason to say something bad about Jessica.  A faithful churchgoer and sweet disposition, she is a model “Christian”, giving no ammunition to non-believers to accuse Christ-followers of hypocrisy or intolerance.  Mark is far more likely to ruffle feathers.  He’s evangelistic and invasive, asking hard questions and sharing his faith with those who want nothing to do with “religion”.  He stirs the pot within the church too, challenging leadership and members to teach and live out the Great Commission.  No doubt, Jessica is the fan favorite – both inside and outside the congregation.

What bothers Jessica though are the constant worries and fears that run through her head.  Safety and security are her driving forces, influencing most of her decisions and actions.  She desperately wants to be free of those shackles and more willing to take risks for Christ.  Deep down Jessica knows she hasn’t reached the point of complete surrender to the Lord’s will for her life.  Her willingness to follow Jesus is restricted to what’s in her comfort zone.  The church affords her the flexibility and freedom to attend, volunteer and engage as she pleases.  Push her beyond her comfortable confines and she’ll politely decline.  Challenge her to stretch or sacrifice more than she’d like and she may find another place to worship.

Obedience is also a struggle.  It’s only on her terms.  Jessica knows biblical parenting involves some form of discipline but fears her children won’t love her if she enforces consequences for their bad behavior.  She questions and blames teachers, coaches and her husband when they accuse her kids of doing something wrong.  They know mom will protect and defend them, so they choose lying and disobedience when debating whether to tell the truth and follow orders.  Jessica wants the American dream so she resents Mark for taking a lower-paying job to get involved in local charity work and spend more time with his children.  She won’t participate in what he’s doing for the Lord because she doesn’t want to encourage him in the path he chose.  What she really wanted when she married Mark was a nice “Christian” husband, not a sold-out Christ-follower.  She has too much to lose now, so she dips a toe in the waters of faith but would never walk away from it all if the Lord asked.  Her priority is how she’s regarded by others and puts seeking their love ahead of seeking God’s Kingdom.  There are countless other examples reflecting a core inconsistency – Jessica fully believes but only partially obeys.

Despite all her church attendance and activities, Jessica is not growing in her faith.  She’s experienced no transformation in her life and little intimacy in her walk with God.  She’s a church “consumer” because all of her involvement in “church as we know it” never led her to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is the definition and purpose of church.  Her fears keep her from risking her public perception or confessing her shortcomings for the sake of advancing the Gospel.  Jessica never died to self, so self-interest blocks her from becoming all that God wants for her.

Mark feels largely responsible for her lack of spiritual growth but believes he’s exhausted his options.  He’s tried to disciple Jessica and model faithfulness, selflessness and obedience but to little avail.  He finds it a challenge and maybe not his place to tell a wife how to live or what to do, even if the instructions are scriptural.  He needs the support of women who can mentor Jessica and knows she’s more likely to find a woman to step into that role at church than at work or in their social circles.  Jesus established His church largely to facilitate formation of discipling relationships.

Yet the staff and members of their church consider Jessica to be a model citizen.  By their standard, Jessica checks all of the boxes.  She’s friendly, helpful, generous and certainly saved.  Little do they know (nor do they attempt to find out), she is struggling in her relationship with God and in all facets of her life because her priorities are not in biblical order.  They would be shocked to discover that someone so enthusiastic to worship and serve on Sunday mornings could be so disobedient and disconnected from the Lord the rest of the week.

But how would they know?  Jessica is far too private to disclose that she has not surrendered to Jesus and died to self, even to the women she’s closest with at church.  Leadership would have to change its measuring stick to drill down beyond conversion numbers and participation rates – tracking actual progress down the path to becoming a disciple.  However, that presents a Catch-22 for the pastors and staff.  Jessica is the last person they want to run out of town by setting up discipling relationships that would make her feel pressure to divulge dark secrets about her personal life, yet it’s the church’s God-given responsibility to make disciples (who make more disciples).

What’s the solution?  As we discussed in Ulterior Motives in the Fight against Church Consumerism, church leaders must realize that the root cause of consumerism is a love problem, not a doing problem.  More “church chores” and engagement may make congregants love the church more but not necessarily fall more in love with Jesus.  Therefore, it should provide intensive, personalized discipleship opportunities and remove any impediments (“church hoops” like attendance, covenants and membership) to accessing them.  Also, like we covered in The Unconventional Church Shopper, pastors and staff should not encourage consumerism by advertising attractive marketing slogans and catering to self-interested demand for production value and programs.  Getting under the surface and rooting out consumer behavior requires issuing (and monitoring compliance with) the biblical challenge to die to self and be crucified with Christ.

It’s Your Turn

How many Jessica’s are in your church?  How would you know?

The Unconventional Church Shopper

Sep 05, 19
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In our last post, we considered which should come first, church engagement or discipleship?  In other words, is routing believers and non-believers alike through church events, activities and membership an impediment or gateway to discipleship?  If church engagement was strategically leveraged as a gateway then opportunities for discipleship should be readily available after jumping through the requisite church “hoops”.  However, few churches offer clear paths and adequate opportunities for growth and ministry in the community and world.  Fewer provide intensive, personalized discipleship at all, replacing that with occasional and voluntary small groups.

Therefore, it is possible that for many churches the “hoops” themselves have replaced discipleship as the end goal.  In other words, are we doing a better job of tracking attendance at membership classes and weekend services than forward progress in relational depth with Jesus Christ?  Are we more closely monitoring member adherence to doctrinal statements and compliance with church policies than their evangelistic and disciple-making activity?  The intended purpose of church is to build and release disciple-multipliers, but do our metrics today indicate a greater concern with attracting and retaining faithful churchgoers?

Who is the culprit behind this mission drift?  Did our consumer culture force pastors to lower expectations and make church more attractive?  Did rampant Selfism diminish interest in higher thoughts to the point where the survival of a church hinges on convincing the public of its relevance and recapturing consumer interest?  Or did seminaries and consultants encourage pastors to adopt a business mindset and turn Americans into church shoppers?  In other words, which came first – church shopping or churches competing for “business”?…the chicken or the egg?

Must We Go Through Church to Get to God?

To trace the origins of church consumerism, it’s helpful to examine the dynamics behind the common misconception today that the only route to God runs through church.  Whereas Jesus modeled personal discipleship as His Kingdom growth plan, Americans have developed a dependence on pastors to provide evangelism and discipleship services.  In lieu of personally living out the Great Commission, we are told to simply invite friends to church and tithe to compensate “professionals” for services rendered.  In lieu of personal Bible study and prayer, we see increasing dependence on pastors and small group members to provide wisdom and advice – encouraging regular attendance.  God’s math of multiplication has been supplanted by addition.

Going to church is not the only way to get to God.  At Jesus’ death the veil was literally and figuratively torn, allowing everyone direct access to God through Christ.  Church is designed to make disciples who lead people to Jesus and then bring them into a house of worship (to worship).  However, the dearth of discipleship today both diminishes the churchgoer’s evangelistic ability and reduces their responsibility to inviting those who don’t worship Jesus to a worship service.

Additional evidence of the attempt to route everyone through church to get to God is the increase in church advertising.  Churches sell their value propositions and competitive advantages, promoting church “shopping”.  Those not in the “market” for a church are unlikely to respond to popular church marketing slogans like…

  • “All are welcome”
  • “Come check us out”
  • “It’s a casual atmosphere”
  • “Get practical advice for everyday problems”
  • “Your kids will love it”
  • “Meet new friends”
  • “Are you going through hard times?”
  • “Join our community”
  • “Haven’t found your purpose?”
  • “Looking for a sense of belonging?”
  • “There’s no pressure”

As attractive as that all sounds, it isn’t “working”.  The percentage of Americans who frequently attend church is in decline.  In trying to look alluring, it is repelling.  In trying to look interesting, fewer are interested.  In asking little, most give little.

Disgruntled believers considering leaving their current church may bite on those slogans.  A few lost and skeptical non-believers may wander in to find answers to life’s burning questions.

Yet is responding to any of those marketing slogans a good thing?  Are any of them proper motivation in God’s eyes for entering into a church building?  Or would God be more pleased if…

In the case of believers…

  • …church consumers repented first of their desire to shop for a better experience (i.e. sermons, songs and services)?
  • …churches repented of “stealing sheep”, encouraging folks to leave another church and come to theirs based on competitive advantages (which is ok for businesses but not for churches)?

In the case of non-believers…

  • …skeptics first got to know a believer who invests time in leading them toward Jesus?
  • …churches stopped advertising for those who don’t worship Jesus to compromise the holiness of praise and prayer during a worship service?

For both of those target audiences (of church advertising), personal reflection and personal relationships may be better front doors to stronger faith than the doorway of a church building.  Therefore, a more biblical strategy would be for churches to produce men and women capable of mentoring wayward church “shoppers” and befriending those who don’t know the Lord.  Yet since churches place more emphasis today on advertising than on intensive discipleship, it stands to reason that leaders may actually want to foster greater dependence to avoid asking too much of “consumers” and to help ensure the viability of the institution.

Unconventional Marketing Slogans

Regardless of how little pastors ask of churchgoers, that doesn’t lessen God’s expectations of His followers.  As opposed to a church that advertises worldly concepts that appeal to consumers, consider these alternative marketing slogans of a biblically (and brutally) honest church that advertises concepts that would appeal only to unconventional church “shoppers” – those sold out for Jesus:

  • “Enter at your own risk”
  • “Don’t expect to feel comfortable here”
  • “For a casual atmosphere, try the church down the road”
  • “Ready to give up everything you own? (if God asks)”
  • “Skeptics welcome, but not for long”
  • “The church where repentance isn’t optional”
  • “Window shopping prohibited”
  • “Where the only path to life is death”
  • “If you’re all in…come on in”
  • “Be prepared…we’re here to worship Jesus”
  • “Ready to disclose your darkest secrets?  Then this place is for you!”

Doesn’t that sound like the worst marketing plan ever?

Well, church is supposed to be different.  Shouldn’t we join a family for collective worship and fellowship based on principles that defy consumerism?   Jesus was counter-cultural.  Maybe what’s least attractive to non-believers should be most attractive to Christ-followers:

  • Real, authentic relationships where everything is on the table
  • Heavy investment of time in other people, the body of Christ and in service to the poor
  • Genuine life change
  • Unreserved commitment
  • Time-consuming discipleship and discipling
  • Extreme sacrifice on behalf of others
  • Abject humility in service to the Lord
  • Death to self and all things worldly

Which of those do most churches demand today?  None.  Each one of those is take it or leave it – so most opt for the latter.  Marketing slogans of the biblically (and brutally) honest church don’t resonate with consumers content to dip their toes in the water, not ready to live up to the Great Commission standard.  They’re naturally inclined to shop for churches using slogans with words like “casual”, “comfortable”, “fun” and “friendly”.

Yet unconventional church “shoppers” find more lofty ambitions attractive because they foster an environment low on entertainment but high on love.  Scripture says it will be our genuine love between members of the body of Christ that will attract those called into the Kingdom to walk through the front door of your church.

It’s Your Turn

What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Did consumers turn churches into businesses advertising their competitive advantages or did churches turn faithful believers into church consumers (through strategies to attract and retain members)?

Ulterior Motives in the Fight against Church Consumerism

Aug 22, 19
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There are two routes pastors can go down when urging congregants not to be church consumers:

1.  “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church

Phrases you’re likely to hear from church leaders making this argument against consumerism:

  • “Church is not here to serve you…be a servant”
  • “Don’t just show up and slip out the back door on Sundays…get involved”
  • “If you’ve been attending for a while, come to a membership class”
  • “God gifted you with skills and talents…use them here”
  • “We want to provide you and this community a great experience and first-rate programs…but we need your help”

This case against consumerism presumes:

  • an Exchange of Value – Appeals to congregants to focus less on the value they’re receiving and bring more value to the church, further cementing consumerism by implicitly linking value provided to value returned.
  • an Expectation of Performance – Implies a debt is owed to the church for services rendered, creating a sense of entitlement and higher expectations (e.g. for recognition and programs) as they serve and give more.
  • an Expression of Allegiance – A commitment to serve and build the church can increase dependence on the institution and decrease reliance on Jesus, causing the faith of some to suffer when scandals or splits rock the congregation.

2. “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask why in the world you see church that way”

Phrases you’re likely to hear from church leaders making this argument against consumerism:

  • “The church is you…be the hands and feet of Christ”
  • “Get involved in what God is doing all around you every day”
  • “If all you do to live out your faith is serve and give to church, then maybe you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus”
  • “God has gifted you to build His Kingdom within this church and outside these 4 walls”
  • “Wherever and whenever the Lord calls you to give…give generously”

This case against consumerism presumes:

  • a Conviction to Surrender – If someone is searching for a church based on the quality of the facilities, sermons, music and programs then there’s a heart issue. If they are consuming those services without pouring back into the church, then they’re likely not in an intimate love relationship with Jesus.
  • a Command to Go – No matter how much a pastor focuses members on their responsibilities inside the church, the Lord’s expectations for compassion, evangelism and discipleship are far greater in other aspects of their lives – their families, work, neighborhoods and world.
  • a Commitment to Discipleship – A heart surrendered to Jesus understands and obeys His command to make disciples and His math of multiplication.

In summary, #1 assumes there’s a doing problem.  #2 assumes there’s a loving problem.  Doing is a result of loving.  Doing typically doesn’t solve a loving problem.  Loving can be a result of doing (see Matthew 6:21), but we know all too well that love for a church (religion) does not always translate into love for Jesus (relationship).  Many sermons combating consumerism propose #1 because the most pressing need for a pastor most interested in building a sustainable organization is more “doing” (volunteering, membership, giving), whereas the most pressing need for a pastor most interested in advancing the Kingdom is more loving (discipleship, intimacy, missions).

Motives Drive Sequencing

The question is not whether #1 above is true or good.  It’s important to serve and get involved in a local church.  The question is the chicken or the egg.  Which comes first, church engagement or discipleship?

Disciples of Jesus undoubtedly will bless a church body in countless ways.  But they’ll also do much more to advance the Kingdom outside of their local church.  However, the average churchgoer today rarely shares the Gospel with non-believers.  Even former church consumers who’ve been convinced by pastors subscribing to #1 (to invest time, talents and treasures back into the church) are not more likely to live out the Great Commission between Sundays.  In fact, they may be less inclined to evangelize and make disciples if they’ve been told simply to invite people to church and let the “professionals” handle the conversion and disciple-making responsibilities.  Not coincidentally, pastors who teach “ask what you can do for your church” typically also stress “invite your friends to church next weekend”.

Whether pastors see discipleship or church engagement as the starting point for curing consumerism depends upon their intentions.  If the primary concern is to ensure the viability and growth of the organization, then he will tend to recommend “stop being a church consumer” by “becoming a (church) servant”.  If the driver is to build disciples (the definition of “Church”), then he will tend to recommend “stop being a church consumer” by “getting right with the Lord”.

Ironically, as a result of discipleship efforts, churches obtain more servants as well.  In contrast, preaching against consumerism in an effort to increase church engagement often results in having fewer of both – disciples and servants.  In other words, make disciples and you’ll have servants (and so much more) – but try to get servants and you won’t get disciples (the ultimate biblical objective of church).  The latter may even lose the servants they do have (if they’re not disciples) because their motives will be questionable, expecting a fair exchange of value for their services, such as acknowledgement or favoritism.

Jumping Through Church Hoops

In practical terms, the following scenario plays out in countless churches across the country every week:

  1. Staff is overwhelmed and the pastor is burned out
  2. Despite leadership-driven initiatives and activities, not seeing much numerical growth or transformational spiritual growth
  3. Lack of member/attender involvement and growth misdiagnosed simply as consumerism
  4. Therefore, campaigns organized to combat consumerism through greater engagement, such as membership drives and messages geared toward attendance, volunteering and giving
  5. Closer tracking of church engagement, seeking to categorize into Core, Community and Crowd tiers based on participation in church activities, events and drives
  6. Inserting church “hoops” for individuals to jump through (e.g. membership, giving) before accessing discipleship or leadership opportunities reserved for Core members
  7. Measuring spiritual growth according to the number of church hurdles cleared (i.e. degree of church involvement)

Whereas the corresponding biblical path involves:

  1. Staff is overwhelmed and the pastor is burned out
  2. Despite leadership-driven initiatives and activities, not seeing much numerical growth or transformational spiritual growth
  3. Lack of member/attender involvement and growth correctly diagnosed as not having intimate love relationships with Jesus
  4. Therefore, campaigns planned to lead congregants closer to the Lord through 1-on-1 and triad discipleship
  5. Defining the Core tier based on those who have been through discipleship training and are ready to disciple others
  6. Remove any impediments to accessing discipleship opportunities that could address the “heart problem” behind consumerism, ensuring no church “hoops” prevent anyone from being discipled
  7. Measuring spiritual growth according to the impact (evangelism, discipleship and Christ-centered compassion) each person is having within their circles of influence inside and outside the “4 walls”

As a side-effect of the biblical process, church attendance, membership, volunteering and giving will all increase.  Discipleship must always be a higher priority than membership.  An analogy is asking someone to get married on a first date.  Instead, let them fall in love first (with Jesus, not the church) and then get married.  A renewed relationship with the Lord lights a fire for church involvement rather than vice versa.  The order of that sequence is critical.

A Gateway or an Impediment

There is also an inverse correlation between the rate of spiritual growth of churchgoers and the degree of emphasis on church membership by pastors.  Most argue that those two goals always work in concert, but in most churches today they work against one another.  If a church that is more concerned about growing membership than making disciples, then its focus will be on providing a great experience and asking little of people besides a few “church chores”.  That church may grow numerically but at the expense of the Kingdom.

All churches are part of the Kingdom of God but not all advance the Kingdom.  Kingdom focus risks challenging people to endure the hard work of becoming and making disciples – which could lead some down a path that lands them in another church.  A local church is a family but it’s also part of the larger family of God.  A local church family may grow but the family of believers suffers if that local church didn’t prepare people well to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Likewise, local churches have splits and some close their doors, but God’s family of believers doesn’t suffer when a local church shuts down as long as its members were equipped well for the Great Commission.

In other words, requiring that people get involved in church activities first is an impediment and not a gateway to discipleship.  These days, believers and non-believers (Americans in general) are less willing to make commitments to a church (less loyal to institutions in general and more leery of churches) before they’ve committed to Jesus.  Therefore, churches may be blocking individuals from getting to know the Lord more intimately by routing them through participation in church-sponsored group activities, events and membership classes – partially rebuilding the veil that Jesus tore at His crucifixion.

It’s Your Turn…

What is your answer to church consumerism?  Are Christians more likely to put aside self-interested “church shopping” through an appeal to unselfishly serve the church or to personally die to self?

Yes, it’s ok to talk about sin

Aug 08, 19
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In the name of tolerance, today’s intolerant culture has convinced those they don’t tolerate (Christians and churches) that bringing up sin is hypocritical at best and hateful at worst.  In fact, the nerve of Christians to have an opinion about sin in an age of moral relativism is the reason for the world’s intolerance toward believers.

On the one hand, they do have a point.  How could we expect those who don’t know the Lord to adopt His standard for their behavior?  Attempting to apply God’s rules to those who make up their own (rules) understandably comes across as irrational and judgmental.  Yet many Christians continue the air war on society, dropping verbal bombs from 10000 feet rather than fighting a ground war of compassion at close proximity.

On the other hand, why would Christians allow those who worship the god of self-determination to apply their standard to those who worship a God who was so opinionated about sin that He paid the ultimate price to atone for it – the sacrifice of His only Son?  In other words, the body of Christ has been swayed by our PC culture to depart from Scripture and follow the media’s lead – removing “sin” from our vernacular.  Pastors, staff, lay leaders and members have become increasingly reticent even to mention the word “sin”, much less bring up a believer’s sin – at least to their face.

Rather than risk accusations of focusing on the “speck that is in your brother’s eye”, not noticing “the log that is in your own eye” most Christians are unwilling to address a brother’s sin.  They see the elimination of sin from our own lives as the prerequisite for broaching the topic of sin is someone else’s life.  That, of course, is impossible.  It’s similar to the popular argument that we shouldn’t be outspoken about our faith until we’ve become a “good” Christian, when (ironically) being an excellent representative for Jesus actually means confessing our sins and showing His power to forgive sin.  People are dying without knowing the Lord or drifting farther away from Him every day.  How can we wait to share our faith or to bring up sin until we become “good” enough to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy?

Addressing Sin Isn’t Optional

It’s not only ok to bring up sin among believers, it’s commanded repeatedly in Scripture.  Many contend that it’s not our place to “judge” – better to leave that to God than risk being a “pharisee”.  Even though there is certainly a “wrong” way to confront sin within churches and the lives of believers, that did not deter Jesus’ disciples from fulfilling their responsibility to maintain the purity of His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).  There are too many examples from Scripture on that subject to reference here, but consider a small sample of verses from 1 Corinthians 5:

“Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (v. 2)

“I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (v. 11)

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (v. 12)

Jesus confirms our need to deal with sins committed by other Christians in Matthew 5:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you…” (v. 15)

“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (v. 17)

Based on those verses, it appears that (consciously and intentionally) avoiding the topic of sin (with our brothers and sisters) is a sin in and of itself.  Choosing to mind your own business and not be nosy (as we discussed in our last blog post) when it comes to sin in a believer’s life may mean missing an opportunity to help that person overcome whatever sin is keeping them on the fence or off the Lord’s path.

Sin and its remedy are at the core of all that we believe.  The topic shouldn’t be avoided.

  • How can someone develop a saving relationship with Jesus without repentance for sin?  Jesus suffered and died to offer forgiveness, not a free pass to sin as you please.
  • How can you grow as a disciple without curtailing sin?  Obediently following in the footsteps of Jesus is the essence of discipleship.
  • How can you disciple someone else without confronting sin?  Accountability for our words and actions is a key component of discipleship.
  • How can you pursue sanctification without seeking to eliminate sin?  There’s no better way to honor Jesus’ sacrifice than to avoid what put Him on the cross in the first place.

We can’t walk with Jesus or talk about Him without addressing sin.  Sin is what separated man from God and brought our Savior to live among us.  If there’s no recognition of sin, remorse for sin and appreciation for Jesus paying for our sins, then there’s no salvation and no hope beyond this life.  If there’s no effort to eradicate sin, then there’s no obedience, discipleship or growth in Christ.

How To Bring Up Sin

We see immorality among our Christian neighbors, coworkers or fellow church members but we think “I have to live with these people”.  Many of us reside in a fixed, permanent structure that can’t be moved (i.e. a house) so we hesitate to rock the boat with our neighbors.   Pastors likewise have invested in a fixed, permanent structure that can’t be moved (i.e. church building) so they are often afraid to bring up sin and ask hard questions of their members and regular attenders (who they “have to live with”).  However, all Christians can confront sin effectively if done so…

  1. With Prayer – Carrying out your responsibility to help a brother or sister living in sin is not going to be easy.  It won’t be comfortable for you or them.  You’ll need the strength and words of the Holy Spirit.  And only the Lord can lead them to repentance, without which they may never realign with His will.
  2. With Preparation – What if the worst happens?  They may turn the tables on you, tell you it’s none of your business, resort to outright denial or refuse to admit it’s even a sin.  What if the best happens?  They may have been drowning in guilt for weeks and “overshare” – overjoyed to finally get it all off their chest.  Be prepared to offer support and comfort – an opportunity you would have missed if you never brought up the topic.
  3. With Conviction – Don’t forget the Bible’s commands to keep the Church pure.  Decide that it’s worth taking a risk, even if you’re not the poster child for purity.  Remember that Jesus, Paul and Peter all came out of the gates preaching repentance.  Keep in mind that believers are more accountable for sin than those who don’t believe.
  4. With Courage – John the Baptist pointed out Herod’s sin of sleeping with his brother’s wife and got beheaded.  You’re unlikely to face a similar fate, but undoubtedly persecution is often retribution for the mere presence and proximity of Christians bringing an awareness of sin.  You won’t win any popularity contests by asking the hard questions but there’s often a price for obedience.
  5. With Discernment – How can we reconcile Paul’s words “Why do you judge your brother” (Romans 14:10) with “Are you not to judge those inside (the church)?”? (1 Corinthians 5:12).  Those commands are not conflicting because Paul is speaking in Romans 14 about religious elitism among believers, viewing others with contempt and inferiority for not following certain practices.  1 Corinthians applies to immorality such as greed, theft and idolatry.
  6. With Compassion – There is a difference between judging and correcting.  We can take a stand for morality and point out sin with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).  We can balance grace and truth, offering stern correction with love.
  7. With Honesty – Personally, I sincerely want to know what I’m doing wrong.  Please tell me – and don’t beat around the bush.  If offered as loving correction, I’ll know you care about me and the Church enough to endure the discomfort of confronting me about my sin.
  8. With Humility – Preface correction with confession.  Admit your own faults before bringing up someone else’s.
  9. With Friendship – Our culture’s definition of love is overlooking and ignoring sin.  God’s definition (and Jesus’ model) of love is truly getting to know someone, including their sin, and offering freedom from guilt and shame by gently calling them to repentance.
  10. With Wisdom – Realize that sin comes in many forms.  Most Christians suffer from worry, anxiety and greed to some extent – and there’s value in being held accountable when we veer off too far in any of those directions.

Each of us can become a “pastor of our neighborhood” by being a first responder for neighbors in need of temporary help, eternal hope and continued growth in Christ.  There’s no hope or growth without talking about sin.  Sin, and realizing the depths of God’s love in atoning for it, is at the root of the formation and strengthening of a relationship with Jesus.  If many pastors have become reluctant to deal head-on with sin within their congregations, maybe it falls on the rest of us to lead the way.

It’s Your Turn…

Knowing the devastation caused by sin – divorce, division, decline and death – how can we not act when we see a brother or sister in Christ caught in Satan’s trap?  In order to continue in sin unabated and unopposed, the world characterizes any intervention as hatred.  Do you believe the world or what God’s Word says about the importance of providing loving correction before fellow believers suffer the dire consequences of sin?

Jesus Was Nosy…and You Should Be Too

Jul 25, 19
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Jesus got into other people’s business.  He was intrusive.  He frequently made people uncomfortable.  He was proactive, not waiting for someone else to bring up tough subjects.  He addressed the elephant in the room when no one else would dare.  He risked an awkward silence or backlash from “crossing the line”.

“What are you discussing…?” (Luke 24:17)

“Who touched me?” (Mark 5:31)

“What do you want…?” (John 1:37)

“Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  (John 1:47)

“You are Israel’s teacher…and do you not understand these things? (John 3:10)

‘You are right when you say you have no husband.” (John 4:17)

“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67)

“Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10)

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)

“Will you really lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38)

“Don’t you know me, Philip…?” (John 14:9)

“Are you asking one another what I meant…?” (John 16:19)

“Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13)

“Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5)

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)

Asking the hard question was worth the risk to our Savior.  He knows that salvation often hinges on full disclosure, uncovering the root of the issue and tearing down the walls that keep people from knowing (Jesus) and being known (by others).

In our modern American culture, making sure everyone is comfortable is considered the supreme virtue.  Not invading anyone’s personal space is today’s definition of compassion, love and tolerance.  Stigmatizing any expressions of opinions or personal questions as a form of hatred enables those who don’t want to know Jesus to continue in sin unabated, free from the inconvenience and discomfort of being confronted with opposition or truth.

Growing up, a key to survival in my family was keeping your feelings and problems to yourself.  Difficult issues were swept under the rug.  The modus operandi was “wait long enough and hope they’ll go away.”  Personal questions or disclosures were frowned upon.  Any “insider” information shared was often used against the sharer.

I’m determined to break that cycle in my own household.  If you ask my 12 year-old son, “How can you show someone that you care about them?” he’ll repeat what I’ve always taught him – “by asking questions”.  Do you ever catch yourself during a conversation thinking about what you want to say next?  Or when you finish talking, does the other person launch into an unrelated topic, not responding to what you just said?  Shouldn’t we all be fully engaged in listening and follow up with appropriate questions?  That’s the natural flow of a discussion between two individuals deeply concerned about each other.  Reflect on your recent interactions and recall whether you asked any questions.  If you were more interested in getting your points across than digging in deeper to learn more about the thoughts they shared, then you may have missed an opportunity to discover a clue to leading them toward (or closer to) Jesus.

Many doors have opened in my life to closer relationships, evangelism and service simply by asking a personal question that made those around me cringe.  “I can’t believe Jim just asked that!”  Thank God I did.  Those questions were much like those posed by Jesus and led to tremendous breakthroughs:

  • Are you really ok? You said you’re fine, but that’s not what it sounds like to me.
  • Why are you acting like that?  Is something else going on?
  • Why aren’t you asking your wife how she feels about this?
  • Why isn’t your fiancé here?  Is everything ok?
  • Is your mom an alcoholic?
  • I hear what you’re saying, but are you telling me the whole story?
  • Do you know Jesus Christ personally?
  • You believe in Jesus but have you surrendered your life to Him?
  • That may be what’s best for you but what about your kids?
  • Is there anything I can do to help?  Seriously, I mean it.

Amazingly enough, those I asked weren’t offended by those questions.  In fact, nearly all were relieved that someone finally had the nerve and interest to bring up what had been eating at them the whole day – or far longer.  Most started calling me or inviting me to get together, knowing I would listen and delve deeper to possibly offer some encouragement or advice.

Be the “Pastor” of Your Neighborhood

The Bible defines church as “an assembly of called-out ones”.  A neighborhood can be an “assembly of called-out ones” if those who know Jesus band together for worship, fellowship and service to those in their community.  Neighborhoods are also a place where we live it out all week what we learned last Sunday.

In an effort to make my neighborhood look a little like the biblical definition of church, I’ve felt called to be the “pastor” of my neighborhood.  It’s actually not that difficult to do and doesn’t require a seminary degree.  The only qualifications are a deep enough love for the Lord and for neighbors to risk asking tough questions and to follow up on their responses.  The risk most fear is, “We have to live with these people!”  It’s easier to talk about the weather or gossip about other neighbors than to get personal and ask if there’s anything you can be praying about for someone or why they look so upset.

Successfully pastoring your neighborhood also entails being:

  • Visible – Don’t close the garage door right after you get home, but take walks (e.g. prayer walks) in the neighborhood and stop to chat with those you see, particularly if you sense the Lord nudging you in their direction
  • Vulnerable – Rather than worrying about making a good impression or keeping up with the Joneses, be transparent and open up with neighbors so they can see Christ through you
  • Virtuous – Avoid actions and words that would damage your ability to represent and share Christ with your neighbors, such as harsh language and confrontations over petty matters, taking the high road even when your neighbor is in the wrong
  • Vital – Keep your eyes and ears attune to opportunities to step in when neighbors encounter challenges, leading efforts to demonstrate God’s love to those in need of help and hope

In summary, you must be different.  A Barna study revealed that most non-Christians see little difference between their Christian and non-Christian neighbors.  Following Jesus means living from a distinct vantage point, viewing every person and circumstance against the backdrop of the cross – causing us to think and act quite differently than those with a secular world view.

My family reaches out, shows compassion and asks personal questions.  When a neighbor’s young son needed a heart transplant, we organized fundraisers, visited him in the hospital and frequently gave them gifts.  When a Muslim neighbor’s health was failing, we brought him healthy meals and regularly checked to see how he was doing.  When a neighbor’s air conditioning unit broke down during a hot Florida summer and their alcoholic dad was out of work, we raised money and found a contractor to install a new system quickly for free.

To live out this “pastor of my neighborhood” concept in the life of our ministry, Meet The Need is currently building new software to enable more Christ-followers across the country to adopt that role.  For those daring enough to step forward, the app will help them connect neighbors, engage a local church, and pull in ministry and business resources to wrap around a struggling family in their community.  The system will use Artificial Intelligence to recommend possible solutions and to suggest relevant disciple-making content not only for the family in need but also for neighbors who volunteer to help.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you willing to look a little “odd for God” to your neighbors?  Will you risk a reputation as intrusive and maybe even as a troublemaker – in other words, nosy.  It will be awkward and uncomfortable, for you and probably for some neighbors too – but the possible breakthroughs are worth being countercultural in this age of “tolerance” and “Selfism”.

Churches are mortal. Kingdom is not.

Jul 10, 19
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C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Each of us will live forever.  We’re superheroes, yet severely flawed.  Like superheroes depicted in movies and comic books, we each have a kryptonite.  Even Superman has a weakness he can’t overcome.  Ironman has a temptation he can’t resist.  We likewise are all fallen – easily lured by ego, greed, lust or some other fatal flaw.  But Christ-followers have more potential and power than any Marvel Avenger – because Avengers can be killed with no hope of resurrection.

Therefore, the biblical definition of a “church” is an assembly of “called-out”, Christ-following superheroes.  A group of churchgoers in a particular building under a certain pastor may fade due to splits, factions, transitions or aging.  However, born-again believers are immortal and their status as children of God is everlasting.  Citizens of God’s Kingdom are those who permanently belong to His indissoluble family through faith in Jesus Christ.

Given those truths, a logical implication of C.S. Lewis’ quote is that…

Churches are mortal.  Kingdom is not.

In other words, congregations are temporary and shouldn’t be emphasized more than Kingdom.  Differentiators pastors emphasize to distinguish themselves from other congregations divide rather than unite the Kingdom.  Attraction and retention practices churches employ to grow their congregation (often at the expense of other local fellowships) are rooted in worldly (which run counter to Kingdom) principles.  However, the Kingdom of God, its foundational characteristics, and those who are part of the Kingdom are eternal.  More specifically:

  • Denominational differences are mortal.  Truth is not.
  • Leadership hierarchies unduly elevating pastors are mortal.  Humility before almighty God is not.
  • Building institutions through church growth strategies is mortal.  Discipleship is not.
  • Physical structures are mortal.  Those sitting in the pews are not.
  • Pouring into programs not specifically contributing to disciple-making is mortal.  Godly compassion is not.
  • Material prosperity is mortal.  Treasures in heaven are not.
  • Even relationships among churchgoers are mortal.  The family of believers is not.

The universal body of believers (capital “C” Church), like individual believers, is permanent and will be victorious in the end.  Jesus guaranteed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.  In other words, congregations may come and go, but nothing can wipe out the ongoing community and gathering of those who worship Jesus.  In fact, persecution in countries aimed at eradicating Christianity by shutting down churches typically has the opposite (of its intended) effect.  Outlawing public worship eliminates institution-building, flattens hierarchies, weeds out fence-sitters, disperses Christians into homes and makes discipleship no longer optional – all fueling rapid growth of Christianity.

Jesus mentioned Kingdom over 100 times, but church only twice.  However, one of those two statements was “I will build My Church”, indicating personal ownership by Christ Himself.  So Church matters.  But Kingdom always matters far more than any church.  Kingdom is the point of church; church is not the point of the Kingdom.  The parables of Jesus teach that Kingdom permeates everything, not just churches.  The Kingdom is among us yet within us.  Unseen yet infinitely impactful.  Always growing and causing growth.  Branching out yet tying together.  Solidifying yet separating.  The Kingdom of God, ruled by King Jesus, is the seed, the harvest, the treasure, and the yeast.  It’s what we all should be seeking, hoping will show up today, and praying will come in greater measure soon.

However, most pastors in America prioritize their churches over Kingdom on a weekly basis:

  • Kingdom orientation collaborates.  Churches increasingly function independently.
  • Kingdom orientation is generous.  Churches today typically allocate less than 1% of their budgets to local missions or their persecuted brothers and sisters overseas.
  • Kingdom orientation isn’t worried if a member goes to another Gospel-centric church.  Churches cling and cater to keep the body intact and ensure viability.
  • Kingdom orientation is concerned about depth.  Churches track nickels and noses.
  • Kingdom orientation convenes wherever and however is most effective for reaching the community.  Churches invest heavily in centralized location(s).
  • Kingdom orientation diligently trains and equips disciples for evangelism.  Churches preach weekly messages and hope attenders will join occasional small groups (run by untrained leaders).
  • Kingdom orientation relies on Jesus to grow the body of Christ.  Churches subscribe to conventional growth models.

Kingdom is the destination.  Church is a vehicle.  Many who haven’t surrendered their lives to Jesus attend church regularly and serve diligently.  Unfortunately, overemphasis on church attendance and engagement has implied that church is a viable destination.  Not pushing evangelism, discipleship or sanctification has allowed churchgoers to stay comfortably parked in the garage, not risking an accident on the drive toward (seeking) the Kingdom.

A reliable mode of transportation is helpful in getting to any destination.  However, pastors that stress church at the expense of Kingdom are putting members in the passenger seat of a car with engine trouble.  Kingdom-focused pastors put members where they belong – behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle, far more likely to get them where they need to go.

So Now What?

Church leaders should stop choosing the mortal over the immortal.  But how?  The answer lies in:

  • Redefining – Debunk the common misconception that church is a place where people go on Sundays and promote its biblical meaning as an assembly of (immortal) superheroes
  • Uniting – Put aside (mortal) differences between denominations, churches and pastors; instead rally around the (immortal) Kingdom goal of reaching the community for Christ
  • Collaborating – Take more (immortal) Kingdom “ground” in a city through collective impact, working together to move the needle on important causes and issues affecting local families
  • Coordinating – Consider how the strengths of each church and ministry map into the larger (immortal) body of Christ to develop a big-picture vision and strategy for city-wide transformation through prayer, care and share
  • Deflecting – Refuse to turn compassion efforts into (mortal) branding opportunities, instead giving glory to God and credit to other partners who played key roles
  • Giving – Expand the overall Kingdom footprint by redirecting (mortal) building funds to (immortal) disciple-making initiatives inside and outside your church
  • Sharing – Cling to no one, even encouraging some to attend another church if yours does not provide them applicable opportunities for (immortal) growth, service, compassion and missions
  • Measuring – Adopt only (immortal) metrics around Kingdom and disciple growth, which do not align with the (mortal) growth models of most churches today
  • Reorganizing – To achieve (immortal) Kingdom goals, create leverage by flattening the org chart, decentralizing structures and equipping lay leaders (e.g. to be “pastors of their neighborhoods”)

God only has one plan for your city.  His will is not divided.  No doubt the Lord uses different churches to reach different people to accomplish His plan – but it’s still one (unified) plan.  Churches should therefore be working toward the same outcome – seeing everyone in that city come to know Jesus.  Unity around that goal would no doubt multiply the Church’s (immortal) impact in the community, but unity is impossible when any pastor is deeply concerned about his church’s mortality.  Survival instincts lead to seeing members as “customers” to attract and retain – not as the embodiment of “church”.  Striving for (individual) church growth keeps pastors from participating in joint efforts to pursue the intended target “customer” of the body of Christ – those who do not have a relationship with the Lord.

It’s Your Turn…

Where have you seen churches uniting year-round to demonstrate God’s love within a community, choosing shared (immortal) Kingdom goals over (mortal) impediments to collaboration?