Author Archives: JMorgan

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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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?

The Children’s Ministry Doesn’t Replace Ministry to Children

Jul 26, 17
JMorgan
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Churches see youth who enter the building as their responsibility, but pay little attention to neglected children in the community.  Scriptures are clear that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).  Jesus healed kids, fed kids, raised kids from the dead, blessed them, prayed for them, welcomed them and repeatedly emphasized that adults should be more like them (Mark 10:15).  Children hold a special place in Christ’s heart.  Yet few churches have school partnerships, foster care programs, or ministries to mentor troubled youth.

Churches invest significant amounts in their children’s ministries, but hardly spend a dime building ministries to reach out to kids who are highly unlikely to darken a church door.  Public schools aren’t expecting churches to help, juvenile delinquents congregate on the streets rather than in church pews, and foster care ministries struggle to get churches to engage with them.  “They” are out there but “we” are in here.

Look at how the (approximate) numbers in the U.S. stack up:

  • 400,000 Christian churches
  • 100,000 public schools
  • 400,000 orphans
  • 500,000 juveniles brought to detention centers in a given year
  • 1,000,000 youth arrested annually

There are 4 churches for every school, 1 church for every orphan and nearly 1 church for every detained minor.  If only a small fraction of churches did their fair share maybe truancy, grade-level literacy, child neglect and youth incarceration would be far less pervasive in our nation.  Jesus’ modeled, ordained and commanded ministry to children, not just children’s ministries.  That’s why the dearth of church partnerships with schools, orphanages, juvenile courts, and community centers makes you question why churches throw so much time, energy and money into KingdomKids, DiscoveryZone or JourneyLand.

In other words, if churches truly care so much for children, why aren’t more churches out there caring for children?  I’ve been in many church staff meetings and seen the emphasis placed on building first-rate children’s ministries to attract young families.   I’ve seen that strategy implemented to rejuvenate aging churches, replacing elderly retirees with income-earning parents.  I’ve driven past countless bounce houses at churches, walked into rooms filled with video games, and watched churches replace my son’s memory verses with candy bars.  The general trend is toward teaching kids less and entertaining them more, lending credence to the theory that most churches view their children’s ministries as execution of a strategy and not fulfillment of a mandate.

Assuming parents of kids who go to church are less likely to mistreat their children and more apt to share the Gospel with them, churches find themselves taking care of kids…

  • with fewer emotional needs, while ignoring those crying out for help
  • enduring little physical abuse, while neglecting those suffering in silence
  • who already know about Jesus, while missing opportunities to witness to those who don’t

By choosing to look after children who have parents and attend church, who are in far less distress than their orphaned and unchurched counterparts, churches are failing to practice “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless”.  To atone for that (conscious or subliminal) misstep, churches check the box by doing an annual collection or service day at a children’s home.

It’s Your Turn

#WhereWouldJesusBe?  He went where the kids were.  He didn’t wait for them to show up at the temple.   Given Jesus’ example and commands, which are spelled out so clearly and frequently, how do churches not see the welfare of neglected children in the community as their responsibility?  Do you agree with us that they developed this blind spot by redefining church as a “place” and members as “customers”?

Why U.S. Churches Turn a Blind Eye to Persecuted Christians

Jul 19, 17
JMorgan
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Today we begin examining blind spots obstructing the view of churches to responsibilities clearly spelled out in scriptures.  Pastors and members alike gloss over selected verses, not seeing problems outside the church as their responsibility.  Instead, a topic Jesus and Paul considered among the foremost indicators of our faith and salvation – our love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ – is almost completely ignored by nearly all churches in America.

As “church” has become redefined as a place and the Church’s “customer” redefined as members (insiders) rather than as those outside the congregation, issues outside the “4 walls” became someone else’s responsibility.  Local and international needs are afterthoughts, nice things to do if we have budget and time left over beyond what’s required to run the church and placate members.

Therefore, the estimated 200 million Christians worldwide who are oppressed and persecuted receive little support from America.  In fact, the budgets of the leading ministries in the U.S. that serve persecuted Christians are eerily small – starting at roughly $40 million (Voice of the Martyrs), dropping precipitously to $14 million (Open Doors), then down to $3 million (International Christian Concern), followed by a few others at around $1 million each.  A ministry advocating on behalf of persecuted believers contacted the leaders of the 150 largest churches and the twenty largest Christian denominational organizations in the U.S.  Only two of the denominations and three of the churches indicated that they consider support for the persecuted a high priority – with only one of those giving significantly toward that cause.  Eight others indicated that they sometimes, albeit infrequently, provide some assistance to persecuted Christians.

Meanwhile, the number of Christians who are persecuted and struggling to survive has never been greater.  In northern Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes by the Islamic group, Boko Haram.  They are living right now without food, literally starving to death.  In Syria and Iraq, more than a million Christians are homeless and unemployed because of ISIS.

Helping Persecuted Christians is Not Optional

Persecution was also rampant in the early church.  The New Testament frequently emphasizes the importance of churches coming to the aid of Christians persecuted in other cities and countries.  In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul ordered the church to take up an offering on the first day of the week.  This is the only biblical record of Sunday collections and its purpose was specifically to support suffering and persecuted Christians in a foreign land.  2 Corinthians 8-9 is the most comprehensive teaching and example of stewardship in the New Testament.  Pastors preach on 2 Corinthians to exhort Christians to give to their church; however, it was written about raising money for a persecuted church in another nation.  Yet less than ½ of 1 percent of American church collections are used to bless God’s persecuted children – the intended beneficiaries in those chapters.  Even verses about extending biblical hospitality written about providing food and shelter to homeless Christians seeking refuge from persecution are routinely reinterpreted and minimized today to encourage congregants to have neighbors over for dinner.

According to Scripture, it’s our love for one other, particularly those among us who are suffering, that will:

  • Convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God (John 17:21)
  • Show we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35)
  • Produce the fruit that will transform our culture and grow our churches (John 15:1-17)
  • Indicate whether professing Christians are truly saved (James 2:14-20; 1 John 3:10-20)
  • Be used by the Lord to separate the “sheep” from the “goats” on Judgment Day (Matthew 25:31-46)

In Matthew 25, at the culmination of the ages, Jesus will identify those who had saving faith as those who served suffering Christians.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Why did Jesus include those in prison each time in His list of the brethren He expected us to help?  Were those Christians hardened criminals?  No, they were believers persecuted and jailed for their faith, suffering like Jesus for putting their trust in Him.  Hebrews 13:3 also references those in prison, again identifying them as persecuted Christians, telling us to remember them “as though with them” detained behind bars.

Why Few Churches Help Persecuted Christians

Given those compelling mandates, the minimal attention paid to persecution can only be explained by one (or more) of 4 possible “blind spots”.  Church leaders and members are either:

  1. Unaware of it – Our vision could be impaired by other (internal) priorities, although it’s becoming harder to stay in the dark as campaigns and attacks targeting Christians mount
  2. Consciously or unwittingly ignoring it – Turning a blind eye to reports of Christians slaughtered mercilessly just because it didn’t happen here in the U.S.
  3. Don’t sense a responsibility to act on it – Seminary-trained biblical scholars have little justification for believing their church has no obligation to respond to biblical imperatives
  4. Want to do something but not sure how – Some can’t imagine how their church, particularly a small one, could conceivably alleviate persecution occurring so far away

In fact, the first thing we should do is to become more aware.  Knowing how important it is in the eyes of Jesus and Paul we have no excuse for remaining blind.  Sharing persecution news and encouraging prayer should be priorities for every church.  Following Paul’s example, taking up collections for persecuted Christians should be standard practice for all churches.  Persecuted families need money because oppression typically comes in the form of loss of homes, farms, livelihoods, food and education.

Yet our redefinition of “church” and our biblical “customer” provides powerful motivation not to search the news outlets nor the Bible on the topic of persecution.  If we knew more about the atrocities taking place against Christians or what the Lord says we should do to help them, we’d be forced to act.  Giving dollars is a critical way we can help end the virtual slavery and genocide of fellow believers; however, our institution-centric models for running today’s churches leave little left over to help those outside the building.  Allocating more funds to help those persecuted overseas would compete directly with meeting church budget needs here at home.  Therefore, pastors hesitate to make it a big deal, opting instead to emphasize self-serving initiatives couched in terms like “reaching the community for Christ” by sending out mailers, building a new facility, or sprucing up the children’s ministry.

How Ignoring Persecution Brings it to U.S. Soil

Remaining uninformed and unconcerned, blinded by our modern definition of “church” to our responsibilities in our communities and overseas, is the reason why we aren’t we manifesting God’s love to a watching world.  Replacing institution-building with disciple building would lead to awareness and action.  Disciples study, abide, obey and love their brothers and sisters.  Discipleship costs nothing, freeing up funds to aid those who are destitute as a result of their love for Jesus.

The same disobedience that causes us to ignore persecuted Christians is behind the American Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception.  The unsaved world is looking and longing for the perfect love that comes from above.  Yet they don’t see love but division among the Church in America, not united in serving each other or churches abroad.  A truly global body of Christ would cause Satan to tremble.  It would spark revival here in the U.S.  It would shake up the Muslim world.  It would stem the rising tide of persecution approaching our shores as those advocating Sharia law begin outnumbering Christians in some neighborhoods, communities and entire zip codes.

Meanwhile churches go about conducting business as usual, not any unusual business.  Rather than reaching out to Muslim populations with the love of Jesus and coming to the rescue of those they persecute, pastors worry about attendance and giving.  Our failure to follow Jesus’ “new command” to love one another is doing what Islam cannot – weakening the body from within, preparing the way for Muslims to twist the knife we have already inserted ourselves.  Ironically, persecution usually strengthens the Church (e.g. the early church and China).  But how weak will American churches be from their self-inflicted wounds of disobedience by the time persecution eventually arrives in earnest here in the U.S.?

In other words, ignoring persecution “there” is helping to bring it here.  If our churches were more compassionate and engaged in society, they would still have a voice.  If they made helping persecuted Christians a higher priority, investing more IN them and advocating more FOR them, our nation would be better informed of the dangers awaiting us one day.  Our government would possibly step in to do what our churches cannot – take political, diplomatic or military action against leaders and nations persecuting Christians in the name of protecting the human rights our country claims to defend.

Building awareness and taking action is the Church’s responsibility.  We cannot expect the government or liberal media to report on that subject.  Journalists are far more interested in writing about those who are “persecuted” by Christians than about Christians who are persecuted.  Our media stands in defense of personal identity and lifestyle convictions yet refuses to defend the Christian religious freedoms our forefathers held so dear.  Despite all this, the Church’s silence on the persecution of Christians is deafening.

It’s Your Turn

Keep up with the latest news and developments on persecution of Christians worldwide at Mute No More.  I also recommend the book Heirloom Love – it has awakened me and thousands of other believers to the severity and extent of persecution of our brothers and sisters across the globe.

 

This blog post was coauthored by Dominic Sputo, who exemplifies the sheep on Jesus’ right in Matthew 25, refusing to sit still as long as anyone suffers for their belief in our Lord and Savior.

Don’t Let These Blind Spots Impair Your Church’s Vision

Jul 12, 17
JMorgan
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2 comments

It was a grueling drive from Florida to Maryland and back over the past two weeks in summer holiday traffic.  Fighting D.C. gridlock every day was no joy ride either.  My nerves were frazzled dodging speeders who mistook the 495 Beltway for the Indianapolis Speedway and distracted drivers too busy texting to notice they’d drifted into the lane my car occupied.  Not to mention the small windows in the back of my SUV created blind spots, obstructing my view of cars just off my right rear bumper.

Blind spots not only appear on the road but in the human psyche.  We can’t see or don’t want to see what would be in plain view from a different vantage point.  American church growth models have impaired the vision of most pastors, blinding them to church mandates spelled out clearly and repeated frequently in scripture.  For example, every single church member has a supernatural gift that should be used to build the body, but somehow most simply come to enjoy the gifts of the pastors and musicians.  Permitting regular attenders to remain spectators, thinking “let’s go see what the pastor has to say”, isn’t the least bit biblical – yet it’s a common practice among churchgoers in our nation.

C.S. Lewis wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  He could have just as easily replaced the word “Christianity” with “God’s Word”.  Over the next 5 weeks, we’re going to review cases where church leaders aren’t seeing what is right in front of them in God’s Word, either because they’ve forgotten or are selectively ignoring verses that don’t align with conventional church.  When we look through the lens of Jesus’ instructions to His Church without natural human bias, there are no blind spots.  Yet we’re witnessing the decline of the Church in growth, impact, influence and perception as a direct result of turning a blind eye to its biblical responsibility to follow the example set by Jesus and the early church of caring for persecuted Christians, orphans, deserted and widowed women, and those starving for food and the Gospel.

How Churches Develop Blind Spots

As we address each of those topics in the coming weeks, we will show that few church leaders see the persecuted church, neglected children, single mothers, hungry neighbors and lost souls in the community as their responsibility.  Despite the Bible’s obvious arguments to the contrary, pastors have developed these (and other) blind spots because they….

  • Don’t see those outside their church as their “customer” – Jesus healed and fed before telling people who He is, demonstrating His love and compassion daily outside the “4 walls”.  He gave His disciples instructions and power to follow suit.  Peter commissioned Paul to go to the gentiles but stressed remembering to care for the poor.  The church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter.  The idea of running churches and letting others handle compassion ministry is relatively new and ill-advised – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus so we can’t afford to detach words from actions.  Although churches should take care of their own first, there’s no excuse for abandoning the church’s position on the front lines of compassion over the past century.  As a result of redefining the Church’s “customer” and diverting nearly all of its resources internally, the helpless and hopeless in the community (the church’s intended and biblical “customer”) understandably feel ignored.
  • Fail to recognize members as the embodiment of “church” – Jesus invested heavily in building disciples then sent them out make more disciples. His church growth model was based on exponential discipleship multiplication.  Today, churches invest 98% of their time, energy and money in attracting and retaining members – positioning pastors as the primary evangelists and disciple makers.  The job of churchgoers has been reduced to inviting friends to a Sunday service to hear the Gospel from a “professional”.  That math is simple addition.
  • Focus their attention more on what church members want than on what they need – With roughly 90% of churches not growing and so many small churches struggling to survive, the “balance of power” has shifted from pastors to members.  Whereas traditionally church leaders held members accountable for the Great Commission, churchgoers now hold pastors accountable for a great worship service.  In other words, to keep American church “consumers” coming back, pastors either spearheaded or implicitly allowed “church” to be redefined as a place, assuming ownership of evangelism and discipleship responsibilities intended to belong to those called to be the church personified.  Even growing churches risk emptying the pews if they insist on giving people what the Bible says they need and not what they want…
    • need life change, but want a better life
    • need a spiritual awakening, but want a spiritual experience
    • need deep discipleship, but want deep fellowship
    • need to love others, but want to be loved
    • need to serve the least of these continually, but want to “check the box” occasionally
    • need to trust the Lord and stop worrying, but want reassurance and encouragement
    • need to be challenged, but want to challenge what’s wrong with the world around them
    • need personal commitment to individual growth, but want the pastor’s commitment to church growth
    • need to rely on the Holy Spirit, but want to rely on their own abilities
  • Watch each other more closely than scripture – How could nearly all pastors, churchgoers, consultants, authors and speakers subscribe to the generally-accepted yet fatally-flawed approach to running America’s churches?  Why do so few question the obvious emphasis on institution-building and stand idly by as they witness the decimation of disciple-building?  What will awaken everyone out of the collective stupor clouding our vision, blinding us to the clear biblical definition of “church” as “disciples” and the imperative for those disciples to aggressively pursue the “lost” in the community through undaunted prayer, care and share lifestyles.

Consequences of Blind Spots

That wake-up call may take the form of an eventual disruptive event like federal tax policies disallowing deductions for church giving, court rulings qualifying espousal of fundamental Christian doctrines as hate-speech, or outright and widespread persecution of Christians on American soil.  Or perhaps pastors will be compelled to abandon prevailing institution-centric models once the evangelical church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception decline to the level seen at this point in Western Europe – where it became largely irrelevant for similar reasons.

Redirecting emphasis from community engagement to member engagement has convinced society that churches are exclusive clubs that aren’t concerned with what happens outside the building.  Numerous studies show non-believers associate Christians with hypocrisy, pastors with money, and church with judgment.  They don’t care what we know because they don’t think we care.  Mark Zuckerberg recently characterized the primary value of church as creating community and contended that Facebook could step in to bridge that divide.  Our ineffectiveness in showing love and compassion to a waiting world has opened the door for others to try to take our place.  Millennials, Nones, Dones and countless others search elsewhere for a sense of community.

Yet Facebook won’t be the savior to rescue us.  Nor will small groups and church socials that churches devised to fill the “communal” vacuum they created.  The only answer lies in making disciples that work together to bring the world to Christ – which is true community.

There is a final repercussion church leaders should consider before disclaiming responsibility for persecuted Christians, orphans, widows, the poor and the lost outside the confines of the church.  “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41)  Church leaders are accountable for their blind spots – accountable to those suffering, to a society doubting their compassion, and to our Father in Heaven expecting those charged with leading His Church to eradicate rather than create blind spots.

It’s Your Turn

What other blind spots are obstructing the view of pastors, keeping them from acknowledging church responsibilities that are plainly spelled out in the Bible?

Churches Shouldn’t Use Business Survival Tactics

Jun 21, 17
JMorgan
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When times get tough, most churches respond with the same survival tactics used by struggling businesses.  Today, we explore the fifth and final reason why churches come down with a cold – the desire to Survive.

The life cycle of a business begins with great hope and anticipation, a keen awareness of market needs and commitment to satisfying those needs.  When that laser focus on training employees to pursue and serve target customers breeds success, attention turns to managing a growing organization and companies often take their eyes off the ball.

That’s when growth suffers and survival instincts kick in.  How the business reacts to downturns determines its future.  If panic drives it to refocus on its intended customers, it will live to see another day.  However, many do the opposite and look for answers in internally-focused strategies designed to cut costs and restructure operations.

Churches today aren’t much different.  They plant in faith and hope, highly committed to discipleship and community engagement.  However, when challenges inevitably arise or growth stagnates, few maintain the same level of focus on making disciples (i.e. training members like “employees” because they are the church personified) and mobilizing them to pursue the intended “customer” (i.e. those who don’t know Jesus).  Instead, nearly all church leaders turn their attention (internally) to attracting and retaining members – wrongly treating churchgoers and not the “lost” in the community as target “customers”.  Therefore, rather than follow Jesus’ model of making disciples characterized by compassionate service and bold evangelism, church leaders panic and employ businesses survival tactics:

1.  Reducing Sales Force

Businesses panic and cut sales staff or commissions – Yet sales is the lifeblood of the company, the only way to increase revenues.  As business consultants, we strongly advised against reducing investments in sales-related personnel, training or compensation.  We viewed that as effectively ensuring the company’s demise.  Typically, the market was still lucrative but the company lacked the sales force to pursue it.

Churches panic and cut discipleship and missions, lowering prayer-care-share expectations of members – Yet disciples are the lifeblood of the church, the only means to live out the Great Commission.  Investing less in building disciples effectively ensures the church’s demise.  The fields are white for harvest but the Church no longer has the “workers” to pursue it.

2.  Making Cosmetic Changes

Businesses, rather than improving products and services during market downturns, typically go the cheaper route and try to make their offerings appear more attractive with surface-level changes.

Churches panic and make cosmetic adjustments like preaching more “relevant” or “practical” messages, sprucing up facilities and developing slick marketing collateral.

3.  Sacrificing Quantity and Quality

Businesses like restaurants and food manufacturers frequently panic by reducing quantity and quality, offering smaller portions and lower-grade ingredients.

Churches panic by reducing quantity and quality through shorter time commitments (i.e. what I call “fast church”, the corollary to “fast food”) and cheap replacements for personal discipleship (i.e. small groups) and genuine compassion (i.e. occasional events, which often do more harm than good).

4.  Target Marketing

Businesses panic and target only profitable customer segments, forgetting that they built their company on the core values of reaching and serving the entire community.

Churches panic and begin to consider how to restructure to attract younger families, forgetting that they planted their church to reach and serve the entire community.  Rejuvenation lowers the average age but does not improve the church’s health, because young families typically have less time for discipleship and community engagement – keys to church health – between soccer games and cheerleading practices.

5. Providing Greater Convenience

Businesses panic and try to make the customer experience more easy and convenient.  They also begin charging for services they used to perform for free and offer new for-fee services to raise revenues – in effect, enabling customers to pay for the right to do less by offloading work onto the company.  Since they can’t afford to hire more employees, this increases the burden on an already overworked staff.

Churches frequently respond to dropping attendance by offering more programs and making evangelism and missions more easy and convenient.  Responsibilities that used to fall on members to share their faith, make disciples and impact their communities are assumed by pastors and staff.  Churchgoers are simply asked to share their stories and extend invitations to church, letting “professionals” handle the tough questions.  In that light, tithes can be viewed as compensating pastors and staff for usurping roles rightfully belonging to them – those biblically intended to embody “church” between Sundays.

6.  Mass Marketing and Engagement

Businesses panic and automate sales and customer support.  Suddenly it becomes nearly impossible to reach a real person when you call for help.  The company shifts from brick-and-mortar storefronts to selling online, eliminating personal touch in a desperate attempt to reduce overhead.

Churches panic and substitute mass appeal for personal touch.  Following prevailing church growth models and the near-universal advice of celebrity pastors in books, articles and conferences, pastors insert layers of hierarchy, bulk mail flyers, run big outreach events, and push engagement in church groups and “chores”.  The Church in America today views personalizing discipleship and unleashing prayer-care-share warriors into personal ministry as anti-establishment, threatening the culture of pastoral dependence.

7.  Reducing Discretionary Expenses

Businesses panic and slash discretionary expenditures, like product innovation to keep pace with evolving customer needs and corporate responsibility programs that were designed to give back to the community.

Churches panic and slash expenses they consider expendable.  Yet churches should model the behaviors they want members to imitate.  It’s no coincidence that members today give to churches at approximately the same rate that churches give back to the community – 2.5%.  Historically, members gave a much higher percentage to churches when churches invested a much higher percentage in the community (i.e. when churches served as the local food bank and homeless shelter).  Pastors complain that churches only get the “leftovers” after members pay all of their bills.  Yet churches do exactly the same thing.  Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s intended “customer” (non-Christian “outsiders”).  If churches were more obedient in giving their “first fruits”, members likely would follow suit.

As we said in the opening to this 5 part series, it’s not the unhealthy church “consumers” that infect the rest of the congregation.  It’s the response by pastors to dealing with unhealthy members that turns a cold into the flu or pneumonia.  Splits, squabbles, politics and personnel issues are signs that churchgoers and staff aren’t taking their responsibilities as “called out ones” (the definition of “church”) seriously enough.  But that’s no excuse for church leaders to transmit consumerism to the entire church through rejuvenation or resuscitation efforts that Centralize, Depersonalize, Internalize, Compromise – or as we’ve covered today, tactics designed to help them Survive.  Instead, the proper strategy for church revitalization is to nurse those “consumers” back to health by training them to eat right (discipleship) and work out (put the Great Commission into practice among their families, friends and coworkers).

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen a church implement any of those business survival tactics when attendance dipped, internal rifts occurred or enthusiasm waned?

Why Christianity Has Lost Its Appeal

Jun 14, 17
JMorgan
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3 comments

A 4th sign your church is coming down with a cold is Compromise. When we talk about treating members as “customers”, people naturally think of prosperity churches or megachurches.  However in many ways the temptations to treat members as “customers” are even greater within a small or young church.

In other words, defining the wrong “customer” is less about relying on “attractional” models and more about succumbing to pastoral pressures.  Most new or small churches lack the resources to win an “attraction” battle anyway.  Instead, the dynamics of being a small church plant create a slippery slope, gradually leading pastors to cater to rather than challenge members. They see other churches growing by designing better “customer experiences” and follow suit, not realizing that better facilities, amenities and programs may fill seats but won’t improve the health of the church.  Only transforming lives by the power of the Holy Spirit and releasing disciples into personal ministry within their circles of influence can do that.

Who’s to blame?  Who compromised first, members or pastors?  It’s likely that consumer, cultural Christians pressured pastors to change the biblical definition of “church” (to a place) to take the onus off of themselves for being the church personified.  Regardless of the cause and effect relationship, it’s stunning that church leaders and members in America alike have become so blind to how the Bible defines the word “church”.  Only through misguided “group-think” could so many pastors, churchgoers, consultants, authors and speakers nearly all condone today’s institution-centric rather than disciple-centric perspective.  It may take a disruptive event that decimates the church’s already declining growth, impact, influence and perception to awaken all those “group-think” victims out of the collective stupor clouding their vision, shielding them from the clear biblical definition of “church” as “disciples and the “lost” in the community as those each disciple should be equipped by church leaders to pursue (i.e. the intended “customer”).

Why Churches Compromise

There are powerful forces at work in America’s busy, consumer-driven culture taking focus off building disciples and shifting energies toward building institutions.  To survive in America today, church leaders sense little choice but to compromise, redefining “church” and its “customer”.  A vicious cycle ensues as struggling, recently planted or perennially small churches succumb to the pressures and adopt a reformulated equation:

Higher Expectations of Leaders (to “feed” and care for members)

+

Lower Expectations of Members (e.g. decreasing contributions to church)

=

More Responsibilities Passed from Members to Leaders

+

Fewer Resources to Address a Greater Number of Internal and External Demands

The road ahead for small churches promises to get still rockier.  Church “shoppers” continue to migrate to larger churches, mainline denominations struggle to reach younger generations, and government agencies are considering increasingly unfriendly policies and tax laws.  Temptations to compromise will only grow stronger in the years to come.  Without revival, there may soon be few churches not showing symptoms of that highly contagious virus – contracted by redefining “church” as an institution and consequently transitioning expectations from the ekklesia to pastors and staff.

How Churches Compromise

None of the following business principles should be in play at any church.  They’re not Biblical, yet are all too prevalent in small churches (and many large ones as well).  Each of them contributes toward defining members as “customers”.  See if you recognize any of these corporate behaviors at your church:

  • “The Pareto Principle” – Also called the “80/20 Rule” where 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the outputs.  In small churches, a handful of members typically have an inordinate amount of control.  Pastors worry about the reactions of the most influential families to any decisions, no matter how basic or simple (e.g. worship music).  Therefore small church pastors seek the implicit or explicit approval of those most prominent or vocal, or risk a disgruntled member threatening the peace and stability of the entire church.  Likewise, companies give preferential treatment to “anchor” customers, surveying them to get feedback on product or policy changes before enacting them.
  • “Who Moved My Cheese” – Small churches often become complacent, resistant to changes that would disrupt the status quo.  When “if it’s not broken…” entails more concern for retaining long-time members than reaching the lost, it becomes a problem.  Many small churches not only aren’t growing, they don’t want to grow.  In business, engaging new markets requires innovation, but too many pastors hesitate to upset the apple cart.  If church leaders clearly saw the community as the “customer” their church was planted to reach, then they would be willing to risk pushing members out of their comfort zones, equipping and deploying disciples.
  • “Exceed Expectations” – The formula we laid out earlier in this post showed how the onus for operating churches has flipped from church members to church leaders.  Nowhere is that more evident than in young and small churches.  Pastor often do everything, overworked and burned out.  Members are generally seen as voluntary participants, not as the church personified.  Pastors are careful not to ask too much of members – they can’t afford to lose a single, influential family.  Yet those same pastors stand ready to jump when asked to do something for a member.  Companies can’t require that customers read the owner’s manual or share the “good news” about new products as prerequisites for making a purchase – but that’s exactly what churches should be doing.  Church leaders shouldn’t be in the business of providing excellent customer service, but members have come to expect that level of performance.
  • “The Customer is Always Right” – The redefinition of “customers” also makes leaders of small churches reluctant to hold members accountable for their actions.  Most hesitate to approach the patriarch of the church or the largest contributor to confront them about sin in their lives.  Yet those same pastors will readily accept criticisms from those members and make changes to pacify them.
  • “Create Raving Fans” – Pastors find it equally challenging to address inaction – in other words, to raise the bar for members on service and evangelism.  It’s difficult but necessary to ask members to become greater servants and advocates for Jesus.  However, rather than pushing those with the greatest potential to impact the community for Christ to disrupt their daily lives, pastors are more apt to make simple requests like inviting their friends to church.  Yet we are all called to be raving fans of Jesus, not a church.
  • “Risk Mitigation” – Businesses continually assess and minimize risk factors.  Issue resolution is important in churches as well, but pastors of young or small churches are particularly quick to snuff out infighting because a single rift could jeopardize the entire church.  A squabble or difference of opinion between two members or even a member and the pastor can readily lead to a split.  Undue attention to putting out internal brush fires can distract from the external mission of the church to engage and serve a community.  Ironically, a greater focus on the external, common cause of pursuing the church’s true “customer” would reduce the concerns of members about their own needs and opinions – the source of most spats.

The Cost of Compromise

Christianity has lost its appeal.  Not Jesus, but our religion.  Not what Christ invented but what we did.  Jesus is incredibly alluring, but churchgoers look very little like Him.  Our modern-day churches don’t resemble the early church.  The growing population of “Nones” aren’t choosing atheism, they’re rejecting our religion.  The rapidly increasing number of “Dones” in our country aren’t choosing not to believe, they’re rejecting our redefinition of church.  They aren’t buying what we’re selling because we’re selling something we – not God – conceived.

The Lord wants us to assemble and make disciples, then go and make more disciples.  However, today’s church growth models recognize discipleship is too costly for Americans, so they instead teach church leaders how to keep the organization in operation.  “Invite, Involve and Invest” is the rallying cry of the internally-focused church – it has nothing to do with “eating right” or “working out”.  It requires little effort or commitment – just invite a couple friends a year, plug into a small group or be a greeter, and give whatever change you can spare after paying all your bills.  That’s all pastors can reasonably expect and hope for from the average American.  Few pastors are willing to pressure churchgoers to exercise their discipleship muscles and replace the world’s junk food with a steady diet of prayer, care and share – the Bible’s basic food groups.  To do so would risk watching even die-hard members and frequent attenders invite fewer, get less involved less and stop investing.  They may even renege on the one other low-commitment request all pastors are willing to make – coming back next Sunday.

Because few churches are still in the business of making real disciples, fewer Christians are distinguishable from others in their love for one another or their compassion for those outside the church family.  Therefore they’ve become unattractive.  Our light isn’t shining “before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Most churchgoers are “overweight” and “out of shape”.  They’re often less attractive than the non-believers people hang out with.  They’re the ones lashing out at what’s wrong with the world while their non-Christian friends seem less judgmental. 

People are attracted to people, not institutions.  However, in lieu of making attractive disciples, church leaders instead try to make their institutions more attractive (e.g. greeters and banners).  But their efforts to conform and compromise, to look like everything and everyone else, are backfiring.  For the ever-expanding throngs of “Nones” and “Dones” church just doesn’t appear as “cool” as their non-Christian friends and coffee shops.

The Solution to Compromise

Transform and Release Disciples – versus retaining and attracting “customers”

Flip Expectations – Challenge rather than cater to members, with less tolerance for complacency or sin

Unite Around a Common Cause – Put aside petty differences and transform your community for Christ

Increase Your Church’s Footprint – Even a small church can have a tremendous impact, but it will require change

It’s Your Turn

Which of the business principles above have you observed in a church before?  What negative impact did it have on key Biblical imperatives like the Great Commandment and Great Commission?

Nearly All Organizations Partner – Why Don’t Churches?

Jun 07, 17
JMorgan
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5 comments

Is your church decentralized, empowering disciples?  Or is it depersonalized, entrusting responsibility for being “church” to the few rather than to many?  A third way to know if your church is healthy or coming down with a cold is the degree to which it has internalized.  In other words, has it become an entity unto itself, operating independently, or is it still engaged with other organizations?

Like children, church plants grow up.  They may have been launched and supported by another church, but at some point they feel they’ve reached a level of “maturity” where they no longer need someone to nurture them.  They’ve become larger and more self-sufficient.  However, when it comes to churches, size and independence are not indicators of health.  Churches can be big, but need to drop a few pounds – e.g. long-time members unwilling to commit to genuine life change.  Small churches can be just as unhealthy – e.g. possibly operating in a bubble, deviating from sound theology.

No organization is meant to subsist on its own.  Nearly all businesses and charities have partners, but few churches do. Why?  

Companies ink memorandums of understanding and form joint ventures with affiliate partners, distributors and value-added resellers.  Corporations never become independent, no matter how profitable or “mature” they become.

Charities welcome opportunities to work collaboratively to deliver services and share referrals, knowing funding is inadequate to do everything for everyone.  Few charities would survive in a vacuum without cooperation and support from for-profit and non-profit partners.

However, churches generally resist partnerships.  I’ve heard countless ministries bemoan their inability to establish relationships with churches.  I doubt the future viability of the many start-up charities that begin their elevator pitch with “our mission is to work with churches to…”  I caution many aspiring, naïve executive directors who expect churches to be their primary source of financial support.

There are many reasons why churches are reluctant to partner.  Some pastors fear theological intrusion – imposition of ideas conflicting with their teachings.  For example, a church may be willing to promote giving to a child sponsorship organization but won’t permit a foster care organization to conduct classes there.  Others worry partners will distract members from church priorities.  That’s why perhaps the most common partner churches will allow inside the “4 walls” are financial education programs that encourage saving and paying off debt, freeing up more funds to give to the church.

Once churches reach break-even or some other measure of self-sufficiency, they face the temptation to assert their independence from one or more of the following…

Independence from…the Body of Christ

The words “Kingdom-minded” and “body of Christ” are used today to describe anything involving multiple churches.  Churches are labeled as “not Kingdom-minded” if they don’t work with other churches and ministries.  Why did it become necessary to invent the term “Kingdom-minded”?  The word “Church” (capital C) is supposed to be our natural state – united and collaborative.  “Church” and “Kingdom-minded” should be synonymous, but they’re not.  The phrase “Kingdom-minded church” should be redundant, but it’s not.

When young churches are dependent on the goodwill of other organizations to get off the ground, they operate as a united member of the body of Christ.  Those partnerships are vital – staying Kingdom-minded is not an option.  Once church plants break even, they often break ties – and both the plant and planter celebrate that independence day.  Collaboration is no longer necessary because it no longer appears to serve a material purpose.  Likewise, an increasing number of churches in America are leaving denominations, or maintaining looser affiliations, as denominational labels have come to be viewed by many as a liability rather than an asset.

Independence from…Community Engagement

Most pastors or upstart churches had to interact and get involved in the local community – otherwise, the church would never get off the ground.  Many churches even launch through a series of compassion projects or events to bless the local area, meet new people, and build some name recognition.  They correctly defined the lost in the community as the “customer” and focused their energies on building a small base of disciples and deploying them to maximize Kingdom impact.  It was easy to stay externally focused when there was so little to lose.

However, as that powerful, biblical approach to church growth proved effective, attention got diverted to managing and maintaining a budding organization.  The church began to assert some measure of independence from its initial focus on “loving neighbors” and “making disciples” – early signs of an impending cold.  On top of that, frustration may have crept in, wondering whether all those compassion efforts really made a dent.  Gradually, the definition of “customer” shifted from the “lost” to the “saved” as the emphasis on member engagement transitioned from needs outside the church to those inside the church.  The meaning of the word “outreach” may have become redefined as well – more about arms-length marketing to bring people in than being the hands and feet of Jesus living out the Great Commission.

Independence from…Jesus’ Model for Evangelism

Jesus, the Lord incarnate, spoke the perfect words.  Yet He knew the words were not enough.  So Jesus almost always served, healed and fed, demonstrating His compassion and love, before telling people who He is.  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 – where they were.  He didn’t wait for them to darken the doors of a church building.  He went to them.  He didn’t just preach.  He served.  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.  When Paul was called to go to the gentiles, the one thing Peter told him not to forget was to serve the poor.  Paul said it was the one thing he was most eager to do (Galatians 2:8-10).

However, few churches today follow Jesus’ model.  No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, yet most churches have separated words from action.  They’ve replaced care then share with attraction then retention.  The Church in America has lost its voice because it is so often heard yet rarely seen.  Society doesn’t care what we know any longer because it doesn’t think we care.

Restoring Healthy Dependence

For a church to regain its health, it must humbly confess and accept its need to partner with other churches, ministries, marketplace leaders and Jesus to accomplish His mission in that community.  A church that asserts its independence as soon as it feels capable of standing on its own two feet may feel vibrant and alive, but instead is exhibiting the first symptoms of an illness that will eventually suck the life out of it.  Reversing the decline of a church in growth, impact, influence and perception requires reestablishing a connection to the power cords of…

  • Conducting intensive, 1-on-1 or triad discipleship – no longer centralizing, depersonalizing or internalizing but equipping church members to BE “church” between Sundays
  • Deploying those disciples to reach non-believers where they are – not simply inviting them to a worship service (that shouldn’t be designed for non-believers anyway) to hear from the “professionals”
  • Forming relational year-round ministries that transform lives and genuinely show they care – stop doing transactional compassion events, which do more harm than good
  • Bridging the divide that centralizing, depersonalizing or internalizing has created – decreasing the distance between “us” and “them” through preceding life-giving words with loving acts of service
  • Partnering with churches and ministries around critical local and international “causes” – there may be no greater example of disunity among the body of Christ than the lack of support churches in America provide for persecuted Christians overseas
  • Placing Kingdom priorities above institutional goals – not worrying whether partnerships will divert attention and funds from church needs

It’s Your Turn

Does your church have enough formal, ongoing partnerships – working collaboratively with other local churches, ministries and community organizations to reach more people who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior?  If not, why do you think it is acting too independently?