Author Archives: JMorgan

Q&A Session with Jesus: The Role of Caring in Sharing

Feb 19, 18
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

What is the role of compassion in evangelism?  What is the best way to share our faith with non-believers?  To find out, we should go to the source.  Let’s see what Jesus had to say about how to make the case to friends, coworkers and family that Christ alone is the only hope in this life and for eternal life.

How Did Jesus Respond When Asked…

How can You prove you’re the promised Messiah?

“When asked, ’Are you really the one we are waiting for, or shall we keep on looking?’ Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him about the miracles you’ve seen me do— the blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help, and the cured lepers, and the deaf who hear, and the dead raised to life; and tell him about my preaching the Good News to the poor.’” (Matthew 11:3-5)

Is it necessary to lead with compassion to open ears to hear the Gospel?

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)

“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

What are Your instructions for how to evangelize?  Are words enough or are “actions” necessary too?

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

“And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.  Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:2, 6)

“…and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9)

How should I love my “neighbors”?

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” (Luke 10:31-33)

How can I get into heaven? (asked by Rich Young Ruler)

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” (Matthew 19:21)

How will You separate the “wheat” (true believers) from the “tares” (false believers) on judgment day?

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Why do You hang out with those “undesirables”?

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)

Is what we do for others more important than what we do for our church?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

“…but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother.”  (Mark 7:11-12)

Jesus’ Disciples Shared His Views…

Those who spent the most time with Jesus validated His approach to evangelism, recounting how Jesus healed and fed whenever He preached and emphasizing the importance of leading with compassion.  Below are excerpts from Jesus’ words above, showing corresponding verses written by His disciples…

“The blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help.”

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

“He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.”

“But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’… And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3: 6,9-10)

“But a Samaritan…came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.”

“They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” (Galations 2:10)

“Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

“For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat.”

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:15-16)

“I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice.”

“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)

“You tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law.”

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)

Objections Raised by Blog Readers…

“Jesus told His disciples that they always have the poor with you.”

True, but the end of that verse they’re referencing (Mark 14:7) is “but you do not always have Me.”  Jesus wasn’t contradicting His statements above; He was keeping His disciples focused on Himself for His few remaining days before His ascension.

“Christians are called first and foremost to seek and save the ‘lost’, not help the poor.”

Yes, but Jesus didn’t jump straight into soul-winning with words alone.  Jesus, the Maker of heaven and earth who spoke the perfect words, still chose to lead with acts of kindness.  Compassion, then evangelism, is the method He used to seek and save the lost.  No pastor or Christian can “outpreach” Jesus, so we should follow suit.

“Jesus told some people He healed not to tell anybody, so He wasn’t using good deeds to evangelize.”

Yet at other times, Jesus did miracles very publicly, even waiting until large crowds gathered to maximize the glory brought to the Father, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46) and the dead man at the funeral (Luke 7:12-17).  Maybe Jesus wanted some miracles kept quiet because it wasn’t yet His “time” (see John 7:6) or privacy focused people on His sincerity and not the spectacle.

“Jesus’ compassion was about love, not a precursor to evangelism.”

The love and mercy of Jesus is unmatched in human history.  Yet He knew better than any of us that the benefits of a meal or healing were temporary – and that the greater act of love is bringing hope and salvation to those whose ears would remain closed without seeing His compassion in action.

“Churches can’t be expected to meet so many needs.”

Some argue that the government and compassion ministries are much better equipped.  However, the Church’s decision over the past century (whether conscious or unconscious) to separate compassion from evangelism was one of the most damaging in its history.  Jesus’ model for evangelism is clear from His example and words.  Abdicating local missions or allowing it to be usurped has cost the Church in America dearly in terms of impact, influence, growth and perception.

“Just make disciples, then those disciples will meet more needs and take care of their own needs.”

It is true that disciples are likely to follow Jesus’ lead in mercy and diligence.  However, the first step toward becoming a disciple is hearing God’s Word and accepting Jesus.  And Jesus modeled and instructed us that the first step before people are ready to hear God’s Word is to “make sure they know you care so they’ll care what you know.”

“The greatest need of those in distress or poor is Jesus, therefore just preach the Word.”

Jesus knew what their true need was, but before non-believers knew who Christ was, it was their own needs that took precedence in their minds.  Jesus therefore addressed their perceived need first, demonstrating His love for them in ways they could understand, and then He told them who He was (the Good News).  Why did so many gather to hear Jesus speak?  Yes, the motivations of most may have been self-centered, but Jesus turned the tables by challenging them all to die to self.

“Jesus sent His disciples out to tell people that the kingdom has come, not to feed the poor.”

These readers cite the verses in Matthew and Luke above that speak of Jesus proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom’s arrival, yet leave out the second halves of those verses about Jesus healing and feeding wherever He made those proclamations.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree that churches and Christians should always combine acts of kindness with the Gospel message?  If not, what’s your objection?

Jesus’ Church Growth Model – A Case Study

Feb 07, 18
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

You may have been caught off guard last week by our contention that The Salvation Army is the “model” church.  However, the good news is that following the example of Jesus, His disciples and the early church of leading with compassion and then telling people who He is doesn’t require your church to open a homeless shelter or an addiction recovery center on campus.

In fact, as you’ll see today, morphing into a church that adopts Jesus’ growth model is as easy as 1, 2, 3.  The Lord wouldn’t make something that important very complicated.

Jesus did build a church – but a small one.  He resisted becoming the leader of a megachurch, reserving his most challenging messages for when His congregation was growing the largest.  Jesus mistrusted the authenticity of the masses, knowing most were only there for a “show” (e.g. His next miracle), to receive something from Him (e.g. healing), or because their friends were there too.  Does that sound familiar today?  Jesus didn’t let the unfaithful loiter for long or try to retain them by tickling their ears or setting up programs and buildings.  Instead, He scared most off with commands to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood”.  He “preached it down” to a faithful few, those willing to stand by His side no matter how hard the road or the message.  How many pastors do you know who approach building a church that way?

Yes, the best church growth plan was Jesus’ and the early Church’s growth plan.  In fact, it’s the growth model that works best for any successful organization:

  • Train and invest in those most loyal and committed
  • Maximize leverage by sending those few trained individuals out into the field to train others
  • Build community as those new trainees eagerly join and become advocates for the organization

…and the cycle repeats.

Compare that to the most common church growth model in America of “Invite, Invest and Involve”:

  • Attract and retain as many attendees as possible by requiring limited training or commitment
  • Ask untrained people to join the organization and to invite others to come to a big event
  • Request that all who show up at the building contribute to the organization by giving money or by volunteering to serve

….and the cycle repeats.

Which approach is more effective in making disciples?  The first method was not only what Jesus commanded us to do, but also what He did.

Ironically, if you grow disciples you’ll also grow the institution.  Disciples will get involved actively in church because disciples obey Jesus and that’s what He says to do.  But church growth shouldn’t be a pastor’s objective.  Donating, volunteering and joining are byproducts of disciples being properly trained to be productive in the “marketplace”.

The Great Commission was not a novel concept Jesus suddenly unveiled right before His ascension.  It was the summary of what He had been doing all along – His formula for establishing a firm foundation for explosive growth of His Church – laid out in three simple steps:

1.  Disciple

“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27)

How?  A Case Study

Attendance at this mid-sized church has doubled in just a few short years since recommitting to making and sending disciples.  Previously, growth and impact had stagnated for over a decade when the focus was on church activities and international missions.  Honing in on events that took place inside of a building and on what was taking place in far-away lands left an enormous gap – the fields ripe for harvest in the community and neighborhoods surrounding the church.  With so little focus on local missions and so few going on international trips, there was no impetus to assess and equip the entire congregation with skills for external ministry.  With so much focus on inviting people to church and letting pastors handle conversions, there was little impetus to prepare all members for effective evangelism.

That changed in the summer of 2016 as the senior pastor realized his church’s culture lacked a spirit of generosity, compassion and ministry.  He knew deeper, personalized and intensive discipleship was the only answer.  Therefore, church leaders designed and implemented a new on-boarding model for all congregants that included one-on-one and triad discipleship, evangelism training and spiritual gifts assessments – in additional to regular attendance at services and (optional) small groups.

From that point on, three questions drove every strategy and decision for that church:

  • What is the next step for each person to grow in Christ?
  • Are people changing, looking and living more like Jesus?
  • How are they impacting the world around them?

2. Go

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1)

How? A Case Study

Rather than stop at gifts assessments, the church pointed members to “glocal” opportunities – internal teams, local ministries and overseas missions.  Leadership knew that many in the congregation didn’t know how to find places to leverage their newfound willingness, training and direction for serving to maximize Kingdom impact.  Therefore, they viewed “Go” as deployment, knowing a push beyond a gentle nudge was necessary to get people to step out of their comfort zones into specific areas that fit their gifts.  As Jesus demonstrated, sometimes His disciples had to be sent before they thought they were ready.  And Jesus sent them out to heal and help, not just preach.  His instructions to His missionaries always included both actions and words.  This church followed suit, setting up several avenues to live out prayer, care and share lifestyles:

  • Formed teams to work with local ministry partners
  • Encouraged financial giving to external ministries
  • Established a “Care Network” consisting almost entirely of church members but under staff guidance, including the following:
    • “Benevolence Committee” – Serve and continually reach out to families who request support (financial and non-financial) from the church
    • Counseling and Care Visits – Led by pastors but involving trained congregants, surround those within the church and in the community with love, mentoring and direction
    • Serve Our City – Using Meet The Need, work through selected partner organizations around specific causes (e.g. homeless, hunger, schools, women) to volunteer and meet other needs year-round, not just during the holidays
  • In the wake of natural disasters, empowered neighborhood groups through Meet The Need with tools to communicate and respond quickly as needs arise
  • Allocated part of the church budget to supporting these local missions and training efforts

3. Make More Disciples

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)

How? A Case Study

The senior pastor’s mindset changed, no longer seeing the need for him to carry such a heavy load.  He was burned out from being called upon to bear responsibility for bringing visitors and the community to Christ.  Realizing that Jesus left behind disciples to carry his ministry forward, not just pastors, he redefined “church” as intended – the “called-out ones” or “those belonging to the Lord”.  In the pastor’s discipleship of other leaders and from the pulpit, he shifted emphasis to the role each believer plays in leading their circle of influence to Christ.  He began to teach that the church building is a house of worship and worship services should not be designed to make non-believers comfortable.  The purpose of corporate worship is to equip and refresh the Saints for the week ahead.  The pastor became bolder in sharing hard messages as Jesus did, willing to risk losing fence-sitters and those not in attendance for the right reasons.

He realized that even if he preached it down to a few disciples, the church would experience explosive growth from there.  And guess what – it did!

It’s Your Turn…

Can the prevailing Invest-Invite-Involve model for growing churches be tweaked to fit Jesus’ model or is an overhaul required to reverse the decline in the Church’s growth, impact, influence and perception in America?

The Model Church (You’ll Never Guess Who…)

Jan 31, 18
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

Last week we wrapped up our series on Selfism by sharing our belief that Christ will #EndSelfism through His Church.  However, it’s unlikely the Lord will use churches that practice Selfism (i.e. seeking growth by appealing to Selfist interests) to #EndSelfism.  In other words, churches won’t transform lives and cities if they’re reluctant to challenge congregants to step out of their comfort zones to evangelize, disciple, serve the poor, and take responsibility for being the “church” personified.  When brand, size and revenues matter, the tendency is to cater to the expectations of churchgoers rather than challenge them to meet the Lord’s expectations of His followers.

Many people have asked me over the years to point to a prime example of a church I’ve seen live out the key principle of this blog – the biblical definition of “church” and its intended “customer”.  Often I’d name one, only to watch it eventually succumb to pressure from culture or consultants to adapt, rejuvenate, innovate and/or expand.  Inevitably, those roads all lead to the same destination in America today – to the prevailing church growth formula (Invite, Invest and Involve) responsible for (mis)defining “church” as a place and the “customer” as those sitting in the pews.  Other times, I’d mention a young church with little to lose and much to gain by challenging its members to compassionately serve and boldly proclaim the Gospel, eager to achieve its newfound vision of reaching its community for Christ.  However, once that outward focus generated momentum, most pastors realized they now had something to lose and infrastructure to build, and turned attention inward to continued growth and sustainability.

I’ve worked with thousands of churches across the country, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally found the answer to that burning question.  I stumbled on a church that has stood its ground and withstood the test of time.  It’s been around for over 150 years, led by doctrinally-sound pastors conducting services every Sunday like any other church but also following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion and then sharing who Christ is every single day of the week – serving meals, sheltering homeless, responding to disasters, and helping addicts get clean.  This church carries discipleship to an extreme, taking members, staff and individuals it serves through Christ-centered training programs year-round.

The Lord led me to this church as only He can – through miraculous circumstances that were undeniably orchestrated by Him.  A friend of mine who serves as an advisor to this multi-site church’s local congregation asked if I would meet with the Senior Pastor to discuss strategic planning.  He and I had worked together to provide strategic guidance to the city’s Chief of Police and he believed I could help the church.  When I walked into the foyer that morning, I saw my friend talking to another good friend of mine.  I asked, “What are you doing here?” and he said he was the Chairman of the church’s advisory committee!  That was “coincidental” enough – but then the three of us went into the Senior Pastor’s office and the pastor said to me, “I know you!”.  Turns out I had given a speech at a church in Atlanta about Meet The Need several years earlier and he “happened’ to be in the audience.  In fact, we both remembered he and I having a conversation in the foyer of that church after my presentation.  At that point, none of us had any doubt that Jesus, the Master Strategic Planner, arranged for us to be in that room and wanted us to collaborate.

As I began investigating the history, vision, mission and activities of this church, a light bulb came on.  This church had never subscribed to the separation of church and compassion ministry.  It worshiped, praised and discipled as fervently as any church I had ever seen, yet wasn’t content to let the government, secular charities and ministries assume the lead role in caring for those in need.  It remained the “light…on a hill” talked about in Matthew 5:14 that churches had been for 1900 years, when they served as the local food bank and homeless shelter.

Yes, this church, The Salvation Army, has set an example I believe all churches should follow.  Because no pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, all should see compassion like He did – as the first steps down the path leading people toward salvation.  What if Jesus never healed anyone or fed anyone?  What if Jesus never did any miracles to demonstrate His love and power?  Or what if He restricted those acts of kindness to an outreach event during the holiday season?  People came to hear what Christ had to say because they knew how much He cared.

The Salvation Army is a Spirit-filled blend of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission – making disciples who love the Lord and their neighbors.  Even the name, two distinct words melded together to form one cohesive mission, speaks to the inseparable interweaving of introducing the world to “Salvation” through deploying an “Army” of disciples into cultural battlefields armed with love, mercy and justice.  In contrast, most churches today hold church services, offer “lite” forms of discipleship (like small groups) and dabble in local missions on occasion.

As modeled by The Salvation Army, scripture calls for combining…

  1. Church & Ministry – The term “ministry” was traditionally associated with the evangelistic and compassion work of the Church, yet now has been redefined to refer to an internal volunteer role within the church (e.g. greeters) or an external Christian social services agency.  The Salvation Army equips and mobilizes all its internal resources to evangelize and serve.  For the Army, “church” and “ministry” are synonymous.  (Matthew 9:37)
  2. Place & People – At The Salvation Army, few who attend a church service slip out the back door.  Nearly all churchgoers are called into active duty.  Given the nature of The Salvation Army’s work, the culture doesn’t lend itself to simply inviting friends to a church service and letting “professionals” handle evangelism and discipleship.  (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  3. Social & Gospel – The misguided tenets of the Social Gospel movement at the turn of the 20th century do not exempt today’s pastors from following Jesus’ example of prayer, care and then share.  The Army “fights for good” not to earn salvation but out of deep appreciation for what Jesus did on the cross and a desire to pay His love forward.  (Luke 7:22)
  4. Worship & Compassion – Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  James said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”  Tithing, serving, rituals and other religious “works” mean much less to the Lord than reaching out to those in need of help and hope.  For The Salvation Army, worship and compassion go hand in hand.  (Matthew 23:23)
  5. Belief & Faith – Many in churches on Sundays don’t believe. Others believe but lack faith.  The Bible says, “even the demons believe”, but haven’t surrendered.  Good works, obedience and “fruit” don’t save but are proof of faith and surrender.  The Salvation Army’s mission is based on that principle – “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”  (James 2:19)
  6. Justification & Sanctification – Professions of faith and baptisms are key measures of success tracked by most churches. However, asking people to raise their hands and repeat a phrase shouldn’t be an end goal, just a starting point.  The Salvation Army hopes for conversion, but sets the goal at holiness.  That work of progressively greater obedience to the command to love God and others fully is never done as long as we have breath.  (Romans 12:1)
  7. Prosperity & Poverty – Most churches subscribe to either a prosperity or poverty gospel.  They teach that God wants it all or wants us to have it all.  Rarely is diversity of income levels or philosophies about the use of wealth found within a single church.  However, like the early church, The Salvation Army brings together high capacity donors and impoverished individuals under the same roof.  Contributions don’t just fund buildings and pay staff, but go directly to aid the poor inside and outside the congregation – transforming lives, not offering handouts.  (Acts 4:32)

The Salvation Army’s tag line is “Doing the Most Good”.  Some charities find that phrase offensive, believing they do just as much good.  Their confusion stems from the fact that they consider The Salvation Army a charity and not a church.  Among churches, its true identity, there’s no doubt that The Salvation Army is “doing the most good”.

It’s Your Turn…

If all churches made it as difficult as The Salvation Army to distinguish between each of those 7 sets of terms, do you believe the Church could #EndSelfism in America?

How America’s Fastest Growing Religion Will End

Jan 24, 18
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

Selfism will end…

Just as quickly as Selfism became America’s fastest growing religion, the identify bubble will eventually burst on Generation Me.  “I” is a false god and even the most dedicated Selfists know deep inside that “I” is not worth worshipping.  In the innermost recesses of their minds, they don’t really believe that their personal version of “truth” is true.  It would take more faith than anyone I know to trust fully in the validity of values, gender, morality and choices conceived entirely alone.  Despite constant subliminal messages today in media, music and the Internet reinforcing the impenetrability of one’s own personal identity, it takes very little to remind someone of the mortality of “I”.  The loss of a job, reputation or child instantly calls all self-perceptions into question.  Self is empty because we were meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not “flesh”.  Without Christ, “I” is all a person has so “I” has gotten blown out of proportion.  But identity bubbles are fragile and Christ will inevitably pop them – through His Church.

The Church will #EndSelfism…

When churchgoers…

  1. End Selfism within their own Churches – Selfism won’t end without an intervention. Jesus is calling His Church to intervene.  However, Selfism resident within the Church is stifling the fulfillment of that mandate – the Great Commission.  Discipleship takes more time and effort than Selfism-infected (cultural, nominal) Christians are willing to endure.  Implicit in “go” and “make disciples” is the assumption that the believer reading that command is already a disciple.  Only disciples can make disciples.  Churches are God’s instrument for making disciples, but pastors have become highly reluctant to ask churchgoers to make that level of commitment.  “Christian” and “disciple” should be synonymous, but they’re distinct labels today.
  2. Adopt the Biblical Definition of “Church” – You and I are the personification of church – it’s not a place or a pastor.  Responsibility rests with us to bring people to Christ, not to a church (building).  Yet few of us love Jesus unconditionally, pray unceasingly, share their faith unapologetically, or serve those in need unreservedly.  In other words, unlike disciples, we don’t look a whole lot like Jesus.  The job of the corporate “church” is essentially to equip and send disciples to embody “church” in their respective circles of influence.
  3. Follow Jesus’ Model of Evangelism – Jesus initiated discipleship with compassion – healing and feeding to demonstrate His love through actions, opening the door to tell people who He was. We must follow suit because we can’t outpreach Jesus – and He knew words alone wouldn’t be enough.  “Looking around at them angrily, for he was deeply disturbed by their indifference to human need, he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” He did, and instantly his hand was healed!” (Mark 3:5)
  4. Lead the Way in Dying to Self – Selfism is for all practical and Biblical purposes the opposite of how Christians were meant to live. We must set the example for non-believers by exemplifying Romans 8, where Paul refers to self-obsession as living in the flesh: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”  That’s our true identity – to empty ourselves and be filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish His plan, not ours.  Finding identity in Christ versus identity in oneself is the critical decision each person must make. (2 Corinthians 5:13-17)
  5. Stop the Codependent Elevation of Institutional Church – Church itself has become the “self” that pastors, staff and members seek to brand and grow.  In other words, church leaders appeal to the Selfism of current and prospective members to attract and retain them.  “Nickels and noses” are the Selfism-driven metrics you’d expect of church that has redefined “church” to be the institution itself rather than the individuals (ekklesia).  The redefinition of “church” has set in motion a vicious cycle that perpetuates Selfism in our churches and American culture, blinding church leaders to the need for compassion in their communities and for unity with other churches.
  6. Model Humility – Humility is the most important trait of a Christian.  It differentiates Christianity from every other world religion – the admission that I can do nothing to close the gap between my Creator and His creation, reliant entirely on His mercy in sending Jesus to bridge that insurmountable divide.  Selfism is the picture of the opposite – arrogance.  Assuming a good human nature, Selfists believe that self, left to itself, will make the right decision – for them.  Rather than grandstanding or pointing fingers at Selfists, Christians must model the grace and mercy that accompanies belief in a God who provided the ultimate depiction of humility.  Yet many Christians lose touch with the value of God’s grace as they spend most of their time with other believers, cuss a little less and separate from those living the “sinful” lifestyle they used to lead.
  7. Move Toward Selfists, Not Away – Rather than pursuing “sinners” as Jesus did, too many Christians maintain both a physical and moral distance.  Most of us don’t go near the dens of depravity many Selfists frequent to seek the “lost”.  Morally, we speak out about what we’re against, rather than exhibiting well what we’re for (i.e. the Gospel, whose central tenet is love).  In God’s eyes the distance between “us” and “them” is minuscule – we’re the same, created in His image, just forgiven.  We too are sinful – but redeemed.  Churches should reconnect with their communities, getting more involved in loving and serving those who wouldn’t dare darken the door of a church.  Each of us is called to be “church”, even to those who stand for all that we’re against.
  8. Stand Ready to Give an Account – The day is coming, as it has before, when Selfists will recognize that our God is big and they are small. When disaster strikes, many quickly awaken to the fact that there are forces that go beyond their finite selves.  When people reach the end of themselves, thrust well outside their comfort zones, coming face to face with the reality that they’re not as powerful and smart as they thought they were, they often are ready to find Jesus.  The question is whether Christians will be well-versed and courageous enough to point Him out to them.  A disruptive event is coming that will wake Selfists out of their collective stupor and compel them to admit that there are truths and absolutes – blowing their trust in themselves and mankind out of the water.  When the World Trade Centers fell, churches across America were filled to the brim, at least for a month or so.  America got “religion” for a few days.  Prosperity breeds Selfism but disaster breeds dependence on God.  Christians must be ready for that moment when it comes.
  9. Choose the Right Weapons to Fight the Culture War – The air war of dropping verbal bombs, fighting legal battles and trying to take over Hollywood and media has largely failed.  Jesus waged a ground war first of love and service to non-believers, then swooped in to fight an air war with the gospel message once the ground war had sufficiently weakened the opposition.  However, a ground war requires the right army – prepared, trained and properly motivated for battle – in other words, Powerful Christians living out prayer, care and share.  Passive, Pensive and Private Christians are unfit for active duty.
  10. Demonstrate Radical Faith – Selfists in politics, media and entertainment mock the one group that at least in principle is most opposed to Selfism – Christianity.  They characterize Christians as radicals in their objections to self-identification, a right that Selfists believe is inalienable.  They’ve been successful in shifting public perception about Christians only because our church-centric Selfist tendencies have contributed toward our reputation as distant and judgmental.  We could not be portrayed that way if we were radically transformed by Jesus, fueled by love to acts of radical compassion, and engaged in the world around us yet radically assured about the outcome, knowing God is in control.

It’s Your Turn…

When and how do you think the theocracy of “I” will die in America?

How Churches Contributed to the Rise of Selfism

Jan 10, 18
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

When we last spoke before Christmas, we introduced the hashtag #EndSelfism to combat the official theocracy firmly established in America today.  Self-deification, or intolerance of opinions that conflict with another’s personal view of truth, is now the state religion enforced by government, employers and social media.  As evidence, dare to articulate a dissenting view against gay marriage, transgenderism or abortion and face possible employment termination and public humiliation on Facebook.  Replacing God with ourselves has granted individuals supreme power to invent a personal moral code, self-identify as male or female, and do anything else as long as it doesn’t burst someone else’s identity bubble.

The goal of #EndSelfism is to start a revolt against this entrenched theocracy.  Winning this battle requires addressing the underlying root cause for the rise of Selfism in America – the failure by the Church to lead in standing against self-interest, instead gradually adapting to the “flesh”.  John 3:6 says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit”.  The diminishing acknowledgment and reliance on the Holy Spirit in our churches is attributable to church growth strategies that appeal to “flesh”.  To illustrate, Selfists elevate “self” to the level of “spirit”, leaving no room in their “religion” for the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, churches in their fight for survival and growth have elevated institutional interests, making “church” the “self” that defines its own distinct interpretation of truth, leaving little room for the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, the path to #EndSelfism is obvious – Christians and churches must take the lead in emptying themselves of self (flesh) and be filled instead with the Holy Spirit.

#EndSelfism is not about pointing a finger at Selfists – those who don’t know Jesus.  I’m much more concerned about how churches and professed Christians are contributing to the proliferation of Selfism.  The purpose of my blog has always been the same as Jesus’ stated reason for coming to earth, “Then Jesus told him, ‘I have come into the world to give sight to those who are spiritually blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ John 9:39 (TLB)  Jesus had a much bigger issue with those criticizing “sinners” than He did with the “sinners” themselves.  Jesus wasn’t surprised that non-believers didn’t follow the Father’s laws when they didn’t believe in the law Giver.  But Jesus did hold believers to a much higher standard, particularly related to His greatest commandment and requirement – love and humility.

Yet Selfism is alive and well in most churches.  Churches implicitly advocate Selfism as they seek to retain members by catering to their selfish desires (e.g. for an “experience”) rather than challenging them with God’s desires (e.g. to “go and make disciples”).  The latter is why Meet The Need exists – to equip churches to “go” and “make disciples”.  For example, during the Christmas season Meet The Need took steps to #EndSelfism through Joy of Giving, launching an Engage364 city movement, building a new disaster relief platform for a large denomination, continuing our national hunger relief project with Feeding America, and mobilizing churches and ministries across the country to serve struggling families in Jesus’ name.

The Grand Irony…

Selfists want little to do with Christianity.  In our last blog post, we showed how Selfists have one primary interest – protecting their freedom to live in sin.  “They hated the heavenly Light because they wanted to sin in the darkness. They stayed away from that Light for fear their sins would be exposed and they would be punished. But those doing right come gladly to the Light to let everyone see that they are doing what God wants them to.” (John 3:20-21)  Under the guise of love, compassion and justice, Selfists vehemently defend the right of each and every individual to determine his/her own moral compass and reject anyone who defers to a higher moral authority than themselves.

Selfists label all talk of moral absolutes as judgmentalism and bigotry, claiming the only “sin” is claiming that someone else has “sinned”.  Ironically, this is an area where non-believing Selfists have more in common with Jesus than churchgoers.  Selfists point their criticism almost exclusively at those who criticize “sinners”, which is exactly what Jesus did.  Also, while Christians today surround themselves with like-minded believers, Jesus was accused regularly of fraternizing with undesirables because “sick people need a doctor”.  As Christians redefined “church” as a place and not as individuals, we separated from the world and decried the downfall of American culture from within the confines of our “4 walls”, thanking God we’re not like them.  Would Jesus see Christians today as those who think they are “well” and “seeing”, when in reality they are as sick and blind as the Pharisees at which He directed his ire?  Rather than expecting society to live up to our expectations, we should first bring them to Jesus as Jesus did – leading with compassion and then telling them who He is and what He expects of believers.

On the other hand, many churches have gone to the other extreme – falling into a different form of sin by adopting Selfism to attract Selfists who felt ostracized by churches.  In an effort to make them feel more comfortable, pastors speak little about sin and uphold no standards for churchgoers – not even the Great Commission.  In fact, they intentionally appeal to self-interest by emphasizing what God can do for them and rarely addressing what He requires of them.  They have stopped using words that convict like sanctification and accountability, reduced salvation to repeating a phrase, and minimized “discipleship” to small group fellowship meetings.   But it’s backfiring – some of those churches may be growing but few are building on-fire disciples of Jesus Christ.

No, the path to #EndSelfism is not more Selfism.  Instead, it hinges on decentralizing and equipping disciples who live prayer, care and share lifestyles.  The Holy Spirit lives inside individual members, not the church building.  #EndSelfism must begin with the Church, which is you and me.

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen examples of Selfism within your church?

Ultimate Goal of Selfism’s Religious Extremists

Dec 06, 17
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Part 2 of 3

As we discussed last week, the fastest growing “religion” in America poses a growing threat to the rights of Christians and the proliferation of Christianity, yet is actively practiced by most of its churches.  The movement to #EndSelfism must take root before this new religion engulfs American culture and tempts more churches to acquiesce to the Selfist desires of churchgoers (e.g. for an “experience”) rather than challenging them with God’s desires (e.g. to “go and make disciples”).

As the official state religion, our public schools, courtrooms, corporate workplaces, and media outlets are required to abide by the guiding principle of Selfism – namely required acceptance of each person’s power to define each and every aspect of his/her being (identity, morality, gender, etc.) free from expression of competing opinions.  Make no mistake – Selfism is no longer an innocent fad relegated to this selfie, social media generation.  It is a “particular system of faith and worship” mandated by an established Theocracy imposing this religion on citizens and pushing it on our children.

Please don’t hear me wrong.  This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives nor Republicans and Democrats.  Those culture wars are waged on the world’s stage.  I’m speaking of a conflict between the kingdoms of light and darkness fought both within and beyond this earth.  John 3:6 characterizes the combatants as “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit”.

Selfist Extremists will Stop at Nothing

What’s at stake?  What if Selfism prevails over Spirit in the tug-of-war for the hearts of America’s youth?  As Christians, we know how the story ends.  We’ve read Revelations.  A horror movie isn’t as scary when you’ve already seen it and know the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.  However, non-believers across our country are fighting for all they’re worth for a prize they still think they can win – SELF PRESERVATION.

What rights and privileges accompany self-preservation?  A Spirit-less life presumably means a guilt-free existence, retaining a license to live however one wants.  Selfism accepts no absolutes because morality is an absolute.  Successfully defending the right to define one’s own moral code obviates the need for a non-believer’s most detested absolute – absolution.

The coordinated campaign that has brought nearly every pillar of society into conformance with Selfist dogma had to overcome significant opposition in a nation where the majority profess to be Christians.  Preserving “self” required a fundamental redefinition or reassignment of terms formerly associated with Christians and ascribed to God.

  1. “Science” – First, faith in human reason had to make substantial inroads against faith in God.  Pitting science against Christianity meant no longer seeing it as discovering what God created, but proving He didn’t create any of it.  Those concerted efforts to disprove God’s existence have extended to heavily-funded initiatives transparently trying to replicate what God did – such as Artificial Intelligence and cloning.  Yet science can’t outwit God if it always has to resort to using His building blocks to do so, unable to make something from nothing.  And scientists will never clone a soul.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (I Corinthians 3:19)

  1. “Morality” Next, right and wrong had to be ripped out of the hands of Christendom, and subsequently flipped. In the name of doctrines like those of other religions – love, compassion and empathy – Selfism now justifies the censuring of any points of view that question another’s personal choices, regardless of whether the Bible calls them “sin”.  The only absolute now is the “sin” of attempting to impose absolutes on others – in other words, any perceived attempts to draw ideological, religious or moral lines.  Those infringing on someone’s self-conceived notions or self-image are labeled as bigots and vilified in the media.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” (Isaiah 5:20)

  1. “Rights” – There are two sides to every story. A Selfism theocracy required that greater respect be paid to the rights of Selfists than those of Christians.  For example, not being subjected to prayer in public school removed the rights of Christians to pray publicly in school.  Not being “judged” for lifestyle choices removed the rights of Christians to speak openly about certain biblical values.

“Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’” (Acts 6:11)

  1. “Truth” – Enforcing secularism meant anyone claiming to have definitive answers to life’s difficult questions had to become viewed as either arrogant or ignorant.  When social acceptance became dependent on mandatory subjectivity, understanding that “truth” is personal, Selfism would win the day.  When academia would scoff at any attempt to identify supernatural causes for natural phenomena, defining truth only in terms of what can be seen, then Selfists could claim another tremendous victory.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25)

  1. “Tolerance” – Another major coup would be if intolerance was only tolerated if directed at those deemed “intolerant” by Selfist standards.  In other words, resetting the “tolerance” threshold so low that it would stifle any reasoned debate about beliefs or behaviors would ensure the identity bubbles of all Selfists remained intact.  A bar that low would necessarily label any Christian attempting to evangelize as intolerant.

“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” (Revelation 20:4)

  1. “Love” – Don’t be fooled; Selfism falsely claims to be driven by love and universally applies the word “hate” to those proclaiming “truth” and “morality”, particularly Christians.  Agape love is unconditional love for God and others, and it doesn’t exist apart from Christ.  Selfists love and defend self, at all costs.  Selfists profess no god or that all roads lead to a god; but self is their god.  Respecting each other’s false god of self is not love – it’s idol worship – worship of the creation and not the Creator.  Love comes from the one true God, who’s also the author of Science, Morality, Rights, Truth, Tolerance…and Liberty.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

  1. “Liberty” – Selfism’s leaders at the head of government and media appeal to the masses on the basis of compassion and empathy.  However, the underlying agenda is control – less freedom, not more.  Government controls actions and media controls thoughts.  Do you as a Christian feel free to speak your mind today?  Or are you more careful than ever about what you say, even if you know it’s true, for fear of offending someone.  Political correctness has reached new heights in America because persecution has begun for those poking at anyone else’s identity bubble.  Communism always begins that same way – aligning with the oppressed, promising freedom, when the ultimate outcome is less liberty than the marginalized had in the first place.

“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?” (Daniel 3:14)

Selfists Have Infiltrated America’s Churches

Christians have not responded well to losing their grip on those 7 words.  They should have fought fire with fire – demonstrating the power of God’s love, truth and tolerance by following Jesus’ model of leading with actions (of compassion) and then words (telling people who Jesus is).  Fighting the Culture War with an Air War (dropping verbal bombs) versus a Ground War (acts of love an service) has not worked.  Christians are losing battles on every front – in legal courts and in the court of public opinion.

In the face of so many Selfist victories, most churches have acquiesced and reshaped their own lexicon to conform to Selfism.  As we discussed a few weeks ago in 10 Words No Longer Heard in Church or Christian Music, churches now:

  • Use More Selfist Terms – Victory, Healer, Comforter, Deliverer, Power, Joy
  • Largely Stopped using Challenging Terms – Discipleship, Sanctification, Obedience, Repentance, Sin
  • Redefined Biblical, Church-Related Terms – Ministry (aka, church chores), Outreach (aka, church advertising), Church (aka, a place and not people)

Some churches will stop at nothing to preserve “self” – their institution.  The focus of many pastors has shifted from equipping each member to BE the church to attracting and retaining a congregation.  For countless churches their brands have become the “self” or “flesh”, and they overshadow “spirit”, the Holy Spirit who lives inside individual members, not the building.  In other words, churches have increasingly:

  • constructed their own Selfist “identity bubbles”
  • defined their own versions of “truth”
  • relented on biblical “morality” and adopted Selfist standards
  • focused on church growth through appealing to Selfist tendencies, even at the expense of other churches
  • encouraged prayers for Selfist outcomes rather than God’s will as Jesus modeled
  • become more concerned with defending their churches’ rights against “outside” attacks than sending out well-trained armies of disciples to love people to Christ

It’s Your Turn

How can we #EndSelfism, both within society and the Church?  We’ll discuss those topics more next week.

The Fastest Growing “Religion” in America

Nov 29, 17
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

Part 1 of 3

Disciples should stand out in a crowd today more than ever.  A new religion has infiltrated the hearts and minds of not only American culture but of America’s churches.  What was once simply an inherent trait of human nature running directly counter to the central characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ has now been formalized into a religion that is substantially outgrowing and undermining Christianity.

A religion is defined as “a particular system of faith and worship” or “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power”.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Baby Boomers were dubbed the “Me Generation” as conspicuous consumption, career ambition and narcissism precipitated an explosion of self-help books and me-first TV shows like Seinfeld.  Millennials born during those two decades have become commonly referred to as “Generation Me” for their obsession with their own personal identity.  However, Selfism didn’t attain the status of a full-fledged “religion” until prevailing social norms recently began to dictate required acceptance of each person’s power to define every aspect of his/her being:

  • Identity
  • Morality
  • Gender
  • What they do with their own bodies
  • god, if any

America is a Theocracy

In fact, it may be argued (as I do here) that Selfism has reached a major milestone in America – of a theocracy where it is now the official state religion.  Mandatory adherence to the state-run religion began when public entities led the way (and private institutions felt compelled to follow suit) in regulating the absence of competing practices to legislating the imposition of conforming practices by:

  • Schools – From removal of prayer from public schools to requiring reading of books promoting alternative lifestyles
  • Politics & Activism – From (expected) tolerance by prosecuting physical hate crimes to (forced) acceptance of what the Bible calls sin, stretching the bounds to include verbal “hate crimes” for merely vocalizing that those acts are sinful
  • Employers – From eliminating promotion of religious beliefs during business hours to disqualification from employment opportunities if candidates believe that marriage should be only between men and women

What began as compulsory adoption of Selfist principles by legislative and regulatory bodies has now morphed into voluntary promotion of deteriorating standards for social behavioral by private institutions across nearly all facets of society:

  • Hollywood/Music – Television and radio stations not only permit, but eagerly air self-indulgent, indecent ads unfit for the eyes of young children (making it increasingly difficult to enjoy an NFL game with my son without a DVR to skip the commercials)
  • Internet/Social Media – Self-infatuation evident in the rise of selfies, self expression on social media, alternative self-creation via video games and virtual reality, and makeover shows depicting rapid self-transformations
  • Churches – Selfism has even penetrated the walls America’s churches as pastors concerned with growth acquiesce to our consumer culture by appealing to Selfist tendencies, writing checks Jesus may not cash of a better life, answered prayers, prosperity and cheap grace

Principles of Selfism

Who are the adherents, saints, bishops and pastors of this new religion?  Considering the lists above, the leaders of Selfism are the most ardent proponents of its central tenets:

  • Self is good
    • Selfism assumes human nature is “good”, whereas Christians understand that mankind is inherently evil
    • Left to their own devices, unaffected by those infringing on their “identity bubble”, people will do the right thing
    • Values, ideals or standards imposed by those outside a person’s identity bubble are “bad”
  • Self is god
    • “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6) is reversed by Selfists – Flesh is spirit, leaving no room in their religion for the Holy Spirit
    • Selfism is a reincarnation of Eastern religions that teach inner divinity, a god complex whereby the “knowledge of good and evil” exists within each of us and self-actualization is the quest
    • In the name of respect, compassion and understanding, each person’s self-constructed identity bubble is insulated from attacks by those claiming the existence of a superior God

Selfism’s Leaders & Priorities

Those ideas are promulgated most eagerly by a powerful contingent of leaders across Capitol Hill, Hollywood, media, academia and secular humanism.  Those same individuals stand to benefit most from both self-promotion and promotion of Selfism because they have become the objects of worship in America today.  Yes, celebrity worship is pervasive in our nation.

We aspire to be like the famous self-absorbed celebrities who tout Selfist principles at every opportunity.  Countless TV shows and magazines dedicated to covering each waking moment of our nation’s most popular actors, politicians, musicians and athletes are filled with seemingly unassailable quotes and advice from those celebrities about Selfism’s top priorities:

  • Self fulfilment
  • Finding your true self
  • Realizing your potential
  • Seeking happiness
  • Acceptance, not just tolerance

The only unpardonable crime against Selfism is any disruption of those pursuits.  In fact, much of the controversy surrounding politics today involves any perceived attempts to draw ideological, religious or moral lines.  Those worshipping at the altar of Selfism view espousal of any “truths” or absolutes as unwelcomed impositions of personal beliefs on those who have already defined all of that for themselves.  Our Selfist theocracy even condemns and labels anyone questioning or infringing on another’s self-conceived notions or self-image as a bigot – and summarily vilifies them in the media.  In contrast, those taking a stand for their self-conceived identity against any purported assailants are passionately supported by Selfists and praised by the media.

The Movement to #EndSelfism

Now that Selfism has become a theocracy, the rights of Christians are in jeopardy:

  • to worship freely
  • to express themselves honestly
  • to refuse to comply with unbiblical principles
  • to avoid exposure to the increasing filth pushed out by Selfist proponents who run our schools, governments and media

Efforts to protect Selfists from imposition of Christian values has escalated into imposition of Selfist values on Christians, increasingly violating their rights.  #EndSelfism is as much about rescuing American culture from slippery slope of Selfism away from God as it is about the defense of our freedoms as Christians – which will deteriorate as the new religion of Selfism continues to grow and the religion of Christianity continues to decline.

Ironically, the movement to #EndSelfism must begin with the Church.  There’s a self-inflicted reason why Christianity is in decline – not only in growth, but in influence, impact and perception.  As this blog has argued since its inception 2 ½ years ago, the Church bears responsibility for its challenges because it:

  • redefined “church” as a place rather than as individuals “belonging to the Lord” (ekklesia), contributing to building institutions and not disciples, the original purpose of the Church
  • redefined its target “customer” in its pursuit of church members, rather than equipping members (the real “church”) to pursue the lost in the community (the real “customer”)

As we’ll discuss more in a couple weeks, most American churches have actually begun to practice this new religion of Selfism as pastors have become increasingly concerned about attracting and retaining congregants.  In their fight for growth and survival, churches implicitly advocate Selfism as they cater to the selfish desires of churchgoers (e.g. for an “experience”) rather than challenging them with God’s desires (e.g. to “go and make disciples”).  The celebrity crazy has even extended to pastors who attend conferences and stand in line waiting for autographed copies of books by megachurch pastors telling them how to employ Selfist principles to grow their own churches.

In an upcoming blog post, we’ll also show the path Christians and churches can take to #EndSelfism.

It’s Your Turn

How have you seen Selfism infiltrate your school, workplace and/or church?

Can You Spot the Christian in the Crowd?

Nov 08, 17
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

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

10 Words No Longer Heard in Church or Christian Music

10 Popular Bible Verses Taken Out of Context

10 Ways Jesus’ Church Growth Model Differs from Yours

10 Practices You Rarely See in Church Anymore

10 Ways Churches Underutilize Their Facilities

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

10 Ways Churches Underutilize Their Facilities

Nov 01, 17
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

10 Practices You Rarely See in Church Anymore

Oct 18, 17
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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