Author Archives: JMorgan

Yes, it’s ok to talk about sin

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

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

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

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

Addressing Sin Isn’t Optional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Bring Up Sin

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

Jesus Was Nosy…and You Should Be Too

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

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

“Who touched me?” (Mark 5:31)

“What do you want…?” (John 1:37)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the “Pastor” of Your Neighborhood

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

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

Successfully pastoring your neighborhood also entails being:

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

Churches are mortal. Kingdom is not.

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

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

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

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

Churches are mortal.  Kingdom is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

We Look More Like the Church BC than AD (Cont.)

Jun 20, 19
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Part 2 of 2

Today, we continue the list from our prior blog post of ways the Church in America has reverted to operating principles employed by the religious establishment in Jesus’ day – which He came, at least in part, to discredit.  Jesus and His apostles had much to say about issues with the institutional construct Judaism’s leaders had erected to usurp power and control people, by positioning buildings and themselves as unduly…

4.   …Elevated

Defining church around a place and pastors to build the institution rather than disciples.

BC  Success was measured by the magnificence of facilities and the celebrity of religious leaders:

  • Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. (Mark 12:38-39)
  • Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. (Matthew 24:1)
  • Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones. (Luke 21:5)

AD  Clarification that believers are truly the definition and personification of “church” (however, nearly all Americans today associate church with a building and its “success” with size in terms of square footage, occupancy and budget):

  • You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5)
  • Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)
  • They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20)

5.   …Uninspired

Claiming ultimate authority and power, but rather than relying on the Holy Spirit being driven by human principles.

BC  They did not recognize, possess or leverage the power of the Holy Spirit:

  • The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. (Hebrews 9:8)
  • Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. (Acts 1:4)

AD  All followers of Jesus possess immense power through the Holy Spirit (however, few churches today emphasize the Holy Spirit, likely because He is too “spiritual” for non-believers who pastors are eager to attract and ensure feel “welcome” and “comfortable” in worship services):

  • After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
  • God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4)

6.   …Centralized

Emphasizing the Church gathered versus the Church scattered to ensure organizational viability and job security.

BC  Knowledge of God and His Word was largely trapped within the confines of buildings and the minds of religious leaders:

  • The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…What kind of house will you build for me? (Acts 7:48-49)
  • Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. (Luke 11:52)

AD  Wisdom shared directly with individual believers who can meet anywhere for prayer, worship and fellowship (however, pastors today do not prepare members to be evangelists, but simply ask them to invite their friends to the church building to let the “professionals” handle Gospel presentations):

  • But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands. (Hebrews 9:11)
  • I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (Matthew 12:6)
  • …and to the church that meets in your home. (Philemon 1:2)

7.   …Political

Conducting an air war of words rather than a ground war of love and compassion to fight the culture war.

BC  Religious leaders battled to maintain a controlling theocracy against competing influences:

  • No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them. (John 7:49)
  • But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)

AD  Church focused on Jesus as King and winning people to Him through love and mercy (however, Christians and churches are known less today for what they’re for than what they’re against):

  • Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mark 12:17)
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6)

Summarizing the Solution

The answer to how today’s Church can look like the Church Jesus intended (AD) rather than the Church Jesus reviled (BC) lies in addressing those 7 issues, becoming:

  1. Proactive – Turn church “inside out”, tearing down the 4 walls by equipping and sending individuals and groups into ministry where they live, work and socialize
  2. Generous – Reevaluate church finances to mirror the giving expected of members, investing first fruits outside the “4 walls” and living off the remainder
  3. Compassionate – No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, so follow His model of opening ears to hear the Gospel by demonstrating God’s love first before sharing who Jesus is
  4. Commissioned – Build disciples who are prepared to live out their intended role as the embodiment of “church” to those who would never step into a church building
  5. Empowered – Boldly proclaim our need for the Holy Spirit, not worrying that non-believers in attendance will be “weirded out” since worship services shouldn’t be designed around those who don’t worship Jesus
  6. Decentralized – Restructure around a proper definition of “church” and the models that fueled its explosive growth in the Book of Acts, where small assemblies of believers were equipped to gather anywhere to reach their neighbors for Christ
  7. Kingdom-Minded – Ground church objectives in Kingdom advancement, which has much more to do with love and unity than with political victories

Imagine the reversal of the current decline in growth, influence, impact and public perception that would occur if churches in America would adopt these 7 AD principles.

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that most churches in America today look and operate more like the “church” BC than AD?

We Look More Like the Church BC than AD

Jun 06, 19
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Part 1 of 2

Why did Jesus come when He did?  Theories abound, but the state of the Church was likely, at least in part, behind God’s timing.  Religious practices and teachings had gotten far off course, fueled by impure motives and metrics – and leading to cynicism among non-believers and an improper understanding of God among believers.  Jesus came to blow up those misconceptions and set the record straight – about who God is and what He expects of His followers.  Jesus reserved His harshest words and greatest indignation for the religious establishment.

We live AD but “church as we know it” has largely reverted to BC principles.  It was intended to operate much differently than it did before Christ, but on close (biblical) examination it appears we have partially repaired the veil Jesus tore and rebuilt the temple Jesus said would be knocked down.

Consider what Scripture says about issues with churches and religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who had become…

1.   …Distant 

A “4 walls” mentality with people treated as “customers” to attract and retain rather than as the embodiment of “church” to disciple and deploy.

BC  Church positioned as an institution formed an unintended wedge between God and man (both churchgoers and those on the outside looking in):

  • You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)
  • When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

AD  Jesus went out to where people were, bridging the gap formed by “religion” to demonstrate His love (e.g. healing and feeding) before telling them who He was:

  • At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
  • And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2)

2.   …Expensive 

Emphasis on budgets and giving to keep the institutional church machine running.

BC  Significant dollars were required to operate the Old Testament church:

  • To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.  (Deuteronomy 12:5-6)
  • I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.  (Numbers 18:21)

AD  Flattened hierarchy frees up more giving to be directed toward fellow Christians inside and outside that church (e.g. the persecuted):

  • All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  (Acts 4:32)
  • Now about the collection for the Lord’s people:…when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.  (1 Corinthians 16:1,3)

3.   …Internally-Focused

Not following the Lord’s commands to be compassionate and generous.

BC  Religious leaders rarely gave to help the poor:

  • But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God).  (Mark 7:11)
  • When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.  (Deuteronomy 26:12)

AD  The critical importance of compassion was strongly reemphasized, with Jesus as the model (yet only around 1% of the average church’s budget today is invested back in the community – whereas the Church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter, and started most hospitals and schools):

  • 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.  (Matthew 25:35)
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.  (James 1:27)

Our next blog post will unveil the final four ways that churches in America today look and operate more like the Church BC than AD.

It’s Your Turn

We’ll explore more of these principles in the following post, but if this assessment holds water so far and our churches don’t reflect the radical shift Jesus advocated away from BC principles, how does the Lord feel about the current state of the American Church?  Does this make you think differently about changes your church should make to become what Jesus intended?

7 Inconvenient Truths for Churches (the Final 4)

May 22, 19
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one comments

Part 2 of 2

Studies point to several disruptive trends that will force a reevaluation of America’s location-centric definition of church:

  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) are less loyal to institutions than prior generations
  • A small fraction of millennials attend religious services on a weekly basis
  • Convenient, online sources of sermons, scripture lessons and worship music are widely available
  • Believers are forming communities and connecting through social networks across distant geographies
  • Our consumer culture drives church hopping (shopping) and exchanges of dollars for value received (and giving to churches is declining)

The majority of Millennials still self-identify as spiritual or Christian, so they desire fellowship with like-minded individuals, but increasingly outside of a corporate church setting.

In light of those trends, it is more challenging today for a pastor to rejuvenate an aging congregation and keep up with rising expenses of a brick-and-mortar facility.  Those pressures tempt leaders to compromise the vision God gave them when they first received their call to the pulpit.  Most never imagined that one day they would:

  • Advertise to draw attention to worldly “competitive advantages” – comfort, programs, buildings, messages and music – to attract visitors
  • Define next steps and progress toward Christian maturity and discipleship around levels of involvement in the church (e.g. joining, serving, giving and inviting others)
  • Push engagement in church activities more frequently than engagement with Jesus

In many cases getting more involved in “church as we know it” does lead people into a closer relationship with Christ, but we must be careful not to make access to personal discipleship contingent on first jumping through church hoops.  Ironically, in Scripture those steps are reversed – people develop a deep relationship with Jesus first and then out of obedience and love for Him decide to engage in serving and giving.  Following the Lord’s church growth plan entails defying America’s prevailing “Invite, Involve and Invest” model, which is designed around building institutions and not disciples.  Desperation to close the membership “deal”, hoping new families will sign on the dotted line, is understandable in this age of fewer frequent attenders and increasing availability of alternatives for discipleship, fellowship and worship – but can undermine biblical mandates like the Great Commission.

Today, let’s continue laying out the 7 “Inconvenient Truths” we began discussing last week, concepts glossed over by many pastors who develop selective amnesia to survive an era in which roughly 80% of churches are in decline or have plateaued…

Truth #4 – Growth is Often a “Red Flag”

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus refused to entertain casual observers or interested bystanders for very long.  He preached His toughest sermon at the height of His public popularity.  The health of a church is not a measure of its organizational characteristics but the sum of the health of its members.  Jesus chased away those unwilling to believe, commit or change.  Revelation warned the Church at Laodicea not to tolerate those who remain lukewarm.  Paul regularly urged purity within the church, instructing leaders to drive those persisting in sin from their midst.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Have you ever seen a pastor intentionally preach a congregation down to a smaller number?  Do you know a church whose growth strategy is to shrink?  Is it common for those who refuse to walk away from a sinful lifestyle to be asked to leave the premises?  How many large churches are blowing up the org chart and decentralizing (e.g. into small discipleship-oriented groups designed to reach neighborhoods throughout a city)?  Those are biblical imperatives yet would be scoffed at if presented to the elder board of a “thriving” or “struggling” church.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

As a result of challenging members to eat right (e.g. dive into scripture) and work out (e.g. practice the Great Commission), the collective church will lose weight – and get healthier.  Shedding unwanted pounds is a key to better health for many Americans – and for churches as well.  Building into a committed few is the Lord’s math – multiplication rather than addition.  Perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never give their lives fully to Jesus, but simply shop for the best “customer experience”, do immeasurable damage to the body of Christ.  They poison healthier parts of the body.  Their presence tempts pastors to make efforts to retain and appease them to avoid losing members and income, depriving mature Christians of the “deeper truths” Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians.

Truth #5 – Christianity Won’t Make Life “Better”

Why It’s Biblical

Following Jesus is the sole source of joy, peace and hope – but is unlikely to improve your life’s circumstances.  A prayer, care and share lifestyle may even invite more trials and challenges:

  • Jesus’ disciples were martyred
  • Those living a lot like Jesus tend to attract Satan’s attention (e.g. see Job)
  • You’re looking for trouble, running toward the storm, if you’re actively sharing Jesus with a world bent on living for Self and seeing faith as foolishness
  • God repeatedly (and lovingly) disciplines His children throughout Scripture
  • The Lord allows for pain, suffering and even death to show His glory (e.g. man born blind, Lazarus)

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Inadequate answers to the question, “How can God let bad things happen to ‘good’ people?” keeps many people from coming to faith.  Telling visitors at your next worship service that bad things may be even more likely to happen to them the “better” they get is unlikely to fill your church’s pews or coffers.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

It’s not just the oft-maligned “prosperity” gospel that ignores this inconvenient truth.  Any teaching of a correlation between your life’s circumstances and what you do for a church is akin to Job’s friends who the Lord condemned for advising that bad begets bad and good begets good.  God doesn’t repay because He owes us nothing.  A higher perspective is that we’d rather make Satan mad than God mad – and we’ll risk the consequences of Satan considering us a threat.  The great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 willingly endured terrible hardships in this life because they looked ahead to eternal rewards.  Imagine how your church would grow if you could count a handful of “great heroes of faith” among your members.

Truth #6 – Church Wasn’t Intended for Non-Believers

Why It’s Biblical

The biblical meaning of the word “church” does not refer to a place, but to people.  Paul describes the church as those “baptized”, “sanctified”, and a “holy people” forming “one body”.  Church is an assembly of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is meant to be comprised of believers who are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, undefiled by those not yet declared righteous.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” around a building and pastor ignores this inconvenient truth in order to promote church growth in two ways:

  1. Convincing Believers to Come Back – Not burdening churchgoers with responsibility for evangelism and discipleship, hoping that lowering expectations might encourage them to return next Sunday
  2. Convincing Non-Believers to Try it Out – Requesting that members invite their non-believing family, friends and coworkers (those who don’t worship the Lord) to a worship service, increasing the overall number in attendance next Sunday

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Consider the Kingdom impact of reverting to the biblical definition of “church”.  It would mean equipping and mobilizing every congregant to share Christ with those in their circle of influence.  If each of them adopted their intended role as disciples who make disciples, commissioned by Jesus Himself, then they could invite those they personally led to Jesus to join them for authentic, corporate worship.

Truth #7 – Repentance Isn’t Optional

Why It’s Biblical

It’s interesting that Jesus’ first messages at the inception of His ministry began with a call to repentance.  John the Baptist, Peter and Paul came out of the gates preaching repentance as well.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Yet “repent” is a four letter word today, rarely heard from America’s pulpits.  Because there are so many non-believers within our churches, pastors hesitate to bring up repentance or properly portray it as a mandate.  People hate change and for most non-Christians repentance requires significant alterations in lifestyles, thinking, habits and actions.  So pastors ignore this inconvenient truth to avoid a mass exodus.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Recognition of one’s sin, sorrow over sin and confessing sin are essential in coming to Christ – an intense desire for forgiveness and commitment to turn from sin.  Failure to address and confront sin (out of fear of alienating those with no desire to stop sinning) may prevent discomfort and increase attendance but misses what Jesus and His disciples saw as the key to leading people to salvation (i.e. repentance), inhibits the floodgates from being opened to God’s amazing grace, and diminishes the holiness of His Church.

It’s Your Turn

Are any of these inconvenient truths evident within your church?  Can you think of other biblical truths that churches today conveniently ignore?

7 Inconvenient (Biblical) Truths for Churches

May 09, 19
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Part 1 of 2

Many instructions, lessons and examples in Scripture run directly counter to modern church growth models.  In today’s environment, implementing those truths in your church would be tantamount to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  The balance of power has shifted – churchgoers are accustomed to expecting much of pastors, staff and facilities yet resist high expectations being placed on them – due to the combination of:

  1. America’s consumer culture where customers take their (church) business elsewhere if not completely satisfied, and dollars are exchanged for value received…and giving to churches is declining
  2. a shrinking pool of frequent attenders (demand) yet a significant number of church buildings and aspiring pastors (supply) graduating from seminaries each year

To navigate those market dynamics, church leaders find it tempting to draw attention to their “competitive advantages” – programs, buildings, messages and music.  However, as we discussed in “How Big is Our God”, our view of who God is shrinks as we ascribe greater importance to earthly religious constructs and representations of His Kingdom.  The more we acknowledge the magnificence of the scenery and sermon, the less clearly we may see the Lord’s magnificence.  Focusing on what we (or others) have accomplished can shift the spotlight away from what Jesus has accomplished.  Yes, our Americanized flavor of Christianity has introduced performance-based thinking into our collective psyches.

Living out the Lord’s prescribed church growth model involves significant (perceived) risk to an institutional church.  Therefore, many leaders suffer from selective amnesia or willingly compromise when it comes to advancing those essential principles within their congregations and communities.  However, stepping out in faith to abide by those truths, no matter the cost, would actually result in greater growth by attracting and developing the right people in the right ways.

In this blog post, we’ll review the first three of those “Inconvenient Truths”…

Truth #1 – Small Groups & Sermons Don’t Make Disciples

Why It’s Biblical

The Great Commission and other verses define disciple-making as the primary purpose of the Church.  Disciples ardently follow, imitate and obey Jesus.  Discipleship is a long and challenging yet glorious process.  The relationships Jesus had with His disciples and Paul with Timothy illustrate discipleship as ongoing, intensive and personal.  When pastors are asked about their church’s discipleship methods, most will cite sermons and small groups, which (in contrast with Jesus and Paul’s approach) are occasional, passive and impersonal.  Therefore, churches are producing far more cultural Christians than disciples.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churchgoers today are willing to live up to Jesus’ expectations of His followers.  Unveiling the actual costs of discipleship and asking a congregation to surrender fully, following wherever God leads, would send most parishioners running for the exits.  Rightfully treating members more like (unpaid) “employees” than “consumers” and training them to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus) is more than they bargained for when they joined your church.  As we discussed earlier, the risks inherent in demanding so much of those who highly value convenience and customer service are magnified in this day and age.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

At the height of His popularity, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon, saying followers must “eat My flesh” and “drink My blood”.  Building into a committed few rather than appealing to the masses spawned the exponential growth of Christianity in the early Church.  Likewise, raising up a small band of true disciples will have a far greater Kingdom impact than filling seats with thousands of passive “pew-potatoes”.  Ironically, it is those efforts to attract and retain church members that is behind the rapid decline of churches in America in growth, impact, influence and perception.

Truth #2 – That Building Isn’t a Church

Why It’s Biblical

The Biblical ekklesia (“assembly of called-out ones”) does not refer to a place but to people.  Church is happening wherever believers are gathered in the name of Jesus for worship, teaching and fellowship.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” to align with its biblical roots would threaten “church as we know it”.  Survival of the institutionalized, Americanized model hinges on maintaining an unhealthy dependence on pastors for evangelism and discipleship.  The sole task passed down to most churchgoers is to invite their non-believing friends to hear the Gospel from the “professionals”.  Would congregations be as generous in paying for the evangelistic services pastors provide if they knew the truth – that church is not a place or a preacher but themselves?  Each of us is the embodiment of “church”, personally responsible for leading people to Jesus, responding to objections, and learning how to answer difficult questions.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

In actuality, churches would grow faster and become healthier if each member were willing and equipped to boldly share about Jesus within their circles of influence.  Imagine the leverage created by raising up and deploying an army of individuals who live prayer, care and share lifestyles – infiltrating their workplaces and neighborhoods.

Truth #3 – Pastors Can’t “Outpreach” Jesus

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus had the perfect words and flawless delivery.  He spoke with more power and authority than anyone – ever.  Yet He rarely said who He was before healing or feeding – demonstrating His love first to open ears to hear His life-saving message.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churches lead with compassion.  They extend invitations to attend a service, hear a relevant message, and participate in fun activities.   They do occasional service projects – transactional events with little lasting impact – largely intended, and frankly more effective, as “outreach” (i.e. marketing) than making an actual difference.  Telling people what to believe before showing them Jesus loves them comes across as proselytizing.  According to Barna Research, “almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.”  We haven’t earned the right to speak to culture, so what society hears when we talk (and don’t “do” first) is condemnation rather than genuine concern.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

To fight the culture war, launching a ground war with love as chosen weapon would be a far more successful battle plan than continuing an air war of (what comes across as) verbal bombs.

It’s Your Turn

Our next blog post will unveil the final four “Inconvenient Truths”.  In the meantime, come up with your own list of biblical concepts that directly contradict modern church growth models.  Also, begin to address any inconsistencies that were shared today within your own congregation.

How Big is Our God?

Apr 24, 19
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Christians across the globe, but particularly here in America, struggle to avoid mixing a few sprinkles of performance into their personal perception and practice of faith.  Even within our churches, Americans can’t help but recognize the size of the buildings, the charisma of leaders, the number of attenders, and the generosity of members.  Does our consciousness of human performance have any effect on how believers (and non-believers) in our nation view God?

There’s little doubt that…

  • Our vision of God is clouded by our culture
  • Our portrait of Him is painted by our perspectives
  • Our love for Jesus is diluted by our deficiencies
  • Our relationship with the Lord is shaped by our circumstances

I’m not sure I (or anyone else for that matter) is exempt from the influences of this world in how we view and act on our faith.

Most of us don’t…

  • Pray like we should
  • Give like we could
  • Love like Jesus commands
  • Witness like His disciples

I’m convinced that if we had any idea who God truly is in all His glory, all else would pale by comparison.

We would…

  • fall to the ground in amazement if we actually understood His infinite power
  • cower in humility if we spent a single second in His mere presence
  • be overwhelmed with thankfulness if we fully experienced His unconditional love
  • cry countless tears of joy if it were possible for us to grasp His unfathomable grace
  • never speak another word except for praise in the face of His immense wisdom
  • scream out from the rooftops about the urgency of salvation if we really knew how bad hell is and honestly believed that many of our friends and family members are going to spend eternity there

In the absence of those direct encounters with Who and what we believe, most Christians in America aren’t as amazed, thankful, overjoyed and evangelistic as they should be.  We’re more impressed with church buildings and pastors than we need to be.  We’re more satisfied with a life of taking care of our own while doing little to serve the poor.  We’re too content with feeble efforts to check the religious box rather than dedicating our lives to discipleship and ministry.

Gaining a Proper Perspective

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

Our view of who God is shrinks as we ascribe greater importance to earthly religious constructs and representations of His Kingdom.  For example, now that America has defined churches as a place and pastors as the “paid professionals”, our biblical sense of personal responsibility and urgency to BE the Church and lead the “lost” to Christ has diminished.  The more we acknowledge the magnificence of the facility and sermon, the less clearly we may see the Lord’s magnificence.  In other words, focusing on what we (or others) have accomplished can shift our attention away from what Jesus has accomplished.

The essence of Christianity is humility before almighty God.  Many expect some degree of credit or favor from God and man for their religious activities because our Americanized flavor of Christianity and definition of “church” has introduced performance-based thinking into our collective psyches.  However, if we realized how big this God is that we worship, we would understand that in all things it’s His “doing” (not ours) that matters.  We would eagerly and happily surrender our entire lives simply out of love, awe and reverence for all He has done for us, expecting nothing in return.  God deserves all the glory and credit.

It’s not about us.  it’s about…

1.  His Creation – God and His Kingdom are permanent but (as we were reminded last week watching a fire consume much of Notre Dame) anything we build, no matter how impressive, is temporary.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’” (Luke 21:5-6)

2.  His Righteousness – It’s Christ’s goodness and not our own that we must look to.  We are all sinners in dire need of a Savior – even “celebrity” pastors.  Throughout Scripture, God almost always hand-picked the most “sinful” to fulfill His purposes – like Paul, Matthew, and Mary Magdalene.

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

3.  His Obedience – Only Christ’s obedience saves us.  Our obedience should be the natural response to His.  Our desire to follow GC2 (Great Commandment and Great Commission) should not be motivated by expectations of compensation in the form of salvation, favor or recognition.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

4.  His LoveOur love follows from His as we abide in the Lord through His Holy Spirit.  It was the Father’s agape (unconditional) love that drove Him to create mankind and then to send Jesus to pay a debt He didn’t owe (because we owed a debt we couldn’t possibly pay).

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

5.  His Story – The Father wrote the play and we are privileged to be written in as actors in His grand plan.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

6.  His Power – Only through the Holy Spirit do we have the ability to do anything lasting and of value.  Ephesians 3:16 and 3:20 describe what God is able to do through His Spirit within us as “immeasurable”, yet churches in America are conditioned by culture to track and measure (e.g. “nickels” and “noses”).

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

7.  His Salvation – We cannot lose salvation because God holds us in His palm.  It does not depend on us as if we were in control, losing and regaining our standing with Him each time we sin and repent.  Only God could fix the covenant that man broke – and He did so permanently through Jesus.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

All of this work has already been done.  None of those concepts above depend on our “doing”.  Anything good, impressive, pure and holy come from and through the Lord.  We must resist temptations to admire man-made structures and elevate leaders onto pedestals.  Churches shouldn’t fracture due to a pastor’s immorality, retirement or death.  The church is an “assembly of called-out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” – individuals fully dependent on the Lord for righteousness, power and salvation.  Nothing should stand between us and God – because it’s not the “doing” of anyone else, our label as a Christian, or our status as a churchgoer that makes us righteous, powerful or saved (by association).  God is the sole source of it all – and if we come to understand one day how BIG our God truly is (making all else instantly lose some of its luster), that reality check would radically transform our Prayer, our Care and our Share.

It’s Your Turn

Every religion except Christianity is based on performance (i.e. our goodness or enlightenment).  How have you seen attempts by Christians or churches to make themselves look “bigger” (e.g. by promoting their “creations” or their “goodness”) effectively diminish perceptions of how big our God is?

Hard to See Jesus Through Brick Walls

Apr 10, 19
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Prerequisites for establishing and sustaining a church today, assuming we adopt the Americanized definition of “church” around a place and pastors, include:

  • Reputable leadership
  • Hard working staff
  • Generous members
  • Relevant activities and programs
  • A temporary or permanent location

Optional features not required by America’s model for “church” and rarely observed these days, yet essential to the ministry of Jesus and life of the early church, include:

  • Intensive discipleship
  • Personal evangelism
  • Continual compassion

Whether a church makes disciples, has members who share their faith or is active in local missions will not make or break a modern-day church.  However, it will have a difficult time surviving a pastor’s “fall from grace”, economic downturns, or inability to eventually buy or build its own facility.

Americans love buildings.  Owning our own home is the pinnacle of the American dream.  Erecting a permanent structure gives us a sense of accomplishment and validation.  For a company, acquiring or constructing an office building is a stamp of approval authenticating its legitimacy.  Philanthropists donate millions in exchange for naming libraries and museums after them, feeling fulfillment in leaving a physical legacy that will outlive them.  For a church plant, moving into a building it can “call our own” is a sign that “we’ve made it” – finally, no more setting up for weekend services every Friday or Saturday night.  Members, pastors and staff all are excited and celebrate the milestone – anxiously inviting any and all to show off the new “digs”.

The world’s system might revolve around physical assets and status, but the Lord’s system is based on love and grace.  Throughout scripture we see numerous examples where even believers mistakenly assume that God is speaking about worldly buildings and structures when He’s actually talking about Himself (the author of love and grace):

  • “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19)
  • “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Matthew 21:42)
  • “…on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)

…or they jump to shallow conclusions because they’re impressed with buildings and celebrities, drawing their attention away from Jesus:

  • “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” He asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another…” (Matthew 24:1-2)
  • “Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)” (Luke 9:33)
  • “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)

As Stephen says in Acts 7:48-49, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…What kind of house will you build for me?”  The Lord cannot be confined to a building.  Jesus spent most of His time on earth not with the religious establishment but out in the community with the destitute, ill, uneducated and “objectionable”. (see #WWJBWhere Would Jesus Be)

It Can Be Hard to See Jesus Through Brick Walls

Church buildings require significant capital to acquire or construct – and to maintain.  Members are the only source of funds for a church.  Those upfront investments and ongoing expenses increase the risk of making congregations uncomfortable.  Many pastors hesitate to bring up biblical mandates like the Great Commission and accountability for sin during building campaigns.

The more expensive the property the greater the pressures to ensure people show up next Sunday and to count “nickels and noses”.  Churches, just like a family, often start off “house poor”, overextended when first purchasing a home in anticipation of the “family” growing in size.  Because that church “home”, like the family’s new house, is underutilized at first it often carries with it a significant financial obligation, putting a strain on those responsible for paying the mortgage.

In those cases, it behooves church leaders to perpetuate a place-centric and pastor-centric definition of “church”.  America’s consumer culture has conditioned Christians to pay for value received.  To attract and retain members, church leaders offer a valuable service to their congregations by assuming their rightful evangelistic and disciple-making responsibilities.  Gospel sharing for congregants is often reduced to inviting people to church next Sunday to fill those new seats.  Churchgoers no longer must endure apologetics training, intensive discipleship or uncomfortable conversations with non-believers, happy to abdicate and compensate the “paid professionals”.

To summarize this blog post and our prior post, two structures have been erected to accommodate the Americanized, institutionalized definition of “church”:

  1. the “veil” (i.e. pastoral “performance”)
  2. the “4 walls” (i.e. physical buildings)

Those impermeable objects combine to obscure and block our view of the biblical meaning of “church” (i.e. people, not a place), impeding Gospel proliferation and inhibiting personal relationships with Jesus Christ.  Centralizing church around a pastor rebuilds the “veil” that Jesus tore (when He died on the cross), reinserting intermediaries between God and man by elevating pastors beyond their intended role.  Centralizing church around a building relieves Christians, both individually and collectively, of their duty to step outside their comfort zones and “own” their positions as the hands and feet of Christ.  Both obstructions (to discipleship) in effect reduce the role of church members to “Invite/Involve/Invest”, today’s prevailing church growth model.

Studies show that the “veil” and the “4 walls” are discouraging non-believers from coming into church.  Millennials have a general mistrust of institutions and a poor perception of organized religion.  They’re having difficulty seeing Jesus through the “veil” and “walls” that blur their vision of who He is.  Even many faithful believers are joining the ranks of the “Dones” who love the Lord but have had bad experiences with “church as we know it”.  The overall percentage of frequent churchgoers is decreasing.  Defining church as pastors and buildings isn’t leading more people to enter in or keeping them there once they’re inside.

It’s Not Wrong to Have a Church Building

The implications of all this is not that a church shouldn’t have a building. but means church leaders should:

  1. Redefine “Church” – As the narcissism of a salvation culture overtook the selflessness of a repentance culture, linchpin terms of the Christian faith were skewed to favor man rather than to glorify God:
    • “Church” – A physical location run by a pastor versus an ekklesia (“assembly of called out ones”)
    • “Outreach” – Marketing our church versus our individual obligation for “prayer, care and share”
    • “Ministry” – Serving in a particular capacity at a church versus our Great Commission from Jesus
  2. Expand “Footprint” – Rather than settling for packing into a “skyscraper” each weekend that covers little ground, decentralize your structure into smaller fellowships scattered throughout the community, empowering and equipping each one to intentionally minister to those around them
  3. Increase Utilization – Fully utilize your building’s square footage between Sundays, being better stewards of God’s resources by filling the space with compassionate programs and activities that meet the needs of families in your local area
  4. Build Disciples – Measure “success” not by square footage but by the number of disciples, making your church a training center with members treated more like employees than consumers, tasked with pursuing the real “customer” (the lost outside the “4 walls”)
  5. Commission Disciples – Orient your approach more toward “go” than “come”, deploying disciples into their network of relationships rather than leveraging attractional strategies to pull people away from relationships into a church sub-culture (with mixed, expense-driven motives)
  6. Control Expenses – Do not get in an overextended position where high fixed costs of buildings and salaries tempt leaders to usurp responsibilities of members in hopes they’ll become more dependent on “paid professionals” and compensate them accordingly
  7. Never Compromise – Resist urges to downplay the Great Commission or accountability for sin, challenging churchgoers to disrupt their status quo for the cause of Christ and refusing to advertise features of your church that cater to worldly desires

What’s also not wrong (and perhaps more in line with biblical precedents) is to meet in homes, avoiding onerous financial obligations that invite compromise and blind far too many people in America to the biblical definition and purpose of “church”.

It’s Your Turn

How have you seen the “veil” and “4 walls” create segregation and segmentation of Christians from the world, reducing that church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception?

Our “Goodness” Obscures Christ’s Righteousness

Mar 28, 19
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The resurgence of wage-based thinking in America’s churches substitutes man’s “goodness” for Christ’s goodness.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our religious acts are “filthy rags” compared to the righteousness of Christ.  However, survival of a (location-based, Americanized) church in a nation seeing rapid declines in church attendance and giving tempts leaders to reverse those trends by invoking a works-oriented mentality (which Jesus came to destroy).  Most churches today characterize investments of time, talents and treasures in building a church as “good” and maybe even worthy of a commensurate (worldly) return to motivate.  Our motive should not be recognition or rewards, but obedience that flows out of God’s incredible grace and love for us, who are so undeserving.

Building a “church” (as defined in America – i.e. a place and not people) also requires attracting and retaining congregants in ways that fit our culture.  Words like “victory”, “freedom”, “fulfillment” and “joy” resonate in our consumeristic, narcissistic society.  Promises of a better life, help in times of trouble, and an escape route from hell attracts those interested in what God can do for them.  Sermons and songs speak of God as Provider, Comforter, Fortress, Healer, Shelter, Deliverer and Redeemer – all of which He is.  However, that’s not all He is.

“Boss” of the Americanized Church

Pastors and staff who encourage wage-based thinking (in order to build an institutional church) position themselves as the “boss” in charge of the organization.  They don’t view members as the embodiment of church, despite the Biblical definition of church as the “assembly of called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord”.  Churchgoers should be “insiders”, the hands and feet of Christ to be trained and deployed to pursue the real “customer” (“outsiders”).  However, church leaders don’t feel they’re at liberty in this day and age to hold congregants to a high standard of performance (e.g. in carrying out the Great Commission mandate) for fear that asking too much of them would send them running to the church down the road.  Therefore, most treat congregants like at-will “consumers”.  They are strategic and conscientious to engage and entertain, hoping everyone will come back next Sunday, tithe and sign up for a “church chore”.

As a result, churchgoers perceive whatever they do “for the church” as an act of kindness rather than seeing themselves “as the church” with personal responsibilities (e.g. for evangelism and discipleship).  They volunteer and give “to the church” but do so with mixed motives – partially “as unto the Lord” and partially as unto the pastor.  They see their “religious acts” as philanthropy.  They hope the Lord will pay “wages” (temporal and eternal rewards) for whatever work they do for the church.  They seek compensation in the form of praise from church leaders and complain if not acknowledged for their generosity, recounting all they’ve done for the church without so much as a pat on the back.  At their jobs, they are accustomed to working for a fair “boss” who gives pay raises in exchange for diligence and quality.  They want a fair “boss” at church too – one who recognizes them for “good” works.

Performance Anxiety

A church “boss” is also expected to replicate a work boss by leading effectively, communicating clearly, modeling diligence, exhibiting morality, and exemplifying integrity.  In other words, church members have come to expect a high level of performance by their pastors.

The modern church growth model of a “genius with 1,000 helpers” (Jim Collins, Good to Great) puts tremendous pressure on leaders to live up to a nearly impossible standard.  Responsibilities that should rightfully be distributed among all members (who are by definition the personification of “church”) instead fall on the shoulders of overtaxed, burned-out pastors.  If the church “org chart” were flattened, with everyone bearing their biblical load rather than abdicating disciple-making to the paid “professionals”, the future of each church wouldn’t be so dependent on flawless execution by a pastor.

That status quo provides a strong incentive for church leaders to maintain a veil of perfection, a self-righteousness that could block the view of Christ’s righteousness and the need of every man, woman and child for grace – even a pastor.  Most church leaders today sense performance anxiety around:

  • eloquently delivering a relevant and engaging message every Sunday
  • holding staff to a high standard, ensuring the music, announcements, sound, stage props, and video production all go off without a hitch
  • conducting the worship service on time, carefully scripted and rehearsed, without a minute wasted and choreographed to produce a desired emotion or response
  • being available to fulfill the personal requests of members, who often feel their generosity obligates the pastor to reciprocation
  • rarely, if ever, confessing sin in front of anyone within the church or even in the community or risk undermining their moral authority and pastoral reputation

Ambitions to grow an organization (e.g. by labeling religious acts of members as “good”) have come back to haunt church leaders.  As a “boss”, they feel obligated to do what they teach members, but at an even higher standard.  By centralizing the definition of “church” around a place and pastor, most have assumed a more elevated perception and greater responsibilities than Jesus intended.  The veil of perfection many pastors feel compelled to maintain contradicts the fact that anything they do is still a “filthy rag” relative to the perfection of Christ.

That veil also can tempt leaders to expect or relish praise for a “good” performance.  Those in high positions in the church may begin to believe their own press, accepting accolades rather than deferring all credit to God.  Humility is the essence of our faith and any attempt to hide imperfections obscures the view of Christ and rebuilds the veil torn when Christ died for everyone’s sins, pastors included.

When a church leader fails to meet those (impossible) expectations or has a moral lapse, you can quickly tell who has been working “as unto the pastor”.  They take the news hard because they put (at least part of) their faith in a man.  Their faith suffers.  They leave the church.  The body fractures and splits.  However, those working entirely “as unto the Lord” biblically define the church as people and aren’t codependent on the pastor, therefore keeping the church intact and carrying forward as a family.

Jumping off the Hamster Wheel

For pastors to return the veil to its intended, severed state and provide churchgoers with a clear view of Christ’s righteousness, they must:

  • Confess their shortcomings openly, being authentic and experiencing freedom from keeping up appearances
  • Discourage wage-based thinking and working for a church “boss” so no one’s trust will be in the “goodness” of anyone but Christ
  • No longer try to meet “consumer” expectations by defining “church” around any individual except for Jesus, elevating only Him onto a pedestal
  • Build disciples and not an institution, not catering but challenging members to pursue the real “customer” (the lost outside the “4 walls”)
  • Cease attempts to placate our culture by overselling self-empowerment and what God can do for us, but be honest about the high cost of discipleship, repentance, obedience and sacrifice.  Jesus didn’t suffer and die to make us happier or more comfortable in this life.
  • If led by the Holy Spirit, be willing to break the “script”, allowing God to take over the worship service at a moment’s notice
  • Rehearse the sermon less, not aiming at perfection but wiling to expose personal limitations, relying on God to deliver the message (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

Congregants will encounter Jesus if the pastor is fully reliant on Jesus.  They will encounter only a man if the pastor is self-reliant.  The veil of perfection will always obscure the view of Jesus.

Despite efforts to rebuild the veil, lower expectations, and emphasize self-actualization, the Church in America is still declining in growth, impact, influence and perception.  Our world sees through transparent attempts to shape religion around culture – and they aren’t buying it.  The Church’s attempts to spoon feed truth to avoid alienating “seekers” has contributed to America’s rejection of truth in all of its forms.  According to Barna Research, “almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.”

Spiritual truth doesn’t sound like truth when it’s couched in human terms.  The growing ranks of “Dones” (with church) have experienced Americanized church and don’t believe eternal answers are found there.  They know authentic faith is about more than repeating the Sinner’s Prayer, serving at the church, giving to the church, and inviting their friends to church.  Yet that’s about all churchgoers are being asked to do.  However, pastors worry that if they unveil all Jesus expects of His followers, fickle consumers who are accustomed to convenience and blessed with options will “vote with their feet” if not completely satisfied.

It’s Your Turn

Do you hear church members critique the “performance” of church leaders more often than they hold themselves accountable for carrying out their personal responsibility to BE the “church”?  If so, how should they shift their expectations and definitions of “church”?