Tag Archives: Christmas

Signs of a Stagnating Congregation

Jan 26, 23
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

In mankind’s fallen state, success (in the world’s eyes) always breeds temptations – even for resolute church leaders like Daniel.  His extraordinary commitment to GC3 (the Great CommandmentGreat Commission, and Great Calling) led to rapid membership and member (in Christ) growth by positioning everyone as Kingdom employees trained to become “pastors” of their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces.  However, numerical growth gave rise to pressures that didn’t just distract from GC3, but directly competed with them.  Daniel’s goal had never been a large congregation, but now he had one.  That meant higher expectations, stakes, budgets, and demands for his time.  Before becoming a church planter, Daniel had been critical of pastors of his “mother” church, feeling they had abandoned GC3 – but now found himself a bit more empathetic.

During the first couple years, Daniel had the bandwidth to disciple staff members, network with local civic leaders, connect with other pastors, and spearhead compassion initiatives.  Now with 20 on staff, nearly 1,000 in attendance on Sundays, and a building project underway, Daniel’s days of personal disciple-making and community engagement seemed like a distant memory.  Yet he was still determined not to give in to powerful consumeristic forces that had stifled the growth of most American churches, if not in sheer numbers (of members) then in depth (of discipleship) and impact (on society).  Nevertheless, the train was running down the track so fast at Daniel’s church that his original vision of life and community transformation seemed to be irreversibly giving way to church transformation – speeding toward a destination he’d have to derail the train to avert.

The Cause: Compromise

Daniel meticulously walked through the church’s distinct mission and principles with each new hire.  During interviews, all expressed alignment with GC3 and its emphasis on personal discipleship, evangelism, and compassion.  However, “church as we know it” is all they had ever known.  The only way to silence competing voices within his leadership team at this point was to either reprogram or micromanage, neither of which fit Daniel’s management style.  He wanted staff to feel empowered to manage their areas of responsibility, but when the rubber met the road most “new’ ideas they brought to the table weren’t new at all – simply retreads of contemporary church growth concepts implicitly defining church as a place and members as “customers”:

  • “We need more small groups – our folks don’t have time for 1-on-1 discipleship.”
  • “If we invest in amping up fun in children’s ministries, more parents will attend.”
  • “We’re getting some complaints about services running over – what can we cut?”
  • “It would help us recruit more volunteers if your sermons had that call to action.”
  • “Young families are too busy for ongoing outreach, so let’s do seasonal events.”
  • “We should set up new committees to get lay leaders more involved in serving.”
  • “Would adding additional agenda items to prayer meetings get more to come?”
  • “Not many are signing up for evangelism classes – it seems like inviting friends to church and sharing a testimony is as far as most are willing to go”.
  • “Giving is down this month. Can we run a campaign or do a sermon series?”
  • “Our facilities and signage are aging a bit – how can we spruce them up?”
  • “Better musicians and sound systems could help rejuvenate our congregation.”
  • “Some people were offended by what you said about marriage and genders.”
  • “Pastor, we could free you up a bit if we restructure communication channels.”

The assumption underlying those suggestions is that church is in the business of making people happy.  Companies grow when they get more customers, but churches grow when members are growing.  Efforts to exceed “customer” expectations make sense for businesses but entice churches to compromise by encouraging staff to treat members like consumers and assume churchgoers’ rightful responsibilities (as Kingdom “employees”).

The Effect: Conformance

For years, Daniel’s church had been highly differentiated, not looking like other churches in town in terms of corporate and personal discipleship, evangelism, compassion, engagement, and unity within the body of Christ.  City, school, and ministry leaders had praised Daniel for his service to the community and his courage to stand out from the crowd.  However, small compromises that seemed innocuous at the time naturally and gradually infiltrated the fiber of his rapidly growing church.  Daniel recognized that mission drift but its glacial pace and his team’s (and congregants) contentment with the status quo kept him from taking drastic measures to reverse course.  Eventually, it became difficult to distinguish his church from most others, who operated like businesses in several respects:

  • Emphasizing joining the organization to secure and formalize the relationship
  • Promoting loyalty to the institution when an alternative provider is more suitable
  • Strategically presenting a friendly, welcoming face to the public (e.g. hospitality)
  • Inserting layers of hierarchy as impediments between “customers” and leaders
  • Investing heavily in technology and process improvements to increase efficiency
  • Assuming better leadership is the primary solution to a flawed (business) model
  • Reorganizing to regain momentum, akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic
  • Overpromising what (we think) people want and underdelivering what they need
  • Misrepresenting the product or service (e.g. “selling” cheap grace or prosperity)
  • Understating the commitment required, to garner interest (i.e. false advertising)
  • Measuring quantity of inputs (activities), not quality of outcomes (transformation)

Daniel had no intention of adopting any business practices when he planted his church.  However, lines blur between church and business when, for the sake of numerical growth, pastors reduce evangelism to referrals (Invite/Involve/Invest), salvation to transactions (“repeat after me”), and discipleship to small groups (which rarely make disciples).  It also likely doesn’t escape the notice of cynical non-believers how cherry-picking (out of context) the most commonly-abused Bible verses (e.g. Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 18:20, Philippians 4:13) is similar to the misleading company ads they see on TV.

Daniel unwittingly gave in to the greatest temptation confronting founders of any thriving enterprise – becoming internally focused.  Catering to “insiders” (as if they were end customers) at the expense of “outsiders” (the real “customer) is bad business – for churches and corporations.  Yes, challenging and equipping churchgoers to live externally-focused Prayer/Care/Share lifestyles will scare off lukewarm believers – but doesn’t losing weight typically makes us healthier?

The Outcome: Stagnation

Years passed before Daniel realized member growth had stagnated, sacrificed at the altar of membership growth.  As he thought back on the early days and his ambitious plans for life and community transformation, he remembered the adage, “If you plant churches, you may not get more disciples, but if you make disciples you will plant more churches.”  In assessing the state of the union relative to his original vision, Daniel felt remorse and regret that his church had become a revolving door with too many slipping out the back exit essentially in the same condition as when they arrived:

  • Most came from other churches that offered fewer programs and amenities
  • The vast majority were rushing to their cars, leaving quickly after worship services
  • Online church had replaced in person services for many, even after the pandemic
  • Nearly all professed faith in Christ, but it seemed few had surrendered fully to Him
  • Business people were separating church life from work life, not integrating the two
  • Most were still living in the same sins, not repenting and leaving them behind
  • Even seasoned lay leaders weren’t holding others accountable for sinful behaviors
  • Few were crying out in prayer or for prayer except those facing a personal crisis
  • More non-believers were in the seats, requiring more scripted, simplified sermons
  • Engagement in worship was becoming less passionate, enthusiastic, and heart-felt
  • Few were witnessing to neighbors and coworkers, inviting them to church instead
  • Unity and diversity decreased, with the congregation looking more homogeneous
  • Factions formed, grouped in socioeconomically and racially segmented circles
  • Impoverished families met through serving were leaving the church, not feeling connected to those with more social capital
  • Giving was down but expectations were higher for pastors, staff, and facilities
  • Pastors were burning out, struggling to keep up with increasing demands
  • Volunteers expected a pat on the back for doing anything to serve at the church
  • Participation in and excitement around compassion activities had diminished
  • It felt like outreach had become “checking a box” and celebrating our “kindness”
  • Literacy partnerships with schools were losing steam as volunteering dropped

Meanwhile, all were flattering and praising Daniel for how well everything was going.  However, Daniel knew deep in his spirit that something was missing – and it was likely the Holy Spirit.  The church had lost its first love, and Daniel knew that a return to the original GC3 vision, principles and plan was the fix, but didn’t see how that was possible given the level of member resistance and fixed costs that stood in the way.  How could the church survive an upheaval almost certain to cut the congregation and giving in half?

It’s Your Turn…

As so often happens, when a church planter or entrepreneur realizes that growth led to internal focus and then stagnation, what is the appropriate response?  Considering how much more important member growth is than membership growth when it comes to churches (as opposed to businesses), what actions should Daniel take at this point?

Temptations of a Growing Church

Jan 12, 23
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

With the blessing and support of church leadership, Daniel felt empowered and excited about launching the new campus.  All were aware of the risks of Daniel’s radical vision, principles, and plan, which were heavily influenced by his experiences growing up in a missionary family.  The concern wasn’t whether a strong emphasis on discipleship, compassion, and evangelism was biblical but whether adopting Jesus’ prayer/care/share lifestyle was too demanding for contemporary American churchgoers.

Daniel knew success hinged on convincing members that they were Kingdom employees and not church consumers.  Those accustomed to “church as we know it”, shopping for a church with the most engaging pastors, comfortable facilities, and applicable programs wouldn’t have an appetite for all that Daniel planned to ask of them.

The other question on the minds of leaders at the main campus was whether Daniel would stick to his guns or abandon his ambitions when he had something to lose.  It was easy to take chances and be externally focused when there were few members, a small staff, and no building.  They thought back to the early days of their ministries when they were more like Daniel, courageous but naïve about the inevitable pressures that awaited pastors when the church grew.  Most church planters can devote themselves to equipping and mobilizing Christ-followers to embody “church” between Sundays until the mounting obligations of organizing weekend services, managing staff, and catering to the demands of members pull them away from those primary, biblical responsibilities.

The Launch: Commitment

Determined to ensure that growing disciples, not a congregation, was the barometer of “success”, Daniel and his core team laid out a specific, detailed 10 step roadmap to foster life and community transformation through their church by the power of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Pray – as a leadership team and congregation for the Lord to move through our church and in our city because He controls the outcome of all our efforts
  2. Network – with community leaders and neighbors, showing hospitality, first inviting non-believers into our homes, not to a church service
  3. Listen – intently and document conversations to understand how to address the most critical spiritual, material, and emotional needs in our community and world
  4. Train – members for disciple-making and evangelism in preparation for the countless opportunities sure to arise when we minister to the broken and hopeless
  5. Respond – to real problems like Jesus did each time he encountered those hurting and lost, serving them with dignity, not through arms-length handouts but a loving hand up
  6. Engage – people in the true work of church (GC3Great CommandmentGreat CommissionGreat Calling), not just typical “chores” like greeters and ushers
  7. Welcome – those who sincerely want to know and worship Jesus, including the families our church serves, even though they may not look or sound like “us”
  8. Steward – by keeping fixed costs at bay, not falling into the trap of consumerism, which locks churches into vicious cycles of borrowing, building, and fundraising
  9. Accountability – to keep our church holy and never slip into consumer-driven, self-centered ways of conducting ourselves as a church or as individual believers
  10. Learn – through watching to see what the Lord does within our body and our city, making adjustments yet never veering from our God-given vision and principles

Many pastors and plants initially follow a similar path.  However, Daniel’s commitment was to persist in these practices indefinitely, no matter how large the congregation grew, how busy leaders got, or how risky it became to challenge families (when losing them could jeopardize the church’s financial stability in the face of rising costs).  It would take years of unwavering prayer, care, and share to restore confidence in an institution that was once the lifeblood of communities across America – our nation’s cultural and spiritual heartbeat – but is now widely regarded as a weekly gathering for those with the time and interest.

The Byproduct: Growth

Over the next year, Daniel’s church grew tremendously, not because it was the goal but because it wasn’t a goal.  Entrepreneurs succeed when they’re not focused on revenue growth but on providing great value and service.  Marriages thrive when both spouses prioritize the other’s happiness above their own.  Daniel refused to let himself or his leadership think about church growth, confident it would come as a result of reflecting the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus through countercultural, jaw-dropping acts of kindness.  So Daniel’s church…

  • Mentored and tutored students at two public schools in lower income areas
  • Commissioned members to serve as “pastors” of their neighborhoods, first responders in any crisis
  • Trained executives to instill Christ-centered values and chaplains in workplaces
  • Took a stand and spoke out on behalf of marginalized groups facing injustice
  • Volunteered and supported pregnancy centers and trafficking ministries
  • Conducted prayer vigils for law enforcement and victims of violent crimes
  • Rallied other churches and pastors to join them in these transformation efforts
  • Represented the demographics of the city, diverse racially and socioeconomically
  • Was recognized by media and government leaders for its compassion and impact
  • Had greater visibility than much larger churches, without advertising or mailers

Daniel was careful to ensure all local missions activities were built on a foundation of intensive, personal discipleship – not “outreach” that doubles as church marketing.  In other words, he wanted his congregation to act in a spirit of love, obedience, and desire to imitate Jesus.  Daniel knew people would see through any insincere “attractional” or seasonal “check the box” motives.  Nor did he permit a repeat of the failed “social gospel” movement, expecting actions to speak for themselves.  Daniel often said, “When our love opens ears to hear the truth, we need to speak it.”

The Red Flags: Temptations

However, after three years, cracks began to appear in the foundation of Daniel’s church.  His leadership team and the pastors at the main campus hadn’t anticipated and weren’t prepared to manage such explosive growth.  Nor were they ready to confront the following temptations to shift their focus away from discipleship, compassion, and evangelism – the catalysts which had sparked that growth:

  • More demands for the senior pastor’s time for visitations, weddings, and funerals
  • Structure and hierarchies needed to establish boundaries and divvy up responsibilities
  • Investment in systems required to improve efficiency of internal processes like membership, communications, volunteering, and giving
  • Splits and factions due to differing views and worship preferences between generations and amongst the church’s “old guard”
  • New staff hires with critical skills but indoctrinated in prevailing Invite/Involve/Invest church growth models
  • Young families, a target audience, with little time for discipleship or compassion
  • Churches down the road with state-of-the-art children’s ministries to lure parents
  • Community engagement activities that conflicted with scheduled church events
  • Rented facilities too cramped to accommodate all attendees and programs
  • Expenses rising too fast to keep pouring 30% of the budget into local missions
  • Conservatives and progressives differing over what was “sin”, pressuring Daniel to gloss over those topics from the pulpit
  • More non-Christians at services, shifting sermons toward “milk” rather than “meat”
  • Notoriety and public recognition raising external and internal expectations for Daniel’s “performance”

Business executives serving as deacons and elders at Daniel’s church were well aware of these challenges and offered advice.  Daniel began to invest much of his time (outside of sermon prep) consulting experts in leadership, technology, real estate, and human resources.  He read books by well-known pastors and attended conferences to learn how to navigate high growth periods.  Daniel delegated new responsibilities to his leadership team and reorganized around keeping the machine running.  Church priorities, attention, and resources gradually diverted from personal discipleship, compassion, and evangelism to managing operations.

The transition seemed eerily similar to young companies who panic when their laser focus on meeting customer needs spurs demand that soon outstrips infrastructure.  They turn inward, take their eyes off the ball, and lose touch with the market.  Consequently, growth slows.  The only difference for churches is that members are not supposed to be its “customers”.  In this case, the ones paying the bills are actually (Kingdom) employees who should be trained to reach the real, biblical “customer” – those who don’t know Jesus.

It’s Your Turn…

What other temptations (i.e. to see church as a place and members as customers) does church growth (regardless of whether that’s the goal) bring with it?  How has succumbing to those temptations been responsible for the declining growth, impact, influence, and public perception of America’s churches?

Confessions of an Idealistic Church Planter

Dec 28, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Born to missionary parents, Daniel grew up determined to spend his life like them.  He couldn’t imagine a more rewarding career than carrying on his family’s legacy preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  Yet Daniel didn’t feel called into international ministry to unreached people groups.  On the advice of a pastor back in the States, he decided to go the more conventional route of leading a church, hopefully somewhere near his hometown.  So Daniel attended seminary after college and became a youth pastor for a large congregation, waiting for his opportunity and the Lord’s timing to plant a new church.  The leadership team understood Daniel’s ambitions and recognized his charisma, knowing they wouldn’t be able to hold onto him for long.  They’d had their eyes on a community across town as a potential location to go multisite and expand their footprint.  Several churches had been unable to take root in that area, sandwiched between comfortable suburbanites busy with children’s activities on Sunday mornings and relatively lower income neighborhoods served by small, ethnically divided congregations.

The Vision: Life and City Transformation

Daniel could hardly contain his excitement when those leaders approached him, offering their guidance and financial support.  He had a vision – idealistically imagining his church plant transforming the community, just as he’d witnessed as a child overseas.  He began to plan, leveraging principles of the “mother church” for consistency but emphasizing areas like evangelism, discipleship, and compassion where he felt they were falling short.  Reaching across demographics and socioeconomics, engaging both the disinterested and the disintegrated, would require more than attractional programs or eloquent sermons.  Nor would first class facilities and amenities, which they couldn’t afford anyway, draw people in.  Instead, Daniel believed achieving the vision of community transformation would require:

  • meeting diverse groups of people “where they are” rather than inviting non-believers to a worship service
  • understanding key issues and concerns they’re facing, which are often quite different for “soccer moms” and single moms
  • becoming visible and active in bettering lives, including partnering with organizations who are already “moving the needle”
  • committing to that community long-term, realizing it’s where God called him
  • raising up leaders equipped for dynamic prayer, care, and share ministry
  • multiplying disciples and mobilizing teams to demonstrate God’s love to the hurting and hopeless
  • being viewed as essential, such that people in both sacred and secular circles would not only notice but be deeply saddened if his church closed its doors

Daniel knew a heavy external focus was a departure from how most churches treated members like “customers” to attract and retain, not Kingdom “employees” to train and deploy.  As a missionary kid, he wasn’t accustomed to Americanized forms of church and was determined to eschew consumer-driven Christianity.  Yet, seminary seemed to indoctrinate most graduates in “church as we know it”, not alternative models and structures.  Likewise, Daniel knew of church planters who had high ideals and were attuned to the material and spiritual needs of a community, but eventually abandoned their visions and values to tend to internal affairs.

Any pastor new to an area must network and be hospitable to create awareness.  However, maintaining that level of external orientation and challenging members to do the same (through compassion, evangelism, and discipleship) is riskier when there’s more to lose – staff, members, and buildings.  Daniel saw that same dynamic with business entrepreneurs who began laser focused on the market, resulting in exponential growth, but soon got distracted by internal expectations and obligations.  In business, executives taking their eyes off the ball leads to declining productivity and profitability.  In churches, ignoring the intended “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus) has far more serious, eternal consequences.

The Principles: GC3

With those cautions in mind and a firm resolve never to let them infiltrate his church, Daniel met with his team of lay leaders for strategic planning and brainstorming.  Several guiding principles, priorities, and next steps emerged from their first session:

  • value prayer over self-reliance, worship over socializing, and humility over status
  • operate out of an abundance (vs. scarcity) mindset yet steward resources responsibly
  • practice 1 on 1 discipleship leveraging proven tools, with Daniel leading the way, commissioning those he disciples to follow his example
  • research, survey and meet with local leaders and residents to uncover burning issues, which at first glance appeared to relate to similar underlying problems in affluent and poorer neighborhoods (mental health, substance abuse, parenting)
  • conduct evangelism training for current leaders and willing attenders
  • encourage and support promising ministries spearheaded by church members
  • realize workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes are where “church” takes place all week long, so prepare the entire congregation to be “pastors” of their coworkers, neighbors, and families

While Daniel’s intent was to serve that community, doing so couldn’t involve compromise in any of those areas.  Daniel and his leadership team understood how much they were asking of their members, and that they’d likely lose many to other churches in town with far lower expectations.  However, Daniel couldn’t reconcile anything less with what he saw in Scripture or settle for less than he’d experienced during his missionary upbringing.

Holding weekend services in a school would conserve costs but mean more work setting up every Saturday and tearing down on Sundays.  Personalized, intensive discipleship would be time consuming but foster a level of authenticity and accountability rarely found in small groups settings.  Equipping and calling busy Americans to live prayer, care, and share lifestyles would be prohibitively demanding and disruptive for those not completely surrendered to Jesus.  Yet GC3 (Great Commandment, Great Commission, Great Calling) are prerequisites and non-negotiables, not optional suggestions, for all Christ-followers.

The Plan: Success in God’s Eyes

Daniel understood his vision and principles didn’t align with the typical metrics used to gauge the viability of church plants or the performance of established congregations.  Convincing his superiors at the main campus to adopt a different set of measures (than they applied to themselves) to track his progress would be a hard sell.  Nevertheless, Daniel felt metrics tied to attendance, revenues, and facilities had been borrowed from the business world and wouldn’t create the proper incentives for his staff.  Instead, he envisioned “success” not around inputs or activities, but outcomes:

  • Not baptisms alone, but evidence-based commitments to following Christ
  • Not small group participation, but the number engaged in discipling relationships
  • Not church attendance alone, but personal practice of spiritual disciplines
  • Not new members (from other churches), but new believers entering the Kingdom
  • Not headcount of guests invited to church, but people led to the Lord by members
  • Not number of verses cited to substantiate opinions, but adherence to the Word
  • Not veiled marketing through “outreach” events, but sincere unconditional love
  • Not seasonal compassion to “check the box”, but year-round poverty alleviation
  • Not independent solo city projects, but collaboration in unity with other churches
  • Not number of hours and people serving externally, but the size of the dent made in causes important to the city
  • Not square footage of buildings, but maximizing utilization of each foot all week
  • Not size of the children’s ministry, but how many lives changed, not entertained
  • Not staff and payroll budget, but degree of empowerment by flattening hierarchies
  • Not dollars given to abdicate GC3 functions to pastors, but reclaiming “ownership”
  • Not diversity for diversity’s sake, but integration and unity among the entire body

Daniel was nervous about presenting his vision, principles, and plan to the pastors who’d entrusted him with responsibility for planting the first new campus in its multisite strategy.  As experienced leaders well-versed in modern church growth models, they considered Daniel’s plan idealistic and naïve, but couldn’t deny it was biblical and liked his approach in theory.  Despite the risk, they appreciated Daniel’s heart, passion, and capabilities – and were curious to see how his church’s members and the community would respond to such lofty ambitions and expectations.

It’s Your Turn…

We’ll continue telling the story of Daniel’s church during the coming weeks, tracing its progress through the cycles and stages experienced by nearly all churches in America.  Based on your observations and involvement with churches in the past, what do you think happens next as Daniel and his team begin to implement their vision, principles, and plan?

Sin and Hopelessness: The Cause and Cure

Dec 15, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Merry Christmas!  There, I said it – not “Happy Holidays” or “X-mas”.  Many Christians are offended by the secularization and commercialization of Jesus’ birthday, unaware they may be complicit in campaigns to take Christ out of Christmas.

Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed how America has become more divided, consumeristic, stingy, and stressed out not despite Christianity but in large part because most Christians lack unity, act like (church) consumers, don’t share Jesus’ concern for the poor, and fail to exercise unwavering faith.  Similarly, our culture is becoming more decadent and depressed largely because people look elsewhere for answers to life’s most pressing questions when Christians don’t enthusiastically celebrate and speak up about the forgiveness, freedom, hope, salvation, and sanctification that only Christmas can bring.  In other words, if our Christmas spirit were fueled by the Holy Spirit, we’d possess the wonder and joy of the three wise men and help America rediscover the reason for the season.

Forgiveness

America rejects the best Christmas gift of all (redemption), believing there’s no need for justification because there’s no such thing as sin, when Christians and churches don’t take (their own) sin seriously enough.

  • Acting self-righteous, hypocritically pointing fingers at non-believers for committing that exact same sin (i.e. presuming their own righteousness)
  • Keeping a distance rather than pursuing “sinners” at close range like Jesus did
  • Speaking out about what we’re against, rather than exhibiting what we stand for
  • Applying our moral standard to those who do not follow our Standard-bearer
  • Conforming to culture such that culture sees little need to conform to church

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)  If Christians are less cognizant of their sin than the sins of others, why would we expect people to understand what Christmas is all about?  In other words, if we’re less transparent it’s harder to see Jesus through us.  Dutiful churchgoers can start to believe their own press, less aware of their need for grace now that they cuss less and serve more.  Ironically, we wonder how non-believers can squelch their consciences while ours atrophy.  Christmas will continue becoming more about Santa than our Savior unless Christians fully recognize the value of the gift they’ve been given.

Freedom

America rejects the true freedom the Father offered us that first Christmas, believing Christianity represents the opposite (restraint and oppression), when churchgoers are legalistic and dogmatic the rest of the year.

  • Clinging to our “free” ticket to heaven instead of freely sharing our good news with others so they can be liberated from sin too
  • Fighting for our religious freedoms by politicizing faith and backing church-friendly candidates, only to discover any short-lived victories incite a backlash against perceived imposition of Christian values when secular leaders regain control
  • Growing large, prominent churches that invest more in buildings than discipleship (in times of peace and prosperity), whereas the Church in persecution tends to decentralize, take ground, and make disciples

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)  Given attempts by activists and educators to associate slavery with Christianity, ostensibly to remove the shackles of Christian heritage and morals from American culture, it’s challenging to make the argument that those who’ve removed Christ from Christmas are enslaved to sin.  Yet without repentance and redemption, no one is free from the lure of temptation and the burden of guilt.  Contemporary society threatens to curb the rights of Christians to speak and practice freely in order to protect their rights to sin freely, without reminders of or remorse for their actions.  Christians and churches shouldn’t go through the motions at Christmas but truly celebrate the emancipation it can bring to anyone humble enough to recognize their captivity (to sin).

Hope

America rejects the only source of enduring hope, settling for the traditions of the Christmas season without the hope it brings, when Christians appear to be subject to the typical holiday concerns and stressors.

  • Running from shopping malls to family gatherings, worried about racking up debt and seeing relatives who were more easily avoided the other 364 days
  • Cleaning up our act, careful not to reveal our true selves, making God seem less accessible to those with a more realistic (and honest) view of their depravity
  • Engaging in the religious activities, cards, and decorations of the holidays yet not truly putting Christ back in Christmas by living a prayer, care, and share lifestyle

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)  We live in a nation where young people who’ve been pressured by professors into renouncing their parents’ faith aren’t being given any satisfactory alternative sources of hope.  It’s only a matter of time before most realize they’ve been duped, unable to find any enduring purpose or meaning in things of this world – all while edging closer to their eventual demise, fearing those in whom they entrusted their eternal fate were wrong.  However, attempts to point people back to Christ at Christmas will fall on deaf ears unless Christians are unusually loving, selflessly compassionate, and oddly calm in the face of adversity.

Salvation

America rejects the arrival of our Savior, trusting instead in governments and economies to save them, when they don’t see convincing evidence of the supernatural or transformation (in keeping with assurance of eternal life) among Christians and churches.

  • Failing to convey the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and inadequacy of our works by publicizing the good we do, seeking praise from people when eternal life is our “reward”
  • Not understanding how to communicate the Christmas message clearly, that Jesus descended into our decadence because only He was capable of obtaining salvation the “hard way” (complete obedience to the law), the one perfect Lamb qualified to take our place and give us the opportunity for salvation the “easy way” (grace)
  • Living for the “dot” and not the “line”, without eternal perspectives or priorities that alter and mitigate typical human behaviors, like anxiety and greed

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Since the beginning of time, humanity has been searching for a way to fix what we broke – the relationship with our Creator.  Only God can make things right, which He did that first Christmas.  To the extent Christians tout our good deeds and criticize the errors of others, we give the impression that salvation is in our hands, not a Christmas gift but an earned wage.  When Christians and churches exude the joy of salvation, give God all the glory, and discard “cheap grace” (salvation without surrender), America may once again discover the meaning of Christmas and stop looking to self and worldly “saviors”.

Sanctification

America rejects Christmas carols like “O Holy Night”, believing those “true to themselves” are perfect just as they are, when churchgoers and churches don’t reflect Jesus’ holiness or the new nature His birth, death, and resurrection should illuminate in believers.

  • Exhibiting characteristics misaligned with those typically ascribed to Jesus, like love, humility, and sacrifice
  • Forging our own path and priorities rather than God’s plan and instructions, leading culture to follow our example and declare its independence
  • Not realizing and debunking the fundamental misconception fueling progressive ideals – the false premise that human nature is inherently good
  • No longer occupying the front lines of compassion, losing our voice in society because most churches treat members, not the community, as their “customer”

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)  When we confess our inadequacies and admit only God is good, non-believers may rethink their overestimation of their own virtue.  Our culture has no issues with Jesus’ values, but over time adopted a different set of values they observed in His followers (e.g. pride and self-centeredness).  If Christians and churches truly learn and practice what it means to be in the world but not of the world, seeing the Holy Spirit in us will attract those disillusioned by progressivism’s failed promise of “sanctification”, proving Christmas is the only path to holiness.

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen a church’s Christmas celebration spark revival in a city or a family’s Christmas spirit awaken faith and hope in a neighborhood?

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture

Dec 29, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Part 1 (of 2)

Jesus provided a model and instructions for striking the delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Taking cues from His example and teachings could spark revival at a time in our nation that is riper for harvest than it may readily appear.  Cracks are already becoming evident in the flimsy foundation of a culture transitioning from (justifiable) worship of a flawless Father to (unwarranted) faith in fallible self.

Responding appropriately to the opportunity to offer remediation when that foundation crumbles requires differentiation between perpetrators and victims.  Jesus distinguished between those leading people astray and those being misled, treating the latter with much more empathy.  As Christ-followers we likewise should seek to understand any differences in the motives of manipulators and those manipulated.  However, both are responsible for rejecting Jesus.  The lost sheep choose to follow the voice of the wrong shepherd, enticed by sin to seek “freedom” from the shackles of religion, ironically enslaving them to sin.

Yet the greater sin lies with leaders of society’s “7 Mountains” who know establishing new structures requires destroying former ones.  In order to maximize power and profit, the influence of Christianity on our citizens must be eradicated.  But the path to replace God as the ultimate authority cannot be a straight line.  Before people will subject themselves to new authority figures, they must first be brought out from underneath existing paradigms.  Deprogramming always precedes reprogramming, which is why Christianity is being systematically discredited and undermined today across all 7 of those “mountains”.

“Woke” is awaking from a supposed sleep induced by parents, preachers, youth group leaders, America’s founders, and anyone else with the audacity to tell people how to live their lives.  Once “enlightened” to their true identity and nature, liberated from the arcane idea that mankind is sinful and needs a Savior, society begins its regression into the division, dependence, decadence and decline that eventually demands a (secular) savior.  The social decay precipitated by shifting trust and truth from God to self sets the stage for submission to the authorities and structures inevitably needed to salvage the sinking ship.

Understanding those players and dynamics, Scripture provides Christians and churches with a blueprint for responding winsomely and compassionately, without combating or conforming…

1. Government

Leaders’ Motives

No story can have a hero without an enemy and someone to rescue.  Humanity’s story already has a Hero who’s impossible to vilify, so many politicians target Jesus’ followers, who opened themselves to criticism by failing to make more disciples who resemble Him.  Associating our nation’s Christian heritage, as well as modern leaders, with racism and oppression is a brilliant strategy to rid America of the rules and reign of Christ over our society.

Followers’ Delusions

Sheep hear those voices and fall in line, questioning the values of Christianity and the goodness of God.  After all, doesn’t God allow natural disasters and pandemics to happen?  Isn’t religion the source of most conflict in the world?  Why aren’t churches doing much about poverty?  Isn’t it government and science that saves the day to fix what God and religion broke?

Biblical Response

  • Understand what’s happening today is not about politics – it is all spiritual (warfare)
  • Resume our rightful place on the front lines of compassion and justice to show God is good
  • Season truth with grace, but expose the intent and futility of transitioning faith from Jesus to self (and then) to government
  • Realize our countercultural status now in the U.S. is nothing new for Christianity, reacting not with angry attempts to reclaim control of the “7 Mountains” but recommit to discipleship – the only path ever prescribed for the Church, whether in power or persecuted

Government runs public education, its most powerful tool to alter America’s future direction…

2. Education

Leaders’ Motives

Deprogramming starts with perpetuating the myth that America’s youth is our wisest generation, with minds finally unencumbered by fables of creationism and divine intervention that cannot be proven or defy logic.  Reprogramming can then begin at progressively earlier ages to indoctrinate in selective or revisionist history designed to incriminate Christians and science that teaches God-free evolution as irrefutable fact.

Followers’ Delusions

Most products of secular universities in America today believe that only what we see can exist.  “Coming out of the closet” is now a more apt reference to Christian students with the courage to publicize that they believe in the invisible.  Faith is a sign of intellectual and emotional weakness, an inability to comprehend the verifiable and a crutch to prop up the insecure.  Sadly, since the underlying premise of atheism is flawed, so are the conclusions drawn from it.  Many of our children are filtering their thinking through (and shaping their lives around) a false set of assumptions with eternal ramifications – and are doomed to repeat ill-fated history omitted from textbooks.

Biblical Response

  • Understand that youth are being misguided by professors whose job descriptions and intellectual pride prevent them from confessing that something they cannot explain can exist
  • Repair relationships strained or broken when students reject the authority and ideals of parents and pastors, keeping the door open to future conversations about faith
  • Learn solid answers to tough questions to reeducate on the truth of Scripture, the agendas of post-Christian leaders, the demise of secular empires, and an unbiased history of Christianity’s impact on our nation (i.e. leading in compassion, abolition, and education)

Students eventually graduate so the attack on religion must extend beyond the classroom…

3. Religion

Leaders’ Motives

Only Christianity concerns politicians and educators because lies are not a threat to lies, only truth is.  In fact, they’re worried enough to institute a new vernacular, changing the definitions of biblical terms like love, truth, tolerance, justice, self, and pride to fit their narrative.  To silence dissenters who dare espouse values that conflict with their terminology, they weaponize those words to accuse Christians of intolerance, injustice, and hatred.

Followers’ Delusions

With Christianity pushed to the fringe of decent society, Americans feel more at liberty to declare their independence from its influence.  “All roads lead to the same place”, “no one should impose their beliefs on others”, “I’m ok and you’re ok”, and ”you have your truth and I have mine” become seemingly impenetrable defenses against evangelism.  None’s and Done’s (with religion) quell conscience and deflect any criticism as “judgment”.  The Fatherless search for identity not as a child of God but in their sexuality, gender, politics, careers, or lifestyle choices.

Biblical Response

  • Understand how secular leaders are engineering a transfer of trust and truth from religion to relativism in order to soon reestablish a new set of absolutes that they will dictate
  • Stop following society’s lead by redefining biblical terms like “church” (a place), “outreach” (advertising), “ministry” (internal), “Christian” (churchgoer) and “discipleship” (small groups)
  • Rather than lash out at culture, become more transparent, confessing our weaknesses yet reflecting Christ’s holiness to help them see their own sinfulness and need for Him
  • Make disciples who can articulate how Christianity is unique among the world’s religions (only we believe a Savior had to come down to us because we could not aspire to reach up to God)

In our next post, we’ll address the remaining 4 “mountains”, giving you and your church more practical ideas for being countercultural but not counter culture…

It’s Your Turn

Please share your thoughts on the recommendations made today and consider biblical responses to the other “mountains” (e.g. Family, Business, and Media) we’re excited to unpack next.

Countercultural but Not Counter Culture

Dec 16, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

Jesus was countercultural but not counter culture.  Yes, His teachings flipped the script on all mankind valued – rich is poor, strong is weak, greatest is least, up is down and down is up.  His lifestyle conflicted with everything society held dear – rejecting popularity, power and prosperity.  He chose homelessness, loved enemies, defended the oppressed, marched undaunted toward persecution, remained silent when accused, and forgave His murderers.  No one has ever spoken or lived more counterculturally.  Yet no one has ever shown more care and concern for the people He encountered.

Jesus’ words and actions, if conveyed literally and imitated fearlessly, would be considered just as radical in America today as they were in Israel then.  However, studies show our society sees most Christians and churches not as countercultural but counter culture.  Scripture calls us to be transformed in our thinking but not conformed in our behaviors.  Yet the majority of believers are far less radical in their lifestyles and more vocal in their personal opinions than Jesus, who did and said only what He heard from the Father.  It’s become difficult to distinguish Christian neighbors and coworkers from the rest of the crowd, at least not in ways that intrigue or endear.

In a culture increasingly demanding conformance to its ideals – tolerance and acceptance of each individual’s unmitigated pursuit of happiness – we have an unprecedented opportunity to contrast that myopic, self-centered world view with the enduring hope of Christ-centered living.  Imagine the shock and awe of watching millions of countercultural revolutionaries walk away from popularity, power and prosperity.  How would the public perception of Christians change if we practiced what Jesus modeled – understanding without convergence and compassion without condemnation?  The Gospel will offend, but being offensive or defensive will never awaken America from its collective conscience coma.  It’s illogical to counter culture by imposing our moral standards, which many of us don’t live by, on people who don’t believe in the God who set those standards.  What would be more effective is praying, caring and sharing so counterculturally that it illuminated the shallowness of living for the dot (here and now) and not the line (eternity).

Biblical Counterculturalism

Disciples obey the commands of Jesus, most of which go against nearly every fiber of our being and every principle of secular humanism.  To diagnose issues and prescribe solutions for helping churches and Christians become more countercultural and less counter culture, we first need to look at how Jesus obliterated established norms and instructs His disciples to do likewise…

Biblical shouldn’t be radical.  However, taking those principles seriously would be culture shock for a post-Christian America that long ago passed the Age of Commerce, Age of Affluence, Age of Intellect, and has entered the Age of Decadence.

Conventional Culture

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.  As countercultural and irrational as His words and example may appear, the alternative eventually leads to hopelessness and chaos…

  • Preserving the freedom of one group to defy God’s commands unavoidably decimates the rights of other groups
  • Pretending there is no life after death is convenient and comfortable until disaster strikes
  • Teaching kids they are cosmic accidents produces exactly the response we would expect and now observe
  • Believing mankind is inherently good leads to disappointment when sinful human nature inevitably prevails
  • Ascribing the illogical ability to invent truth ends in disillusionment when ill-conceived fallacies prove one day to be untrue
  • Authenticity is impossible apart from our intended identity as children of God, so being “my authentic self” expediently evolves to mimic transitory cultural norms
  • Identity crises tempt youth to portray façades on social media and escape reality via VR and avatars
  • Trust in human wisdom requires cognitive dissonance when science must be ignored to justify immorality (e.g. gender designations by doctors, heartbeats of unborn infants)
  • Tolerance, secular society’s highest virtue, is necessarily intolerant of those who don’t share its progressive views
  • Advertisers pitch seemingly altruistic messages linking possessions to personal empowerment when money is their only true motive
  • Politicians know the path to ultimate power lies in defining everyone as an oppressor or oppressed to regulate the first and rescue the latter
  • Government positions itself as savior, directing attention from the Savior, by “generously” offering healing and funding to create dependence

Those who are Fatherless lack a trustworthy guide, drawing wrong conclusions because they process information through a filter based on bad assumptions – that there is no God or that He is not good.  Sands shift with no firm foundation, not knowing where they came from or where they’re going.  Only Christians know the end of our story because we’ve read the last chapter of the Book.

Are We More Countercultural or Counter Culture?

Against that backdrop, are churches and Christians conforming to conventional culture or to biblical counterculturalism?  In other words, are we influencing culture more than we’re influenced by it?  The answer lies in our responses to questions like the following…

Countercultural but not counter culture means awakening society to the truth of Jesus by our humility, love, evangelism and service – not our accusations and expectations.  Non-believers will recognize their sin and need for forgiveness when we shine the bright light of Christ’s righteousness.  Churches and Christians dim that light, revealing our hypocrisy and not His holiness, when we compromise to look more like the world and less like Jesus.  Yet being different does not mean being distant.

It’s Your Turn…

In our next post, we’ll explore practical ideas for striking that delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Please share your thoughts to start that conversation…

I Have a Confession…

Dec 02, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

The defining characteristic of post-Christian culture is a belief that mankind is good and God is bad.  Accusing the Lord of the greater “sin” for letting bad things happen to presumably “good” people obviates any perceived need for forgiveness through His Son.  Moral relativism recalibrates the compass (a conscience pointing to Jesus) that God instilled in every human being.  Secularism eliminates any standards by substituting a comparative claim to a morally higher ground than God and those who follow Him.

Now on the defensive, churches and Christians took the bait and responded in the worst possible way, fueling the fire by claiming moral superiority of “Team Jesus” over “Team World”.  As a result, media lies in wait to pounce on any opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of players and coaches on the opposing team.  A vastly better approach to awaken America from its collective conscience coma and possibly spark revival is a (seemingly ironic) preemptive strike…

The Principle of Confession

The stark division in our nation today between those who place all their faith in mankind and those who trust in Jesus is about whose version of “truth” is better.  However, Scripture consistently awards the victory to whoever confesses they are worse.  Our proud American culture sees confession as losing, but abject humility always triumphs over self-righteous pride in God’s economy…

  • Woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears exalted over cynical Pharisee (Luke 7:38-39)
  • Repentant tax collector Zacchaeus exalted over disbelieving crowd (Luke 19:1-10)
  • Apologetic prodigal son exalted over jealous older brother (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Traitor crying out for mercy exalted over condescending religious leader (Luke 18:9-14)
  • Servant-minded sheep exalted over self-centered goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Dependent children exalted over self-sufficient adults (Luke 18:15-17)
  • Woman caught in adultery exalted over her accusers (John 8:3-11)
  • Reluctant, meek Moses exalted over arrogant, hard-hearted Pharoah (Exodus 3:11)
  • Remorseful David exalted over obstinate Saul (Psalm 51:1-17)

The list goes on and on throughout the Bible of those rewarded for confessing their weaknesses and others derided for concealing them.  “Look at how bad I am!” wins every time over “Look what we did!”  Jesus modeled humility and taught that the last (servants) will be first and least will be greatest in the Kingdom.  Yet rather than being transparent so that people can see Jesus through us, most Christians hide their flaws, essentially rebuilding the veil Christ tore when He died to pay for our sins.  That pious pretention, in defiance of Jesus’ model and teachings, prompts the negative perception many Americans have today of Christians and churches.

The Power of Confession

Eventually the truth comes out.  Even faithful believers can’t help but do things wrong.  We know human nature is sinful.  Yet most pretend to be “better” than we actually are.  To look good in front of our church friends we’re on our best behavior.  Around non-believers many Christians see being “nice” as the key to evangelism, letting our actions speak for themselves.  Yet that’s a convenient excuse to keep faith private to avoid ridicule, controversy, accountability, or confession.  We don’t want to be held to a higher standard, like refusing to put a “Jesus fish” on the back of our cars in case we cut someone off or honk impatiently.  Most Christians mistakenly think people won’t want to know Jesus if we’re not perfect, when it’s actually our admission that we mess up that attracts people to Him (and to us).

In this Age of Decadence, the trajectory America takes next depends on which religion, Selfism or Christianity, will be first to drop the charade and openly confess their shortcomings.  Youth in our nation worship at the altar of self-reliance and feigned authenticity while rates of teen depression, addiction and suicide soar.  Underneath the world’s façade lies a fragile veneer barely suppressing their guilty consciences.  That’s why secularism works so hard to rid society of any vestige of Christianity lest it puncture the veneer, bringing them face-to-face with the only One who can fill their “God-shaped hole” and offer freedom from guilt.  Meanwhile, Christians erect an unintended blockade at the church door by not openly confessing our sins, making the unchurched wonder if they’re too immoral to be accepted by Jesus.  When believers walk on eggshells, hoping no one discovers any skeletons in our closets that could reflect poorly on Jesus, it actually has the opposite effect – making Him seem less accessible and His followers more hypocritical.  If we would instead convey our deep need for forgiveness, it would encourage non-believers to recognize theirs.

The Practice of Confession

Humble confession is central to every aspect of our walk with the Lord and critical for effectively living out our mission in this world…

  • Prayer – Approaching our loving Father with reverence, thankfulness and honesty (James 5:16)
  • Evangelism – Public profession requires personal confession (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
  • Salvation – Confession is a precursor to forgiveness and justification (1 John 1:9)
  • Compassion – “Washing feet” as servants compelled by love levels the playing field (John 13:1-17)
  • Generosity – Admitting we’re only stewards and not owners deflects glory to God for our giving (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Discipleship – Accountability and authenticity are not one-way streets (John 13:34–35)

Faithful practice of those spiritual disciplines by the power of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for bridging the divide in America between those who trust in mankind and those whose faith is in God.  Both sides of that debate have dug in their heels, unwilling to confess their faults, afraid giving any ground would involve compromise.  As a result, Christian conservatives and secular progressives see each other as arrogant.  No one likes arrogant people.  Humility is foundational to Christianity but antithetical to Selfism, so it’s on believers to take the first step to break through relational barriers if we are to have any chance of pointing our society back toward Christ.

The Plan for Confession

Taking the initiative to show our cards, beating humanism to the punch by revealing our flaws (before they do), requires shifting focus from what divides to what unites us all – an eternal soul, a sinful nature, and a conscience.  Eternity and awareness of sin are fixtures in every heart and mind, no matter how hard anyone tries to deny their existence.  Yet the emotion that accompanies current hot button issues has kept churches and Christians from seeing that those who don’t know Jesus are “lost sheep”, suffering in that denial.  It wouldn’t take much to awaken those dormant longings and offer what they’re so desperately looking for – a true identity, available only to children of our loving Father.  But seizing the opportunity will necessitate wildly countercultural acts of humility and sacrifice on our part…

  • Stop professing without confessing, otherwise we look like celebrities endorsing a product they don’t believe in or use themselves
  • Admit that keeping our faith “private” is really a cover to avoid scrutiny and confession, because cultural Christians speak of everything else they love (except for Jesus)
  • Brag only about our Savior and how badly we need Him, not about any accomplishments
  • Never couch our identity in a church or denomination, as if our faith rests in earthly affiliations rather than an eternal Savior and heavenly Father
  • Distance from political parties and candidates, not risking alienating those who will never agree until they meet Jesus and experience His forgiveness
  • Disassociate from any groups that could make it appear we’re brainlessly adopting ideology rather than fully dependent on Jesus for direction
  • Recognize swallowing pride and unveiling weaknesses is the key to knocking down barriers, making Jesus seem accessible, and countering accusations of hypocrisy
  • Don’t lose touch with your own sinfulness and “sinners” by always hanging around “good” churchgoers
  • Call out sin within the church, acting as a whistleblower if no one else speaks up, so the church at least adheres to the standard it tries to apply to those outside the “4 walls”
  • Be the first to admit you’re wrong and eager to give credit to others
  • Let the contrast of the Lord’s bright light of love illuminate the darkness through mind-blowing acts of kindness

Walking this path means drowning out the noise of a culture that in the name of tolerance demands conformance to the fallacy that sin does not exist, which we combat not by accusing others of sin but by confessing our own.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you and your church willing to boast in your weakness to highlight Christ’s strength?

America’s Collective Conscience Coma

Nov 11, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

The Lord’s signposts directing traffic to Himself are found on all of life’s roads.  The beauty of creation, the “coincidence” of God-incidents, the emptiness of worldliness, the desperation of disasters, and the inevitability of death all point toward the Father.  Even more compelling, yet perhaps most often ignored, is the GPS of a conscience God was gracious enough to provide us when we wandered off in the Garden of Eden.

Nowhere in life are we more distant from the Father, less likely to find our way home, than when we no longer acknowledge mankind’s sinful human nature and successfully snuff out our consciences.  Without those flashing signals, a key component of the Father’s guidance system, we risk running off into a ditch when temptations and distractions come our way.  Jesus came to heal those who knew they were sick, not the self-righteous without any sense of their own depravity.  Christians and non-believers alike can lose touch with their need for Jesus, gradually quelling their consciences, convinced by conscienceless voices that they’re pretty good people.

A Fully Functioning Conscience

It is possible to have a conscience that is untainted by worldly influences, but only through faithful obedience to God’s Word.  Paul declared on many occasions that his conscience was “clear”.  Martin Luther boldly proclaimed at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Here I stand, I can do no other.”

A Christian’s conscience becomes defiled when it is diluted by beliefs and morality contrary to Scripture.  Many churches today teach that personal transformation and sanctification are not necessary, substituting dutiful compliance with religious obligations – the same myth Paul and Martin Luther spent their lives debunking.  On the other extreme, a hyperactive conscience can push believers away from their faith, forgetting the power of God’s grace, allowing the guilt of sin to convince them they are no longer welcome in His family.  Our Father’s love trumps shame but also demands obedience.

For non-Christians, receptivity to the Gospel hinges largely on whether they are still clinging to conscience or if it can be awakened within them.  Repeating sin for long enough eventually represses remorse, self-justifying until good is called evil and evil good.  Yet I find hope in the fact that many professed atheists attend “church” each week on this blog’s Facebook page, repeating trite arguments presumably to allay their own consciences or possibly hoping to be persuaded to believe.  If any vestige of a conscience does still exist, it can be revived by life-altering challenges, undeniable miracles, unconditional compassion, and humble confession – all powerful demonstrations of God’s holiness, exposing suppressed sinfulness (by comparison).  In contrast, latent consciences retrench further when Christians pit Team Jesus against Team World, as if being forgiven makes us “better” when we are in just as much need of grace.

The air war many churches conduct, dropping verbal bombs on those breaking laws of a God they don’t worship, advances the mission of powerful forces that are successfully convincing our culture that their consciences should be clear, obviating any need for forgiveness…

  • Tolerance (of sin) is the highest virtue
  • Pursuit of happiness is justification for practically anything
  • Traditional values are outdated and irrelevant
  • Religion is about oppression and control
  • Christian leaders throughout our nation’s history were immoral
  • Science and intellect can solve all our problems
  • Secondary educators know better than parents how to raise their kids
  • College students must be taught not just how to think, but what to think
  • Government can be trusted for (financial) provision and (physical) healing
  • Activism for a (socially acceptable) cause is the meaning of life

Overcoming conscience typically requires an outside force applying pressure or reassurance that, “It’s ok, everybody’s doing it.”  The objective behind wiping consciences clean, selling the lie that human nature is good, is to engender faith in politicians, institutions and corporations who live by an enlightened society’s principles.  Securing that trust translates into profits, power, and the opportunity to one day turn the tables on an unsuspecting populace.

The Church’s Conscience

America is increasingly building its collective conscience on the sinking sand of its own righteousness and not God’s.  Our culture is influencing churches more than churches are influencing culture.  Many spiritual orphans miss out on the love of our Father because churches haven’t practiced what they’ve preached when it comes to conscience…

  • Rarely addressing the topic of sin boldly from the pulpit
  • For those who do speak of sin, few confront it directly within their congregations
  • Gossiping about sin behind backs rather than discussing face-to-face
  • Never following Matthew 18 fully, sharing a member’s unrepentant sin with the whole body
  • Some teaching that it is alright to live bad because God’s grace is so good
  • Violating a new believer’s conscience, leading them to assume certain sin is acceptable
  • Feeling better about ourselves as we spend more time with churchgoers who “don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do”

As Christians quell their consciences, desensitized to God’s hatred of sin for which Christ suffered so greatly, they more closely resemble the rest of the world.  Studies reveal most believers don’t stand out from the crowd.  Yet authentic disciples should act and sound completely different, called to…

  • die to self while humanity celebrates self
  • live for eternity while “lost sheep” live for the here and now
  • love and serve unconditionally while the worldly demand reciprocity
  • be children of a loving Father while the fatherless search for identity

When the house of cards of Selfism crumbles, and it will, consciences will be awakened.  We pray the consciences of believers will also be awakened by then so we’ll be recognizable, appear approachable to repentant prodigals, and be ready to give account for the hope within us.

Culture’s Conscience

The most compelling arguments our media, universities and secular leaders use to extinguish consciences is that God is bad and so are His followers.  Discrediting the Creator is just as effective as claiming He doesn’t exist in eliminating any responsibility for obeying Him (or any guilt over disobedience).  To sear consciences, mankind’s measuring stick for morality only needs to be higher than what they paint God’s to be.  Avowed atheists ironically spend a good deal of time pointing out the “sins” of a God they profess not to believe in, while confessing no sins of their own.

  • Claiming God is bad because He…
    • Allows and/or causes terrible things to happen to “good” people
    • Made human nature bad and then eternally tortures anyone who slips up
    • Tempts mankind to violate His rules so He can punish them
    • Slaughtered “innocent” women and children in the Old Testament
  • Claiming Christians are bad because they…
    • Think everyone else is going to Hell
    • Pretend to be good but hate those different than them
    • Discount “virtues” of those who haven’t chosen their narrow path
    • Oppressed “innocent” victims throughout history

They then ask, “What kind of heartless psychopaths must Christians be to believe in a God like that?”  To avoid those mischaracterizations of God and Christ-followers, many pastors have stopped teaching from the Old Testament or reinterpret Scripture to adapt to cultural norms, lowering standards for member morality.  But playing defense ignores the underlying motive behind society’s assertion that its moral code is superior to Christianity’s – the goal and challenge of repressing their consciences.  Sustaining their delusion requires keeping the truth of human nature and their need for Jesus as far away as possible – as well as consumption of a steady diet of people-positive messaging.  While living the American dream of freedom from restraint and remorse, guilt and shame are always nipping at their heels.  Being anywhere near God’s holiness threatens to turn on a light they would rather remain extinguished.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post, we’ll discuss a biblical plan for restoring one of God’s greatest gifts – a moral compass within each of us pointing directly to Jesus.  How would coming out of our collective conscience coma spark revival within our churches and our nation?

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Oct 28, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

In God’s grace, He’s littered life’s highways with street signs pointing back to Him.  It takes a tremendous amount of distraction and cognitive dissonance to ignore creation, conscience, the “God-shaped hole” in our hearts, and our impending demise.  Rather than follow the signs, non-believers put on blinders, speeding down the road, rarely looking too far ahead.  To obscure the “bridge out” warning off in the distance, our relativistic culture discredits Christianity based on the exclusivity of our claim that Jesus built the only bridge to the Father.

No matter how hard they try to ignore the flashing signals, something is not quite right…

  • as spiritual “orphans”, not children of our Father, they search for identity in political, social, occupational, or sexual preferences
  • the dysphoria of being “fatherless” leads to what we observe among America’s youth today – depression, escapism, promiscuity, addiction, and suicide
  • despite appearances, the fields are ripe for harvest because deep down few believe “my authentic self” is genuine or “my own truth” is viable

Our caution signs are going unnoticed because most Christians don’t understand the core assumption behind unbelief – their premise that human nature is inherently good.  Any strategy for reaching the “fatherless” (no identity) and “faithless” (no purpose) must account for the key to Satan’s roadmap – the lie that mankind is “flawless” (no sin).

The Football Field

Media portrays Christians as self-righteous (feeling superior), ignorant (rejecting science) and unkind (lacking compassion).  Meanwhile, Christians tend to view the world as evil (less moral), uneducated (academically), and misguided (malleable).  Both assessments contain elements of truth but miss the underlying reality behind our division – the fundamental disagreement over who is good and who is bad…humans or God.  That dividing line is what separates us, tearing our nation apart.

As long as Christians misinterpret the basis for the direction society is heading, flawed assumptions will continue to generate bad strategies for reaching it.  Imagine the chaos of a football game where neither team, on both sides of the ball, knows the playbook.  The field of play is the debate over whether or not humanity needs a Savior.  The division is so pronounced that it’s formed two teams competing head-to-head, trying to advance the ball down the field in a game they don’t fully understand.  No Christian would be surprised by the actions and behaviors of contemporary society if we realized they are attempts to conceal the traffic signals by elevating mankind to the point of eliminating our reliance on God for grace and forgiveness…

  • Position government and science as savior, the ultimate sources of funding and healing
  • Defer to society’s values, not those taught by our fathers or our Father in heaven
  • Break down “traditional” families by conflating genders and discounting biblical marriage
  • Surrender to the authority and ideals of political parties and professors, not Scripture
  • Subscribe to characterizations of historical Christian leaders as bad and today’s enlightened leaders as good
  • Trust in the goodness of people to do the “right” thing:
    • Individuals know their actual gender better than Obstetricians (or God)
    • The Taliban won’t slaughter innocent people
    • The unintentionally pregnant will do what’s best with “their” bodies (presuming the secular notion that we “own” our bodies)
    • Crime won’t increase if police are removed
    • Drugs and trafficking won’t cross an open border
    • Criminals won’t commit more crimes if they are freed
    • Everyone will make good decisions on how to spend government handouts
    • Canceling the “intolerant” or feigning offense will demonstrate our “goodness”

Framing human nature as good “frees” wide receivers to run whatever routes make them happy, unaware they’re hurting themselves and their teammates, dragging them further from their Creator and toward dependence on those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

The Teams

This is certainly not a game, it’s not a competition, and it’s not about beating anyone else.  Christians want to see all come to an intimate knowledge of our Father.  Humanity’s universal fallen state should have put all players on the same team, looking in the mirror, not lining up to tackle individuals and groups with whom they disagree.  But we’ve engaged in the game of defining who is good and who is bad.  By labeling and vilifying the other “team”, both sides strap on helmets for a winner-take-all contest.

By appearing to think we’re “better” than “them”, a “Team World” has formed, sensing the self-righteousness and condemnation of “Team Jesus”.  Over time, Christians and churches turned the ball over, making non-believers feel morally superior.  Secularism is now on offense and Christians are back on their heels, watching “Team World” rapidly advance its agenda toward the endzone.  Unfortunately, we’ve had the wrong offensive strategy for decades, following a playbook designed by offensive coordinators who didn’t recognize the common ground all humans share – our sinful nature.  We made players on “Team World” feel judged, flagging them for committing penalties when they didn’t know our rules.

Ironically, Jesus was frequently accused of fraternizing with players (“sinners”) on the opposing team, showing compassion because he knew no one was truly “good”.  Our head coach wasn’t about winning or losing, but sorrow and service to help “lost sheep” find their way to the Father.  Yet many churches hold pep rallies, emphasizing “victory” and reassuring followers they “win” in the end.  As a result, players run out on the field feeling pride and comfort in being on “Team Jesus”.  Or recognizing we’re playing defense now, Christians became defensive.  There’s no need to defend our faith – God is perfectly capable.  Jesus turned the other cheek rather than defending Himself.  The best defense is always a good offense, but we’ve been giving out directions to our churches, not to the Father.

Instead of making disciples and showing compassion, we threw into double coverage by reducing evangelism to pitching non-believers on our team’s way of life, rules or church (inviting friends and family to the “game” next Sunday morning).  The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that churchgoers didn’t know the playbook.  When the assistant coaches (pastors) weren’t there, the players didn’t know what to do.  Choosing defense over offense, we defaulted to self-preservation instead of self-sacrifice, not serving as pastors of our neighborhoods, ready to give account for the hope that is in us.

The Playbook

Watching a football game, we believe we understand the coach’s strategies.  On the surface it seems our team is going nowhere handing the ball off, refusing to open up the passing game.  But frustrated fans don’t realize the patient, “ground and pound” approach is going to pay off in the 4th quarter.  America and possibly mankind is in the 4th quarter and the world’s defense would be wearing down by now if Christians and churches had stuck with the running game of disciple-making and compassion, demonstrating the Father’s unconditional love.  A “ground attack” engaging millions in loving acts of service would have weakened defenses by eliminating the anger Christians display toward non-believers and disarming those who revile Christians.

Our “air attack” has been overthrowing (verbal) bombs receivers could never catch.  Christians often appear as though they only see non-believers as sinful, positioning “Team Jesus” as superior to “Team World”.  We wouldn’t be responding with anger or surprise if we associated their behaviors with a distorted view of human nature.  We would feel sorry for them and share the Gospel, realizing their actions are a byproduct of an identity crisis resulting from their detachment from our Father.  So today non-believers find more acceptance and (a cheap imitation of) “love” by aligning with those who judge no one (because they don’t want to be judged).  They don’t feel welcome on “Team Jesus” because we aren’t following the strategy of our head coach, demonstrating the Father’s love and humbly confessing our own depravity.

As long as Christians aren’t being discipled in churches, thoroughly studying their playbook – the Bible – we’ll continue making silly plays.  Jesus’ strategy was not designed to “win” against “Team World” but to win “lost sheep” to Himself.  But centering the practice of faith around buildings, weekend services and “church chores” encourages lining up on the other side of the ball from those unwilling to join our team.  Conventional methods for steering non-believers toward the Father, like invitations to a Sunday service, are challenging in a culture increasingly distrustful of “Team Jesus” and institutions in general, including churches.  The Great Commission in post-Christian America requires preparing individual believers to build intentional relationships and provide clear directions to our heavenly Father, not our church’s address.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we should work to get everyone on the same team by confessing our sinful nature, helping unchurched players buy into their own sinfulness.

It’s Your Turn…

How would our nation be different if everyone had a shared, accurate understanding of human nature?  How would your church’s response to our culture change if the entire congregation knew the real reason America is heading in the wrong direction?

Proving Christians Actually Know God

Aug 05, 21
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

Christians anxiously await the return of Jesus.  But none want to hasten the next advent by repeating what prompted the Lord’s first two earth-shattering interventions.  Malachi, the book immediately preceding the New Testament, reveals that it was mankind’s ignorance of who God is that led to Christ’s first advent.  Jesus cleared up the confusion that had gradually pervaded all of humanity since the flood, even among God’s chosen people, about His true nature.

No one knows the Lord’s timing but seeing how rapidly our world is turning from Him, it would not be surprising if the second coming happens on our watch.  If so and if history is any guide, then many of those who profess to know Jesus intimately will discover they have been either misrepresenting or misunderstanding who He is.

Although non-believers don’t worship Jesus, they observe Christians and churches to see if our actions and behaviors align with what they have heard of Jesus and what they imagine an infinite Creator would be like.  Even avowed atheists and agnostics have a conception of who God, if He existed, would be.  Many rejected Christianity at least in part because their conclusion (based on our misalignment with their expectations) is that we must not know God.

If There Really Were a God, Then…

Persuading the world that Jesus is Lord is largely contingent on Christians living as if we truly believed God is as loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and holy as non-believers would envision Him to be.

  1. If there really were a God, His interests would supersede ours – The will of a God capable of speaking the universe into existence would be much more important than the desires of those who follow Him.  Our indebtedness to a God so loving that He forgives all our offenses by paying our penalty Himself would be so overwhelming that we would pursue only His glory, not our own.  Instead, studies show non-believers don’t feel Christians are less self-interested than their non-Christian neighbors and coworkers.
  2. If there really were a God, we would seek to please Him at all costs – Our thankfulness for the generosity of an unconditionally loving Savior would convince Christians to forego creature comforts to serve Him and sacrifice popularity to lead people toward Him.  However, churchgoers are generally reserved about vocalizing their beliefs in social and professional settings, careful not to offend anyone, content to be kind and well-liked by only bringing up “religion” if someone asks.
  3. If there really were a God, Heaven and Hell, we would be active in sharing our faith – Ironically, although our culture say it is wrong to push personal faith on others, the fact that few Christians do convinces them we don’t actually buy what we’re (not) selling.  If we fully grasped the gravity of eternal life or damnation, it would heighten our sense of urgency to share the Gospel, not just our views on politics and morality, with friends and family.
  4. If there really were a God, He would be perfect but merciful toward those who aren’t – A holy, almighty God would have a standard of performance and perfection that humans could not possibly attain.  Non-Christians cannot fathom how an omniscient God who sees the whole person, not just their sin, could be as judgmental as many of His followers appear to be.  And if Jesus had no sin, they know we have even less reason to be judgmental.  So they assume there is no God, and therefore no standard against which to disprove their presumed “goodness”, obviating their need for Jesus.
  5. If there really were a God, Christians would love everyone, including one another – Existence of an everlasting God would mean humans have an everlasting soul.  Non-Christians wonder why Christ-followers focus so much on outward words and actions when they preach that those who don’t know Jesus are (inwardly) lost souls made in God’s image.  Even more so, they watch the body of Christ divide over what appears to be petty disagreements as if our God wasn’t big enough to be worth uniting around a common mission.
  6. If there really were a God, we would know more about His Word – If the Bible were truly words spoken by the Creator directly to us (which it is) then how can Christians know so few Bible verses, read it so infrequently, study it so casually, and be unable to adeptly defend its authenticity?  Our biblical illiteracy has caused countless people to doubt our faith and turn elsewhere (e.g. to professors, politicians and the Internet) for “truth”.
  7. If there really were a God, Christians would cling relentlessly to their beliefs – Non-believers enjoy tempting Christians to join the crowd in doing wrong, hoping we’ll give in, but secretly they admire us and are attracted to Christianity when we refuse to relent.  When Christians change their viewpoints, adopt worldly perspectives and compromise biblical truths, society breathes a sigh of relief, now having validation that the beliefs we once held must not have been true.
  8. If there really were a God, He would not adapt to suit our preferences – Although modern society says Christianity has failed to keep up with the times, deep down non-believers know that a God powerful enough to form the cosmos would not evolve with the vagaries of culture.  So when they see Christians and churches influenced by culture more than they influence culture, it doesn’t pull them toward faith but pushes them away.
  9. If there really were a God, He would care deeply about poverty and justice – Although non-Christians deny that Jesus was God, nearly all agree that He was caring and compassionate.  They also question whether there can be a loving God if so many bad things happen to “good” people.  A God they would consider worshipping would have a keen sense of fairness and heart for those less fortunate.  They see those qualities in Jesus but not always in Christians, who too often fail to live and love like Him.
  10. If there really were a God, we would trust Him for our provision – Christians claim the Lord of all has a plan for our lives and far greater insight about the future.  Yet when challenges like a pandemic come, society sees most take matters into their own hands, choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice for others.  We cite Scripture promising the Lord will give us all we need in this life and hope for the next one, but non-believers dismiss our faith when Christians insert their own plans in place of God’s.

None of those principles are about conforming to culture’s expectations of who God should be but aligning ourselves with the Lord’s expectations of His children.  What we say and do as Christians reflect and exhibit characteristics of God that are either true or not true of Him.  If we do not live in accordance with who God truly is, which Jesus modeled in the flesh, then we prove we do not actually know God and inhibit others from coming to know Him as well.

It’s Your Turn

Which of those 10 do you find most challenging?  How have contemporary church growth models contributed to the growing perception in America that God must not be real if most Christians are so casual about their faith? (the subject of our next blog post)