Tag Archives: Christmas

Is Church or State More Responsible for Helping the Poor?

Sep 17, 20
JMorgan
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No one earns salvation.  Jesus offers an unmerited gift, not an obligatory wage.  However, even a careful reading of His parables about the sheep and goats and the rich man and poor beggar can leave the impression that our eternal fate hinges on whether we ignore the poor.  The Greatest of All goes so far as to identify Himself with the “least of these”, implying we walk away from eternal fellowship with Him when we callously pass by the destitute.

For nearly 2,000 years, churches took those warnings seriously.  The Church was the food bank and homeless shelter – founded our hospitals and schools.  Yet today in America, government and ministries occupy the front lines of compassion.  We debate which political party is more concerned about the poor because the Church abdicated its central role in poverty alleviation, giving government the opportunity to usurp that mantle.  In other words, the question is not whether liberals or conservatives care more about those less fortunate – the question is whether the private sector (e.g. churches and ministries) or government should bear primary responsibility.  That philosophical difference lies largely in whether we can rely on the voluntarily benevolence of those most able to donate to help the poor or whether taxes must be imposed to compel “generosity” to fund state-sponsored anti-poverty programs.

It’s worth considering whether our nation would need a safety net if Christians in America understood the importance Jesus placed on aiding those who are suffering.  The federal government can provide help but not hope.  The Church was entrusted by God with the keys to the Kingdom, the only enduring solution to material and spiritual poverty.

What part has not following Jesus’ example of leading with compassion played in the Church’s well-documented decline in growth, influence and public perception?  If Christ, and not Christians, were truly in charge then churches would realize that sermons without service are essentially attempts to “outpreach” Jesus.  He had the perfect words yet opened ears by first demonstrating His love – feeding and healing before telling people who He is.  If we saw church as 24×7 and not an event, then the work churches do for families in need wouldn’t be seasonal and transactional, but year-round and dignified.

How Jesus Feels About the Poor

Jesus said we’ll always have the poor with us and cautioned His disciples to focus on the Bridegroom while He was still among them.  Christ left His bride, the Church, to carry on His mission “to proclaim good news to the poor”.  Those were His first public words, the declaration of His purpose – the reason He came.  Likewise, the opening salvo of His Beatitudes was “Blessed are you who are poor”, unveiling the irony of God’s economy where (spiritual and material) poverty can bring (eternal) riches, and vice versa.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He identified with the poor, urged His followers to care for them and flipped the script on the wealthy, stressing that the poor were more likely to be…

  1. Humble – Struggles and pain in this life make the poor more receptive to the message that they are sinners in need of a Savior (Matthew 5:3)
  2. Saved – Redeemed thinking sees oneself as unworthy and incapable, thoughts not typically associated with the wealthy (Matthew 19:23)
  3. Attentive – Acquiring and maintaining assets increases busyness and self-sufficiency (Luke 14:13, 21)
  4. Kingdom-minded – Those without treasures on earth are more likely to focus on storing them up in heaven, where “many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30)
  5. Christ-like – Jesus self-selected poverty, rejecting money and power (2 Corinthians 8:9)
  6. Persecuted – Christians in many nations today are suffering because they were the first to lose their jobs and the last to receive support during the pandemic (Matthew 5:12)
  7. Prisoners – The rich who reject Jesus are less likely to be imprisoned because they don’t experience hunger, inadequate legal representation or persecution (Matthew 25:43)

The affection and affiliation Jesus felt with the poor explains why He often implied that generosity toward them is the key to being “cleansed”.

What Churches are Doing About the Poor

Most churches rely on seasonal outreach events as their primary delivery vehicle for compassion.  Yet, without relational follow-up that engages families in plotting a course to a better future, those events actually do more harm than good…

  • enabling members to “check the box”, not transforming the congregation or community
  • perpetuating poverty by increasing dependence without providing tools for the under-resourced to escape their plight
  • failing to recognize the value and respect the dignity of the economically poor
  • increasing cynicism because churches retreat into their “4 walls” when the holidays are over while the poor are still hungry and hurting in January and February

America’s church growth models cater to consumers rather than challenging disciples to adopt Jesus’ mandate to serve the poor.  As a result, very few congregations are moving the needle on poverty in their communities.  The vast majority of churches…

  1. Underemphasize its Importance – Most pastors gloss over the parables and sidestep the verses referenced above that on the surface appear to link salvation to being and/or serving the poor
  2. Position Care-Share as Either-Or – Some church leaders expect a free pass by delineating between “social” and “gospel”, claiming they’re focused on the latter – but then do neither
  3. Celebrate their Kindness – Despite doing little to address poverty, and in some cases doing more harm than good, churches pat themselves on the back for their holiday outreach events
  4. Don’t Model Generosity – Leaders ask members to tithe but reinvest less than 1% in serving the poor, doing so in “convenient” ways like backpack drives, meal packing events or service days
  5. Underutilize their Resources – Facilities sitting idle for most of the week could be used to deliver career counseling, financial management classes or other services for struggling families
  6. Live in the World’s Economy – Teaching Kingdom economics, that poor is good and rich is (usually) bad, stays true to Jesus’ countercultural message but is a risky proposition for a church
  7. Lack Discipleship Depth – Fully grasping what is not intuitive and practicing what seems impractical requires a deep understanding of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s power

Meet The Need’s mission is to “mobilize and equip the Church to lead millions more to Christ by meeting those in need exactly where they are”.  We’ve been providing software and services to churches and ministries for nearly 20 years to enable them to bring more help and hope to the poor.  Long ago, we realized the truth of the adage “sell people what they want, but give them what they need.”  Churches weren’t looking for innovation to better serve the poor, but we built those systems anyway, became a non-profit and give our platforms away at no charge.

How Churches Could Drastically Reduce Poverty

COVID-19 is increasing the number of Americans who live below the poverty line.  Our churches have a tremendous opportunity right now to reverse the decline in impact, attendance and perception that preceded the pandemic.  The worst decision in the history of the Church in America was to separate compassion from evangelism.  Now is the time to return to following Jesus’ model and mantra that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him.

  1. Identify with Jesus and the Poor – As a body, humbly aspire to be “poor in Spirit”, seeing all of mankind as eternal souls made in God’s image and anyone’s misfortune as an opportunity to “proclaim good news to the poor
  2. Help in Ways that Help – Increase dignity, not the shame inherent in conveying that the rich are coming to rescue the poor.  For example, Meet The Need is rolling out an Artificial Intelligence platform churches can use to empower families to build their own lasting circles of support.
  3. Equip Members for Ministry – Gen Z cares about the poor and justice, but churches can’t reach them without innovating online because that’s where they live.  New prayer, care and share solutions extend the reach and impact of churches well beyond brick-and-mortar and Sundays.
  4. Set Scriptural Goals – Track ambitious, Kingdom-advancing metrics like “reducing material and spiritual poverty rates by X% in our community by 2025”
  5. Link Compassion and Discipleship – Like the exemplary church, The Salvation Army, establish terms of service so limited resources are invested wisely in those looking for more than handouts
  6. Don’t Get Lured into Politics – Follow Jesus in “giving back to Caesar what is Ceasar’s” and reclaim what churches rightfully own, the lead role in (material and spiritual) poverty alleviation
  7. Remember the Forgotten Poor – Keep in mind that most verses in the New Testament about collections were for giving to persecuted Christians who faced abject poverty and prison

America’s pews and online worship services are filled with enough untapped resources to eradicate poverty in America.  Government should fill the gaps, but that gap is growing because Christians only donate 2.5% of their income and 37% of evangelicals don’t give to church at all.  When churches in turn give away less than 1% of that, it is clear churchgoers and leaders don’t grasp the gravity of Jesus’ dire warnings to help the poor.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you and your church alleviating, perpetuating or ignoring poverty?

The New Era of 24×7 Church

Sep 03, 20
JMorgan
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Our short attention culture demands a time-boxed and carefully choreographed worship service akin to “fast food”.  Yet making church more “convenient” by improving physical facilities while utilizing them less hasn’t been a solid financial, operating or discipleship model.  The days of Sunday School before worship and fellowship lunches afterward are long gone.  Businesses and service providers adapted to culture by diverting energy to more efficient and effective online options for training employees, reaching out to consumers and empowering brand advocates – 24×7.  The corollary for churches would have been web-based discipleship for members (i.e. Kingdom “employees”), digital compassion-oriented outreach to the unchurched (i.e. prospective “consumers”) and online evangelism tools (i.e. “advocates” for Jesus) – all week long.

Yet even the most innovative churches have implemented a small fraction of the digital capabilities available to them – and only those supporting a definition of churchgoers as the “consumers” rather than as the embodiment of “church”.  Streaming a weekly service, a web site, online giving and e-newsletters are primarily geared toward growing and sustaining the institution, not building and deploying disciples.

The past few months have revealed the digital divide between churches and most other facets of our society.  Lower-cost channels have long been available for churches to engage existing members, reach more people and impact the community between Sundays.  The world has gone digital – for good reason.  People want to plug in to dynamic content anytime, anywhere.  They want to run a quick search and find out what they need to know in an instant.  They want to stay in touch remotely with those they don’t have time to travel to go see – through FaceTime, WhatsApp or Zoom.  But churches don’t accommodate many of those evolving needs, still keeping everyone on their own rigid weekend schedules.

The Digital Alarm Clock

The forced migration to online channels during the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the Church’s near-exclusive brick-and-mortar orientation.  Commercial real estate is likely to suffer post-pandemic because companies in many industries have realized the benefits of remote workforces.  Likewise, many churchgoers have realized the benefits of tuning into any church they want to experience – those with a better quality of music and more dynamic speakers.  The downsides of focus on sustaining a physical building rather than innovating in discipleship, compassion and evangelism have been apparent during Coronavirus.  When churchgoers were relegated to their homes and couldn’t invite friends to the building, most were too concerned with self-preservation and ill-equipped to share their faith with their neighbors.  Now we’re learning that nearly 1/3 of practicing Christians in America did not stream online church services in August (Barna).  Those facts make it all the more surprising that the primary emphasis of church consultants and technology vendors remains providing high-quality worship services online.

COVID-19 could have been a wake-up call to a Church that was already in decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception.  Instead what we’re likely to see is simply a shift from a Walmart “store” experience to a web-based Amazon option.  Do We Really Want Church to Return to Normal or does the Post-Pandemic Church need revival?  For example, studies report the challenges churches are having reaching Gen Z, who are glued to their phones and tablets, expecting interactions and messaging measured in milliseconds on Snapchat or TikTok.  Driving to a building on a weekly basis to sit through a sermon they could find in bite-sized chunks on the web is of little interest to most high school or college students who are aging out of youth group.  Investing in improving facilities is a poor use of capital for churches who would like to access future generations.

Instead there’s a tremendous opportunity right now to expand God’s Kingdom through web-based multiplication instead of terrestrial addition.  The key to seeing the big picture is asking the right questions, not based on conventional wisdom around how churches should operate, but bold enough to think outside the proverbial box…

  • Not “How can we keep momentum going if fewer show up on Sundays?” but “How can we equip members to be more effective for Christ wherever they are throughout the week?”
  • Not “How can we keep people from leaving and window shopping elsewhere?” but “How can we extend the church’s reach to more people who don’t know the Lord?”
  • Not “How can we use online capabilities to transition people from Crowd to Community to Core?” but “How can we build online capabilities to practice Agape love better within our congregation?”
  • Not “How can we leverage our production capacity to turn this into a growth opportunity?” but “How can we leverage online tools to demonstrate God’s love to a hurting world?”

The first set of questions seeks to take advantage of digital to maintain the status quo and ensure the institution’s survival, while the second considers how digital could open new doors for Kingdom impact.

Digital: The Great Equalizer

The average church has 125 members, unable to match the facilities and entertainment value megachurches can offer in children’s ministries, music and high-profile speakers.  The high cost of operating Church as We Know It (CAWKI) – seminaries, structures, staff and sermons – create economies of scale that benefit larger churches.  The debt, fixed costs and overhead tied to those investments entraps and ensnares them in order to keep the machine running.  Many of the thousands of churches I’ve worked with over the past 20 years delayed local missions work until after building campaigns – and then often never got back around to it.  Earthly obligations can inhibit heavenly ministry.

The playing field suddenly equals when reach and impact are not determined by the size of a building or the number of people on staff.  Smaller churches can “compete” with megachurches in discipleship, evangelism and compassion through web-based channels – appearing much bigger than they actually are.   Pastors who have something important to say aren’t constrained by physical facilities.  In fact, if young kids can produce YouTube videos that are viewed by millions, a 75 member church can certainly create content of comparable quality.  With some creativity, any church leader can lead an unlimited number of women, men and children within and outside its “4 walls” into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Knocking the walls down clears the path to making and empowering disciples who personify “church” so that we don’t repeat the mistake of recent history – seeing faithful churchgoers miss opportunities to live out prayer, care and share with their neighbors.

Rethinking “Online” Church

America’s churches stand at a crossroads.  The vast majority instituted or beefed up online worship service capabilities but are praying COVID-19 will end quickly so they can return to the only version of church they ever knew.  Those less myopic see this as a “wilderness” moment, pushing pause at an already perilous time for the Church, inviting leaders to reroute toward a better future.  The pandemic is a chance to redefine “church” around people and not a place, which will require a radical shift in priorities more aligned with Kingdom goals than institutional survival.  It will call for a significant reallocation of church budgets, although overall expenditures will go down as emphasis transitions from buildings and weekend services to more efficient and effective means of equipping and empowering congregations all week long.  No aspect of CAWKI should be left untouched – reconsidering how churches communicate, connect, convene and collaborate – and taking advantage of today’s increasingly digital culture…

Discipleship

  1. Depth – Self-paced studies and journaling that go well beyond (and apply) sermons
  2. Men’s ministry – Online content and forums that engage men in 1-on-1 or triad discipleship
  3. Women’s ministry – Dedicated social networking channels enabling ladies to share and discuss relevant content from pastors, publications or Pinterest
  4. Young adults – Short, engaging content (e.g. email devotionals) every week for college students and recent grads
  5. House churches – Conduct leadership classes, launch outposts and equip with digital curriculum

Evangelism

  1. Testimonies – Encourage members to share their testimonies with friends on Facebook
  2. Children’s ministry – Produce short, impactful clips for kids through their preferred apps (e.g. TikTok, YouTube) and online parenting classes
  3. Missions – Connect weekly with missionaries across the globe for encouragement and updates
  4. Platform – Pastors create video and written content to build a “following” through multiple channels, increasing the church’s breadth and reach
  5. Small groups – Convert small groups to neighborhood groups that are intentional about praying, caring and sharing Christ with their communities

Compassion

  1. Inside Congregation – Meet The Need is starting beta tests of an Artificial Intelligence app that forms loving circles of support to wrap around families in need
  2. Outside Congregation – Meet The Need built Love Your Neighbor after COVID-19 closed church doors to enable members to post and communicate needs of their neighbors to the church body
  3. Generosity/Finances – Fewer building campaigns and more digital delivery frees up dollars for community impact, but only a Generous Church will redirect those dollars toward compassion

We’ll soon know whether churches revert to centralized (i.e. “Invite, Involve and Invest”) growth models where members are treated as “customers”.  We pray instead they’ll choose to implement many of the above recommendations.

It’s Your Turn…

Has your church moved beyond online worship services and considered how digital channels could open the door to greater depth and breadth, even for a small congregation?

Countering Society’s Attack on the Biblical Family

Aug 20, 20
JMorgan
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Restoration of America’s Christian heritage does not hinge on the upcoming elections.  While we all want to see our nation’s highest offices occupied by faithful believers, there’s a reason why Jesus tells us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”.  Government runs the kingdom of this world, but Jesus leads a greater Kingdom.  Elected officials cannot solve Kingdom problems.  Instead, our Lord set up two earthly constructs to conduct heavenly business – families and churches. Those are the primary institutions God established to carry out the Great Commission.  In other words, transforming our culture into its intended, Christ-centered state starts from the bottom up, not the top down.  As leaders of our families and churches, we bear far greater responsibility for the direction of our nation than our President, Senators or Governors.

No doubt, that’s why Satan is consumed with destroying biological and church families.  Most discipleship is supposed to happen within our homes and through our houses of worship.  Yet, both family units God envisioned are being viciously attacked in today’s culture.  Coordinated campaigns were launched decades ago designed to undermine the biblical composition, roles, authority and allegiance of husbands, wives and children.  Unfortunately, churches counteracted each of those campaigns primarily with their votes and voices, attempting to impose God’s laws on those who don’t acknowledge His existence.

Modeling Agape (unconditional) love is a prerequisite for criticizing any immoral forms of Eros (sexual) and love.  Jesus was merciful toward “sinners” and harsh toward those who judged them.  The Church’s credibility has suffered immensely as it fought each new Eros battle – premarital sex, abortion, gay marriage and then transgenderism – conveying condemnation rather than compassion.  As a result, the Christian community not only lost on all of those fronts, but in the process was complicit in its own decline in public perception.

The path to reinstating the biblical picture of family and the institution of marriage in America is not legislative or judicial.  The buck stops with individual believers taking responsibility for discipling their own children and churches taking more seriously the mandate to disciple their own members.  Jesus repeatedly stressed that the latter was the more important “family” – a united, loving Church that obeys the Great Commandment and Great Commission is “My brother and sister and mother”.  A disciple’s devotion to “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” must pale by comparison to their love for Jesus.  Church families are made up of biological (and foster/adoptive) families who will live out in their own homes what they see modeled in their own church.

Biblical Picture of Family

Jesus came to bring division within households, called many followers to leave their families behind and abandoned His own parents to go to “His Father’s house”.  Yet Jesus validated the sanctity of marriage and command to honor moms and dads.  Society collapses without a solid familial structure in line with God’s will where faithful parents raise up godly children “in the way they should go”…

  1. Marriage – Comprised of a man and a woman (Mark 10:7)
  2. Fidelity – Undying loyalty to one another (Matthew 5:32)
  3. Unity – Alignment via an established chain of command (Ephesians 5:22, 25)
  4. Discipline – Sons and daughters need correction (Hebrews 12:8)
  5. Fatherhood – Dads play a critical role in children’s lives (Ephesians 6:4)
  6. Priorities – Family commitments don’t supersede Christ and compassion (Luke 9:59–62)
  7. Faith – Entire households believe in Jesus and follow Him (Titus 1:6)

Politicians and pastors can’t perform those functions for us.  We must shepherd our own flocks.  However, those who lead our nation and churches are largely to blame for providing ammunition to activists to undermine our Christian heritage by tearing at its underlying foundation – the family unit.

America’s (Re)Definition of Family

Centralizing church around a place, event, pastor and youth group leader has not only led Christians to abdicate their (decentralized) spiritual leadership roles within their own families but has also facilitated pointing fingers out in anger at non-believers whose aim is to break down biblical family constructs.  Rather than empowering and equipping parents, attractional church growth models have increased dependence on a “village” to teach our kids about Jesus.  However, those same “Invite, Involve and Invest” strategies also keep most youth groups from pouring deeply into children, hoping to lure parents by engaging kids in fun and fellowship.  The resulting throngs of cultural Christians lack the depth to grasp that Jesus came to serve and heal the sick, not condemn them.  Those who organize and support anti-family campaigns are no different than the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus gravitated to, offering faith, hope and love.  In other words, defining “church” around a place and not people means most Christians today don’t reflect Jesus’ emphasis on discipleship and compassion, clearing the way for activists and media to have tremendous success in advancing their radical agenda to redefine “family”…

  1. Marriage – Two women or two men are equally qualified to raise children as a man and woman
  2. Fidelity – Personal happiness is paramount, so anyone unhappy in a marriage should leave it
  3. Unity – Partners retain their unique versions of “truth” and feelings should never be suppressed
  4. Discipline – Children need space to find themselves, including their gender and religion, so rather than meddling, trust them to make the right choices
  5. Fatherhood – Genders are interchangeable; it’s sexist to think moms can’t do everything dads can do
  6. Priorities – Sacrifice for kids, even if their activities conflict with church and helping the poor
  7. Faith – It’s immoral to influence or impose your personal worldview on the rest of the family

All of those principles hinge on the premise that human nature is inherently good.  Personal fulfillment is the ultimate objective in the absence of God.  Yet our society is experiencing record rates of teen suicide, depression and drug use.  Misplaced faith in self and human intellect always eventually implodes in on itself – we were made by God to glorify God, not ourselves.  So campaigns to redefine modern families have had to produce a tremendous amount of intensive propaganda over decades to prop up their misguided assertions.

How Churches Can Restore Biblical Families

Jesus established His definition of “family”, the Church, to help maintain order in our chaotic world.  Without any guidelines for our most basis social structure – the biological family – culture crumbles under the weight of divorce and disobedience.  However, earning the equity to speak into that culture such that non-believers will listen requires demonstrating that the biblical model “works” better than their alternatives…

  1. Demonstrate Agape love to those we don’t agree with in the face of their hatred toward “judgmental” Christians
  2. Unite across denominational lines to show anti-family activists and the media that our love for one another eclipses their worldly forms of love
  3. Serve relentlessly and pray incessantly for those who are not part of our family of Christ
  4. Return to intensive, personalized discipleship to combat high divorce and depression statistics among churchgoers
  5. Find common ground with secular society on equity and justice issues, conveying that God (and His followers) care about them too
  6. Patiently wait for their self-centered, godless picture of “family” to eventually flounder and fail, which it will
  7. When that time comes (and even before), share the Good News that the Lord has a preconceived, better design in mind for men, women and families

Fighting the culture war by electing politicians and raising up pastors who will conduct an air war, dropping more verbal bombs, won’t stem the breakdown of American families.  No amount of shouting through a louder megaphone will move that needle back in God’s direction.  The only answer is a ground war of love and compassion that wears down their defenses as they begin to realize the consequences of building their proverbial (family’s) “house” on the sand.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you think Christ sees your church family as a model for how biological families (within and outside your congregation) should operate?  Are the pastors and parents within your church taking full responsibility for their roles as disciples and disciple makers in their homes and house of worship as God intended?

Should the Church’s Goal be a More “Christian” America?

Aug 06, 20
JMorgan
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We live in a nation divided.  Extreme factions are firmly entrenched on either side of the political aisle.  “Woke” liberals no longer tolerate opposing views, taking offense and “cancelling” anyone or anything contrary to their personal versions of “truth”.  The growing ranks of atheists and agnostics, particularly among America’s youth, consider Christian claims of exclusivity arcane and antiquated at best – ignorant and inhumane at worst.  Protests and riots rage in our streets, understandably demanding fair and equal treatment for African Americans by civil authorities following centuries of systematic racism – a sordid history vigorously confronted by most white evangelicals yet coldly condoned by others.

Many Christians believe that resolution of the stark differences fueling today’s rampant animosity and hostility lies in the outcome of the upcoming elections.  Some readers of my last blog, “Do We Really Want Church to Return to “Normal”?” conflate spiritual revival and Christendom, particularly those inclined to gauge the state of our faith with its political pull.  Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post during Meet The Need’s #CastAnEternalVote campaign questioning whether the temporary “reprieve” afforded the Christian community by Trump’s victory would simply perpetuate the status quo.  Would the presumed 4 year hiatus from mounting “persecution” under a church-friendly President simply delay the eventual abandonment of the institution-centric definition of “church” that was precipitating its decline?

Persecution typically creates a greater impetus for church reform and personal transformation than complacency.  Who would have guessed that Christianity is growing fastest in a nation where it is outlawed (China), while perhaps the fastest decrease took place where the government vehemently defended the right to worship Christ freely (England)?  As we approach the end of Trump’s first term, it’s clear the Church’s growth, influence, impact and public perception has diminished during his time in office.  Christians have lost their voice in the marketplace of ideas on college campuses, mainstream media and workplaces across the country – despite, and in part because of, their assumed association with the most powerful leader in the world.  The political clout Christians gained since 2016 has cost the Church dearly, redirecting the ire of those who detest Trump toward those he protects and defends.

“Victory” often looks quite different to Christ than it does to Christians.  External indicators of success in the proliferation of our faith do not always correlate to the internal barometers of Kingdom advancement.  It’s much easier to point fingers than to look in the mirror.  Restoring our nation’s Christian heritage must be bottom up, not top down.  It may begin with pastors preaching powerful messages, but it will end in a groundswell of repentant submission to God – measured in heart change and not church growth.  Yet changing the Church’s Kingdom measuring stick from size and status to depth and discipleship at this point may require a disruptive event – such as election results that don’t enable a return to “Church as We Know it”.

When Christ Rules

Christ surrendered His standing, taking the form of a servant. When the crowds grew largest, He preached His most challenging sermon.  He rejected opportunities to assume political power, but did not turn away from chances to show compassion.  Jesus’ strategy wasn’t to ascend to the top of the 7 mountains, but to endure torment willingly for the sake of those lost and broken.  What it looks like for Christ to be in charge looks nothing like the ambition of believers who equate His dominion to Christians being in charge…

  1. Individuals – Personal ownership of mandates to love, serve, evangelize and disciple
  2. Family – Strengthening the family unit with parents taking responsibility for raising God-fearing children
  3. Empowerment – Decentralizing religious structures, releasing rather than usurping authority
  4. Multiplication – Gospel proliferation via the Lord’s math of making disciples who make disciples
  5. Grace – Emphasizing truly important laws like mercy and justice, rather than imposing behavioral modification
  6. Generosity – Ensuring no brother or sister in Christ suffers hunger or oppression alone
  7. Compassion – Following Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is

In other words, the ideal “military” strategy for breaking down the walls that divide us in today’s culture war is not an “air war”, dropping verbal bombs via a louder megaphone wielded by more powerful Christian leaders.  Instead we should imitate our ultimate Authority and launch a “ground war” with Spirit-filled troops equipped and mobilized to the front lines – with love and the Gospel as our chosen weapons.

When Christians Rule

Throughout history, those who seek and gain power, even Christians, often tend to advance their own plans rather than the Lord’s.  How else could slavery and racism have persisted for so long in a nation founded on Christian values?  We discussed earlier how Jesus’ plan never involved growing a megachurch or assuming political influence.  Yet emboldened at the prospect of having fewer credible threats under Trump, ambitious megachurches and celebrity pastors continued their location-centric, multi-site and platform-building aspirations during the past 4 years.  We’ve witnessed meteoric rises to prominence and precipitous plummets in notoriety among America’s best-known pastors.  Our institutions got bigger while our influence grew smaller.  Church leaders weren’t forced to rethink the consumer-driven “Invite/Involve/Invest” model that’s been effective in filling seats with cultural Christians but not in producing sold-out Christ-followers.  Unfortunately, the principles and priorities of theocratic ambitions tend to reward strategies that encourage…

  1. Size – Praising those who achieve statistical significance based on breadth, not spiritual depth
  2. Establishment – Promoting organizations, books and conferences featuring America’s most renowned Christian leaders
  3. Centralization – Reducing church to a place, not people, pitching “come and see” vs. “go and tell”
  4. Influence – Emphasizing leadership, legislation and elections to turn the tide in “our” favor
  5. Legalism – Expecting those who don’t know Jesus to obey His laws while not enforcing the Great Commandment or Great Commission on those who do (know Jesus)
  6. Abdication – Dependence on trained professionals to do our rightful job of leading our neighbors to Jesus
  7. Compromise – Parents relinquishing their pastoral role to the “village” to fill the void

Society will continue moving away from God if Christians follow Trump’s lead of being outspoken on social issues rather than Jesus’ lead of being bold in Prayer/Care/Share.  Non-believers are rebelling against the authority of today’s political and religious establishment.  They resent the President and Christians alike for claiming (absolute) truth when our culture teaches that each person determines their own (subjective) truth.

Putting Christ, Not Just Christians, in Charge

Churchgoers would have been better prepared to lead people to Jesus during the pandemic and pandemonium if America’s pastors had flipped the model, applying the 7 principles Jesus espoused to today’s context…

  1. Individuals – Treat members like Kingdom “employees”, not consumers of religious goods and services, training them diligently to pursue the real “customer” within their circles of influence
  2. Family – Resist temptations to keep youth group “lite” to accommodate parents who want kids to adopt Christian values, but not get so serious about their faith that they run off into the mission field
  3. Empowerment – Focus teaching less on relationship advice, and more on in-depth study of God’s Word to prepare members for personal evangelism and discipleship
  4. Multiplication – Replicate microexpressions of church across the city to infiltrate and touch each distinct group of people, understanding that future economics likely won’t support existing cost structures
  5. Grace – Advocate empathy, forgiveness and the hope of the Gospel rather than expecting those who don’t know Jesus to follow His laws
  6. Generosity – Replace the distant “God as Owner, you as steward” framework for promoting giving with a “God as Father, you as child” picture of a loving Parent who supplies all our needs
  7. Compassion – Equip members to Love Your Neighbor wherever they live, work and play; modeling empowerment, multiplication, grace and generosity

Each of those suggestions reduce the degree of power and control church and political leaders exercise over their constituencies.  Each concept is counterintuitive and unlikely to be implemented by pastors who implicitly define “church” as a place and measure Christendom’s “success” in terms of court decisions, election results and public policy.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you observing a trend, possibly driven by Coronavirus and racial division, toward the empowerment-based “church growth” principles that Jesus taught and modeled?  Or are churches still fighting to maintain the status quo, with slight adaptations to adjust to a new “normal” and any challenges they may face under a (potential) new President?

Do We Really Want Church to Return to Normal?

Jul 22, 20
JMorgan
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8 comments

What we need is revival.  Our nation is ripe for spiritual renewal.  Our culture has been accelerating headlong in the other direction since the turn of the millennium.  There are signs that Selfism is already breaking down.  The end of that road, making yourself your own god, is Nihilism – nothingness.  Suicides, substance abuse and rampant immorality has been the outcome of seeking happiness and fulfillment in the absence of God.  Misplaced faith in science and government is diminishing as once-deified leaders struggle to understand the COVID-19 disease and protect citizens, revealing the limitations of the ultimate object of atheists’ worship – human intellect.  Doors are flung open right now to spiritual conversations.  Neighbors are scared and opportunities abound for Christians to step forward to provide prayer, compassion and answers to their difficult questions.

Yet what most churches are seeking today in this time of crisis isn’t revival, but survival.  Big “C” (universal Church) interests are taking a back seat to little “c” (individual church) sustainability.  Pastors worry about how to navigate a potential “new normal”.  They’re stressed – many just trying to figure out how and when to reopen.  Few can look past those minute details to consider the bigger picture – like why their members were more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice on behalf of those who were ready to hear some Good News – but never did.

How can we return to business as usual when the Church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception has been in such rapid decline?  Isn’t this the perfect time to rethink America’s building and event-centric model for conventional church?  This blog has been questioning that status quo for 5 years, advocating a return to the biblical definition of church and its intended “customer”.  If America’s churches had followed that advice, the response from church leaders and congregants during the pandemic and pandemonium would have been vastly different.  A revival already could have been taking place right now if Christians thought of themselves as the embodiment of “church” and took it upon themselves to bring “church” to the doorsteps, iPhones and Zooms of their struggling neighbors.

However, revitalization consultants are reinforcing the status quo, providing advice within the context of “Church as We Know It” (CAWKI).  They understand that few pastors are truly interested in rethinking existing models.  Most are praying hard that the virus will go away as soon as possible, disregarding the possibility that the pandemic could be God’s will to wake our nation and His Church from its slumber.  Even those who claim to want genuine change are highly likely to revert to their comfort zones as soon as a vaccine is discovered.  Church strategists understand that we seem to have little choice in the matter.  There are simply too many empty buildings and too many pastors trained by seminaries to do one job and one job only – run a conventional church.  It’s too late to turn back now, right?  How could we risk shifting more responsibility to members for evangelism and compassion when churches desperately need them to return to the building as quickly as possible – and to bring their friends with them?  Decentralizing by equipping disciples to make more disciples at a time like this could hasten the demise of a fragile “nickel and nose” model that hinges on centralization and dependency.

Just as we shouldn’t expect a process designed for church indoctrination to produce personal transformation, strategies designed to ensure church survival shouldn’t be expected to produce revival…

Roots of Spiritual Revival

Evangelist Charles Finney, credited for much of America’s “Second Great Awakening,” said,

“If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”

After visiting America in 1831, the same year of Finney’s famed Rochester Revival, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America,

“There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”

God is His infinite wisdom and power can accomplish all things, but America’s history of spiritual revivals points to 7 characteristics that are clearly evident in churches whenever our nation has recommitted to following Jesus:

  1. Prayerful – Unity of believers gathered in prayer, asking God to forgive sins and change hearts
  2. Repentant – Mass recognition and confession of sin, pledging obedience to the Lord’s commands
  3. Dependent – Trading “cultural” for authentic Christianity, humbly giving God all glory and credit
  4. Spirit-Led – Miracles that can only be attributable to the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity
  5. Imperishable – Shared, eternal perspective that endures suffering, knowing our future is secure
  6. Scriptural – Reverential study of God’s Word to understand and share about the life of Jesus
  7. Sacrificial – Acts of selfless, Agape love without expectation of recognition or reciprocation

Those elements found in most revivals do not align with the advice found in articles and webinars today about how pastors should adapt their churches to new realities during and after the Coronavirus pandemic…

Popular Strategies for Church “Revitalization”

A deep concern about the state of the universal (capital “C”) Church would lead to changes that could bring revival, but authors and consultants are promulgating a set of (little “c”) strategies that won’t rectify the shortcomings of America’s prevailing church growth model – flaws that have become readily apparent over the past few months.  Instead they primarily advocate the following 7 principles:

  1. Leadership – Clarity about how a church will deal with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic
  2. Vision – Get everyone, from staff to key members, on board with future plans and contingencies
  3. Accountability – Delegate and execute responsibilities within distancing constraints
  4. Engagement – Rebuild, train and (re)activate volunteers, ministries, program leaders and groups
  5. Outreach – Create seasonal events and ads that enhance brand recognition in the community
  6. Hospitality – Once visitors respond and show up, ensure they feel at home online and in person
  7. Virtual – Continue to enhance “digital discipleship”, which is essentially just streaming services online

In other words, revitalization pitches and promises touted today are built around about getting CAWKI back up and running smoothly again.  Few call for reformation to address the discipleship deficiencies brought to light by COVID-19 when the “church gathered” forcibly became the “church scattered”…

Real Church Reform Could Spark Revival

The pandemic and pandemonium in America should lead to church reform, an entirely different set of operating principles and metrics that are in sync with the 7 characteristics of revival listed earlier in this post.  However, the path to a spiritual revival will require pastors do what they’re commanded (in Scripture) and not what their being taught (in seminary and articles).

  1. Prayer – Turn churches back into 24×7 houses of prayer, worship, compassion and service
  2. Repentance – Imitate Jesus, Paul, Peter and John the Baptist by boldly calling all to turn from sin
  3. Dependence – Make sold-out disciples through intentional, personal relationships rather than “consumers” of religious goods and services through expensive strategies and programs
  4. Spirit-Led – Equip and commission fully-empowered individuals to minister to their circles of influence, leveraging the Lord’s math of multiplication instead of building-centric addition
  5. Imperishable – Challenge believers to die to self-interest and surrender, crucified with Christ
  6. Scriptural – Reemphasize personal study, journaling and apologetics to share Christ effectively
  7. Sacrificial – Deploy Prayer-Care-Share “missionaries” throughout the city, acting as pastors of their neighborhoods

Lord willing, revival will come when reform leads to a reversion to the biblical definition of “church” and its intended “customer” – to make disciples who reach the “lost” in the community and across the globe.  Tactical “revitalization” won’t bring revival because it will remain centered around a building, event and pastor – a model proven ineffective before and during this pandemic and racial strife.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you know of a church refusing to return to “normal” and undertaking significant reform along the lines we’ve outlined in this post?  Please share how you see that church possibly contributing toward a much-needed revival…

Does Church Indoctrination Produce Personal Transformation?

Jul 08, 20
JMorgan
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2 comments

Being a faithful churchgoer does not necessarily equate to being a faith-filled Christ-follower.  That disconnect is disconcerting – and easily explained.  Quite simply, the steps to becoming a dutiful church citizen differ greatly from those to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.  In other words, there is tremendous misalignment between the indoctrination process churches take people through today and the process that new believers in Scripture typically went through in their discipleship journey.  As a result, it’s no wonder most Christians tend toward self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice during this pandemic.  Nor is it surprising churches are still not racially integrated nearly 60 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Personal Transformation Process

God is His infinite wisdom and power can accomplish all things, but we shouldn’t expect transformation from a process that’s not designed to produce it.  Stories from the Bible and empirical evidence from the lives of world-changing Christians point to 7 phases in the development of an unconditionally-loving and fully-committed relationship with Jesus.  They are also the sequence of steps the Lord took me through from 1997-2000, culminating in God unveiling His vision for Meet The Need and introducing me to my wonderful wife, Claudine.

  1. Humility – Arriving at the realization that we have lived a lie, mistakenly thinking we possessed some measure of control and deserved credit for personal achievements
  2. Prayer – Beginning a conversation with the rightful Owner of everything entrusted to us – our abilities, assets and accomplishments – asking Him to reveal Himself
  3. Worship – Bowing in submission to our heavenly Father, thanking and praising Him as the only true source of help for today and hope for tomorrow
  4. Repentance – Pledging to turn from a lifestyle of sinful self-absorption in the face of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in spite of our unworthiness
  5. Surrender – Subjecting to the Lord’s will in every aspect of life, meaning dying to “self” daily and “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires
  6. Discipleship – Walking in obedience to the commands of Jesus, which boil down to an Agape love that fuels compassion, evangelism and disciple-making
  7. Servanthood – Ongoing sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, meaning progressively looking more and more like Jesus, who was above all else a Servant

Developing a keen sense of hearing, a sensitivity to the voice of God to understand His will and His plans, occurs naturally at some point along that process.  Christians who only go through a portion of that process may wind up hard of hearing.  Wouldn’t every church want to ensure members are strongly encouraged and presented with opportunities to complete all 7 of those steps?

Yet the process churches take visitors and members through today looks so much different.  Demands for humility are replaced with promises of a better life, positioning God as our personal anchor and rescuer during the storms – the theme of most contemporary Christian songs.  Corporate prayer is infrequent yet the feasibility of incessant personal prayer is rarely emphasized.  Worship outside of church, repentance, dying to self and disciple-multiplication are foreign concepts to most churchgoers.

Maybe some pastors fear that presenting a realistic picture of what Jesus actually expects of us is akin to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  Maybe taking the risk of asking churchgoers to endure all of that disruption would only serve to make congregants less dependent on a place and a pastor – the prevailing definition of “church” in America.  Would debunking the inference that pastors have a more direct line to the Lord and convincing members they are the true embodiment of “church” adversely impact church growth and revenues?

Church Indoctrination Process

All churches have a well-defined member engagement process, but few have a personal growth track.  All measure cumulative attendance, baptisms and giving, but few set goals around individual progress in living and loving more like Jesus.  No doubt every church and pastor wants all attenders to experience personal transformation, but their operating principles and performance metrics are set up to achieve organizational objectives that can actually inhibit meaningful life change…

  1. Attendance – Foster a hospitable, welcoming environment that encourages adults and children to come back every Sunday
  2. Teaching – Offer a “lite”, convenient form of discipleship centered around short weekly sermons and occasional, optional small groups
  3. Engagement – Feature a range of programs, activities and events in bulletins and announcements
  4. Fellowship – Strengthen relationships among the church family
  5. Conversion – Hope the prior steps lead fence-sitters to repeat the Sinners’ Prayer during an altar call
  6. Membership – Invite believers to join the church, typically with baptism and financial giving as prerequisites
  7. Leadership – Ask members to help manage internal ministries and run small groups

Pastors and staff develop strategies and work diligently to ensure this process moves people into deeper levels of commitment to the church – from “crowd” (1-2) to “community” (3-6) to “core” (7).  Of course, church leaders expect that a transition from 1 to 7 (crowd to core) entails movement along the personal transformation spectrum.  However, pushing congregants too hard toward the more challenging aspects of personal growth like repentance, surrender and discipleship could adversely impact the organization’s growth objectives (above).

Process Alignment…the Path to Church Reform

Could a church reorganize and reset goals around the 7 personal transformation steps?  Should we gauge a church’s health by evaluating the alignment and effectiveness of that process in the lives of its members?  Absolutely.  Yet in this age of church consumerism, doing so will be costly for that church, at least until whoever doesn’t leave eventually gets over the initial sticker shock of authentic submission to God’s will.  A biblical set of church operating principles would be designed to produce…

  1. Humility – Being honest about the Christian life and walk, that it’s not about us and may cost us everything we held dear
  2. Prayer – Becoming a praying church, forming intercessory teams, holding regular prayer vigils, issuing prayer guides and dedicating more service time to prayer
  3. Worship – Encouraging worship beyond the building by sharing Bible study plans, distributing journals, suggesting praise music and providing worship resources for families/groups
  4. Repentance – Remembering that Jesus, Paul, Peter and John the Baptist all came out the gates preaching repentance; and no longer facilitate the fallacy of “cheap grace”
  5. Surrender – Driving home the critical importance of leaning on the Holy Spirit to continually kill off any vestige of self-interest that rears its ugly head
  6. Discipleship – Establishing 1-on-1 and triad discipling and accountability relationships, as well as classes going deep into the life of Jesus, His GC2 mandates (i.e. Great Commandment & Great Commission) and evangelism training
  7. Servanthood – Following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion by identifying, offering and investing substantially in year-round opportunities to move the needle on social and justice issues impacting the community

Pastors who don’t advocate and implement those 7 steps risk pews filled with people who Know about Jesus without Being in a committed relationship with Him or Doing what He says.  Practical sermons may lead some to salvation (justification), but genuine life change happens over time (sanctification) as we advance past those early stages of the transformation process.  Almost no one in world history knew Jesus better than Judas, but he never reached the point of repentance, surrender and faithful service.  We who live between advents, after the resurrection, have no excuses for stopping short of obeying all that Jesus asks of His followers.  Yet failure to emphasize those latter transformation steps may convince new believers and even long-time churchgoers that they’re really not very important.

It’s Your Turn…

Please share examples of church leaders who have revised their strategies around any of the 7 personal transformation steps and describe how that has revitalized their ministries…

Stop Talking Justice and Start Doing It

Jun 25, 20
JMorgan
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8 comments

Over the past month, nearly all of my church, charity, business, university and social media connections have issued public proclamations of their strong opposition to racism in any form.  We are all appalled by what was done to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Christian Cooper – to name just a few.  But horrendous treatment of African Americans is certainly nothing new.  The sordid history of slavery and systematic racism in our nation is well documented.  Yet nearly 60 years after the Civil Rights Act became the law of our land, we are still seeing unacceptable poverty rates, wage inequity and unemployment gaps between white and black citizens.  Everyone knows racial profiling exists today.  We’re all aware that blacks continue to be viewed by many white Americans with more wariness than their caucasian counterparts.

Yet given those longstanding realities, where were those voices of shock and horror two months ago or two years ago?  What were those organizations and individuals doing to support the oppressed and fight for justice before it became politically expedient to announce their official positions against racism?  Those jumping on the bandwagon with no prior track record of addressing widespread, obvious discrimination were either grossly misinformed then or disingenuous now.  Suddenly, companies that rarely if ever featured African Americans in their advertisements ensure every ad includes at least one.  Their sudden attention to racial injustices that have persisted for decades calls into the question the sincerity of their carefully-crafted statements, particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic when profits and revenues are down.  On the other hand, white executives who have championed diversity and fought for racial justice when it was costly or not in vogue carry far more credibility today.

My concern is that if we simply pay lip service to the defense of human rights while racism makes the headlines, we will wind up back where we started and see little lasting change.  That’s likely how division and inequality remain so long after slavery ended.  We talk about justice, but the Bible calls us instead to “do justice” (Micah 6:8)  Doing is about taking physical action, not just expressing verbal opinions.  James 2:15-16 says “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”  For example, a corporation may have a policy stating that racism will not be tolerated, but that alone won’t alter the underlying belief systems and actions of its employees outside of the workplace.

As Christians, we know Jesus and His command to love our neighbor as ourselves is the answer to ending racism.  But most non-black believers and predominantly white churches are not sure what they can do right now to affect meaningful change.  Most only see two possible options – join the protests or speak out on social media, both of which are verbal in nature.  However, we must get beyond words.  Hearts must genuinely be transformed, otherwise a new issue will soon take precedence in our nation’s fickle, short attention span culture.  Tweets condemning racism are already becoming trite.  Facebook posts by those joining the fray at this late date come across as posturing.  Protests are beginning to diminish in impact.  The message has been sent.  The time for symbolic gestures has passed.  It’s time to stop saying what we’re not, and to prove who we are.  It’s time to do something.

Together, as the body of Christ “LET’S END RACISM”.

How You Can “Do” Justice

For every believer, Knowing Jesus and Being in a relationship with Him should translate into Doing His will.  Similarly, Knowing the harm caused by racism by Being in relationship with those suffering should translate into Doing what is necessary to help them.

L             Love – Loving your neighbor as yourself means making others’ problems your problems.  Our fellow Christians are brothers and sisters regardless of the color of their skin.  Jesus stopped whatever he was doing to help those in distress.  Jesus died for us – are we willing to sacrifice our lives for our spiritual family?  Racial reconciliation begins when we form deep, loving friendships with those who don’t look like us on the outside but are identical twins on the inside.

E            Engage – Getting involved at arms-length by joining mass protests or posting to a broad audience on social media has brought racial inequalities to the surface, but now we should move forward toward more active, personal engagement.  Call friends and colleagues of color to learn from them and offer support.  Approach your pastor to ask why your church isn’t more diverse and what can be done about that.  Talk to your city or business leader contacts to discuss how to narrow income and wage disparities between whites and minorities.

T           Teach – Ultimately it’s the next generation who will determine whether racism will dissipate or escalate in America.  Most adults were raised to hold a set of entrenched beliefs about whites or blacks.  To build bridges and serve youth in Jesus’ name, Meet The Need co-founded a ministry that provides Christian mentors and tutors to students in African American middle schools.

S            Share – The abuses and structures that led to the racial inequities we’re still experiencing are too complex to unravel with human solutions.  Jesus is the answer to overcoming our differences by focusing on our similarities as brethren in Christ.  Jesus’ model for evangelism was serving through Loving, Engaging and Teaching – letting compassion open doors to sharing the Gospel.

E            Employ – If you’re a business leader, don’t stop at mentoring but take personal responsibility for providing the disadvantaged with opportunities to change the trajectory of their lives.  The most dignifying and honoring path to success for those struggling is not handouts and dependency but equal access to quality education and gainful employment at comparable salaries.

N           Notice – Look for chances to do acts of kindness for those that others pass by.  Last week a broken-down vehicle was pulled off on side of the road near my house with three young African Americans on cell phones trying to find help.  The experience of serving my new friends, reaching out to a towing contact and paying for the tow may have a ripple effect on those within their circles of influence for years to come.

D            Disciple – Disciple-making is cross-cultural, and not optional.  Yet few Christians or churches today take the Great Commission seriously – or even understand what discipleship entails.  Following in the footsteps of Jesus and obeying Him no matter what the cost means never showing partiality, having a genuine interest in learning from those who’ve experienced challenges we’ll never face, and investing in helping them realize their full potential in Christ.

How Churches Can “Do” Justice

Corporate gatherings of believers have a collective role to play as well in ending racism.  But statements, sermons and social media do not comprise the entirety of a church’s responsibility to act…

R            Repent – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in 1964 still ring true today: Sunday morning church services remain the “most segregated hour” of the week in America.  Most churchgoers are too segregated Monday through Saturday as well, not seeking diversity in their social circles.  Paraphrasing Ephesians 2:14–15, Christ knocked down all dividing walls and abolished enmity between differing cultures and ethnic groups to form one new people.  We belong to a group of leaders in Tampa Bay that for 5 years has modeled “church” as a united body across racial lines.

A            Adapt – Finding common ground for interracial worship may require some give and take.  Like denominations, predominately black and white churches are separated in part by their organizational differences and cultural preferences.  We may worship the same God in somewhat different ways, but both must adapt to promote diversity because division is not from the Lord.  Compassionately serving brothers and sisters of another color will also go a long way toward showing all are welcome at your church on Sunday morning.

C            Confront – Scripture calls us to deal with sin in our pews.  There’s no need to pretend your church is color blind, but never tolerate actions that fail to recognize everyone as a child of God regardless of pigmentation.  Rather than sweeping discrimination under the rug, root it out and work for justice in your congregation and community.

I             Invest – To ensure the sin of racism doesn’t rear its ugly head, teach members the importance of proactively doing the “LET’S END…” steps we laid out above.  Sins of commission dissipate when churchgoers are held accountable for sins of omission, like missing opportunities to alleviate suffering in the name of Jesus.  When their efforts lead to new justice ministries, reallocate budget to support those causes, following the example of New Testament churches who gave generously to help persecuted believers.

S            Serve – Develop trusted partnerships between white and black churches, encouraging occasional joint worship services and service projects.  Walk alongside one another in seeking justice when discrimination is evident anywhere in the city, modeling racial unity to a watching world.  Never position those relationships as the “rich” coming to the rescue of the “poor”, but as equals with no superiority in Christ.

M           Mediate – As purveyors of peace in Jesus’ name, pastors should build bridges by making connections with African American leaders and law enforcement officials, providing a forum and safe space for meaningful discussions.  Who better than the church to be on the front lines of healing and restoration in the midst of strife and animosity?

It’s Your Turn…

Please share stories of actions you have taken beyond posts and protests that have been effective in combatting racism.  How has your church engaged successfully in racial reconciliation in your community?

The Post-Pandemic Church

Jun 11, 20
JMorgan
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one comments

Americans are resilient.  Yes, they panic and start praying when a crisis reaches our shores.  But we’re an optimistic lot, accustomed to inevitable (and typically rapid) recoveries from the numerous disasters our nation has faced in this century.  The Great Recession, Swine flu, 9/11, hurricanes, political polarization, terrorism, school shootings and wars all incited rampant fear in the near term but had little enduring impact on most of our lives.  Our short attention spans enable us to resume our prior lifestyles as soon as the latest national emergency no longer dominates the headlines.  I’m concerned the racial tensions we’re experiencing today won’t result in any meaningful changes in how Christians love our neighbors of another color.  I’m worried the revival sparked by the Coronavirus pandemic will be short-lived – with cities opening up, will the millions who cried out to God in the heat of the moment recant their tearful confessions and repentant pledges?  After all, 9/11 filled America’s pews but only for a couple months.

Our churches are resilient too.  America’s church growth model survived all of those same crises.  Before the COVID-19 curve flattened, many pastors were admitting past mistakes and promising to do better once they got back in their buildings.  They discovered members weren’t prepared to share Christ boldly and answer tough questions when the fields were “ripe for harvest”.  Now they’re realizing those in their congregations who aren’t African American don’t know the Bible’s prescription for racial reconciliation, unsure what to do when the crowds feel “harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36-38).  Yet as churches begin to resume in-person gatherings, we’re already seeing focus shift away from implementing needed changes to excitement about returning to “business as usual”.

Powerful, consumer-driven forces led churchgoers to largely abdicate their evangelism and disciple-making responsibilities, reducing the Great Commission to invitations to church services.  The pressures of reopening now confront the reality of trying to convince those who are quite content with the pre-pandemic status quo that those responsibilities were actually individual mandates, not transferable requests.  Adding to that pressure is the possibility that new believers and “seekers” drawn toward Jesus by the crises will show up next Sunday, expecting to be “fed” but suspicious of any expectations placed on them.

It would be a shame if the primary adjustments to “Church as We Know It” on the heels of COVID-19 are improvements in online channels for worship and giving.  Making “church” even more convenient is a step in the opposite direction, when what’s needed is a deeper understanding of the high cost of discipleship – renouncing all the world holds dear for the sake of following Jesus.  This period could be a reset button for America’s churches.  It’s a chance to mobilize Christians into the current storms and prepare them to be “first responders”, forsaking self-preservation, as soon as the next disruption opens the floodgates to “prayer, care and share” opportunities.

But how many churches will change materially as a result of the pandemic and protests?  Who will rethink strategies based on what did (and didn’t) function well when their churches were scattered, unable to gather in a building?  Let’s look at two examples, one a small denominational church and the other a multi-site megachurch, both bent on undertaking transformations today that will forever alter the courses of their communities…

First Baptist…Revitalized

Like many other Baptist churches, this small and aging congregation was seeing a continual decline in attendance, baptisms and giving.  I’d describe members as deeply religious, committed to their convictions, creeds and church.  To insiders it feels like a close-knit family, but not many venture in from the outside.  Some see it as an exclusive social club as many prominent city leaders call First Baptist home.  Several members are active in local charities, but First Baptist as a whole runs compassion initiatives only during the holidays, without involvement from other churches.

Online services didn’t translate well with this audience.  Pastors and staff prayed the pandemic would end soon, both for those suffering and for the church’s welfare.  As weeks passed, seeing the vast needs of families across the city, leadership’s conversations and prayers evolved into recognition that they couldn’t wait for life to return to normal.  The impact on its community was likely to be felt for months and First Baptist had to act.  However, it lacked the preparation and partnerships to mobilize members and resources even to address the emotional, financial and logistical issues of its own congregants, much less other local families.

From that day forward, leadership decided changes were necessary to reorient First Baptist around a new set of Kingdom priorities, scrapping worldly comfort and complacency…

  1. Empowerment – Equipping individual members to love their neighbors, knowing they connect with people each and every day that First Baptist will never reach. Converting “pew potatoes” into disciple-makers would require significant reorganization of staff and lay leaders.  Rather than simply leveraging APEST (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers) to run the church, they must train members to perform those functions within their circles of influence.
  2. Engagement – Not letting COVID-19 become just another seasonal outreach that ends as soon as they get back in the building.  Short-term assistance with passing invitations to worship services is far too transactional.  Families will still be lost and hurting when the virus has run its course.  They’ll wonder, “where is the Church now?”, and likely assume it “checked the box” rather than forming sustainable relationships that endured beyond the immediate challenges.
  3. External Focus – Laying aside building plans to allocate a large portion of giving to sharing the Gospel how Jesus did, by first demonstrating His love through compassion.  New strategies require new budgets.  First Baptist’s pastors saw the inconsistency of expecting members to give generously of their first fruits to the church, yet not modeling generosity by paying forward a similar percentage to care for those hurting, helpless and lost in the community.
  4. Expectations – Raising standards for the Kingdom-building roles of members outside the “4 walls”.  Congregants had come to expect much of pastors, who obliged by risking burn-out to meet those expectations.  A “balance of power” role-reversal would certainly rock the boat.  But in light of the countless missed opportunities to love neighbors during safer-at-home orders and racial tensions, now was the time to focus on growing disciples rather than a church.

Mission Lakes…Recommitted

Mission Lakes is non-denominational, multi-site and growing at a steady clip.  It has engaging sermons, exciting worship and vibrant small groups.  Each campus targets young families and prides itself on the city’s best children’s ministries and youth groups.  Hospitality and convenience are mission-critical at Mission Lakes.  All are welcome.  Care is taken to ensure visitors aren’t offended by messages that touch on politicized, controversial topics.  Commitments to Christ and engagement in church activities are the primary goals and success metrics.

During the pandemic when buildings were shuttered, record numbers tuned in to Mission Lakes’ online services.  Word had spread that Mission Lakes provided an online experience that smaller churches in town simply couldn’t match.  Pastors and staff initially saw the pandemic as a gateway to tremendous growth once they reopened their doors.

Yet at the same time Mission Lakes’ leaders also began to observe the attitudes and actions of its members in response to COVID-19 and race relations.  They hoped to hear stories of members bringing “church” to neighbors and engaging non-believers in spiritual conversations during the pandemic.  Despite lacking diversity, they had hoped to see members reaching out proactively to African Americans to bridge divisions and share the love of Jesus.  Instead what they found is a congregation unprepared to step into the mission field – more filled with fear than faith and more inclined toward strong opinions than loving intervention.  Those observations kept the senior pastor up nights, wondering whether Mission Lakes had lost its first love.  Maybe the church wasn’t truly transforming lives within its congregation and across the city.  He decided it was time for a new strategy and path forward reemphasizing these Kingdom principles…

  1. Repentance – The first step is a public confession, acknowledging that accountability for disciple-making starts at the top.  Then, present a new course of action focused on depth, both in terms of intentional discipling relationships and challenging teaching in sermons and small groups.  Jesus, Peter, Paul and John the Baptist all came out the gates preaching repentance, so speak truth about sin and confront tough issues.  No longer allow growth to be an idol, letting attractional strategies soften the blow of the Gospel and downplay the costs of following Jesus.
  2. Surrender – Next, align goals and metrics around Jesus’ expectations.  The Lord asks far more than repeating the sinner’s prayer and getting involved in “church chores”.  The price He paid for our redemption leaves no room for “cheap grace”, faith without works.  The consequences of Mission Lakes setting a low bar, ignoring the need for sanctification following justification, became apparent during the pandemic.  Transformation should be the benchmark for members.
  3. Discipleship – Unveil a decentralized structure and personal growth track to ensure Mission Lakes never again finds itself unprepared to be effective for Christ when scattered, unable to gather.  Decrease dependence on the buildings and weekend services.  Turn small groups into neighborhood groups, commissioned to infiltrate communities through outreach, service and relationship-building.  Gear youth ministries toward arming kids to withstand the secular onslaught from friends and professors.
  4. Compassion – Deploy disciples into ongoing, relational ministry to those impacted in any way by the Coronavirus pandemic or racial injustice.  Emphasize cross-cultural bridge-building, spanning socioeconomic and racial lines, through outreach and service.  Better steward Mission Lakes’ underutilized resources and facilities, leveraging them to deliver programs and services needed by families in each community during these challenging times.

It’s Your Turn…

Beyond improved online capabilities, will your church be different than it was a year from now as a result of its learnings from the current crises?  If your church’s leaders had known COVID-19 and protests of racial injustice were coming, what would you have suggested be adjusted to ensure your congregation was ready to assume responsibility for bringing light into the darkness?

The Post-Pandemic Christian

May 27, 20
JMorgan
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Americans are coming to Jesus in droves during the Coronavirus pandemic – praise the Lord!  Even though we can’t meet in church buildings, online evangelism ministries report significant increases in ad clicks, Gospel presentations and professions of faith since COVID-19 began.  Google searches for “fear” and “prayer” have skyrocketed, leading millions to web sites and resources about the hope found in Jesus Christ.

Faith in science and human intellect is being called into question by its inability to eradicate the virus or get ahead of its mutations.  University professors teach there is no knowledge outside of what can be scientifically proven, but the pandemic undermines their arrogance by proving how much exists that we do not understand.  College graduates, who considered themselves “enlightened”, now find themselves wondering whether their faith in man rather than God was misplaced.

As in the story of Jesus calming the storm, elements outside of our control can only be acted upon by an outside force.  Jesus’ disciples did not realize He was a superior reality for which the wind and waves were simply no match.  Today, non-believers who once viewed earth and humanity as the ultimate reality now face unemployment or illness – which no one in the world can rectify.  They are forced to seek intervention by a superior power in this inferior realm.

The Church in America is also being revitalized by this crisis.  Articles abound today echoing what the Lord has led me to write about for five years.  Pastors wish they had better equipped members for the tremendous evangelistic and compassion opportunities presented by the pandemic.  Church leaders are pledging to challenge congregants to take personal responsibility for the Great Commission in their neighborhoods rather than simply inviting people to church.

We pray that efforts to reform the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit is not just temporary in case disaster strikes again, but a permanent shift to glorify God in good times and bad.  However, our concern is that church will resume business as usual once a vaccine is discovered.  We also dread secular society inevitability touting the triumph of the human spirit when this is over – proudly proclaiming “together we did it!”  How quickly we forget our helplessness and cries to God in the face of impending doom and then take full credit for a miraculous and narrow escape!

Instead of a return to life as we knew it before the pandemic, we want see millions more like Jeff and Sarah transformed eternally and giving all glory to God…

Jeff…Reignited

Jeff is a millennial who grew up in youth group.  He’d profess to be a Christian but was put off by the self-righteousness and hypocrisy he saw in church as a kid.  Now, he’s unimpressed with the surface-level performance orientation of services he’s attended – which as a CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) are few and far between.  Jeff has no issue with Jesus but hates “religion”, seeing it as man-made conventions that have little to do with God.  Therefore, besides prayer before meals on special occasions, his wife and children have limited exposure to faith and no indoctrination in church.

It wasn’t until COVID-19 that Jeff finally got in touch with GRACE (“God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense”).  Before then, he bought the misconceptions that church is a place you go on Sundays and only those in pastoral ministry truly hear from God.  He never realized that the Holy Spirit lives in every believer.  Knowing about Jesus had never translated into knowing Jesus.  But when he became ill with the virus, suddenly things changed – Christian friends reached out sincerely offering help and prayers.  His own prayers became earnest and heartfelt – and the Lord answered.  As he recovered, reflecting on the believing doctors and nurses who risked everything for his sake, he got a glimpse for the first time that there actually were authentic disciples in the world.  He saw people who were ready to die, assured of their salvation – when Jeff certainly wasn’t.

Jeff committed his life to Christ and has a personal relationship with the Lord, not just a church.  He is hearing from God as he studies Scripture and talks to Christian friends.  Jeff now closely observes and humbly marvels at what God is doing all around him – and wonders how He missed it before.  He feels responsible for leading others to Jesus and knows it’s a sin (of omission) to abdicate evangelism and discipleship to pastors.  Jeff is searching for a church and has attended several online in the past few weeks.  He won’t be satisfied with one that doesn’t help him make up for lost time with his kids – demanding a youth group that measures success in terms of disciple-making rather than engagement in activities.

Sarah…Restored

Sarah is in her mid-20s, well-educated and just started a promising career in marketing for a restaurant chain.  She had always been an overachiever in part because she wanted to please her neglectful and unsupportive dad.  In her mind, her father was one of many good reasons to not believe in God.  If her own dad didn’t love her, how could some abstract Being she’d never met?  Intellectually it also never made sense that one religion had the inside track on the road to God.  Her college had reinforced her belief in Scientism, which explained away the need or existence of a Creator.  Sarah’s EGO was “Edging God Out”.

When the Coronavirus pandemic forced closure of her company’s restaurants, Sarah’s position was eliminated and she was laid off.  Sarah was disillusioned and isolated.  Safer-at-home orders left her with few social outlets and plenty of time to think.  During one of her lonelier moments on Easter Sunday, she reconnected to a high school friend on social media.  They exchanged numbers by DM, talked the next day and Sarah was shocked to learn her friend had become a Christian.

Sarah raised her patented list of objections, including how a loving God could allow a pandemic to occur and why Christianity was so exclusive.  Hearing that 11 sane individuals would never “die for a lie” did seem like a convincing argument that Jesus actually rose at Easter – while the bones of those who founded the other world religions still remain in the ground.  But the light went on when Sarah’s friend spoke of the love of her Heavenly Father, saying we can know that God loves us because the Father decided to have a 2nd child (mankind) knowing it would kill His first Son.  That’s a decision none of us would have made and evidence of a love Sarah had never experienced with her earthly dad – a love she craved.  As her friend persistently reached out to Sarah, answering her questions, Sarah’s faith in human intellect began to fade, watching the medical community’s and government’s inability to resolve the COVID-19 crisis, heal those dying and get her job back.

Like 95% of those who come to faith, Sarah was led to Christ by a personal relationship with an evangelistic friend.  She wasn’t saved in a church.  She couldn’t attend weekend services during the pandemic – at least not in person.  Like nearly everyone else, the key to reaching Sarah was the availability of a Spirit-filled companion with whom she could confide her fears, worries and doubts.  The Lord brought Sarah a friend to explain that she is the daughter of her Heavenly Father who has reserved a seat for her at His table.  The challenge now becomes what church will take Sarah in and help her become all she can be in Christ.  Or will she land in a church that quenches her newfound enthusiasm with attempts to engage her in loyalty-building activities?

It’s Your Turn…

Is the pre-pandemic “Church as We Know It” prepared to disciple the throngs of new post-pandemic Christians?  Or will COVID-19 bring revitalization whereby church leaders become less building and event-centric, realizing they must do a better job of preparing members to lead their friends, family and neighbors to Jesus?

7 Truths Churchgoers Need to Hear Right Now

May 14, 20
JMorgan
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No one saw the Coronavirus pandemic coming, including pastors and congregations.  Churches were going about their business until suddenly, they couldn’t.  If we could have anticipated this crisis, much like Jesus shared in the story of the bridegroom, we would have done some things differently.  Given what we’ve learned and seen over the past few weeks, if we had to do it over again, presumably most Christians and church leaders would have prepped better for COVID-19…

If leaders had emphasized and members embraced the following 7 biblical truths before the pandemic, it’s likely that many more Americans would be coming to faith during this crisis…

Wish We Knew Then What We Know Now…

Hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback today.  The reality is that trends in America before Coronavirus hit our shores made it difficult for churches to share certain hard truths.  The “Nones” and “Dones” were increasing dramatically.  Smaller churches couldn’t match the facilities and programs offered by the “Walmart” down the street.  Most new members represented transfer growth from another church.  Pastors couldn’t afford to scare off the visitors and non-believers they wanted to attract and retain.

But those concerns seem rather shallow now with COVID-19 decimating families economically and physically, while opening doors to a potential spiritual revival that unfortunately seems unlikely to materialize.  Church members simply weren’t ready to assume the discipleship, compassion and evangelism responsibilities and expectations they’d long ago abdicated to the “paid professionals”.  As we watch this opportunity pass, wishing we’d been a little less reluctant to “rock the boat”, going forward will churchgoers internalize and pastors more boldly proclaim these 7 messages that would have made all the difference at a time like this?

1. “Living (in Christ) requires dying (to self)” (Galations 2:20)

To overcome paralyzing fear, the soldier in the foxhole must assume he’s already dead.  Few churches teach the corresponding and critical concept from Scripture – the realization that we’re already dead, so we can’t resort to self-preservation in a crisis when there’s no “self” to preserve.  We are free to surrender everything to the Lord and pour ourselves out for the sake of others during a pandemic, filled with the Holy Spirit and not self-absorption.

2. “Unconditional really means there are no conditions” (1 John 4:20)

A common and convenient myth (which we just debunked) is that “self-love” is a prerequisite for loving anyone else.  When life and health are threatened, it’s human nature to retrench and protect our own.  But it’s Christlike to love unconditionally, where we adopt a looser definition of “family”.  Who is my brother and sister?  Who is my neighbor?  Is the person lambasting Trump or lavishing praise on him really a relative?  Does our Agape love extend to that person?

3. “Those you love dearly face a dire fate unless they come to know Jesus” (Matthew 5:22)

As we hear death toll figures from COVID-19, now in the hundreds of thousands, we can become desensitized to the eternal destination awaiting those who died without knowing the Lord.  That’s the toughest message for pastors to share, especially with those new to church or the faith, but it should be our Red Bull energizer for evangelism.  The question is do we really believe there’s a hell if we’re not telling anyone how to avoid it?  The world defines “love” as tolerance, but true love is exchanging temporary discomfort for everlasting joy.

4. “Leading people to Christ is in your job description too” (Matthew 28:19)

God does call pastors to a special role the ministry, but we’re all on the hook as micro-expressions of church to tell neighbors, friends and family about the Great Physician, particularly today when people need spiritual, emotional and physical healing more than ever.  In fact, the job description of a seminary grad is less about performing ministry functions than multiplying those who do them.

5. “Learn answers to the questions non-believers always ask“ (1 Peter 3:15)

Jesus’ mandate to make disciples goes well beyond inviting people to church or living an exemplary life, hoping people will ask us about Him.  Church buildings are closed yet non-believers are Googling “prayer” and “hope” at record clips.  That puts individual Christians on the front lines during the Coronavirus outbreak, to pursue the lost and respond when they ask “do all roads lead to God?”, “why do bad things happen?” and “what about all those hypocrites?”.

6. “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11)

Jesus, Peter, Paul, John the Baptist all came out the gates preaching the same message – repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Today, sin is rarely confronted head-on in churches, either from the pulpit or one-on-one, fearing it’s too controversial in this politically charged day and age.  During the COVID-19 crisis even faithful churchgoers, anxiety ridden due to job loss and isolation, are resorting to alcohol and pornography to self-medicate.  If every churchgoer were a true disciple, they would fully grasp that obedience is at the core of following Jesus.

7. “Kindness is easy; relationships are hard” (Luke 10:25-37)

In a pandemic, those suffering need healing, not a hand-out.  Writing a check, providing a meal or making a call is nice – but not transformative.  Investing over a long period with messy people is hard – and life changing.  Church members have become accustomed to events and seasonal outreach, which are transactional.  Few are aware of their accountability to act as “pastor” of their neighborhood, practicing a prayer-care-share lifestyle with those impacting by the crisis.

It’s Your Turn…

Why didn’t pastors drive home those messages more emphatically?  Will we learn from missing the opportunity to spark revival during the pandemic, caused in large part by decades of catering rather than challenging churchgoers?  Will we become even more concerned about our own church’s survival or choose to decentralize and empower individuals to reach neighbors for Jesus?  If the latter, then churches should consider implementing Meet The Need’s FREE Love Your Neighbor solution.