Tag Archives: church growth

Is Your Church Seeking God First?

Jan 21, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Not every house of God seeks God first.  What a person or church seeks first is a matter of priority and sequence – above all else and before all else.  Church growth or survival are noble goals but only if they’re achieved through pure motives and methods.  God’s foremost command to make disciples should not be sacrificed for the sake of butts, bucks or buildings.  The Lord’s call for selfless unity, sacrificial love and sanctifying obedience should not be deemphasized to make visitors feel more comfortable.  Jesus’ frequent insinuations that those who don’t serve the poor aren’t saved should not be ignored to reallocate budgets to facilities and amenities.  Like other Christians, church leaders face temptations, which are stronger now than ever with giving and attendance projected to be 20-30% lower than their (already declining) pre-pandemic levels.

Prior to COVID-19, church growth and leadership were the primary topics at pastor conferences and denominational meetings – and the subject of most books and articles written for pastors.  Despite all that advice and coaching, it quickly became apparent that few churches had prepared members to take advantage of the incredible evangelistic and compassion opportunity presented by the pandemic.  Most churchgoers weren’t ready to assume their rightful responsibility as the personification of “church” in their neighborhoods when the sanctuary doors were slammed shut.  Yet churches still pray fervently to return to normal so they can resume the same pastor-centric, building-oriented model that failed to equip members in 2020 to share the Gospel, answer tough questions, and shun self-preservation.

Whether a church seeks God first, above all else and before all else, may be measured by the same standard applied to Christians – faith over fear.  Uncertainty about the post-COVID future may keep many church leaders from addressing the discipleship gap revealed by the pandemic.  Disciple-making is long, slow, arduous, time-consuming and often painful.  How can we ask members to do more when we already expect lower attendance, engagement and giving going forward?  Discipleship is costly, including the risk of precipitating an already precipitous decline in the metrics churches use to measure “success”.  However, the past year called those metrics into question and begs a transition to indicators more closely correlated with seeking God first…

  • What kind of growth?  Our new reality should change the question “how large is your church?” to “how big is your footprint?”.  Whether the auditorium is full is less important than counting all those attending in any form (e.g. micro-gatherings) and all those impacted by the church (e.g. being reached with the Gospel by members).
  • How is growth occurring?  Is “success” a result of addition (transfers from other churches or invitations to hear from a “professional”) or multiplication (equipping members to invite people to Jesus rather than just to a church service)?  How a church grows dictates what it does when new people show up, either challenging them to fully surrender to Christ or to be a dutiful church citizen.
  • Why does the church want to grow?  A growing church that is not made up of growing Christians is seeking self-sustainability, not God, first.  The size of a gathering does not determine the percentage who are disciples – in fact, those are typically inversely related.  If disciple-making and deployment is the objective, then expectations will flip from enjoying benign sermons to holding churchgoers accountable for reproducing Christ-followers.

Churches that seek God first see numerical growth as a result of obedience, regardless of the risks, and not as the goal.  Even if they do not experience growth, they refuse to compromise their priorities (seeking God above all else) or their sequence (seeking God before all else).

Above All Else…

Like entrepreneurs, church planters have little to lose at first and are highly focused on the mission.  Their emphasis on building deeply into a few folks and connecting with the community spurs growth, which soon needs to be managed.  The pressures and bureaucracy of running an organization can distract from the original vision God gave leadership, and other priorities may begin to take precedence…

  1. Attendance – The stakes get higher as more people show up on Sunday mornings, and weekend services become the main emphasis of pastors and staff.  In the early church “the Lord added to their number daily” but most churches today hope to “add to their number weekly”.
  2. Engagement – Attendance spikes drive the need for volunteers to perform “church chores” geared to produce more growth.  Yet despite friendly greeters and child care workers, statistics show alarmingly few people are coming to Christ annually in most U.S. churches.
  3. Expansion – If you plant churches you may not get disciples, but if you make disciples then you will plant more churches.  Business consultants joke that the way to increase profits of products with no margin is through more volume.  Likewise, Kingdom “profits” don’t increase by planting more churches that don’t make disciples.
  4. Viability – The high costs of a model that entrusts pastors with sole responsibility for leading people to Jesus also puts undo pressure on them to raise funds.  We pay landscaping companies when we don’t feel like doing your own yard, and compensate churches when we don’t want to endure the discomfort of talking about Jesus.
  5. Influence – New churches launch with flat hierarchies and expectations that everyone will carry their share of the Great Commission load.  Ironically, that role centralizes rather than disperses with growth.  Layers of authority and structure are established and deference to the “preacher” escalates (as the audience to whom he is speaking increases in size).

Churches are seeking growth (and not God) first if that growth isn’t intended to or effective in making sold-out, fully-surrendered disciples who multiply more disciples.

Before All Else…

God-honoring church growth is the byproduct of following the biblical sequence of seeking God first and then watching Him produce fruit from our labor

  1. Prayer & Worship – A church’s first order of business is humility, thankfulness and trust.  Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.  Equipping and empowering churchgoers begins here – not listening and watching while pastors and bands pray and worship, but engaging personally in both.
  2. Outreach – Evangelism doesn’t typically precede compassion, at least not for Jesus.  Following His model means “healing” and feeding first, then telling them who He is.  Churches whose goal is growth for the sake of growth “check the box” through transactional, not transformational, assistance at the holidays that actually perpetuates poverty (#ReimagineCompassion).
  3. Evangelism – This final step of Prayer-Care-Share calls churches to seek God first by educating and urging members not to withhold their knowledge of the cure for cancer from the terminally ill, a distributed model for evangelism and discipleship.
  4. Disciple-making – A church committed to making disciples and not converts must define new volunteer roles to delegate responsibilities for establishing mentoring relationships, running accountability groups, and leading micro-gatherings.
  5. Growth – Lastly comes growth, but not only the kind measured by counting heads on Sunday morning.  The first four steps in this sequence expand the church’s reach well beyond the pastor’s imagination or control.  Personal growth fueled by repentance for “doing” church rather than being the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can spark revival throughout a community or city.

Implementing this biblical process within a church brings additional benefits not experienced by “Church as We Know It” in America today.  Churches that seek God first need far fewer dollars to operate, distribute the workload, alleviate pastor/staff burnout, improve stewardship of underutilized physical facilities throughout the week, and breed a culture of generosity.

It’s Your Turn…

When someone tells you they go to a great church, ask them what happens there from Monday through Saturday.  Are members actively sharing the Good News, serving the poor and experiencing personal transformation that radically alters the lives of those around them?

Seeking God First in the New Year

Jan 06, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Nearly every minute of life on planet Earth involves either running toward or running from something.  We’re incessantly consumed with pursuing what we don’t have or fearing what we don’t want.  We alternate between being the hunter chasing and the hunted worrying.

Yet unless what you’re seeking is the Kingdom and what you’re evading is sin, be careful what you wish for – nothing else ends well.  Quests for anything the world has to offer are shiny lures – attractive but hiding a hook few can get off once they take the bait.  Nor does anyone get out of this life alive – all our anxiety can accomplish is to make that last day arrive a bit sooner.

Fight or flight, dog eat dog and survival of the fittest are apt descriptions of worldly impulses and instincts but have little to do with our intended purpose in this life.  That’s not to say wealth, popularity, possessions, security and accolades are inherently bad.  Likewise, acting like a “Christian” and doing nice things for others aren’t inherently good.  The question is what we seek “first” – the world or the Lord.   Which comes first in our lives is a matter of both priority and sequence – what’s above all else and before all else.  In other words, what do we value most and what motives fuel our actions?

Above All Else… 

Who do we trust?  Where are we storing up treasures?  When times get tough, how do we respond?  Where do we turn?  Where does our allegiance lie?  Christians in America are part of a Kingdom and a democracy.  We have dual citizenship.  Our nationality is not solely determined by where we live but by where we’re headed.  This is not our home or destination.  Therefore, seeking God first is about placing our faith primarily in God rather than in…

  1. Government – America looks to parties and politics primarily for money and (im)morality.  Many voters flocked to the polls in 2020 in search of financial security and authorization to do as they please.
  2. Ourselves – Our nation’s state-sponsored religion, Selfism, redefines who we are and whose we are.  Its manifesto contends that each adherent has an inalienable and unassailable right to determine what truth is, despite facts or evidence to the contrary.
  3. Happiness – Media and advertisers promise to fill our “God-shaped hole” with profit-generating products and services that will provide the fulfilment we’ve never found but so richly “deserve”.
  4. Mankind – At first, fears over COVID-19 drove many non-believers toward the Lord, but now they celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and medical science with the advent of a vaccine.
  5. Money – Jesus spoke so often of finances knowing how few choose worship over wealth when presented with those options, faithful enough to turn down fame and fortune when opportunities conflict with biblical principles.

None of those are reliable.  They’re temporal and deeply flawed.  “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)  Even this “earth suit” we live in and the brain it houses are on loan and fragile.  We are not the sum of our bodies, intelligence, actions and words – we are eternal beings longing to be reunited with an eternal companion, the Holy Spirit.  “You’ve never met a mere mortal.” (CS Lewis)  Seeking God first means acknowledging He is our only trustworthy Provider for today and Savior for tomorrow.

Before All Else…

Knowing, being and doing are sequential.  We are changed from the inside out, not the outside in.  Many know about the Lord without knowing the Lord.  Obedience should follow from understanding who Jesus is and surrendering to Him.  Being a Christian is not the same as acting like one.  Our Father desires relationship, not religion.  Jesus is not part of our lives – He is life.

Bypassing the study of Scripture risks an emotion-based faith that may not survive when confronted with tough questions or circumstances.  Jumping from knowledge to actions bring motives into question.  Yes, faith without works is dead but so are works without faith – bandaids on gaping wounds; lipstick on a pig.  Seeking God first means pursuing more than surface-level cosmetics, but an extreme home makeover in the following areas…

  1. Heart – What comes out when we’re squeezed?  Recent studies reveal most Christians aren’t distinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors.  Only genuine transformation produces countercultural behaviors like joy during trials, faith over fear, and love in response to hatred.
  2. Character – Suffering like we endured in 2020 builds character, which can be defined as what we do when no one is watching.  True love for the Lord is best observed behind closed doors.  True compassion is best demonstrated without any witnesses for someone who can’t possibly repay the favor.
  3. Schedule – Recommit in 2021 to investing time with the Lord, pressing on in sanctification through Bible study, prayer and journaling.  Our hectic pace makes us forget we’re “too busy not to pray”.  Our haste to serve can make us forget why we serve – growing in our love for God and others.
  4. Prayer – Interactions with the Lord should transform from intermittent requests for help to continual conversations of thankfulness and praise.  It’s rude to ignore a guest in our home, yet isn’t that what we do if we neglect the Spirit living inside of us?
  5. Mission – Is it possible to believe Hell actually exists but have no sense of urgency about seeing people come to Christ?  Jesus gave us a Prayer/Care/Share mandate and model for evangelism – to demonstrate His love (#ReimagineCompassion) to open ears to hear the Gospel.

Millions of churchgoers don’t seek God first (i.e. “doing” without “being”) because they lost their first love.  The thankfulness they felt for God’s grace when initially coming to faith gradually waned as they became less “sinful” and hung around “good” people at church.  Living externally like a Christian diminishes consciousness of our depravity and need for Jesus.  Consequently, commitments to the foundational practices of discipleship like memorizing Scripture, prayer and evangelism slowly fade away.  Most don’t realize the impact on their heart and character until they face the next crisis, shocked by their knee-jerk reactions of fear and anger.

It’s Your Turn…

How does retaining or recapturing our worship and wonder, like how a child sees their loving parents, relate to seeking God first – above all else and before all else?

Christmas Brings True Progress and Prosperity

Dec 23, 20
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 2 (of 2)

Powerful forces are hard at work today to draw us away from Christ.  Advances in technology and science tempt us to place our trust in man’s capabilities, not God’s.  Distractions and demands shift our focus from the eternal to simply getting through the day.  Culture’s emphasis on self directs our attention to personal fulfillment, ambition and freedom.

The gravitational pull of Christmas draws us back in the opposite direction.  Christmas points us to the Source of absolute truth, not feelings.  Christmas beckons us to find security in God, not advances or finances.  Christmas calls for a return to the roots of our faith, not programs and power.

Yet the ways churches have responded to evolving social norms do not look much like the Christmas story…

  • Offering more comfortable facilities when Jesus was born in a manger in a barn
  • Increasing convenience when the magi traveled for months to see Jesus
  • Lowering expectations when Joseph and Mary risked their lives for Jesus

Those accommodative “advances” by churches precipitate, not stem, America’s demise by conforming to, rather than transforming, culture.

Threats to Christianity will grow, soon calling into question the acceptability and legal rights of a religion that claims exclusivity and does not explicitly approve of the values they cherish.  As our nation increasingly persecutes Christians, it may awaken a sleeping giant, causing the Church to disorganize, disciple and disperse – the catalysts for growth in its earliest days.  When God closes a window, He opens a door.  We have an opportunity now to preempt persecution by proactively shifting back toward those original biblical principles – each of which runs counter to prevailing trends in our churches and culture.

Christmas is the time to #ReimagineCompassion, discipleship and evangelism.  The birth of Christ provides the only escape route from the pitfalls of progress and prosperity that are accelerating America toward secularism.  Christmas holds 7 keys to not just surviving, but thriving, in the modern world.  For each of those keys, we have an opportunity to leverage our progress and prosperity to overcome the adverse consequences of that same progress and prosperity:

  1. Confront Hate with Love
    • Run social media campaigns to remind society that most of the values they hold dear originated with Christians who introduced radical concepts like ending slavery, fighting for women’s rights and serving the poor into highly corrupt civilizations
    • Reverse perceptions of Christians as self-righteous and judgmental by being the chief instigators of humility and love in the face of animosity and injustice
  2. Exchange Conformance for Courage
    • Use online tools like Meet The Need’s new Artificial Intelligence platform to equip churchgoers to live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles where they work and live
    • Commission Christians to serve as “pastors” of their neighborhoods, adopting the biblical definition of “church” – a far more effective and efficient model for Kingdom-building, particularly during a pandemic
  3. Replace Relativism with Truth
    • Convey hard truths to church members through multiple channels Monday through Saturday – like the priesthood of believers, necessity of repentance, costs of discipleship, and expectation of joy in the midst of trials
    • Understand that making the case for Christ isn’t possible without referencing “sin”, yet let love compel evangelism at the risk of offending sensitive ears
  4. Abandon Complexity for Simplicity
    • Rather than just replicating the status quo online (i.e. “virtual church”), use a free system like Love Your Neighbor to decentralize and mobilize church members to be the hands and feet of Christ all week long
    • Strip away the clutter and expense of church growth models and politics and get back to the basics of disciple multiplication, which is best done 1-on-1 or in triads
  5. Combat Division with Unity
    • At this critical moment when our nation has never been so divided, shine the light of Jesus brightly this Christmas by overlooking our differences and embracing the Savior and mission we all share as Christians
    • Die to self, resist any hint of self-righteousness, and humbly confess our sins so those who don’t know Jesus will see that they, like us, are all accomplices to His murder
  6. Eliminate Distractions through Focus
    • Overcome the short attention spans of “Generation Screen” by reaching them where they live and breathe…online – not to advertise church events but to engage, educate, disciple, build community, and mobilize to serve others
    • This Christmas, give glory to God for healing to awaken a society busy celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, collectively saying “together, we did it”, heaping accolades on scientists and doctors, and not on the Lord, as COVID-19 vaccinations begin
  7. End Competition with Compassion
    • Transactional solutions to poverty, measured in numbers of meals served or toys distributed, creates dependence and provides bragging rights to entice donations away from other ministries – whereas relational compassion is less glamorous but far more dignifying and effective
    • Jesus spoke sternly about serving the poor but few churches dedicate any physical or online real estate to that purpose; while churchgoers look much like other Americans in acquiring assets that divert attention from those in need

Christmas is about love, courage, truth, simplicity, unity, focus and compassion.  The world operates on a different set of principles like progress, prosperity and power.  Revival does not depend on a President who occupies the White House but a King who sits on the throne.  The pursuit of greater influence and a louder voice has only solidified the opposition’s resistance to Christian positions on social and moral issues.  It’s time for a new approach – using modern tools to equip disciples and decentralize distribution of the timeless message of Christmas to a nation losing interest in the building-centric version of Christianity they have been sold for decades.

It’s Your Turn… 

What innovations have you seen churches or ministries use to #ReimagineCompassion, evangelism or discipleship?

10 Pitfalls of Progress and Prosperity

Dec 10, 20
JMorgan
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2 comments

Part 1 (of 2)

Persecution doesn’t slow the growth of Christianity.  Progress does.  Laws and restrictions against Christianity don’t eradicate it.  Prosperity inflicts far more harm.  Why play offense and risk strengthening the resolve of believers – instead, just slowly chip away at their foundation by advancing the culture to cultivate disinterest in matters of faith.

China is experiencing explosive growth in Christianity despite government crackdowns while the U.S. is seeing a precipitous decline in those who hold a biblical worldview.  Recent Barna studies found that most American Christians no longer believe in man’s sinful nature, Jesus’ sinlessness, God’s omnipotence, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, Satan’s existence, Christianity’s exclusiveness, Scripture’s inerrancy, evangelism’s importance, objective moral truth or unmerited salvation.

The majority of Americans profess to be Christians and church buildings still dot our landscape.  Yet progress and prosperity have shifted our nation’s views on trust and truth.  We’ve conformed more than we’ve transformed, gradually adapting and adopting the world’s trust in man’s ability to define truth.  “Woke” doctors, scientists, journalists, educators and students promote the notion that we’ve progressed as a society beyond silly notions of an eternal, invisible Being.  They advance Selfism as the new national religion to replace the Christian faith of their unenlightened forefathers, who simply inserted God to explain what they didn’t understand.  Christians and churches don’t convert to Selfism, but incorporate elements to get along and fit in.  Progress inevitably becomes progressive – and civilization quickly regresses.

Why Christianity Struggles in the Modern World

We’ve come so far, so fast – access to practically anything or anyone with the push of a button.  Videos, virtual reality and vehicles transport us quickly wherever we want to go.  Technological innovation enables visibility and commerce for companies of any size anywhere in the world.  We celebrate our advances, ignoring the accompanying temptations and distractions that compete with the Lord for our attention and allegiance…

  1. Relevance
    • Christians find it challenging to discuss their faith today when words like love, truth, sin and forgiveness have been redefined and trivialized by our culture
    • Churches have difficulty making church palatable and engaging for post-Christian culture, lowering biblical standards for discipleship and serving the poor
  1. Time
    • Christians in America, according to recent surveys, look much like their non-believing counterparts, working long hours to keep up with the cost of living and running kids to ballet and soccer, all while glued to their electronic devices
    • Churches offer a range of activities and events, vying for any gaps in people’s schedules – with even Sunday mornings booked up now by youth sport league games
  1. Money
    • Americans are wealthier and live beyond what the Lord intended, with some estimating that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average U.S. citizen, four earths would be needed to sustain them
    • Churches vastly underutilize their buildings, investing heavily in facilities only occupied at capacity for a couple hours per week, and don’t model the behavior they want members to imitate (asking for 10%, but only giving away 1%)
  1. Security
    • Americans are offered countless guarantees to ensure our exorbitant standard of living – insurance, welfare, refunds, retirement accounts – giving us a false sense of security when Christ is the only certainty
    • Churches are anxious to return to “normal” after the pandemic because a building-centric model for “church” is all most know – whereas companies are considering decentralized, lower-cost models for equipping employees to work remotely
  1. Expectations
    • Most Christians are like other Americans, with short attention spans and high expectations, willing to attend a “fast food” worship service but entrusting their Great Commission responsibility to the paid “professionals”
    • Churches cater to their demands for amenities, programs, entertainment, convenience – and limit requests related to discipleship or compassion
  1. Programs
    • Americans are inundated at home with TV ads and at work with pitches for new systems, products and processes that will improve their lives and productivity
    • Churches try new programs marketed by coaches and consultants promising rapid growth, and script services with carefully-crafted agendas rather than leaving room for the Holy Spirit to interrupt
  1. Temptations
    • Americans are presented by the media and Internet with easier access and more opportunities for sinful activities than ever before in our nation’s history
    • Churches begin with high ideals for community transformation and disciple-making but find it challenging to stay that course with high expenses, disinterested neighbors, and demanding members
  1. Ambition
    • Americans are conditioned by the utopian vision of the future cast by technology companies, overspend on assets that divert their focus from what truly matters, and aspire one day to be like the celebrities we “worship”
    • Churches consider growth and income their primary “success” metrics, and track baptisms performed rather than disciples made
  1. Self-Centeredness
    • Americans are taught that they deserve to have the world at their fingertips – Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg knowingly appealled to the worst parts of human ego and addiction to maximize revenues, understanding the psychological effects of the “billion dollar button” (Facebook’s “Like”) and being connected to everyone everywhere (except for those you’re actually with)
    • Churches don’t talk much about what we really deserve, which is hell and death, but teach instead that Jesus came for me, died for me, and has a purpose for me
  1. Influence
    • Americans are embroiled in heated debates fueled by political parties, Artificial Intelligence (programmed to push those in the middle toward extremes), and PC standards that won’t tolerate the exclusiveness of Christianity
    • Churches are equally divided over how to confront or ignore the culture war that’s raging when they should be united in their allegiance and mission

Christians in America are part of a Kingdom and a democracy.  We have dual citizenship.  In order to transform the world and not conform to it, we must remember that our nationality is not determined by where we live but where we’re headed.  This earth is not our home or our destination, and Jesus is our King.  If we place our trust in those truths and not in mankind or governments, then progress and prosperity will not divert our attention from our purpose.

It’s Your Turn… 

In Part 2, we will lay out the Bible’s formula for how Christianity could not only survive, but thrive, in the modern world.  In the meantime, suggest your ideas for how to address those 10 dynamics above that are pulling Americans today toward secularism.  How would you #ReminagineCompassion, discipleship and evangelism?

Biblical and Cultural Imperative to #ReimagineCompassion

Nov 24, 20
JMorgan
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one comments

Nearly 20 years ago, Meet The Need was founded because eradicating poverty and sharing the Gospel weren’t lucrative enough to incent innovation by for-profit software companies.  While technology vendors focused on building ERP and eCommerce solutions, Meet The Need was investing in platforms to mobilize churches and ministries to serve struggling families.  Modern tools from the business world could foster collaboration in a highly fragmented charitable marketplace, but only a ministry with a bottom line measured in disciples, not dollars, would spend millions knowing collaboration required offering those systems at no charge.  Churches had been the food bank and homeless shelter for nearly 2000 years, but increasingly separated evangelism from compassion, letting government and ministries assume primary responsibility for serving the hungry and homeless.  But Jesus modeled caring before sharing, so Meet The Need’s goal became reuniting the entire body of Christ to bless those in desperate need of help and hope.

Many pastors and ministry leaders were requesting a way to bridge the communication gap between those in need and those who could help.  Churches and ministries were managing and coordinating compassion work with spreadsheets, post-it notes and static information on a web page.  So Meet The Need began building volunteer management, event management. and case management applications at a time when nearly none existed.  With Meet The Need, suddenly they had state-of-the-art tools to recruit volunteers, run outreach events and track assistance provided to families across the city.  Meet The Need quickly grew and had tremendous impact around the country – as it does today.

However, despite our mission to engage Christians in serving the poor year-round, Meet The Need watched as activity spiked during the holiday season and dissipated thereafter.  Checking the proverbial box wasn’t alleviating poverty or changing lives.  Meanwhile, Millennials were driving volunteerism momentum and demand, providing software vendors opportunities to monetize those products.  Entire industries emerged with competitors selling expensive volunteering, event planning and shared case management solutions.  In an effort to increase revenues, lines began to blur – event software provided ticket sale options and donor systems incorporated capabilities to help charities convert volunteers quickly into givers.  Institutional fundraising encouraged creating dependence on handouts rather than empowering families to become self-sufficient.  The goal became keeping the charity in business rather than working its way out of a job.

Once again, it’s time for Meet the Need to pave the way in innovation.  We’ve observed and learned enough over the past 20 years to recognize the flaws in the status quo – and we’re objective enough to change course because our vision isn’t tainted by the lure of maximizing shareholder value.  There’s no money, but much more impact and dignity, in decreasing reliance on transactional assistance from donor-driven organizations.  We also foresaw years ago dynamics now in full effect that will soon force a shift in how assistance is provided to those living in poverty.  In fact, Meet The Need has invested the past 2 ½ years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new platform that will revolutionize service delivery to families.  We’re again building what no one else wants to because it’s not popular or lucrative enough – and doing so in the Lord’s perfect timing as those dynamics are accelerating rapidly in the direction we were already heading.

Why #ReimagineCompassion?

If churches and ministries don’t #ReimagineCompassion now, it will become apparent tomorrow that today’s solutions to alleviating human suffering no longer work – and actually perpetuate poverty.  Current trends will soon leave them with no choice but to empower families to take greater responsibility for their welfare, helping them plot their own course to a better future.

  1. Poverty Dynamics – Cycles of generational poverty haven’t been broken by programs or events that dole out funds or resources, both of which are likely to be in shorter supply going forward
  2. Kingdom Dynamics – Fewer Americans than ever acknowledge that each individual is made in God’s image and of immeasurable value, deserving of the dignity inherent in self-sustainability, which is where life transformation begins
  3. Political Dynamics – New leadership in Washington may position itself as savior to the poor, providing impetus for churches and ministries to replace handouts with personal, loving relationships that position Jesus as Savior
  4. Economic Dynamics – Social pressures, higher taxes and economic bubbles will continue to decrease per capita giving to Christian organizations, requiring greater cost effectiveness
  5. Institutional Dynamics – Diminishing trust and loyalty in institutions, combined with the disintermediation caused by COVID-19, may necessitate decentralization of compassion
  6. Church Dynamics – Attractional models centered on buildings, pastors and self-interest haven’t grown the overall “body” or produced sacrificial disciples who understand the importance Jesus placed on helping the poor
  7. Cultural Dynamics – In a society where “sin”, “repentance” and “Jesus” are not in the accepted vernacular, the mandate for every believer to live out the Great Commission will require more than just words
  8. Discipleship Dynamics – A biblical definition of “church” entails equipping individuals to shine a light on Christ’s righteousness, exposing the world’s need for Him and opening the door for in-depth conversations, not invitations to next Sunday’s worship service

There’s an urgent need today for churches and ministries to unite around a more biblical approach to helping families in need – to #ReimagineCompassion.  As society becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity, our only defense against hatred is love, which we can demonstrate by modeling a more relational, sustainable and effective approach to serving the “least of these”.

MTN’s New Family Empowerment Platform

Ironically, this new system represents a return to Meet The Need’s roots.  Retracing our strategic progression over the last 20 years, MTN began by helping churches build a “web” of support around local families.  But our scope expanded as pastors and ministry leaders began to realize someone had finally brought modern tools to “reconnect the dots”.  Then national and regional charities asked us to customize our systems to address specific causes like hunger relief, homelessness and foster care.  We hope and pray that going back to our family-centered origins will lead to impact even beyond what we’ve already experienced, like facilitating the world’s largest food rescue network, rerouting nearly 2.5 billion pounds to shelters and agencies that feed the poor.

Guiding principles and capabilities of Meet The Need’s revamped platform include:

  • Leverage Artificial Intelligence to personalize suggestions for connections and opportunities that fit the interests and skills of families and volunteers
  • Rather than “push” organizations to use software, “pull” family, friends, churches, ministries, businesses and service providers into enduring, relational circles around those in need
  • Understand and display the assets available across each city, reflecting the value of all it has to offer, possibly including jobs for the unemployed or underemployed
  • Focus not only on impact, but on spiritual growth by recommending scripture and materials best suited for an individual’s unique circumstances
  • Allow churches and ministries to customize their own version of the application to equip families in their networks to support one another, lifting the burden on organizational budgets

Meet The Need started designing this platform in late 2017 and just completed a Beta-ready version!  Now we need your prayer and support to begin rolling it out to Christ-centered organizations who are excited and ready to test and launch in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s Your Turn… 

Join the #ReimagineCompassion revolution by praying, donating, sharing this blog post on social media, and personally engaging with families in ways that truly transform lives.

Urgency of Unity in a Nation Divided

Nov 12, 20
JMorgan
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one comments

Our nation is at a crucial juncture.  Whether we accelerate toward our demise or reverse course toward the Lord hinges on what happens the next few months – or weeks.  Churches and Christians will either show a nation divided what unity looks like or miss the best opportunity in decades to demonstrate the radical love of Jesus to a society intolerant of differing opinions.

The Presidential and Congressional elections clearly displayed the depth of America’s division.  With militias forming, protests raging, recounts pending, and anger spewing there is no better time to shine a bright light into pitch black darkness.  Yet with COVID-19 threatening the survival of countless churches and persecution looming for Christians at risk of losing jobs for holding countercultural beliefs, it is tempting to worry right now about our own interests and not the bigger Kingdom picture.  While churches scramble and pray for an end to the pandemic so they can return to normal, believers inundate the social media airwaves with personal feelings about their next President or Senator.

Soon the window will close and Christians will have dashed their hopes and dreams for revival by their own self-centeredness, oblivious to what could have been if they had only understood that convincing the world of Jesus’ lordship and love depends on one thing – unity.  After this election in this nation at this time, we must live differently, love differently, defy the world’s division and unite around what all Christians have in common – or watch as secularization further infiltrates the landscape and law of the land.

We Could Divide…

Fast forward and picture the State of the Union or the State of the Church address in 2024.  We’re inclined to think both will be predicated on the events of the past week.  However, election of a church-friendly President in 2016 did not lead to church or spiritual growth in America.  Politics does not determine the strength of a country’s churches or the faith of its citizens.  No doubt, Christianity is likely to face powerful headwinds that threaten to diminish its impact, influence and perception in society.  However, given the rapid decline in those departments over the past four years, we are left to wonder whether the Church would have fared any better under President Trump’s rival.  Christianity historically tends to thrive under pressure and ultimately answers to Jesus, not the federal government.

The feet of all Christ-followers should be on the Rock, but we will appear divided to a watching world to the degree that we each succumb to temptations to…

  1. FIT IN – Becoming disingenuously politically correct to avoid hassles, maintain a standard of living or attract church members.  Adopting society’s revised and unabridged dictionary of religious terms that offend “snowflakes” like “sin”, “truth” and “Jesus” – without which it becomes impossible to share the Gospel.  Making faith about this life – worldly and practical – touting what it can do for “me”.
  2. GIVE IN – Surrendering to the political and social establishment, calling it “staying out of politics”, “not being judgmental” or “none of my business”.  Obeying the command to submit to authority but in the process compromising the values that should unite Christians.  Not following the example of Jesus who criticized leaders who chose self-righteousness over love, compassion and justice.
  3. FACE OFF – Fighting for survival of an individual church at the expense of the universal church by “fitting in” or “giving in”.  Defending the status quo, the right to build a church without building disciples.  Engaging the culture war through an air war of verbal bombs rather than a ground war with love and compassion as our chosen weapons.
  4. CLOSE OFF – Fearing the worst and protecting turf, retreating inside the comfortable confines of a church building surrounded by fellow believers.  Becoming a passive, pensive or private Christian rather than a multiplicative disciple-maker.  Worrying about minor resistance today, leading to paralysis that opens the door soon to real persecution.
  5. MOUTH OFF – Holding society to Christianity’s standards when non-believers haven’t adopting those standards as their own.  Imposing morality has become the focus of evangelicals during this election but unity in the body of Christ will never happen around moral issues.  We must lead people to accept the authority of Jesus before expecting them to obey God’s laws.

Any post-election self-righteousness or self-interest will divide the Christian community along those lines, making us look just like the world instead of presenting an attractive alternative.

We Could Unite…

Being like-minded means having the “same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” who wants us to be “perfectly united in mind and thought” with no divisions.  Thinking alike and living together in harmony entails having the same desires, passions, and ambitions.  Yet we see Christians reacting quite differently to the election results, presumably all aware that God is still on the throne but more vocal about their anxiety, anger or excitement over who will occupy the White House.  Now is the time to sacrifice personal opinions for Kingdom goals…

  1. POUR IN – The lost need the Gospel, seekers need answers to tough questions, and lukewarm believers need repentance.  Teaching truth, not a “better life”, would lead millions more to experience God’s forgiveness and amazing grace.
  2. BUILD UP – Spiritual infants need to reach maturity, marked by humility, dying daily to self and equipped to be a reproducing disciple, not an active church member.
  3. SEND OUT – We are not all a “hand” or a “foot” in the body of Christ, but we are each called to be the “hands and feet” of Christ.  Claiming evangelism or discipleship “isn’t my gifting” isn’t a valid excuse.
  4. PAY FORWARD – What is poured into us should spill over and pour out, but most churches do compassion only infrequently and transactionally.  We need to #ReimagineCompassion and realize investing year-round in helping the poor is a mandate, not an option, for those who are saved.
  5. LOOK FORWARD – The election does not change our eternal reality, which all Christians share.  Each believer’s future is secure so faith should overcome our fears and uncertainties in this life, no matter who is in charge on Capitol Hill.

Believers should all agree on these guiding principles, but they take a back seat today to the prevailing message of Christian music and messages – that Jesus came to save me, die for me and help me through my troubles.

Roadmap to Unity in a Divided World…

To present a unified front at this critical moment in the history of our nation and the American Church, we urge every pastor to get on the same page now by following these five steps…

  1. Common Sense of Urgency – Like 9/11 when Americans suddenly put aside their petty differences when an attack threated all of us, God’s children must overlook what divides them
  2. Common Identity – Confess that “church” is not a place, building, leaders or a weekly event and partner with other Christ-centered organizations to pursue the real “customer”
  3. Common Mission – Reconsider dynamics that have driven division (e.g. expensive brick-and-mortar, staff-heavy models to attract consumers) as the economic and cultural environment for churches becomes more challenging
  4. Common Metrics – Scrap “butts and bucks” as measuring sticks and adopt shared metrics to incent team-oriented participation in city-wide Prayer/Care/Share strategies
  5. Common Example – Demonstrate our love and confess our sins to show our need for Christ’s righteousness, which will shine a spotlight and make humanity aware of its sinful nature

Powerful, well-entrenched forces are at work to prevent unity across churches and ministries.  Seminaries, denominations, theology, budgets, members, consultants, coaches, facilities, and egos all demand differentiation.  Unraveling church growth and Artificial Intelligence models designed to build walls between institutions and Christians will require an act of God – which is why we pray for Him to miraculously bring unity to a nation at a time when it’s in short supply.

It’s Your Turn…

Begin implementing the five steps above in your own life and at your church…and urge others to do the same before it’s too late!

Biblically or Politically Correct?

Oct 28, 20
JMorgan
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#CastAnEternalVote before next Tuesday’s election!  You just get one vote for President and it only lasts for 4 years, but you can cast countless eternal votes that last forever by serving and sharing your faith with friends, neighbors or coworkers before November 3rd!

America’s Presidential and congressional election is less than a week away.  With so much at stake in 2020, Christians face a dilemma.  They’re tempted to speak their minds about pressing social issues that could be impacted by this election, but Biblically Correct (BC) may not be Politically Correct (PC).  BC comes at a high price.  PC conforms to cultural norms.  BC doesn’t.  Instead, it lovingly confronts the prevailing culture and risks one’s standing and security in a society intolerant of perceived insensitivity.

Sensitivity to PC values like equality, justice, human rights, and economic welfare for all citizens is inherently “BC”.  In fact, those principles are rooted in God’s Word.  The disconnect between PC and BC stems from the revisionist origin and meaning ascribed to those values by the vagaries of today’s culture rather than the standard of Scripture.  In fact, media and corporations impose dire consequences on those who don’t adopt their new definitions of equality (in marriage), justice (in victimhood), and human rights (in pregnancy).

Pressure is mounting to conform or be cancelled.  Reference to biblical perspectives that run counter to what is viewed as socially acceptable is considered hate-speak.  Christian entrepreneurs are compelled to comply with laws that defy biblical precepts.  HR departments refuse to hire or retain employees who do not disavow biblical views on hot-button issues.  “Coming out (of the closet)” is now more applicable to high school or college students who need great courage to declare they’re Christians and endure the stigma that label now carries with it.  Even many pastors hesitate to express BC truths about PC topics from the pulpit.

So most Christians choose to talk PC and quietly vote BC.  This seems like a good time to keep our mouths shut and let our voice be heard at the ballot box, or “vote with our feet” by boycotting companies that aren’t BC.  Our excuses for choosing PC over BC range from “sharing my faith isn’t my gifting” to “I never talk politics or religion” to “I can’t put my family’s financial future at risk”.  Church pews are filled with Passive Christians (no words or actions), Private Christians (actions without words) and Pensive Christians (words without action).

Biblically Correct

In contrast, Powerful Christians (i.e. disciples) don’t avoid confrontation for the sake of comfort, speaking out for the sake of security, or persecution for the sake of popularity.  During this election cycle and under the next administration, BC means…

  1. Campaigning for Jesus, not necessarily a candidate
  2. Trusting in the Lord as Savior, not government
  3. Praying for revival and repentance, not reestablishing Christendom
  4. Seeing “church” as a personal responsibility, not an institution
  5. Actively loving our neighbors to Christ, not blending in with the crowd
  6. Serving the poor year-round, not just during the holidays
  7. Using non-PC words like sin, heaven and hell, not tiptoeing around the Gospel

In summary, BC wins out over PC when individuals hear the Gospel, confess their sins, repent and turn their lives over to the Lord.  The Great Commission is a mandate Jesus gave to all His followers, not just elected officials.  This election can’t redeem culture, no matter which leaders gain power.  Legislation and court rulings will influence our nation’s morality but not its moral fabric, which has declined precipitously even under a church-friendly President.  The collective will of America’s voters will impact the level of resistance Christians face and the consequences they’ll suffer if they fail to be PC, but it won’t diminish the resolve of BC believers and churches.  Next Tuesday’s outcome can alter laws that non-believers must obey but can’t change their hearts.  Ultimately, human answers don’t solve spiritual problems – God does.   Earthly kingdoms don’t determine who’s part of God’s Kingdom – that His job.  In other words, faith in Christ makes us righteous, not the law.

Politically Correct

PC is not inherently bad.  Often its intention is not to offend out of genuine concern for those who’ve been maligned and mistreated.  However, in America, PC defines a set of unspoken rules restricting free speech imposed on all citizens regardless of their world views.  Compliance is required and enforced by public condemnation and humiliation.  Understanding the risks of voicing a stance considered offensive or a joke deemed distasteful by “decent” society, people carefully consider their words to avoid any inference of impropriety.  Those with the most to lose, in positions of influence and political power, are often PC zealots and quick to point out the failures of other leaders to demonstrate adequate sensitivity to gain the upper hand.

BC adherents are frequent violators and targets of PC authorities.  BC is less concerned with social standing than pleasing an Audience of One.  BC is rarely PC because…

  1. the mere mention of the name of Jesus in public settings has become taboo
  2. the Gospel appears as foolishness to the world because the word sin has been removed from culture’s vernacular and words like love and sacrifice have been redefined
  3. Christianity is the only religion considered acceptable to ridicule
  4. introduction of any moral code that competes with society’s is viewed as immoral
  5. faith threatens the right to do whatever makes someone happy without conscience or retribution
  6. claiming Jesus is the only path flies in the face of the perception that each person has the power to define “truth”
  7. pastors aren’t given credit for the role the Church played throughout history in securing rights for marginalized groups championed today by America’s anti-BC “woke”

PC therefore inhibits communication and suppresses reception of biblical truths.  If BC succumbs to PC then Christians and churches may face social ostracization here in the near future.  Lest that appear hyperbolic, consider Western Europe where cultural and political tides shifted rapidly, relegating evangelicals to a corner.

Living BC in a PC World

When Christians pass up opportunities and hesitate to talk about Jesus to preserve their status or reputation, they’ve chosen PC over BC.  When churches won’t address immorality running rampant in our nation and congregations in order to grow membership, they’ve chosen PC over BC.  Politically correct is incorrect for Christians and churches when it involves self-centered compromise.  BC living is active, compassionate, courageous and even sometimes offensive, as the world defines that term…

  1. Love in the Face of Hate – PC is not love.  It may be caring and considerate, but it is superficial in its carefulness and calculation.  Agape, unconditional love doesn’t count the cost whereas PC considers the price of non-conformance.  PC “love” seeks to make no one uncomfortable whereas BC love involves stepping on toes to do what is truly most loving – sacrificing our own comfort to lead someone toward Christ.
  2. Right Rather than Self-righteous – No matter what PC says, absolute truth exists.  The facts of God’s sacrifice and forgiveness can be conveyed in humility or pride.  Likewise, the reality of sin can be conveyed in humility or pride.  Speaking truth with grace isn’t about righteousness indignation or making political statements, but the Gospel.
  3. Confession Instead of Judgment – PC calls Christians hateful for speaking BC.  We must be careful not to deserve that label but admit our shortcomings so they can see our need for Christ as well.  We live in a glass house and need the panes to be transparent so non-believers can see Jesus through us.
  4. Relational Despite Resistance – Christians often defy PC, yelling at society to condemn its immorality, but the road to Jesus starts with relationships.  Eventually conversations must take place about repentance, but we must first earn the relational equity to broach hard topics.
  5. Intrusive When Desiring Distance – Jesus asked the next question everyone was thinking but was afraid to articulate.  Jesus was nosy because He wasn’t PC.  Excuses we make for not asking hard questions aren’t really about “minding our own business” but not loving enough to dig deeper.
  6. Vocal when Asked for Silence – There’s no way to talk about the good news without the bad news, forgiveness without sin, redemption without guilt, heaven without hell.   With so much hanging in the balance, Christians can’t afford to be PC right now.
  7. Kindness in Spite of Injustice – Jesus’ model was to lead with compassion before bringing a truth bomb – that He alone was the only way.  Feeding or healing was His means to open ears to hear what He had to say next – which was far from PC.

The pressure on Christians and churches to abide by society’s rules is intentional.  Politicians, activists and the media may be the ones revising history and redefining words, but don’t doubt for a second the reality that spiritual forces are battling for supremacy here.  Darkness always resists light, which is why the high beams of Christ need to shine brightly in this election.

It’s Your Turn…

#CastAnEternalVote before Election Day, November 3rd!  This “ice bucket challenge” doesn’t involve pouring cold water on your head!  Simply perform a simple act of service for someone you know or just met, tell us your story on our Facebook page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote, and then challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward”.  You only get one vote for President but can cast countless eternal votes that will last far longer than 4 years.  You have more ability to impact who is in God’s House than who’s in the White House!

Society’s Claim on the Moral High Ground

Oct 15, 20
JMorgan
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5 comments

Our “woke” nation holds high moral ideals.  We protest and fight for equality, justice, human rights, and economic welfare for all humanity.  Those noble principles include the implicit freedom of every man and woman from imposition of values that conflict with their personal definitions of those terms.  Every individual deserves unimpeded access to their own spiritual path and personal version of truth.

Our culture and media consider Christians to be in violation of that moral code because they make a truth claim and promote it against others’ wishes.  Yet that indictment and their self-proclaimed “enlightenment” fail to understand that Christianity is the source of nearly all the tenets they hold dear.  Jesus, His followers and His Church advocated, lived out and suffered for ideas – like love, humility, benevolence, sacrifice, servanthood, fairness, freedom, and the value of human life – that were considered radical in corrupt, hedonistic nations.

Disconnecting those high ideals from their (Christian) source enables the grand irony – using society’s claim on the high moral ground to justify rampant immorality.  In the name of equality and rights, the only “sinners” are those who criticize anyone’s morality.  In other words, the only moral code is that there is no moral code, except for any attempts to impose one.  No one may tell anyone what to do, except that everyone must adopt the premise that there is no moral foundation – or risk being “cancelled” (which can cost Christians jobs and promotions).

Language Barriers

All that’s required to usurp the high moral ground is to hijack terms that Christians once “owned”.  Redefining and trivializing words that fundamentally undergird the Christian faith renders future use of those terms by believers effectively pointless and irrelevant.  Nothing a Christian says will make sense when listeners apply new cultural definitions based on a secular world view.  For example, how can we describe the sacrificial, agape love of Jesus when the world only understands the word “love” to mean romance, lust or greed?  Nor is the Gospel story likely to resonate when the word “sin” has been dropped from the lexicon.

To better understand Scripture, we go back to the original Greek and Hebrew because the English words do not precisely capture the original intent.  Likewise, once society redefines a biblical concept, their translation of what Christians are saying when they use those words will not reflect the intended message.  Christians are speaking of the biblical definition, but non-believers interpret without that frame of reference.  The conversation is rendered almost as incoherent as two individuals speaking foreign languages to one another.

Change the meaning of the words and you eliminate any chance of a connection or breakthrough.  Those unwilling to confront the power of the Gospel, fearing it would mean abandoning their self-absorbed lifestyles, concocted a brilliant scheme to abscond the following biblical principles and terms:

  • Truth – from God’s Word to my opinion
  • Law – from guests in God’s house to owners who make the rules
  • Sin – from offensive to offended
  • Freedom – from (punishment for) sin to (the right to) sin
  • Purpose – from joy to happiness
  • Love – from Christ’s sacrifice to my satisfaction
  • Justice – from what Jesus didn’t deserve to what I’m owed
  • Accountability – from answering to God to true to myself
  • Generosity – from investing in Kingdom to leaving a legacy
  • Tolerance – from an open mind to a closed mouth
  • Shame – from my mistakes to another’s insults
  • Pride – from the most reviled sin to the supreme virtue
  • Righteous – from a divine declaration to an inalienable self-perception
  • Religion – from worship to works
  • Persecution – from freedom of religion to freedom from religion
  • Self-Centeredness – from shunned to praised
  • Servant – from humble submission to a tacit form of slavery
  • Integrity – from honesty to necessity
  • Ethics – from what’s right to what’s expedient
  • Compassion – from action to empathy
  • Anger – from biting my tongue to venting and revenge
  • Forgiveness – from unmerited grace to conditional stipulations
  • Morality – from willing obedience to religious oppression
  • Victim – from blatant abuse to crying foul
  • Evangelism – from invitations to eternal relationship with a loving Father to imposition of conflicting values on an innocent victim by a meddling intruder

The implications of this revised and unabridged dictionary of once-biblical terms are clear.  Incorrectly assume I own my own body and I can do whatever I want with it.  Claim victimhood for any accusations and I have extraordinary power to label and vilify the offender publicly.  Conflate servanthood or sacrifice with control or oppression and I can justify doing nothing for anyone.  Prioritize fun and family over mission and ministry and I am at liberty to seek my own interests exclusively.  The perpetrator in the Gospel story (mankind) now becomes the celebrated hero.  Good is bad and bad is good.

Churches Adopting a Foreign Language

Culture is changing church more than churches are changing culture.  To accommodate society’s new definitions, pastors have tweaked the meanings of church-related terms to ease the burden and lower the barriers to entry for an increasingly secular and skeptical marketplace.  Taking a stand for the deeper, biblical intent behind these “religious” words would risk driving away church shoppers, hoppers and seekers.  These new, less “churchy” definitions are not as intimidating, convicting or demanding for fickle church consumers:

  • Church – from people to a place or event
  • Outreach – from compassion to advertising
  • Ministry – from evangelism to church chores
  • Conversion – from surrender to repeating a phrase
  • Worship – from a lifestyle to music
  • Disciple – from obedience to belief
  • Discipleship – from intensive and personal to casual small groups
  • Commitment – from spiritual depth to organizational membership
  • Core – from the most sold out to the most bought in
  • Human Nature – from inherently sinful to essentially good (75% of evangelicals surveyed – Barna)
  • Sanctification – from an arduous process to an instantaneous event
  • Repentance – from an expectation to an option
  • Great Commission – from a mandate to a rarity
  • Holy Spirit – from filled to largely forgotten
  • Hell – from a motivating reality to an unpalatable topic
  • Heaven – from the focus of the faithful to a vague, distant thought
  • Eternity – from emphasis on the “line” to improving the “dot” (life)
  • Spiritual Warfare – from the true battleground to a surreal concept
  • Prayer – from seeking God’s will to pleading for ours
  • Fellowship – from brotherhood to social gatherings
  • Unity – from the church universal to denominational differentiation
  • Transformation – from a cleansed heart to external conformance
  • Prosperity – from storing up lasting treasures to temporary comfort
  • Discipline – from chastening of a loving Father to unfortunate circumstances
  • Exhortation – from challenging to catering

The apostle Paul spoke in the context of the culture, but he didn’t succumb to it.  Adjusting terminology to make church more attractive to a post-Christian society is a slippery slope.  Jesus is unequivocally countercultural.  We cannot stay relevant by compromising vernacular to make our faith more practical, beneficial or interesting for those learning revised definitions of biblical terms from a secular dictionary.

It’s Your Turn…

What other words with scriptural roots have our culture and churches adjusted to fit their narratives?

Will the Lord Heal our Land?

Oct 01, 20
JMorgan
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During the pandemic, the most oft-quoted verse in Christian articles, Bible studies and meetings has been 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 – “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  As America crosses the threshold of 7 million COVID-19 cases and 200,000 Coronavirus-related deaths, Christians across the country are praying for healing.  But the Lord’s healing isn’t just physical, and it has conditions.  The emphatic “if/then” statement in that verse makes a clear connection between our spiritual and moral “healing” as a precursor to physical (i.e. disease and hunger) “healing”.

Popular culture increasingly calls evil good and good evil, works to strip God out of every facet of society, and considers Christians “haters” for not actively celebrating their social values.  The resulting hopelessness apart from Jesus impacts America’s psychological health as suicides, depression and substance abuse rates reach unprecedented levels – particularly among younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) who grew up in a post-Christian world.  Even our churches have throttled back on discipleship, compassion and accountability, concerned those inconveniences would threaten their survival during this already tenuous period in American church history.  Assuming the U.S.A. qualifies as “my people”, then 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 means that, individually and collectively, we need a remedy for our poor spiritual health before we receive healing for our failing physical and mental health.

Power of Healing

Jesus choose healing and feeding as His primary means of demonstrating compassion.  Not coincidentally, those are the same two ailments referenced in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 – famine caused by drought and locusts, and disease in the form of a plague.  Jesus could have done any miracles to address any other felt needs.  He could have made money appear (as He did in the fish to pay taxes) and given it to impoverished families.  He could have miraculously rescued children from the clutches of abusive parents and human traffickers.  But our Savior chose to heal diseases and feed families because those miracles demonstrated God’s love and power in a way that nothing else could.  They both directly and dramatically impact our greatest concern – our health.  Nothing stops people in their tracks like physical pain and illness.  The instant we get in an accident or receive a dire diagnosis, all of our seemingly significant problems suddenly fade into the background.  Even the Old Testament foretold that Jesus would one day take our infirmities and carry away our diseases, a uniquely encouraging prophecy.  We wonder why God wouldn’t allow Satan at first to touch Job’s health until we consider the extraordinary effect that losing it has on human beings.

Likewise, the flip side – regaining our health – is a feeling of relief like none other.  Imagine taking your first deep breath in weeks following recovery from COVID-19.  Picture getting word from the doctors that you’re in remission or cancer free.  It’s one of the best days of our lives – among the sweetest words we’ve ever heard.  We celebrate having more life to live and spending more time with loved ones.  We worry ourselves sick about a child who is ill.  Parents stress about finances, but then would gladly give every dollar for their child to survive a terminal illness.

Healing also involves a core need all humans desperately crave but sorely lack during this period of social distancing – physical touch.  We miss hugs, handshakes and a pat on the back, their absence making us realize how important they are to relationships and our sense of wellbeing.  We honor heroes who bravely work in the medical field or as first responders in close proximity to COVID-19 patients, putting their own lives and families at risk.  Jesus did the unthinkable and actually touched a leper who were (considered) “unclean” and highly contagious.  Meet The Need assisted the University of South Florida in bringing medical students to Tampa Port Ministries to bring a healing touch to sailors out at sea for weeks without adequate health care.  That ministry knows what Jesus knew, that weary travelers will be more open to hearing the Gospel after receiving treatment for an illness than any other service it can offer.

There’s no greater illustration of the importance God places on physical health than the Lord’s sacrifice of His only Son to eradicate the spiritual illness of corruption in our souls.

Conditions for Healing

Our nation is offering up frequent and fervent prayers for healing from Coronavirus, yet we’re suffering from a far more serious ailment.  Many wonder whether God is allowing the pandemic to awaken slumbering believers and non-believers, using the loudest available alarm clock.  Is He touching our bodies to heal our land?  Maybe reminding us of our mortality will bring repentance and revival?

The history of Israel and Jesus’ ministry shows how generously the Lord wants to lavish mercy and dole out healing on His “people”.  But in most of those cases, He didn’t restore a person or nation to physical or psychological health unless they first…

  1. Confessed – knew and admitted they were sick. But popular culture doesn’t acknowledge the existence of sin and our churches hesitate to confront or address sin.
  2. Asked – prayed and pleaded for a cure. But are we asking for God to remove COVID-19 without satisfying the prerequisites referenced in 2 Chronicles (“turning from our wicked ways”)?
  3. Believed – expressed true faith, not that God would heal but that He could heal (if it’s His will). But does our society still ascribe that kind of power to God?
  4. Repented – promised to change if the Lord restores our health. But have we reached rock bottom like the nation of Israel often did and humbled ourselves before almighty God?

The reality is that America hasn’t met those conditions.  Its prevailing worldview is no longer predicated on being guests in God’s house but “homeowners” who make their own rules that others must follow or risk being “cancelled”.  Even our churches are anxious to get back to normal as soon as a vaccine is discovered or we reach herd immunity, yet “normal” pre-pandemic was a Church in decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception.  Rather than realizing we’re sick and pledging to change as we collectively cry out to God for help, we’re more likely to repeat life post-9/11 where any glimmer of repentance quickly faded when the threat subsided.

Need for Healing

Recent Barna studies found that compared to Boomers, Millennials are…

  • 28% less likely to say they follow the Golden Rule
  • twice as likely to say they respect only people who hold similar beliefs as them
  • less than half as likely to say life is sacred
  • far more likely to cling to revenge

Millennials are “less inclined to believe in absolute moral truth, view the Bible as a reliable moral guide, be committed to practicing their faith, pray and worship during a typical week, confess their sins, believe that God created humans in his image, and believe that God loves them unconditionally.”

The 4 year “reprieve” Christians celebrated in 2016, which I wrote about during Meet The Need’s #CastAnEternalVote campaign, has come home to roost.  A complacent church, expecting to enjoy peace without persecution under a church-friendly President, wasn’t prepared for 2020 – church without buildings, unity without racial integration (during “the most segregated hour of the week”), or neighborhood outreach without disciples.

Now we face the prospect of greater division and godlessness as social media and Artificial Intelligence inundate Americans with content to reinforce one-sided beliefs as soon as they consume a slanted, embellished article.  The automated processes that funnel biased messaging designed to drive moderates to the fringe are firmly in place and unlikely to change because they generate profitability for corporations, causes and activists.

Delivery of Healing

Christ-followers don’t have the power to heal unless the Holy Spirit chooses to work through us.   We understand the power and need for healing, but how can Christians be a conduit for delivering physical and spiritual “healing”, particularly during this age of social distancing?  We want everyone to experience the joy we’ve found, to hear the 3 words that convey the best news ever – “you are healed”!  The path God provided in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 for healing our nation, which is growing increasingly ill by the day, calls for His Church to help America meet the conditions described in that verse…

  1. Confession – Be bold in admitting where we’ve fallen short in living out prayer, care and share
  2. Asking – Make disciples who will love their neighbors to Jesus, not simply invite them to a church service
  3. Belief – Compassionately reach out like Jesus did to “touch” a culture that is already seeing its self-centered, fragile psyche start to crumble
  4. Repentance – Follow the example of Jesus, Paul, Peter and John the Baptist who all came out of the gates calling for all men and women to turn from fruitless, worldly pursuits

As long as we define Church as an institution and don’t assign personal responsibility for the Great Commission to individual believers, then the lack of incentive and leverage to lead our nation to meet those four conditions may block its healing.

It’s Your Turn…

In this age of COVID-19 when health is such a prevalent issue and social distancing is enforced, how is your church providing physical, psychological and spiritual healing to your community?

Is Church or State More Responsible for Helping the Poor?

Sep 17, 20
JMorgan
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9 comments

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?