Tag Archives: Community Outreach

Rescuing “Love” from Society’s Clutches

Sep 30, 21
JMorgan
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Part 3 (of 3)

Jesus modeled a framework for understanding the nature and extent of God’s love – as our Father.  The term “love” is misconstrued today, thrown around to justify sin and manipulate behaviors, because it has been detached from its source.  Seeing God as a Father grounds “love” in the foundation of a dad’s relationship with his child.  Our Lord embodies the perfect Father in countless ways.  No matter how badly we mess up, God’s love for His children never diminishes.  Conveying God’s love in that context would also lead more non-believers to Christ, accurately depicting how He feels about us and how we should relate to Him.

Christians and churches bear some responsibility for disconnecting “love” from its biblical roots.  We begin the Lord’s prayer with “Our Father” but compartmentalize His character, not teaching that all aspects fit perfectly within a fatherly framework.  Society could not judge God according to its standards of right and wrong if we debunked perceptions of God’s “intolerance” in the Old Testament, explaining that He’s a loving Father who protects and disciplines His children.  Culture would be less inclined to dismiss Christians as “haters” if we better reflected the Father’s love to the world.  “Atheists” would envy our security if we had more faith, not doubting our Father’s love when things don’t go our way.

How Religion Undermines Relationship

To the extent that religion is a man-made construct, it blocks relationship with the Father.  Throughout history, religions across the globe have replaced God with human beings who serve as spiritual “fathers”.  They relegate deities to various, more distant, positions that dictate the obligations followers owe to them, such as:

  • Servants of a benevolent dictator
  • Criminals facing a demanding judge
  • Workers earning wages from a taskmaster
  • Enlightened searching for inner divinity
  • Disciples pursuing a glorious spiritual state
  • Adherents selecting their preferred god(s)
  • Converts forming their own conception of god

Whether abstract or concrete, none of those religious perspectives involve a close relationship with a loving Father.  They either elevate humans, empowering them to determine their eternal fate by their actions, or marginalize god(s) by making their level attainable.  Both scenarios give spiritual “fathers” the latitude to prescribe paths for achieving ultimate glory.  By inserting themselves in between the Father and spiritual “orphans”, religious leaders claim favored status, closer to their deity than other followers.  Assuming a preferred position means everyone else has to go through those spiritual “fathers” to get to their god(s).

That’s precisely what other religions resent most about Christianity.  The concept of direct access to a loving Father eliminates the opportunity for leaders to maintain parental authority over people.  Politicians and theocrats wage campaigns to eradicate Christianity from their borders because Jesus tore a veil (between the Father and His children) that they desperately want to stitch back up.  Therefore, Christians bear the brunt of religious persecution internationally in the form of intolerance and discrimination.  Ironically, Christians are also the ones most often accused of intolerance and oppression by the media in America.  Our culture fears a relationship with the Father because in addition to experiencing His love, being a child also involves rules and accountability.  For non-Christians both here and abroad, keeping God at arms-length means maintaining control – over their own lives and the lives of others.  What they all miss out on is the chance to get to know the consummate Father on a deeply personal level.

How Christians and Churches Often Miss It Too

Christ-followers have no excuse for misunderstanding the relationship God has with His children.  Jesus’ example and emphasis consistently pointed to God’s fatherhood.  He went so far as to say, “do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)  That role is reserved solely for the Lord.  Yet in churches and Christian social circles, the word “father” is used frequently either as a religious title or honorary designation.  The implicit presumption is that spiritual “fathers” have more direct line to God for speaking to and hearing from Him.  Accepting a “father” label carries with it assumption of God’s fatherly responsibilities as well as the scrutiny due anyone who aspires to such heights.  Failure to live out the Father’s love will reflect poorly on Him.

In fact, the inability of Christians who have been put on a pedestal to live up to that billing has enabled society to play fast and loose with the word “love”.  When role models for the Father’s love are not loving, society dismisses God’s love as well.  When pastors do not adequately connect God’s love to that of a Father, churchgoers who never wonder about their dad’s (unconditional) love often question the heavenly Father’s (Agape) love when things go wrong.  They do not grasp and therefore do not convey the concept of God as a perfect Father.  God is love, so love without God is not truly love.  He is the gold standard.  And “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  If many Christians don’t recognize the fatherly nature of God and His love, what chance do non-believers have?

No other description of who God is captures the full extent of God’s character.  His love and justice seem on opposite ends of a spectrum until they convene around His fatherhood.  Ask most Christians to describe God and their relationship with Him – you’re likely to hear “almighty”, “omniscient” and “follower”, “worshipper”.  All of those carry some truth, but anything other than Father” and “child” inserts a wedge between God and His children.  Christian leaders typically speak in more general terms about God’s love so churchgoers miss its fatherly context.  We’re left to wonder whether the lack of emphasis on God’s fatherhood relates at all to the reasons why other religions add access layers between mankind and God.

Overplaying hierarchy within churches rather than empowering disciples encourages approaching “fathers” rather than the “Father” for guidance.  Discipleship passes down responsibility to individuals to study, learn and teach others about Jesus.  Recognition that all Christians regardless of the religious label thrust upon them are not “fathers” but children of the one true Father is a more biblical church growth model.  Jesus bucked attempts by the religious establishment to erect walls impeding direct relationships with His Father.  He continues to resist efforts to make church about pastors, buildings and a weekly event – “pray, pay and stay out of the way”.  Like the Father in the prodigal son parable, Jesus welcomed with open arms all who bypassed relational roadblocks and ran straight to Him, like little children.

Churches focusing too heavily on growing congregations and not disciples divert attention away from the Father.  They can inadvertently encourage members to make the church, pastor or fellowship their first love.  The first love for most children is a dad and mom.  When we are born, dad is our protector and provider, exactly what God is as our Father when we are reborn.  Revelation 2 warned the Church at Ephesus and churches today to put nothing or no one between the “first love” of a Father and His children.

Reestablishing God’s Love as the Gold Standard

Church is culture’s only defense, but we’ve let our guard down.  It’s clear to most pastors and ministry leaders, particularly those who work with troubled youth, that fatherhood determines the course of culture.  Crime, poverty and education are highly correlated to the presence and involvement of dads.  Churches have an opportunity to introduce communities filled with the fatherless (who therefore have no idea what true love looks like) to the most loving Father they could ever have.  Yet many don’t speak or teach about God in those terms, nor do they actively demonstrate the Father’s love to a waiting, watching world.

Understanding, acting out and presenting God as a loving Father would change nearly every aspect of how we “do” church in America today…

  1. TEACHING – Explain all facets of God’s character and actions, both in people’s lives and in Scripture, in terms of the fatherly framework Jesus modeled for viewing our relationship with Him.  Give all glory to the Father, refusing to accept parental status.
  2. MERCY – Reflect the love of our Father in how He would manage His house, like accountability for obedience but grace for repentance.  Follow the Father’s lead outside the church as well, choosing love over condemnation and mercy over self-righteousness.
  3. HOPE – Churches prove they worship a loving Father, the only hope for spiritual orphans and a fraying social fabric, when they participate in bringing His Kingdom to earth as the Lord’s prayer prescribes (e.g. offering daily bread, forgiveness, and delivery from evil).
  4. COMPASSION – Act as only a Father would, who loves His children even when no one else will, no matter how unattractive or impoverished they may be.  Look past exteriors to show those who feel unworthy of love that our Father would welcome them home.
  5. FAITH – Speak out as boldly for our Father as we would for our dad if he were being maligned.  What society hears from Christians today is not children who love a Father, but a special interest group defending its morals, churches, religion, rights and privileges.
  6. MISSION – We fulfill our identity as the Father’s children by making disciples through His Holy Spirit.  Bringing people into life-changing relationships with our Father is how we carry on the family’s generations and work, our Great Calling and Great Commission.
  7. UNITY – We bond as sons and daugthers of the same Father, not just as members of the same church or life group.  Cliques form within churches and across the body of Christ because leaders don’t emphasize enough that God is a Father and we are all His children.

Until churches shift the paradigm – embracing and conveying God as a Father – the world will continue to reject His love in favor of “loves” of their own conception and convenience.

It’s Your Turn…

Please share other ideas for how churches can help steer society back toward the concept of God as Father to help them better understand His love…

The Essence & Entirety of the Father’s Character

Sep 16, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 2 (of 3)

Any plot to eradicate Christianity must involve a single, crucial step.  Restricting freedom of worship won’t work.  Persecution always backfires.  Exerting pressure may weed out cultural Christians but strengthens the resolve of true disciples.  All that’s needed is to redefine “love.  Simply shift social consciousness from the word’s source and foundation – the unconditional love of our heavenly Father.  Associate sharing the Gospel with “imposing” beliefs.  Equate moral standards with intolerance.  Attribute natural disasters and childhood cancer to God.  Lavish praise on heroes for cleaning up the mess – disaster relief and miraculous healings.  Brand the exclusivity of Jesus bigotry.  Label speaking His name in public (spiritual) harassment   Credit secular activists with rescuing innocent victims from Christian “extremists”.

Any counter offensive must involve a return of the word to its rightful owner – and repentance for enabling its abduction.  However, the world is not likely to relinquish its hold on a term with such tremendous power.  In the name of love, any lifestyle or personal choice is shielded from criticism.  Politicians purchase votes.  Media condemns non-conformance.  Corporations generate profits.  Thankfully, those powers are no match for Jesus, who reassures us, “…take heart! I have overcome the world.”  And it was Jesus who modeled a framework for understanding the nature and context of love in its intended, purest form – that of a perfect Father.  Failure to follow our Savior’s lead, to understand and convey that image of His Father’s character, has led to rampant misconceptions of who God – and what love – is.

The Essence and Entirety of the Father’s Character

Anyone who comes to Christ becomes a child of the ultimate Father.  Viewing God’s love in light of how a fantastic dad loves his children reminds us that nothing can separate us from His love.  Adults who had a good dad look back in their childhoods and know he loved them even when he gave them the freedom to fail, when he occasionally let them suffer consequences of mistakes, or when he disciplined them for doing wrong.  We retrospectively judge dads based on how they treated us, how they made us feel, how much time they spent with us, and how they helped us grow up – not what they did or didn’t give us.  Yet many avowed atheists rejected Christianity and former Christians “deconstructed” because God didn’t do something they wanted or allowed them to endure hardship when they were younger.  If we realized God is a loving Father, we wouldn’t be so quick to discount or dismiss Him when things don’t go our way.  Instead, we would live more like a faithful child, thankful for the Father’s provision and guidance through good times and bad.

Every aspect of God’s character is contained within the framework of God as our loving Father.  We understand that all His attributes fall under the umbrella of love only when we see Him as a Father.  Many argue that God is not just a God of love, but also of holiness and justice – viewing each component as independent.  Their point is that accepting the Bible’s contention that “God is love” conveniently ignores His intolerance of sin to appease a society demanding tolerance.  However, when viewed through the prism of fatherhood, we acquiesce to the truth of Scripture – that God’s patience, goodness and mercy as well as His justice, anger and discipline are entirely wrapped up in His role as a loving Father.  Yes, He is fiercely protective of His children – but isn’t that true of any great dad?  Yes, He punishes his children when they disobey – but isn’t that true of any great dad?  Yet non-believers shun God and pastors focus on the New Testament because they do not associate God’s “intolerant” actions in the Old Testament with fatherly inclinations.  They are more accepting of Jesus than His Father, not grasping that They are One, meaning Jesus is completely consistent with every facet of His Father’s nature – all of which are encapsulated in His love.  We can’t forget that it was the Father who sent His Son Jesus to rescue His children.

An important disclaimer is not to view God through the lens of our earthly dads.  Some of us had difficult experiences with our dads that cloud our image of a flawless Father.  Dads are not fair representations of who God is or role models for how God should be.  His ways are not our ways.  The Lord operates in a realm we cannot fathom so we cannot project onto God our feelings, expectations or standards related to our dads.  How can we pass judgment on God for His decisions when we can’t comprehend His omniscient and omnipotent perspective?  His understanding of what needs to happen for the most good to be done for the most people far exceeds our own.  What we do so imperfectly and temporally as dads for the good of our kids, the Lord does perfectly and eternally on a global scale for all His children.

The Many Ways We’re Children of a Heavenly Father

Correlating God’s love to that of an amazing dad explains and illuminates so much about how the Lord feels about us and how we should relate to Him.  God is fatherly in his approach toward those who follow His Son’s lead of being a faithful child.  Kids with great dads, like children of a heavenly Father, experience unconditional love, confident in the knowledge that they…

  1. …have a special place in the family (1 Peter 2:9) – A child from different household doesn’t call a friend’s parent “dad”. Youth today search aimlessly for a sense of belonging, finding acceptance from other spiritual orphans rather than in the waiting arms of a Father.
  2. …can always come home (Luke 15:17-24) – Jesus tells the prodigal son parable to reassure us that no matter how badly we mess up, it’s never too late to repent and return to the Father with full privileges as His child.
  3. …are part of something far bigger than themselves (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) – God loves the whole world, but only Christians have dual citizenship in a democracy and a Kingdom, brothers and sisters of the same Father.
  4. …are heirs (Romans 8:17) – Children inherit a dad’s wealth and our Father is a King who owns the cattle on 1,000 hills so all He has is ours, including eternal life.
  5. …understand where they came from (Genesis 1:27) – Most of us know who our dad is, just as we all inherently know who created us because we carry God’s image, even “atheists”.
  6. …are completely dependent (Matthew 18:3) – Infants are helpless and Scripture tells us we must enter the Kingdom as little children of our Father, humble and poor in spirit.  Governments and businesses try to divert that dependence for power and profit.
  7. …never want to disappoint their dad (Matthew 25:21) – The worst words a dutiful son can ever hear from dad are “I’m disappointed in you” as opposed to the Father’s words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
  8. …want to make dad proud (Isaiah 49:8) – Some grown-ups still seek approval from a dad they could never please whereas God’s acceptance hinges simply on restoration of our broken relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus.
  9. …appreciate advice from dad (2 Timothy 3:16) – Since God is our Father, the Bible is His words of wisdom spoken directly to you as His child, bringing back fond memories of a life-changing conversation with dad when you were young.
  10. …have rules to follow (Matthew 22:37-38) – At someone’s house, it’s “their roof, their rules”.  We’re living in a world God created so if we’re legitimate children then we are subject to His laws, including Jesus’ example and commandment to love His Father.
  11. …may disobey but can be forgiven (Romans 8:32-39) – Nothing can separate us from the love of our Father just as breaking a dad’s rules does not sever that relationship.
  12. …will face discipline (Proverbs 3:12) – A loving dad punishes to teach valuable lessons, not as retribution, which is the same spirit in which our Father corrects His children.
  13. …will be provided for (Acts 14:17) – Consider replacing the distant “God as Owner, you as steward” generosity mandate with a loving “God as Father, you as child” paradigm.
  14. …can implicitly trust dad (Proverbs 3:5-6) – Knowing a caring dad would never intentionally harm his children illustrates how our Father ultimately wants what’s best for us regardless of our current circumstances.
  15. …can count on dad to always be there (1 Corinthians 6:19) – Picture the Holy Spirit as a houseguest we often rudely ignore.  If you had a devoted dad during your childhood and he is your houseguest, could you imagine hardly spending any time with him?
  16. …will get bailed out if they’re in real trouble (Luke 1:67-79) – A dad rescues his child from life-threatening situations just as our Father sacrificed to save us from ourselves.
  17. …occupy a subordinate place in the pecking order (John 3:30) – Childlike faith in a dad looks up to him with a reverence that everyone should direct toward their Holy Father.
  18. …imitate their dad (John 15:4) – As we walk in the footsteps of our dads, even more so should we abide in the loving guidance of our Father and follow the path of His Son.
  19. …love what dad loves (John 13:34-35) – Children share dad’s interests.  Discipleship reveals our Father’s interests, like serving the poor and urging reconciliation with Him.
  20. …teach others what dad taught them (Matthew 28:18-20) – We pass along lessons learned from dad and also have an opportunity to lead others toward our eternal Father.
  21. …defend the family’s honor and good name (1 Peter 3:15) – A child gets upset when people speak ill of dad, so when non-believers disparage God we need to be prepared to show how He is a wonderful Father.
  22. …look forward to seeing dad (Philippians 1:21-23) – The excitement about dad getting home after a long trip should reflect how we feel about one day seeing our Father in Heaven.

We may not have a solid relationship with our dads – and possibly never will.  If we don’t have a relationship with our heavenly Father during this life, we can be certain we will not have one with Him after our death.  However, if we understand our intended role as God’s children, we will see Him in His true, fatherly light and follow Him faithfully now and forever.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll unpack how Christians and churches have contributed to the world’s redefinitions of “love” by not adequately couching and conveying God’s love as that of a Father.  Please share any additional thoughts about how Christians could steer society back toward a Father whose love far surpasses any lesser “loves” we may pursue.

The Abducted Word Behind Post-Christian America

Sep 02, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 (of 3)

God is love.  Because love is often misunderstood, so is God.  There are powerful incentives on this side of heaven for misinterpreting and miscommunicating the intended meaning of “love”.  Decoupling the word from its source removes constraints around the most compelling concept God ever designed.  Usurping ownership of “love” and the right to redefine it frees mankind to leverage the ultimate others-centered term for self-centered purposes.  In the name of “love” (and often in the name of “god”), governments manipulate and control entire populations.  Leaders compel conformance by conspiring with media to turn public opinion against those not “loving” enough to comply with edicts deemed to be in the nation’s “best interest”.  With no reference point back to its Originator, activists invoke their conceptions of “love” to move culture in directions that suit their personal interests.  For example, our society today conflates love with tolerance, disingenuously applauding others for the passionate pursuit of pleasure to justify their own indulgence.

Those who don’t know Jesus as Savior struggle to grasp love’s true meaning because Jesus is its greatest ambassador and example.  Some look elsewhere for role models, deferring to whatever celebrities, teachers and politicians consider “loving” (as if love were relativistic and not an absolute).  Others wonder, “how could a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?”, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and who humans are.  Questioning God’s goodness and presuming man’s goodness implies love came from us and not Him.  Likewise, dig deep into an avowed atheist’s or agnostic’s past and you’re apt to find they once believed in God but rejected Him out of disappointment that (at some point) He didn’t do what they wanted or did something they didn’t want.  In other words, they thought they knew God but didn’t have a proper frame of reference for understanding His love.  Since God is love, it turns out they didn’t know Him at all.

Even in some Christian circles, God’s love has been taken out of its biblical context, calling into question how well many believers actually know God

  • A recent study found that 60% of professed “born-again” Christians between 18 and 39 no longer believe a loving God would provide only one path to eternal life
  • A pervasive message dominating Christian media airwaves and American pulpits rewrites John 3:16 to say God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to give us an abundant, fulfilling life
  • A prevailing view of “faith” today is a firm belief that God’s love guarantees a particular outcome; however, Jesus modeled expressing a preference yet deferring to the Lord’s will no matter what it entails
  • Many well-known pastors have succumbed to social pressure, deemphasizing the Old Testament for fear God wasn’t politically correct enough then for today’s PC culture
  • We frequently speak of how “blessed” (code for loved) people are based on how many good things happen to them
  • Contemporary Christian songs seem to require somewhere in the lyrics a reference to how our (loving) God will rescue us in this life from “storms”, “valleys” or “chains”

Perhaps churchgoers have heard popular passages about love so many times they’ve become desensitized, losing sight of the full context of God’s love.  Some facets of His character are less palatable to consumers, but every dimension is rooted and grounded in His love.  Common misapplications of verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 imply a linkage between God’s love and expectations that He will give us our heart’s desires and keep us from harm.  But His love isn’t diminished when the Lord does whatever is necessary (from His eternal, omniscient perspective) to bring us closer to Him and lead people to Jesus.  Nor was Christ’s love for His disciples compromised when they suffered and died martyr’s deaths.

The Old Testament prophet Malachi stressed that Jesus was coming because so few on earth, even in Israel, knew who God was.  The next book in the Bible, Matthew, set that record straight – leaving no doubt that every aspect of God’s nature, encapsulated in Jesus, is about love.  Today, as the world’s definitions of love infiltrate churches and many Christians lose touch with who God is, the day of the Lord’s next and final intervention (the return of Jesus), draws nearer.  Before that second advent, we pray as many people as possible come to know the love of Jesus intimately.  Toward that end, believers and non-believers alike need a framework for better understanding and communicating about God’s love to stem the tide of secularization in our nation.  The Old and New Testaments repeatedly give us that framework, but somehow many of us didn’t get the memo.  As result, some have left the faith while others have been led astray within the faith.

Couching Love in the Context Jesus Modeled

As a disclaimer and preface, no example or picture of God’s love can enable us to comprehend or live out the Great Commandment except by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Having said that, the Holy Spirit implores us to experience that love by seeing God as Jesus saw Him – as a Father.  Not only that, but the Spirit urges us to see ourselves as our Father sees us – as His children.  The spiritual identity crisis faced by all human beings can only be resolved by becoming a child of an infallible, infinitely loving Father.  That transformative sense of belonging completely alters how we treat others, how we react to circumstances, how we respond to opportunities, and how we make difficult decisions.

Jesus showed us what it means to live with absolute assurance that His Father is almighty God, the maker of Heaven and earth.  Jesus modeled what we should emulate – a love commensurate with a level of faith only possible in a Father who can be completely trusted because He is unaffected by worldly worries, fears and temptations.  In every way, Jesus was clearly His Father’s Son – in prioritizing prayer above all else to spend time with His Father, in His imitation of all facets of His Father’s character, and in reflecting His Father’s mercy on all those humble enough to identify as a child (rather than a father figure).  To remove any doubt, Jesus almost always referred to God as His Father and welcomed being called His Son.  He was unflinchingly secure in His identity, boasting only in His Father and position as His Child.  Jesus went so far as to issue a dire warning to follow His lead – “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18:3)

Picturing God as He truly is (our Father) and us as we truly are (His children) serves as guardrails, inhibiting misuse of the term “love” and keeping worldly definitions from invading the Church’s vernacular.  It also gives Christians a context for sharing about God’s love that will resonate with non-believers.  We might as well be speaking Greek trying to explain the difference between Agape (unconditional), Eros (sexual) and Phileo (brotherly) forms of love.  However, if non-believers consider the lengths an exceptional dad would go to to defend and protect his children, the inextricable linkage between our Father and Agape love would become imminently clear.  It was that purest form of (fatherly) love, not cruelty (as many non-Christians assume), that led God repeatedly to discipline Israel and rebuff its enemies.  In addition, if the world saw God as a Father who loves us enough to pay the highest price to spend eternity with Him, they would be less inclined to dismiss Him as distant or callous for “allowing” disease and disasters.  Without that fatherly frame of reference, modern society is applying untethered definitions of “love” to rationalize repudiating Christianity by labeling God as intolerant or harsh by their standards.

Until people know Jesus as Savior and God as Father, they remain spiritual orphans.  An earthly dad cannot substitute for a heavenly Father.  Feeble attempts to fill the “Father-shaped hole” end in what we’re witnessing today – rising rates of drug addiction, anti-depressant usage and suicide.  America’s fastest growing religion, Selfism, inflates a fragile identity bubble around our nation’s youth that eventually pops because conditional self-love can never replace the unconditional love of a Father.  Statistics estimate 85% of incarcerated youth come from fatherless homes.  My fear is a larger percentage of Fatherless youth are imprisoned in sin and hopelessness.  Personally, when my mom chose alcohol and prescription drugs over her children when I was 13, I counted on my dad to save the day only to realize I’d stepped “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.  But divine providence soon led me to a Father who would never let me down and the rest – praise the Lord – is history.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post we’ll delve into the many ways seeing God as our Father sheds light on the nature and depth of His love.  Please share how adopting a Father/child perspective has impacted your relationship with the Lord and helped you share Christ with others.

Proving Your Church Worships the Creator

Aug 19, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

Christians prove they personally know the one true God only when they undergo a transformation reflecting that life-altering, seemingly unimaginable possibility.  Likewise, churches persuade non-believers that they know the infinite Creator only when they reflect that miraculous reality by taking an “otherworldly” approach to conducting their affairs.

Unchurched observers aren’t convinced anything supernatural is going on inside of churches whose principles and practices look much like what people see within their personal social circles and workplaces.  The foundations for the belief systems of churches (Spirit) and the world (flesh) are diametrically opposed, so when efforts to attract and accommodate non-believers blur those lines, society doubts our connection to the Divine.

It’s even conceivable that atheists secretly or subconsciously once wished churches operated atypically to provide a ray of hope, an alternative to the emptiness of a life about power, position and possessions.  Attempts to conform church to cultural norms has dissuaded many from seeking answers there because they ironically, inadvertently became too indistinguishable to clearly convey His image.  According to surveys, the primary difference the unchurched notice between Christian and secular organizations is in their criticism of culture.  Conformance nor criticism provide the path to standing out from the crowd in ways that prove we worship the one true Lord and Savior.

Society Would Believe Churches Worship the Creator If…

Our nation would stop drifting from the Lord and gravitate toward Christ if churches had less in common with secular organizations that people encounter every day.  Persuading the world that churches know the promised Messiah who offers forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation would require looking as different as Jesus did.  For example…

  1. If the love churchgoers had for one another exceeded what people saw anywhere else – Scripture says people will recognize Jesus’ disciples by the love they share.  Yes, prevailing definitions of “love” diminish society’s ability to distinguish our love from theirs, but church splits and factions over tradition, leadership, doctrine and even vaccines are apparent to those outside our “4 walls”.
  2. If the metrics churches used to measure success looked nothing like those businesses track – Revenues, headcount and footprint are corporate terms that unfortunately correspond to the primary ways pastors gauge progress – nickels, noses and (multi) sites.  Income, employment and expansion should be byproducts of discipleship, evangelism and compassion – not worldly goals that fuel cynicism about the Church.
  3. If church planters didn’t follow the typical entrepreneurial lifecycle – Companies begin with a mission and engage the community to understand local needs.  That outward focus leads to growth, which spurs a transition to managing and retaining those customers.  Once the entrepreneur has something to lose, turning attention inward can take their eyes off the initial mission, evolving needs, and community engagement.  Sound familiar?
  4. If church leaders stopped treating members like customers – Equipping and multiplying disciples is a longer yet far more certain and biblical path to church growth.  Becoming and making disciples is also more time-consuming than busy, cultural Christians are willing to endure.  So churches invest the vast majority of their resources into providing what Americans enjoy – exciting, educational yet not too challenging “fast food” experiences.
  5. If churches didn’t outsource critical functions like compassion to government, charities and ministries – When corporations outsource manufacturing or customer service overseas to underpaid workers in undemocratic nations it angers Americans concerned about jobs and justice.  Americans also notice that churches have outsourced costly compassion to other organizations for similar reasons – to focus on more engaging, lucrative activities.
  6. If denominations were more united than the world around them – Churches should be an oasis, offering a respite from this highly divisive period in our nation’s history.  If our God were big enough to overshadow our stark differences, non-believers would certainly take notice.  If churches collaborated frequently to move the needle on real social issues (e.g. grade level literacy), they would bridge the sacred/secular divide that defines our culture.
  7. If churches were less political than today’s average citizen or corporation – Most churches find themselves on either end of the Politically Correct or Politically Incorrect spectrum…rarely in the middle.  Both extremes repel large swaths of people, providing progressives with ample examples of churches that arrogantly condemn and conservatives with ammo against churches that cave to convention.
  8. If churches were more forthright than post-modern society about the depravity of all humans, including members – The culture war raging in our nation is centered around one fundamental disagreement…whether human nature is inherently good or bad.  Media drives home the message that every individual is a demi-god while mocking Christians for presumably thinking they’re better than everyone else.
  9. If Christians presented absolute truth with greater abandon than our relativistic culture – Churches can be just as guilty of “living my own truth” when they are selective about what they teach from God’s Word.  Scripture doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of room for omission or interpretation, yet most pastors tend to underemphasize Jesus’ less palatable commands like serving the poor, making disciples, and truly repenting of sin.
  10. If churches were more welcoming but less accommodating than the average social club – Country clubs are exclusive, but then go over the top to cater to those who make the cut.  Places of worship should be holy, designed for those who worship Jesus, and should rally the congregation to meet the needs of other members.  However, churches must be demanding, not offering “cheap grace” (simply attending, joining, and tithing), but challenging members to bear the costs of discipleship rather than outsourcing those responsibilities to pastors.
  11. If churches trusted God enough not to plan and program as meticulously as businesses – Many of the Nones and Dones once attended church regularly but are firm in their resolve never to return because they see it as no different than any other human institution.  They waited for years to witness the inexplicable but instead discovered only carefully scripted choreography of music, sermons and programming behind the curtain.
  12. If we were less anxious than society to return to “normal” post-pandemic – A world clamoring for safety and security watched to see how churches and Christians responded to adversity.  The Church’s impact, influence, growth and public perception were suffering before COVID-19, so society believes it must be desperation to avoid bankruptcy (much like retailers) driving them to want to get back to a “business as usual” that wasn’t working.
  13. If churches were less transactional than our promotional, short attention span culture – Events, commercials, sound bites and Tweets resonate with Americans.  In an attempt to navigate society’s attention deficit, we’ve not only compacted worship services but church activities and outreach as well.  Since poverty is about broken relationships, our seasonal community service events actually do more harm than good, producing dependency, cynicism and shame in those unable to make ends meet.
  14. If churches did a better job than other organizations of responsibly utilizing their capacity – Investors and consumers reward companies for maximizing utilization of their facilities.  Yet churches possess a tremendous amount of square footage that sits largely idle most days of the week.  That waste of space which could be leveraged to serve and engage the community year-round is akin to a wealthy family who rarely visits a second home.
  15. If church leaders and business leaders took a less self-interested view of one another – Many walk away from church with a bad taste in their mouths due to underutilization of their skills.  They hoped to make a significant impact in the lives of others yet felt taken advantage of doing “church chores” beneath their capabilities.  Rather than equipping members for Kingdom work in their circles of influence, members were encouraged to abdicate ministry roles by inviting friends to come to church to hear from “professionals”.

The body of Christ should bear little resemblance to man-made constructs.  Our philosophies, purposes and priorities should be radically transformed because an omniscient, omnipotent God is guiding our every move.  To the naked eye, it’s hard to believe pews are filled with people possessed with power from an indwelling Holy Spirit if we operate much like for-profit organizations.  We’re responsible for miscommunicating the truth of who God is if we compromise to conform to the world’s image rather than His.

It’s Your Turn

How can churches offer a shining alternative to culture by differentiating in ways that reflect the truth about the love and grace of almighty God?

Proving Christians Actually Know God

Aug 05, 21
JMorgan
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5 comments

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

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

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

If There Really Were a God, Then…

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

The More Important Election Few Are Talking About

Sep 21, 16
JMorgan
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one comments

Sign at Boston Immigration rally

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)

Our high officials occupying and seeking the White House are Gentiles – non-believers.  As Christians, our job is not to imitate them.  Nor should we worry about what they’ve done – or will do.  We can only control what we do.  We are called to action.  Our energy should be directed more toward who ends up in God’s House than in the White House.  Jesus asks us to follow His example – that of a humble servant.  “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

How can you become that kind of servant?  How can you show that your home is not on Earth but in Heaven?  How can you cast a vote that will last far longer than the next 4 years?

By election day, NOVEMBER 8th

  • Perform a simple act of service for someone you know or a perfect stranger in the name of Jesus.
  • Share your story on your Facebook or Twitter page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote or #VoteForEternity2016.
  • Directly challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

YOU are the Church

The Church is the living, breathing body of Christ.  The congregation comprises that body.  Each of us is an important body part.

Church is not a “what” – a place.  It’s a “who” – yes, YOU.  The Church’s power is in the vast number and diverse giftings in the body – fueled by the Holy Spirit.  For centuries, those countless parts of Christ’s body recognized their individual roles in expanding the Kingdom – and created an unstoppable, irresistible movement.

So why isn’t Christianity growing in America today?  The explanation we’ve put forward in this blog series is that most members and attenders no longer see…

  • …themselves as the Church personified.
  • …how they weaken the overall body if they don’t carry out their intended functions.
  • …the need to carefully evaluate their giftings and apply them to ministry outside of their church.
  • …their position in their church as important as the pastor’s.
  • …the community as their “customer”, as Jesus did.
  • …a sense of urgency around their role in bringing the lost to Christ.
  • …the Great Commission as an obligation rather than an option.

Because the individual parts aren’t fulfilling their respective roles in the body, the Church today isn’t healthy.  Your toe may be a small fraction of your total mass, but when it breaks your whole body suffers.  In the case of the Church, few parts are functioning as well as they should at their most urgent responsibility between Sundays – the Great Commission.

Imagine if the early Church hadn’t aggressively “gone out” and made disciples?  What if Christ-followers had relied primarily on pastors to evangelize and educate new believers?  Yet that’s where most of us stop today – at extending invitations to church.  What if the early churchgoers had stayed among themselves – rarely venturing out into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to pursue non-believers?  What if they hadn’t followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love and compassion before telling them who He is?  The fact that believers took the Great Commission so seriously was a major reason behind the Church’s explosive growth during its first 1900 years.

How few would be in Heaven if Christians throughout history had seen Church as a place, not as themselves?  Yet my fear is that’s how most churchgoers view Church today.

All Hands on Deck

Jesus, His disciples, and churches for centuries treated the community as its target audience – its “customer”.   For us, the collective Church, to function effectively all parts must work together to pursue our intended “customer”.

In management consulting, we saw countless examples of departments not working in a company’s best interests:

  • Sales – not adequately motivated to convert new customers
  • Marketing – targeting the wrong (i.e. least profitable) customers
  • Operations – processes designed around the needs of internal departments and not of customers
  • R&D – product innovation not keeping up with evolving customer needs
  • Finance – not investing adequately in the optimal customers or products

No company can succeed unless all the departments are adequately staffed and aligned around the interests of its best customers.  What the Bible says about churches is no different.  An entire church – pastors, staff, members, elders, deacons, facilities, etc. – should work together seamlessly to prepare and equip everyone to reach “customers” – those outside its 4 walls.  In this analogy, members are essentially employees, not “customers”.  They are “insiders”, not “outsiders”.

So, how should each part of the body be utilized in this “members ARE the Church, NOT the customer” framework?

  • Members/Regular Attenders – Like Sales, evangelize and serve their true target “customers”, not simply invite them to Sunday morning services.
  • Deacons/Elders – Like Marketing, lead everyone in the church into a deeper relationship with Christ so they can have a greater impact in their spheres of influence.
  • Staff/Administration – Like Operations, yet geared toward equipping and sending disciples, not on keeping the “machine” running.
  • Pastors – Like R&D, cast vision for how to leverage the body to reach more people for Christ.
  • Finance/Facilities – Allocate limited resources to the uses that maximize return on investment – which in Kingdom terms is the # of people who come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

What Body Parts have Atrophied?

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (TLB); “All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  Here is a list of some of the parts He has placed in His Church, which is His body:

  • Apostles,
  • Prophets—those who preach God’s Word,
  • Teachers,
  • Those who do miracles,
  • Those who have the gift of healing,
  • Those who can help others,
  • Those who can get others to work together,
  • Those who speak in languages they have never learned.”

As for those first three, it’s clear that pastors occupy the lead role within a church.  However, the remaining parts of the body listed could be any one of us – while inside or outside the building.  We are the hands and feet of Christ, yet too few of us are stretching and working out our muscles – so they’ve atrophied.  Unless we exercise the body part we represent, both in how we serve others within our church and out in the community, the overall body becomes weaker.  Unless pastors are willing to risk rocking the boat by challenging members to be stronger body parts, churches will continue to atrophy in size, impact and influence.

What body parts are underutilized today?  Are there any we are overusing?  Have we invented some parts that God did not even intend for churches to have?

How Can You Rebuild Those Muscles?

Come to the stark realization that you are the embodiment of Church!  Understand just how critical of a role you play once you leave the church building.  To be most effective as the Church personified, follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love to people and then telling them who He is.

We are asking 1 million Christians across the nation to Cast An Eternal Vote (#CastAnEternalVote) before Election Day, November 8th.  Please share your stories with us!  And don’t forget to challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16 (#VoteforEternity2016)!

3 Keys to Winning the Culture War

Sep 14, 16
JMorgan
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2 comments

Iowa City, United States- February 1, 2016: Heavy turnout for the 2016 Democratic Iowa Caucus in Precinct 14 at Mark Twain Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa with relatively mild for a January Iowa night.

This is not our home.  We should be concerned about the here and now, but not worried.  The Lord has a plan and Hillary nor Donald have any power to alter it.  You and I can’t change God’s will either, but what we can do is help bring as many people as possible with us to our eternal home – in heaven.

Many participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge because they knew someone with ALS.  Others are doing 22 pushups today because they know a veteran with PTSD.  Every one of us has a neighbor, coworker, friend or family member who doesn’t know Jesus.  Isn’t the plight of those lost without Christ far worse than those who suffer from ALS or PTSD?

We only get one vote for President but we can cast countless eternal votes for those we encounter each and every day.  We have far greater ability to impact who’s in God’s House than who’s in the White House.

When you live out Matthew 20:16-28, serving others in Jesus’ name, you’re casting a vote that will endure forever – not just the next 4 years.

To #CastAnEternalVote by election day, November 8th:

  • Perform a simple act of service for someone you know or a perfect stranger in the name of Jesus
  • Tell us your story on our Facebook or Twitter page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote or #VoteForEternity2016
  • Directly challenge 3 of your friends on social media to “pay it forward”

Why You Shouldn’t Abstain from Voting

I recently attended my third gathering of Christian leaders from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the course in America away from Biblical values.  Once again the overwhelming consensus was that the answer lies in Christians recapturing control of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business)In other words, they believe a louder megaphone is the answer to winning the “culture war”.  They are deeply concerned that another 4 years without a Christian in the White House will further undermine the Christian values our nation once held dear. 

Christians have bemoaned, campaigned and lobbied vigorously over recent decades – often in tones that come across as angry.  Yet the louder Christians have yelled, the less we’ve been heard.  We’ve lost our voice in America.  The reason is that we haven’t followed Jesus’ model.  We’ve essentially try to “outpreach” Jesus when we espouse our beliefs without demonstrating His love and compassion – something Jesus rarely did.  Being so often heard yet rarely seen has cost Christianity dearly.  The principle is simple – people don’t care what you know until they know we care.  Turning up the volume will only drive the prevailing view of Christians and churches deeper into the ditch.

Just because a Christian occupies a powerful position at the peak of the governmental mountain top will not necessarily amplify our voice.  If not accompanied by a grass-roots movement of mercy, justice and compassion, more decibels may just solidify the opposition’s resistance to our position on social issues.

Are Christians winning the culture war today?  Name a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.

A Better Weapon to Fight the Culture War

The air war has failed.  Christianity has suffered tremendous collateral damage from years of dropping verbal bombs.

Jesus waged a ground war first of love and service to non-believers, then swooped in to fight an air war with the gospel message once the ground war had sufficiently weakened their resistance.  A ground war requires the right army – prepared, trained and properly motivated for battle – in other words, Powerful Christians.  Passive, Pensive and Private Christians are unfit for active duty.  Only disciples are ready and willing to head to the front lines – of praying, caring and, only then, sharing.

We’re all called to strap on our boots and sling a rifle over our shoulders, ready to get our hands dirty in the ground war of loving service.  People need to know what Christians are for, not what we’re against.  The more we dig our heels in, the less we can connect with them – and the less they can identify with us.

What Will the Battleground Look Like?

Christians and churches face mounting obstacles in the years to come.  Generating meaningful impact, material influence and positive perception will be more difficult as the following trends further unfold:

  • Considering any reference to Biblical perspectives that run counter to what is viewed as socially acceptable to be hate-speak
  • Inability to mention the name of Jesus in public settings, effectively eliminating His name from the “free speech” lexicon (“Jesus“ is the one word I’ve been specifically asked not to mention during a speech I’m giving later today at a public high school)
  • Preventing pastors from expressing opinions from the pulpit that go against court decisions or liberal views on moral issues
  • Requiring Christians to comply with laws that defy Biblical principles
  • “Coming out of the closet” becoming far more applicable to Christians, particularly for kids in schools, requiring courage in the face of the stigma that label now carries with it
  • Shaming of Christians in the media
  • Companies refusing to hire those who do not disavow Biblical views on particular hot-button issues
  • Even physical persecution of Christians will one day occur in America because Muslim population growth and conversion rates will continue to outstrip Christian birth and conversion rates, eventually giving them popular majorities in localities, cities and states

In essence Christians and churches face relegation to a corner, rarely visible in the mainstream, in the not-too-distant future.  Lest you view that as impossible here in the U.S., look at Western Europe where similar internal-focus on the part of churches and social trends led to that same inevitable outcome.

How Can We Win the Culture War?

Christ’s church will prevail.  With increased persecution will likely come greater resolve.  Churches will begin to produce more Powerful Christians.  Lukewarm, on the fence churchgoers won’t persevere when challenges come their way.  Those conditioned for comfort and “consumption” will have some tough decisions to make.  Many passive, pensive and private Christians will run and hide – too afraid to speak or act.  Only true disciples of Jesus Christ will endure the trials by fire – willing to take a stand, refusing to back down when threats to their faith increase.  Only those whose lives are changed can change lives.  The good news is it took just a few disciples of Jesus to reverse the course of history.

Winning the culture war will require:

  1. Redefining “Church” – Seeing ourselves as the church personified and no longer relying on pastors as the “professionals” responsible for bringing non-believers to Christ
  2. Following Jesus’ model – Realizing the importance of linking actions with words
  3. Taking Ground – Masses of Christians infiltrating their spheres of influence with the love and good news of Jesus Christ

A fully trained and effective army that cares and shares could turn the tide of how Christians are viewed in America.  If society begins to see the love of Jesus through the compassion of Christians, a new generation of believers will emerge from the ground up to one day occupy those mountain-top positions.  However, continued efforts to take over the 7 mountains from the top down will further diminish the influence and perception of the church and Christianity, paving the way for the mounting challenges to our faith.

It’s Your Turn…

Cast your eternal vote before Election Day, November 8th and challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16!

Profile of a Church “Shopper”

Aug 31, 16
JMorgan
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6 comments

Famous shopping area in Dublin, Ireland. Grafton Street showing shoppers, shops and church.

Because most churchgoers don’t see themselves AS the church, they’re susceptible to becoming consumers OF the church:

  • “I’m looking for a new church home”
  • “My kids don’t like it there”
  • “I’m not being fed”
  • “The music is too loud”
  • “We don’t feel like we belong”

Americans “shop” because we want more – or something different.  We search for what will make us happy.  We evaluate the available options and choose the one that provides the greatest value.  For many of us today, that also applies when it comes to church.

What do shoppers do at a store?  They find what they want (or not) and then leave.  There are two ways in which “shoppers” leave a church:

…Walk out the door after weekend services

  • and don’t see themselves as the church personified once they’re outside the “4 walls”

…Decide to stop going to a particular church

  • and start looking for another one

Christians shouldn’t stop being the church on the way home.  They may disperse, but that should only serve to permeate the culture with the love of Christ.  Nor should Christians leave a church family because they’re unhappy with it – any more than we can leave the family we’re born into.  God chooses both families for us – and for good reasons.

Chicken or the egg…

Why do so many church goers look for something better?

…Did our advertising-driven culture turn us into consumers of churches as well?

  • and force churches to adapt, catering to rather than challenging members

…Did churches turn us into church consumers?

  • using the latest church growth strategies to drive up attendance

In other words, did churchgoers become finicky on their own or did churches make them that way?  For example, are most church ads today aimed at enticing non-Christians to try out (any) church or convincing Christians to switch over to a new church?  Advertising a “casual environment” or “fun for kids” isn’t going to attract someone who isn’t interested in church.  People can find more relaxing places to go and more fun things for the kids to do elsewhere.  Those kinds of ads would only pull in those who aren’t happy with those aspects of their current churches.

If we’re not careful, church membership can look a little like a country club or health club.  Consumers are accustomed to working within a membership framework.  They pay dues are entitled to certain benefits.  Yet that sort of thinking causes folks to join another “club” when their current church doesn’t meet their expectations.  Too many consumers within churches have turned many from life-saving stations into social clubs with a life-saving motif.  As church has become too comfortable, members have reverted from search-and-rescue squads to partakers of church services.  Intensive life-saving courses have been replaced by small groups.  Churches are no longer first responders when local families are in need, instead resorting to occasional outreach events.   Most church members have lost their sense of sense of urgency for the plight of unbelievers.  They are less cognizant of the dire peril facing those who don’t know Jesus.  Nor do pastors consider obedience to the Great Commission mandate a prerequisite for church membership.

The other way to reach the lost…

Today, instead of “go and make disciples”, we build first-rate facilities, design engaging worship services, post attractive signage and place friendly greeters at the door.  Build it and they will come.  Will they?  Maybe, but when they get there what will they find?  Friends – very likely.  Jesus – hopefully.  The kind of radical life change expected of disciples of Jesus Christ – probably not.  Churches today are producing far too many Pensive, Passive, and Private Christians.

Quick story:  A 3,000 member church hired consultants from one of the country’s largest megachurches to rejuvenate its aging membership.  The prescription:

  • shut down local missions – young families don’t have time to serve the community
  • upgrade the band and raise the decibel level – give it a concert feel
  • gear the sermons toward counseling rather than discipleship
  • more candy and games for the kids – no more boring memory verses
  • fun banners and bulletins
  • get everyone involved in an activity or group inside the church
  • change the “ask” message from Matthew 5:16 to Malachi 3:10

The scary part – it worked!  Smaller churches in the area simply couldn’t provide the same “customer” experience for consumers.  The church grew – in numbers, although not in disciples or impact.  New visitors came, but nearly all were from other churches.  Larger didn’t mean healthier.

Unfortunately there are still many people who won’t dare to darken the door of a church.  They’ve tried church, had a bad experience, and wouldn’t step back into one if their lives depended on it (and they may).

In those cases, the only choice is to “go” to them.

What if we built Powerful disciples who acting as the embodiment of church all week long?  How many more people could we reach with the gospel if members didn’t wait for them to show up at the building?  What if pastors scrapped tightly choreographed “consumer” retention strategies and threw caution to the wind?  What if we turned the table on church consumers?  What if pastors dared do some (or all) of the following?…

…increased service times

…reinstituted Sunday school and expected all to attend

…started an intensive 1-on-1 discipleship program for all congregants

…allocated 40% of the church budget to local outreach and missions

…told members to stop simply inviting non-believers to church and take personal responsibility for bringing people to Christ

…turned small groups into neighborhood groups tasked with BEING the church to the community where they meet

…asked all members to serve in Jesus’ name somewhere in the community at least once every month

Yes, it’s true that nearly all the “consumers” would soon take their business elsewhere.  However, would the church be healthier if disciples were the only ones left in the building?

It’s your turn…

What happened first?  Did most churchgoers become consumers (and then churches adapted to accommodate them), or did churches turn people into church consumers?

Rescue Your Church from the Slippery Slope

Aug 24, 16
JMorgan
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Conyers, GA, USA - August 22, 2015: Competitors carefully make their way down a large slippery dirt mound at the Rugged Maniac Obstacle Course race in Conyers, GA.

After college I spent 2 years on Capitol Hill working for a U.S. Congressman, got an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, served for 15 years as a management consultant to business executives, and invested the past 13 years running a ministry devoted to serving churches.  Yes, quite a varied career, but the Lord had a plan throughout.  He showed me that there are similar, hard-to-resist forces at work in all three…

Entrepreneurial Life Cycle

  • A company begins with a solid understanding of customer needs
  • Founder sees an opportunity to provide better products and services
  • That commitment to serving target customers leads to success
  • Infrastructure struggles under the weight of the resulting growth
  • Spurring process improvement and restructurings, turning focus inward
  • Becomes more out of touch with evolving customer needs and competitors step in
  • Either refocuses on the market and innovates before it’s too late or goes bankrupt

Political Life Cycle

  • A community activist holds ideals dearly that resonate with other citizens
  • Recognizes an opportunity to seek office and make positive changes in the city, state and country
  • Rallies support for his/her candidacy and gets elected
  • Quickly realizes that powerful party forces are at work that restrain the ability to make those changes
  • Acquiesces for the time being, hoping the party’s promises to one day have real power come to fruition
  • Becomes a “politician”, gradually losing touch with those original ideals and constituency
  • Finally arrives at the point of less restrained power and influence, yet by then has little positive impact

Church Life Cycle

  • A church plants in an area with a vision for reaching and impacting that community for Christ
  • Evaluates local needs and ways to bring help and hope to the lost and needy
  • Starts to grow because of those efforts to engage and reach out to the community
  • Reallocate energy and budget to accommodate that growth, adding buildings and staff to meet the needs of the congregation
  • Interactions with those outside the church become more sporadic and arms-length (e.g. mailers)
  • Slowly loses sight of the needs and issues in the community, feeding perception that the church is busy taking care of its own
  • Must refocus externally at some point or (healthy) growth will cease and impact will diminish

Why Too Much Internal Focus Doesn’t Work

Organizations (and leaders) that retrench into their own confines atrophy until they decide to reconnect with the outside world.  A club closes its doors to new members, enjoying the comforts of exclusivity, while its members age.  A business divides into departmental “silos” and the accompanying politics and posturing ensue.  A charity gets short on funds and begins to compromise its original mission for the sake of raising money.  A church plant grows to the point of realizing it has something to lose, becoming more about attracting and retaining than transforming and releasing.

All of those scenarios involve an inordinate degree of self-absorption.  None of them lead to long term success because they redirect attention to the needs of those on the “inside” and away from target “customers”.  When the Church in America redefined its “customer”, increasingly catering to members rather than equipping them to pursue the real “customer”, it ensured its decline.  It violated the most critical mistake any organization can make – largely ignoring its intended “customers”.

The most common church growth model in America is Invite-Involve-Invest – the “rallying cry” of the internally focused church.  It has been a key catalyst in the shift toward the “member is the customer” mentality:

  • INVITE – Ask members and attenders to invite their friends because invited people “stick”.  Friends want to spend time with friends.
  • INVOLVE – Make the church even more “sticky” by engaging people in deep relationships or entrenched in serving at the church.
  • INVEST – Because where their money goes, their hearts will go also.

Nearly every aspect of the Invite-Involve-Invest model perpetuates an internally focused church.  For example, “Invite” relegates members to “customer” status, asking them to extend invitations and leave conversions to the “professionals” rather than entrusting members with the responsibility to BE the Church.

As churches became increasingly reluctant to challenge members to live up to the Great Commission standard, worrying they may not come back next Sunday, they:

  • Broke a Sacred Trust – Diverted resources away from the community it was established to reach and serve, making the intended “customers” think the Church stopped caring about them
  • Ignored a Time-Tested Adage – “People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care”

The consensus view is that churches tend to “take care of their own”.  Society frequently hears the Church speak out on the social and moral issues of our day, but rarely sees it engaging with those outside the “4 walls”.  An air war fought with a louder megaphone has replaced a ground war of compassion – and we’re therefore losing the culture war.  More talk and less action explains why most now view Christians and churches as more legalistic than loving, more about judgment than justice.  As a result, the Church is on the short end of those moral issues – the courts, schools and public opinion have moved in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, the number of frequent churchgoers in America is shrinking.  Clearly, the Church’s growth, impact, influence and perception today are diminishing.  No, internal focus rarely works – not in business, politics or in a church.

Tips for Regaining an External Focus

Act More Like Millennials than Boomers – Churches should share the deep concern millennials have for social justice and the welfare of those less fortunate.  Many boomers I know focused on building careers and only began thinking more seriously about addressing social issues upon retirement. The trick is for churches to think about impact throughout their “lives” rather than turning their attention to giving back only when they first plant or after reaching a point where “success” provides disposable time and money.

Reallocate Budget to Community Engagement – It’s difficult today for most churches to cover expenses because average giving per family is dropping.  Yet ironically, clinging to those limited dollars only speeds a church’s demise.  Investing back into the community actually would bring more funds into the church.  Using the business analogy, companies who fail to reinvest in sales, marketing and customer service quickly find themselves in financial straits.  Similarly, churches should invest generously in equipping members to serve and share the gospel within their circles of influence – the real “customer”.  But that’s not the case today with only 2.5.% of the average church’s budget invested in missions and small groups almost entirely replacing more intensive discipleship methods.

Convince Members that they ARE the “Church” – Share the cold hard facts about the costs of discipleship and responsibilities to make disciples.  Expect members and frequent attenders to live out the Great Commission.  Do all that even at the risk of losing church “consumers” to another church down the road.

Use Health, not Growth, as a Barometer – Jesus preached His most challenging sermon near the height of his popularity.  What Jesus was left with were a few disciples who changed the world.  Church growth is not always healthy.  Like people, churches often need to lose some weight to get healthy.  The trajectory of a thriving church is typically down before it follows the hockey stick back up.  Likewise, planting more churches that simply replicate the same flawed growth model doesn’t strengthen the body of Christ.  A few healthy churches full of disciples would have a far greater impact than scores of unhealthy ones.

Stop Thinking “My Church is Ok” – Back on the topic of politics, people often say, “Congress is completely dysfunctional, but my congressman is fine.”  Too many Christians defend their church but don’t blame the “Dones” for walking away from other churches, failing to realize that their own church likely is among the vast majority that in many ways no longer follows Jesus’ model of building Powerful Disciples and challenging them to demonstrate Jesus’ love before telling them who He is.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen the life cycle mentioned at the start of this blog post play out in a church before?  Did the church regain an external (discipleship and compassion) focus in time to restore it to healthy growth?

4 Keys to Increasing Giving at Your Church

Aug 17, 16
JMorgan
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Red, White, and Blue From American Flag Reflected in God We Trust Motto on Vintage, Retro, 1967 United States Nickel

Redefining members (not pastors and staff) as the “church” and the community (not members) as the “customer” would reverse the lens through which churches evaluate nearly every decision they make today.  The most controversial and challenging aspect of adopting a Biblical definition of the “church” and its “customer” is…yes, Money. 

Church giving per attendee is down substantially – and it’s in large part due to the fact that we’ve flipped those two definitions.  Therefore, restoring giving and maximizing the impact of every dollar will require:

Flipping the Script on…”Church Generosity”

Current Lens – Member Generosity

Member generosity is one of church leadership’s greatest concerns and the lens through which leaders view the generosity of their church.  They see the church as the object of generosity, not the instigator of it.  They ask – “What percentage of our congregation is giving?” and “What’s the average giving per family?”

However, members ARE the church so if pastors are worried about whether they’re giving enough TO the church, they’re missing the point.  It’s not about “them” giving to “us” (the church), they are the “us” (the church).  Pastors who have truly empowered the congregation to BE the church will ask a completely different set of questions.

New Lens – Church Generosity

What leaders should instead be asking is whether their church (the organization itself) is generous.  In other words, how much are we giving out of our church’s budget to our real “customer” – the helpless and hopeless outside the “4 walls”?  And how generous are our members in sharing their time, talents and treasures with the poor and lost around them?  Churches should model the behaviors they want members to imitate.  It’s no coincidence that members today give (to the church) at approximately the same rate that the average church gives (to those outside the church) – 2.5%.  Historically, members gave a much higher percentage to churches back when churches gave a much higher percentage to the community.

Flipping the Script on…”First Fruits”

Current Lens – Member Priorities & Obedience

A common complaint among pastors is how churches wind up getting the “leftovers” after members pay all their bills.  The Bible is clear on this subject – the Lord deserves the first and best of what we have to offer.  Pastors know it’s wrong for churchgoers to lock in so many fixed expenses that they only have a couple cents on the dollar available at the end of the day to give to the church.

New Lens – Church Priorities & Obedience

Yet aren’t nearly all churches today doing the exact same thing?  Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s intended “customer” (“outsiders”).  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years.  They started the schools and hospitals.  They had far few fixed expenses and allocated a much higher percentage of their budgets to sharing the gospel through serving, as Jesus modeled.  If churches were more obedient in giving their first fruits, members likely would follow suit.

Flipping the Script on…”Investing for Growth”

Current Lens – Reinvest Inward

As we discussed earlier, churches budget roughly the same small percentage for external missions that members budget for their church.  New Christians never plan to short-change God – but then life happens.  Likewise, churches plant with a vision of the Biblical model – impacting the community mightily – but then get sidetracked by the demands of running a church.  Gradually, budgets get redirected toward staff and buildings to attract and retain people.  They replace intensive, personal discipleship with small groups and year-round community engagement with occasional service events.  One day they realize they should have never compromised, but by then it’s too late to extricate the organization from its fixed costs and debt.

New Lens – Invest Outward

The same cycle occurs with nearly all entrepreneurs.  The companies that survive refocus outward at some point on the needs of their target customers.  If they persist in serving internal stakeholders and neglect the marketplace, they go under.  Over 90% of today’s churches are not growing because they fall into the latter camp.  They don’t adequately challenge or equip churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”.

Church is not the end but the means.  Its purpose should be to build disciples and take ground for Christ.  Do either of those objectives require an expensive facility or a big staff?  No.  Decentralizing and empowering is not expensive – but centralization and administration is.  Pleasing consumers is costly – equipping disciples isn’t.  For example, raising up and training lay leaders to run home churches and neighborhood groups covering every block in a city involves very little fixed cost.

What if your church budgeted with the goal of maximizing its community impact and footprint for the Kingdom?  Yes, it would dramatically alter the allocation of dollars but would also radically transform the perception of your church in your city.  Imagine what people would say about your church if you decided to invest in mobilizing members to rescue schools, neighborhoods, and families in lieu of expanding facilities and hiring more staff? 

Flipping the Script on…”Give More, Get More”

Current Lens – Catering = More $s

In business, you don’t make profits if you ignore your target “customers”.  Yet in churches, many leaders believe their financial viability hinges largely on catering to members – and wind up ignoring their intended “customers”.  For example, a wealthy family leaving is cause for concern in most small churches.  That mentality is natural and expected, but wrong.  It’s also wrong if pastors would be more inclined to challenge their congregations more directly and preach the gospel more boldly if NONE of the church’s funding came from members/attenders and if everyone HAD to come back the next weekend.

New Lens – Challenging = More $s

It may seem counter-intuitive, but your church would actually bring in more income if it were more focused on disciple building and community engagement.  No doubt the reallocation of funds would be painful at first.  When you start boldly challenging members to BE the church between Sundays, you’ll quickly lose some long-time attenders who weren’t prepared to adopt a Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle.  And some of those folks who are quite content with the status quo could be your church’s biggest givers.  The financial risks of calling them to truly live out the Great Commission seem daunting.

However, in the long run your church’s income would actually increase:

  • Evidence shows that members are more generous with generous churches
  • Donors are more compelled by emotional “causes” like orphans and widows than administration and buildings
  • More disciples translates into greater community impact, which in turn produces more visibility, interactions and attendees

Would you give to a charity that essentially gave back 97.5% of its donations to benefit those same donors?  The beneficiary of a church’s services shouldn’t be those who give to it (e.g. members).  In fact, charitable receipts state that “no goods or services were provided in exchange for that donation”.  Charities and churches both share the same “customer” – the community in which they are planted.  A significant percentage of the dollars given to both churches and charities should flow through to the benefit of those they exist to reach.

It’s Your Turn…

Is your church as generous with its intended “customer” as it should be?  Would your church’s members be more generous in giving (internally and externally) if your church‘s budget better reflected a spirit of generosity?