Tag Archives: confession

The 5 ABCs of Church Revitalization

Apr 05, 17
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Over the past few weeks, we’ve contended that churches attempting to attract or accommodate the unrepentant isn’t biblical.  “Church” is by definition the assembly of “called out ones”, not designed for non-believers.  Those for whom church is intended are expected to maintain the purity of Christ’s bride, turning from their lifestyles of sin.

Yet today nearly all churches invite non-believers living in sin to attend and few confront members about their sin as outlined in Matthew 18.  They ask, “How can Jesus expect us to reach those who don’t know Him and run a viable church if we take the biblical definition of ‘church’ and Matthew 18 seriously?”  However, the issue is not with the validity of God’s word, but with our modern American model for conducting “church”.  Seminaries, consultants, books and articles have all conspired to convince pastors and churchgoers that verses in the Bible clearly defining what church is, who should be there and how sin should be dealt with are no longer applicable.

But there is another way – a biblical way – that would revitalize the American Church and reverse the rise of the Nones (claiming no religious affiliation) and Dones (done with church)…

  1. Activate to Attest (vs. Advertise to Attract)
  2. Build Bold Believers (vs. Build a Brand)
  3. Commission to Cultivate (vs. Convene to Commit)
  4. Disciple to Disperse (vs. Distance to Distinguish)
  5. Equip to Empower (vs. Engage to Enjoy)

1. Activate to Attest (vs. Advertise to Attract)

Church is not a place. It’s you – it’s me.  That’s what the Bible says.

Therefore, “attractional” church is an oxymoron.  Individual Christians ARE the church so people should not be drawn to a “what” but a “whom”.  The most appropriate and likely interactions non-believers will have with “church” are their encounters with individual believers.  Millions more would find Jesus if we each accepted personal responsibility for being “church” between Sundays rather than abdicating it by simply inviting reluctant friends to a worship service. 

Attest means “to provide or serve as clear evidence of” or “declare that something exists or is the case”.  However, few churchgoers have been prepared by church leaders to attest powerfully and personally.  The Great Commission is best carried out through relationships with discipled Christ-followers, but nearly all churches have discontinued personalized discipleship programs.  Instead, they advertise messages that in effect “steal sheep” from other churches and encourage members to invite the unrepentant to hear from the “professional” evangelist next weekend, severely underutilizing the power in the pews and undermining the purity of the “assembly”.

Frankly, there’s not much “attractive” about Christian messages in American culture today.  Dying to self, admitting you’re a sinner in dire need of a savior, linking arms with those viewed as judgmental, and risking alienation isn’t exactly appealing in this increasingly inhospitable society obsessed with personal identity.  The best way to overcome staunch objections and embedded resistance is through one-on-one relationships.

2. Build Bold Believers (vs. Build a Brand)

These two objectives are in direct conflict.  Challenge casual or even frequent attenders to undergo the disruptive transformation involved in adopting a prayer/care/share lifestyle, and risk a brand-busting exodus.  Unveil a new budget proposal reflecting Jesus’ model of demonstrating love and compassion before telling people who He is, and face an incredulous and angry bunch of deacons and elders.  Confront sin among influential families within the church and watch your hope of a new building, widely considered the key to growth, walk right out the door.

The goal of building a church simply does not reconcile economically or morally with the mandate of building disciples.  It becomes a choice – define church as a place or as people, and then act accordingly – but in making that decision, keep in mind the Lord isn’t interested in egos or logos.

3. Commission to Cultivate (vs. Convene to Commit)

Churches should gather to scatter – come in to prepare to send out.  Yet too often the commitment pastors seek isn’t to become a disciple of Jesus Christ but dutiful, faithful church members.  Because they now treat those inside the church and not those on the outside as “customers”, pastors emphasize conventions that build loyalty to the institution but don’t build disciples – e.g. small groups vs. one-on-one discipleship, “church chores” vs. local missions, and tithes vs. offerings.  Seeing congregations as “customers” positions pastors and staff as “church” tasked with keeping people coming back, serving and giving.  It centralizes what the Bible intended to be decentralized, turning the Great Commission into the Great Commitment.  Its emphasis on institutional growth breeds Comfort, Complacency, Confinement, Conformity and Compromise.

4. Disciple to Disperse (vs. Distance to Distinguish)

As we centralize “church” by overburdening “professionals” with responsibilities that are rightly yours and mine, we drive a wedge between Christians and non-Christians.  The Presidential election illustrated the widening gap between “us” and “them”.  Rather have meeting “them” where they would prefer to be and personally telling them about Him (maybe at a Starbucks or Panera), we sequester into buildings that don’t prepare us to share that Gospel, hoping some day “they” will come with us.  Then, we don’t follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion, instead speaking out on social issues before we have “earned” the right to do so – further damaging our public perception.

You would think distancing ourselves would have the effect of making Christians look less like the world, but it has done the opposite.  The death of discipleship within America’s churches means fewer assume the attributes of Christ and adeptly engage non-believers.  The expenses involved in running centralized organizations makes churches look more like corporations and pastors like CEOs.

5. Equip to Empower (vs. Engage to Enjoy)

How can Christians not look like society yet still engage it?  A non-believer is far more likely to enter into a conversation with you than they are to step into a church.  In other words, assuming the Bible’s decentralized definition of “church”, seeing it as home churches, neighborhood groups or individual Christ-followers, brings “church” to the masses rather than waiting for people to darken a church door.  In that light, the job of church leaders becomes to prepare members to succeed in the “marketplace”, teaching them how to take advantage of the many chances they’ll have to share their faith once they see themselves as the embodiment of “church”.  Unfortunately, most Christians struggle to find the courage or the words They’re not sure what to say, nor are they bold enough to speak up when the opportunities present themselves.

Because church members view themselves as “customers”, shopping for a new church if they’re not satisfied with their current one, they feel they’ve done their part when they’ve secured the “referral” – inviting someone to church.  In business, after a customer makes a referral, it’s the company’s responsibility to close the sale.  Today, churches typically don’t push members for more than a “referral”.  Frankly, most Christians don’t feel their churches have provided them the theological training to do much more.

It’s Your Turn

Over the next 4 weeks, we’re going to dig deeper into what the Bible says about decentralizing church and models that adhere more closely to biblical principles.  What are your thoughts about how the structure and operations of churches in America today have deviated from God’s word?

When Did Churches Stop Confronting Sin Among Their Own?

Mar 29, 17
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As promised, let’s pick back up on a critical issue we addressed in passing last week – Conformity.  Just as telling one white lie requires more lies to cover the first one up, not following one biblical principle has led churches to break a couple others.  Enticing non-believers to join a worship service that shouldn’t be designed for them has led churches to look much more like the world than they should – both in how they operate and behave.  Those adaptations to accommodate non-believers (and retain members) have been costly, both monetarily and morally.  In other words, as a consequence of those first two breaches, churches have sacrificed the holiness and purity Jesus expected of His Church.

What the Bible Says…

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, rooting out sin among God’s people and removing it from their presence was a consistent, recurring theme:

Old Testament

  • Commanding Israel not to intermarry with godless nations
  • Destroying everyone and everything belonging to conquered, pagan peoples
  • Using only unblemished, spotless animals for sacrifices
  • Washing all items involved in religious rituals meticulously
  • Quick retribution for those who turned to false gods

New Testament

  • Jesus overturning the tables of the merchants in the temple
  • Jesus’ reserving his greatest condemnation for hypocritical religious leaders
  • God striking down Ananias and Sapphira for lying at the first church at Antioch
  • John listing out the sins and issuing calls to repentance to each of the early churches in the Book of Revelation
  • Paul insisting that evil people be removed from the body in his letters to churches

Yes, Jesus spoke much more gently to those outside the church who were guilty of sin (e.g. the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery) than He did to those defiling the church from within.  His parables about the Pharisees:

  • held them accountable for the sins of multiple generations
  • accused them of persecuting the prophets and killing the Son of God
  • said that unchurched Samaritans, who they reviled, had more compassion
  • called them “whitewashed tombs”, clean on the outside but filthy on the inside
  • exposed their arrogance, saying those they looked down upon “went home justified”
  • implied there’s a special corner of Hell reserved just for them

The Lord wants sin out of the Church.  In addition to the Old and New Testament examples above, Ephesians 5:25-27 spells out clearly that Jesus expects His Church, His bride, to remain “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”.  Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the process for keeping churches “holy and blameless”.  Church leaders are commanded to deal directly and unapologetically with sin among churchgoers.  First, a fellow church member or leader should confront that individual, then if necessary bring along one or two other “witnesses” to make the case to that person.  If none of that works, their sin should be shared publicly with the whole church, and failing that the member should be removed from the church body.

What We Do Now…

All Christians know John 3:16 but few are as familiar with the verses that follow, like v. 20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed”.  Are churches today allowing sin to remain hidden and entrenched rather than exposed and eradicated?  Have you seen a church that consistently follows the Matthew 18 process?

Pastors envision the likely consequences of taking Matthew 18 literally, wondering how quickly it would empty the pews.  Current church growth models strongly discourage invoking the Matthew 18 process:

  • Asking congregations to invite non-believers to worship services and advertising “the perfect church for imperfect people”, seeking to maximize the number of unrepentant sinners within the “4 walls”
  • Hesitating to discuss sin directly from the pulpit (at a “corporate” level) for fear of bringing the collective church ”down” versus building it up, making non-believers feel unwelcome, or facing accusations of preaching “fire and brimstone”
  • Being careful not to offend non-believers, new believers or even “mature” Christians (at an “individual” level) who continue in life choices that are contrary to God’s word because crossing the wrong person could cause a split and fracture the body

For reasons we’ll discuss in the next section, church leaders rightly assume that few churchgoers are willing to confront another’s sin or be confronted about their own.  What pastors and Christians do today instead is to confront sin that happens:

  • OUTSIDE of their church, railing against those in other parts of the country undermining or questioning Christian values
  • OUTSIDE of their city, careful about getting involved in controversial morality issues too close to home for fear they might be ostracized or vilified in the media
  • AGAINST their church, eager to root out any recalcitrant “lone wolves” among the body with a poor attitude infecting the rest of the congregation (the subject of many articles and books)

In other words, churches are more inclined to tolerate…

  • …sin inside their church than sin outside the church (despite Paul’s emotional appeal to do the opposite and even though “outsiders” don’t consider themselves subject to God’s law)
  • …sin among their Christian friends than among those they don’t know
  • …sin against the Lord than sin against their religious institution (i.e. church)

What Jesus, David, Paul and John all shared was a righteous anger against professed believers who sinned against God and corrupted His holy Church.  They hated all sin but saved their most forceful words for those who brought sin into the church.  Why do pastors and Christians now seem to redirect nearly all of their “anger” toward those outside the church, rarely looking internally to take the “log out of their own eyes”?

What Changed…

I am often the target of that anger from those defending institution-building.  I question the status quo – the prevailing redefinition of “church” and its intended, biblical “customer”.  I’m considered a rabble-rouser for turning over the proverbial “tables” at churches seeking growth by catering and clinging to members (rather than challenging and equipping them to reach the lost in their community).  I’m not opposed to church growth of course, but only how it’s being pursued today.

In fact, the Matthew 18 process has historically stimulated church growth, not diminished it.  As members took responsibility for their sins, corrected one another through discipleship, and reflected Christ’s love and compassion to a watching world, the body of Christ was strengthened and blessed.  However, in an environment today where “church” is defined as a place to go on Sundays and the responsibilities of attenders have been reduced to inviting friends to a worship service, the Matthew 18 process has become far too personal and demanding for American churchgoers.  With sin left largely unchecked and discipleship waning, the Church is no longer growing – in size, impact, influence or public perception.

The reluctance of church leaders to hold members accountable for their actions is further evidence that churchgoers are increasingly treated as “customers”.  No longer seeing them as the embodiment of “church”, but redefining “church” as the institution itself, is why few churches…

  • …deal directly with personal sin, particularly in the family of a patriarch or matriarch
  • …risk the financial consequences of following Matthew 18 with significant contributors
  • …offer intensive, personalized discipleship
  • …still have “accountability” groups

The “customer is always right”, so they’re never questioned or insulted.  Yet customers can complain and criticize when they don’t get what they want.  Likewise, pastors no longer feel at liberty to confront churchgoers personally about sin, yet readily accept criticisms from them (and even heap praise on them when they lift the slightest finger to serve inside or outside the church).

It’s Your Turn…

Wouldn’t God’s plan for purity and remedy for sin among His children – confession, repentance, forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ – be more pervasive if the Matthew 18 process were followed by more churches?

I Have a Confession…

Mar 22, 17
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Part 4 of 4

In writing the last of these four blog posts asking the question “Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services?“, I realize I need to make a confession.  As I’ve studied the scriptures on this topic and shared the repercussions of the “seeker” movement on the hundreds of churches I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, it’s become clear I’m guilty of many of my own assertions.  Although I’ve tried to be a voice for discipleship, compassion and evangelism within churches I’ve attended, I haven’t done enough in my own life to combat the powerful temptations and tendencies that attempts to attract non-believers have created toward Comfort, Complacency, Confinement, Compromise and Conformity.

I CONFESS my propensity to overindulge in…

1. Comfort

For too many years, I’ve treated church as a place I go on Sunday mornings.  Failing to grasp that the Bible defines “church” as me (and all other believers), I haven’t fully lived out the enormous responsibilities that definition entails.  I’ve enjoyed eloquent sermons telling me how to be a better husband and father, yet didn’t share the gospel of Jesus Christ a single time that week.  I’ve worshipped the Lord, hoping the band will play one of my favorite songs, yet didn’t tell any of my neighbors how much I love the Lord before the following Sunday.  I’ve let the children’s ministry entertain and tell Bible stories to my son, yet didn’t unveil just how much more it may cost him to be a disciple.  I’ve served as a greeter and usher, yet didn’t serve anyone in Jesus’ name once I stepped out of the building.  I’ve fellowshipped with my Christian friends before and after church services, yet didn’t intentionally connect with any non-believers all week long to be the “church” for them.  Even though seeker churches have tried to make church as comfortable as possible for non-believers, studies show that I’m likely the closest skeptics will ever get to “church”.

In all of this, I allowed church to become far too comfortable for me as well.  However, Jesus never sought to make anyone comfortable.  He made them squirm, coming right out of the gates preaching repentance and sending disciples out into the mission field with no money or accommodations.

2. Complacency

I often forget that unsaved people are going to Hell.  Or maybe I just find it difficult sometimes to come to grips with the full extent of the dire consequences facing those destined for eternal damnation.  Am I more happy that I’m not going to be there than I am concerned for those who will?

Not to shift blame, but I believe the presence of non-believers in worship services has contributed to me (and other churchgoers) thinking that pastors bear primary responsibility for rescuing the lost from the brink of Hell.  First, we naturally assume that pastors are on the hook for leading any non-believers who show up at church that day to Jesus.  Then, as pastors have stepped up requests for congregations to invite their unchurched friends, that perception has gradually widened to grant pastors responsibility for all conversions.  By asking to us invite more and discipling us less, the job of Christians has been reduced to convincing non-believers to attend a church service so their pastors can preach the Gospel to them.

However, if only believers were in church then churchgoers couldn’t possibly abdicate their evangelistic role to pastors.  Without the option to invite those who don’t worship the Lord to a worship service, the task of sharing the Gospel would necessarily fall to church members.  The assembly of “called-out ones”, the biblical definition of church, would have to fulfill their intended disciple-making roles – and be prepared by pastors to do so effectively.

I wish I (and all Christians) had a sense of urgency around the Great Commission mandate commensurate with the fate awaiting those we love who don’t know Jesus.

3. Confinement

I confess I tend to huddle up with my Christian friends, inside and outside of church, because they think like me.  A form of groupthink pervades our conversations, affirming each other despite our essentially dormant personal ministries when compared to what Jesus actually expects of us.  Although the biblical meaning of the word “church” implies that relatively few non-believers should find salvation inside of a church building, we count last weekend’s professions of faith and congratulate ourselves, taking partial credit for a duty we’ve wrongly entrusted to the “professionals”.

Modern day church growth models have centralized and convened Christians into “skyscrapers”, prominent buildings that only occupy a small footprint.  We gather under one roof one morning with our like-minded brethren speaking openly about our faith, then scatter into our workplaces and neighborhoods where we rarely broach those subjects.  Some of us reassemble one evening during the week into Small Groups with fellow believers into a house where we once again boldly proclaim the Gospel to each other while non-Christians on that same street go to bed hurting and hopeless, with no one to encourage them to take their problems to the Lord in prayer.

The “seeker movement” taught us that church is for everyone.  Come one and all and do life together.  Since all are invited IN to a church, fewer are well equipped to go OUT and be the church personified.  Rather than build disciples, we build institutions. We worry more about those who are INSIDE the church and less about those who are on the OUTSIDE looking in.

4. Compromise

I don’t rock the boat often enough.  Sometimes I don’t live out the Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle I urge others to adopt.  Like the church leaders I criticize for offering slow indoctrination into the Gospel and limited discipleship for fear of alienating non-believers they deem unprepared for either, many times I’ve hesitated to speak a truth that John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples knew all needed to hear even though few would accept.  I blog about the dangers of “stealing sheep” from other flocks and attracting people to an event they weren’t meant to attend in the first place even though I’m not alleviating the pressure on pastors to advance the Kingdom and keep the lights on, instead forcing them to pick up my slack whenever I fail to lead people to Jesus, disciple them and (only) then invite those newly “called-out ones” to a worship service.

5. Conformity

Another area where I’ve compromised that we’ll discuss more next week is tolerance of sin – in my own life, within my church and in the lives of Christian friends.  Paul (in 1 Corinthians) and John (in the Book of Revelation) spoke in no uncertain terms about the importance of keeping the church body holy.  However, in our efforts to attract and retain non-believers, we’ve become more cautious about confronting sin within our churches.  I tiptoe around issues of sin in Small Groups and personal conversations for fear of offending non-believers, new believers or friends I want to continue to like me.  In raising our sin threshold, we’ve lowered God’s bar.  As a result, churches and church members look a lot like the world in how they operate and behave.   We’ve adopted the world’s “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude about sin – you don’t bring up mine and I won’t bring up yours.  Although our sensitivity to sin within our churches has decreased, God’s hasn’t.

It’s Your Turn…

Which of those tendencies do you recognize within yourself and/or your church?