Tag Archives: discipleship

3 Phases of Church Reform

Apr 29, 20
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In our lifetimes, we’re getting the privilege of witnessing a radical transformation.  Those old enough have watched “church” gradually become defined by most Americans as a place people go on Sundays and evangelism reduced to extending invitation to an event to hear from a “professional”.   Today, we’re seeing the Coronavirus pandemic expose the flaws of centralizing “church” around a building –  pastors are realizing they haven’t equipped members to share the Gospel with those in the neighborhoods where they’re quarantined.  Even before the COVID-19 crisis, we had been seeing momentum build toward a revival in the future – a transition of discipleship, compassion and evangelism responsibilities and expectations back to the congregation, where they belong.

Admittedly, Meet The Need had been guilty of naively misunderstanding the biblical definition of “church” during much of its nearly 20 year history.  In our efforts to serve large churches, we built systems that unwittingly enabled their facility-centric, controlled model – helping them initiate, organize and track all local mission activities.  Despite our best efforts to encourage year-round outreach, our past systems have been used primarily by churches to support seasonal events – which often do more harm than good.

Somehow, for far too long, we missed that believers are the “living stones” of the New Testament church with Christ as its Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5-9).  Meet The Need’s mission statement has always been “to mobilize and equip the Church to lead millions more to Christ by following Jesus’ example of meeting those in need exactly where they are.”  We’re still living out that same mission but our understanding of the “Church” that we are to mobilize and equip has evolved.  The world always calls for more centralization, typically for the sake of political power or financial gain by a few, but the Kingdom calls for greater decentralization, empowering the many through the Holy Spirit’s presence in every Christ-follower.  Therefore, Meet The Need is evolving our strategies and systems as the Lord has revealed His redemptive plans to reform His Church to align with Kingdom principles.

1) Past – “Church” as Institution

Issues:  In 2000, the body of Christ was highly fragmented, with churches and ministries not working together closely in cities around shared objectives.  It was apparent that significant communication gaps existed across the country between those in need and those who could help.  Church staff had become a bottleneck, stifling compassion by exposing members to a limited number of opportunities to serve in the community.  Discipleship likewise was on the decline as outreach became more infrequent and corporate, reducing the urgency of training individual churchgoers for deployment into ministry.

Meet The Need Solution:  In 2002, Meet The Need began as God-Will.org, a highly-personalized approach to filling those gaps by simply asking lower income families about their needs and sharing them directly through an “app” with members of a few churches in Tampa Bay.  Soon other local churches and ministries began to catch wind of someone finally bringing modern tools to the longstanding problem of managing and communicating needs for volunteers, events, families and drives.  They promised “build it and we will come”, so we invested heavily in designing and developing those systems.

A decade later, by 2012 Meet The Need had rolled out our platforms in over 70 U.S. cities and 3 countries in partnerships with mega-churches, ministries and city movements.  Then national charities started to call, asking whether they could leverage Meet The Need to address social issues such as hunger, homelessness, child neglect and disaster relief.  Those successes include what is now the largest food rescue platform in the U.S.  Despite spending millions, Meet The Need is a Christ-centered non-profit and does not charge for any of our core software or services.  All glory to God for allowing what was certainly a terrible “business” model to thrive.  The Lord did miracle after miracle to overcome any legal, financial or personnel obstacles along the way.

2) Present – “Church” Forcibly Decentralizing

Issues:  No one was prepared for a pandemic, and the Church is no exception.  The COVID-19 crisis has flung the door wide open to spiritual conversations – it often takes a physical illness to seek spiritual health.  While many churches are active in providing relief and support to families impacted, churchgoers are missing countless opportunities to share the Gospel because they’ve abdicated that responsibility to pastors for so long.  Most can’t answer the tough questions – afraid to go beyond sharing a personal testimony (which no one can refute) and extending an invitation to an online church service.  Churches haven’t discipled members in preparation for today’s separation because they lacked a community or neighborhood strategy – few leaders have even ever seen a map of where their members live.  The church is scattered but is still the church even when it can’t gather.  Yet rather than adjusting to enable neighborhood ministry, most are scrambling to figure out how to continue the status quo online while they can’t convene in a sanctuary.

Meet The Need Solution:  Behind the scenes, we’ve been working for 2 years on a decentralized Artificial Intelligence system designed to empower struggling families to build circles of support (e.g. family, friends, churches), plotting their own paths to a better future.  Working directly with families is a return to our God-Will.org roots but represents a significant leap from Meet The Need’s past 10+ years serving church and ministry administrators.  However, the Coronavirus pandemic is providing a segue with our introduction of Love Your Neighbor.  Love Your Neighbor is a hybrid, an interim step on the way to our AI platform, which will fully empower individuals and families to care for one another.  Love Your Neighbor still serves corporate churches by letting them appoint neighborhood advocates to post needs on behalf of local families and communicate those back to the church body.  The app also enables church staff to see a Google Map of all their neighborhoods and needs posted by leaders.

3) Future – “Church” as Body of Believers

Issues:  We cannot let the current COVID-19 crisis become another case of seasonal outreach that ends as soon as we get back in our buildings.  Families will still be lost and hurting when the virus has run its course, but will wonder why the church’s support has dried up – only to realize that they’ve resumed business as usual, “checked the box” and are likely celebrating how kind they were during the pandemic.  Decades of institutional focus have led to corporate compassion and evangelism, which are transactional – providing short-term assistance and a quick Gospel reference with a passing invitation to those who don’t worship God to a worship service.  Treating those suffering as a commodity is not dignifying and does not lead to life transformation.  What will spark revival of the Church in our nation is intentional discipling relationships sustained by millions of individual believers with neighbors and coworkers over long periods.

Meet The Need Solution:  We didn’t anticipate this pandemic, but we can already see how it is awakening pastors to the importance of empowering each member to reach out to those in need, providing opportunities for one-on-one evangelism and discipleship.  We foresee a future demand for solutions geared to equip every family to build circles of supportive relationships that take the burden off the church to plan the next outreach event.  Maybe churches aren’t quite ready to shift wholeheartedly to prepping each member to be the “pastor of their neighborhood”, so Love Your Neighbor is a stepping-stone in 2020 to the AI platform Meet The Need will be releasing in 2021.  The Lord is working out His perfect plan, edging the church toward decentralization on the way to fully empowering disciples for GC2 (the Great Commandment and Great Commission).

It’s Your Turn

Find out more about Love Your Neighbor and get your church started using it today – at no charge!  Your church could actually increase its impact for Christ in your community right now, not in spite of but as a result of not being able to meet in the building due to the pandemic.

3 Steps to Healing in a Pandemic

Apr 16, 20
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This is a challenging time in our nation and world.  Through it all, what sustains Christians is the knowledge that earth is not our “home” and eventually the Lord will restore everything to its flawless original state.  But while Jesus still has us here, He intends for us to be His Church – commissioned to shine God’s light on those in darkness.  And there is plenty of darkness – fear, isolation, hopelessness, disease, sin and death – exacerbated during this Coronavirus pandemic.

The good news that Jesus asked us to proclaim after His ascension is that He can heal all those ailments.  The virus is causing not only physical pain but emotional, financial and spiritual suffering.  Jesus does the healing but often uses us as instruments through which it is delivered.  Yes, Christ is the Cornerstone but we are the “living stones” of the New Testament church. (1 Peter 2:5-9)  Each of us can play a role in alleviating the side-effects of COVID-19 among our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends.

We can’t invite those suffering to a church building at this time, but we can bring “church” to them.  However, people won’t be interested in getting a “house call” from a doctor unless they feel sick.  This pandemic is making even those who haven’t contracted the virus aware that they’re not well.  The door has rarely been so open for spiritual conversations – did you know that Google searches for the word “Prayer” have never been higher than right now?  God can use all things for His glory and our good.

The only cure for the underlying source of all illness is the Great Physician and He gave us a (Great) Commission and explicit instructions for Church to be a “hospital” for sinners.  Jesus modeled the importance of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is – which doesn’t always have to be done at close proximity in this age of social distancing.  Jesus did touch the leper and, like Him, brave health care professionals are putting themselves at risk, but most forms of healing needed today don’t require physical contact.  We each can reduce spiritual distancing while maintaining a social distance.

Before healing takes place though, in Scripture we observe 3 prerequisites that are typically met…

1) Realizing You’re Ill

My favorite miracle story in the Bible is Bartimaeus regaining his sight.  Bartimaeus fully understood his condition, had immense faith in Jesus’ power and wasn’t ashamed to ask for help.  In all of those respects, Bartimaeus stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees who didn’t know they were blind, questioned Jesus’ authority, and proudly looked down on “sinners”.  In John 9:39, Jesus says “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”  Bartimaeus confessed his blindness and received healing.  The Pharisees thought they had 20/20 vision and received Jesus’ sharpest rebuke.

Part of what makes COVID-19 so insidious is roughly 50% of those who contract it don’t ever know they’re sick, while others don’t show symptoms for up to 2 weeks.  Meanwhile they’re spreading the disease to others who are more likely to feel its effects.  Studies show roughly 50% of churchgoers are cultural “Christians”, born into the religion but not following the tenets of their faith.  They live in sin, yet spread the disease of self-righteousness, concealing their sickness and need for God’s grace.  Sadly, the most common reason “Nones” give for their rejection of Christianity is the hypocrisy of “believers”.  Testing for Coronavirus is the only way some people know they have it.  Testing of our faith through trials like many are facing in this pandemic is revealing who is spiritually sick (e.g. fearful) and who is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Also, over 50% of churches aren’t aware their growth models and metrics are more inclined toward institution-building than disciple-making.  They’re ill, more focused on attracting and retaining than challenging and sending – but won’t confess the model is flawed even though 80% of churches are stagnant or in decline.  COVID-19 has become a test for a virus that churches have contracted.  Which ones will maintain the status quo and simply move the brick-and-mortar “store” online?  Which ones will realize that they’ve become too dependent on a building or weekly event and failed to equip members to BE the “church” to those in the neighborhoods where they’re quarantined?  Which churches will repent of the blindness of treating members like “customers”, challenging them to choose self-sacrifice over self-preservation for the sake of those suffering (e.g. emotionally or financially)?

2) Crying Out for Help

Only those who realize they are unhealthy will seek a cure.  The most compelling part of the Bartimaeus story, at least for me, is when he was told to pipe down but cried out all the louder.  Imagine the life Bartimaeus led – the suffering he must have endured as a blind man in that day and age to warrant such desperate attempts to get Jesus’ attention.  In almost every case where Jesus healed, there was a recording or presumption of a distress call for help.  Jesus even frequently solicited the request by asking “what do you want me to do for you?”.  Jesus doesn’t force healing or forgiveness on us – it must be sought before it is granted.  God is sovereign but man bears some responsibility for admitting our shortcomings and pursuing a divine remedy.

The more intense our suffering, like during the COVID-19 outbreak, the more likely we are to be on our knees asking the Lord for relief.  The more humble our confession and heartfelt our pleading, the more sincere our prayers will be.  From mid-March to late March, Global Media Outreach (GMO) saw a 170% increase in clicks on search engine ads about finding hope.  Medically, we most vigorously pursue health when we no longer have it.  Spiritually, we most vigorously pursue forgiveness when we realize we need it (which is increasingly uncommon in our society where the mere mention of “sin” is associated with hatred and intolerance).  Everyone looks forward to a time where there will be no more suffering – the only difference is that non-believers expect it now temporarily while Christians expect it later eternally.

Those poor in spirit, mourning and persecuted are actually “blessed” because suffering is the primary impetus for crying out to God.  “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)  God allows suffering in part because it brings with it a significant spike in two things – prayer and compassion.  Eventually physical, emotional and financial suffering will eliminate pride and shame – two of the leading impediments to prayer.  And just as our suffering reveals our own needs, it also makes us more attune to the needs of others – for example, more empathetic and generous with our persecuted brothers and sisters overseas who are unable to work, and therefore eat, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Just as people need sickness to appreciate health, maybe the struggles churches are enduring during this pandemic will lead to an overdue revival.  Many were already sensing something was wrong with the prevailing Invite, Involve and Invest model that has made “church” about a place, pastor and performance.

3) Availability of a Compassionate Believer

Jesus healed all those who cried out to Him.  He expects His Church to bring “healing” to all those who reach out to us.  Christ may (or may not) choose to work a miracle of physical restoration through us, but He gives us the power to deliver Compassion (alleviating suffering now) and Evangelism (leading to hope for eternity).  Jesus modeled for us that the first is the door opener to the second – prayer, care then share.  We each know the cure for the emotional, psychological and spiritual virus spreading rapidly in our nation.  It’s cruel not to share that cure at every opportunity with those impacted in any way by the COVID-19 crisis.  The iron is ”hot” for bringing help and hope as the pandemic wreaks havoc on bodies, hearts and minds.  Jesus rarely delayed in administering an antidote – nor should we.

However, since churches no longer are the local food bank and homeless shelter, as they were for 1900 years, staff members now refer those suffering elsewhere.  Jesus stopped what He was doing and acted on the timeline of anyone who admitted their illness and requested deliverance, but churches today tell them to come back during the next seasonal outreach event.  It has also become apparent during the pandemic (when it is harder to abdicate evangelism to pastors) that few churchgoers have been prepared to convey the Gospel adeptly and answer tough questions.

That’s why Meet The Need has introduced Love Your Neighbor – a FREE platform to mobilize congregants to be the hands and feet of Christ in their neighborhoods.  This pandemic could be a catalyst for returning “church” to its biblical roots with members acting in their intended role as the “church” personified.  Last Sunday, since our neighbors couldn’t go to church my family brought “church” to 10 of them, delivering Easter dinner to their doorsteps.  My neighbors shared personal struggles and prayer requests and I had the privilege of discussing the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday.  That’s just one small example of embracing a less institutional and more biblical view of “church”.  Let Love Your Neighbor transform your entire congregation from “victims” to “vessels” during COVID-19 and beyond!

It’s Your Turn

Find out more about Love Your Neighbor and get your church started using it today!  Your church could actually INCREASE its impact for Christ in your community right now, not in spite of but as a result of not being able to meet in the building due to the pandemic.

Free COVID-19 “Love Your Neighbor” Solution!

Apr 02, 20
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Ask the average American, including Christians, what “church” is and most will start describing a place people go on Sundays.  However, Coronavirus is forcing a shift away from viewing church as a building or weekly event.  While the local church’s doors may be closed, Church as defined in Scripture is open for business.  We aren’t the “church gathered” on Sunday mornings right now, but that doesn’t change the familial status of each Christian as an integral part of the body of Christ.  Yes we’re the “church scattered” today, but that’s a blessing if it’s a catalyst for increasing awareness of our personal responsibility to serve as the embodiment of “church” Monday through Saturday.

The Lord can use even tragedy for our good and His glory.  COVID-19 could actually spark revival – an opportunity to embrace a less institutional and more biblical view of “church”.   Congregants could be mobilized to be the hands and feet of Christ in their neighborhoods – acting in their intended role as the personification of “church”.  Churchgoers could be activated to demonstrate God’s love to a hurting world, bringing help and hope to millions impacted in various ways by the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, church growth consultants and technology vendors are working diligently to ensure churches maintain the status quo.  They’re helping churches simply move the brick-and-mortar “store” online, devoting their energies to providing the best virtual experience possible.  Churches fear that a prolonged Coronavirus “lockout” will risk losing casual attenders and “consumers” who are suddenly more mobile since they can now attend church anywhere, with no geographical constraints, from the comfort of their own homes.  Yet those gyrations simply presume and unfortunately perpetuate the same flawed centralized definition of church or CAWKI (“church as we know it”) – around a place, pastor and event.

What if instead, churches diverted the resources formerly poured into Sunday service planning toward taking advantage of the new reality presented by a viral pandemic?  What if churches saw “stay at home” orders and quarantines as a chance to equip members to be “pastors” of their respective neighborhoods?  What if churches recognized that the new normal, at least for the time being, vastly expands its collective “footprint” – with most members confined to their houses located across the city?

The Untapped Power of Neighboring

When the virus is contained or a vaccine discovered, the window will close and churches will have missed the chance to unleash a vast army of Prayer-Care-Share disciple-makers across its network of neighborhoods.  Much like a divorce or job loss provides an impetus for Christians to reflect on their mistakes and spend time with the Father, pastors and church staff have extra time right now to reflect on, and repent of, overemphasizing “nickels and noses”.  This short-term period of uncertainty should lead to a long-term commitment to measuring success in terms of the Great Commission – discipleship depth, rather than “butts, bucks and buildings”.

The COVID-19 crisis should reveal to most pastors that they haven’t prepared members well to be a light in a dark world.  If churches had produced more disciples and fewer “cultural Christians”, then the response of most churchgoers to this pandemic would be quite different.  Many churches and ministries are doing incredible, courageous work during this crisis, but 100+ million other Christians with the power to help sit on the sidelines more concerned with self-preservation than selfless service.

Decades of encouraging congregants simply to tell members to invite their friends to church has relieved churchgoers of any responsibility to share their faith – or to learn answers to the “hard” questions non-believers typically ask.  Now that there’s no live service to attend or facility to visit, the flaws in our event-centric definition of “church” are being exposed.  We would have been seeing Christians across America leading millions to Christ through an outpouring of compassion and evangelism to their neighbors.  We would have been seeing Christians who lost jobs or became sick acting not as “victims” but as “vessels” – not asking “What did God do to me?” but “How does God want to use me?”  We would have been seeing an explosion in church growth similar to that experienced in ancient Rome, where early believers reached out to care for their oppressors suffering from the plague.

However, we exchanged the early church’s multiplicative math, leveraging scores of individual believers to be effective witnesses, for additive invitations to hear the Gospel from a single “professional”.  Now is the time to humble ourselves, ask for forgiveness for abdicating the Great Commission, and seek the Lord’s will for us in the midst of such tremendous need.

Loving Neighbors Despite Social Distance

Even when we can’t have contact we can still connect and live out the Great Commandment to love our neighbor.  The greatest act of love is leading people to the source of eternal life – Jesus Christ.  Jesus modeled how to lead our neighbors to Him – by first demonstrating His love in tangible ways that open ears to hear the Gospel.

Jesus defined “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, saying it’s not based on geography but on how we treat a person.  Yet He isn’t saying neighborhoods don’t matter – particularly when we’re under orders not to travel far from home.  The Coronavirus pandemic directs our attention to those who live within earshot of our front door.  During good times we tend to close the garage door behind us when we get home.  But during these difficult times we should be less socially distant with neighbors – even while maintaining social distance.  Neighbors are often most likely to know who needs help, who lost a job, who is lonely and who is elderly.  Families are frequently fragmented, and coworkers are typically just acquaintances.  Where we live is usually more permanent than where we work.

Churches lack the staff and budget to help all the families impacted adversely by the pandemic, but the “church scattered” possesses immeasurable resources and skills.  The only questions are “What are the most pressing needs of families being caused by COVID-19?’ and “How can each of us help our neighbors within the context of ‘stay at home’, ‘safer at home’ and quarantines?”  There are many creative ways to find out our neighbor’s needs and to meet them while following social distancing rules:

1. Emotional

  • Network to get phone numbers and email addresses of neighbors, particularly the elderly
  • Distribute that contact information to families on your street to make everyone feel connected
  • Reach out proactively via call, text or email to individuals who may be struggling with isolation and loneliness
  • Resist fear that’s leading to panic – instead modeling peace and calm in the midst of rising anxiety

2. Spiritual

  • Call and ask how their family is doing and how they feel about the pandemic – this is an ideal time to have spiritual conversations, so watch for doors to open to share your faith
  • Prepare answers to tough questions like “Where’s the meaning in all of this?”, “Where is the Lord in this crisis?” and “Where do I even start with having a conversation with God?”
  • Via call, email or text, check to see if you can help with anything and ask for prayer requests
  • Email or text with Scripture or links to online Bible study tools, devotionals, church, etc.

3. Educational

  • Tap into trusted sources of COVID-19 information and share the latest, accurate news
  • Point neighbors to web sites or articles that provide helpful advice and encouragement

4. Medical

  • Most churchgoers are not in the health care field, but we all have a medical role to play
  • Exercise your responsibility to protect those around you – abide by distancing orders

5. Financial

  • Shop at neighborhood stores to support small businesses
  • Make a bonus online payment to your usual service providers who are now out of work
  • Purchase online gift cards for neighbors who are isolated, lost jobs or are ill

6. Physical

  • Order a meal or groceries from a local establishment and have it delivered to a neighbor
  • Donate extra supplies you’ve purchased to someone on your street

7. Logistical

  • Pick up over the counter medications on behalf of a senior living nearby
  • Run errands for families who are caring for a sick child or parent

Meet The Need is launching a new platform next week that enables pastors to equip churchgoers to serve their neighbors in many of those ways above!

Meet The Need’s “Love Your Neighbor” Solution

Few churches have adopted neighborhood-based strategies for reaching their community.  Many send missionaries oversees but woefully underinvest in local neighborhoods.  Meet The Need believes pastors should care a great deal about neighboring, but that would require a return to a decentralized philosophy – from “come and see” (a sermon) to “grow and send” (disciples).  Didn’t the early church primarily meet in homes?  Most church leaders have never seen a map of their “footprint” (neighborhoods represented by residences of their membership) because they’ve never asked (technology vendors) for it.  Why bother if neighborhood outreach would entail equipping churchgoers for a task most would find far too uncomfortable and inconvenient?

The Coronavirus pandemic is the most opportune moment in recent history for reminding Christ-followers of the calling they’ve neglected – the reason why God put them on that street in the first place – to be “pastors” of that neighborhood, the hands and feet of Jesus.  That’s why Meet The Need is launching “Love Your Neighbor” – to empower churches to equip their congregants during COVID-19 (and beyond) to live out the Great Commission with those next door and down the block.  Local(ism) has become the new normal – it’s high time for neighborhood ministry.

Meet The Need’s new (FREE!) platform will facilitate that transition, allowing your church members to:

  • Anonymously communicate needs of neighbors impacted in any way by Coronavirus to the entire church body
  • Activate small groups to become compassion-oriented Neighborhood Groups during the crisis
  • See a detailed map of the neighborhoods covered by your church’s congregation, and the specific needs of families in each neighborhood
  • Search for needs by category, keyword or geography and register online to meet them
  • Get reminders to complete commitments to meet needs or to cancel if no longer able to do so

All of this appears on your church’s website and looks like your church’s site, not Meet The Need’s!

Your church controls the experience, e.g. approving each member to post needs or form a group.

MTN’s team will work personally with your church to implement these features within hours, not days!

It’s Your Turn…

Reply to this blog post or contact Meet The Need at (813) 527-0222 or info@meettheneed.org to get access to the FREE “Love Your Neighbor” system as soon as it is released next week!

Your “Get Out of Evangelism Free” Card!

Mar 18, 20
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Most churches in America today are offering, for a limited time only, a free pass on sharing your faith with non-believers.  If you act now, the first 100,000,000 customers will also get a lifetime exemption from the Great Commission.  There are no obligations and no strings attached.  All you have to do to take advantage of this exciting offer is…

1) “Do nice things…”

Sales Pitch:  “Just live an exemplary life and people around you will wonder why you’re so different.  They’ll see your faith in action and stop you in the hallway to ask you questions.  Remember the adage, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’  Proclaiming the Gospel through your kindness, your attitude and your response to difficult situations will say more about your faith than words ever could.”

Harsh Reality:  It’s true that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care”.  However, recent studies find that most people today see little or no difference between their Christian and non-Christian neighbors (Barna Research).  Some of the nicest people in our communities and workplaces aren’t believers, while many of the most judgmental are Christ-followers.  We should emulate Jesus, who healed and fed to show His love (Demonstration), but afterward He almost always revealed His identity as the embodiment of the Gospel (Proclamation).  In other words, the “social gospel” is not an “either/or” – it’s a “both/and” – prayer, care, and then share.  However, it’s much easier to say nothing and let our actions do the “talking”.  You and I may be the closest encounter a non-believer has to “church” in 2020 – but we’ll likely miss that golden opportunity if we wait for them to speak up.

Biblical Truth:  Simply being a “good” person and hoping people ask religious questions falls far short of our God-given commission as Christians.  After His resurrection, Jesus told all 11 disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”  That request wasn’t reserved for those gifted in evangelism or well-versed in apologetics.  It was directed even to those still coming to grips with the fact that Christ had just risen from the dead.

2) “Tell your story…”

Sales Pitch:  “People can push back on the veracity of the Bible, the lordship of Jesus or the origin of the universe, but no one can argue with your personal testimony.  It’s your experience – and what you feel can’t be refuted.  You don’t need a seminary degree to talk about what Christ has done in your life.  Just tell people what you were like before you met Jesus, share how you came to faith, and describe your life now”.

Harsh Reality:  Asking churchgoers to present the Gospel and answer common objections requires a greater level of biblical understanding than most Christians are willing to acquire.  Few members are prepared to defend their faith against tough questions.  Most don’t feel qualified to do much more than tell their story.  Challenging everyone to move down an intentional discipleship path would go a long way toward fulfilling the Great Commission.  Even new believers can be quickly sent into the mission field – they’re excited, have many unsaved friends from their “prior life”, and understand the Gospel well enough to bet their eternity on it.  Yet most next steps churches give to recent converts are intended to indoctrinate them in CAWKI (“church as we know it”), plugging them into loyalty-building activities but not preparing them for their mission in life.

Biblical Truth:  1 Peter 3:15 urges, “Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.”  Unlike sharing a personal testimony, preparing a defense requires a great deal of time invested in research and anticipating questions.

3) “Invite people to church…”

Sales Pitch:  “We know you want to see all of your family, friends and colleagues come to know Jesus.  They need the hope that you’ve found in Christ, but it’s become so difficult to share the truth of the Gospel in a culture demanding that truth be sacrificed at the altar of tolerance.  We want to make it is as easy as possible for ‘each one to reach one’.  That’s why we’re providing invitation cards for you to hand out, asking skeptics or ‘seekers’ to join you here next Sunday.  You can find invitation cards as well as ‘We love our church!’ bumper stickers in the foyer after the service.”

Harsh Reality:  Modern American church growth models consider invitations to church an ample replacement for evangelism.  If the invitee rejects repeated offers, then the dutiful believer feels they’ve done all they can to win that person to Christ.  Only 52% of born-again Christians said they witnessed to someone at least once in the past year – how many of those were essentially an invitation to church?  In our culture today, 47% of Millennials somewhat agree that it’s wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith (Barna Research).  So pastors default to “tell your story” and “invite people to church” knowing that sermons and small groups haven’t equipped members adequately to answer difficult questions in an increasingly hostile environment.  Invitations to hear from a trained “professional” serve the dual purpose of building the institution while avoiding (scaring off congregants by) having to build disciples.  However, that formula is based on simple addition rather than the Lord’s math of multiplication.  Unleashing the “power in the pews” would reach many who wouldn’t dare darken the door of a church, while also increasing the depth and authenticity of worship services by designing them around those who actually worship Jesus.

Biblical Truth:  Invitations to a place to hear from a pastor is not a suitable substitute for evangelism.  Pastors do play a special role in church, but they are not the “church”.  According to 1 Peter 2:9 we are all “…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” bearing personal responsibility to “…proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

It’s Your Turn…

Who has the nerve to tell their pastor, “We should expect less of you and you should expect far more of us”?  A study conducted by LifeWay Research in 2012 found of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of mature believers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score among Protestant churchgoers.  No matter what church leaders are telling you, the truth is God expects more evangelistic initiative than “Doing nice things”, “Telling your story” and “Inviting people to church”.  We don’t get a free pass on evangelism – or disciple-making!

Are You Equipped for Your Mission in Life?

Mar 05, 20
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Ask the average American, whether a Christian or non-believer, to define the word “church” and they’re likely to describe a place or an event occurring on Sunday mornings.  That misconception did not materialize overnight.  It evolved over decades as church leaders gradually assumed responsibilities originally entrusted to all Christ-followers – to share their faith and make disciples.

At this point, the culture shock of reverting to the biblical definition of church and invoking the Great Commission mandate would have the same effect as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  But for argument’s sake, let’s consider what pastors would need to do differently to equip churchgoers to carry out their intended role as the personification of “church”.

Let’s also discuss how being held accountable for embodying “church” between Sundays would impact each member’s study of Scripture (Knowing), relationship with the Lord (Being), and interactions with non-believers (Doing).  Head knowledge without genuine faith, as well as faith without works, is dead.  To be useful in advancing the Kingdom here on earth, we need all three of those – Knowing, Being AND Doing.  1 Corinthians 13 describes those who “know” and “do” but aren’t rooted and grounded in love as “clanging cymbals”.  In Matthew 7 Jesus says “depart from me” to those who tout their intellectual understanding and religious works yet live a double life because they never fully surrendered to the Lord.

Church leaders can also err on the side of Knowing, Being OR Doing – emphasizing one or two at the expense of the other(s).  A church that bases its math on multiplication, equipping disciples who make disciples, will ensure that teaching leads to an absolute surrender that compels urgent action.  Additive churches don’t relinquish control but instead centralize around a building and weekly event.  They simply ask members to invite friends to the building to hear from a professional at the next event.  They lose the multiplicative leverage inherent in a far more daunting, biblical “ask” – obedience by all Christians to the Great Commission.  Churches that subscribe to America’s addition and consumer-driven growth models tend to teach less intensively (to Know), challenge less boldly (to Be), and engage less externally (to Do)…

1. Knowing

Prevailing Premise: You can identify a church that’s looking to build an institution (rather than disciples) by the knowledge gap between pastors and congregants.  When churches invest in ensuring members have a deep understanding of scripture, that gap shrinks.  Those that rely on weekly sermons and occasional small groups as their primary discipleship channels preserve a wide knowledge gap.  Much like the religious leaders Jesus confronted, who greedily retained rather than generously disseminated the “keys to knowledge“, most churches today foster dependence rather than empowerment.

Which Can Lead to:  Before we discuss the pitfalls of a wide knowledge gap, also beware of churches that hedge too far in the other direction and create an intellectually arrogant culture.  In those cases, a highly intelligent pastor provides depth and members take pride in their knowledge of Scripture and theology.  However, pride never translates into a humble reliance on the Father.  Wisdom in the head often never reaches the heart.  A superiority complex prompts criticism of the less “enlightened”, fracturing the universal body of Christ.  On the other extreme, churches with a wide knowledge gap fear overwhelming the sheep with solid food and spoon feed milk instead,  The seminary graduate is the only one in the room trusted to provide the correct answers (even though that theology degree didn’t prevent a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of “church” and Jesus’ model for evangelism, i.e. leading with compassion).

As Opposed to: Since God speaks to each of us, we all deserve to be heard.  The APEST (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) are called, but all are commissioned (to make disciples).  So we all need to be taught to perform that critical task well.  God expects much more of us than most pastors do.  A wide knowledge gap relegates a member’s role to obedience (“church chores”) whereas Jesus says we shouldn’t expect any reward for obedience (because we were doing only what we were told).  No, our obligation doesn’t stop there – we’re also called to a mission to build the Kingdom (capital “C”).  We only fully grasp and fulfill that mission as Knowing transitions into Being.

2. Being

Prevailing Premise: Knowing about Jesus should lead to knowing Jesus.  A special love relationship with the Father is available to everyone.  Yet viewing church as a place and not as people is often associated with the perspective that pastors have more direct connection to the Lord.  You’d be surprised if you knew how many church leaders struggle in their faith.  An institutional definition of church puts a tremendous amount of pressure on pastors to “perform” and to usurp responsibilities abdicated by those in the pews.  That model damages faith by assuming control (versus surrender) and risking burnout (versus peace).

Which Can Lead to: Elevating church leaders to unrealistic spiritual stature, seeing their relationship with God as beyond what those not called to the pulpit can attain, detracts from a member’s own sense of closeness to God.  That same opportunity to abide in the Vine exists for everyone.  There are no “higher levels” that only the APEST can achieve.  It’s also worth noting the danger of focusing on “Being” at the expense of “Knowing” or “Doing”.  For example, a lack of sound biblical grounding combined with attempts to build an institution can result in the belief that “our church is deeper than others in our relationship with God” and “God prefers us.”  That line of thinking can stifle compassion and evangelism – e.g. the “frozen chosen” perspective that “God will save who He plans to save no matter what we do” so “we don’t need to do anything”.

As Opposed to: Truly understanding God’s love is the inflection point where a radical change of heart occurs involving repentance and “dying to self” – knocking down the remaining impediments to authentic discipleship.  Obedience no longer becomes about “trying” to be good, but naturally follows “Being” as self-interest abates and the Holy Spirit fills that space.

3. Doing

Prevailing Premise: America’s church growth model makes “success” highly dependent on a single person – the senior pastor.  That creates a powerful incentive to conceal flaws and rebuild the “veil” (of perfection) because a moral failing would jeopardize the entire organization.  Although pastors do have greater responsibility and accountability, showing the power of God’s grace means being transparent about weaknesses so others can see Christ through them.

Which Can Lead to:  A church focusing disproportionately on Doing runs the risk of members relying on their own efforts and willpower.  They can jump from Knowing to Doing without Being – in other words, rules without relationship.  That can result in legalism, judgementalism and a view of God as cosmic killjoy and not loving Father.

As Opposed to: Disciples follow in Jesus’ footsteps because they have studied His life extensively (Knowing), fell in love with Him (Being) and want to honor Him with their lives (Doing).  Truly grasping God’s love for us should change how we live and how we love.  If so, then obedience is the automatic response and requires little conscious effort.  We will rejoice in the commands of the Lord.  Our motives will be purified by the blood of Jesus as we abide in Him.  We don’t have to go through the motions or check boxes, hoping our moral house of cards won’t collapse under its own weight.  There is tremendous freedom in fully relying on God’s goodness and not our own, which always fails.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen a church bent on equipping members for their missional purpose, discipling them to ensure biblical knowledge doesn’t sit idle or spring into action without depth in Christ?  In your own life, what worldly misconceptions, concerns or possessions are you clinging to that keep you from living a daily Prayer, Care, Share lifestyle?

Are You Hearing from the Lord?

Feb 19, 20
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There is no formula for getting God to speak – the creation cannot control the Creator.  The question is not whether the Lord is speaking – He is.  It may be through the Holy Spirit, Scripture, circumstances, His Church or any other way He chooses to communicate with us.  He directs the steps of the prayerful, encourages the downtrodden, disciplines the wayward and gives assignments to the commissioned.

The only question then is – are we listening?  Do we have the humility to seek God’s guidance and faithfulness to act in accordance with His will?  Are we in a position and posture to hear his voice?  Or are our filters so clouded with worldly noise that we miss the obvious – chalking God-incidents up to coincidence?

We could all use some help getting the wax out of our ears.  Unfortunately, today’s prevailing church growth models are not designed to equip congregants with noise-cancelling hearing aids.  Defining church around a place and pastor rather than the people in attendance can leave the impression that paid professionals have a higher speed WiFi connection to God.

What is God Saying ABOUT His Church?

But God must be speaking to at least a few churchgoers about the issues behind the decline of the Church in America in growth, impact, influence and perception.  Someone in nearly every congregation must be hearing the Lord’s call for church reform.  Yet few say anything for fear of overstepping the bounds of pastoral authority – which are elevated beyond biblical norms because buildings and leaders, not you and I, are now seen as the embodiment of “church”.  A growing number of Americans are joining the ranks of the “Dones” (done with “Church as We Know It”) without mustering the nerve to address their concerns with church leadership before walking out the door.  While most are content with the status quo and shop for the best Sunday morning experience, a few mature believers in each church are sensing an uneasiness with:

  • Short and scripted church services meticulously designed to build to an emotional crescendo
  • Infrequent, seasonal opportunities to serve the poor while struggling families suffer year-round
  • The bulk of the church budget going toward salaries and facilities relative to the miniscule amount invested in discipleship and compassion
  • How rarely members share their faith with others, in part because the church never equipped them to do so
  • No one offering to personally disciple them or challenging them to make any disciples
  • Success of the church being measured primarily based in terms of “butts”, “bucks” and “buildings”

We are all aware that Scripture doesn’t condone treating members like “customers” – institution-building at the expense of disciple-building.  Yet those practices continue unabated because the voices of opposition are silenced by the one-upmanship of “it’s your word (from the Lord) against mine (the ordained minister).”  A biblical definition of church as the “assembly of called-out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” would lend greater credence to what individual members are hearing from the Holy Spirit.

However, those intended to BE the “church” find themselves relegated to a supporting role in today’s “genius with 1,000 helpers” model.  Most churches in America subscribe to “Invite/Involve/Invest”, where members are simply asked to invite friends, get involved in a couple church activities and invest in maintaining the church’s budget.  It positions members as servants to a “church” rather than the personification of it, preserves pastoral control and perpetuates the suppression of obvious biblical truths.  Otherwise, how could so many church leaders be free to ignore critical commands and precedents that are so clear in Scripture?:

  • Ensuring all congregants see themselves, and not a weekly event, as the church (e.g. between Sundays)
  • Preparing churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”, those who don’t know Jesus
  • Following Jesus’ model for evangelism, leading with compassion and then saying who He is
  • Holding members to the Great Commission mandate, applicable to each and every Christ-follower

Certainly Jesus is speaking those truths to countless Christians.  But getting the pastor’s ear to share what the Lord has spoken about deviations from biblical norms is intimidating for those conditioned to believe pastors have a more direct line to God.  That counsel is also not likely to be eagerly received when churches face mounting pressures for survival in this day and age:

  • the vast number of buildings, each carrying fixed expenses that must be covered
  • a shrinking “pie” of frequent attenders
  • each of whom gives less today
  • in a landscape filled with more Walmart churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop shops”
  • with seminaries graduating significant numbers of aspiring pastors every year

Finally, a member approaching a pastor about valid biblical truths isn’t helped by the long list of shallow criticisms leaders have received in the past.  Those complaints weren’t requests to be challenged to greater discipleship, evangelism or compassion – but consumer-oriented critiques of the music, programs, sermons or amenities.  That self-serving mentality is partially a product of our materialistic American culture and partially attributable to decades of churches catering to “customer” needs to keep them coming back.

What is God Saying TO His Church?

Since we’re living in the time between the two advents, we are tremendously blessed to have God speaking to us so clearly and directly – through the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God through Jesus Christ readily available to us.  But with great power comes great responsibility.  The Holy Spirit’s power both convicts and equips us to obey key commands in Scripture:

  • Every believer, not just pastors, is called to be the hands of feet of Jesus to those in need of help and hope in our communities and world
  • We are all given the Great Commandment to love our neighbors and have access to people that pastors don’t – because they’re unlikely to step foot inside the 4 walls of a church building
  • All of us know the cure for spiritual cancer and we are on the hook for revealing it to those who have that terminal illness

We have no excuses.  We have all heard from God and received our marching orders. Regardless of whether pastors tell us to just invite our friends to next Sunday’s service and let them handle conversions, that doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to do much more to lead people to Jesus.  Man’s lower expectations don’t lower God’s expectations.  We cannot abdicate the Great Commission or Jesus’ model for evangelism to anyone else.  There are many Passive, Pensive and Private believers and churchgoers – but the Lord expects all of us to be Powerful disciples.

God may give pastors greater responsibilities and hold them to a higher standard, but He speaks to all believers in His own ways without playing favorites:

  1. God is equally ACCEPTING – He has forgiven all, loves all and equips all for GC2
  2. God is equally AUDIBLE – His voice is clear to all those who truly seek to know His will
  3. God holds us equally ACCOUNTABLE – We all have the same obligation to obey His commands

In other words, every believer is ordained by God for ministry.  It may not be in the pulpit, but we’re all on the hook for discipleship, evangelism and compassion.  However, America’s church growth model has given the mistaken impression that pastors have a priority hotline to the Father.  Otherwise, how could the balance of power flipped to the point where members expect so much of pastors but church leaders expect so little from members?  How else could the local church (small “c”) be doing so little to equip believers for their responsibilities in the Church universal (big “C”)?

It’s Your Turn

How have you seen centralizing discipleship and evangelistic responsibilities among a select few leaders impede Gospel advancement in your own church and community?  How has assigning greater weight to what pastors hear from the Lord changed the math from multiplication to addition – failing to leverage the power in the pews, and therefore stifling growth and causing leadership burnout?

Is the Holy Spirit Leading Your Church?

Feb 05, 20
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What a privilege to live between Christ’s two advents!  The full realization of God’s Kingdom awaits Jesus’ second coming but compared to those who lived before He first came, we are blessed beyond measure to be alive during this season of “Already, but Not Yet”.  Post-ascension existence comes with tremendous advantages – namely the Gospel, the Church and the Holy Spirit.  By the Spirit’s power, the Church is to be the vehicle for administering the Gospel remedy that God formulated during the first advent for the faithlessness, poverty and illnesses endured until the second advent.

The Holy Spirit not only indwells the bodies of individual believers but the corporate body of believers as well.  1 Corinthians 3:16 confirms that each of us is God’s temple, the Spirit-empowered embodiment of Church.  Yet Pentecost reveals that the Holy Spirit also appears amid collective gatherings of His children.

Unfortunately, few pastors teach in depth about the Holy Spirit today.  Most American churches instead direct attention to the collective power inherent in the body of Christ rather than the Spirit’s work inside each believer.  Therefore, few churchgoers understand the vast power of the Spirit available within them.  He is present and desires to be active in each Christ-follower – prompting us, speaking to us and speaking through us.

Many churches also fail to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, not realizing how active He desires to be at every church service, youth group session, and outreach event.  Instead, modern church growth models encourage careful planning and scripting, choreographing every minute to ensure worship music and sermons build toward an inspiring, fulfilling crescendo.  Where does that leave room for the Holy Spirit to intervene and interrupt the proceedings?  Pastors tell church members that the Holy Spirit may throw a wrench in their carefully laid plans yet rarely if ever allow Him to rip up and dispose of Sunday’s script.

Is it likely that the Holy Spirit prompts and speaks to church leaders during corporate worship?  Yes.  So why do pastors only acknowledge the Spirit’s role in speaking through them?  He most certainly also speaks to the church body and individual congregants during church services.   Then shouldn’t church leaders make space to heed impromptu interventions by the Holy Spirit?

Some would argue that the Holy Spirit already did His work when the service was being planned, and then left the execution to the professionals – not daring to second guess Himself during the performance.  However, the Holy Spirit as described in Scriptures doesn’t typically abide by a strict or predictable schedule or want to step aside while we go about our business.

How Did We Grab Control from God?

Every Christian is called to swallow their prideful desire for control and surrender to the Lord’s will.  Likewise, church leaders are to give the Holy Spirit complete control over every aspect of their ministry management efforts.  Yet CAWKI (“church as we know it”) growth models are built on carefully crafted attraction and retention strategies that leaders are told to rigorously follow.

Surrendering to the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit doesn’t entail abandonment of strategy and reason.  Instead, it means tapping into THE Source of wisdom and THE Catalyst for church growth.  The steady decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception of the Church in America over the past few decades is a direct result of leaders instead seeking man’s wisdom about how to lead their church:

  • Strategies – Well-compensated church growth and revitalization coaches and consultants abound, advocating worldly principles borrowed from business settings
  • Education – Expensive seminaries teach a definition of church centered around command and control structures, not around Spirit-led empowerment of the “called out ones” who actually define the body of Christ
  • Methods – “Celebrity” pastors pump out books, articles and podcasts on leadership at an alarming rate, characterizing the decline as simply a result of poor leadership rather than the outcome of their own Americanized growth models
  • Crisis – Implementation of self-reliant strategies, teachings and methods turns members into “customers”, often bringing about factions and splits over preferences, convincing many pastors to grab more control, not less
  • Perfectionism – Some pastors blame themselves when the flawed models aren’t working, redoubling their efforts to pull off flawless execution
  • Performance – Leadership anxiety and burnout follow from abdication by members of their intended role as the personification of Church, elevating pastors to a level of responsibility, standing and expectation that God never intended
  • Finances – Validation of organizational success in our culture today is largely predicated on physical structures, leading to prioritizing building funds over funding the biblical mandates of building and deploying disciples

Given all of that noise and the many churches down the road still catering to “customers” rather than challenging disciples, is it too risky for a church to buck the prevailing trends and surrender to the Holy Spirit’s leading?  And what would that even look like?  I would argue that the risk of quenching the Spirit in the life of your church far exceeds the risk of losing a few members who aren’t prepared for that radical transformation.

How Do We Give Control Back to the Lord?

Is it truly possible to let the Holy Spirit run our church?  CAWKI models, methods, programs, structures and service schedules are so ingrained and regimented today that they defy interference from the Holy Spirit.  Making space for the Spirit’s leading means listening attentively and obeying faithfully His prompts and utterings regardless of when He speaks.  That’s what pastors tell congregants to do – in all circumstances.  Since the Holy Spirit lives both in the bodies of church members and in the midst of the collective body of Christ, pastors should practice what they preach – even during a church service.

The path to that kind of transformation involves a complete shift from the world’s metrics to Kingdom drivers:

  • Numerical growth to personal growth
  • Loyalty of members to the institution to loyalty of disciples to God
  • Sustainability strategies to dependence on the Lord to provide
  • Engagement in church activities to engagement in prayer, care, share
  • Not only serving at church but also serving in missions (local and international)
  • Man’s wisdom to Scripture’s clear instructions for the Church around discipleship, evangelism and compassion

Jesus provided us the Gospel, the Church and the Holy Spirit to deal with life’s challenges between advents.  Only by prioritizing GC2 (the Great Commandment and Great Commission) over human conventions can churches take full advantage of the glorious assets now at their disposal.  That will take much more than just church reform – it will require faith reform.

We’ve observed many examples of leaders clearing a path for the Holy Spirit to work, providing some of the most memorable and impactful moments in the history of those churches:

  • A megachurch interrupted its sermon series to connect struggling families with those who could help during the Great Recession
  • Churches across a city regularly cut services short to go out to serve and share Christ in a spirit of unity, following Jesus’ example of leading with compassion and pursuing those who wouldn’t dare to darken the door of a church on a Sunday morning
  • A tight agenda for a discipleship meeting was scrapped when the leader felt nudged to suddenly call a mentor and put him on speaker phone to share a life-changing message
  • A pastor stopped in mid-sentence, folding up his sermon notes, and tearfully shared what he had heard the Spirit speak to him the night before
  • A community church decentralized into smaller house churches, relinquishing control and taking the onus off pastors to do all the work by training leaders to make disciples
  • A multi-site turned its small groups into neighborhood groups, equipping members to be “pastors of their neighborhoods” between Sundays
  • A worship service was held with no plan or bulletin at all – just obeying whatever the Lord said to do, trusting that the Holy Spirit would speak

It’s Your Turn

Is Christ the head of your church or is it run by human beings?  To encourage our blog readers, please give an example of how the Holy Spirit is being allowed to lead the way at your church…

The Church’s Mission (Drift) Between Advents

Jan 22, 20
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Many didn’t not recognize Jesus as the Son of God during His first advent.  So before Jesus’ earthly life was over, He took extreme measures to prevent anyone else from failing to acknowledge His Lordship in the period between His ascension and His 2nd coming.  Jesus equipped disciples, established His Church and gave us the Holy Spirit.  But those initial 12 weren’t the only disciples we would ever need, so His final words to the Church before going to be with the Father was to go and make more disciples (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus even left those of us living between the two advents with a model, the example He set for how to go about making disciples, reaching the lost, demonstrating His love and running His Church.

Yet today billions miss the opportunity for salvation because they don’t see Christ as Savior.  That horrifying reality isn’t due to any shortcomings on the part of the Holy Spirit.  The blame lies with those not following Jesus’ commands to disciple and to imitate His model for compassion, then evangelism.  People aren’t recognizing Jesus for who He is because they don’t recognize Jesus in us.  Most churches have replaced personalized, intensive discipleship with weekly sermons and small groups, which don’t make disciples.  They’ve replaced year-round, relational acts of service in their communities with occasional, transactional outreach events, which do more harm than good.

The second advent is forthcoming, but despite explicit instructions and the Holy Spirit’s power the Church isn’t doing its job well today in this critical time between the two advents.  In America, recent surveys show that the “None’s” (those not identifying with any religion) have increased from 16% in 2007 to 35% in 2018 – including 44% of Americans aged 18 to 29 (American Family Survey).  Over that same period, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped from 78% in 2007 to 65% in 2018 (Pew Research Center).  People are rejecting Christ because they’re rejecting Church.  Secular media and non-believers are unfairly attributing our lack of compassion and discipleship to Jesus – when we don’t look or live much like Him.  The Church in America has been decreasing in growth, impact, influence, and public perception because it has reflected poorly on (and been a poor reflection of) the God we worship…

  1. Most people missed the first advent, not recognizing Jesus as Lord, because HE lived quite differently than they expected.  They misunderstood who Jesus is and His mission because they didn’t realize that the Father is a God of love, mercy and grace – not just rules and religion.
  2. Since we now live after the first advent, we have the benefit of knowing exactly who God truly is – not only by what Christ said, but by what He did.  The vast majority of Americans have a clear picture of how Jesus lived.
  3. However, they don’t recognize Christ as Savior because WE live quite differently than they expected.  Most don’t know any Christians and a church who acts like Jesus.  Many churches and a few bold believers may say what Jesus said, but few actually do what He did.  Therefore, far too few Americans are ready for the second advent.

The road to church reform and revitalization, which we will lay out in this post, lies in taking full advantage of the assets and taking into account the liabilities of existence between the two advents…

Living Between the Two Advents: Pros and Cons

What a privilege to be alive during this season of “Already, but Not Yet.”  The promise to end that long period in world history of sin and death was fulfilled on Christmas Day.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in the new age of grace and life.  Jesus defeated death and now offers us eternity with Him through His sacrifice.  “For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:17).  We are born self-centered and lost, but those who “see and hear” Christ (thanks to the first advent) are reborn – Spirit-filled and safe in the arms of our loving Father.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galations 2:20)  Now that’s cause for celebration!

The full realization of God’s Kingdom awaits Christ’s second advent, but compared to those who lived before Jesus first came, we are blessed beyond measure to be alive between the two advents because we have…

  • The Holy Spirit
  • Knowledge of who God truly is, not subject to man-made distortions of His character
  • Confirmation of the resurrection, something Peter didn’t have when he denied Christ
  • Direct access to the Father in Jesus’ name because the veil has been torn (Mark 15:38)
  • An intermediary who will testify on our behalf before the Father (Hebrews 7:25)
  • Scripture providing a detailed account of Jesus’ life, the perfect example for us to follow
  • Jesus’ bride, His Church

But since the second advent has not yet occurred, we also must confront the realities of life during this interim period before this sin-stained world is replaced with a new heaven and new earth.  Every day, we witness or experience…

  1. Pain, suffering and poverty
  2. People who refuse to confess that Jesus is Lord and surrender to Him

At the second advent every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).  There will be no more pain or suffering for Christ-followers when Jesus comes back (Revelation 21:4).  However, in the meantime God established His Church to deal head-on with those harsh realities…

The Church’s Mission Between Advents

In the current flawed yet hope-filled age, Jesus expects churches to:

  1. Follow His example of showing compassion to alleviate suffering in His name
  2. Equip disciples to lead as many as possible to recognize Jesus as Lord before it’s too late

It’s beautiful how the Lord provides solutions to life’s challenges.  The Church is to be the vehicle for administering the remedy God formulated during the first advent for the illnesses endured until the second advent.  The flaws are opportunities for the church to do wonderful work.  And the Church has all of the post-ascension assets listed above at its disposal.  Unfortunately, churches aren’t taking full advantage of those opportunities for compassion and disciple-making utilizing those assets…

  1. Churches are no longer the first line of defense for the widow, orphan, homeless or depressed.  Churches were the food bank and shelter – and started the hospitals and schools – for 1900 years, but now outsource those functions to external ministries and government agencies.  For centuries, churches poured nearly half of their budgets into alleviating suffering, but now invest less than 1% in seasonal events that double as advertising.
  2. Intensive, personalized discipleship is highly uncommon today in America’s churches.  It’s far too disruptive to ask of the average American in this busy day and age, particularly when the livelihood of a church depends on attracting and retaining faithful churchgoers.  So rather than gaining the leverage inherent in equipping members to act like “employees” pursuing “customers” (those who don’t know Jesus), we treat members like “customers”, reluctant to ask for more than inviting a friend to hear from the “professional” evangelist next Sunday.

Abdicating those critical roles, taking the wrong approach to addressing the “evils” of suffering and unbelief, explain why no church leaders or evangelicals appeared in TIME magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people.  That’s a direct result of churches not doing their intended job between advents – diminishing their influence, growth, impact and perception.

Religious leaders in Jesus’ day misconstrued the message God had been trying to convey for centuries through His actions and words recounted in the Old Testament.  Religious leaders today have misconstrued the message Jesus tried to convey through His action and words recounted in the New Testament.  Therefore, society is once again (as they did during the first advent) failing to recognize Jesus because they don’t see Him in His Church.

It’s Your Turn

Review the action plan below for pastors, staff and lay leaders.  It’s the biblical formula for reclaiming the roles Jesus commissioned the Church to fill, knowing no one was more qualified to carry out those responsibilities…

  1. Define “church” biblically as the people in the pews, not the pews on which they sit
  2. Define the “customer” of the church as those who have no intention of ever setting foot inside a church building
  3. Equip members to be the embodiment of church through intensive, personalized disciple-making and evangelism training
  4. Deploy every disciple into ministry inside and outside the church (to pursue the real “customer”)
  5. Instruct disciples to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion, year-round, and then telling them who He is (Luke 10:8-9, TLB)

The early church understood Jesus’ model and was faithful to His example.  They knew the church was Jesus’ answer to carrying forward His life and ministry, so they committed themselves both to discipleship and to serving one another, the community and even their enemies who were persecuting them.  They had the benefit of the Holy Spirit and Scripture to lead the way forward until His next advent.  We must carry the ball now but will continue to fumble without radical church reform…

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) in 2020?

Jan 08, 20
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At Christmas, did you find yourself wondering how Jesus would celebrate His birthday if He were still walking the earth today?  I did.  And it was hard to picture Him opening presents by a Christmas tree in a well-decorated home next to a warm fire.  In my mind, it’s far more likely He’d be spending His birthday on the other side of town serving and sharing His life-changing message with the brokenhearted and downtrodden.  Nor would Jesus want His family and friends to be rushing to the mall to buy last-minute gifts for Him or complaining about non-believers who refuse to join in His birthday celebration.  He’d probably prefer we spend that time visiting those feeling most alone, without loved ones to hug or gifts to open – even if they’re among those pretending Christmas isn’t about Christ, saying “Merry Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” instead.

If you agree that every day should be Christmas for Christ-followers, then the question “Where Would Jesus Be on His birthday?” has serious implications for how each of us should spend our time in 2020…

Why So Many Missed the First Advent

Jesus lived differently than most expected.  His actions didn’t match up with common interpretations of God’s Word.  Religious leaders in Jesus’ day misconstrued the message God had been trying to convey for centuries through His actions and words.  They expected a deliverer from oppressors, not from sin.  They expected more rules to follow, not grace to accept.  They expected an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one.  In other words, they expected religion, not a relationship.  They traded what mattered most for what God most abhorred, exchanging forgiveness for condemnation and humility for arrogance.

Because the Lord’s own people misunderstood who He really was, God appeared before them in the flesh on Christmas Day.  Christmas is about the greatest act of love in the history of the world.  To seek and save the lost, God Himself took on human flesh and assumed the role of a humble servant, even to the point of death on a cross.  Advent means we now know exactly who God truly is – not only by what He said, but by what He did.  Jesus lived a life we should all seek to emulate.

Yet once again, the Word of God, this time spoken directly by His Son, couldn’t convince most that He was who He said He was.  Those who came to faith recognized Jesus as the Messiah primarily because of His supernatural acts of compassion – healing the sick and feeding the poor.

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say are not my own but are from my Father who lives in me. And he does his work through me.  Just believe it—that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or else believe it because of the mighty miracles you have seen me do.” (John 14:10-11)

“Are you really the one we are waiting for, or shall we keep on looking?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about the miracles you’ve seen me do — the blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help, and the cured lepers, and the deaf who hear, and the dead raised to life; and tell him about my preaching the Good News to the poor.” (Matthew 11:3-5)

It was also the power of Jesus’ actions (of outright defiance and miraculous kindness) that made the religious leadership want to kill Him.  In the end, they cited something He said to condemn Him to death, but it was most certainly what He did that put Him on trial and led to the final verdict.  They understood that His actions, not His words, were going to win everyone over and undermine the religious establishment they had carefully constructed.

“’What are we going to do?’ they asked each other. ‘For this man certainly does miracles. If we let him alone the whole nation will follow him—and then the Roman army will come and kill us and take over the Jewish government.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, ‘You stupid idiots – let this one man die for the people – why should the whole nation perish?’” (John 11:47-50)

Why So Many Miss Jesus Today

The failure of American churches and Christians to imitate Jesus, leading with words rather than actions, is the primary reason why the Church is in decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception.  To help those around us recognize who Jesus is in 2020, we should do exactly as He did over 2,000 years ago.

Acts of service have tremendous missional and evangelistic power.  But to be clear, we’re not recommending “good” OVER Gospel.  Rather, Jesus’ model was “good” THEN Gospel – Prayer, Care, then Share.  Jesus typically healed and fed before telling people who He is, and He instructed His disciples, like you and me, to do the same.

“If a town welcomes you, follow these two rules: (1) Eat whatever is set before you. (2) Heal the sick; and as you heal them, say, ‘The Kingdom of God is very near you now.’ (Luke 10:8-9, TLB)

However, it is in that respect most Christians today look less like Jesus and more like the religious leaders 2,020 years ago.  Churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion – serving as the food bank and homeless shelter – like they were for the better part of 1,900 years.  Jesus was a humble servant, but many Christians criticize culture without first demonstrating love and compassion. Therefore, what society sees in most churches and Christians today isn’t faith that attracts but religion that repels.  At Christmas, we held worship services behind closed doors and fought religious battles at arms-length to put “Christ back in Christmas”.  The distance we maintained, lamenting the sins of society from the comfortable confines of a church building, appears as self-righteousness – blocking their view of Jesus.  What society needs most, not only on Jesus’ birthday but throughout 2020, isn’t more words about their shortcomings but more actions expressing God’s love.  But operating at close proximity rather than judging from afar risks exposing our own shortcomings, which ironically is a key to evangelism – revealing our own need for forgiveness and grace.

So secular culture observes Christians from a distance, making their own judgments about the “sins” that we try to carefully conceal.  Recent studies show that Christians do not appear on the surface much different than their non-Christian neighbors.  Our joy at Christmas should have welled up inside of us as we worshipped, and overflowed into the lives of those around us.  Instead, non-believers saw Christians getting caught up in the holiday stressors that come with the shallow pursuit of happiness (e.g. social obligations and consumerism).  We speak of wanting society to conform to our picture of how things ought to be, yet we looked a lot like everyone else during the Christmas season.  If they saw our Savior in more believers, they wouldn’t so easily be able to dismiss the “reason for the season”.

“Where Would Jesus Be” in 2020?

Jesus didn’t take a break from doing good.  Compassion wasn’t seasonal or event-based for Him.  Jesus knew that people were still hungry and hurting in January and February, so He never stopped seeking out those in need of help and hope.  My guess is Jesus would be spending most of 2020 discipling His closest followers, and hanging out in homes (Luke 10:38-42), hospitals (Luke 7:22), orphanages (Matthew 19:14), red light districts (Mark 2:17), assisted living facilities (James 1:27) and homeless shelters (Luke 9:58).  Yet most churches are kicking off 2020 taking a deep breath from the compassion events they ran over the holidays, patting themselves on the back for how kind they were during the Christmas season – while hoping those they served over the holidays will show up next Sunday for a church service.

That inconsistency is why society questions whether churches today truly care or whether they’re using outreach largely as advertising to grow their congregations and bottom lines.  No one will be able to question our motives if they see Christians truly living like Jesus, demonstrating His Agape (love) compassionately throughout 2020.  If you want to live like Jesus, go where He went – because that’s where He would be (and where He is) at this very moment.

It’s Your Turn

If your church is starting off 2020 resting from outreach events during the Christmas season, how much concern does it truly have for the poor?  Do we have the same sense of urgency after the holidays to see others saved from the eternal separation from God that we once feared ourselves?  Are we as thankful for God’s grace as we once were or have we lost our first love?  Are we spending nearly all our time with those who are safely on the boat, while so many are drowning in an ocean of despair all around us?  Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) today?  Follow in His footsteps daily in 2020 by getting out of the “4 walls” to seek the lost, living out God’s love through acts of service, and then telling people who Jesus is.

How to Put Christ Back in Christmas

Dec 12, 19
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Many Christians bristle at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Xmas” each Christmas season.  We understandably get upset when greeting card companies and retailers refuse to utter the words “Merry Christmas” – redefining the holiday in order to avoid backlash and maximize profits.

We want nothing more this Christmas than to see people celebrating the true “reason for the season”.  Our only desire is for every man, woman and child to recognize Jesus for who He is – Lord and Savior.  We hope our friends, neighbors and coworkers will receive the present they need the most this Christmas – God’s grace and forgiveness.  Regifting is normally tacky and cheap, but perfectly acceptable when we pass along our Father’s Christmas gifts of redemption and reconciliation.  It would be a shame to watch our world miss another perfect opportunity this Christmas to experience God’s infinite love and mercy.

But is there a way to convey the Gospel message such that it will convince non-believers that Jesus is the answer to life’s most burning questions?  Scripture shows that words alone were rarely enough.  Jesus had the perfect words but He led with actions, not words.

As we’ll show later in this blog post, nearly every time someone recognized Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it was because of His acts of mercy and compassion.  It’s no different today.  Non-believers recognize Jesus in us when they see His love flowing through us.  They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope as well.  It is our actions (Care), followed by our words (Share), while understanding that only God can reconcile someone to Himself (Prayer), that open eyes to see and ears to hear.

“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name.” (John 2:23)

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)

What signs and wonders did they want to see?  The arrogant and unbelieving sarcastically asked Jesus to perform a magic trick that was either self-centered or for self-preservation, associating Him with their own priorities.  They were not compassionate and therefore did not ask for compassion.  However, those who were humble and expectant asked for practical help, like healing or food.  They were in need and simply asked for kindness.

In either case, both the arrogant and humble were alike in one respect – they wouldn’t believe unless Jesus did something.  Jesus refused to perform on demand if intended as a test but fulfilled requests that were rooted in actual need.  As a result, many who were lowly and oppressed witnessed and were deeply impacted by Jesus’ demonstrations of love and empathy, whereas few with superiority complexes got to see Jesus in action – or acknowledged His divinity when they did.

The lesson from all this is clear – people won’t recognize Jesus in our lives or in His Church if we do not practice what we preach.  Words are not enough – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus.  Although He had the perfect words, He still led with acts of loving service.  Yet today, churches typically devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions.  That’s sad considering churches followed Jesus’ model for 1900 years, taking the lead in compassion in communities across the globe.

How People Recognized Jesus…

People did not recognize Jesus was the Messiah simply because He told them He was the Christ, but only after He had done something to demonstrate His compassion and love for them:

  1. John recognized Jesus, exclaiming “It is the Lord” only after He filled their nets with fish (John 21:6-7)
  2. The two men Jesus met on the road to Emmaus recognized Christ only after He handed them bread to eat (Luke 24:28-35)
  3. The royal official recognized and believed in Jesus only after his son was healed (John 4:53)
  4. The man born blind recognized Jesus as God’s son only after He was healed (John 9:35-38)
  5. The disciples recognized it was Jesus and not a ghost only after He saved Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:26-33)
  6. The city of Genneseret recognized Jesus for His ability to heal and brought Him all who were ill (Matthew 14:34-36)
  7. The woman at the well recognized Jesus as a prophet (and the Messiah) only after He conveyed an intimate knowledge of her personal history (John 4:7-30; 39-42)
  8. Nathaniel recognized Jesus as the Son of God only after He showed He cared enough to understand and acknowledge him personally (John 1:47-49)
  9. Mary recognized Jesus was not the gardener only after He spoke her name (John 20:14-16)
  10. The Roman soldier recognized Jesus was the Son of God only after He died for our sins (Matthew 27:50-54)

What do those examples in Scripture mean for us today in terms of how Jesus recognizes His followers and how others recognize Jesus in us?

How People Recognize Jesus in Us…

Many Christians are disturbed by Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.  Most find it a bit uncomfortable to read Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 that even many of those who are highly “religious” will find themselves on the outside looking in on Judgement Day.  Yes, each of us is saved by grace and not by works, yet as the Book of James contends, faith without works is dead.  Jesus questioned whether someone lacking the compassion to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and help those imprisoned (for their faith in Christ) is really a Christian at all.  Jesus will recognize His followers by their faith – an authentic faith that leads to good deeds.

Those who are “blind” can’t recognize Jesus.  Jesus came to give sight to the “blind”. (John 9:39)  The spiritual leaders of that time claimed they could see, but did not recognize Jesus or John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:12)  Their vision was blurred by a lack of compassion and love.  Likewise, it is our caring and concern for others that will cause believers and non-believers alike to recognize Christ in our personal lives and in our churches.

America’s church growth model focus on attracting and retaining church members, catering to their needs rather than challenging them to become disciples who follow Jesus’ church growth model (of preceding evangelism with compassion).  Churches are no longer society’s food bank and homeless shelter, the first place people think to go to for help.  Therefore, society understandably no longer recognizes Jesus in most churches, instead seeing churches as uncaring and judgmental.  As the evil spirit said in Acts 19, “Jesus I know, and Paul and I know about, but who are you?”

Our culture will only take notice and recognize Jesus in a church where they see His love undeniably flowing through it.  Your circle of influence will be able to see and open to hear about the hope you have within you only to the extent that you demonstrate the love of Jesus to them.

It’s Your Turn…

At Meet The Need, #GiveAnEternalGift is about keeping the focus of Christians on serving and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ this Christmas.  It’s tempting to get caught up in fulfilling social obligations and lured by slick advertising into consumerism during the holidays.  However, running yourself ragged and enduring bedlam at the mall for the sake of giving gifts that are quickly discarded is not God’s plan for Christmas.  Instead, Jesus wants us to follow His model and live Prayer/Care/Share lifestyles this month and throughout 2020, giving gifts that will never perish.  Help Meet The Need equip churches, ministries and Christians everywhere for acts of kindness at #GiveAnEternalGift.