Tag Archives: faith

Why Aren’t Christians Seen as Loving?

Jun 28, 18
JMorgan
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5 comments

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (from Luke 28: 27, 29)

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27)

The primary distinguishing feature of a Christian should be how they love those who agree with them…and those who don’t.  Christians should easily recognizable by their mind-boggling love for those who despise them.  It shouldn’t be difficult to tell who the Christians are in the neighborhood or at work.

So, why are Christians in America not known for their love?  Instead, studies consistently show that Christians are seen by most as judgmental, by many as hateful, and by only a few as readily identifiable in a crowd.

What Should Love Look Like?

Scripture characterizes love as a verb.  Love is something we do – not just something we feel.  Biblical love is hard – it is not passive or lazy.  1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4 describe a love that is quite the opposite of our natural, human inclination toward self-preservation.  Jesus modeled a love that defies explanation – a script written from the beginning of time where the Author dies an excruciating death to save everyone from imminent peril.  The Lord could have chosen 1,000 easier ways for Christ to shed His blood to atone for our sins, but He revealed a plan to the prophets well in advance that involved His own Son being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” to demonstrate His overwhelming love for us.  Christ’s love, which the Great Commandment calls us to emulate, entails:

  1. Sacrifice – What if a friend died to save you?  How would you live differently from that point on?  How would you act toward your (deceased) friend’s family to show your appreciation?  In that light, the fact that Christ died for us should spur Christians to a life of radical generosity, showing our love for Him and His children.
  2. Mercy – Jesus healed, fed and forgave at every opportunity.  Jesus continually emphasized the importance of compassion toward the poor, sick and lost – not just in words, but in actions.
  3. Obedience – Jesus states plainly in John 14 that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”.  Obedience and love are joined at the hip.  We obey out of love for Christ and never in a futile, conditional attempt to “earn” or “deserve” salvation.
  4. Selflessness – Philippians 2 associates love with putting the interests of others above our own, a concept so counter to our natures that it may require a lifetime of sanctification to learn to “love our neighbors as ourselves”.
  5. Unity – Philippians 2 also joins the call in John 17 for absolute, complete unity of all believers in mind and spirit.  “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)
  6. Forgiveness – Jesus linked love and forgiveness inextricably in His encounter with the woman who washed His feet with perfume at the dinner.  “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)  If we realized just how many sins Jesus has forgiven for us, we would not be so quick to judge others.  “’Now which of them will love him more?’…Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’” (Luke 7:42-43)
  7. Unconditional – Agape love is love for God and others with no expectations or strings attached.  Given our sinful natures, the purity of Agape isn’t possible apart from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

How Does Today’s Culture Define “Love”?

In American culture today, love is viewed less as a verb and more as a noun.  Rather than something we do, it’s something we feel.  Because Agape is unattainable for non-believers, they settle for love in lesser forms:

  1. Phileo – This brotherly love is found in the warmth and affection between friends.  Companionship provides the sense of community that so many desire, but Phileo can be conditional and never extends to those we do not like.  Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook can replace churches because he sees the Church’s role reduced to providing community.
  2. Storge – “Suburbia” values providing for our families at the expense of all others.  Parents have no time to care for poor because they’re working late nights all week to finance a desired quality of life for their families, and then run from soccer games to cheerleading practice all weekend.  It is hard to argue with this family-oriented form of love, but it leaves little room for Agape.
  3. Eros – Our TV, radio and Internet “airwaves” are filled with references to this sexually-charged form of love, which is better coined “infatuation” in a society that endorses and encourages premarital sex.
  4. Tolerance – Under the guise of love, compassion and justice, society vehemently defends the right of each and every individual to determine his/her own moral compass and rejects anyone who defers to a higher moral authority than themselves.  Deifying each other’s false god of “self” is not love – it’s idol worship (worship of the creation and not the Creator).
  5. Freedom – In America today, any attempts by Christians to point out sin is seen as judgmental or fear-mongering – a form of hate, not love.  Although enslaved to sin, non-believers demand to remain free from the imposition of Christian values, truth or morality.  In the name of “love” (by their definition), they love and defend self at all costs.
  6. Emotions – Ask most non-Christians in the U.S. to define “love” and you are likely to hear descriptions of feelings and human emotions, not the action-oriented version in 1 Corinthians.
  7. Social Justice – One area where Millennials view love as a verb is in fighting for human rights, which they believe Christians frequently violate (by advocating Biblical standards of behavior).

Love comes from the one true God, not from the world. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  Apart from Christ, society can only conjure up counterfeit, cheap imitations.

Why Doesn’t Society See Christians as Loving?

Yes, the world has a distorted view of love.  Christians do not live according to the secular definition of love, so we don’t appear loving when looked at through that filter.  However, there is merit to certain aspects of society’s perception of love – like Phileo, Tolerance and Social Justice.  Those correspond loosely to the Biblical principles of Unity, Forgiveness and Mercy.  Are Christians doing those components of love well?  If not, then we’re not living out society’s definition of love – or ours.

The Bible says our love for one another should shock, amaze and attract non-believers to Christ.  Yet if what once was attractive about Christianity when we treated love as a verb (i.e. action and compassion toward all men and women, even “enemies) is no longer distinguishable from society’s view of love as a noun (i.e. positive feelings and emotions toward those who are like-minded), then Christianity will repel non-believers.  That’s the situation our faith finds itself in today – one where culture has impacted the Church more than churches are impacting culture.

In other words, society expects Christians to love like them or to show them what true love looks like.  But if believers don’t exhibit either the version of “love” that society espouses or that Christ modeled, then they will be loving in a way that others do not understand or appreciate.  In that event, we can expect a continued decline in Church growth, influence, impact and perception in our nation.  The segue away from the Biblical definition of love began as institution-building replaced disciple-building in recent decades.  “Church” came to be known as a place with evangelism entrusted primarily to “professionals” and members tasked only with inviting people to come to an “event”.  To attract and retain members, church leaders lowered expectations and no longer held members to the Great Commission mandate.  Rather than equipping disciples to go out (and follow Jesus’ example of leading with compassion and then telling them who He is), the focus shifted internally – as did the objects of our “love”.

Accordingly, society observes the allegiance Christians have to their particular church, pastor and fellow members, but not their Unity (as one universal body), Forgiveness (of those who think differently) or Mercy (for those in need or oppressed):

  1. Are We United? – The world sees our splits, factions and denominations.  However, it is not seeing much collaboration across churches around causes of great importance within our cities.  Nor are we demonstrating love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering around the globe.
  2. Are We Forgiving? – Our lack of unity spills over into a perceived self-righteousness and judgmentalism toward those outside of our immediate congregation, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” by confining love to a narrower audience than Jesus intended.
  3. Are We Merciful? – Even within our church families, we aren’t modeling the love and sacrifice that led the church in Acts to sell their possessions to ensure no one suffered for lack of food or clothes.  Churches in America no longer lead the way in caring for the poor outside of their “4 walls” as they did for 1900 years when churches were the food bank and homeless shelter.

Love is action, not just words.  Love is the essence of our faith.  The perception of Christians will change when our love of God extends and overflows naturally and unconditionally beyond our fellow believers to all mankind.  The culture war raging in America today can only be won when churches stop building institutions that tend to fight an air war (dropping verbal bombs) and start building disciples who engage in a ground war using love and compassion as their chosen weapons.

It’s Your Turn…

Are there any other reasons why you believe society does not associate church or Christians with the word “love”?  What can be done to restore that reputation and lead more people back toward Jesus?

Are Churches Changing Culture or is Culture Changing Church?

Jun 13, 18
JMorgan
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4 comments

Last week’s post outlined the biblical definition of “church”, showing how it has been redefined over recent decades in America.  The principal words for “church” found in Scripture, Ekklesia meaning “assembly of called out ones” and Kuriakos meaning “those belonging to the Lord”, both refer to the church in terms of a collective body of individual believers.  Yet now, society sees church as a “what” and not a “who”.  When evaluating how that transition took place, it is no surprise to learn that the distortion of the word “church” in America reflects dynamics of secular culture that have seeped into the “4 walls” of our church buildings and psyches.

Culture is Shaping Church…

As we discussed last week, “church” (as defined in the Bible) should not be characterized by any of the 10 terms listed below – but those words reflect common perceptions and realities of churches in America today.  Not coincidentally, those same terms accurately depict America’s culture.  Apparently, society is exerting significant influence over how we view and do “church”.  Let’s look at each of those 10 characteristics and perceptions of church and show how it syncs with the related cultural trend…

  1. a Place – Church came to be seen as somewhere Christians go on Sundays as Americans have become more reluctant to accept personal accountability and responsibility (e.g. for being the embodiment of “church”)
  2. an Event – Church evolved into a weekly production as Americans sought greater convenience and developed shorter attention spans
  3. an Institution – Church increasingly became structured as a legal entity operating in (expensive and underutilized) buildings as our nation became progressively more corporate and litigious
  4. a Social Club – Church has turned into fellowship without obligation, free to come and go as we please, as loyalty and commitment have declined in our country
  5. a Business – Nickels and noses have grown more prevalent measures of success in churches as money and metrics have taken center stage in our consumer and bottom-line culture
  6. a “Hospital” (for “sinners”) – For the “unchurched”, attending a weekend service became a last resort for those in crisis only when Americans’ endless search for fulfillment and happiness elsewhere eventually met dead ends at every turn
  7. Easy – Churches began allowing congregants to abdicate evangelism to the “professionals” as consumers came to expect excellent customer service (or take their business elsewhere)
  8. Quick – Worship services grew shorter and Sunday schools disappeared as our schedules got busier, leaving less time for church between work, social and kid’s activities
  9. Scripted – Sermons, songs and segues became more carefully choreographed as Americans grew accustomed to a high degree of professionalism and entertainment value at any events they attend
  10. Segregated – Collaboration among churches across denominations has decreased and diversity has suffered as divisiveness has increased between those on different sides of the racial, demographic and political aisles

Yes, churches in America have (either intentionally or unwittingly, but either way unfortunately) adopted many features commonly seen in the secular world.

Church is Not Shaping Culture…

Flipping the coin, if we look back again at our post from last week, we also reviewed 10 characteristics the Bible indicates that churches SHOULD have.  Yet we don’t find any of those prevalent in American culture today.  Therefore, it does not appear that church (as it should be) is substantially influencing our culture…

  1. Not a Place, It’s YOU – Because church is now generally defined as an institution, no longer consistent with the original Greek words used in Scripture, fewer individual Christians are being equipped to live out their intended Great Commission mandate (as the personification of church to those around them)
  2. Disciple-Making – Hesitancy to call congregants to obedience, instead promoting a “cheap grace” corresponding to our nation’s moral relativism, has kept many believers from imitating Jesus’ powerful prayer, care and share model that changed the world
  3. Decentralized – A body of Christ that better balanced taking care of its own with pursuing lost sheep in the community and sacrificed building congregations for building disciples would see its reach expand dramatically as individuals truly became the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work
  4. Evangelistic – Training more believers to effectively share the Gospel (despite popular opinion deeming any voicing of religious views as improper social etiquette) would undermine the “I’m right, you’re right” philosophy that has supplanted “I’m ok, you’re ok” as the rallying cry of intolerance by those (ironically and intolerantly) unwilling to endure dissenting views
  5. Compassionate – Reoccupying the lead role in compassion, a position the Church occupied for 1900 years as it followed Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is, would speak clearly to a waiting world that believes it is more concerned than Christians about poverty and social justice
  6. Believers – In a culture increasingly inclined to doubt the validity of absolutes and truth, and in the name of tolerance hold that all (religious) roads essentially lead to the same destination, there is no better time for each of us as the living, breathing church to take responsibility for leading people to Christ
  7. Risky – Stepping out on a limb to deal with tough issues within the church like sin and repentance would provide a firmer (and less hypocritical) platform to speak about sin and repentance to a world riddled with guilt but mistrusting of the church to show it the path to redemption
  8. Loving – Society sees the love churchgoers have for their (institutional) church, but not necessarily their love for the Lord and those outside the “4 walls”, instead sensing self-righteousness and judgementalism in part due to the prioritization of little “c” over big “C”, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” to include a narrower audience than Jesus intended
  9. Transformative – The calls to radical life change, submission, surrender, holiness and sanctification have been replaced with repeating a prayer of salvation and getting involved in church activities, making it difficult to distinguish churchgoers from their unchurched counterparts
  10. United – Everyone desires a sense of belonging, yet that carnal craving diminishes the collective influence of the Church when Christians sell out their individual responsibility to be a light in a dark work in exchange for service to a single congregation

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree with our assessment of the convergence of church and modern culture?  If so, what do you plan to do to advance the biblical definition of “church” within your circle of influence?

What is “Church”? (Hint: It’s not what you think it is)

May 30, 18
JMorgan
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8 comments

Several terms are found in Scripture to define “church”:

Nowhere in the Bible is “church” defined as a physical structure or the leadership/staff of an organization.  All of the terms above make clear that “church” is by definition either all Christ-followers or a subset of believers.  In fact, every instance of the word “church” in God’s Word is implicitly plural because it is understood that “church” always and only applies to people, not a place.  For example, the Book of Acts, where the Church was launched and proliferated, leaves no doubt as to the personal nature of the word “church”:

Physical structures don’t pray, gather or welcome.  And pastors and staff weren’t the only ones praying, gathering and welcoming.

Church Is Not…

Not every church in America is a biblical church.  The prevailing church growth model (Invite, Involve, Invest) has redefined the word “church” to mean something that would be barely recognizable to Jesus’ disciples and leaders of the early church.  The following are common characteristics and perceptions of churches today, none of which correspond to any of the terms used to define “church” in the Bible:

  1. …a Place – Somewhere Christians go
  2. …an Event – Something Christians do (with “CEOs”, Christmas & Easter Only, joining them twice a year)
  3. …an Institution – A legal entity operating in (underutilized) buildings, with significant labor and maintenance costs
  4. …a Social Club – Fellowship and fun without commitment or obligation
  5. …a Business – An organization that will have to close its doors if it doesn’t meet budget, therefore carefully measuring “nickels and noses”, with members essentially paying for pastors and staff to usurp their rightfully responsibilities
  6. …a “Hospital” – …for “sinners”, inviting non-believers into an assembly intended for worship rather than holding believers accountable for being the personification of “church” within their circle of influence between Sundays
  7. …Easy – Minimal expectations and no requirements, allowing congregants to abdicate the Great Commission to “professionals” by simply inviting friends to services next weekend
  8. …Quick – A one-hour experience designed to be as convenient and enjoyable as possible
  9. …Scripted – Sermons and songs that are carefully planned, yet with discipleship and sanctification left to chance
  10. …Segregated – Functioning wholly apart from other churches outside (and even within) a denomination, and outsourcing compassion responsibilities to external ministries

Do any of those sound like your church?  Do you know anyone who thinks many of those 10 items accurately portray your church (or America’s churches)?  If so, then it’s likely misaligned with “church” as God intended.

Church is…

To determine whether your church conforms to the biblical definition of Church modeled by Jesus and exemplified by the early church, consider how well it espouses and practices the following principles:

  1. …YOU – Church is not somewhere Christians go, but something Christians are.  It’s not a place, but is taking place wherever and whenever believers are gathered for worship, teaching and discipleship.
  2. …Disciple-Making – During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested His time primarily in personal discipleship and service to those in need.  We are only His Church when we’re following His example of (intensive, 1-on-1) discipleship and (internal and external) compassion – on a continual, ongoing basis rather than as a series of events.
  3. …Decentralized – Church is mobile, because its members are the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work.  Their dependence is on Christ and one another, not on an institution.  Yet, in their efforts to build an entity, pastors have redefined “church” and thereby failed to equip and empower the true “church” for ministry.
  4. …Evangelistic – As the embodiment of “church”, each of us should be going OUT after the “lost”, yet churches advertise and members invite them to come IN (and join our social club), requiring they enter a building to find Jesus.
  5. …Compassionate – Jesus demonstrated His love before telling people who He is, so a true church invests (heavily) outward in serving its community rather than diverting nearly all funds to attracting and retaining, terms typically associated with businesses.
  6. …Believers – Since Christ-followers are the “church”, worship services should not be designed for those who don’t worship the Lord.  Christ wants His bride to be undefiled and holy, meaning you and I (as the living, breathing church) should take responsibility for leading people to Christ and then welcome them to join other believers in worship.
  7. …Risky – The Christian walk is not intended to be easy or safe, yet that is the “M.O.” of modern church growth models.  As the body of Christ, each of us should be challenged to “eat right” and “work out” (prayer, care and share), making the collective church healthier as it loses weight, dropping perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never commit to giving their lives fully to Jesus.
  8. …Loving – Love is the essence of our faith.  Our love of God extends to fellow believers and all mankind.  Love is patient and enduring but consumers (who see church as a place and not as themselves) shop and hop, looking for the best “experience”.
  9. …Transformative – Attending weekly services, joining a small group and repeating the Sinner’s Prayer are not inherently life changing.  Expectations for radical obedience are replaced with cheap grace when evangelism, discipleship and sanctification become optional.
  10. …United – In our last blog post, we looked at how defining church as a place or event separates churches and ministries into small factions, whereas properly viewing church as “called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” unites us all as one in Christ.

Is this list or the prior one (of what church is not) a more accurate depiction of your “church”?

It’s Your Turn…

What other perceptions or characteristics of churches would you add to either of the lists above?

7 Impediments to Unity of the Body of Christ

May 17, 18
JMorgan
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6 comments

Among all of the calls for unity among believers in the Bible, we need look no further than John 17, Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for His followers right before He went to the cross.

“That they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (vs. 22-23)

When I first began traveling the country speaking to audiences of church and ministry leaders about Meet The Need, I used the word “unity” quite a bit, believing it would serve as a rallying cry.  I soon learned that preaching “unity” not only did not motivate, but sparked resistance.  While many leaders from each city liked each other, many had questions and concerns about the theology or practices of other churches, denominations and ministries.  In their view, their differences outweighed their commonalities.  They had chosen to maintain a comfortable distance for a reason and were not looking for greater unity.

So I stopped using that word and began promoting unity indirectly by convincing each church and ministry to utilize the same platform for serving their community and causes.  By making an offer each of them couldn’t refuse – conforming the software to look like their web sites, taking work off their staff, giving them complete control over who they connected with, and giving it to them for free – the body of Christ wound up united not by choice but because of the benefits of Meet The Need for their particular organizations.

That approach was highly effective for a while, but collaboration has continued to dissipate to the point where fewer churches are willing to join a network to serve alongside other churches and ministries.

What Works Against Unity?

Today, Satan is pulling out all of the tricks up his sleeve for accomplishing his ultimate goal – sowing discord among God’s elect:

  1. Distorting Truth – Misinterpretation of scripture, fostering disagreements among believers, is one of Satan’s primary MOs for fostering disunity.  Taking one passage or principle, ascribing it disproportionate importance and claiming a unique understanding of it, has been the origin of all “cults” and the basis for churches and denominations throughout history to criticize and separate from one another.
  2. Putting Little “c” Before Big “C” – Those sensing a call to ministry to advance the Kingdom (big “C”) often find their focus gradually narrowing to advancing the interests of a single congregation (little “c”) if their path leads them to a church staff role.  As we will see in a moment, attempts to grow A church can come at the expense of THE Church.  In management consulting, we called this phenomenon “going native” – working with a client so long that you forget you still work for the consulting firm, thereby undermining the interests of your real employer.
  3. Redefining Church as a Place – A united body of Christ would adopt a biblical definition of “church” as people (the “assembly of called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord”) and not as a place.  In America, “church” is seen as somewhere people go on Sundays.  That perception allows churchgoers to abdicate their responsibilities as the personification of “church” and see their pastors and buildings as the embodiment of church.  Therefore, rather than all Christians uniting as individual believers around the globe, we segment into small factions labeled as “First Baptist” or “Cornerstone Church”.  Our world and ministry shrink accordingly.
  4. Fundraising – Yes, I said it. A dwindling pool of frequent churchgoers (who now give a lower percentage per capita) and the rise of megachurches (who can offer far more attractive children’s programs) mean fewer dollars are available to smaller churches.  Survival instincts breed self-interest, not unity.  Also, we see fewer local ministries partnering in cities across the U.S. due to competition over a limited number of high-capacity donors.  Likewise, churches are working less with external ministries, instead devising their own local missions initiatives over concerns that those partnerships could divert member giving.
  5. Measuring “Success” – Depending on the metrics a church uses to gauge its “success”, a little “c” may view itself as “healthy” yet may be making the big “C” more unhealthy.  Among the thousands of churches we have served, not one measured its contribution toward the unity of the overall body of Christ in its city and world.  The typical church closely tracks growth in “nickels and noses” while investing less than 2% of its budget in local and international missions.  Therefore, they provide many more opportunities for internal “church chores” than external outlets for service.  An internally-focused church concerned about numbers, therefore attracting new members from other churches and clinging to members who should be going to another church (i.e. one that offers more discipleship for a mature Christian) is actually undermining the welfare of the big “C”.
  6. Seeking Credit – On a weekly basis, Meet The Need sees examples of churches and ministries looking to build their own names, thereby impinging God’s name.  Typically, it involves participation in an outreach event where they complain or pull out because their organization was not getting enough recognition.  Nothing works against collaboration more than the desire for acclaim.  Nothing stifles unity more than stealing credit that is not rightfully theirs.  In contrast, not only does Meet The Need “white label” our solutions (because churches and ministries are the face of Christ to their communities), but we actually urge them not to broadcast our name to volunteers or families receiving help.
  7. Catering, Not Challenging – We are called to a life of discipleship, leading us to imitate Jesus, who spent His days discipling and serving.  If churches still challenged members by offering intensive, personalized discipleship, then believers would unite around what Jesus commanded above all else – loving God through discipleship and loving others through service.  Those Great Commission mandates are about dying to self and adopting a common Kingdom cause.  A common cause is always necessary for unity (forgetting our individual interests and putting “team” first), but efforts by churches to attract and retain members have shifted the cause from pursuing the lost to placating churchgoers.  And “self” as a cause always spawns discord.

Given these root causes, what should churches and ministries do to foster unity of the body of Christ?

How to Overcome Barriers to Unity

The Church in America is decreasing in growth, impact, influence and perception because it is declining in unity.  We are living out the ramifications of the truths Jesus shared in the verses we looked at earlier – John 17:22-23 (“That they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”)  Society isn’t recognizing our unity so it doesn’t recognize Jesus in or through us.

Therefore, we urge gospel-believing and practicing churches and ministries across the U.S. to unite by:

  1. Defining “church” in an inclusive way (any gatherings of believers for biblical worship, prayer and teaching)
  2. Making unity a Key Performance Indicator
  3. Alleviating the financial burden of administration and pitfalls of “competition” through cost sharing (e.g. children’s programs) and decentralizing (e.g. house churches)
  4. Building networks, not around our differences (e.g. denominations) but around what’s the same (e.g. mission, mandates and causes)
  5. Developing common goals, collaborating around evangelism and community transformation, working with local leaders to collectively identify and address specific causes
  6. Considering the unique strengths and capabilities of each organization and how those little “c’s” map together to form the big “C” (i.e. the parts of the body spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:12)
  7. Filling gaps in the city where resources are inadequate to serve local needs and to reach all with the gospel

It’s Your Turn…

Please share great examples of unity among the churches and ministries in your community.

How Did People Recognize Jesus is the Son of God?

May 02, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

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.  People see hope through the help.  They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope as well.  It is our actions (Care), when combined with our words (Share) and our pleas to God to reconcile someone to Him (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, 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 compassion.  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 and 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 compassion.  Yet today churches devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions.  Sad considering churches followed Jesus’ model and took the lead in compassion for 1900 years.

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 does that mean for how Jesus recognizes His followers and how others recognize Jesus in us?

How Jesus Recognizes True Believers…

Are you like many Christians disturbed by Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25?  Maybe you 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.  We should too.

Christ recognizes His followers by their sincere compassion and love (demonstrated by actions), not simply by their status or nice-sounding words:

  • Jesus was toughest on those who were the toughest on others (arrogant) and chose to use those who were toughest on themselves (humble).
  • American Christians are not great judges of genuine believers. Our culture tends to glamorize the wealthy and devalue the poor.  We often see humility as a sign of weakness and want the most self-confident person on our team.
  • When God picks his teammates, He looks for those most likely to bring glory to Him (not to themselves) and to love others well. Thus the Lord chose the “lowest of the low”, like shepherds and fishermen.
  • God recognizes greatness in low places where we usually look for it in high places.
  • The Lord recognizes the righteous, but we are often fooled by the self-righteous.
  • Jesus says we will recognize false prophets and true believers by their fruit. Most of the fruits of the Spirit have to do with how we treat others (i.e. love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness).

How People Recognize Jesus in Us…

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)  They lacked compassion and love for others.  Likewise, it is our caring and concern for others that will cause believers and non-believers alike to recognize Christ in our churches and our personal lives.

Predictably, efforts to attract and retain church members have had the opposite effect – redirecting energy from building disciples who follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion to instead building churches.  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?”

Non-believers are more apt to recognize something different and alluring about a mature church (which has little to do with how long it’s been in existence) – those with strong discipleship programs and compassion ministries.  Older churches can become faint of sight, no longer recognizing the Great Commission and Great Commandment because they have been indoctrinated in (internal) churchdom for too long.  The pastor’s initial vision of community transformation may have become clouded by increasing demands of keeping up with the operations of the church.  The community will notice – not recognizing Jesus in that church because they do not see His love flowing through it.

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen a church begin with excitement and tremendous impact, then slowly lose sight of its passion for bringing help and hope to those outside of the “4 walls” (who do not recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior)?

Older Doesn’t Mean More Mature (in Christ)

Apr 18, 18
JMorgan
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The “maturity” of a Christian has little to do with how long ago that person accepted Christ.  Likewise, the “maturity” of a church has little to do with how long it has been in existence.  In fact, there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of time that has passed since:

  • one’s rebirth and the depth of a person’s walk with the Lord
  • the planting a church and its overall spiritual “health”

“Younger” churches are often more mature…

Consider the following signs of “maturity” and typical changes that occur over the life of a church:

Discipleship

  • New – Fewer staff and members gives leaders more time to invest in each one
  • Old – Growth leads to less personalized, intensive and effective discipleship methods (e.g. small groups)

Evangelism

  • New – Not having much to lose in terms of members and financial obligations creates greater boldness in challenging people to live out (obey) the Great Commission and Great Commandment
  • Old – Expectations shift from members sharing their faith and making disciples to inviting people to church to let the “professionals” assume that responsibility

Service

  • New – Running compassion projects in the community when the church first plants is common as a means to accomplish the pastor’s vision of impacting the community and to connect to new people
  • Old – Gradual transition to serving internally in order to manage the increasing number of church “chores” that come with growth

Intentionality

  • New – Targeting unreached groups and neighborhoods year-round, engaging them where they are to demonstrate the love of Christ and change the world
  • Old – Marketing the church to local zip codes to bring people in for a weekend service or advertise occasional outreach events taking place on campus

“Younger” Christians are often more mature…

Now look at the same signs of an individual believer’s “maturity” and typical changes that occur over the life of a Christian:

Discipleship

  • New – Little head knowledge of scripture but eager to learn, seeking a personal mentor and willing to adapt as new biblical concepts and commands come to light
  • Old – Heard all of the Bible stories before, often less voracious to consume God’s word and more unlikely to make life changes based on new learnings

Evangelism

  • New – Initially on fire to share their faith, unindoctrinated by churchdom, deeply in touch with God’s grace and thankful for their recent salvation
  • Old – More time around “good” people in church and less sin in their lives diminishes consciousness of the depths of their depravity and the peril from which Christ saved them, decreasing their sense of urgency to rescue others from a similar fate

Service

  • New – Millennials are highly service-oriented, justice-minded and evangelistic, looking for opportunities outside of their church to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion and then sharing who He is
  • Old – Challenges of raising families and working toward retirement provides less time in busy schedules for serving others, leading many to invest nearly every spare minute in taking care of their own rather than in those in greatest need of help and hope

Intentionality

  • New – New believers still have many unsaved friends from their “prior life” and want to see them come to know the Lord
  • Old – Most long-time believers surround themselves with those who are already saved and few feel comfortable talking about God with non-believers (because they have not been discipled adequately to defend their faith)

It’s your turn…

Do you agree that the definition of “maturity” is similar for a Christian and for a church?  If so, have you seen the evolution from Kingdom to churchdom in the lives of your friends or church?

How Can Your Church Engage Millennials?

Mar 29, 18
JMorgan
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3 comments

Many churches are at a loss as to how to retain Millennials.  Recent studies show that more than 50% of Millennials who grew up in church have left.  Churches are innovating to accommodate young people, including new programs, facilities, retreats, activities and events.  Even many aging churches, aware that kids are their future, have become more open to tweaking traditional services and music to prevent their children from “aging out”.  Countless pastors have hired consultants and purchased books written by “experts” offering church rejuvenation strategies.

But it’s not working.  Statistics from the U.S. census of those professing to be Christians are:

  • Age 53+ = 65%
  • Age 35-52 = 35%
  • Age 24-34 = 15%
  • Age 6-23 = 4%

Making church more attractive, fun and communal may convince some Millennials to attend next Sunday, but those same strategies compromise efforts to turn them into disciples of Jesus Christ.  In this blog post, we will disclose a radically different approach to engaging Millennials that will not only keep them coming to your church but lead them to dramatically impact the world around them.

Common Theories: Why Millennials are Leaving Church

Church leaders clearly have a blind spot related to Millennials, either not understanding their true underlying needs or developing the wrong solutions to those issues.  Let’s quickly review and debunk 4 common theories that pastors use as a basis for forming their engagement strategies for Millennials.

  • Millennials are leaving because they’re searching for a greater sense of community, so our church needs to amp up our youth and singles ministries – Yes, Millennials do value community, but they have other options for finding community outside of church. Many of their friends aren’t Christians or have joined the ranks of the Nones and Dones, so they eventually go where their friends go.  Few churches can provide an environment fun and engaging enough to keep them from exploring alternative avenues for “community”.
  • Millennials are leaving because they care more about social justice than spirituality, but our church is more about the gospel than social justice – Millennials are civic-minded but according to Barna Research they are the “only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Their faith-sharing practices have escalated from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013.  Not only that, but born again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians”.
  • Millennials are leaving because they’re less willing to make commitments – Millennials are often characterized as having short attention spans, conditioned by television and social media to tune in only for short sound bites. That appears to be in keeping with their reputation for lacking loyalty, jumping quickly from job to job and relationship to relationship.  However, Millennials not only value community as we stated earlier but also value purpose. That commitment to purpose is why they are more apt to share their faith (point #2 above) and why they are also so socially/cause-minded (point #1 above).  When provided biblical teachings and tools, Millennials exhibit signs that they’re even more likely than their parents and grandparents to live out the Great Commission.
  • Millennials are leaving because they didn’t get enough attention – They often say things about their church like “We aren’t being reached out to enough”, “We’re not being listened to”, ”We’re not getting the support we need”, or “We’re not empowered to lead”.  Hearing those words, leaders have become more intentional about giving Millennials a voice in the affairs of the church.  However, deep down every young person wants a mentor, someone to look up to, particularly when it comes to a spiritual leader.  When a church begins to shape itself around the opinions and desires of any person or group of people, it loses credibility, even among those same people.  It’s similar to when a parent conforms to the desires of a child, giving in to the expressed needs of the one under authority rather than leading the way.  The child knows inherently that he/she shouldn’t be in charge, just as the Millennial knows he/she isn’t qualified to lead a church family.  They want to have a voice but know they shouldn’t be the center of the church’s attention.  Today’s young people are smart and see through attempts to cater to their expressed needs versus standing firm in biblical principles.  They recognize church plans and programs designed to attract and retain them and they’re not buying it – 2/3 in a Gallup poll said church is of little to no value.  They know what’s real and what’s not, looking for stronger leadership and not a “helicopter pastor” to hover over them like today’s “helicopter moms”.

What Millennials Say They Want vs. What They Need

Jesus wanted young people around, telling His disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Yet Jesus spent nearly all of His time with the parents/adults, leading them and expecting the children to follow the parents.  In contrast, too many churches today follow a strategy based on some variation of exactly the opposite – “if we can appeal to the kids, the parents will follow.”

Jesus’ model was to make disciples who make disciples.  Foremost among those who disciples are expected to disciple are their own children.  However, over the past 30+ years churches have largely abandoned intensive, personalized discipleship, replacing it with Small groups (which are not making disciples).  Pastors have attempted to make Christianity and church more easy and fun for young people, but it is backfiring.  In stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom of “experts”, churches should do the opposite and make Christianity and church more challenging and real for everyone.

In other words, what Millennials need (and will keep them coming back) are:

  1. Truth, whereas they seem to want coddling
  2. Love, whereas they say they want community
  3. Transformation, whereas many believe all they need is a sense of meaning and purpose in a world that offers little of either

But what churches try to give Millennials (based on common, misguided theories based on what they apparently want) are:

  1. Catering vs. Truth – Not adequately disclosing the costs of discipleship and expectations of our heavenly Father, but playing to their expectations of pastors and churches
  2. Companionship vs. Love – Which is why Zuckerberg thinks Facebook can replace church; because he sees the church’s role reduced to providing a sense of community
  3. Counsel vs. Transformation – Dispensing biblical advice rather than demanding discipleship as Jesus did

Yes, pastors should listen to the opinions of Millennials, but not base church growth strategies on attracting youth and young adults.

Yes, churches should seek to be relevant, but not compromise the reality of what’s involved in following Jesus.

Yes, church leaders should foster community-building, but do so in a way that fits Millennials best – by uniting in service to the hungry and hopeless, leading with compassion as Jesus did, in addition to activities within the 4 walls and learning in classroom settings.

It’s Your Turn…

Studies show that people living a Christian walk now can point back to a person who discipled them when they were younger.  Is that true for you?  What does that mean for how to engage and disciple Millennials so they won’t leave your church or our faith?

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB)?

Mar 08, 18
JMorgan
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In our last post, we looked at “What Did Jesus Say?” in response to questions about the role of compassion in evangelism.   We’ve heard many times, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), wondering how He would respond to a situation we’re facing.  But have you ever considered “Where Would Jesus Be?” (WWJB) if He were walking the earth today?  We’re going to examine that question in this post, and do so exactly in the same way we determined what Jesus would say or do – by looking at His life, words and ministry in Scripture.

In Jesus’ time, disciples of a rabbi were called Talmudine.  It was considered a great honor to be asked by a rabbi to “come follow me”.  It meant they were deemed worthy, with potential to become exactly like their rabbi one day.  To attain that goal, disciples imitated who they followed in every respect – literally every step of the way.  In fact, a common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you.”

In other words, a disciple of Jesus takes on His attributes.  Jesus made clear statements about His greatest attribute – that of a servant.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45)

Because Jesus was first and foremost a servant, we should…

Serve How He Served (WWJD)

Because Jesus’ “dust should be upon us”, we as disciples should seek to understand where He would be today so we can…

Serve Where He Served (WWJB)

Where Was Jesus Then?

On earth, Jesus spent nearly all of His time:

  • Healing the sick – surrounded by the lame and lepers
  • Preaching the gospel – on hillsides, boats, lakeshores and in homes
  • Hanging out with those in greatest need of a “physician” – like prostitutes and tax collectors
  • Not criticizing those “sinners” – instead directing His ire toward the “religious” who were judging them
  • Resisting fame – withdrawing from crowds to spend time with the Father in prayer
  • Not trying to build a huge following – but preaching the most difficult messages at the height of his popularity
  • Instead, deeply discipling a small group of close friends
  • Finding those first disciples among poor, uneducated fishermen
  • Gravitating toward children – not pushing them away
  • Frequenting churches – but typically to straighten out and clean up His house

Jesus didn’t kowtow to the religious establishment – and it made them furious.  The Pharisees enjoyed the acclaim their position brought and expected deferential treatment.  They loved rules and money – and made lots of both.  They were served, not servants.  They would have thought the Messiah would align Himself and hang out with them.  However, Jesus did the opposite.  He ran straight to the “lowest of the low” – the most destitute, ill, ignorant and objectionable. On top of that, despite their bottom-rung social status and Christ’s elevated position above even the Pharisees, Jesus did the unthinkable – He actually served them.

“Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB)” Now?

Where Jesus was then is exactly where He not only “would be”, but actually is today – right now!  If you want to find Jesus, go where He went – because that’s most likely where He is most present at this very moment.  But be warned, to walk in the footsteps of our Rabbi, you’re going to have to go far out of your normal way and far outside of your comfort zone…

  • At hospitals – visiting and helping those sick and suffering (Luke 7:22)
  • In red-light districts – the worst side of town with notorious “sinners” (Mark 2:17)
  • In remote towns – traveling while preaching, healing and feeding along the way (Mark 1:38)
  • Across the “tracks” – in the most impoverished areas of the city (Matthew 4:18)
  • At orphanages – showing His great love for helpless, humble children (Matthew 19:14)
  • In Assisted Living Facilities – visiting widows in their distress (James 1:27)
  • At homeless shelters – Jesus had no place to lay His head either (Luke 9:58)
  • In homes of friends and acquaintances – teaching and building relationships (Luke 10:38-42)
  • In schools – instructing children and serving kids with special needs (Luke 10:21)

All the while, Jesus would be preaching the gospel to any who would listen.  And they would listen because they’d be overwhelmed by His kindness and overcome by His outpouring of love.

Where He wouldn’t be hanging out (because He didn’t then):

  • Wealthy suburbs
  • Inside the “4 walls” of churches, except to awaken them to the truth and remind them that members (not leaders) are His body
  • Hobnobbing with today’s most “successful” leaders and pastors
  • Comfort of his own home

What Does That Mean for You and Me?

If you’re looking for a deeper relationship with the Lord, then get covered in the dust of the Rabbi.  “Where Would Jesus Be?” is a challenge that involves more risk and discomfort than most Christians are willing to endure: 

  • Where Jesus would be isn’t safe (Luke 10:3)
  • There are some bad people there (Matthew 9:10)
  • You’ll need a thorough knowledge and careful study of the scriptures (John 8:31)
  • Real progress will necessitate a lot of prayer (Luke 5:16)
  • The Great Commission doesn’t afford you the luxury of criticizing culture from afar (Matthew 28:19)
  • The journey doesn’t need to be to a foreign land, it can be right there in your city, leaving no excuse for not going (Matthew 9:35)
  • True discipleship requires a servant’s heart, knowing people don’t care what you know until they know you care (Mark 10:45)
  • You’ll need to redefine what church is – it’s YOU!  (Acts 2:42-47)

Jesus is kicking up dust right now.  Will you follow Him down this unpaved, rocky road?

It’s Your Turn…

WWJB?  Now that you know, will you go?  Where can you head tonight or this weekend to serve and share your faith with those Jesus spent His time pursuing?

Q&A Session with Jesus: The Role of Caring in Sharing

Feb 19, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

What is the role of compassion in evangelism?  What is the best way to share our faith with non-believers?  To find out, we should go to the source.  Let’s see what Jesus had to say about how to make the case to friends, coworkers and family that Christ alone is the only hope in this life and for eternal life.

How Did Jesus Respond When Asked…

How can You prove you’re the promised Messiah?

“When asked, ’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)

Is it necessary to lead with compassion to open ears to hear the Gospel?

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)

“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

What are Your instructions for how to evangelize?  Are words enough or are “actions” necessary too?

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

“And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.  Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:2, 6)

“…and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9)

How should I love my “neighbors”?

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” (Luke 10:31-33)

How can I get into heaven? (asked by Rich Young Ruler)

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” (Matthew 19:21)

How will You separate the “wheat” (true believers) from the “tares” (false believers) on judgment day?

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Why do You hang out with those “undesirables”?

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)

Is what we do for others more important than what we do for our church?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

“…but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother.”  (Mark 7:11-12)

Jesus’ Disciples Shared His Views…

Those who spent the most time with Jesus validated His approach to evangelism, recounting how Jesus healed and fed whenever He preached and emphasizing the importance of leading with compassion.  Below are excerpts from Jesus’ words above, showing corresponding verses written by His disciples…

“The blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help.”

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

“He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.”

“But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’… And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3: 6,9-10)

“But a Samaritan…came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.”

“They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” (Galations 2:10)

“Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

“For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat.”

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:15-16)

“I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice.”

“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)

“You tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law.”

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)

Objections Raised by Blog Readers…

“Jesus told His disciples that they always have the poor with you.”

True, but the end of that verse they’re referencing (Mark 14:7) is “but you do not always have Me.”  Jesus wasn’t contradicting His statements above; He was keeping His disciples focused on Himself for His few remaining days before His ascension.

“Christians are called first and foremost to seek and save the ‘lost’, not help the poor.”

Yes, but Jesus didn’t jump straight into soul-winning with words alone.  Jesus, the Maker of heaven and earth who spoke the perfect words, still chose to lead with acts of kindness.  Compassion, then evangelism, is the method He used to seek and save the lost.  No pastor or Christian can “outpreach” Jesus, so we should follow suit.

“Jesus told some people He healed not to tell anybody, so He wasn’t using good deeds to evangelize.”

Yet at other times, Jesus did miracles very publicly, even waiting until large crowds gathered to maximize the glory brought to the Father, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46) and the dead man at the funeral (Luke 7:12-17).  Maybe Jesus wanted some miracles kept quiet because it wasn’t yet His “time” (see John 7:6) or privacy focused people on His sincerity and not the spectacle.

“Jesus’ compassion was about love, not a precursor to evangelism.”

The love and mercy of Jesus is unmatched in human history.  Yet He knew better than any of us that the benefits of a meal or healing were temporary – and that the greater act of love is bringing hope and salvation to those whose ears would remain closed without seeing His compassion in action.

“Churches can’t be expected to meet so many needs.”

Some argue that the government and compassion ministries are much better equipped.  However, the Church’s decision over the past century (whether conscious or unconscious) to separate compassion from evangelism was one of the most damaging in its history.  Jesus’ model for evangelism is clear from His example and words.  Abdicating local missions or allowing it to be usurped has cost the Church in America dearly in terms of impact, influence, growth and perception.

“Just make disciples, then those disciples will meet more needs and take care of their own needs.”

It is true that disciples are likely to follow Jesus’ lead in mercy and diligence.  However, the first step toward becoming a disciple is hearing God’s Word and accepting Jesus.  And Jesus modeled and instructed us that the first step before people are ready to hear God’s Word is to “make sure they know you care so they’ll care what you know.”

“The greatest need of those in distress or poor is Jesus, therefore just preach the Word.”

Jesus knew what their true need was, but before non-believers knew who Christ was, it was their own needs that took precedence in their minds.  Jesus therefore addressed their perceived need first, demonstrating His love for them in ways they could understand, and then He told them who He was (the Good News).  Why did so many gather to hear Jesus speak?  Yes, the motivations of most may have been self-centered, but Jesus turned the tables by challenging them all to die to self.

“Jesus sent His disciples out to tell people that the kingdom has come, not to feed the poor.”

These readers cite the verses in Matthew and Luke above that speak of Jesus proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom’s arrival, yet leave out the second halves of those verses about Jesus healing and feeding wherever He made those proclamations.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree that churches and Christians should always combine acts of kindness with the Gospel message?  If not, what’s your objection?

Jesus’ Church Growth Model – A Case Study

Feb 07, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

You may have been caught off guard last week by our contention that The Salvation Army is the “model” church.  However, the good news is that following the example of Jesus, His disciples and the early church of leading with compassion and then telling people who He is doesn’t require your church to open a homeless shelter or an addiction recovery center on campus.

In fact, as you’ll see today, morphing into a church that adopts Jesus’ growth model is as easy as 1, 2, 3.  The Lord wouldn’t make something that important very complicated.

Jesus did build a church – but a small one.  He resisted becoming the leader of a megachurch, reserving his most challenging messages for when His congregation was growing the largest.  Jesus mistrusted the authenticity of the masses, knowing most were only there for a “show” (e.g. His next miracle), to receive something from Him (e.g. healing), or because their friends were there too.  Does that sound familiar today?  Jesus didn’t let the unfaithful loiter for long or try to retain them by tickling their ears or setting up programs and buildings.  Instead, He scared most off with commands to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood”.  He “preached it down” to a faithful few, those willing to stand by His side no matter how hard the road or the message.  How many pastors do you know who approach building a church that way?

Yes, the best church growth plan was Jesus’ and the early Church’s growth plan.  In fact, it’s the growth model that works best for any successful organization:

  • Train and invest in those most loyal and committed
  • Maximize leverage by sending those few trained individuals out into the field to train others
  • Build community as those new trainees eagerly join and become advocates for the organization

…and the cycle repeats.

Compare that to the most common church growth model in America of “Invite, Invest and Involve”:

  • Attract and retain as many attendees as possible by requiring limited training or commitment
  • Ask untrained people to join the organization and to invite others to come to a big event
  • Request that all who show up at the building contribute to the organization by giving money or by volunteering to serve

….and the cycle repeats.

Which approach is more effective in making disciples?  The first method was not only what Jesus commanded us to do, but also what He did.

Ironically, if you grow disciples you’ll also grow the institution.  Disciples will get involved actively in church because disciples obey Jesus and that’s what He says to do.  But church growth shouldn’t be a pastor’s objective.  Donating, volunteering and joining are byproducts of disciples being properly trained to be productive in the “marketplace”.

The Great Commission was not a novel concept Jesus suddenly unveiled right before His ascension.  It was the summary of what He had been doing all along – His formula for establishing a firm foundation for explosive growth of His Church – laid out in three simple steps:

1.  Disciple

“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27)

How?  A Case Study

Attendance at this mid-sized church has doubled in just a few short years since recommitting to making and sending disciples.  Previously, growth and impact had stagnated for over a decade when the focus was on church activities and international missions.  Honing in on events that took place inside of a building and on what was taking place in far-away lands left an enormous gap – the fields ripe for harvest in the community and neighborhoods surrounding the church.  With so little focus on local missions and so few going on international trips, there was no impetus to assess and equip the entire congregation with skills for external ministry.  With so much focus on inviting people to church and letting pastors handle conversions, there was little impetus to prepare all members for effective evangelism.

That changed in the summer of 2016 as the senior pastor realized his church’s culture lacked a spirit of generosity, compassion and ministry.  He knew deeper, personalized and intensive discipleship was the only answer.  Therefore, church leaders designed and implemented a new on-boarding model for all congregants that included one-on-one and triad discipleship, evangelism training and spiritual gifts assessments – in additional to regular attendance at services and (optional) small groups.

From that point on, three questions drove every strategy and decision for that church:

  • What is the next step for each person to grow in Christ?
  • Are people changing, looking and living more like Jesus?
  • How are they impacting the world around them?

2. Go

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1)

How? A Case Study

Rather than stop at gifts assessments, the church pointed members to “glocal” opportunities – internal teams, local ministries and overseas missions.  Leadership knew that many in the congregation didn’t know how to find places to leverage their newfound willingness, training and direction for serving to maximize Kingdom impact.  Therefore, they viewed “Go” as deployment, knowing a push beyond a gentle nudge was necessary to get people to step out of their comfort zones into specific areas that fit their gifts.  As Jesus demonstrated, sometimes His disciples had to be sent before they thought they were ready.  And Jesus sent them out to heal and help, not just preach.  His instructions to His missionaries always included both actions and words.  This church followed suit, setting up several avenues to live out prayer, care and share lifestyles:

  • Formed teams to work with local ministry partners
  • Encouraged financial giving to external ministries
  • Established a “Care Network” consisting almost entirely of church members but under staff guidance, including the following:
    • “Benevolence Committee” – Serve and continually reach out to families who request support (financial and non-financial) from the church
    • Counseling and Care Visits – Led by pastors but involving trained congregants, surround those within the church and in the community with love, mentoring and direction
    • Serve Our City – Using Meet The Need, work through selected partner organizations around specific causes (e.g. homeless, hunger, schools, women) to volunteer and meet other needs year-round, not just during the holidays
  • In the wake of natural disasters, empowered neighborhood groups through Meet The Need with tools to communicate and respond quickly as needs arise
  • Allocated part of the church budget to supporting these local missions and training efforts

3. Make More Disciples

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)

How? A Case Study

The senior pastor’s mindset changed, no longer seeing the need for him to carry such a heavy load.  He was burned out from being called upon to bear responsibility for bringing visitors and the community to Christ.  Realizing that Jesus left behind disciples to carry his ministry forward, not just pastors, he redefined “church” as intended – the “called-out ones” or “those belonging to the Lord”.  In the pastor’s discipleship of other leaders and from the pulpit, he shifted emphasis to the role each believer plays in leading their circle of influence to Christ.  He began to teach that the church building is a house of worship and worship services should not be designed to make non-believers comfortable.  The purpose of corporate worship is to equip and refresh the Saints for the week ahead.  The pastor became bolder in sharing hard messages as Jesus did, willing to risk losing fence-sitters and those not in attendance for the right reasons.

He realized that even if he preached it down to a few disciples, the church would experience explosive growth from there.  And guess what – it did!

It’s Your Turn…

Can the prevailing Invest-Invite-Involve model for growing churches be tweaked to fit Jesus’ model or is an overhaul required to reverse the decline in the Church’s growth, impact, influence and perception in America?