Tag Archives: gospel

Is the Holy Spirit Leading Your Church?

Feb 05, 20
JMorgan
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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
JMorgan
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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
JMorgan
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2 comments

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
JMorgan
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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.

HOW TO SHARE CHRIST THIS THANKSGIVING

Nov 26, 19
JMorgan
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A Special Note of Thanks…

This Thanksgiving, let me take the opportunity to express our appreciation for all of those who have generously donated to Meet The Need over the years.  It’s remarkable that this ministry has not only survived but thrived despite not charging for the high-impact solutions that cost millions to build and maintain.  For nearly two decades, Meet The Need has been on the forefront of innovation around city-wide collaboration, hunger relief, homelessness, foster care and disaster relief – all across the United States.

We write this blog to encourage church and ministry leaders like you to follow Jesus’ model for living and teaching a Prayer, Care and Share lifestyle.  We rarely ask you for donations.  However, we’ve just launched a year-end giving campaign called #GiveAnEternalGift and need your help to roll out an exciting new family support platform focused on serving widows and orphans.   Would you consider a gift to help us provide widows and their children help for today and hope for tomorrow?

Meet The Need Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and public charity so your donations are tax deductible.  If you give before midnight on November 27th, your contribution will be doubled by a matching grant!

Share the True Origin of the Thanksgiving Holiday

America’s public schools no longer teach children the truth about the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Teachers and textbooks are not permitted to share official Thanksgiving declarations by some of the greatest political leaders in our nation’s history.  If prayer is not allowed in public schools, then those quotes are most certainly off limits.

I understand the need to be sensitive to other cultures and avoid government sanctioning or imposition of religion, but those don’t justify revisionist history.  When facts are distorted or selectively omitted, students suffer.  They deserve to learn the truth about the Thanksgiving and draw their own conclusions.  Yet in the name of tolerance, political correctness and “separation of church and state”, Thanksgiving proclamations are rarely read in schools.  Instead the original intent is misrepresented and children are taught a sanitized, secularized version of the Thanksgiving story.

Going one step further, it’s even in vogue today to focus on the controversial aspects of our nation’s discovery, settlement and founding.  Depending on the teacher’s point of view, the recounting of original events that led to the Thanksgiving holiday may emphasize famine, food and fellowship – or opportunists invading and oppressing established natives.  All of those interpretations and (often conflicting) accounts include some elements of truth but miss the actual purpose and meaning of Thanksgiving – giving all glory, honor, praise and thanks to the Lord.

The invitation from Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation to the first Thanksgiving celebration on December 13, 1621 read…

“All ye Pilgrims with your wives and little ones do gather at the Meeting House, on the hill… there to listen to the pastor, and render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.”

The first National Thanksgiving Proclamation, signed by Henry Laurens in 1777, President of the Continental Congress, began…

“Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such father blessings as they stand in need of…it is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States to set apart Thursday the 18th day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor…”

George Washington wrote his famed National Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789, saying…

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness…’”

Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of an annual National Day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863 stated…

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…”

Reading those excerpts, you may be surprised to learn that the actual Thanksgiving Day declarations were as Christ-centered as the proclamations making Christmas Day and Easter national holidays.  Just like non-Christians and retailers have tried to turn our attention from our Savior to Santa and from Believing to Buying, they’ve reduced Thanksgiving from Faith to Family and from Compassion to Consumption.

Those same contrasting forces that compete for our allegiance during the Christmas season have crept back into our Thanksgiving celebrations.  Stores used to kick off Black Friday on Friday – imagine that!  Seeing the madness that ensued when they opened their doors at 6:00am, retailers sensed the opportunity to start even earlier – first midnight Thursday and then at 8:00pm.  Now, some stores have announced Black Friday sales will begin at 4:00pm on Thursday, even before taking the first bite of Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s Your Turn

Family can be the toughest mission field.  Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)  But that’s where each of us is being called to live out the Great Commission over the next few days.  Arm yourself with the truth about the origin of Thanksgiving and look for opportunities to share it with (what may be) your toughest audience – your family.  Consider reading George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring and revealing words about Thanksgiving before sitting down to enjoy turkey and stuffing.

Eternal Thinking in our Myopic Culture

Nov 14, 19
JMorgan
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What would it look like to truly follow Jesus’ warning not to “build our house on the sand”?  How can we be sure we’re obeying His command to avoid “working for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”?  I don’t want to waste a minute on activities with no eternal impact – but how is that possible?

The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to think eternally, yet there’s no time of year where we’re more tempted to operate in the here and now.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the Lord’s never-ending provision and promise, but even Christians and churches fall victim to America’s myopic, consumer-driven versions of those holidays.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the chapter and verse of John 12:25 are the same numbers as Christmas Day (12-25) – “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Hating and losing our lives sounds extreme and impractical.  But that’s exactly what Scriptures repeatedly asks of us – to die to selfish desires and worldly expectations, exchanging temporary happiness for eternal joy.  Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2).  Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in Scripture’s Hall of Faith endured immense suffering because they looked forward to what lay ahead.  My life verse is Acts 20:24 – “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race…

Isn’t it worth considering how we would live differently if we actually followed those examples this Christmas season, and focused solely on the eternal?  If you, me, our churches and even ministries refused to invest any time or money in what will not last, it would change everything…

You and I Would…

  • Shop Less – We frantically scour the malls, then watch kids rip open presents Christmas morning, only to stop playing with those toys or break them a couple days later.  God gave us the only gift that lasts forever – Jesus.
  • Relax More – It’s in the best interests of businesses for you to scramble and spend, so advertising encourages you to hastily go into debt buying food for parties and gifts for distant relatives.  Imitate Mary rather than Martha and sit at the feet of the Lord in Bible study and prayer this holiday season.
  • Stop Stressing – Strained family relationships, travel and social commitments raise our blood pressure but we can be calm in the midst of the storm by “fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
  • Invest in Relationships – “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galations 6:8)  Use holiday time with family and friends making disciples who make disciples, living out the Great Commission.
  • Love Our Neighbors – Perform an act of kindness for neighbors, coworkers or complete strangers and watch it open the door to sharing the “reason for the season”.  Lead people toward Christ in the way that He modeled, by first demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is.
  • Go Where Jesus Would Be – Instead of rushing from store to store, consider Where Would Jesus Be” (WWJB) over the holidays; likely wherever people are suffering and searching for eternal answers.  Don’t let perceived OBLIGATIONS to shop, spend, attend parties and see family redirect our attention away from our OPPORTUNITY to worship, serve and share the Gospel.
  • Donate to Ministries with Eternal Impact #GiveAnEternalGift by supporting charities that promote dignity by working with families down paths to self-sustainability and eternal hope, not short-term hand-outs.

And Churches Would…

  • Challenge Members – Equip churchgoers to take full advantage of the numerous chances Thanksgiving and Christmas provide to talk about eternity.  Teach members how to witness and ask hard questions, rather than simply inviting people to a church service.  Launch relational compassion initiatives that give them a chance to practice what they “preach”.
  • Choose Empowering over Experience – As we discussed the past few weeks, faithful Christ followers like Mark are leaving churches because they weren’t given ample opportunities for growth or impact.  Youth pastors tried to make church fun, but Mark’s daughter Emily found more interesting events and people elsewhere.  Designing church activities around institutional growth objectives instead of personal growth goals won’t engage those who take their faith very seriously.
  • Change Metrics – Optimize church offerings to meet eternal impact numbers (e.g. footprint expansion through disciple multiplication) rather than short-term measures (e.g. nickels and noses).  Heavy focus on attraction and retention strategies in recent decades is backfiring in our consumer culture as Americans increasingly “shop” and “swap” churches – while Church growth, influence, impact and perception continue to decline.
  • Maintain External Focus – It’s tempting to see Thanksgiving and Christmas as prime time to invite everyone into our churches.  Holiday attendance metrics have even made our outreach events more about advertising than eternal impact, hoping that those who want nothing to do with church will darken our doors.  When they don’t show up we blame them for their obstinance and worldliness, when it’s primarily the church’s lack of compassion and empathy at fault.  Seasonal events actually do more harm than good because families are still hungry and hurting in January, but the church is back in its “4 walls” celebrating its “kindness” back in December – and the community sees that hypocrisy.
  • Combat the Commercialization of Christmas – The answer to the secularization of Jesus’ birth isn’t boycotting stores for saying “Merry X-mas” or “Happy Holidays”.  That won’t “put Christ back in Christmas” or stop Black Friday and Cyber Monday from encroaching upon our Thanksgiving.  Our defense is to model an eternal perspective, not ephemeral consumerism.  Christians should prioritize BELIEVING over BUYING in how we invest our time, talents and treasures.  Pastors should prioritize COMPASSION over CONSUMPTION in how their churches challenge member to live out GC2 (Great Commission and Great Commandment) rather than catering to attract and retain “customers”.
  • Ensure Outreach Segues to Year-Round – The only cases where compassion events are (eternally) helpful is when they serve as catalysts for ongoing engagement.  The phrase “make Christmas last all year long” is trite but carries with it a powerful connotation.  Relational assistance that continues past the holidays inherently views each and every person in need, regardless of social or financial status, as a child of God – treating them as nobility, not a number.

And Local Ministries Would…

Stop transactional, temporary social service solutions that recent studies confirm are both demeaning and ineffective:

  • Creates a sense of shame in their inability to provide for their own families
  • Perpetuates the false dichotomy and narrative that the “rich” are coming to the rescue of the “poor”
  • Allows those helping to mentally “check the box” once their “good deed” is completed
  • Isn’t materially changing the fortunes of those in poverty

Start programs that are enduring and relational:

  • Empowering families to discover their own path to self-sustainability
  • Appointing mentors or advocates to walk alongside them, ensuring accountability as they progress down that path
  • Wrapping larger circles of support around those in need, building close and lasting relationships
  • Providing not just help but the only source of enduring hope, found in Jesus Christ alone

It’s Your Turn

After 2 years of design and development, Meet The Need is nearly ready to launch the first family support technology solution based entirely on relational, eternal principles.

Imagine the challenge widows and fatherless children face – coping with tremendous loss, particularly during the holiday season.  Research shows the enduring impact that forming a web of support has on the emotional and spiritual well-being of those dealing with trauma.  Meet The Need leverages Artificial Intelligence to rally friends, family, churches and charities around each family in need.  We provide information and resources to help families navigate their way to a better future.  All at no charge!  Beta tests are already underway with selected widow and orphan ministry partners.

For nearly two decades, Meet The Need has been on the forefront of innovation around city-wide collaboration, hunger relief, homelessness, foster care and disaster relief – all across the United States.  It’s exciting to be expanding our work specifically to bless widows and orphans.

#GiveAnEternalGift to enable Meet The Need to provide widows and their children help for today and hope for tomorrow.  Meet The Need Ministries, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit and public charity so your donations are tax deductible.  If you give by November 27th, your contribution will be doubled by a matching grant!

Why Strategies to Engage Church Members Don’t Work

Oct 31, 19
JMorgan
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2 comments

Pastors and staff at the church Mark and Jessica attend are getting concerned.  They’ve noticed the family gradually pulling away.  Mark is clearly a gifted leader and strong in his faith, but he’s turned down multiple invitations to serve at church.  Jessica is willing to volunteer during Sunday services yet isn’t plugged into other church activities or events.  Emily was a fixture in youth group for a couple years but seems to have moved away from that social circle.  Ethan thrived in the children’s ministry; however, he’s about to face all the distractions of a being teenager in 2019.  The family has attended since 2016 and been highly visible – yet, to the surprise of members and even some staff, they never actually joined the church.

The First Leadership Meeting…

During a leadership meeting while considering candidates for committees, a deacon brings up Mark’s name.  When reminded that he’s not a member, a discussion ensues about the family’s reluctance to join.  The youth pastor raises concerns about Emily’s dwindling attendance.  An elder mentions that his wife has been asking Jessica to join her small group, to no avail.  The senior pastor praises Mark for his involvement in local ministries and helping families within the church.  The executive pastor says what everyone else in the room in already thinking – “We love this family; why are we losing them?”

The conversation turns to how to reengage Mark, Jessica and the kids – as well as families like them who seem to have one foot out the door.  Leadership drills down on the perceived issue – somehow our church isn’t meeting the family’s needs.  That perception prompts several suggestions.  Maybe organizing fun events and activities for the kids would help Emily and Ethan build some new relationships.  As the theory goes, if the kids love our church, parents are sure to follow.  Maybe a women’s retreat will get Jessica out of her shell.  At least Jessica is serving here, so she could be our best avenue to reach the rest of the family.  Maybe organizing a local missions project will show Mark that our church cares about the community.  He’s clearly the spiritual leader of the household so let’s figure out why his attention is diverted to external ministries.

Meeting #1 – Debrief & Discussion

In recommending solutions intended to pique interest and engender loyalty, this church is like most others today that inadvertently treat people like consumers.  Leadership assumes activities, events and programs will retain families on the verge of leaving.  Pastors know relationships are “sticky” so they push small groups that build friendships but not disciples.  Staff are measured by their contribution to growing the church, so they come up with short-term ideas designed to cater to churchgoers rather than challenge Christ-followers.

Those solutions stem from a definition of “church” and its intended “customer” that is not biblical.  Leaders who truly understood that “church” is by definition people and not a place would focus on disciple-making, not institution-building.  Pastors would see churchgoers as “employees to be trained” (to pursue the real “customers” – the “lost” in the community), not “customers to be entertained”.  They would stop asking the wrong questions when faced with disgruntled members and attenders, like:

  • “What is it that they want?”
  • “How can we utilize them better?”
  • “What programs should we offer to reengage them?”
  • “How can we keep them from leaving because others may follow them out the door?”

Those questions don’t get at the real reasons Mark, Jessica, Emily and Ethan aren’t more involved.  As a faithful follower of Jesus, Mark isn’t provided with enough opportunities to live out the Great Commission – but has found those in abundance elsewhere.  As an immature believer quietly struggling with fears and worries, Jessica isn’t experiencing life change through occasional church events, groups or sermons.  As teenagers encountering so many worldly distractions and philosophies, Emily and Ethan weren’t provided a firm enough foundation to withstand that onslaught because youth ministries were more focused on “fun” than “faith”.

To correctly assess those issues with each family member, leadership would have to abandon Americanized church growth models.  Rather than applying consumer strategies, they would realize that this family actually wants (and needs) to go deeper.  Mark never expected pastors and staff to exceed his (customer) expectations.  Instead, he sees his family as the personification of “church”.  But the church’s growth strategy of Invite (your friends to hear the Gospel from the “professionals), Involve (in church chores and groups) and Invest (in giving treasures to the church) does not align with taking personal responsibility for being the “church” between Sundays.  The Invite, Involve and Invest model was set up to create loyal customers, not to empower disciples.

The Next Leadership Meeting…

Mark and Jessica are back on the agenda the following week.  Four differing opinions are voiced about how to deal with families like theirs who aren’t fully committed to attending, joining, serving or giving:

  1. A staff member says he’s been praying about it and wants to offer a different perspective.  Rather than coming up with ways to engage Mark, Jessica and the kids, let’s ask why they aren’t committed enough to the Lord to help us achieve His vision of our church.  They should be using their gifts in submission to the vision Jesus gave to our senior pastor.  Maybe we shouldn’t cling to anyone who isn’t aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish here.  Doesn’t spiritual growth begin there – coming under the authority of church leaders and contributing time, talents and treasures to the body of Christ in whatever ways the Lord has equipped them?  Should we be more selective in determining who qualifies as a potential member based on their willingness to serve and receive counsel, rather than simply hoping or even pushing folks like Mark and Jessica to join?  What if whatever they bring to our table doesn’t really even fit our church’s mission anyway?
  2. An elder picks up on that line of thinking and goes in related direction.  Maybe we’re just doing a poor job of realizing the full potential of the people who attend.  We know this family has a lot to offer and they may be willing to do more but what if we aren’t providing ample opportunities to use their gifts and talents?  Our job here is to recognize the capabilities of each family member and show them how to put them to use to glorify God.  How can we unlock and release the stored value of our members?  That’s the path to moving them toward becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
  3. The executive pastor likes that idea and reiterates that the key is to figure out ways to accommodate their needs so we can get them more involved in serving and giving.  If we don’t ask “what we can we do for them” we’ll never find out “what can they do for our church”.  Mark could be tremendous asset here but he’s not going to step into a leadership role unless we figure out what we’re not providing him and his family.  Jessica is so well-liked and servant-minded – we can’t afford to lose her, so let’s focus on getting her more plugged in.  Could we see if they want to host a small group?  Imagine how helpful they could be in swaying other families to become more engaged here.
  4. With all due respect, could it be that we’re coming up with the wrong solutions because we’re asking the wrong questions?  A brave deacon suggests that groupthink is leading the meeting down a path where it sounds a lot like the discussions about customer retention that take place at his company.  Should we instead be asking deeper questions about the individuals themselves, getting to the root of each family member’s walk with Christ, like…
    • Are Mark, Jessica and Emily losing interest because they’re not growing closer to God as a result of attending our church? If so, what can we do about that?
    • Does Jessica’s greater involvement equate to greater spiritual maturity? If not, what are better indicators of maturity and how can we assess where she’s at?
    • Is Emily here for the right reasons? Does it matter why she’s here or just that she shows up?  If she doesn’t seem interested in conversations about Jesus anymore, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen to Ethan one day?

That last suggestion stirs quite a bit of controversy in the meeting.  Leaders fear if they get too personal and start asking those hard questions, they’ll drive people away from the church.

Meeting #2 – Debrief & Discussion

The first 3 recommendations at this meeting implicitly define “church” as a place and not as an “assembly of (individual) called out ones” (the biblical “ekklesia”).  They put the organization’s (growth or survival) interests ahead of each person’s (spiritual depth) interests.  They address the institution’s concerns (e.g. why are we losing this family) rather than digging into what’s truly ailing Mark, Jessica, Emily and Ethan.  Only #4 confronts the real, underlying issues affecting the health of the body (of Christ).  Dealing with the personal struggles, sin and doubts of each family member (who comprise the “church”) will remedy leadership’s perceived issues – the challenges facing the institution (which is not the biblical definition of “church”).  However, today’s church growth models don’t lend themselves to asking personal questions, so they’ll never know how deep Mark’s faith truly is or how shallow Jessica’s faith is.  Therefore, the first 3 options won’t lead to the ideal, biblical solution for that family – forums for discipleship that are far more intensive and personal than sermons and small groups, as well as more outlets for living out their faith through compassion and evangelism.

It’s Your Turn

Has this 4-part series about Mark, Jessica and their children helped illustrate why so many Christians are losing interest in organized “religion”, pursuing options outside of church for fellowship and worship (i.e. the “Dones”)?  Do you see why others walk away from the Lord entirely (i.e. the “Nones”), holding God accountable for mankind’s redefinition of “church” to fit our consumer culture?

Why Churches are Losing their Most Faithful Christ-Followers

Oct 17, 19
JMorgan
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4 comments

Mark is seriously considering joining the “Dones”.  He’s not quite ready to call it quits, but like a growing number of Americans who’ve been active in church for decades, Mark isn’t happy with what church has become.  Scandals rocked the first church he attended, the next church closed largely because it was run by a “genius with 1,000 helpers”, and the last church abandoned discipleship and local missions after hiring consultants from a megachurch.

Mark endured all that and eventually found another church – less for his own sake than for Jessica and the kids.  But now he’s more dissatisfied and concerned than ever.  Emily has lost interest in youth group, Ethan isn’t learning much since the children’s ministry became more “fun”, and Jessica is still wrestling with her usual fears and worries.  Mark knows responsibility for spiritual leadership of the family falls primarily on him, but he wants a support system of other voices outside the home, including his church.

He’s beginning to think the problem doesn’t lie with those particular churches or their pastors.  Maybe it’s the underlying model.  Most pastors seem more concerned with numerical growth than spiritual growth.  They measure nickels and noses, not life change and surrender.  Mark wonders if church growth strategies are at least in part to blame for why his wife and kids aren’t more mature in their faith.

Mark is also bothered that everyone he speaks with about church, whether it’s colleagues at work or friends, seem to refer to “church” as a place people go on Sundays.  In his mind and according to Scripture, church should be much more than that.  Mark sees himself and his Christian brothers and sisters as “church” – whenever and wherever they are gathered.  That definition encourages Mark to see himself as the hands and feet of Christ between Sundays.

Yet hearing pastors talk about building campaigns, inviting friends and church chores looks a lot like a business and makes Mark feel like a “customer”.  But Mark is clearly an unconventional church shopper.  Rather than expecting pastors and staff to exceed his expectations, he holds himself accountable for being the embodiment of church.  Mark is beginning to believe that “church as we know it” is not set up to empower disciples like him, but to accommodate consumers.  Instead of supporting his efforts to personify church, Mark and his family are being asked to build an institutional church.

That centralized perspective is why Mark is underutilized.  He could do so much more to impact his community alongside a throng of fellow disciples, but Mark feels like he’s on an island because he’s surrounded by a bunch of churchgoers but very few disciples.  Instead of being equipped for the Great Commission, Mark is being asked to join committees and be a greeter.

It seems the organization’s goals have supplanted the personal missions of the individuals who comprise the organization (the “ekklesia”).  As a result, Jessica and the kids aren’t being challenged to grow.  They’re being catered to, hoping they’ll enjoy the experience enough to continue coming.  That strategy is working with Jessica and Ethan – they’re having fun.  But Mark and Emily had a hunger for growth, community and impact that were never satisfied.  They’re nearly “done” with church because, for them, those 3 needs have been better met elsewhere…

1. Growth

Mark is finding more discipleship opportunities with Christian brothers in Bible studies and on ministry Boards where he serves, whereas no one at church has offered to disciple him nor asked him to disciple anyone.

Emily believes she’s emerging from the fog since leaving youth group and is now experiencing personal growth as she opens her mind to more “inclusive”, worldly philosophies.

2. Community

Mark is building strong relationships with friends who are truly sold-out for Jesus, interacting with them almost daily, whereas at church it seems he only has short, weekly interactions with “casual” Christians.

Emily is finding her friends at school way “cooler”, more “real” and less hypocritical than those she grew up with at youth group.

3. Impact

Mark is ready for so much more than his church offers, wanting to get involved with struggling families and important causes in the community – but only hears at church about occasional mission trips or holiday outreach events that don’t sync with his abilities and passions.

Emily cares deeply about social justice, following her friends in speaking out about racism, gun control and women’s rights – issues she feels churches don’t support, but should.

How to Keep Mark from Leaving Your Church

Modern church growth models are not a good fit for Mark.  An institutional orientation isn’t designed to accommodate deeply spiritual people.  The Holy Spirit, hard truths, intensive prayer, full dependence on the Lord, absolute surrender, and preparing and releasing disciples for ministry are the deep stuff – but those are waning in today’s churches.  Many churches are “shallow”, inadvertently encouraging cultural Christians to check the boxes on God’s scoreboard by complying with frequent requests to give, serve and invite.

Alternative outlets for deep growth, authentic community and tremendous impact are emerging to fill the holes left open by the Americanized church.  Today there are countless discipleship programs, Christian associations and compassion ministries – mostly conceived and implemented outside of a church context.  The only way to engage the most faithful Christ-followers in a church is for the pastor to plug those 3 (growth, community and impact) holes.  But turning up the dial on the truth and mission meters risks scaring off some lukewarm believers and diverting resources away from catering to church “shoppers”.  That step of faith would require pastors to realize that churches exist for depth – leveraging disciples like Mark to lead the spiritually “shallow” deeper in their relationship with the Lord.

Without the help of a church willing to take that risk, Mark faces an uphill battle against powerful forces vying for the hearts and minds of Jessica, Emily and Ethan.  The forces resisting change within the Church are also quite strong – people’s jobs and livelihoods depend on attracting and retaining generous churchgoers.  So it’s likely that Jessica will be able to continue to conceal her lack of transformation and intimacy with God.  And Emily and Ethan could quite possibly keep losing interest in youth group – and stop short of committing their lives fully to Jesus.

It’s Your Turn

Are there enough opportunities within your church for growth, community and impact to keep your “Marks” and “Emilys” engaged?  Does your church even know who among the many members and frequent attenders are actually the most faithful followers of Jesus Christ?  Are those the ones most involved in church activities or is there a different standard of measure?

Why Youth Don’t Return to Church After College

Oct 04, 19
JMorgan
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2 comments

As much as Mark and Jessica would like their kids to cling to the Christian values and faith they were taught, it’s an uphill battle.  Social media, television, teachers and friends compete for their hearts and minds.  They considered sending Emily and Ethan to a Christian school, but it wasn’t affordable.  They try to monitor the kids’ intake of sexual and violent content, but it’s coming from all directions.  Eventually all children must confront the realities of a society bent on eliminating Jesus from His own equation.  Mark and Jessica have resigned themselves to simply delaying Emily’s and Ethan’s inundation with worldliness and godlessness as long as possible.

Despite discipling the kids since they first learned to talk, Mark and Jessica needed help to prepare them to navigate today’s post-Christian culture.  It takes a “village” but in their minds only one bastion of Christian teaching and influence was available to walk alongside them in this journey to raise Christ-followers – their church, specifically its children’s ministry and youth group.

Emily

Emily is 16 and was active in youth group for years.  Recently though she’s been losing interest – not only in youth ministry but in matters of faith.  It seems that as Emily aged from a child to a young lady, her level of excitement about Jesus and the church waned.  She went from:

  • an engaged new believer at 10, to
  • an eager learner until 13, to
  • seeing youth group largely as social hour for a few years, but eventually
  • finding friends elsewhere where she’d prefer to spend her time

Not coincidentally, the church’s children’s and youth ministries seemed to follow that same path, from:

  • emphasizing coming to faith in Jesus as a young child, to
  • providing solid biblical teaching to preteens, to
  • fearing children would lose interest and making youth group more “fun”, but eventually
  • clinging to the few who were still around by the time they hit their mid-to-late teenage years

Rather than breaking this cycle by carrying forward true discipleship from children’s ministry all the way through youth group, their youth pastors felt discipleship was not compelling enough to keep today’s heavily-distracted, overly-stimulated teens coming back.  So instead of attending for Christian education and worship, the vast majority show up primarily because they like another girl or boy or want to hang out with friends.  Youth pastors don’t monitor those motives, happy they’re at least still coming – keeping the numbers up.

But Emily isn’t impressed with numbers.  She’s questioning her faith and becoming critical of youth group as she sees how those same kids (even those touted as “leaders”) act when they’re not at church.  They’re certainly not disciples of Jesus Christ.  They haven’t experienced any transformation – except on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  How can what she believes be real when it’s not real to the friends she grew up with at church?  At least the non-Christian kids in her public school are being true to themselves.  They’re coming out as homosexual, proclaiming their individuality and protesting injustice.  In her mind, being honest sure beats the hypocrisy Emily sees in the youth group members who attend her school.

Plus her teachers are presenting some pretty convincing scientific evidence that everything can be explained in the absence of God.  She’s being exposed to alternative ways of thinking, different cultures and other religions outside of Christianity.  And then there’s Emily’s biggest wake-up call – her realization that people don’t really seem as bad as the Bible says they are.  Her classmates believe that people are basically good and think Christians are hateful because they judge the “sins” of others.  Are Christians actually the bad ones, laying guilt trips on nice people, saying they need Jesus when they’re less “sinful” than her church friends?  Emily wonders how she could have been so cynical and naïve.

If she’s hanging on by a thread now, what will Emily’s belief system look like by the time she finishes college?

Ethan

Emily’s brother is 13 and he’s still strong in his faith, but the shift in focus at church from biblical education to “engaging” teenagers is already starting to occur – no more memory verses and intensive Bible studies.  Those are being replaced by lot of “fun” activities with a hint of Scripture sprinkled in.  Ethan notices the change.  So do Mark and Jessica.  As Christian parents, they’ve always asked Ethan after church what he learned in the children’s ministry that day.  Ethan used to share the Bible stories and verses he was taught, but not anymore.  Now when he gets in the car, he gossips about what “so and so” said at youth group and how well he did in the games they played.  Mark and Jessica aren’t too concerned at this point – as long as Ethan had a good time and wants to keep going to church.

In fact, they understand that their pastors have intentionally designed the youth program to be so “cool” that kids will literally be asking their parents if they can go to church – hoping that parents who don’t attend that church (or any church) will come with them.  Where Mark gets concerned though is when he looks at what’s happening with Emily.  Has his church gone too far in trying to appeal to “Generation Screen”, competing with video games, cell phones and social media?  Is it necessary to give the kids so much free time, so many interactive games and so little Gospel?  Are the kids even paying attention during those short messages or passing notes to their friends?  Even if they are listening, is the message transformational?  Are Emily and Ethan leaving youth group knowing more about Jesus but not knowing Jesus more?

Mark and Jessica admit they have primary responsibility for spiritual leadership of their children, but they expected a little more help from their church.

What Should Youth Pastors Do Differently?

There is an answer to Mark and Jessica’s dilemma.  It is possible for their church to reorient its youth ministry where kids stay engaged while also advancing its mission of making disciples (who then make more disciples):

  1. Convey Biblical Truth – What if kids in youth ministry understood the truths of Scripture so well that they could clearly see through the thin veneer of false authenticity among their non-Christian classmates? Rather than being swayed to their side of the “inclusion” and “tolerance” debate, they would see a lost generation searching for purpose in their self-righteousness and seeking justification for their immorality.  Knowing Jesus intimately means never buying into the lie of moral relativism – that people are basically good, that we’re born the way we are, and our job is to be our true to ourselves.  A true believer knows we’re born in sin and therefore must be born again.  No one starts off the way we’re supposed to end up – we’re born flawed but born again righteous through Jesus Christ.  Being our authentic, original “self” by definition means being authentically self-centered, worldly and sinful.  Only by denying self and following Jesus can I become the “me” that God intended.
  2. Realize that Life Change is Exciting – Youth ministries whose goal is true transformation and not regular attendance will graduate kids who come back to church after college. Only a transformed teenager will endure four years of indoctrination in the world’s values and philosophies.  Living a life on mission is exciting.  Having true purpose and meaning is a far better path than the dead-end road of secularism.  Youth pastors must not back away from the call to give teenagers what they need and not what they “want” – they need the radical but all they get is the normal.  Otherwise teens eventually will find activities outside of church that are more interesting and walk away – likely joining the ranks of the “dones”, possibly never to return.  Instead, give kids what the Lord brought them to church for – personal transformation and enduring hope in a seemingly hopeless world – and they’ll return when they’re older.  Transformation also means the “hypocrites” Emily points to won’t be living differently all week than they do in youth group at church.
  3. Exchange Strategies for Discipleship – Rather than making a goal of children’s ministries and youth group to get parents to come to church, take the risk of continuing to challenge kids to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Keep driving home the Gospel and theology, preparing them to answer the tough questions they’ll face in high school and college.  Attractional church growth models may get some parents to come to church but won’t make disciples of either the parents of children.  Youth ministries shouldn’t be the execution of a strategy but the fulfillment of the Great Commission mandate.

Those three principles would likely drive away some non-believers, church consumers and lukewarm fence-sitters but Jesus did not intend for His Church to be designed to placate people who fit those profiles.  If Emily and Ethan are to navigate life with their faith intact, Mark and Jessica need their church to reinforce their discipleship efforts, but that requires that their youth pastors convey hard truths, call for radical transformation and require personalized discipleship – which are far too risky for today’s church attraction and retention models.

It’s Your Turn

What advice would you give to Emily and Ethan?  What about Mark and Jessica?  Do you have any thoughts for the youth pastors at their church?

The Last Person You’d Ever Suspect…

Sep 20, 19
JMorgan
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4 comments

Jessica rarely misses a church service.  With Bible in hand, she smiles at the greeters and enters the foyer excitedly, saying hello to a few familiar faces as she makes her way toward the sanctuary doors.  She sees that her favorite pew is unoccupied and puts her bulletin in the seat next to her, reserving it for her husband.  As usual, Mark barely made it past the front entrance before stopping to chat with friends and staff members – and if history is any guide, he’ll miss at least the first worship song.  Even if he doesn’t join her until the pastor is well into his sermon, she’ll take copious notes and offer to catch Mark up on whatever he missed.

Jessica has a servant’s heart, faithfully volunteering nearly every month in some capacity at the church.  She’s been a greeter, served in the children’s ministry and helped with holiday outreach events.  Jessica doesn’t want the pressure of leading so when she and Mark host a Small Group, he facilitates.  She participates in occasional Bible studies and retreats offered by the church but is hesitant to open up about deeply personal matters in a group setting.

Jessica is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  She rarely says an unkind word about anyone and would give the shirt off her back to someone in need.  Her smile is contagious.  She wouldn’t dream of hurting a flea.  People love her.  It would be hard to imagine someone having any reason to say something bad about Jessica.  A faithful churchgoer and sweet disposition, she is a model “Christian”, giving no ammunition to non-believers to accuse Christ-followers of hypocrisy or intolerance.  Mark is far more likely to ruffle feathers.  He’s evangelistic and invasive, asking hard questions and sharing his faith with those who want nothing to do with “religion”.  He stirs the pot within the church too, challenging leadership and members to teach and live out the Great Commission.  No doubt, Jessica is the fan favorite – both inside and outside the congregation.

What bothers Jessica though are the constant worries and fears that run through her head.  Safety and security are her driving forces, influencing most of her decisions and actions.  She desperately wants to be free of those shackles and more willing to take risks for Christ.  Deep down Jessica knows she hasn’t reached the point of complete surrender to the Lord’s will for her life.  Her willingness to follow Jesus is restricted to what’s in her comfort zone.  The church affords her the flexibility and freedom to attend, volunteer and engage as she pleases.  Push her beyond her comfortable confines and she’ll politely decline.  Challenge her to stretch or sacrifice more than she’d like and she may find another place to worship.

Obedience is also a struggle.  It’s only on her terms.  Jessica knows biblical parenting involves some form of discipline but fears her children won’t love her if she enforces consequences for their bad behavior.  She questions and blames teachers, coaches and her husband when they accuse her kids of doing something wrong.  They know mom will protect and defend them, so they choose lying and disobedience when debating whether to tell the truth and follow orders.  Jessica wants the American dream so she resents Mark for taking a lower-paying job to get involved in local charity work and spend more time with his children.  She won’t participate in what he’s doing for the Lord because she doesn’t want to encourage him in the path he chose.  What she really wanted when she married Mark was a nice “Christian” husband, not a sold-out Christ-follower.  She has too much to lose now, so she dips a toe in the waters of faith but would never walk away from it all if the Lord asked.  Her priority is how she’s regarded by others and puts seeking their love ahead of seeking God’s Kingdom.  There are countless other examples reflecting a core inconsistency – Jessica fully believes but only partially obeys.

Despite all her church attendance and activities, Jessica is not growing in her faith.  She’s experienced no transformation in her life and little intimacy in her walk with God.  She’s a church “consumer” because all of her involvement in “church as we know it” never led her to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is the definition and purpose of church.  Her fears keep her from risking her public perception or confessing her shortcomings for the sake of advancing the Gospel.  Jessica never died to self, so self-interest blocks her from becoming all that God wants for her.

Mark feels largely responsible for her lack of spiritual growth but believes he’s exhausted his options.  He’s tried to disciple Jessica and model faithfulness, selflessness and obedience but to little avail.  He finds it a challenge and maybe not his place to tell a wife how to live or what to do, even if the instructions are scriptural.  He needs the support of women who can mentor Jessica and knows she’s more likely to find a woman to step into that role at church than at work or in their social circles.  Jesus established His church largely to facilitate formation of discipling relationships.

Yet the staff and members of their church consider Jessica to be a model citizen.  By their standard, Jessica checks all of the boxes.  She’s friendly, helpful, generous and certainly saved.  Little do they know (nor do they attempt to find out), she is struggling in her relationship with God and in all facets of her life because her priorities are not in biblical order.  They would be shocked to discover that someone so enthusiastic to worship and serve on Sunday mornings could be so disobedient and disconnected from the Lord the rest of the week.

But how would they know?  Jessica is far too private to disclose that she has not surrendered to Jesus and died to self, even to the women she’s closest with at church.  Leadership would have to change its measuring stick to drill down beyond conversion numbers and participation rates – tracking actual progress down the path to becoming a disciple.  However, that presents a Catch-22 for the pastors and staff.  Jessica is the last person they want to run out of town by setting up discipling relationships that would make her feel pressure to divulge dark secrets about her personal life, yet it’s the church’s God-given responsibility to make disciples (who make more disciples).

What’s the solution?  As we discussed in Ulterior Motives in the Fight against Church Consumerism, church leaders must realize that the root cause of consumerism is a love problem, not a doing problem.  More “church chores” and engagement may make congregants love the church more but not necessarily fall more in love with Jesus.  Therefore, it should provide intensive, personalized discipleship opportunities and remove any impediments (“church hoops” like attendance, covenants and membership) to accessing them.  Also, like we covered in The Unconventional Church Shopper, pastors and staff should not encourage consumerism by advertising attractive marketing slogans and catering to self-interested demand for production value and programs.  Getting under the surface and rooting out consumer behavior requires issuing (and monitoring compliance with) the biblical challenge to die to self and be crucified with Christ.

It’s Your Turn

How many Jessica’s are in your church?  How would you know?