Tag Archives: charity

How to Reclaim the Great Commission

Apr 21, 22
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Indulge a hypothetical.  What would churches look like today, what would Christians be doing differently, if most hadn’t outsourced the Great Commission?  How much better would the perception of churches be and how much more impact would churches be having?

A recent Barna study found that 39% of Christians are not engaged at all in discipleship, with 37% of those reporting they didn’t feel equipped and another 46% expressing a lack of interest.  Even among those involved, the majority are in discipleship communities, but most small groups don’t provide enough intensity or accountability for effective disciple making.  Biblical discipleship, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”, is too large an ask of church consumers and cultural Christians.  So churches accommodate, replacing personal discipleship with lighter forms that foster fellowship and breed loyalty.

Pastors now bear the bulk of the load, simply asking members to invite friends and family to a weekend service.  If churchgoers reclaimed their rightful Great Commission responsibilities, it would free up church leadership to spearhead disciple multiplication (the Lord’s math) rather than pouring so much energy and resources into Sunday mornings (i.e. addition).  The chicken or egg dilemma is who will take the initiative first to reverse expectations based on the biblical definition of “church”, positioning members as Kingdom employees (expected to perform) rather than as “customers” (expecting pastors to perform).

The dearth of discipleship from lowering expectations of churchgoers opened the door to outsourcing compassion to governments and parachurch ministries.  Discipleship and compassion are inextricably linked by the Great Commandment – if you love God you will obey Him and love your neighbor.  Jesus’ parables about the sheep and goats and the rich man and poor beggar make it clear that it’s nearly impossible to be a Christ-follower and ignore the materially poor.  Jesus, the Lord incarnate, spoke the perfect words yet knew words were not enough.  He almost always healed and fed, demonstrating His love, before telling people who He is (i.e. the Gospel).  We can’t outpreach Jesus so we should follow His example.  It’s no surprise that when churches scale back discipleship they nearly always pull away from local missions, shifting focus from equipping and sending to attracting and retaining.

What if the opposite happened?  Imagine Christians and churches reclaiming ownership of the Great Commission and, out of an abundance of obedience, resuming their intended place on the front lines of compassion…

Reclaiming Discipleship

What did the early church do?

Cultural Christians and church consumers don’t exist where following Jesus could cost you your life.  Persecution creates rebel bands of revolutionaries who have to support and encourage one another through discipleship.  In times of peace and prosperity, it’s easy to be complacent and let “Christian” become a label more than a way of life.  Churches in America are free to publicly advertise and promote without fear of retribution from hostile governments or religious zealots.

What do most churches do at first?

When there was nothing to lose, few attenders and no buildings, there was little risk and plenty of incentive for church planters to practice biblical discipleship.  Pastors had to connect with the community, didn’t fear losing members, incurred minimal expenses, and singlehandedly needed to raise up other leaders to work toward a shared vision.

Why did that change? 

When the hard yards of disciple-making finally pay dividends for church planters, growth occurred and suddenly there was more at stake – bills, relationships, members, and reputations.  Demands on pastors became more significant while demands on lay leaders and members often diminished.  To keep the machine running, churches can lose their first love, tempted to cheapen grace by settling for belief and engagement without material life change.  It’s not unlike entrepreneurs whose early success stems from laser external focus, until growth causes mission to get clouded by management and money.  Like companies, churches should never lose sight of who they work for (Jesus) and who the customer is (those who don’t know Him).

How can a church return to its biblical roots?

The hypothetical, utopian picture of a church that has reclaimed ownership of the Great Commission is a repentant return to when it first planted:

  • Nowhere else to deflect or defer one’s discipleship responsibilities
  • All hands on deck mentality around evangelism and disciple-making
  • Supporting and serving one another without hierarchies or consumerism
  • Not able or trying to “compete” with other churches’ programs, music or facilities
  • Measuring health based on personal growth in Christ rather than numerical increase
  • Vision and investment in community transformation and Kingdom restoration
  • Unity and partnering with other churches and ministries in light of resource limitations
  • Little concern about “preaching the congregation down” by sharing inconvenient truths
  • All those who stick around are committed disciples with nowhere to hide in a crowd

Imagine the Kingdom impact of a church whose pews are filled with folks like that!  Being an established, larger church doesn’t excuse members offloading the Great Commission onto pastors, churches outsourcing biblical discipleship to external ministries, or congregations creating committees to abdicate responsibility for work everyone should be doing.  No church should grow or evolve out of personal ownership by all staff and members of the guiding principles (to make disciples that transform communities) adopted at its inception.

What are the barriers to reclaiming responsibility for the Great Commission?

A bleeding edge church courageous enough to flip expectations and treat attenders more like employees than customers will lose most “consumers”.  However, there’s value in finding out who’s who – those willing to endure the costs of discipleship and those going through the motions.  Churches, like people, become healthier when they lose excess weight.

Reclaiming Compassion

What did the early church do?

Despite risks of persecution and plagues, Christians served even their oppressors relentlessly and fearlessly, precipitating an explosion in church growth. The Roman emperor Julian wrote, “the impious Galileans, in addition to their own, support ours, and it is shameful that our poor should be wanting our aid.”  Walking in Jesus’ footsteps, the Church occupied the front lines of compassion for 1900 years, serving as the food bank and homeless shelter, founding hospitals and schools.  American churches traditionally plowed a significant portion of their budgets back into their communities, acting as the original social safety net where people turned to for help.

What do most churches do at first?

Church planters need to form connections, create visibility, and demonstrate an interest in seeking the welfare of the city.  Like Jesus, their approach is typically highly relational and often involves serving the materially poor, working with local leaders to make a tangible and lasting difference.  Pastors treat non-members as “customers”, not outsourcing compassion by referring families to government agencies or public charities.  Because poverty is a result of broken relationships, churches are best positioned to provide those who feel isolated with enduring connections to a loving Father and a caring support network.

Why did that change? 

As churches mature, hire staff, and undertake building projects the demands and expenses don’t leave enough time or funds to continue addressing local causes on an ongoing basis.  The average church reinvests less than 2% of giving back into the city where it planted.  The number of volunteers required to sustain an attraction and retention model also diverts requests from external to internal needs.  Church “chores” are limited and frequently vastly underutilize the skills and passions of members, particularly in this day and age when our culture is eager to make a difference in the world.  Poverty alleviation is left to other organizations, with churches “checking the box” through transactional service events that generally do more harm than good.

How can a church return to its biblical roots?

Again here, the hypothetical, utopian picture of a church that follows Jesus’ Prayer-Care-Share model is a repentant return to when it first planted:

  • Realize and teach that Jesus sees helping the poor as a non-negotiable for all believers
  • Train and equip members for evangelism opportunities that arise as they serve the poor
  • Research societal issues, assess member capabilities, and determine avenues for impact
  • Deploy congregants into existing ministries and support worthy initiatives they devise
  • Utilize the church building seven days a week for outreach rather than letting it sit idle
  • Understand why “outsiders” feel disenfranchised, seen as “prospects”, not “customers”
  • Never acquiesce or appeal to consumerism, promoting compassion as the alternative
  • Learn how to help without hurting, not turning away those who come asking for help
  • Become as generous as you expect members to be, giving the first 10%+ to local missions

If you think implementing these principles is impossible, consider that a church is also the 3rd largest charity in the U.S..  If your objection is that the early church separated caring for widows from preaching, consider that responsibility was still housed within the church.

What are the barriers to reclaiming responsibility for the Great Commission?

Churchgoers have grown accustomed to “church as we know it”, unlikely to adapt readily to surrendering the balance of power, relinquishing their status as the center of attention – suddenly morphing into “employees” expected to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus).  It’s not certain many would want to sit next to the materially poor they serve or to lose their parking spot as people flock to a church that practices what it preaches.  Not to mention nearly half of millennials believe sharing their faith is wrong, likely to turn compassion into the “social gospel” where words aren’t deemed necessary.  Most church leaders would also have a hard time reorienting budgets toward a biblical definition of the “customer”, although members would probably become more generous if churches would lead the way.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen a church repent of outsourcing the Great Commission and return to its original mission and metrics – to make disciples and transform a city by the power of the Holy Spirit?

How Christians Outsourced the Great Commission

Apr 07, 22
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Outsourcing is a term not typically associated with churches.  Businesses outsource functions deemed non-essential or that can be performed at a lower cost by other companies.  Back-office services like accounting and IT are often contracted out, whereas most corporations hesitate to outsource customer-facing activities like sales and marketing.  Scripture lists several core functions every church should carry out, including preaching, teaching, prayer, discipleship, missions, and compassion.  However, American church growth models have rationalized and justified outsourcing certain “customer-facing” activities by changing the definition of “church” and its intended “customer”.

Increasingly “church” is viewed as a place and pastors, not people in the pews.  Churchgoers expect excellent sermons and service, including programs that meet the spiritual and social needs of their families.  Pastors feel pressure to live up to those expectations, and not to ask too much of members when other churches just down the road provide so much and demand so little.  Those dynamics position Christ-followers as “customers”, not their rightful role as the embodiment of church.  The ekklesia (“assembly of called out ones”) are actually Kingdom employees, charged with pursuing the real “customer” – those in each member’s circle of influence who don’t know Jesus.  Since “insiders” have replaced “outsiders” as “customers”, church leaders feel more at liberty to outsource externally-focused functions (like disciple-making and compassion) that the Bible considers “customer-facing”.

The Danger of Outsourcing

As retail consumers, we can tell when companies we do business with have outsourced customer service.  It’s more difficult to communicate and get the answers we need from less informed and lower paid representatives who don’t work for the company.  Likewise, the unchurched across America have noticed that most churches have largely outsourced “customer-facing” activities like discipleship and local missions over the past few decades.  Non-believers also realize that churchgoers, who replaced them as the Church’s target “customer”, have essentially outsourced their responsibilities (to be the hands and feet of Jesus all week long) to pastors (on the weekends).  Even non-Christians appreciate what Jesus taught and did, but most don’t think Christians sound or act much like Him.  Jesus promised that His authentic followers will have enemies, but believers and churches are making far more enemies today than they should have because society is receiving such poor “customer service” now that discipleship and compassion have been outsourced.

If the “lost” in the community were still seen as the church’s primary “customer”, church leaders would not have cut back on those critical functions.  However, when contemporary church growth frameworks positioned members as “customers” and not “workers”, tithes became compensation to pastors for assuming ownership of the Great Commission.  Churchgoers’ roles were reduced to inviting those who don’t worship Jesus to a worship service, an oxymoron.  No longer would congregants have to endure the discomfort and awkwardness of sharing the Gospel, responding to tough questions, and making disciples.

Centralizing those functions placed an overwhelming burden on a few paid “professionals” to pull off spectacular weekend events.  Pastors continue to burn out today, some even leaving the ministry, from taking over members’ jobs while tending to their normal duties.  As a result, many succumbed to the temptation to outsource other biblical functions like poverty alleviation that they no longer saw as “customer-facing” (given the transition from an externally focused definition of the “customer”).  In other words, churches offloaded work they should be doing to cater to the demands of church consumers, which they shouldn’t be doing.

Biblical discipleship was outsourced to ministries who specialize in developing discipleship curriculum that they, ironically, then try to convince churches to adopt.  Front-line, perpetual engagement in compassion and causes, a central function of churches for roughly 1900 years, was outsourced to government, charities, and parachurch ministries.  However, none of those can offer what people need most – the teaching, worship and fellowship provided by churches.

The Delusion of Outsourcing

Besides lightening the workloads of church leaders, outsourcing compassion and discipleship to non-church entities ensured congregants didn’t have to bear that burden either.  Asking “customers” to perform the time-consuming, messy task of getting deeply involved in the lives of the (materially) poor and new believers would send many running to the exits.  Yet replacing discipleship and compassion with retention strategies like enhancing facilities and planning the perfect Sunday service (for those who shouldn’t be considered “customers”) didn’t stem the decline of churches in America in growth, impact, influence, and perception (by those who should have been considered “customers”).

Discipleship within most churches is now relegated to small group meetings rather than intensive and personalized formats that promote life change and accountability.  Outreach is generally transactional and self-serving, not alleviating poverty but perpetuating it through occasional events that “market” the church but produce dependence and shame, not ongoing solutions to real-world problems.

An interesting finding from our work with thousands of churches is that those who cut back on compassion activities (to reduce staff and member workload) also tend to ratchet back discipleship efforts (to reduce staff and member workload).  The two go hand-in-hand since fewer local missions activities means fewer opportunities for evangelism and discipleship – and consequently less need for training on how to share our faith and lead people closer to Jesus.

However, Jesus said serving the poor and the Great Commission are not expendable.  He repeatedly insinuated the irreconcilability of being His follower and ignoring poverty.  And Jesus’ parting words before His ascension was a call to discipleship.  No church’s assessment that (year-round) local missions and (intensive) disciple-making don’t align with its growth goals or customer definitions can diminish their importance to God.  No church should fail to perform or outsource the Lord’s non-negotiable mandates under any circumstances.  Not coincidentally, it’s the dearth of discipleship in America’s churches that led to the outsourcing of discipleship and poverty alleviation – because few believers understand how emphatically Jesus stressed every Christian’s obligation to participate in both.

The Disintegration of Outsourcing

Jesus modeled prayer, care and share – an integrated approach to seeking the Father’s will and demonstrating His love to open ears to hear the good news.  Outsourcing evangelism to pastors (and missionaries), discipleship to ministries, and compassion to non-church organizations creates a detrimental dichotomy between care and share.  The body of Christ was designed for seamless integration.  Scripture lays out a number of key roles that should be distributed among pastors and members based on skills and giftings, but those instructions do not advise or condone divesting entire areas of responsibility, entrusting them to those outside the Church.

Further, there are certain customer-facing activities like prayer, evangelism, discipleship, and serving the poor that all members are called to perform.  Unlike corporations where sales, marketing and customer service are conducted by different employees and departments, no Kingdom employee (i.e. Christian) is exempt from engagement in reaching out to the Church’s true “customer” – those desperately in need of help and the hope found only in Christ.

Within the local church, all hands should be on deck to perform those functions, yet we divide up the Great Commission, abdicating discipleship to “professionals” and leaving poverty alleviation to charitably-inclined Christians.  Christian business people (“kings”) departmentalize the sacred and secular, working all week in commerce to fund church operations (“priests”).  Churches plan weekend service projects (which often do more harm than good), recruiting retirees who have time to volunteer while not expecting young families to do much more than bring a shoebox to church for Operation Christmas Child.  If pastors championed discipleship, all members would understand that workplaces are mission fields and that families must do more than just take care of their own.  We should all be surrogate chaplains wherever we work and pastors of our neighborhoods.  No one has an inside track to the Father – we’re all children of God.  Even forming church committees or appointing groups is another form of outsourcing when the function being partitioned should be required of all church members.  Instead, church leaders should seek to instill a pervasive culture of evangelism, discipleship, and compassion.

Similarly, we fragment the body of Christ across those functions, bifurcating Church into local churches and parachurch ministries.  Segmenting care and share is a relatively new and ill-advised phenomenon, failing to convey the deep concern churches should have for the materially poor based on Jesus’ clear commands to care for them.  Society senses the detachment that fuels transactional, convenient compassion at most churches.  It costs so much to keep the machine running, investing in the amenities and programs demanded by consumers, that churches have no choice but to leave relational, needle-moving social work to others.  Some denominations even operate centralized, shared-services organizations that churches pay to perform “customer-facing” functions that each local church should own as part of its normal operations.

Recapping the Logic…

The outsourcing decisions of churchgoers and church leaders are closely related…

  • Members ARE the Church – Kingdom workers, not “customers”
  • All Christians are commanded to reach the Church’s biblical “customer”, those who don’t know Jesus
  • Churches unwittingly treat churchgoers like “customers” when expectations of members are lowered and expectations of staff are raised in hopes everyone will come back next Sunday
  • That power shift encourages and enables church shoppers (consumers) to outsource their “customer-facing” functions (like personal evangelism and discipleship) to church leaders
  • Pastors became extremely busy doing members’ jobs for them and trying to placate the wrong “customer” (through performance, program, and event-driven expressions of church)
  • Churches have little time left over for (and less interest in) “customer-facing” functions like discipleship and compassion that would have engaged the right “customers” in the right ways
  • Therefore, most churches have essentially outsourced those activities to other organizations

As a result, the intended “customers” feel ignored, fueling widespread cynicism about churches.

It’s Your Turn…

How can churchgoers reclaim their position as the personification of “church”, providing pastors with the bandwidth to reclaim the Church’s responsibility to lead the way in discipleship and compassion?

If Everyone Likes Your Church, There’s a Problem

Mar 24, 22
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Can a Christian be liked by everyone when Jesus said we’d be “hated by everyone”?  His prophecy was not “if” but “when you are persecuted”.  Jesus was hated and persecuted.  Our only escape from a similar fate in our world today is to be very little like Him.  Churches are charged with making disciples who understand and live out Jesus’ example.  However, most cherry pick aspects of Jesus’ teachings and life, knowing adopting the whole package would put churchgoers in harm’s way.  They emphasize His love and mercy, His forgiveness and sacrifice, knowing it was Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God that led to His death.  There’s no risk in being nice and kind, but proclaiming Jesus is the Son of God exposes Christians to hatred and persecution in many nations, including ours.  Jesus is the only hope for humanity, the cure for its terminal illness, but surrendering to a Savior flies in the face of all the world holds dear – power, control, wealth, tolerance (of sin), and self-righteousness.

The gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church, but cultural Christianity is no threat to Satan’s domain.  Churches that challenge members to diligently obey the Great Commission will make enemies not only of Satan, but of secular humanists and any religion based on mankind’s goodness, not God’s.  A church with no enemies is likely focused on building a congregation and not disciple-makers that transform their community.  If members and visitors love the sermons, music and programs with little turnover, proudly displaying “I love my church” bumper stickers on their cars, that may be a bad sign – that they’re not getting the whole story of what following Jesus entails.  Why would anyone turn down a free ticket to heaven with no expectation of sanctification?  On the other hand, if church consumers storm out in protest, that may be a good sign – that leaders are being forthright about the costs of discipleship.

Churches can have too many enemies or too many friends by making both in the wrong ways.  In fact, those paths can intersect – making enemies in trying to win friends (e.g. when members breed cynicism about a church by not living according to the beliefs they profess).

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

Contemporary American church growth models have shifted loyalties and priorities inward, toward attracting and retaining members rather than training and deploying disciples, alienating “outsiders” by instituting a…

  • New Definition of Church – Centralizing “church” around a place, pastors and a weekly event gives the unchurched the impression that the only path to God passes through the front door of a church, when all have direct access to the Father.  Reducing the “ask” of congregants (who are the embodiment of “church”) to inviting people to church services disenfranchises those not only authorized but commanded to play a key role in God’s redemptive plan.  Meanwhile, our culture is losing faith in institutions, particularly churches, putting their trust in self and a shrinking number of close relationships.  Directing non-believers to a church building or a leader was never the intended roadmap to the Father and doesn’t work well in post-Christian America.
  • New Definition of the “Customer” – In business, whoever pays is the customer.  Not so with churches.  Those paying the bills are the (unpaid) Kingdom employees who should be trained to pursue the real “customer” – those within their circles of influence who don’t know Jesus.  However, the discipleship required to execute that biblical model is too time-consuming to dare request of people churches hope will come back next Sunday.  Treating members and not the community as “customers” also explains why the Church has almost entirely outsourced the integral role it played for 1900 years on the front lines of compassion confronting issues (e.g. poverty) near and dear to Jesus’ heart.
  • New Approach to Sin – To make the experience more hospitable and comfortable, most churches address sin less frequently, directly, and aggressively today from the pulpit and within the congregation.  Marketing slogans like “no perfect people allowed” under the guise of humility fuel hypocrisy as churches adopt the world’s definition of “tolerance” and circumvent biblical commands to preserve the holiness of the body of Christ.
  • New View of Society – However, lowering moral standards internally hasn’t translated into lower expectations of those outside the 4 walls.  Even though it’s unreasonable to judge non-believers by rules of a God they don’t worship, pointing fingers is much easier than sharing the Gospel.  Judgmentalism is the logical consequence of retention and growth strategies that deemphasize personal discipleship, accountability, and evangelism.

Imagine the chaos if employees at a hospital swapped places with customers, demanding medical attention from patients.  Treating Kingdom employees sitting in America’s pews like customers, doing their jobs for them and trying to meet their expectations (rather than raising expectations of them) – all while largely ignoring the real “customer”, the “lost” in the community – explains the decline in church attendance, influence, impact and perception.  Having too few disciples (inside the church) creates too many enemies (outside the church).

Making Enemies the Right Way

Churches no longer have a prominent voice in America, the price for conforming to culture or fighting ill-advised battles against it.  For Christians, there are only a few hills worth dying on…

  • Jesus – The name of Jesus invokes both power and ire.  When I’ve given speeches in schools, His name is the only word I’ve been forbidden to say out loud.  The mere mention of it brings non-believers face to face with their (suppressed) need for His grace and forgiveness.  Ironically, most admire Jesus and His teachings but few churchgoers have the courage to speak His name, much less share about Him, where it’s not socially acceptable.
  • Truth – Most churches have reduced evangelism to a testimony and invitation to hear the Gospel (and get answers to tough questions) from a “professional”.  Yet if they do come to a church service, they may not hear the entire story – the good news (grace) without the bad news (sin).  Members are better positioned to build the relational equity through time, love and compassion required to open (closed) doors to confession that surfaces sin, sorrow that leads to repentance, and acceptance of God’s grace.
  • Holiness – Churches are sacred houses of worship, a gathering of the ekklesia or “called out ones”.  Congregants should be equipped and commissioned to lead friends and family to the foot of the cross, and then invite those new believers to join the kirk or “fellowship of those belonging to the Lord”.  All are welcome but not at the expense of the unity and integrity of the body.
  • Justice – Churches must not turn a blind eye to the powerless and defenseless like the unborn and the persecuted.  Venting anger at those who don’t live by God’s standards may make us feel better about ourselves, but anger is only righteous if it is on behalf of others, particularly those who can’t help themselves.  Yet taking a stand for preborn infants and persecuted Christians invites animosity from those who question their viability and value.

Jesus loves the Church – it’s His bride.  As John’s visions in Revelations reveal, Jesus expects a lot of His Church – evangelism, truth, holiness, and justice are among His non-negotiables.

Making Friends the Wrong Way

Some strategies churches use to make new friends and keep current ones aren’t biblical, like…

  • Convenience – Transactional, event-oriented worship, activities and compassion
  • Self – Emphasizing what Jesus does for “me”, not what we do with Him
  • Fun – Cutting back on Bible study for kids and ramping up games to attract parents
  • Catering – Giving people what they want (like businesses) rather than what they need
  • Conforming – Making the Word fit the world, avoiding controversial passages
  • Clinging – Not dealing with toxic members because it risks stunting growth or a split
  • Measuring – Counting nickels and noses rather than disciples and impact

Attempting to make a faith predicated on the sinfulness of human nature appealing by appealing to the sinfulness of human nature is clearly contrary to Scripture.

Making Friends the Right Way

The alternative to, and complete opposite of, growing a church by exploiting self-interest is…

  • Prayer – Seeking personal and community transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Dying to Self – Risking hatred and persecution for the sake of the “lost” who we love
  • Confession – Admitting we’ve made church and our faith too self (internally) focused
  • Repentance – Turning from therapeutic religion that exploits consumer-driven interests
  • Humility – Elevating Jesus, not our church, realizing humility is at the core of Christianity
  • Dependence – Childlike trust in God’s goodness, not our own, to combat the world’s independence
  • Compassion – Relational hands up, not transactional “hand-outs” that perpetuate poverty

These strategies are too passive and counterintuitive for most Type A, business-minded Americans.  Parting ways with those not aligned with Jesus’ vision for His Church hurts growth in the short term, but losing weight always makes us healthier in the end.

It’s Your Turn

Has your church made enemies by holding its ground for what is truly biblical or made too many “friends” by doing what is expedient?

If Everyone Likes You, There’s a Problem

Mar 10, 22
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“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)  “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3)  “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” (Matthew 10:22)  “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Jesus had enemies.  Yes, the environment then was challenging and hostile to Christianity – possibly more than it is today.  But even decades ago in small towns across America where “Christian” was the only acceptable social status, there’s a problem when everyone likes you.  It’s impossible to please all who follow Jesus and all who don’t without compromise.  Individuals or churches who don’t have any enemies are doing something wrong, to the degree that it calls into question their commitment to discipleship, and maybe even the authenticity of their faith.

How could imitating Jesus’ humility and love – the essence and entirety of the Father’s character – ruffle anyone’s feathers?  Even when those traits are lived out conscientiously by ardent believers, those who’ve declared independence from God often have visceral reactions to the Gospel for deep-seated reasons (e.g. disappointment, guilt or control).  Jesus promises that following Him will put us in harm’s way, and not only in nations that jail and kill Christians.

However, there are good and bad causes for having enemies – and friends.  To resolve any confusion, Jesus clarifies His beatitude, “blessed are those who are persecuted” by adding “because of righteousness.” (Matthew 5:10)  More Christians are hated for being religious than “righteous”.  In recent years, Christians have made more enemies than they probably should have – hastening the arrival of post-Christian America and the Age of Decadence.

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

When our faith is about anything other than Jesus, we’re certain to make enemies – for all the wrong reasons.  Contemporary American church growth models focused on attracting and retaining members have alienated far too many non-believers by shifting the loyalties and priorities of Christians from discipleship and compassion to…

  • Legalism – A sense of moral superiority without the sanctification needed to back it up is a dangerous combination, a prescription for hypocrisy. Jesus never fails but we certainly do, particularly without a sturdy foundation of surrender and accountability.  Yet those are burdens few churches concerned about growth or survival would dare expect of those they want to come back next Sunday.  Churchgoers then overestimate their own morality by comparing themselves to non-believers who they somehow expect to obey the Bible without knowing its Author, consequently making enemies by pointing fingers.
  • Church – To the extent that church became known more as a place than people, Christians felt less personal responsibility for living out the Great Commission. To ease the burden on church consumers and breed loyalty, members were simply asked to share their testimony, invite friends to church, and let the “professionals” handle evangelism.  Strategies to attract and retain sowed seeds of superiority and division instead.  At the same time, churches scaled back essential practices (like disciple-making and local missions) that would have resulted in Christianity having far fewer enemies.
  • Leaders – Centralization around pastors and personalities risks unhealthy dependence and inevitable disappointment when they fail to live up to expectations. Thanks to Jesus, the proverbial veil was torn and all have direct access to the Father.  However, reconstructing hierarchies and revering “celebrities” has fueled the rise of the “Dones” (with church) who found other role models when church leaders let them down.
  • Politics – Jesus would not have associated with a political party, but most Christians do. He modeled dual citizenship with primary allegiance to an eternal Kingdom.  Our affiliation with parties and politicians puts us at immediate odds with those on the other side of the aisle.  When we politicize faith, “progressives” make assumptions and assign labels before we have a chance to explain that Jesus was not a liberal or conservative, and that both parties care about the poor (but differ on whether the private or public sector should bear primary responsibility for helping them).
  • Country – Christian nationalism contends that America’s founding was Christ-centered and we are “chosen” people, more blessed than others. Regardless of the extent to which any of that may be true, it opens the door to accusations of historical injustice, intolerance and racism that are difficult to reconcile with the values we espouse.  Just as favoring a political party can make enemies, emphasizing one nation’s advantages over another rebuilds the barriers between “us” and “them” that Jesus broke down.

The Nones (no religion) are largely a product of division within the Church and judgment of those outside it.  As the saying goes, their “problem isn’t with Jesus – it’s His followers they can’t stand.”

Making Enemies the Right Way

No matter how loving disciples of Jesus Christ may be, many will resent them.  In fact, the more we practice unconditional (Agape) love the more out of step we become with society’s self-centered definition of “love”, which demands applause for others’ immorality to justify its own.  The teachings of Jesus go against nearly every fiber of our being and the core tenets of secular humanism – loving those who hate you, serving expecting nothing in return, and suffering for a cause greater than ourselves.  Those who hit the snooze button on God’s wake up calls will reject His teachings – and His messengers as well.  But that doesn’t absolve us of our mission and duty to…

  • Imitate Christ – Jesus modeled living to please the Father, not fearing those who hate or ignore Him, but faithful obedience will unavoidably offend and threaten prevailing powers.
  • Share the Gospel – The mere mention of Jesus’ name is seen as rude today, an attempt to impose unwanted beliefs, but can we remain quiet when eternal life hangs in the balance?
  • Address Sin – It’s not “good news” if there’s no bad news, no need for salvation if no danger awaits, but “sin” has been removed from the vernacular of “decent” society.
  • Speak Truth – There’s no getting around the biblical characterization of human nature as evil, but it flies in the face of culture’s relativistic tag lines of “being true to myself” and “living my truth”.
  • Offer Hope – The hopeless search the world for what it can never provide but refuse to admit their desperation or need for God’s grace, mercy and hope through Christ.

Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles glorify God and bless everyone we come in contact with but engender ridicule and anger among those wishing to continue living for self without remorse.

Making Friends the Wrong Way

Passive, private and pensive believers try to make too many friends or worry too much about having enemies.  Yes, Christians should be loving, kind and caring.  However, there’s no love without confrontation, kindness without controversy, and caring without concern.  There’s no greater act of love and compassion than leading someone toward Jesus, yet no good deed goes unpunished.  If everyone likes us when Jesus said the world will hate us, then it’s likely we’re…

  • Conforming – Fitting in to keep a job and friendships under false pretenses when Jesus was authentic and countercultural, playing to an audience of One
  • Compromising – Keeping up appearances (around churchgoers) without surrendering to Christ, therefore succumbing when tempted to cut corners (around non-believers)
  • Abdicating – Leaving evangelism and discipleship to pastors and those more “gifted”, or pious deference to God’s exclusive power to save, to conveniently avoid stepping on toes
  • Hiding – Staying silent about our faith if disclosure would threaten our social standing
  • Reprioritizing – Measuring “success” around “good” things like family and tithing rather than “great” things like personal responsibility for the Great Commandment and Great Commission

None of this is intended to imply we should be offensive or try to make people upset at us.  Our job is live consistent with our values in word and deed, letting the chips fall where they may.

Making Friends the Right Way

Even non-Christians will gravitate to true disciples unwilling to cave to fear and pressure, wanting advice from the unwavering when their foundation is crumbling.  When those Gospel opportunities present themselves, Jesus taught us not to see those crying out for help as distractions or interruptions but as life-changing chances for…

  • Prayer – Realizing that we can do nothing of eternal value without the Lord
  • LovePouring out the love we’ve been given so generously
  • Hospitality – Being genuinely interested to be interesting; fully engaged to be engaging
  • Humility – Confessing our faults to show our dire need for Jesus as well
  • Compassion – Serving faithfully, not transactionally, to demonstrate God’s enduring love

Those endearing qualities open doors to deeper relationships that build trust, breaking down the defenses of those who once considered themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ”.

It’s Your Turn

Does everyone like you?  Why or why not?  Our next post will address the reasons, good and bad, why people like or dislike churches.  Please share any thoughts on that topic…

Why America Hits the Snooze Button on God’s Alarm Clock

Feb 24, 22
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The greatest testament to God’s goodness is Jesus’ payment of a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.  The next exhibit God offers as proof of His love for humanity is the vast number of wake-up calls He makes, no matter how many times we hit the snooze button.  Just as the Lord demonstrated throughout Scripture how much He cared by awakening Israel to the errors of its ways, He continues to try to get our attention today through challenges and blessings.  Those who never answer will one day have to endure the shock and regret of finding out just how many times the Lord called and knocked on their door.

It’s not just non-believers who need wake-up calls.  God is kind enough to intervene in the affairs of Christians, churches and even entire nations to offer 2nd (and often 1,000th) chances for repentance.  Regardless of the recipient, each has the choice to accept or reject the call.  For those who don’t know Jesus, ignoring His repeated attempts to reach them exchanges eternity with a good God for the hopelessness of life without Him.  For believers, failure to recognize the signs means continuing to walk in disobedience.  In any and every case, God’s generous admonitions carry with them accountability for understanding and responding to what He’s trying to convey.

Christ-followers bear the additional responsibility of serving as interpreters for those most likely to miss the intended messages.  Like Pharoah who needed Joseph to explain his dream, only Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to warn non-believers that events in their lives could be urgent wake-up calls.  Yes, the invitation to faith is between that person and God, but He can use us to awaken those who would otherwise sleep through the alarm.  Like the story of the flood victim trapped on the roof praying for help, we can be the rescuers that God sends.  We don’t want to miss that opportunity, even though we’re not responsible for the outcome.  The story of course ends with the man turning away the boat and helicopter that arrive, saying “No thanks, God is going to save me”.  Then after his demise he angrily asks God why He didn’t answer those prayers, only to hear, “I sent a boat and a helicopter”.

Ideally, wake-up calls produce happier results such as Redemption (of individuals), Revitalization (of churches) and Revival (of nations), but they’re often ignored or dismissed unless someone brings to their attention the possibility that God is telling them something…

Personal Awakening – Redemption

It’s not only trials and difficulties like the Great Recession, 9-11, a pandemic, natural disasters, and illness that force people off the hamster wheel of life.  Yes, disasters and diseases make us think more about mortality and less about immorality.  But so should the beauty of creation, “chance” encounters, deliverance from catastrophe, and “God-winks” that most attribute to coincidence or karma.

Answering Personal Wake-up Calls

When someone recognizes those events for what they truly are, the response should be…

  1. Recognition (of our identity) – discovering that who we are is not our gender, race or sexuality but our status as children of a Father who cares about us enough to wake us up
  2. Repentance (of our sins) – witnessing God’s holiness should awaken us to our sinfulness and show He is willing to forgive “prodigals” who accept His invitation to come home
  3. Realization (of our purpose) – understanding that answering the Lord’s wake-up call means heading in a new direction and taking on a new mission no matter what the cost

Those transformations apply not only to “Nones” but also to “Christians” in name only (cultural, passive, pensive, private, or perpetually sinful) who God is gracious enough to warn to repent.

Why People Hit the Snooze Button

People ignore wake-up calls for any one of the 7 reasons listed in the last blog post – disappointment, rules, guilt, myopia, “logic”, hypocrisy, or control.  At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even non-believers found themselves praying when death appeared imminent but praised mankind when it was over, not giving credit to Jesus for sending the rescue boat and helicopter.  As many times as the “science” was incorrect, placing faith in people rather than God permits unhindered pursuit of personal preferences and pleasures.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

Christians should be the wake-up call “first responders” in our neighborhoods and workplaces but aren’t being equipped adequately by churches to step into Joseph’s role as interpreters.  During the pandemic, when churches’ doors were closed, we should have been prepared to be the personification of “church”, showing and sharing how God can use all things (regardless of their origin, from Him or our sin) for our good and His glory.  We could have served as “pastors” within our circles of influence, but most weren’t discipled, evangelistic, or courageous enough to choose self-sacrifice over self-preservation.

Church Awakening – Revitalization

America’s prevailing church growth model (Invite, Involve, Invest) set the alarm that’s ringing now – its declining attendance, influence, impact, public perception and trust in this Post-Christian culture.

Answering the Church’s Wake-up Call

Churches responding appropriately to those alarming statistics will…

  1. Reimagine Church – reject the common definition of church as a place and members as customers, reverting to the biblical perspective that members are the embodiment of church commissioned to pursue the “lost” in the community
  2. Reimagine Discipleship – abandon attraction and retention (addition) in favor of equipping and sending (multiplication) disciples who can reach those who wouldn’t consider stepping through the doors of a church building
  3. Reimagine Compassion – stop trying to out-preach Jesus, who rarely revealed who He was without first demonstrating His love and power to open ears to hear the Gospel

Why Churches Hit the Snooze Button

Why would churches be so anxious to get back to (a prepandemic) normal that wasn’t working – a return to Egypt?  Continuing the status quo would leave us in a similar position during the next wake-up call, unwilling or unable to help unchurched friends and family recognize and respond to another Kingdom-building opportunity.  Yet Church as We Know It (CAWKI) is all that most church leaders and consultants have ever been taught and known.  Reorientation toward decentralized, empowerment-based models investing time, energy, and money into disciple-making and not buildings, programs and staff would be like learning a foreign language.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

The Bible provides the strongest argument and impetus for establishing a new normal among churches in America.  The ekklesia or “assembly of called out ones” provides a vivid image of a church characterized by traits not valued or practiced enough today – united, holy, accountable, surrendered, evangelistic, discipling, Spirit-filled, repentant, and boldly sharing truth (with grace).  Society is watching closely for anything supernatural or miraculous, evidence we truly know God, but instead sees institutions more influenced by culture than they’ve influenced it.

America’s Awakening – Revival

Government, education, media and activists have conspired to eradicate Christian influence from our nation.  Their efforts have been tremendously successful – only 28% of Millennials believe the Bible is the Word of God, 4% hold a biblical world view, 74% think all faiths have equal value, and 31% are now Nones (Barna).  The result among those same Millennials and Gen Z are unprecedented rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicides.

Answering America’s Wake-up Call

An awakening to the futility of life apart from Jesus given those statistics would involve…

  1. Faith – reclaiming the identity, purpose, values, hope and humility that comes with accepting the reality that human nature is sinful and our forgiving Father is good
  2. Family – restoring the foundational unit of society that leaders of the 7 Mountains have worked so hard to destroy to eliminate any resistance to their authority over our lives
  3. Fellowship – rebuilding a spirit of unity and justice around Christian principles, like the inherent worth of all human beings, whereas today we see only division that devalues

Why America Hits the Snooze Button

Our culture wants nothing to do with Christianity because we worship another God besides government and don’t bow to idols that fuel our consumer-driven economy.  The road to political control and corporate profits begins by detaching citizens and customers from the Savior by elevating self, vilifying believers, and defaming our nation’s heritage.  Then when a self-centered, divided, individualistic, standard-free, lust-filled, hopeless, and crime-ridden society inevitably breaks down, they will swoop in as “saviors” to rescue us from ourselves.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

Ultimately, revival can only come by a move of God so prayer is the best way for Christians to set an alarm for America.  At the same time, we most remove any impediments to faith and excuses for disbelief, many of which we constructed.  For example, our love can conquer legalism, our confession can diffuse hypocrisy, and our compassion can overcome (perceived or actual) “intolerance”.

It’s Your Turn

How could you be in a better position to help your friends, family, church and nation hear, understand and respond to the frequent calls our loving Father makes to wake them up?

7 Motives for America’s Declaration of Independence (from God)

Feb 10, 22
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one comments

Part 2 (of 2)

All are born with an innate sense of where we came from, why we’re here, and what happens after we die.  It takes hard work to overcome our natural inclinations and intuition that God exists and that He is good.  There are many reasons people may give for rejecting their heavenly Father, but the starting point for disbelief isn’t questioning God’s existence but God’s goodness.  Therefore, the ways in which Christians should lead non-believers toward Jesus depends on why they decided God wasn’t good (or that something else was better).

Jesus produces the fruit, but we can plant seeds in more fertile soil by addressing the reason(s) they declared their independence.  Once we discover the motive for dismissing God’s authority over their lives, we can emphasize and reflect God’s goodness in that area.  Oftentimes, excuses given for rejecting God are not the authentic, underlying issue.  So it’s important to get down to the root cause for their declaration of independence because it is typically not about the Lord at all, but about “freedom” (from something or for something).  As a ministry that works extensively with the homeless, we know many don’t share the whole story when trying to get help.  Nor do the Fatherless always tell the truth when justifying how they got to the point of basing their identity on self rather than as a child of God.

Because God exists and embodies love, Selfism grasps at straws to make the case that He isn’t real or isn’t good.  For years Atheists, Agnostics, Nones and Dones have frequented this Blog’s Facebook page, replaying the same trite arguments as if they were trying to convince themselves of their validity.  Despite this Age of Decadence, there is hope because Americans are far more receptive to the Gospel on the inside than they appear to be on outside.  People are hungry for truth, coming to the realization that they can’t actually invent their own.  Drugs and depression are rampant among those living without the identity and purpose God intended.

In fact, Christians are generally more reluctant about having Gospel conversations than non-believers, not sure what to say because they haven’t been properly equipped by churches.  Our responses to secular culture may even lend credence to contentions that God is not good (if we’re not compassionate) or must not exist (if we’re not transformed, looking like everyone else).  However, Christians and churches have an incredible opportunity right now to spark revival by following Jesus’ example of addressing the issues at the heart of unbelief…

1. Disappointment

Didn’t get what they asked for when they were younger…

Those whose reaction to Christianity is visceral, not ambivalent, may be harboring anger toward God.  Despite desperate prayers, a loved one may have passed away or career ambitions were never realized, breaking their trust in God.  Antitheism emerged from what was once belief.

Prove God can be trusted…

Prayer – Only Jesus can break the resolve of entrenched animosity from bitter disappointment.

Care – Begin with a relationship, not an invitation to church, and demonstrate God’s goodness through loving acts of service to rebuild their faith in the Source of our kindness.

Share – Reset expectations, explaining that our loving Father delivers on all His promises through Jesus, but those do not include guarantees that life will turn out as we’ve planned.

2. Rules

God’s commands do not align with their desires…

When faced with a critical decision point in life – their will or God’s – many choose the former, regardless of the consequences.  That choice boils down to what they value most – someone, something or God.  It’s tempting to sacrifice the unseen and eternal for the visible and temporal.

Prove God’s laws are better than having no rules or following man’s lead…

Prayer – Only God can dispel a delusion that takes such hard work to maintain with so much evidence to the contrary.

Care – Live according to God’s laws and hold church members accountable, but don’t judge those who don’t know Jesus according to His standards.  If Christ did not come to condemn the world, we’re in much less of a position to do so.

Share – Don’t assume Americans understand much about Jesus and His commandments, so contrast Agape with the word “love” media and politicians throw around so casually.

3. Guilt

Assuage guilt the only way they know how…

To quell conscience, many become non-believers to eliminate guilt at the source.  For good measure, to ensure guilt never rears its ugly head, most adopt a (justice) cause, hang out with “safe” people (not Christians) in “safe” places (not churches), and judge no one (except Christians and churches) to avoid being judged by anyone.

Prove Christ alone can remove guilt…

PrayerOnly the Holy Spirit can convict humanity of sin and its need for forgiveness.

Care – A facade of self-righteousness is no match for the love of Jesus, but churches and Christians must convey His love in ways that reawaken America from its conscience coma.

Share – Those who push Jesus away to protect the fragile bubble they’ve constructed are apt to accept an offer of God’s grace if we have the courage to extend it to them.

4. Myopia

Live for the moment, not thinking about the future…

Youth taught they are accidents with no purpose endure too much anxiety today to worry about tomorrow.  Trends toward rooting identity in personal inclinations rather than a heavenly Father track attempts by Christianity to become more relevant by emphasizing what God does for us in this life and not the next.

Prove there’s more than meets the eye, including eternal life…

Prayer – Ask the Lord to bring His Kingdom to earth so the “lost” can get a glimpse of heaven.

Care – The world cannot give what it never had, so demonstrate the stable foundation of dual citizenship by serving sacrificially, showing the path to finding true life, not a cheap imitation.

Share – Feel a sense of urgency since eternal life hangs in the balance.  Like Jesus, boldly address repentance and eternity but deal with the current realities of a hopeless existence.

5. Logic

Arrogantly presume only what we can see and grasp exists…

Faith in intellect and science is just that – faith.  It’s betting on mankind even though our “facts” and conclusions often turn out to be wrong.  Non-believers demand proof that God exists and mock references to the supernatural not because they have absolute confidence in their assertions but to preserve in their own minds the right to live however they please.

Prove their answers to life’s most basic questions defy logic…

Prayer – God has the power to defy logic and reveal Himself, so ask Him to knock on the doors of those we love.

Care – No one wants to believe there’s no hope or meaning, but many don’t like what (they think) the alternative would entail.  Our transformation, liberated from a corrupt nature they cannot escape, may open their minds to the inexplicable.

Share – Realize the driver (of unbelief) isn’t trust in man’s capabilities or goodness, but a lack of trust in God’s.  Therefore, address that root issue and not their surface-level atheistic or agnostic contentions.

6. Hypocrisy

Blame God for the failure of Christians and churches to reflect Jesus’ love and compassion…

Some non-believers determine that God must not exist (or if He does, that He must not be good) based on their experience in the past with “Christians” who looked very little like Jesus.  Rarely is this the actual reason for disbelief, but rather a convenient excuse to ignore Scripture that did not conform to personal preferences.

Prove God is good by our love, and by our humility when we inevitably fall short…

Prayer – (Re)commit to becoming and making disciples who live and act more like Jesus.

Care – Demonstrate true “tolerance” by listening to the stories, opinions, and challenges facing those with whom we disagree to understand and respond to the root cause of their unbelief.

Share – Debunk false accusations levied against God by beating accusers to the punch, confronting believers’ sins before they’re exposed and confessing our dire need for forgiveness.

7. Control

On the surface, Christianity is the least attractive world view for “control freaks”…

Selfism, like all other religions, offers a high degree of control.  However, following Jesus places our present and future in His hands.  We trust His plan, submit to His will, and admit that it’s what He did (and not what we do) that saves us.  That’s a hard pill to swallow for most people.

Prove being under control of a loving Father beats charting our own course…

Prayer – Ask the Lord to reveal to dear friends and family that they are not actually in control.

Care – Churches train and equip members to transform workplaces and neighborhoods by demonstrating the joy and (true) freedom that comes from complete dependence on God.

Share – Explain how living under God’s authority, like being raised by good parents, is better than the illusion of “freedom” that enslaves to sin, social influencers, and the whims of culture.

It’s Your Turn

How much time and how deep of a relationship is required to uncover the real motive behind someone’s declaration of independence from God?  Is it worth that investment if it results in a more effective approach for leading them toward Jesus?

A New Declaration of Independence

Jan 27, 22
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Part 1 (of 2)

If churches and Christians can’t convince people God is good, evangelism falls on deaf ears.  The less we declare God’s goodness, the more our culture declares its independence (from God).

Humans are imbued at birth with an innate connection with their earthly parents and their heavenly Father.  We inherit a desire to know our Creator and a sense of awe at His creation.  Children understand when they’re doing wrong and seek relief from guilt.  In other words, it takes hard work to overcome our natural inclinations and intuition that God exists and that He is good.

Dig deep into the psyche of most (professed) atheists and you’ll discover that the beginning of doubt or disbelief (in God’s existence and goodness) was unanswered prayers.  A child wonders why God did or didn’t do something against his or her will.  So the starting point for disbelief isn’t whether God exists but whether God is good.  When belief meets with personal disappointment, it triggers a battle of wills – God’s versus ours.  As in the Garden of Eden, questioning God’s goodness brings awareness to the opportunity for free exercise of personal preferences apart from Him.  In America today, government, universities and advertisers gladly offer alternatives to God, claiming “goodness” of their programs, products and services.  Unwittingly, citizens and consumers pledge allegiance to those whose motives (power, money and influence) are not nearly as good as God’s (who always has our best interests at heart).

To ensure society’s hope and trust remains with the world and doesn’t revert to God, secularism is quick to implicate the God they say they don’t believe in for disasters and diseases.  Leaders of America’s 7 mountains question how Christians can worship a God that made human nature bad and then punishes innocent victims who slip up.  They deride Christians for being judgmental, imposing beliefs, and impeding progress.  Some of that blame is deserved for failing to espouse and reflect God’s goodness.  But God is not at fault for any of the bad that occurs within churches or in the world – man caused all of it either through mistakes made at the Fall or since then.

God (and God Alone) is Good

The Bible is an autobiography written by God about God.  Its core message is His goodness and love for humanity.  As Christ-followers entrusted with Scripture, we are responsible for understanding and communicating its central theme.  Those who’ve distanced themselves from the God they once knew have a vested interest in misinterpreting and distorting what the Bible says about God’s character.  Even some pastors selectively omit passages (or the entire Old Testament) if God’s actions therein did not align with contemporary definitions of “good”.

In an environment already difficult to convince non-believers of God’s goodness, most churches are not discipling members adequately to make that case.  It’s also a challenging environment to grow a congregation, tempting us to tout the goodness of our church, its theology, and its stance on morality.  Yet making Scripture about ourselves is to misunderstand its authorship and intent.  It’s about the “good news” of a good Father, yet according to surveys the message being conveying by Christians is that they see themselves as good.  If more churches made the Great Commission their church growth strategy, members would be better equipped to declare God’s goodness and less likely to emphasize their own.  But pushing churchgoers to be, become and make disciples would send many running for the exits, finding it too time-consuming and countercultural.

Simple. everyday blessings that loudly proclaim God’s goodness escape the notice of those who’ve exchanged His love for self-centeredness, obedience for self-determination, and thankfulness for self-sufficiency:

  • If we are breathing, then God is good
  • If nature is beautiful, then God is good
  • If we have kids and caring parents, then God is good
  • We have an opportunity for salvation, so God is good
  • The Lord created his second “son” knowing we’d kill His First, so God is good
  • We get to learn and grow from challenges, so God is good
  • Hard times draw us closer to the Lord, so God is good
  • The Lord’s discipline refines our character, so God is good
  • There’s a cure for sin and hopelessness, so God is good
  • We have a conscience pointing us to Jesus, so God is good
  • Biblical law provides guardrails for our lives, so God is good
  • The Father’s love is unconditional even when we mess up, so God is good

Selfism, the fastest growing religion in America, would label many of those “bad” because they involve confession and submission.  The Bible describes a God who turns bad into good, but Selfism refuses to view anything as bad except for infringement on the pursuit of happiness.  If there’s no need for forgiveness, what good is God’s grace and mercy?

Why Declare Independence from Such a Good God

America is rapidly declaring its independence from God and pledging allegiance elsewhere:

  • Church membership dropped below 50% for the first time ever (2021, Gallup)
  • Decrease from 137 to 65 in median church attendance since 2000 (2020, FACT)
  • 63% of adults profess to be Christian, down from 75% in 2011 (2021, Pew)
  • 31% of millennials claim no religious affiliation, up from 22% in 2011 (2021, Pew)
  • 74% of millennials say all religions have equal value (2021, Barna)

Why would anyone want to come out from under the authority of our loving heavenly Father?:

  • Not knowing a Christian who adequately conveyed God’s goodness in words or actions
  • Misunderstanding that, like a (good) dad, there’s nothing we can do to lose or earn God’s love
  • Not realizing God’s plan is better than ours and thanking Him for unanswered prayers
  • Viewing God’s promises (of good) only in terms of outcomes experienced in this life, not considering how “bad” circumstances lead us closer to God and toward eternal life
  • Feeling it’s kinder to assume people are essentially good natured, the foundation for Atheism and all other religions (hinging on man’s good works or inner divinity)
  • Believing the alternative to God is freedom to do as they please, ironically entrapping them in sin and subjection to those who don’t care about them like God does
  • Seeking relief instead of repentance – distance (from guilt) rather than deliverance (from sin) – through distractions, drugs, etc.
  • Claiming tolerance by not judging anyone else when their actual motive is escape from accountability and scrutiny by anyone else (including God)

Children once drawn to know God leave their first love when they realize “with God, all things are possible” but “without God, all things are permissible”.  Eventually, consciences become cauterized and no longer tolerate sound biblical teaching, finding leaders who tell them what they want to hear.  Unless their trust in God’s goodness is somehow restored, they’re unlikely to return to Him and die to self.

Consequences of Declaring Independence

Human beings were created by God for God so life apart from Him doesn’t work:

  • Inconsistency – The whims of culture and manipulation of media dictate beliefs of those with no foundation, even when they defy reason and science (e.g. defining a person’s gender based on feelings or a baby’s viability based on whether it is wanted)
  • Double Standards – Freedoms and rights (e.g. to free speech) are curtailed only for those who object to society’s prevailing (and fleeting) views on morality
  • Insincerity – Policing and publicly condemning unkind actions or speech is an implicit admission that human nature is evil, particularly given the invectives that “virtue signalers” utter behind closed doors
  • Lawlessness – Tolerance’s logical extreme defines criminals as victims and precludes pointing out atrocities abroad if any misdemeanors are being committed here at home
  • Decadence – Relativism eventually calls evil good and good evil, vehemently defending deviance yet eerily silent on abuses against non-conformists (e.g. persecuted Christians)
  • Hopelessness – We teach children in schools that they are cosmic accidents with no purpose, leading to the depression, escapism and suicides we are witnessing today
  • Fatherless – We trade identity as a child of a perfect Father and eternal life with Him for acceptance by a fickle culture during our short stint on planet earth

The world can never give what it never had.  When we surrender our desires and will to God, He offers us all that is good about Himself – consistency, justice, freedom, direction, righteousness, hope and identity.

It’s Your Turn

Our next blog post will address ways churches and Christians can prove God is good by highlighting and reflecting His goodness.  Please share your thoughts on that topic…

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture II

Jan 13, 22
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Part 2 (of 2)

Being countercultural but not counter culture means turning the other cheek but not a blind eye to the campaign underway to eradicate Christian influence from our nation.  Jesus instructs us to be as wise as serpents and innocent as dovesrecognizing the coming persecution yet trusting Him to see us through it.  Wisdom with innocence is an acute awareness, not naive ignorance, of efforts to remove the only barrier to absolute dependence on human authority – faith in Christ.  It is that faith that should invoke both confident assurance and heartfelt empathy in believers, knowing the futility of eliminating the outward evidence of Christianity when its inward essence is immutable.  In other words, society can walk away from biblical values and standards but can’t alter facts like the existence of God, the sinfulness of man, and our need for Christ.

Secular leaders only attack visible manifestations of Christianity because they don’t have spiritual eyes to see the invisible.  Yet no amount of reinventing God in our image, denying Jesus, or suppressing His followers has any impact on who God is.  Love remains the entirety of the Father’s character.  Only He can provide true healing, joy and prosperity.  Despite claims to the contrary, no politician, professor or publicist can remove or replace Him as Savior.

Standing on those truths, the appropriate response of those with dual citizenship in an eternal Kingdom and an aging democracy should be Prayer, Care and Share.  We alone know the dire consequences and ultimate outcome of elevating self, glamorizing greed, and pursuing happiness at all costs.  That reality should create a sense of urgency within churches to make disciples who will boldly shine the light of Christ and speak truth with grace.

Christianity has been countercultural for much of its history so this period in America should be familiar territory.  Scripture provides Christians and churches with a gameplan for responding without combating or conforming.  That path is not about regaining control of the 7 Mountains (Government, Education, Religion, Family, Business, Media, and Entertainment).  In fact, our Post-Christian reality today is in part a reaction to resentment over past “imposition” of Christian norms.  Instead, we should wisely discern the motives and strategies of those who now lead those spheres, distinguishing between them and those lured by their sales pitch – the empowerment of Selfism and freedom of relativism.  In the last blog post, we unpacked those differences and biblical responses for the first 3 “mountains” – today we address the final 4:

4. Family

Leaders’ Motives

Many parents implant “traditional” values into their children, only to find out when kids get off the bus or come home for Spring Break that they’ve learned (and possibly internalized) exactly the opposite at school.  The authority of an earthly or heavenly Father hinders reprogramming of young minds, impeding the dependence needed to control a populace and the materialism needed to fuel an economy.  Redefining marriage, convoluting genders and devaluing unborn children are less about defending rights than undermining America’s foundational social structure.

Followers’ Delusions

The next generation slowly distances from the teachings of unenlightened parents, concluding they’re out of touch with the modern world.  Awakened to a higher way of thinking yet unaware they’ve surrendered their identity as children of God, fatherless “sheep” wander aimlessly, settling for lesser labels based on sexuality or politics.

Biblical Response

When we’re not with family at home, we’re most often at workplaces, which are under tremendous social pressure not to tolerate Christian expression in any form…

5. Business (Economy)

Leaders’ Motives

Corporate executives conveniently adopt progressive ideals when they become society’s prerequisites for doing business or increasing sales.  Those who genuinely care instituted policies and touted causes long before they became in vogue.  Business and political leaders have a shared interest in promoting consumerism by encouraging worship of self and celebrities.  What the Bible calls idols are advertised as bare necessities we all deserve.  What Scripture says we should diligently work for become expected entitlements.  CEOs and politicians profess concern and compassion, but their underlying drivers are profit and power.

Followers’ Delusions

Eager to pursue the happiness Americans were promised, many buy those lies, trading eternal treasures for worldly wealth.  We worry and stress about maintaining a standard of living that would deplete earth’s natural resources if everyone consumed as much as the average American.  We crave acceptance and fear poverty, clinging to possessions.  We trust in our capabilities, companies, and Uncle Sam rather than God to provide.  We search for meaning and purpose in our work, fueling the Great Resignation, desperately trying to replace the hope we abandoned.

Biblical Response

Infiltrating and ridding the places we live and work of Christian influence cannot be done without a tremendous amount of support from media through all available channels…

6. Media

Leaders’ Motives

Publications whose primary source of revenues is advertising cannot afford to offend anyone.  The exclusivity of Christianity is offensive and its truth scares a profession that no longer values truth in reporting.  Newspapers once reserved editorials for back pages, but media now opines with slanted views on all current events.  Google and social media networks structure search engines and screening to exclude or deemphasize results that promote Christian concepts.

Followers’ Delusions

Cancel culture leverages media to enforce compliance with principles espoused by media.  Renegades advocating “traditional” ideas like sinful nature, binary genders, biblical marriage, preborn viability, and mistrust of government are monitored and turned in by citizen patrols.  In their minds, silencing nonconforming dissenters is rendering a public service.

Biblical Response

  • Disprove media’s narrative about Christians by not leading with a (verbal) air attack, but confronting the culture war with a ground attack of prayer, humility, confession and compassion
  • Stop expecting those who don’t believe in God to follow His laws; instead focus on leading them to Christ by training disciples with a sense of urgency about sharing the Gospel

Entertainment mirrors media, setting the standard and serving as a barometer for morality…

7. Entertainment (Morality)

Leaders’ Motives

Tolerance, our nation’s highest virtue, defines immorality as “accusing someone of doing wrong”.  Media and entertainment wield tolerance as a hammer to censor and ridicule Christians, who dare to “judge” the behavior of others.  Whatever secularism decides is right and wrong becomes the (vacillating) moral law of the land that entertainment promotes and media enforces.  Relativism’s objectors, namely Christians, aren’t given mainstream airtime.

Followers’ Delusions

Americans want to believe people are inherently good and appreciate when others mind their own business.  Non-believers work hard to suppress their consciences and see no need for Christ.  They gravitate to the lies of media and entertainment, not recognizing that secular humanism, like all systems, hands over authority to someone, in this case to (sinful) humans rather than a (perfect) Father.  Placing faith and giving control to those who do not have our best interests at heart has consequences in this life and the next.

Biblical Response

Our countercultural lifestyles should present a compelling alternative when society awakens to the ambitions of godless leaders and the delusion of living for self.

It’s Your Turn…

Is there hope for revival in our nation, even in its advancing Age of Decadence?  Please pray for our leaders and our fellow Americans.  Despite appearances of animosity or ambivalence, the fields here are ripe for harvest.

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture

Dec 29, 21
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Part 1 (of 2)

Jesus provided a model and instructions for striking the delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Taking cues from His example and teachings could spark revival at a time in our nation that is riper for harvest than it may readily appear.  Cracks are already becoming evident in the flimsy foundation of a culture transitioning from (justifiable) worship of a flawless Father to (unwarranted) faith in fallible self.

Responding appropriately to the opportunity to offer remediation when that foundation crumbles requires differentiation between perpetrators and victims.  Jesus distinguished between those leading people astray and those being misled, treating the latter with much more empathy.  As Christ-followers we likewise should seek to understand any differences in the motives of manipulators and those manipulated.  However, both are responsible for rejecting Jesus.  The lost sheep choose to follow the voice of the wrong shepherd, enticed by sin to seek “freedom” from the shackles of religion, ironically enslaving them to sin.

Yet the greater sin lies with leaders of society’s “7 Mountains” who know establishing new structures requires destroying former ones.  In order to maximize power and profit, the influence of Christianity on our citizens must be eradicated.  But the path to replace God as the ultimate authority cannot be a straight line.  Before people will subject themselves to new authority figures, they must first be brought out from underneath existing paradigms.  Deprogramming always precedes reprogramming, which is why Christianity is being systematically discredited and undermined today across all 7 of those “mountains”.

“Woke” is awaking from a supposed sleep induced by parents, preachers, youth group leaders, America’s founders, and anyone else with the audacity to tell people how to live their lives.  Once “enlightened” to their true identity and nature, liberated from the arcane idea that mankind is sinful and needs a Savior, society begins its regression into the division, dependence, decadence and decline that eventually demands a (secular) savior.  The social decay precipitated by shifting trust and truth from God to self sets the stage for submission to the authorities and structures inevitably needed to salvage the sinking ship.

Understanding those players and dynamics, Scripture provides Christians and churches with a blueprint for responding winsomely and compassionately, without combating or conforming…

1. Government

Leaders’ Motives

No story can have a hero without an enemy and someone to rescue.  Humanity’s story already has a Hero who’s impossible to vilify, so many politicians target Jesus’ followers, who opened themselves to criticism by failing to make more disciples who resemble Him.  Associating our nation’s Christian heritage, as well as modern leaders, with racism and oppression is a brilliant strategy to rid America of the rules and reign of Christ over our society.

Followers’ Delusions

Sheep hear those voices and fall in line, questioning the values of Christianity and the goodness of God.  After all, doesn’t God allow natural disasters and pandemics to happen?  Isn’t religion the source of most conflict in the world?  Why aren’t churches doing much about poverty?  Isn’t it government and science that saves the day to fix what God and religion broke?

Biblical Response

  • Understand what’s happening today is not about politics – it is all spiritual (warfare)
  • Resume our rightful place on the front lines of compassion and justice to show God is good
  • Season truth with grace, but expose the intent and futility of transitioning faith from Jesus to self (and then) to government
  • Realize our countercultural status now in the U.S. is nothing new for Christianity, reacting not with angry attempts to reclaim control of the “7 Mountains” but recommit to discipleship – the only path ever prescribed for the Church, whether in power or persecuted

Government runs public education, its most powerful tool to alter America’s future direction…

2. Education

Leaders’ Motives

Deprogramming starts with perpetuating the myth that America’s youth is our wisest generation, with minds finally unencumbered by fables of creationism and divine intervention that cannot be proven or defy logic.  Reprogramming can then begin at progressively earlier ages to indoctrinate in selective or revisionist history designed to incriminate Christians and science that teaches God-free evolution as irrefutable fact.

Followers’ Delusions

Most products of secular universities in America today believe that only what we see can exist.  “Coming out of the closet” is now a more apt reference to Christian students with the courage to publicize that they believe in the invisible.  Faith is a sign of intellectual and emotional weakness, an inability to comprehend the verifiable and a crutch to prop up the insecure.  Sadly, since the underlying premise of atheism is flawed, so are the conclusions drawn from it.  Many of our children are filtering their thinking through (and shaping their lives around) a false set of assumptions with eternal ramifications – and are doomed to repeat ill-fated history omitted from textbooks.

Biblical Response

  • Understand that youth are being misguided by professors whose job descriptions and intellectual pride prevent them from confessing that something they cannot explain can exist
  • Repair relationships strained or broken when students reject the authority and ideals of parents and pastors, keeping the door open to future conversations about faith
  • Learn solid answers to tough questions to reeducate on the truth of Scripture, the agendas of post-Christian leaders, the demise of secular empires, and an unbiased history of Christianity’s impact on our nation (i.e. leading in compassion, abolition, and education)

Students eventually graduate so the attack on religion must extend beyond the classroom…

3. Religion

Leaders’ Motives

Only Christianity concerns politicians and educators because lies are not a threat to lies, only truth is.  In fact, they’re worried enough to institute a new vernacular, changing the definitions of biblical terms like love, truth, tolerance, justice, self, and pride to fit their narrative.  To silence dissenters who dare espouse values that conflict with their terminology, they weaponize those words to accuse Christians of intolerance, injustice, and hatred.

Followers’ Delusions

With Christianity pushed to the fringe of decent society, Americans feel more at liberty to declare their independence from its influence.  “All roads lead to the same place”, “no one should impose their beliefs on others”, “I’m ok and you’re ok”, and ”you have your truth and I have mine” become seemingly impenetrable defenses against evangelism.  None’s and Done’s (with religion) quell conscience and deflect any criticism as “judgment”.  The Fatherless search for identity not as a child of God but in their sexuality, gender, politics, careers, or lifestyle choices.

Biblical Response

  • Understand how secular leaders are engineering a transfer of trust and truth from religion to relativism in order to soon reestablish a new set of absolutes that they will dictate
  • Stop following society’s lead by redefining biblical terms like “church” (a place), “outreach” (advertising), “ministry” (internal), “Christian” (churchgoer) and “discipleship” (small groups)
  • Rather than lash out at culture, become more transparent, confessing our weaknesses yet reflecting Christ’s holiness to help them see their own sinfulness and need for Him
  • Make disciples who can articulate how Christianity is unique among the world’s religions (only we believe a Savior had to come down to us because we could not aspire to reach up to God)

In our next post, we’ll address the remaining 4 “mountains”, giving you and your church more practical ideas for being countercultural but not counter culture…

It’s Your Turn

Please share your thoughts on the recommendations made today and consider biblical responses to the other “mountains” (e.g. Family, Business, and Media) we’re excited to unpack next.

Countercultural but Not Counter Culture

Dec 16, 21
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Jesus was countercultural but not counter culture.  Yes, His teachings flipped the script on all mankind valued – rich is poor, strong is weak, greatest is least, up is down and down is up.  His lifestyle conflicted with everything society held dear – rejecting popularity, power and prosperity.  He chose homelessness, loved enemies, defended the oppressed, marched undaunted toward persecution, remained silent when accused, and forgave His murderers.  No one has ever spoken or lived more counterculturally.  Yet no one has ever shown more care and concern for the people He encountered.

Jesus’ words and actions, if conveyed literally and imitated fearlessly, would be considered just as radical in America today as they were in Israel then.  However, studies show our society sees most Christians and churches not as countercultural but counter culture.  Scripture calls us to be transformed in our thinking but not conformed in our behaviors.  Yet the majority of believers are far less radical in their lifestyles and more vocal in their personal opinions than Jesus, who did and said only what He heard from the Father.  It’s become difficult to distinguish Christian neighbors and coworkers from the rest of the crowd, at least not in ways that intrigue or endear.

In a culture increasingly demanding conformance to its ideals – tolerance and acceptance of each individual’s unmitigated pursuit of happiness – we have an unprecedented opportunity to contrast that myopic, self-centered world view with the enduring hope of Christ-centered living.  Imagine the shock and awe of watching millions of countercultural revolutionaries walk away from popularity, power and prosperity.  How would the public perception of Christians change if we practiced what Jesus modeled – understanding without convergence and compassion without condemnation?  The Gospel will offend, but being offensive or defensive will never awaken America from its collective conscience coma.  It’s illogical to counter culture by imposing our moral standards, which many of us don’t live by, on people who don’t believe in the God who set those standards.  What would be more effective is praying, caring and sharing so counterculturally that it illuminated the shallowness of living for the dot (here and now) and not the line (eternity).

Biblical Counterculturalism

Disciples obey the commands of Jesus, most of which go against nearly every fiber of our being and every principle of secular humanism.  To diagnose issues and prescribe solutions for helping churches and Christians become more countercultural and less counter culture, we first need to look at how Jesus obliterated established norms and instructs His disciples to do likewise…

Biblical shouldn’t be radical.  However, taking those principles seriously would be culture shock for a post-Christian America that long ago passed the Age of Commerce, Age of Affluence, Age of Intellect, and has entered the Age of Decadence.

Conventional Culture

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.  As countercultural and irrational as His words and example may appear, the alternative eventually leads to hopelessness and chaos…

  • Preserving the freedom of one group to defy God’s commands unavoidably decimates the rights of other groups
  • Pretending there is no life after death is convenient and comfortable until disaster strikes
  • Teaching kids they are cosmic accidents produces exactly the response we would expect and now observe
  • Believing mankind is inherently good leads to disappointment when sinful human nature inevitably prevails
  • Ascribing the illogical ability to invent truth ends in disillusionment when ill-conceived fallacies prove one day to be untrue
  • Authenticity is impossible apart from our intended identity as children of God, so being “my authentic self” expediently evolves to mimic transitory cultural norms
  • Identity crises tempt youth to portray façades on social media and escape reality via VR and avatars
  • Trust in human wisdom requires cognitive dissonance when science must be ignored to justify immorality (e.g. gender designations by doctors, heartbeats of unborn infants)
  • Tolerance, secular society’s highest virtue, is necessarily intolerant of those who don’t share its progressive views
  • Advertisers pitch seemingly altruistic messages linking possessions to personal empowerment when money is their only true motive
  • Politicians know the path to ultimate power lies in defining everyone as an oppressor or oppressed to regulate the first and rescue the latter
  • Government positions itself as savior, directing attention from the Savior, by “generously” offering healing and funding to create dependence

Those who are Fatherless lack a trustworthy guide, drawing wrong conclusions because they process information through a filter based on bad assumptions – that there is no God or that He is not good.  Sands shift with no firm foundation, not knowing where they came from or where they’re going.  Only Christians know the end of our story because we’ve read the last chapter of the Book.

Are We More Countercultural or Counter Culture?

Against that backdrop, are churches and Christians conforming to conventional culture or to biblical counterculturalism?  In other words, are we influencing culture more than we’re influenced by it?  The answer lies in our responses to questions like the following…

Countercultural but not counter culture means awakening society to the truth of Jesus by our humility, love, evangelism and service – not our accusations and expectations.  Non-believers will recognize their sin and need for forgiveness when we shine the bright light of Christ’s righteousness.  Churches and Christians dim that light, revealing our hypocrisy and not His holiness, when we compromise to look more like the world and less like Jesus.  Yet being different does not mean being distant.

It’s Your Turn…

In our next post, we’ll explore practical ideas for striking that delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Please share your thoughts to start that conversation…