Tag Archives: gift

When Did Church Become an Event? (Part 2)

Jan 11, 17
JMorgan
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2 comments

Silhouette of helping hand between two climber

Part 2 (of 2)

Once your church finds itself on the event hamster wheel, it’s extremely difficult to jump off.  An event mentality conditions pastors and churchgoers to grow accustomed to particular roles within and outside the “4 walls”.  As we outlined last week, those roles are misaligned with expectations the Bible lays out for church leaders and members.

Expectations of Church Leaders…

  • Self-Imposed – Feel responsible for keeping many balls in the air, serving as spiritual guide, counselor, peace-keeper, manager, administrator, fundraiser, and strategic planner.
  • By Members – Provide an entertaining worship service, engaging sermons that feed and lead people to Christ, support in times of crisis, vision to grow the church, and ample financial stewardship to supply them with requested programs and services.
  • By Jesus – Follow His model of equipping, empowering and mobilizing disciples to advance His Kingdom.

Expectations of Members…

  • Self-Imposed – Frequent attendance is sacrificial, serving at the church deserves a pat on the back, participating in an occasional outreach event checks the box, and sharing the gospel merits extra credit.  However, Jesus says that no credit is due to the servant who does only what he is told.
  • By Leaders – Simply Invite, Involve, and Invest.  Pastors ask the trick question “Are any of you ministers?”, knowing few will raise their hands.  Yet despite responding that “all of you are ministers”, most pastors don’t hold them to that Great Commission standard.
  • By Jesus – He expects all of His followers to live out both the Great Commandment and Great Commission; overflowing with love for the Lord that spills out in the form of evangelism, discipleship and compassion to those around them.

What Will it Take to Break the Event Mentality?

Reprogramming our hard-wired mindsets to align with Jesus’ expectations will require drastic measures rarely undertaken by churches today – intensive discipleship.

Unfortunately, given all of the resources necessary to keep the event wheel spinning, church leaders had to give up something.  What they chose to dispense with, not coincidentally, were the two Biblical mandates that most conflicted with the expectations churchgoers have of themselves in the event-centric model – discipleship and serving outside the church.  At the same time, pastors stepped up requests for members to do “church chores” to tackle the extra event-related workload.  Serving inside the church during service times also happens to fit within the low expectations church leaders have of members today – and members have of themselves.  Asking the congregation to invest outside of church service times in changing themselves (through discipleship) and changing the world (through local missions) given their busy schedules and low level of commitment to life change well exceeds those expectations.  To fill those gaps in more convenient ways, church have opted for a more easy, fun event formats for discipleship (i.e. small groups) and for local missions (e.g. holiday outreaches like bringing IN backpacks and shoe boxes during church services at Christmas versus going OUT before or after church).

These event-centric habits are deeply ingrained.  Event-centricity comes with pastor-centricity – but church leaders are not the definition of “church”, despite any appearances to the contrary.  Yet church growth consultants, books, articles, and celebrity pastors tout better leadership as the answer to all that ails today’s church.  Meanwhile, churches down the road continue to offer faster, no-commitment, challenge-free environments – further reinforcing the status quo.  All of this can only be overcome through a radical change of heart and mind where we acquiesce and accept the Lord’s expectations of us and dispose of our own.  Personal, rigorous discipleship will reveal that the responsibilities of churchgoers closely mirror those of pastors and should consequently flatten the church hierarchy – truly viewing members as ministers.  Yes, breaking the prevailing event mentality will most likely be bottom up, not top down.

What Should Church Look Like Instead?

When discipleship finally convinces Church leaders and members to reclaim the Biblical definition of church (i.e. believers) and its intended “customer” (i.e. non-believers), we will discover an alternative model for church, one that will break the event cycle.  Once we realize that church is not a place to visit or an event to attend, but is instead Us, then we’ll understand that church happens all year and all week long as we do life.  This perspective flips conventional church models INSIDE, OUT…

…INSIDE

  • Weekend Services – Collective services continue on weekends; however:
    • Less planning and scripting, leaving more room for the Holy Spirit to intervene
    • Fewer resources poured into ensuring a great “customer” experience, freeing up churchgoers to spend more hours discipling and serving those inside and outside the church
    • Less concern about appealing to non-believers, recognizing that church is intended to be a gathering of Christ-followers for worship and edification; instead investing services in building and equipping disciples to serve as the “church” personified to reach non-believers outside of church services.
  • Discipleship – Initiate a church-wide process that runs year-round, all-week long:
    • Pastors – Disciples leaders 1-on-1
    • Leaders – Each then disciples a couple people 1-on-1 or in triads
    • Multiplication – Encourage all discipled members to disciple others
    • Sunday School – Consider resuming this dying tradition, making sure it’s taught by disciples
    • Small groups – Facilitated only by discipled leaders
    • Immersion Bible Study – One night a week (several hours)
    • Greater emphasis on private devotion – The fundamental blocking and tackling of Bible study, journaling and prayer
    • New Members/Attenders – Lay out a discipleship track for all to follow
  • Communication – Church leaders connect throughout the week with the congregation, not with announcements (intended to build loyalty to and engagement within the institution), but with reinforcing teachings (that build loyalty to and engagement with Christ and with those inside and outside the church).

…OUT

Interestingly, churches that reduce their local missions efforts typically also cut back their discipleship programs – and vice versa.  That correlation stands to reason since members in those churches will have fewer (church-sponsored) opportunities to practice sharing their faith.  To use a business analogy, sales training is only necessary if you’re going to send the sales force into the field.

Here’s how to mobilize disciples to maximize impact:

  • Relational, Not Transactional – As churchgoers become disciples and realize they ARE the embodiment of “church”, they will quickly learn that their role is not transactional, simply to attend and extend invitations to weekend church events.  Instead, their role is relational, to invest in the lives of those who don’t know the Lord and personally bring them to Christ, not leaving that to the “professionals”.
  • Lead with CompassionFollowing Jesus’ instructions when sending out His disciples because people don’t care what you know until they know you care.
  • Not Seasonal – Families are still hungry and lost in January and February when the holidays are over, so the Christmas “season of giving” shouldn’t apply to churches.
  • Not Through Big Events – As we discussed last week, church events often do more harm than good by giving the impression that compassion was not genuine (because it wasn’t enduring).
  • Frequent – Ask lay leaders to take responsibility for organizing local missions efforts on a continual basis by turning Small Groups into Neighborhood Groups, forming Cause-Based Teams, doing Ministry Planting, and creating Semi-Autonomous Mission Groups.
  • Willing to Take on Tough Jobs – A ministry working with troubled youth couldn’t find any churches to provide mentors willing to invest the long, painstaking hours in those kids.  The churchgoers they finally found had one thing n common – they had been personally discipled by another individual.
  • “Shock and Awe” – Encourage acts of kindness that blow people’s doors off, going well beyond what they would expect; then surprisingly stay engaged with them over the long haul.
  • Bring the Community In – Use the church building Monday through Friday, not letting all that square footage go to waste, by offering support, coaching, classes and services that address local needs.
  • Consider #WhereWouldJesusBe (#WWJB) – Disciples recognize that service is key to evangelism because they’re studied the life of Jesus extensively.  Jesus did not retreat into the comfortable confines of church for months at a time, waiting for the next holiday season to organize a service event.  Jesus constantly healed and fed, demonstrating His love, before telling them who He is.

New Initiative from Meet The Need to Help

We don’t want your church to take a breather from evangelism, discipleship and community engagement after all the holiday events – so Meet The Need isn’t slowing down after Christmas either!  We’re working hard to equip your church to have a tremendous impact 7 days per week, 12 months per year.

First of all, on the heels of our highly successful “Ice Bucket” challenges – #CastAnEternalVote and #GiveAnEternalGift – Meet The Need is launching our next initiative to help your church make that difficult transition from event-centric to year-round evangelism, discipleship and community engagement…

#MeetAnEternalNeed!

#MeetAnEternalNeed encourages Christians and churchgoers everywhere to follow Jesus’ model by performing intentional (not random) acts of kindness for a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.  Then…

  • Post pics and tell your stories on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Challenge 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”

Meet The Need also provides the following to help your church break the event mentality:

Coaching

Tools

Meet The Need provides a complete suite of software to back up our coaching.  Many church consultants identify issues but don’t provide an effective, Biblical means to get churches back on the path to health.  However, Meet The Need spent over a decade and millions of dollars developing systems to help churches equip and mobilize their members.  The consequences of churches failing to equip and mobilize are so serious that Meet The Need gives all of those systems away at no charge!  For more information, go to www.meettheneed.org.

It’s Your Turn…

Personally accept and share the #MeetAnEternalNeed challenge within your church!  Also, tell church leaders about Meet The Need and share our eBooks and other materials with them.

When Did Church Become an Event?

Jan 04, 17
JMorgan
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15 comments

People Praying in a church

Part 1 (of 2)

No pastor sets out to make a church primarily about its weekend services.  Seminary students envision impacting a community mightily for Christ, something putting on a worship event every Sunday alone could never accomplish.  They understand that occasional outreaches or service events during the holiday season won’t transform a community either.  Church planters and new pastors realize that attaining such a lofty vision requires utilizing the other five or six days of the week.  They know that powerful, eternal impact must extend beyond solely pastors and staff; it will require empowering, equipping and mobilizing disciples.

Yet, when in the throes of running a church, it becomes a scary proposition to ask faithful attenders and members to endure the costs of discipleship Jesus laid out in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  Pastors find out the hard way that few are willing to undergo that degree of life change and therefore they request a lesser commitment.  In other words, instead of expecting congregations to accept their rightful role AS the church personified, pastors lower their expectations, hoping some will attend regularly and volunteer to help out with their weekly events commonly referred to today as “going TO church”.

How to Know if Your Church is Event-Centric

How will you know whether your church has adopted an event mentality?

  • Allocation of Resources – High degree of emphasis on weekend services in terms of pastor/staff time, budget and volunteer responsibilities
  • Tyranny of the Urgent – Church service planning and logistics commandeer the agenda of staff meetings
  • Hard Work – Putting on an event takes substantial effort, requiring extensive preparation and rehearsals throughout the week
  • Pressure to Perform – Staff and leaders issue a collective sigh of relief when the weekend is over (assuming it went well)
  • Hoping Lots of Folks Show Up – Church leadership is counting and concerned with attendance, whether it is rising or falling
  • Infrequent communication by leaders throughout the week
  • Church is rarely engaged in coordinated community service activities between Sundays
  • Local missions are largely restricted to service events, particularly during the holiday season
  • Little intensive, personal discipleship taking place (Note: Small groups meeting during the week are not evidence that your church does not have an event orientation.  Small groups are less about building disciples than building relationships, helping ensure people come back to the next event.)
  • Increased use of commercial promotional tactics, like mailers or email lists

What do events typically look like?  How prevalent and evident are the following at your church?:

  • Those already attending the event are encouraged to invite their friends
  • Many arrive early to get good parking spots and seats
  • Greeters are staged at every door
  • Arrivals are ushered to designated seating/rooms (i.e. kids) and general admission is offered
  • Engaging entertainment and speakers
  • Agendas are short and jam-packed, building up to a crescendo to maximize emotional response
  • Attenders come and go as they please, free to show up late or walk out early
  • Nearly everyone leaves soon after it’s over, saying a quick goodbye to a few folks, to go home or out to eat

What does it take to put on a successful event?  How much effort is your church putting into improving in the following areas?:

  • Planning – Increasing lay leader involvement yet still geared toward weekend logistics, budgeting and promotion
  • Marketing – Creating awareness and excitement through multi-channel advertising (email, mail, word of mouth) of appealing content (e.g. stronger marriages and relationships) and offerings (e.g. casual atmosphere, programs)
  • Volunteering – Continually recruiting volunteers to work various positions during weekend services
  • Attendance – Finding ways to increase engagement by loyal “fans” that leaders can count on to show up at every “event” and invite others
  • Signage – More attractive signs for welcoming, directing and designating rooms for first-time guests
  • Interesting Speakers – Sermons that reach a wider audience, hoping softer messages will bring more back than they scare away
  • Great Music – Better performers, acoustics and audio/visual

The Problems with Churches Becoming Event-Centric

Putting on a big show each weekend distracts pastors, staff, members and attenders from the proper, Biblical definition of “church” and from Jesus’ demands of His followers:

  • Sucks up tremendous resources, redirecting them internally and away from the community impact the pastor once envisioned
  • Makes the experience of church more about the pastors, staff and facilities than the members, who are intended to be the “ecclesia” (or “Church”)
  • Caters to members versus challenging them by appealing to their attraction to events and their limited time commitment to religious activities in this day and age
  • Does not provide enough room for the Holy Spirit to move, with careful choreography and scripting leaving little to the Lord’s discretion once the service starts
  • Infrequency and seasonality of local missions ignores the fact that families are still hungry and hurting Monday through Friday and in January, February, etc.
  • Jesus did church services all week long, giving impromptu sermons at every opportunity, rather than preparing for a big weekly event.  Jesus expects all of His followers, including pastors, staff and church members, to do likewise.

Letting your church be reduced largely to weekend events may actually grow your church in numbers, but not in health or effectiveness for the Kingdom.

When Did Church Become an Event?

Jesus discipled, healed and fed.  The apostles discipled, healed and helped the poor.  The early church discipled and continually reached out to the least and the lost.  Churches for 1900 years were the food bank and homeless shelter; they started the hospitals and schools; they were often the center of town.

What changed in recent decades?

  • Government and charities not affiliated with a church took over the lead role in compassion
  • America became a consumer-driven culture, leaving less time for non-revenue-producing activities and raising expectations on those receiving anyone’s valuable spare time
  • Consequently, churches came to recognize the need to provide a first-class experience in a less time-consuming format, reducing the commitment from ½ day of Sunday school, worship services and fellowship lunch to a one hour event
  • In other words, making church an event was a natural outgrowth of (in effect) treating members as “customers”, no longer seeing them as the embodiment of “church”
  • Pastors and staff became viewed as the “professionals” charged with evangelism, leaving congregations with the diminished role of inviting people to weekend events
  • Therefore, intensive discipleship became less necessary, evidenced by the conspicuous absence of one-on-one and triad discipleship in churches today
  • With paid staff and facilities increasingly seen as the definition of “church”, the congregation treated by church leaders as “customers”, and other organizations assuming the lead role in compassion, the lost in the community (which had previously been considered the church’s “customer”) are now effectively ignored – except for seasonal service events to “check the box”.

It’s Your Turn…

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) right now, between Sundays?  Would Jesus be preaching and serving or taking a breather after a busy Christmas season?  Would Jesus condone an event-centric mentality?  What would Jesus change about your church if He walked in its front door today?

Next week in Part 2, we’ll unpack an alternative model for church that breaks the event cycle.  Plus we’ll introduce a new initiative from Meet The Need that helps your church make that difficult transition.

Did Your Church Simply “Check the Box” During the Christmas Season?

Dec 28, 16
JMorgan
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5 comments

Blog Post 81 - One Day vs Year-Round

The holidays are over.  Now what?  Is your church taking a deep breath, recovering from the build-up to Christmas worship services?  Maybe your church put together a couple Thanksgiving and Christmas service events in the community.  Events take tremendous time and effort to organize – herding cats to make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time.  Isn’t it time for a well-deserved breather?

No.

There may be comfort, but there is tremendous danger in falling back into the familiar church routine after the bedlam of the holiday season:

  • When churches retrench back into the “4 walls” after the holidays, it feeds the widespread perception that church compassion was actually thinly-veiled promotion. Society envisions church members patting themselves on the back for what little good they did over the holidays.
  • Families are still struggling to make ends meet in January and February, with little help and hope for the future.
  • The mission field right outside the back door of the church continues to be ripe for harvest after Christmas.
  • That modern-day church “routine” no longer aligns with Jesus’ model of opening the door to evangelism through compassion.  Jesus rarely said who He was before healing and feeding to demonstrate His love and power.  He sent the 70 followers and the 12 disciples out with clear instructions to do the same.  When Paul went to the “gentiles”, he recounted Peter’s words, “The only thing they did suggest was that we must always remember to help the poor, and I, too, was eager for that.” (Galations 2:10)  The Lord expects His Church, yes even today, to follow suit…

What’s Wrong with Events?

For 1900 years, the Church did follow Jesus’ model.  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter.  Churches started the hospitals and schools.  Churches were engaged year-round in dealing with pressing social issues.  Churchgoers were expected to be salt and light to those around them between Sundays, following Jesus’ lead, acting as both servants and evangelists continually.

Yet the priorities of church leaders and members have shifted.  Assistance programs are handled primarily by the government and local charities.  Only a small fraction of church members regularly serve outside the “4 walls”, while the rest occasionally write a check or sign up for an event.  Leaders have gotten busy running the church and members are busy with work, paying bills and raising families.  Nearly all churches today merely “dabble” in compassion in the community, running infrequent events, typically during the holiday season, that unfortunately…

  • Are transactional, not relational in nature.
  • Apply band-aids to gaping wounds, not addressing the underlying, ongoing issues in the lives of those hurting and helpless.
  • Fail to make meaningful or lasting change, providing a handout rather than a hand up.
  • Fuel negative perceptions of “church” by making society question whether the church leaders truly care, or the event was obligatory, meant to make members feel good for having done something.
  • Enable churches to “check the box”, giving pastors, staff and members a false sense of compassion and accomplishment.

Yet church is the only true source of enduring help and hope – found in Christ alone.  Government and secular charities can’t do that.  Church is also the best place for those receiving assistance to land, developing long-term relationships with believers and hopefully with the Lord.  Churches miss so many opportunities to reach people by abdicating relational compassion to other organizations and relying on transactional events, primarily centered on the holiday season.

Because Jesus’ model was Prayer, Care (and then) Share, knowing His words alone weren’t enough, churches that rely on occasional events and Sunday sermons to reach the lost are in effect trying to “outpreach” Jesus.  It’s as if most pastors believe their words are more potent than those of Jesus, not requiring a preceding or accompanying act of kindness to have full effect.  Of course, because our sermons and witness cannot outdo His, they are increasingly falling on deaf ears today.

So Why Do Churches Do Events?

With all that downside, why would churches use events as the primary vehicle for conducting local missions?  As with all other topics we’ve addressed in this blog, the answer lies in the Church’s gradual redefinition of its “customer”:

  • Reliance on events came with the territory as churches shifted from viewing the community to seeing members as their “customers”.  In other words, long-term relational engagement is much better for the community, but events are much better for institution-building and for catering to members:
    • Tasks like mentoring troubled youth, adoption or running a food pantry are hard.
    • Churches are cautious about challenging members to do the hard stuff.
    • Getting members to do hard stuff requires intensive, personalized discipleship – which is hard too.
    • Because most churches don’t challenge members to develop the proper mindset regarding their role as the personification of “church” between Sundays, few go out of their way to take on the hard tasks.
  • So churches give members the easy stuff that keeps them coming back like:
    • a food drop-off in the church foyer
    • on campus meal packing
    • taking up an offering
    • a quick 3 hour event run by church staff
  • Events have the side benefit in the eyes of church leaders of building the “brand” by making a big splash (whereas long term engagement is quiet and behind the scenes).

Although event management is easier on members, it’s harder on church staff.  However, since most pastors and staff today act as if they are the embodiment of “church” and treat members as “customers”, they’re willing to endure that extra work rather that risk losing members by asking too much of them.

What Should Churches Be Doing Instead?

The greatest impact on the lives of individuals, the welfare of the community, and the advancement of the Kingdom comes from service that is highly:

  • Compassionate – e.g. shut-in and hospital visitation (for non-members)
  • Enduring – e.g. school partnerships
  • Relational – e.g. tutoring
  • Loving – e.g. prison ministry
  • Challenging – e.g. foster care
  • Sacrificial – e.g. inner city
  • Interactive – e.g. neighborhood outreach by small groups
  • Invitational – e.g. open the church for weekly career coaching, marriage counseling, recovery ministry, health/wellness classes, etc.

It’s Your Turn…

What other ministries have you seen churches run year-round that which fit those criteria and are having a huge positive impact in their communities?

How to Convince People Jesus is the One They’re Looking For…

Dec 21, 16
JMorgan
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11 comments

Blog Post 80 (Santa or Savior)1

Christmas is about the greatest act of love in the history of the world.  We know who God is not only by what He said, but by what He did – taking on human flesh, assuming the role of a humble servant, and dying a horrific death in our place on the cross.

Israel had God’s Word before Jesus came – the Old Testament.  Yet somehow religious leaders in Jesus’ day missed the message God was trying to convey in His Word.  They made it about a set of rules to obey and not a gift of grace to be accepted.  They traded what mattered most for what God most abhorred – forgiveness for condemnation and humility for arrogance.  Christmas is about that message of grace and forgiveness – the one that changed everything.  That’s the real “reason for the season”.  What better opportunity is there than Christmas to share that message of redemption and reconciliation so others can experience God’s grace and forgiveness?

Because God’s own people had missed who He really was, God appeared before them in the flesh.  Yet once again, the Word of God, this time spoken directly by His Son, couldn’t convince most that He was who He said He was…

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

Most didn’t believe in Jesus because of His words.  They believed because of the supernatural acts of compassion that He did.

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

It was also Jesus’ acts (of defiance and of miraculous kindness) that made the religious leadership want to kill him.  In the end, they cited something He said (His claim to be One with the Father) to condemn Him to death, but it was most certainly what He did that put Him on trial and incited the final verdict.  They understood that His acts, not just His words, were going to win over the world and destroy their religious establishment…

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

How can you convince people Jesus is the One they’re looking for?…

By doing exactly as Jesus did – leading with acts of kindness.  Besides simply being the right thing to do, compassion has tremendous missional and evangelistic power.  To be clear, we’re not recommending “good” OVER “Gospel”, but “good” THEN “Gospel”.  Jesus typically healed and fed before telling people who He is, and He instructed His disciples to do the same.

Yet churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion as they were for the better part of 1900 years.  Therefore, what society sees in most churches and Christians today isn’t faith that attracts but religion that repelsFaith reaches out to those in need of help and hope whereas religion speaks up to defend what we believe.  Society also doesn’t see joy in most Christians.  Instead, they see the pursuit of happiness in our efforts to change society to conform to our picture of how things ought to be.  In other words, the pursuit of happiness battles or consumes for personal gain, whereas joy overflows as we pour into the lives of those around us.

In those respects, Christians today likely look to non-believers more like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day than like Jesus Himself.  Humble servants reveal and reflect Jesus because that’s precisely what He was.  However, Christians who criticize culture without first demonstrating love and compassion appear self-righteous, blocking the view of Jesus by concealing their need for forgiveness.

Since non-believers don’t see our Savior in most Christians (i.e. faith and joy) they can more easily dismiss the “reason for the (Christmas) season”.  Instead, they have come to view Christmas as being about the alternatives to faith and joyreligion (e.g. attending a Christmas Eve service) and happiness (e.g. Santa Claus and consumerism).

Meet The Need’s #GiveAnEternalGift challenge to Christians ends on Christmas Day.  #GiveAnEternalGift is about refocusing our attention this Christmas on what increases our faith and joy – serving and sharing Jesus with others.  It encourages Christians not to get caught up in the holiday stressors that come with pursuing happiness (e.g. obligations and expectations) and fighting religious battles over words like “Happy Holidays” or “Xmas”.

But do we see that message as a big deal?

The question is…how anxious are we to convince people Jesus is the One they’re looking for?  Are we as excited to share the Gospel as when we first believed?  Have we lost our first love?  Once we became Christians, we started hanging out in church more and cussing less.  We began feeling better about ourselves and forgetting how desperate we once were for forgiveness.  Therefore, we became a little less thankful for God’s grace.  Likewise, our sense of urgency to see others saved from the brink of Hell dissipated as well.  We became a little less inclined to leave the comfort of the “Christian ghetto” to serve and share the message of Jesus with those outside the fold.  Those “outsiders”, the “customers” churches should be pursuing, recognize that they’re being ignored, receiving poor “customer service”.  Therefore, when they hear Christians speaking out on social issues, it sounds like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, more like the proud Pharisees than the humble sinner.

If we truly believe eternal suffering awaits our loved ones who don’t know Jesus, how can we not step out of our comfort zones to share Jesus with them this Christmas?  How can most Christians spend nearly all of their time with those who are already on the boat, when there are so many drowning in despair without Jesus in the ocean around us, waiting to be rescued?  Why do so many Christians only talk about Jesus with other Christians, maybe willing to invite a few non-believers to church but hesitant to BE the church themselves, as God intended.

It’s your turn…

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) on His birthday?  Chances are He wouldn’t be giving another quickly-discarded Christmas gift to kids who already have it all, or opening presents Himself by a Christmas tree next to a warm fire.  Wouldn’t Jesus be out in the highways and byways serving and sharing His life-changing message with the brokenhearted and downtrodden – those feeling most alone this Christmas without loved ones to hug and presents to open?

Let’s point non-believers to Jesus this Christmas.  Show them that Christmas is about something much bigger than religion or happiness.  Put “Christ back in Christmas” by following Jesus’ example of combining compassion with evangelism – demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.  Rather than being like Santa and giving gifts that are soon forgotten or broken, be like our Savior and #GiveAnEternalGift this week by:

  • Performing an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
  • Posting a photo and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

Forget Happiness; Experience Joy This Christmas

Dec 14, 16
JMorgan
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one comments

Blog Post 79 - Happiness versus Joy

Happiness is overrated and overemphasized.  It is incessantly being sold to us, normally by those who believe this life is all there is or by retailers looking to profit from our pursuit of happiness.  We’re told, “You deserve this!” or “All your friends have it, so you should too!”

Even many Christians fuel the commercialization of Christmas by getting caught on the holiday hamster wheel.  That’s why Meet The Need is encouraging us to #GiveAnEternalGift – experiencing and passing along the joy of Jesus’ birth to those who’ve forgotten the “reason for the season”.

Shouldn’t our goal be joy this Christmas?  But are we instead just shooting for happiness – looking forward to spending time with family and exchanging gifts?

Joy is found in the eternal gift of salvation by God’s grace, not Christmas gifts.  Joy is found in our Savior, not Santa.  Joy is found in faith, not religion.  Joy is found in compassion, not consumerism – believing, not buying.  Joy remains regardless of circumstances – happiness is obliterated by misfortune.  Joy lasts forever – happiness is only temporary at best.

Yet most Americans exchange joy for an outside shot at happiness.  They look for happiness in things that can never bring true joy:

  • Romance – The excitement of a new relationship one day fizzles into a sense of normalcy and often complacency, leaving some wondering whether the grass may be greener in other pastures.
  • Reconciliation – Eternal joy is found in the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Unlike the intimacy experienced between two people, God’s love for us never fades or fails.
  • Popularity – When there’s a buzz surrounding us, we relish the 15 minutes of fame.  However, notoriety is fleeting and attention spans are fickle.  The question is…when we’re out of the spotlight and back at home looking in the mirror, what do we see?
  • Purpose – Joy comes in knowing God’s opinion of us never changes.  Therefore, we play to an audience of One, humbly serving and sharing Christ with others even though they may no longer look up to us if we “stoop to the level” of a servant.
  • Power – Exerting influence and authority gives us a false sense that we’re in control.  At some point age, upheaval, betrayal or circumstances outside our purview will conspire to overthrow or undermine what little control we actually had.
  • Potential – There is joy in surrendering control to the One who really had it all along.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus” reestablishes the proper and intended order, relieving us of the responsibility for trying to force God’s hand to ensure our desired outcomes, which likely go against His will.
  • Friends – Rarely are we happier than when we are with our closest friends.  Companionship is one of God’s greatest gifts, but it was never meant to supplant our relationship with Him.  Friends may move out of town, let you down, or even pass away.
  • Father – Joy is found in understanding the Lord will always be there.  He’s the most reliable, trustworthy and dependable friend we’ll ever have.  He’s also a jealous God, expecting us to put nothing, or no one, ahead of Him.
  • Money – Most believe a sudden windfall would bring happiness, but studies show lottery winners typically return to their previous state of mind after the initial exuberance subsides.
  • Meaning – Joy is a result of living consistent with our Designer’s plan for us – the Great Commission.  “You cannot serve both God and money” – choosing the latter is the road to momentary pleasure, but eternal bankruptcy.
  • Success – Ambitious workaholics sacrifice time with family, God and friends, believing wealth and early retirement will bring happiness.
  • Significance – Joy is impacting the world for Christ in the few years we have on this earth.  The Great Commission may involve losing everything in the here and now, yet gaining what “moths cannot destroy…and thieves cannot break in and steal”.  That’s success in God’s eyes.
  • Transportation – The initial thrill of a new car wears off after a few weeks, becoming just a way to get to our next destination.
  • Transformation – The joy of being delivered from the brink of Hell to the doorstep of Heaven gives us a new (yet lasting) lease on life.
  • Vacations – Many begin planning their next vacation the minute they return from the last one.  Battling the emptiness of life without Jesus, they subsist only by making sure they have something to look forward to,
  • Victory – Joy isn’t found in relaxation but in “pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  There’s no rest when you’re a disciple of Jesus – at every corner there are fresh opportunities to win souls to Christ.
  • Escapism – Alcohol and drugs provide a temporary reprieve for those who can’t cope without hope.  Once the effects wear off, they need to do it again quickly or risk confronting the harsh reality of a joy-free existence – and soon addicts get hooked.
  • Evangelism – Joy is finding fulfillment through a Prayer/Care/Share lifestyle, dedicated to worship and witness, not recreational self-medication.
  • Religion – Hope once found in a man-made set of rules and empty promises to make our lives better disappears when difficult times eventually come.
  • Relationship – Joy is knowing Christ as Lord and Savior, loving and serving Him no matter what the cost.  That kind of faith endures through good and bad.
  • Worldliness – Countless shiny lures grab our attention and provide short-term happiness, yet distract us from all that would bring authentic, impermeable joy.  To no avail, we seek quick earthly fixes to satisfy an innate hunger for meaning and relational intimacy that can only be satisfied by loving and serving our Creator.
  • World-Changing – Joy is picturing all those who will be in Heaven because of how the Lord used you to reach them.  Joy is the privilege of being chosen by God to be an instrument of hope and peace in a broken, fallen world.

It’s Your Turn

Experience joy – and introduce that possibility to those discouraged in their pursuit of happiness.  #GiveAnEternalGift before Christmas Day by:

  • Performing an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
  • Posting a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

Read our PRESS RELEASE ABOUT #GIVEANETERNALGIFT

A Little Less Religion, a Little More Faith

Dec 07, 16
JMorgan
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7 comments

Blog Post 78 - Religion versus Faith1

No season accentuates the difference between “religion” and “faith” more than Christmas.  CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only) show up at church for the first time in months.  Christian symbols are brought down from the attic and placed around the house and on the tree.  Believers pick up the battle where they left off the year before at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” and “X-mas”.  Christians find it tougher every Christmas to find a card with religious references.  TV commercials fuel rampant consumerism, luring even those who understand the “reason for the season” into their trap.

Fighting the increasing secularization of Christmas won’t put Christ back in Christmas.  Revival won’t break out if more stores acquiesce to demands to say “Merry Christmas”, Hallmark offers more religious Christmas cards, and advertisers have the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving dinner is over before kicking off Black Friday.

We don’t need more religion this Christmas.  We need more faith…

  • Religion is Temporal – Does Christianity make our lives better?  Is it a big part of our lives?  Does it sustain us through the hard times?   Does the Lord bless us with good things during our lives?  Yes on all counts.  However, a “this life” orientation dominates the thinking of too many professing believers and the teachings of too many pastors today.
  • Faith is Eternal – Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).  Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in the Hall of Faith were looking forward to what lay ahead – heaven.  They recognized that this is not our home, and acted accordingly.  It was that same assurance of the next life (not promises for this life) that convinced Rachel Scott to proclaim her faith at gunpoint in Columbine.
  • Religion Defends – What should Christians do about our nation’s crumbling moral foundation?  Protests and activism have largely backfired.  Name a significant recent court decision where the Christian moral position has prevailed.
  • Faith Turns the Other Cheek – Christ doesn’t need us to defend our faith.  Jesus never defended Himself.  He was like a sheep led to slaughter.  What Jesus did was to keep on serving, loving, building disciples and preaching the gospel every day of his life.  We should do likewise.
  • Religion Judges – Religion says, “You’re wrong” and stays at arms length.
  • Faith Cares – Faith says, “You’re loved” and pursues the lost at close proximity.
  • Religion Repels – Society has come to see the defensiveness, accusations and evangelism of Christians as intolerance.  It’s ironic that Jesus had the biggest issue not with those the “religious” considered “sinners”, but with those who condemned “sinners”.
  • Faith Attracts – Jesus normally healed and fed first, then said who He is.  He had the perfect words, but knew that wouldn’t be enough to get people to listen.  Today, if churches were still leading with compassion, non-believers would be much more interested in what Christians have to say.
  • Religion is Transparent – Religion hinges on mankind and we screw up.  It tries to cover failures and look godly – obscuring the view of the one true God.  As our frailty becomes evident, Christians are seen as hypocrites, causing others weak in their faith to walk away, some never to return.
  • Faith is Impenetrable – Faith’s foundation is God and He keeps his promises.  God has no moral lapses.  Most seekers don’t buy “religion” – they can see through it.  They’re looking for truth and genuine faith that saves.
  • Religion Loses the Battle – Our culture is moving away from Jesus.  All of our lobbying, voting and venting on behalf of our religion isn’t turning the tide – it’s only galvanizing the opposition.
  • Faith Wins the War – We know the end of the story.  We’ve read the Book of Revelation.  Jesus wins.  In the war for the souls of men and women, faithful disciples of Jesus are much better equipped to be effective soldiers than the “religious”.
  • Religion Consumes – Churchgoers look to be fed.  Prayers become about blessings.  Emphasis is on what God can do for them.
  • Faith Dispenses – Members become the personification of church, living Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles, looking to reach others for Christ.
  • Religion Clings – Focusing on the temporal causes people to hang on to what they have.
  • Faith Releases – Dying to self, crucified with Christ daily, causes people to give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasures.
  • Religion Holds Back – Belief in Jesus isn’t enough.  Those who stop there won’t leave everything behind if that’s what Christ asks of them.
  • Faith Surrenders – Satan and demons believe in Jesus too, but they won’t follow Him.  Faith is belief that converts to surrender.
  • Religion Puffs up – Using Christian lingo and attending church regularly, then criticizing others who don’t follow their rules, makes many feel superior.  Jesus hates that.
  • Faith Humbles – Realizing we’re all sinners in dire need of a Savior, redeemed solely by the grace of God, keeps Christians grounded.  Humility is the essence of our faith.
  • Religion Says “God will…” – Too many pastors teach that faith is having enough belief that God will give us what we want.  When healing doesn’t come and the deal falls through, it’s our fault for not having more faith.
  • Faith Says “God can…” – Jesus asked repeatedly, “Do you believe I am able to heal you?”  Belief that He COULD was all it took.  That means deferring to God’s will – whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent.  Maybe it’s best if healing doesn’t come if it will awaken others to their own mortality and thereby bring them to Christ (i.e. “next life thinking”).
  • Religion Caters – Asking little of churchgoers, providing an entertaining worship experience, and promising a better life is sure to keep lukewarm Christians coming back.
  • Faith Challenges – Jesus preached his most challenging sermon at the height of His popularity in John 6.  Unveiling the true costs of discipleship and holding the congregation accountable to the Great Commission standard risks driving everyone away.
  • Religion Builds a Church – Prevailing church growth models like Invite, Involve, Invest define pastors and staff as “church” and churchgoers as “customers”.  The redefinition of those terms has resulted in reallocating funds away from local missions to member retention and from intensive discipleship to small groups.  These days, growing does not always mean healthy.
  • Faith Builds Disciples – The Biblical definition of “church” and its “customer” requires training and empowering members, decentralizing to reach the lost in the community where the church is planted.
  • Religion Speaks – Being a Monday morning quarterback, bemoaning what’s wrong with the world, is easy.
  • Faith Acts – Getting out of your armchair and serving others in Jesus’ name is hard.  As the book of James says, faith without works is dead.  We’re called to be more about justice than judgment and compassion than condemnation.
  • Religion Shuts OffPrivate, Passive, Pensive Christians keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ to themselves.
  • Faith Pours OutPowerful Christians come to grips fully with the grace and mercy of Jesus and can’t possibly keep it in.

How Can You Live Out Your Faith This Christmas?

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Christ came to bring redemption and reconciliation so that we could pass along those messages to others – that’s the real “reason for the season”.  Disciples follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion then telling them who He is.  In the days leading up to Christmas, let’s remind our neighbors, coworkers and complete strangers that this season is about a Savior and not Santa Claus.  #GIVEANETERNALGIFT, not temporal gifts that are quickly forgotten and discarded:

  • Perform an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
  • Post a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

Read our PRESS RELEASE ABOUT #GIVEANETERNALGIFT

Why Church Revitalization Will Require a Disruptive Event

Nov 30, 16
JMorgan
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5 comments

Game changer business or political change concept and disruptive innovation symbol and be an independent thinker with new industry ideas as an individual jet breaking through a group of airplane smoke as a metaphor for defiant leadership.

Part 2 (of 2)

What would a company do if it were experiencing…

  1. Negative growth?
  2. High customer turnover?
  3. A worsening reputation among non-customers?
  4. Little impact in its community?
  5. Declining sales from failing to properly train and equip employees to pursue target customers?
  6. Compliance issues from not following operational best practices?
  7. Diminishing influence on market trends?

Any one of those issues would seriously jeopardize the viability of the company.  A business facing all of them would be confronted with two clear choices: impending bankruptcy or radical change.

Review the list again.  Doesn’t it describe fairly well the status of the Church today in America?  The Church is struggling today in terms of growth, impact, influence and public perception.  Most large churches are admittedly revolving doors while less than 10% of small churches are growing.  Members of most churches are not adequately discipled to become effective evangelists within their circles of influence, settling for inviting people to church and leaving that responsibility to the “professionals”.  Churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion in America, running occasional outreach events rather than following Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.  Invite, Involve and Invest has become both the predominant church growth model and the rallying cry of the internally focused church.

Why the Resistance to Change?

Let’s revisit our nearly insolvent corporation.  What factors could possibly keep it from making drastic changes to its business model and operations before going under?  There are many: internal politics, the old guard contending “this is the way we’ve always done things”, insufficient competition in the market, or general complacency of employees simply content to perform just well enough to keep theirs jobs.

Not all, but some of those apply to churches today.  In many cases, older members fight any attempts to disrupt the status quo.  Most members and visitors see “church” as a place rather than as themselves – and therefore are more attune to their expectations of their church rather than to the Lord’s expectations of them between Sundays.  Modern conventions and trends in the American Church seem well-entrenched.  Asking pastors, staff and members to revisit longstanding priorities and consider significant course correction toward a more Biblical definition of “church” and “intended customers” is daunting for a number of reasons:

  1. Consultants, Books and Articles nearly all agree that better leadership is the answer.  Few recognize the fundamental reallocation of time, energy and dollars over the past 100 years from discipleship and local missions to attracting and retaining members.  Instead of questioning the “business model” itself, they simply recommend incremental changes within the current framework.  However, just as that company won’t be saved by better leadership methods, as long as a pastor tries to build an institution more than build disciples – catering rather than challenging – improving his leadership style at best will only grow that one church at the expense of the larger body of Christ.
  2. The Big are Getting Bigger – Pastors of smaller churches point to countless examples of megachurches that have successfully followed prevailing church growth models.  Name-dropping of pastoral “celebrities” is so prevalent today that conferences have made them their main attraction.  Of course, the implication is that “if your church is still small, you’re not doing as good of a job as that pastor is”.  That mentality only serves to further ingrain the misconception that pastors, not members, are the embodiment of “church”.
  3. The Pain of Reallocating Budget, Reassigning Roles and Resetting Expectations – Redefining “church” and its “target customer” would involve redistributing power, knowledge and responsibility from pastors to members, flattening that church’s organizational chart.  Intensive discipleship means investing much more time in members so that they can be effective in their new role as the living, breathing church.  In addition, returning to a prevalent role in addressing community issues – living out Jesus’ model of leading with compassion to open the door to sharing the gospel – would require a serious rethinking of where dollars are spent.
  4. This is “Risky” Business – No church wants to be the first out of the gate. Leading the way in challenging members to accept greater responsibilities risks losing many of them to churches down the road that will happily cater to them.  Nearly every church I’ve attended over the past 20 years has followed a similar, choreographed prescription for conducting church services, small groups and allocating expenses.  “Church in a Box” is increasingly common, allowing pastors to mimic “successful” churches in every aspect – from music to sermons to administration.  Breaking away from the pack is a scary proposition but worth the risk when the Bible clearly defines “church” as a gathering of believers, not as pastors and staff, and offers the Great Commission as a central mandate.
  5. Lack of Recognition – Most church leaders understand these principles, but don’t feel they fall into these camps, associating all of those issues with other churches and not themselves.  Why do Jeff Foxworthy “redneck” jokes get a laugh from everyone in the audience?  Because no one thinks the joke is about them.  Some of them must be wrong, right?  In our experience, the vast majority of churches inadvertently treat members as “customers”, largely ignoring their intended “customer” (the lost in the community where the church is planted).

What Could Disruption Look Like?

Pastors and Christians are increasingly censured for speaking Biblical truth in America but it hasn’t risen to the level of persecution faced in many other countries.  We haven’t seen enough disruption here yet to force a departure from institution-centric church growth models and overcome embedded resistance to change.

When over 90% of churches aren’t growing, why aren’t more willing to step out on a limb?  What will it take for a few brave pastors to throw caution to the wind and build a church in Jesus’ image, characterized by intensive discipleship internally and aggressive compassion and evangelism externally?

New church plants are willing to take risks because they have little to lose.  They have to engage in the community and ask a lot of their few members – if they don’t they’ll never get their name out there.  Then suddenly one day, there is more at stake – members, bills, a reputation and expectations to meet.  The demands of operating a church become more significant.  The same is true of entrepreneurs and politicians – they are idealistic and externally focused until the resulting success turns their focus to maintaining what they’ve built, taking their eyes off the “target customers” or “constituency”.  That’s why established churches likely will need a wake-up call to reconsider their current direction, which could take the form of:

  1. Persecution – Christianity in times of peace and comfort tends not to grow as fast as it does in persecution, as was the case for the early church and in China today.  That seems ironic until you consider there are no lukewarm Christians where public worship risks your freedom or your life.
  2. Bottom UpA recent study showed that close to 7.9 million people are leaving churches each year.  When enough “Dones” and “de-churched” stop going to church, pastors will be forced to take a closer look at what went wrong.  The mass exodus is caused by a number of factors, but research cites among them dissatisfaction with the depth of messages, sincerity of members, compassion shown to the poor, and other aspects of “organized religion”.
  3. Left Behind – I’ve attended three events in the past few years with well-known Christian leaders to discuss the deteriorating spiritual and moral foundation of our nation.  The consensus at all three was the same: the key to the culture war is for Christians to occupy the “7 Mountaintops” (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business).  They felt that churches remain too wrapped up in their own affairs to engage cooperatively with other churches and leaders – at least until they lose so many members that they have little choice.
  4. “Competition” – Although more applicable to companies than churches, an example of the effects of “competition” is the story of a new “seeker” church that moved in down the road and took a lot of a neighboring church’s “fence sitters” with them – leaving only disciples.  Although the affected church shrank temporarily, because it had become healthier, exponential growth resumed quickly.
  5. Sudden Realization – The clarion call could also be a revelation from the Lord that a church has grown out of touch with the original vision and mission God gave it to reach the community for Christ.  When forced to take a step back, it may become clear that somewhere along the line it began preaching to the same folks every Sunday, winning few new converts, having minimal community impact, and not living out the dynamic Biblical reality God intended for every church.

How bad do things need to get to convince pastors that change is necessary?  Where will America and the Church be by the time a disruption severe enough occurs to force change?

How is Meet The Need Disruptive?

Meet The Need practices what we preach.  We don’t stop at words.  We enable actions.  Yes, we consult and coach churches on the importance of discipling and deploying members into ministry.  But we also provide churches with free tools for pastors to empower their membership to BE the church in their communities.  We share a message that most churches probably don’t want to hear, questioning their fundamental modus operandi – and likewise we’ve invested millions of dollars in building tools churches didn’t request – but should want.

Meet The Need could write books about leadership and sell member-centric systems that churches are willing to pay for – and make a lot of money.  However, Meet The Need is a non-profit that gives all of that content and software away to ensure money is not an impediment to churches following Jesus’ model of combining acts of kindness with words of hope.

Meet The Need also launched #CastAnEternalVote prior to the election to convince Christians to worry more about who’s in God’s House than the White House.  Now we’ve released #GiveAnEternalGift to extend that message into the Christmas season, focusing the attention of Christians on Compassion rather than Consumption.

It’s Your Turn

#GiveAnEternalGift before Christmas Day by:

  • Performing an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the gospel.
  • Posting a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

Read our PRESS RELEASE ABOUT #GIVEANETERNALGIFT

Why You’ve Never Read Washington’s or Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamations

Nov 23, 16
JMorgan
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one comments

Mount Rushmore National Memorial with blue sky in the morning. Black Hills South Dakota.

We’ll continue with Part 2 of “Why the Election Should Spark Church Reform” next week.  Given our discussion of the diminishing influence of Christianity in society, we felt compelled this week to share official declarations by arguably some of the greatest political leaders in our nation’s history about Thanksgiving.

Few school children are ever shown these proclamations for reasons you are about to see.  If prayer is not allowed in public schools, then these quotes are most certainly off limits.  Administrators likely fear unveiling them not only might offend non-believers, but also debunk the prevailing misrepresentation of the origin and intent of “separation of church and state”.  So instead, students are taught a sanitized, secularized version of the Thanksgiving story.

Studying the history of Thanksgiving, there are many conflicting accounts and some aspects aren’t as rosy as they’re depicted in a 2nd grade classroom.  Depending on the teacher’s point of view, the recounting of original events that led to the holiday may emphasize famine, food and fellowship – or opportunists invading and oppressing established natives.  Either way, public schools don’t share the immortal words of William Bradford, Washington or Lincoln giving all glory, honor, praise and thanks to almighty God:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for #GiveAnEternalGift

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

Those same contrasting forces that compete for our allegiance at Christmas have crept back into our Thanksgiving celebrations.  Stores used to kick off Black Friday on Friday – imagine that!  Seeing the madness that ensued when they opened their doors at 6:00am, retailers sensed the opportunity to start even earlier – first midnight Thursday and then at 8:00pm.  Now, Walmart has announced its Black Friday sale begins at 6:00pm on Thanksgiving Day, right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.

#GiveAnEternalGift seeks to keep the focus of Christians on serving others and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We bristle at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”, but we can only accomplish so much through boycotts and we can only cast one vote to elect Christian leaders.  As Christians, we have much more control over how we invest in the Kingdom by pouring into the lives of others.  Just like we could #CastAnEternalVote many times over prior to the election, we can now #GiveAnEternalGift to countless people in our circles of influence before Christmas Day.

Don’t be fooled by slick advertising into wanton consumerism under the guise of generosity.  Going into debt and enduring bedlam at the local mall for the sake of giving temporal gifts that may never see the light of day is not God’s plan for Christmas – or Thanksgiving.  Instead, Jesus wants us to “go and make disciples”, giving the gift that will never perish.

It’s Your Turn

Family can be the toughest mission field.  Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)  But that’s where each of us is called to live out the Great Commission over the next few days.  Prepare yourself to model Prayer, Care and Share even with your toughest audience.  Maybe read or share George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring and revealing words about Thanksgiving with them – I know I will.

#GiveAnEternalGift over Thanksgiving by:

  • Performing an act of kindness for a family member and watch it open the door to sharing the gospel.
  • Posting a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.