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Start Building

As we strive to be good stewards of the ministry Christ has placed us over we need to think of focusing on what needs our attention.  If we desire healthy growing churches then we must start doing the things that will help us to be healthy and will enable us to also stay healthy.  Our physical and spiritual health depends on diet, exercise, getting the proper rest, and some other important activities. Last week we stressed the need to stop doing the things that are only digging the hole deeper. This week we will focus on the things we need to be doing!

What habits do you need to commit to in the New Year? If you are going to build up and help others then you need to make sure you are practicing self-care also.  What plans do you have to care for your own soul spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, and mentally?  Dr. Steve Crawley says, “To revisit a thought shared previously, if we use our Life Plan to establish a habit of doing the little things each day that lead to success, it may not seem like much to start, bot over the course of time the impact will sky rocket.” 

First, we need to be praying!  This is where we need to begin, on our knees before our God begging Him for His power and direction.  Are you praying for your church leaders, church family, and for your community daily? When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem we see this godly leader stop, fast, and pray. How much time are you actually spending crying out to God on behalf of the spiritual condition of your church?  One source has reported that 90% of evangelicals pray approximately one minute a day!  

Second, practice courageous leadership!  When God does show you the things you need to be doing, obey! The congregation needs to face the truth of their spiritual condition and godly leaders need to provide that truth no matter how painful it might be.  People need to hear the truth whether they embrace it or not.  The real challenge of leadership is convincing people that the pain of where they need to go is not as painful as staying where they are.  Think children of Israel!  They were convinced they would be better off returning to Egypt.

Third, structure the ministry in your church to get more people involved.  We have even gotten to where we need a committee to determine who will be on the committees.  Some churches that are already struggling think that getting more structure will fix everything and it just does not work that way.  Focus on moving people out of meetings and into ministry.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgan says, “I’d much rather have people invest their time, gifts, and energy in making disciples than in making decisions in a church committee meeting.” 

Fourth, you must sell-out in developing and implementing a discipleship pathway.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  Read great books on discipleship such as The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman and Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman.  Most churches do well at the big circle (worship), the middle circle (Bible studies), but struggle at one-on-one discipleship that promotes spiritual mentoring and accountability.  Take a break from working in the ministry only and take the time to step back and work on your discipleship plan.

Fifth, consider changing your church governance system if it is unhealthy or dysfunctional. Is your structure modeling what spiritual leadership should look like?  The primary purpose of church leadership is not to keep the pastor and staff in line.  Their primary role should be to encourage and enable their pastor to lead the way God intended.  Find a structure that recognizes that God often allows the leader to see the direction and challenges first.  All too often a pastor is desired and asked to use their pastoral gifts more than their leadership gifts. 

Sixth, work hard at remaining outwardly focused.  Yes, to some I am sounding like a broken record but to be like Christ we must seek out the lost.  Almost everything we do is for people who are already connected to the church.  It is not possible to be healthy if we never do much to reach people outside the faith and outside the church.  Our evangelism approach may look different today than it did in 1970, but the mission and heart of God remains unchanged.  You cannot necessarily expect to return to the method of the 70’s but we can return to the value!

Seventh, work on building the systems you need to sustain growth.  As important as systems are you must make sure youkeep it simple!  Complexity actually hurts more than it helps.  For example, we think we have a discipleship pathway when in reality what we have is a multitude of programs that teach Bible lessons.  Of course, teaching the Bible is a good thing but you must look closely at your spiritual growth system to make sure it is actually producing multiplying disciples.  Can you trace multiplication to the fourth generation?  (2 Timothy 2:2)    

BMA Missions defines our vision statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  Courageous conversations are necessary for your church to figure out how to engage your community and make a difference for the cause of Christ.  Quoting Tony Morgan again, he says that, “We easily become fixated on being the “best” church in our community,rather than being the best churchfor our community!” Methods should never become more important than the mission.  Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples who are discipling others?

Quit Digging a Hole

It has been said, “If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.” That certainly sums up many other statements that could be made about a church that is no longer healthy.  Yet, all too often, that church continues to do the very things that made her unhealthy.  In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “What got the church on life support will not make it healthy again.” There is such a need to consider prayerful evaluation of where your church is (healthy versus unhealthy), why it is unhealthy, and what needs to be done to make it healthy again. 

There is another saying that goes like this, “Hope springs eternal.”  The problem is that biblical godly hope is not just a pie in the sky dream.  It is more than just wishful thinking.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  You see the hope of God will not disappoint because He acted on that hope and came to provide us a way to have a relationship with Him.  It is not enough to think that hoping things will change will actually produce healthy change.

We constantly say things like; “I sure hope someone fixes that”, “I sure hope someone shares the gospel with them”, or “I sure hope things get better.”  Hope by itself alone will not win people to Jesus, disciple new converts, plant a church, keep a church healthy, or get a dying church off life support.  The reality is that hope is not a strategy and you need a plan to quit digging and know what to do after the digging stops.  God had a strategy to deliver hope, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  (Gal 4:4)

How do you stop digging deeper?  Begin by evaluating where you are and if you are healthy.  

First, will you develop a clear and compelling vision that all of your people can clearly articulate.  A lack of vision is one characteristic that shows up in churches that begin to drift from their mission and begin to decline. Your vision needs to specifically describe the next steps your church will take to begin getting healthy by developing healthy steps and practices for your people to take.  Mission is why you exist and is where you are headed.

Second, how will you make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your church?  Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleshipdescribes discipleship as an intentional leader, with a relational environment, and a reproducible process.  Discipleship that is complicated and confusing will not produce healthy disciples.  Chances are they will not produce disciples at all.  Do you have a reproducible process with clear steps that moves people from where they are to where God wants then to be?  These steps lead from spiritual birth to spiritual parenthood. 

Third, how will you lead your church to remain outwardly focused with a heart of generosity?  The church does not exist only for those who are already there. Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Churchsays, “It’s impossible for any church to be healthy and experience growth if nothing they do is designed to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church.”  You must prioritize people who are outside your church by showing them the love of Christ in practical ways.  You have to quit digging the hole of only focusing on who is already there. 

The second part of this is by being a generous church.  Ask yourself whether or not your church leans toward being generous or protecting and holding on to what you have?  When we lean toward being a generous church then we lean more toward being like Christ.  When we lean toward being stingy then we lean further away from Him.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  His loved was poured out to us so that we would pour that love out to others. 

This principle of generosity is stressed in Galatians 6 by telling us we should not get tired of doing good and with every opportunity we have we should labor for the good of everyone.  This biblical principle of practicing generosity should always characterize how we treat those outside the church.  We should remain generous regardless of how many times we think that people have taken advantage of our generosity.  Resist the temptation to focus on maintenance and preservation of what you already have.  God gave you what you have to invest it into His kingdom work! 

 Fourth, lead your church in these areas with strength and courage.  You must do whatever is necessary to get your church healthy and reach new people with the gospel.  Some will want to continue digging the hole deeper and deeper but you must lead them to lay down their shovels and crawl out of the hole.  There will be opposition but you cannot wait for everyone to get on board.  Pray hard and then begin to develop a plan of attack on how you will get healthy, your church leaders will be healthy, and then so your church will be healthier.  

Lead your people with a vision of making disciples who make disciples.  The time is now to become a strong leader. Until you begin to make the necessary changes to become healthy the plan has only been a conversation.  Once you begin to take the actual steps toward becoming healthy there will be opposition.  Not everyone will be happy that you have decided to stop digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Lead anyway toward biblical church health!    

VISION FOR HIS MISSION

There is a great visionary question we all need to ask ourselves expressed by Dr Kenneth E. Priddy,  “How does God want to express Himself through our church in our community at this time?” Churches have spent countless hours planning, discussing, and preparing vision statements only to place them in a file in a desk drawer.  Here is the reality.  Having a vision statement in no way guarantees that your church will be a visionary congregation.  Developing a vision and mission statement is a great step in the right direction, but it is only the first step.

Just because we have aspirational values (who we desire to be) that does not guarantee that they are actually our values. Ken Priddy continues, “Most congregations claim allegiance to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, but few truly demonstrate a sacrificial love for neighbors or a serious commitment to outreach and evangelism.”  How true and sad it is to see churches that know they should be pursuing the lost but lament new people coming into their congregation and the church growing.

How do we ignore and reject the clear teaching of the word of God that the early church was growing and flourishing?  We read several times of how they added to the congregation and even how they multiplied.  When Christians are no longer functioning as they should they begin to fall prey to becoming insider focused on those they already have.  The voices of people inside the church become louder than those outside the church and outside the faith.  The vision stales and fades over time because it must be renewed regularly.

 Unfortunately, the how becomes a higher priority than the why. Ministry silos begin to form as members only focus on “their” ministry and “their” area.  They build silos that they protect and begin creating a “them versus us “ mentality.  How can you tell when this is beginning to happen?

  1. Complacency and the status quo begin to replace commitment and sacrifice.  
  2. Being served and your personal needs being met begin to replace serving others. 
  3. The bottom dollar and watching the budget begins to replace ministry and generosity.

In developing a mission statement here are a couple of terms you need to understand.  You do not have to lift a finger or do anything for the downward slide toward selfishness to happen because we all drift that way naturally. Dr. Priddy continues, “In order to move the congregation toward new vitality, you must get buy-in or ownership in the Great Commission vision and strategy that must prevail.  You’re not looking for simple agreement, cooperation or consensus; you’re looking for conviction.”  Conviction confirmed through the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

First, we must understand the term mission.  The mission of God is why we exist.  It is His mission and it is mandated and commanded by Him.  We do not get to vote on it.  Our only choice is to be obedient or to be disobedient.  The mission of God does not change because He came to seek and to save that which was lost.  Your church does not have a mission.  God’s mission has churches that are to obediently carry it out.  If we are not reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ then we really do not have any biblical foundation to function or exist.

Second, we must understand the term vision.  The vision is where we are headed and a picture of a preferred future.  We lose sight of the mission we are on and our vision to carry out that mission begins to fade.  Maybe this explains why, on average, churches under three years old reach one new convert for every three members.  Churches that are three to seven years old reach one new convert per seven members but churches over ten years old have one new convert for every eighty nine members. Could it be that we no longer have a vision for His mission?

Third, we need to understand the term strategy.  This answers the question of how we will carry out the vision. Doctrines remain the same but the methods of engaging ministry can be very different.  Your vision may be to reach a college campus with the gospel of Christ while your strategy will be the steps to make that happen.  How will you fulfill the vision God gave you of carrying out His mission?  You cannot choose the culture God has placed you in, but you can remain culturally relevant and biblically sound.  Just check out Acts 17.

 Fourth, we need to understand the term team.  This is who will carry out the strategy that the Holy Spirit has revealed to you through His word of carrying out His vision for your ministry.  God places different members on the team with varying gifts to be a complete body that functions fully the way God intended. Sometimes we see someone’s gift setasa threat or competition when in reality they are there to complement one another.  We should always be asking where do we need help and who has God given us to help us in that area? 

Fifth, we need to understand the term values.  This answers why we are doing what we are doing!  We need to check our motives and make sure they are biblically based.  Do we value His mission more than we value our preferences?  Plateaued and declining churches have begun to turn inward! These churches once valued the lost so much that they were willing to do just about anything, short of sin, to reach them with the gospel.  There was a time their church wept for them but now no one seems to remember any tears for the lost.

These five dynamics of the vision question are God’s vision, through your church, in your community, and at this time.  The mission has never changed, “Go and make disciples!”

Are You a Great Commission Church?

Asking if your church is a great commission church, or not, stirs up many emotions.  The question even being asked may anger some and then the response might be, “Well, of course we are!”  The reality is that we must examine the facts and not be overly driven by our emotions. Churches tend to have aspirational values because they know that value is in the scripture but then they do not follow through on implanting that value.  Take a deeper look at your church and your ministry and ask if you are actually carrying out the great commission daily!

Paul, speaking to the churches in Galatia, says this in Galatians 3:8, “All nations will be blessed through you.”  In focusing on God’s mission for His people and His church we need to take a closer look at the Great Commission as given to us in Matthew 28:16-20.  Our mission is to be completely devoted to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and persuading men to become followers of Christ.  John MacArthur points out four elements for effectively fulfilling the church’s mission.  Three of these elements are attitudes and the fourth is the action that must be taken.

The first attitude is Availability!  Matthew 28:16 says, “The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.”  Don’t miss this truth that His disciples were where He had told them to be.  Is your church where it needs to be in being available to Him to do whatever is takes to reach the lost in your community? Have you become so overly focused on Christians who need spiritual renewal that you have forgotten about unbelievers who desperately need regeneration?  We must be exactly where the Lord wants us to be in our availability!

The second attitude necessary to effectively fulfill the great commission is Worship! Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped.”  Isaiah 6 makes it clear that it is out of worship that we can arise out of the dust of being on our faces before God and that we are ready to follow and serve the Lord. It was out of Isaiah’s brokenness that he responded to God’s request and said, “Here am I Lord, send me!’  When He is not truly worshiped He cannot be properly served no matter how talented, gifted, or well intentioned we might be.

The third element is Submission!  Matthew 28:18 tells us that Jesus has all authority.  Submission is evidenced when our greatest desire it to give all that we are and have to Him.  In the context of the Great Commission we see that He is the sovereign Lord, but it also clearly speaks to the believers’ responsibility in their response to His rule.  In Romans 12:1, Paul refers to this as our reasonable service and that is giving Him our true worship from our hearts by offering ourselves up as living sacrifices. Have you become a missionless church?

The fourth element for effectively fulfilling the Great commission flows out of the right attitudes and it is Obedience!  In The Unstuck Church Tony Morgansays, “It’s that stubborn attachment to the past, though, that leads to the church’s ultimate demise.  Traditions win over life transformation.  Personal preferences crowd out sacrifice and full devotion to the gospel mandate.”  He goes on to say, “It’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work God has called you to do.”  Acts 1:8 makes that work clear, “And you will be my witnesses.”

Remember that Galatians 3:8 says this will happen “through you.”  The world’s population is now right at 7.7 billion and increasing by almost 75,000 people a day.  We are told that only 10% of the world’s population are Bible-believing Christians. There are two sides, potential and danger, to these findings.

  1. We can see the potential of these people winning others to the faith.
  2. We see the danger because of congregations and Christians becoming inwardly focused and simply trying to occupy themselves.

Your church and my church is to be a task force with a job to do that has been spelled out by our Lord and King.  This is why we speak of advancing His Kingdom so that more and more people bow to His authority and submit to His rule and reign. Church, we must accept our responsibility to represent our King and share Him with other nations just as Abraham was instructed in Genesis 12.

  • Have we become so infatuated with maturing our own faith that we are not interested in winning others to the faith?
  • Are we still committed to helping people to find and follow Jesus?

Make sure that you evaluate how you are doing at effectively fulfilling the Great Commission.  Here are some great questions to help you.

  • Are you seeing people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
  • When is the last time someone made known their decision to make Christ Lord of their life?
  • What are you going to do to change that?
  • What intentional steps are you willing to take to pray for the lost, build relationships with the lost, and train your people in how to share the gospel with them?

We must move past good intentions and practice intentionality.

How do we do that?  David Hesselgrave suggests several things but these three will get you started.

  1. Understand the task!  The mission is clear beginning with a desire to reach more people with Jesus.
  2. Analyze the task in the light of research and experience.  Get to know the people you are trying to reach and learn what makes them tick.  Look for helpful insights into how you can more effectively communicate the truth of the gospel.
  3. Make an overall plan to accomplish this task.  Begin with the message of His word and be ready to share it!

Are you a Great Commission church?

PRAYER SYSTEM

Systems are important for sustaining initiatives in your church as simple as finance but as complex as assimilation.  My friend Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  We understand the significance of systems because our bodies require a healthy respiratory, circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and other as well.  Properly functioning systems are critical for a healthy body. 

            I Corinthians 12:12 reminds us of who we are, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body: so also is Christ.”  That picture of your church should cause you to realize the priority of systems.  They are essential to complete tasks in a detailed manner so that the rest of the body can function properly.  They rely and depend on one another.  Church systems are crucial because they put the processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

The one system that is often overlooked is the prayer system.  Maybe that happens because we know that every system, every team, and every aspect of our ministry needs to be bathed in prayer but it would be wisdom for you to intentionally focus on developing a prayer system in your church.  Jonathan Edwards, the great leader of the First Great Awakening observed: “we need explicit agreement and visible union among God’s people in extraordinary prayer.”

Those three elements (explicit agreement, visible union, & extraordinary prayer) are key and they stress the need of intentionality in building a prayer system.  We plan single prayer events but we must also seek ways (a system) for a sustained movement of prayer.  There are great benefits to providing ways to call your people to times and seasons of prayer.  There are several resources available for 21 days or 40 days of prayer but most important is for you and your leadership to pray.  Ask God for a plan that will facilitate explicit agreement, visible union, and hopefully, extraordinary prayer.

First, consider making a chart of every church ministry that needs to be covered in prayer.  Brainstorm on everything from the nursery to the youth to the Sunday services.  Do not be stingy but strive to list every age group, every ministry, and every event. Also, make sure you include missionaries, offsite community ministries, churches in your area, and those who have not yet been reached with the gospel.   As you begin, focus on groups and then later list people by name such as staff members and ministry team leaders.

Second, identify at least four immediate prayer needs in your church or ministry.  You could then pray over each one specifically over the next four weeks. The first week you should focus on the item God called to your attention as the biggest priority.  Recruit a prayer team to cry out with you on behalf of this need every day and as the week progresses more and more needs will come to your mind and be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit.  I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all you care upon Him; for He careth for you.”

Third, begin to build a prayer ladder.  The focus here will be on a system that will teach everyone how to “lift it up” in prayer.

  1. The first rung of the ladder is the prayer need and you must make sure that you clearly define the specifics of the need.
  2. The next step is to determine the prayer leader for this prayer initiative. Which ministry leader is the best fit? Who will be in charge of and responsible for the fervent prayer and intercession occurring for this particular area of ministry?
  3. The third rung of the ladder represents your focus on building a prayer team. Who will the team leader recruit to be a member of their prayer team?  A verbal commitment that they will join the team is not enough but rather they must pray regularly and fervently.
  4. Now it is time to determine your prayer method.  There is no right or wrong here but you must decide what this prayer effort will look like.  Will it include the entire church, small groups, individuals, or will it be a strategy that utilizes all of the above?
  5. The last rung of the prayer ladder is a prayer schedule.  When will you designate a time for focused intercession on behalf of this particular team and ministry?  What day will you meet?  Will you meet daily, weekly, or monthly?  Will there be a time that is set aside as “the time” to pray?  Some have suggested praying every day at 10:02am for God to provide laborers.  This idea came out of a desire to start a prayer virus based on Luke 10:2 by setting your alarm and stopping when it goes off to pray what Jesus told us we should pray for, more workers.

Third, plan your system out by using the prayer ladder and then carry out the plan.  Good intentions will not be enough.  You must be committed to actually praying.  Jesus said in Mark 11:17, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”  Think through how you will develop and maintain a rhythm of prayer.  Your goal is to organize a sustained prayer focus that will continually offer the aroma of your cries to God whose ear is inclined toward your pleas.

In building a prayer system you are developing a culture of seeking God’s presence and power in every decision, every initiative, every ministry, every leader, and every aspect of your ministry.  You are inviting God to manifest His presence in your midst by admitting how desperately you need Him.  May we be captivated to pray intentionally, faithfully, and without ceasing!

Are You An Aircraft Carrier?

Jesus clearly told us that He would establish His church and that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16).  Gates are a defensive protection from those who are attacking. It seems today that the opposite is true of so many churches and Christians.  We appear to be “holding the fort” and protecting our territory instead of invading, attacking, and reclaiming territory that the enemy has taken.

C.T. Studd said, ““Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop,within a yard of hell.”

Unfortunately, many have adopted the opposite mentality of the comfort and security of staying within the walls of the fortresses we have built whether they are real brick and mortar or self-imposed boundaries.  Paul was passionate to make the gospel known to all who so desperately needed to hear its truth.  Paul makes this very clear in Romans 1:14, “I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.”  The word there for obligated literally means we are debtors and our life no longer belongs to us but to Him!

Paul’s message is that the completely unmerited favor of God placed him under severe obligation to the grace of God.  Acts 20:24 states Paul’s obligation this way, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”  That obligation meant he willingly and joyfully took the gospel wherever the Lord led him and allowed him to go.  David Platt has said, “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every unsaved person this side of hell.”

In his book Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear describes churches as three types of ships.  These images help us to see what the focus and vision of our church might be.

  • The first church is the Cruise Liner.  This church is focused on meeting the needs of those who have decided to go along for the trip.  The focus is on programs for everyone and making sure that you offer everything people are looking for.  Someone has said they will come because you make a better hamburger than everyone else.

The question that must be asked is…what will happen to the members if someone starts making a better hamburger?  We must fight the temptation not to be overly judgmental about churches that seem to have it all.  There are many that are using the best of everything and are reaching people for Christ but we must also fight the temptation to build a ministry of consumers focused on comfort and competition more than on the advancement of the Kingdom!

  • The second church Greear describes is the Battleship. This church is more focused on the task at hand of representing the cause of Christ well but everything functions from the deck of the ship.  The battle is real but it is waged from a distance.  We do our work on the ship and we make plans of how to defeat the enemy but we launch our attacks from our battleship/fortress and we never really get to know those we need to reach with the gospel.

We must go to them, get to know them, and then demonstrate the love of Christ.

  • The third example is that of the Aircraft Carrier.  The goal of this ship is to make sure there is never a battle on its deck. They resource, train, fuel, and equip the planes and pilots to go where the real battle is taking place.  The church is the training center and the sending agency.  If our churches are not going where the action is then we are not doing our jobs properly.  Jesus never said, “Come and grow with us!” but He did say, “Go and tell!”  It is easy to forsake His mission because we settle for becoming a nice, comfortable, ordinary cruise liner.

How do we go about the training, resourcing, and equipping?

First, train your people in building networks through the relationships they already have.  Begin by intentionally helping them to see the lost people they already have in their lives in their families, at work, at school, neighbors, hobbies, and other networks.  Help them to think through how they can begin building bridges to them through loving and caring relationships.  We must move away from a temple mindset (gathering) back to a network (relational) mindset.

Second, give them a pathway to intentionally build relationships.  Dave Ferguson talks about how to B.L.E.S.S. others.

  • Begin by praying for them.  Think of 2-3 people in each one of your circles of influence and begin praying for them daily.
  • Listen to them as you get to know them.  Ask them questions about the things that interest them and allow to feel free to share their heart.
  • Eat with them so you can fellowship through a meal or cup of coffee.
  • Serve them by building a relationship and discovering their greatest needs.
  • Share the gospel with them and the love of Christ.

Third, train them how to share the gospel.  Yes, listen to their story, share your story, but then share His story. I was trained as a teenager to use the Romans Road by putting tabs on a small New Testament so you could find the verses quickly.  There are phone apps that will lead you through a presentation of the gospel.

One method that our church uses is from the Navigators on how to share the gospel using one verse, Romans 6:23. You can find that on their web page, navigators.org and click on the Evangelism tab.  There you can see the presentation entitled One-Verse Evangelism: How to Share Christ’s Love Conversationally and Visually.

Greater Things

Jesus clearly promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” than He did.  Here in North America we desperately need “greater things” to happen in our hearts, lives, and our churches.  We need a movement of God that would fit His description in John 14:12-14 of “greater things.”  We need revival in our established churches and a recommitment to a church planting movement.  A newly released Barna Report has reinforced some of the concerns about our culture here in America moving farther and farther away from God.

Mike Huckabee recently gave this summary of that report:  “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview. The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out as the most shocking and troubling is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.”  That is the polar opposite of what Jesus meant by “Greater Things.”  How can that happen right here in the United States? How can this extremely disturbing number of increasing atheists occur right here in our own backyard?

Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.”   The greater things Jesus promised became a reality as the early church experienced a miracle of “spontaneous expansion.”

Dr. J.D. Payne recently shared with several of us in the missions department that as of October 2017 there are 282 Unreached People Groups here in the USA with 167 in Canada.  Even more alarming is that there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here.  According to him this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time.  Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves; “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Is this promise of “greater things” still available to us as individual believers and to our churches today?  Absolutely, because Jesus is still Lord (and always will be) and He is still sitting on the throne.  But there are some elements that will be required for us to see a movement of “greater things” in our cities and communities.  There are at least two necessary ingredients for us to witness an extraordinary movement of God again today.  First, there must be an extraordinary practice of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38).   Second, there must be an extraordinary commitment to evangelism (Acts 1:8).

We never would have believed that it would be so easy to reach so many nations without ever getting on an airplane but it is happening.  The world is coming to us and we, God’s children, are to be His light.  We must be ready to reach all nationalities and people groups with the gospel.  Isaiah 49:6makes it clear, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Thankfully, the churches, church revitalization, and church planting efforts are impacting the multitude of immigrants who are flocking to the United States.

It is truly a blessing to see churches and church planters ministering to many different language groups and people groups. Many are making a gospel difference in the lives of these uniquely diverse ethnic people groups.  All to often we see contextualizing the gospel as reaching our neighborhood, but it is much deeper than that.  The better questions are; how do we become the church in our neighborhood? And how do we evangelize so that we are not just reaching part of our neighborhood but everyone that lives in our neighborhood?

Joe Gustafson tweeted this about an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, ““Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to Himself. The contemporary Church would do well to go back to the future and embrace this same approach to evangelism.”  Stetzer’s article points out the need to make some shifts in our evangelistic efforts which are really a return to our biblical roots in the book of Acts.  He says “churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network will be more effective at evangelism” and also that churches “must shift from an attractionalmindset to an incarnationalmindset.”

Let me remind you of a quote from last week’s article where we are challenged to embrace both approaches.  In the book Kingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks two questions.

  1. “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  2. “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Mission Shift

 

Every church reaches a point where their future is determined by choices they make and the vision they have for the future.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christopherson says, “Sadly, when a church makes the unnatural choice of ecclesiastical birth control in order to preserve its accustomed lifestyle, the natural and exponential advance of the Kingdom of God ceases.”  When you look at the New Testament church in the book of Acts it was multiplying and increasing in number daily.  The reality is that all too often a church stops doing the very thing they were called to do…reaching the lost.

On what was the New Testament church focused? They were congregations who were seeking to provide every opportunity for every person to come face to face with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The mission/vision shift occurs when we are no longer focused on new believers, new disciples, new disciple-makers, and new relationships.  With quiet subtlety our full attention shifts to bank balances, critical mass, and buildings.  Our entire methodology revolves around them finding us instead of us building roads into the harvest.

We begin hearing the concerns of the sheep that are already in the pen as they verbalize, “We need to take care of ourselves before we go out and try to save everybody else.”  The tension is real as you strive to simultaneously care for the sheep biblically while also remaining passionate about your Kingdom assignment. The original driving force of the mission of God begins to diminish as the focus of the mission shifts.  Jeff Christopherson says it shifts, “to preserving our accustomed lifestyles.”  A deadly shift occurs when we begin focusing solely on maintenance.

InKingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks these two questions.

  • “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  • “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Consider this challenging proclamation from Lesslie Newbigin, “ The truth is that we do not truly understand the Gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to Christians.”  There are a few things to consider in making sure that a mission shift does not occur that causes us to drift away from the reason we exist.

  1. We must cultivate a heart for God.  When we love Him as we should it causes us to love who and what He loves.  Compassion produces passion.
  2. We must train our people to share their faith.  Make sure your congregation knows how to present the Gospel properly and clearly.  Consider some type of evangelism training that gives them confidence to share the plan of salvation.
  3. Develop a strategy of building bridges to people who are far from God. Make them aware of the circles of influence they already have in their lives.  They need to think of family, friends, co-workers, school, hobbies, and others.
  4. You must have an understanding of the difficulty of convincing someone who is emotionally and financially stable but generationally unchurched of the need to attend a worship service or Bible study. You must realize that they are not interested in adding an event to their already busy lives especially when it’s not familiar territory.
  5. Love people the way Jesus loves people.  What is the best way to get their attention?  Even if you established and executed the best marketing campaign possible you are still very unlikely to arouse their curiosity.
  6. Realize that there is nothing wrong with being attractional but it is not enough. It is a great thing to do but it is an incomplete strategy.  Our outreach and evangelism plan must not only be “come and see” but it must also be “go and love.”
  7. Be aware that organization, programs, and systems are good things when kept in the proper perspective.  They are necessary or everything your church has done to build relational equity can evaporate quickly right before our eyes.  The challenge is to simultaneously care for the flock while remaining passionate about pursuing those who are far from God.

The mission shift is when we drift from our Kingdom assignment, the Great Commission, and settle into becoming a nice comfortable church.  Quoting Jeff again in speaking about church planting, he says, “All church plants, if they survive, become churches.  But not all churches become Kingdom expanders.”  This is not only true of church plants but can also plague existing churches.  Remember, our ultimate goal is not a worship service (an event) but rather, planting the Gospel (a movement)!  The event is a good thing but it is not the ultimate goal.

The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” describes what so often occurs in our churches.  Consumers demand to be taken care of and we turn inward in a frantic frenzy to maintain what we have.  We hear things like, “we need to be thankful for what God has already given us.” Please notice the focus of that statement is past tense.  We are no longer moving forward, desiring to build new bridges, and develop new relationships with people who are far from God.  In Luke 15:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our example of a the New Testament church focused on its Kingdom assignment is clearly stated in:

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

One last thought on making sure we do not allow the mission to shift to the wrong focus is a quote from Peter Drucker.  “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

The Missing Element

Three necessary ingredients for a healthy church are to be biblical, relational, and missional.  Most churches that I am familiar with handle the biblical and relational elements pretty well.  They understand and have dedicated themselves to being a theologically sound church and strive to teach the whole counsel of God correctly.  The relational element is normally handled well also.  Churches know the importance of unity and are focused on protecting their harmony.

After blogging my article The Three P’s of Evangelism, this is what a friend commented, “Isn’t it amazing that so many are identified as evangelicals yet so few evangelize.”  That statement seems so sad and yet it appears to be so true.  In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.”  The natural inclination of any group is to become inwardly focused on who is already a part or member.

The Southern Baptist Convention just held their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.  They reported that worship attendance in their churches had increased by 119,772 or 2.3%. During the same time the total number of baptisms decreased by 26,651 or 9.49%.  Please do not think I am trying to make them look bad or that I think anyone else is doing any better.  There are many godly people in the SBC who are burdened and praying for this to change. This trend of “growth”, while baptisms continue to decrease, describes most churches that are not declining.

In Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First (in my opinion a must read) he addresses this trend.  He states, “Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.”  He reminds of the calling for any church striving to be obedient to the Great Commission, “The Kingdom-centric new church (applies to any church new or old) holds as its highest value the redemptive mission of God.”  Andrew Murray said these convicting words, “There are two classes of Christians: soul winners and backsliders.”

Jeff challenges us to take a hard look at how we are growing and is that growth actually expanding the Kingdom of God or are we just shuffling the Christian deck?  Here is more of his convicting conclusions, “It should be troubling to a potential gospel-centered church planter that far too often his colleagues, while claiming to be gospel centered, build their new churches on foundations of the already evangelized.”  Many churches are convinced that they are superior to the other churches in their area as they “compete” for new members.

A church promotes “better” fellowship or “better” music, or “better” programs or “better” preaching.  Jeff states, “Neglecting the lost sheep, we tirelessly work to gain our fair share of the prepenned ninety-nine.”  Is our strategy to create a spirit of discontent in the other sheep pens?  Some great advice I received years ago was, “What makes you think you can make them happy if they have not been happy somewhere else.”  Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character.”  Is our focus the redemptive mission of God?

Are our methods increasing attendance or are they also expanding God’s Kingdom?  Jeff challenges church planters with this thought but it applies to all churches, “By gathering the sacred pieces that will take us on the shortest route to self-sustainability, we may simultaneously be gathering the pieces that will lead us to evangelistic sterility.”  When we do focus on the “prepenned” sheep we must be aware of the possibility that “eventually the discontented will gather together and demand that their prophet lead them back to Egypt.”

The temptation is to always default to what we know how to do and what we have learned to do well.  We have learned to “do” church far better that actually “being” the church.  When you ask the average church attender what is in their life that verifies the Christ and the gospel they represent they will often “default” to, “Well, I go to church!”  We are thankful that they do attend but anybody can do that in a country where there is freedom of religion.  So, what evidence of my faithfulness to God do people see?

Jeff continues to challenge us by describing what truly characterizes Kingdom-centric churches.

  1. “They are convinced that good deeds and good news cannot and should not be separated from any orthodox understanding of the gospel. The good news always clarifies, and good deeds always verify.”
  2. “Kingdom-centric churches believe ministering and serving are natural expressions of everyday living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Yes, we must clearly and correctly articulate the gospel message but we must also verify it by our good deeds.

In Kingdom First, Jeff offers one of his most haunting and convicting observations, “First-century results rarely come from twenty-first-century priorities. What made the first-century church so potent was its absolute disinterest in itself.”  Are we more consumed with our own personal preferences and agendas than we are concerned for the lost who without Christ will die and spend eternity in hell?  Luke 15:4, “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

Evangelism is the missing element is far too many churches!

More of the Right Things

What do we measure that really matters?  Having previously discussed changing the scorecard in churches has created a desire to put together an evaluation system that gives us biblically healthy metrics to gauge ministry.  The church health and church growth tension will continue (I personally think it can be a good tension) but there are some biblical standards that must adopted and followed.  For example, we can ask if people love the church or do they love lost people but it really begins with do we love Jesus!  That was the bottom-line question He asked Peter.

There are many things very important to us that can cause us to place too much focus on the wrong things.  Several of those are the size of the congregation, the buildings, the programs, and a host of other significant things but are not the most important.  We know the church is not a building nor is it just a numerical statistic.  It is to be the local body that represents Christ and displays His glory.  The pendulum of what’s of the greatest value can swing too far either way when it comes to methods and measurements.

  1. Is your church cultivating a heart for God? Does your church really care about the lost and dying world around it?  Here is the reality we must face.  We say it is important, but is there any proof in our actions that shows up not only in our beliefs but also in our behavior?  In what ways does your church’s heart break over what breaks the heart of God?  We say we are burdened for people who are far from God but what is your church doing to reach them?  Are people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ benefiting from knowing your members?
  2. Is your church developing a disciple making culture?  Are more and more disciples growing and being transformed daily?  We talk discipleship but very little actual discipleship is taking place unless we intentionally develop a pathway for disciples to grow. That begins by equipping and training disciples not only to follow Christ but to also disciple others.  As you look at discipleship it would be good to ask what is working, what is missing, and what is confusing?  There must be a clear “next steps” pathway that can be clearly articulated by all of your disciples.
  3. Develop a prayer strategy.  This is not necessarily to be third on your list but must permeate every area of your church culture.  It is not enough to just say we need more prayer (we certainly do) but to also train and show people what being a prayer warrior looks like. How can you help to deepen the prayer lives of your leaders?  Let them know that our purpose in observing spiritual disciplines is not to demonstrate our spiritual strength and superiority but rather to demonstrate our weakness and our need for Christ.
  4. Commit to multiplication in every area of your ministry.  We state our mission statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  That means that everything needs to multiply and if it is healthy it does.  All too often we place all the emphasis on more people and getting bigger but that does not ensure spiritual success.  Are we multiplying prayer warriors, Bible readers, worshipers, disciple making disciples, small groups, serving team members, and people who are consistently sharing their faith?
  5. Build a spiritual awareness and discernment of the spiritual battle you are in.  You will face obstacles and you will face opposition.  Here are some excellent questions from my good friend, Dave DeVries, in this area.  What spiritual blockages are you currently facing?  What strategies will you have in place to counter spiritual blockages?  You must expect them to happen and be ready to address them when they do.  You must remain spiritually sensitive to the attacks of the enemy and this is why training and resourcing a team of prayer warriors is so vitally important.
  6. Find a way to measure and track how many more people are actually doing more of the right things such as praying more, reading their Bibles more, discipling other disciples more, and sharing their faith more. The best way to do that is through intentional accountability.  The missing ingredient in so much of our discipleship is the obedience mechanism.  Develop groups of 3-4 who meet not only to disciple but to also hold one another accountable by asking good questions such as, with whom did you share your faith this last week?  How did that go?
  7. Teach your people to focus on two very important ingredients of spiritual growth.  The first is listening to the word of God.  That means listening with an interest because we have a heart’s desire to hear what God is saying.  The second is that we must then obey what He says.  We really aren’t interested if we are not ready to obey what He says. Teach your people when they approach the word of God to ask what is God saying and what does He want me to do about it? Jesus made it clear, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Take each one of these seven areas and evaluate where you are and how you are doing in each one of them.  What is working, what is missing, and what is confusing? How can you help your people to do more of what is really important?  What strategies will you develop to make sure it happens in the hearts and lives of your people?  The true metrics are not size but the transformation of people’s lives and seeing evidence that they are being transformed and becoming more and more like Jesus!

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS!!!