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God Desires So Much More

A couple of years ago, Dr. John David Smith, our executive director of missions, challenged our association by giving us a picture of where we were as cooperating churches.  It was to many painful, and I am thankful for the courage of leaders to tell us what we need to hear.  Hopefully, we will receive it with a spirit of humility and repentance.  Whenever you give negative statistics, it does deliver some pain, but my prayer is that it will also call us to prayer and that we will actively pursue God’s vision and mission for His churches. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 churches will close their doors this year! 

Church health researchers tell us that 85% of all churches in North America have either plateaued or are on the decline. We are also told that of the remaining 15% which are considered healthy and growing, only 1% of those churches are growing because of conversion growth (people being born again and baptized). We have approximately 1200 BMA churches listed in the directory and handbook.  That means that over 1000 churches have plateaued or are on the decline.  We must be willing to at least consider the possibility that this is our present reality.

This suggests that as an association of churches we have 180 churches that are healthy and growing.  Our primary motivation should not be size and numbers but rather a healthy church as described in the scriptures.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations and our identity is to be a disciple; an obedient follower of His commands.  As disciples, our mission is to be making disciples.  Are we being transformed daily and becoming more like Christ?  Are we obediently seeking and engaging others to help them find and follow Jesus?

In Ephesus 3:20-21, Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to His power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” God desires far more for His churches than we do.  He desires to see every church bring Him glory and to proclaim His name to every nation. Do you not have a nagging feeling that God intends more for us than only a Sunday worship service?  Do you not sense a higher calling than a wonderful time of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ?   

Todd Wilson reminds us in his book, More,that the incarnation of Christ means that we are the sent ones and the resurrection of Christ means that there is no place we are not sent.  In the Exponential devotional, “Made for More,” Erika Rizkallah says this, “As His church we are chosen by Jesus to carry Christ’s fullness into every corner of culture and sphere of society. The church is the people of God, saved by the power of God, for the purposes of God.  It is all the people of God on everyday mission to fill everything in every way with the fullness of God.”  

You can download Erika’s six-week devotional guide and the Made for Moreresource kit (exponential.org) and it is well worth your time as they lead you through six necessary shifts based on the book of Ephesians.  We see in Ephesians 3:10 that, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.”  God wants his people and His churches to be everything He has commanded us to be.  He also desires that we be everywhere He has directed us to be.

The resource kit will walk you through each chapter of Ephesians with the focus on these shifts.  This free resource instructs us, “Paul’s letter to the churches in Ephesus provides our roadmap. We will work through each of the six chapters together. Each chapter highlights a theme element, a critical move, and an essential shift in thinking and behavior to put us on a pathway toward mobilizing God’s people, God’s way.”  

The themes of chapters 1-6 are:

  1. Made to Do More
  2. Made to Go More
  3. Made to Win More. 
  4. Made for More
  5. Made to be More
  6. Made to Love More

The critical moves of each chapter are:

  1. Mysteries: Illuminate the Mystery
  2. Masterpieces: Investigate the Design
  3. Motivations: Motivate with Love
  4. Missionaries: Organize for Fullness
  5. Mission Fields: Activate for Purpose
  6. Methods: Prepare for Battle  

The essential shifts every church needs to make are:

  1. From more effort to more Jesus.
  2. From more volunteers to more masterpieces.
  3. From more guilt to more love.
  4. From more hierarchy to more missionaries.
  5. From more programs to more mission fields.
  6. From more strategy to more surrender.

Here are a couple of things to begin to see the “more” that God desires for your church.  

  1. Begin to pray and ask God to do a great and mighty work in and through your congregation.  Develop a prayer strategy that involves everyone in your congregation that you possibly can.  Dedicate times to pray and fast to show God how desperate and serious you really are.  
  2. You must believe that God has “more” for your church.  Dare to dream that God has a plan for your church to glorify Him and make a difference in His kingdom work.
  3.  Then you should be willing to evaluate the necessary elements required for a church to bring Him glory. You must begin to evaluate your biblical alignment and obedience to the word of God.  There must be qualified godly leaders who can effectively lead the church to make the necessary changes.  You must also consider looking at congregational health in the areas of fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and mission.  

Are you effectively engaging the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and if not, why not?  Are you making disciples and if not, why not? 

Reaching Out—Siders!

Most people enjoy the feeling of thinking they have the “inside” track. It might be the inside track towards a better job or the inside track of knowing the right people in order to accomplish your goals.  Having the inside track means you know the right people and you know the right steps to get where you desire to go.  With that said, no one enjoys feeling like they are the outsider.  You don’t feel like you know anyone you need to know nor do you feel accepted by him or her.  All of us, at one time or another, have felt like an outsider and it was not a good feeling.

Your church must be careful to not build a culture that promotes a mentality of rewarding the insiders while rejecting the outsiders.  We should never make it seem like being a card-carrying member means you have certain insider information and rights.  Actually, the focus of those already on the inside should be on how they can serve and minister to those who are on the outside.  Matter of fact, Jesus focused on the outsiders by loving them and reaching out to them.  It has been said, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems crazy…until you are that one!”  

Jesus pulled no punches with the religious crowd in Luke 4:25-27 reminding them that Elijah did not go to the aid of a widow from Israel but rather a foreigner, an outsider from the region of Sidon.  Jesus continues by telling them that even though there were many lepers in Israel Elisha went to Naaman a Syrian, also an outsider.  Jesus did not place much stock in lineage, social standing, or pedigree.  The deciding factor on the individual these prophets would help was not based on that person being an insider but rather whether or not they responded in faith.

InKingdom Matrix Jeff Christopherson writes, “Outsiders would be blessed if they responded to the revelation that God gives.  Insiders would be ignored, passed-over, disregarded, (or worse) if they did not demonstrate faith in God’s revelation.  Others, any others, even Gentiles, would receive a blessing from Him, but His hometown, through their own unbelief, would be completely passed over.” How sad that those who watched Jesus grow up would miss out on His salvation.  Their “inside” information did not seem to help them at all because of their lack of faith. 

 Jesus’ message of reaching outsiders was not well received.  They drove Him out of town and wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff.  It should not catch us off guard or surprise us when some of our “insiders” are not overjoyed about reaching “outsiders.” Unfortunately, way too many insiders seem to have blind spots about who they should be reaching out to and are not interested in obeying Christ’s commission.  It is very sad that some Christian “insiders” can even become angry and enraged by the thought of reaching certain outsiders.  

Peter finally figured this out and learned his lesson in Acts 10 when he says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”  He did not come around without some strong hesitation and arguing.  You must be ready to address these challenges, excuses, and disobedience.  Prejudice is real and should not be ignored.  It creates an inward focus on those you already have and causes you to forget that your church actually exists to obey the great commission.

The challenges will be plentiful as “insiders” say things like, “Shouldn’t we focus on taking care of who we already have first?” The bean counters will want to know, “How much is this going to cost us?”  Those in control will wonder, “Will we still have enough votes on our side at the business meeting if we grow too much?”  The “white and uptight” will struggle with worshipping with the “down and out.”  The legalists will worry about new people not following the already well-established unwritten rules that all of the “insiders” know well.

What if pursuing the de-churched and un-churched once again became our priority? 

 What if loving the lost, last, and least was more important than our personal preferences? 

 What if we once again did what Jesus did; built relationships with sinners who were far from God? 

 Jeff Vanderstelt recently tweeted, “When the church doesn’t expect normal Christians to be on mission in their every day life, then we’ve misunderstood the very nature of what it means to be God’s people.”  When the church is not interested in reaching outsiders it has no reason to exist.

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Have we become more concerned about how many are attending instead of how many are engaging people far from God?  Have we become so focused on seating capacity that we have forgotten about measuring our sending capacity?  Have we become so busy with all we are doing around the church that we have forgotten our primary purpose and are neglecting God’s mission? Jesus made our purpose and mission very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Are you making disciples?

*Here are a few more questions to evaluate your ministry.  

*Are lives being changed and transformed?  

*Are you seeing disciples being made?  

*Has your church chosen survival and scarcity over the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community?  

*Does most of your present ministry focus on the “insiders” or are you actively engaging in ministry that serves the “outsiders” on a regular basis?  

*Are you striving to be the fullness of Jesus Christ in every corner of your culture and every sphere of your society? 

Many health issues are amplified and the symptoms get worse when we shift from being outwardly-focused and become inwardly focused!!! 

Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.

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?”