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6 MYTHS ABOUT CHURCH HEALTH

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Growing up there were many superstitions, wives’ tales, and myths that as you got older you realized, as much as you believed it then, they were not true.  Some were harmless and innocent but others caused fear because if you broke a mirror you believed you would have seven years bad luck.  Even intelligent people will knock on wood, wish on a falling star, and become visibly upset if a black cat crosses their path.  As a child, I remember carefully walking down a sidewalk and avoiding every crack because, “step on a crack break your mother’s back.” 

There are many church “myths” today that are spoken as if they are factual.  A myth is defined as, “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true.”  Remember, a myth is called a myth because it has not been proven true.  The problem is that we hear myths, believe them, and then allow them to control our thinking and our behavior.  When churches believe myths rather than the truth it causes fear and can paralyze their ministries.  Things like, “If we build it they will come!” or “All we need is a really cool vision statement and then we will grow!”  Here are some other church “MYTHS:”

#1  Large churches have compromised the truth!  The size of a church, small or big, does not guarantee that the truth of the gospel is being handled correctly or that it is being compromised.  Church size – large, medium, or small does not guarantee depth any more than owning a Bible, going to church, and tithing means you are a Christian.  The size of a church and how healthy it actually is are independent characteristics.  Large churches are not a bad thing.  The church in Jerusalem was a large church. 

#2  Small churches cannot make an impact for God.  It is not how many attend a church that dictates a church’s ability to be used of God but the size of the church’s heart to bring glory to God.  Scott Attebery said it well,I’m afraid that some may have the mistaken impression that ‘small’ means a lack of mission or purpose. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Some of the most passionate missional churches are relatively small congregations. Make no mistake about it, ‘small’ does not mean inferior.”

#3  Large churches are cold and unfriendly.  Actually, size does not dictate whether a church is friendly or unfriendly.  You can attend a small church where no one speaks to you or welcomes you.  The truth is that you don’t have to know everyone closely.  In U Turn Church Bob Bouwer says, “You need to know the One who does know everyone in your church.  Jesus is the common bond.  Outreach cannot be compromised because a church doesn’t want to stretch its comfort zone.”  Make sure that if you say you are a friendly church that you are!

#4  We are too small to do that!  The truth is that no matter what size you are, faith is required.  Faith requires risk because God is the only one who can accomplish the task to which He has called us.  When we stop being risk-takers, we soon become caretakers and before long you will be the undertaker.  What is happening in your church that can only be explained by God?  Actually, we can’t do it, but with His help we can.  Mark 10:27, “And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”

#5  Large churches don’t care about smaller churches.  Actually, I have found the exact opposite to be true.  Pastors, staff, and members of “bigger” churches always seem ready to do anything they can help to help other churches and ministries.  Many of them have come along side of struggling congregations and shared with humility what they thought might help that church.  If you were to approach them you would find a support team ready to listen, pray with you, and share whatever they have that might help you.  Don’t be bashful, ask!

#6  We are too small to compete with the larger churches.  It is not a competition anyway.  If God has called you to that church then be faithful and strive to be fruitful.  There is a need for all kinds of churches and all sizes of churches.  We love to criticize what is different, mega-churches to house churches, but it they are scripturally sound and reaching people with the Gospel they have a unique place in God’s plan.  In the same way Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise your youth” allow me to say, “Let no one despise your size!”

Healthy churches refuse to believe the “myths” and are always driven by the truth!

7 STEPS TO BEING A MISSIONAL CHURCH

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     The church Jesus established was never meant to be just a place of safety.  Rather, it is to be a gathering place to accomplish mission.  Have we become more concerned with traditions and being in control than we are in introducing people to Jesus?  Most churches need to recapture the mission of God as seen in scripture.  Bill Hull puts it this way, “The traditional church is talking out both sides of its mouth, giving a hearty ‘Amen’ to the Great Commission and an entrenched ‘no’ to the changes required!”  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).  Acts is 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 do 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. 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. 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. 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!

     We must not settle for the status quo of today as described by Kevin Harney in U Turn Church, “If your church is content doing nice things for a group of nice people who all meet weekly to enjoy each other’s niceness, you have lost your way and forgotten why the church exists.”  He goes on to say, “The gravitational force of the church naturally pulls us inward toward each other.  If we are going to move outward to those who are lost it will take more energy than most of us dream.”  May we all be willing to pay the price for us to focus outwardly!

TURNING THE SHIP AROUND

Aircraft Carrier

When I was teenager my brother, Gary, was in the Navy.  He joined the military with a vision to see the world but ended up stationed in Pensacola, FL, just one hour from our home.  Twice my parents and I had the privilege of going on his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, for a dependents’ day cruise.  I will never forget the jets being catapulted off of the deck, disappearing for a second, and then roaring off into the sky.  We were warned about getting too close to the edge and falling off because, “you can’t turn an aircraft carrier around overnight!”    

Good advice to churches also!  You may have a clear vision of the necessary changes needed in your church to become healthy, but it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier; it takes time.  The task of leading a church to where the members are living out biblical values every day is not an easy task.  Leading a church to be healthy will require endless energy and an unrelenting determination to be the church God wants it to be!  The journey is difficult and full of challenges but make no mistake about it, well worth it!

Here are five steps when trying to consider leading in healthy change in your church:

First, you must see the need to change!  There has to be a reality check where hard questions are being asked.  Are we maintaining the programs and machinery of the church or are we seeing people’s lives transformed?  The pain of remaining the same must be greater than the perceived pain of changing.  Some churches prefer the pain of a slow death over revitalizing their church to be what God intended.  You must be willing to pay the price for the necessary change to occur! Winston Churchill said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction!” 

Second, we must know why we are changing!  All churches at some point need a reassessment of who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  You need to realign your values with Christ’s values and make sure you are living out those values every single day.  Because we live in a sinful world we tend to drift from God, not towards Him.  Reassessment can lead to realignment and when churches do realign themselves to God’s mission and purpose for their existence, revival often comes.  Change just for change’s sake is not the right motivation but when our desire is to please Christ He blesses that effort!

Third, begin by building trusting relationships!  Change in churches begins with trust.  Kevin Ford, a church health consultant, in Transforming Church says, “In church after church, I have seen leaders fail because their passion for change far exceeded the trust they had earned.”  Some leaders introduce change too quickly and sacrifice trust while others wait for that magical moment of no resistance and move far too slowly.  Trust is earned by fulfilling the expectations of the church that are realistic and biblical.  It begins by loving them and then over time will allow a leader to move from meeting expectations to challenging them. 

Fourth, change does not happen overnight!  Remember, you are not guiding a jet ski and effective leaders understand that change is usually best introduced incrementally, one step at a time.  You will never remove all stress and conflict but they can be greatly reduced by a careful and prayerful approach.  Some think that all they have to do is come up with the coolest vision statement and core values and the ship will turn.  The reality is that most “vision” statements do not bring about actual change.  Most leaders overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what God can do in five years. 

Fifth, remember that no matter how hard you might try, you will not please everyone!  My favorite story here is of a man going to his pastor and telling him that if Jesus ever saw those drums on the stage He would roll over in His grave.  In an interview on effective leadership Ron Heifitz said, “Many people have a ‘smiley face’ view of what it means to lead.  They get a rude awakening when they find themselves with a leadership opportunity.  Exercising leadership generates resistance—and pain.  People are afraid that they will lose something that’s worthwhile.  They’re afraid that they’re going to have to give up something they’re comfortable with.”

There will always be some resistance to change and that is an indicator that biblical leadership is being exercised.  Churches must make the necessary changes to align themselves with the mission of God!