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3 THINGS THAT GET THE CHURCH OFF TRACK

 “What got the church off track then is what still gets the church off track today!”  This is what Darren Patrick shared at the Church Planting Leardership Fellowship.  He stated that through church history (and he gave quite a synopsis) that there have been three common themes that when they arise, churches struggle to be who God meant them to be!  Here are the big three that he shared:

First, there is theological heresy!  There have always been groups of people that have strayed from the fundamental doctrines of God’s word.  II Tim 2:15 is very clear about how we are to study so that we will rightly divide the word of truth.  There is a huge “God-sized” responsibility that comes with the preaching and teaching of God’s word!  Yes, there is no position like that of a preacher and there is great authority but that authority and power can be abused.  The temptation is to not allow the gospel to control but to use position, cohersion, manipulation, and brow-beating.  We must preach the word and trust in its power and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Be careful to stay away from personal preferences and hobby horses that are more extra-biblical than they are scripture.  Let it be, “thus says the Lord!”

Second, there is ecclesiological control!  Ed Stetzer wrote this in a recent article, My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the “called” and the “not so much called.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministry assignment of the laypeople is not to simply “lay” around and tell the called what they should be doing. Laypeople are not to be customers of religious goods and services served by the storekeeper clergy. We are all called although our current assignments may vary dramatically.”  All of us are called to ministry and there is a delicate balance between “obey them that have the rule over you” and “neither as being lords over God’s heritage.”

Third, is exporting of mission!  Many churches have excused their personal involvement in the Great Commission because of the large amounts of money they are giving to missions.  Could it be that this is a part of the consumerism that has permeated our American culture and has even penetrated into mainstream church culture?  Many feel that as long as they are writing checks to missions than their church can focus on them!  Darren said many are naturally wondering, “Where can I go to church and give the least and get the most?”  Because of consumerism many are looking for the church where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.  Remember that every church is responsible for the “ends of the earth” but also for their “Jerusalem!”

It is interesting how even the good things we promote can get out of biblical order.  As you look at church vision statements you see all kinds of cool concepts and neat mottos but there seems to be a lack of evangelistic emphasis.  Recently when helping a church with their core values a good friend asked me why the “going” element of the vision statement was last?  Looking at the Great Commision the “go” comes first and then we are to baptize and teach but in most church vision statements the “teach” element is almost always first. Have we inadvertently flip-flopped the order because we are such an information based culture?

Another example is how we view “making” disciples.  When we hear that we are suppose to be making disciples what do many think that means?  It seems that most think about helping already existing Christians to follow Chrsit better and we should.  The biblical admonition though to “make” disciples is to introduce those who do not follow Him to Jesus Christ.  Discipleship begins by building relationships with the lost who have not as of yet decided to follow Christ.  I love what David Jackson says in his book, Planted, Starting Well, Finishing Strong when talking being effective church planters.. “But I’ll tell you the ‘Miracle Gro’ secret right up front: evangelism!”

David goes on to say this, “Effective church planters and the churches they lead are willing to do new things in ways that are creative and innovative, different from the way the typical established church operates in the Western world today.  They are willing to take chances, to’look different,’ to be ‘edgy,’ etc., not just to attract attention and certainly not to be controversial; they are attempting to gain the attention of those who have not yet heard the Gospel message!”  (Emphasis added)  The question is, “Who are you striving to attract?”  Are we trying to get more Christians?  Is our focus on recruiting more Baptists?  Nothing wrong with that but what about, “Knowing therefore the terror of The Lord, we persuade men!” (II Cor 5:11)

HOW TO HANDLE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

    At a Church Planting Leadership Fellowship (CPLF) in Nashville, TN, I heard it again; “Unrealistic Expectations!”  Several spoke about the difficulty of discouragement when big dreams and visions do not become a reality.  I remember years ago Jeff Swart, now pastor of First Baptist Church Galena, KS, describing two optimists stranded on a deserted island and setting their goal for Sunday School goal at three.  Now that is eternal optimism.

     All of us can struggle with unrealistic expectations.  In our Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) Essentials training landmine #10 is Unrealistic Expectations!  It says, “We try to set goals by the standard of someone else’s church.  Faith can sometimes be confused with presumption or wishful thinking.  A church planter may have such a burning desire for a large, dynamic church that he will imagine that God has granted him certain numerical goals for the start of the new church.”

     Honestly, I can be way too idealistic in my thinking.  I will picture in my mind how something should be and when it happens it is never as I imagined.  That can create some disappointing situations in dealing with the gap between the ideal and reality.  The dictionary describes an idealist as: “a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.”  Idealism is: “the tendency to represent things in their ideal forms, rather than as they are.”  Someone has said, “There can be a fine line between faith and presumption.” 

     DCPI says, “If attendance doesn’t measure up, both the pastor and his people may feel they have failed.  Instead of rejoicing in what God did, Birth Sunday may become a depressing experience.  Planting churches is a lot like raising children.  Every child is unique. Each one has its own growth rate, and every child grows to a different size and shape.  But parents love each one for who they are. Comparison with other children is unwise and unhealthy.  Whether 40 people came, or 400, or 4000, God was worshiped, the Bible was taught, and the love of Christ became real in a new church.  Let God set the expectations: it is His church.”

     There are at least two possible dangers that can come out of unrealistic expectations.  The first is The Copy-Cat Syndrome.  We idealistically think that because it worked for the larger church or the mega church, it has to work for us also.  So often we develop a strategy before we ever get to know the people we are trying to reach.  You must have a great understanding of the heartbeat of the community God has placed you in.  Don’t try to be someone else, be who God called you to be!  Tom Nebel says, “Culture trumps strategy every time!”

     The second possible danger of unrealistic expectations is The Comparison Obsession.  Why are they running 400 and we are only running 40?  Is it good to evaluate to be a stronger and healthier church?  Yes, but it can be unhealthy to always be comparing ourselves to someone else.  In the same way that we are all uniquely created different, every church is unique.  Every church’s leaders are unique and uniquely gifted.  Every assignment God gives us is a unique assignment in a unique location. 

     Unrealistic expectations can undermine what God is doing and cause us to be so goal driven and number conscious that we will never have the joy God intends.  Larry Osborne said this during our CPLF meeting, “Shepherd the sheep you have and don’t just use them to reach the sheep you want.”  Should we have a passion for the lost and pursuing them?  Most definitely, but we also must care for those who God has already connected to our ministries.  It is ok to lean toward being idealistic but you also must have an injection of realism. 

     Here are some realities that are good for every child of God and every one of His churches. 

  • Be real and authentic!  Don’t try to be somebody you are not or think you must be Wal-Mart and provide everything everyone wants.  Love goes a long way!  When you genuinely care about people they can tell and are drawn to that compassion.
  • Be aware of your giftedness!  All of us are uniquely gifted and God has placed gifted people in your churches.  Focus on your strengths and what you do have instead of coveting what others have.
  •  Be flexible!  Things will almost always be different than what you thought.  Know what the essentials are and never change them but be flexible on the non-essentials.  All too often churches are driven more by preferences than they are God’s directives.