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Pearl Catchers

Sermon-Notes-300x180

 

While attending Oasis Church for several years in North Little Rock (Pastor Todd West) we would always be handed a worship packet as we entered the service. In that packet they included a pen and a sermon notes card. This is a practical help that is wise for all churches to follow. Whenever we approach the Word of God there are at least two very important questions we need to ask: 1. What is God saying to us? 2. What does He want us to do about it? Preaching is vitally important and this tool can help us to implement God’s challenges.

These sermon notes cards still provide instruction and inspiration when they are revisited. There is a proverb that says, “If I hear it, I forget it! If I see it, I remember it! But if I do it, it transforms me.” Take them and organize them in a way that you can easily reference them when looking at that passage again. Wayne Cordeiro puts it this way, “If it is just in your head it is information. If it is in your heart it is inspiration. When it bleeds out of you it is incarnation!” How will that take place if we cannot even remember what God spoke so clearly to us about?

While preaching a series on Kingdom Living, Matthew 13 became a focal point of study. In verses 45-46 it says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.” But in Matthew 7:6 we are told not to “cast your pearls before swine.” Could we be guilty of this when great pearls are being offered in a sermon, lesson, or even our private devotions and we do not take the time to write down what God is saying to us? How important are His pearls to us?

The Air Force Academy did a study on memory from different teaching techniques and discovered that, “We forget 95% of what we only hear in 72 hours!” Auditory learning is where we tell people to “sit still while we instill.” Making a card available to take notes enables people to write down whatever pearls God is giving them during the sermon. Rick Warren has said, “The shortest pencil is always longer that the longest memory.” Challenge yourself and others as they hear the teachings of His word to, “Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:9).

There are multiple learning styles for different people including auditory (hear it), visual (see it), oral (say it), and kinesthetic (do it). Everyone usually has a mix of these but there is normally a dominant style of learning. If your primary learning style is auditory then you love church and always look forward to a good sermon. If you learn better visually then you look forward to the PowerPoint, white board, or some kind of written material. But if you are an oral learner you crave a small group where you can talk about what God is saying and doing in your life.

This is the genius behind encouraging people to write down the pearls God is giving them. Here are a few benefits of providing sermon notes. A special thank you to Rick Warren for some of this content.

First, it increases attention. Your mind will not wander as much because you are listening closer. As you jot down the “pearls” it helps to untangle your thoughts. Sermon notes cards can be seen as “pearl catchers!”

Second, it increases your retention. The more learning styles you incorporate the better chance you have of remembering what God is saying and the more likely you are to follow through on what He is speaking to you about.

Third, it increases your participation. What an encouragement it is to a preacher or teacher to see someone totally engaged with the message. Focused not only on listening but also following through on God’s challenges.

Fourth, it can be reviewed for years to come. You now have notes on that passage of scripture that you can revisit anytime you desire. It is a joy to pull out your sermon notes and to have the Holy Spirit remind you again.

Fifth, it tells God you are interested in His pearls. You have taken another step of commitment to not only be a hearer of the word but a doer also. It is a step of spiritual maturity that recognizes belief and behavior go together.

This is the wisdom of coordinating a church campaign that focuses everyone on one particular study and utilizes all of these learning styles simultaneously.

Hearing is the least effective way to retain something and how can you grow if you cannot remember what was said? Think of the challenge given in James 1:25, “But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works – this person will be blessed in what he does.” God’s challenge to all of us is to “look intently” (study), “persevere” (build habits), “not forgetful” (memorize), and “what he does” (application). We are not blessed by reading and hearing the word of God only, but rather by doing it.

Healthy churches teach their people to take sermon notes and help them to be more attentive to what God is saying and asking them to do. Every sermon and lesson comes down to not only the knowledge of the truth but also the application of that truth into our lives!

The Law of Diminishing Returns

jogging

My youngest son, Benjamin, is a personal trainer and also trains people in CrossFit. Benjamin has been encouraging me to mix up my exercise schedule and not to do the same thing all the time. I sent him a text message and asked if in his training and education did they ever mention or talk about the law of diminishing returns? His response was, “Yes, sir. Kind of like when a person is sedentary and they start running a 12 minute mile three times a week. Initially they will see results but if they continue doing the same thing they will eventually quit seeing progress because you adapt.”

His response made me laugh because he knows I usually run 3-5 miles a day 3-5 times a week and pretty much at the same pace. He went on to say, “They will either have to run farther or faster to keep seeing results.” I texted him back, “Thanks! That helps me! You had to pick running, didn’t you?” He replied, “You have to know your audience!” This universal general law states the reality that the more you do the same thing over and over the less you will get the benefits from it. While it primarily has been associated with economics it can apply to several different areas of our lives.

When a person diets they can initially see incredible results the first week in losing up to ten pounds. Then the second and third weeks they may still lose 1-3 pounds but by week four they lose nothing. They are following the same diet faithfully and did not cheat even once. With the results beginning to diminish this is where they may choose to give up on the diet figuring it just isn’t worth the sacrifices they are making. Your body adapts and teaches itself to live on less and can even go into a starvation mode where it burns more muscle than fat, which is not good.

Churches need to make sure that they are not guilty of ignoring the law of diminishing returns. There are many areas where if a church is not careful it can put a lot of energy and effort into ministries, programs, and methods that continue to become less and less effective. Here are a couple of things to consider:

first, traditions can produce diminishing returns! There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions but unfortunately they can begin to take precedence over the Word of God. The mantra can be heard loud and clear, “We have always done it that way!” Traditions can become counterproductive when all they do is perpetuate the past in a way that places God’s will as secondary. There are many tools and aides available to us today that were not available to us just 10 years ago.

One example would be power point with video projectors and screens. While some may still not see their usefulness, we must remember that the worst way for learning to occur is by only hearing it but, when we also see it, we are much more likely to remember it. An old proverb says, “If I hear it I will forget it. If I see it I will remember it. If I do it then it will transform my life.” There are many new innovations and creative ideas that could help us in spreading the gospel more effectively and isn’t that the main objective anyway?

Second, buildings can produce diminishing returns! Okay, let me say it loud and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions and there is nothing inherently wrong with buildings! For years, many have said that the church is not brick and mortar but it seems like we really don’t believe it by where we put all of our time, effort, and money for a space used 2-3 times a week. The goal is not to build buildings but to build people and equip them to become more and more like Christ! Helping people who are non-believers to become new believers, maturing believers, mature believers, and then reproducing believers.

We need to change what we measure. Instead of measuring seating capacity we need to measure sending capacity. The church’s mission is to have an intentional spiritual growth process that moves people from being attenders to an army on assignment for their King. You don’t judge an army’s effectiveness by how well they do in the mess hall but, rather, how they do on the front lines of battle. Rick Warren says it well, “There is no biblical correlation between the size of a church and the strength of a church.

Third, music can produce diminishing returns! If you are looking for me to run down hymns or to promote a particular style you will be disappointed. If my personal musical preferences were followed the church services would sound way too much like the Beach Boys. The reality is that no one’s personal preferences should stand in the way of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go to church in Africa, Pakistan, or with Romanian Gypsies, and the music sounds distinctively different.

Here are a couple of things I would ask you to consider. Do songs have to be 100-200 years old to qualify as good Christian music? Are we not seeing good Christian songs being written today by very gifted and spiritual people? How do we determine what is “good” Christian music? Oh, let me answer this last one by saying that what “I” or “you” usually like determines it. Actually, you are hard pressed to find a description of “Christian” music in the scriptures but there are certainly Christian scriptural words!

Healthy churches are constantly evaluating not only what they do but also why they do it! Maybe it is time to take an honest look at things that worked great in the past but are not working anymore. Maybe now is a good time to ask what is keeping your church from being the church Christ wants it to be.

Bigger Does Not Mean Better

Kingdom Purpose

Interestingly enough, researches tell us that half of all churches average 100 or less in Sunday morning attendance. If you average 300 or more then you are in the top 5% of all churches in North America. We have become enamored with thinking that bigger is always better and that is not always the case. In listening to Rick Warren’s latest Purpose Driven Church training he reminds us that, “Bigger is not necessarily better. Better is better!” Better should equal healthy, biblical, and faithfulness to the vision God has given your church!

Is there any correlation between size and strength? Once again, Warren challenges us to realize that there is no correlation between the two. A large church can be very wide but not very deep. It can be focused on the wrong values and be more about the show and numbers. But let’s be cautious about automatically assuming that if a church is large they must be compromising the truth and they certainly must be “a mile wide and an inch deep!” There are large churches, mega-churches, that are preaching the truth and are actively leading their people into an intimate discipleship with Christ.

We know that large churches are not necessarily healthy but neither is a small church. Some people readily admit that they love attending a small church – but why is that? Do they love it being small for the right reasons? Just because a church is small does not mean that it is unhealthy. There are many small churches reaching lost people with the gospel, discipling their people, and making an impact in global missions. Someone has said it well, “Don’t judge the size of the dog in the fight but judge the size of fight in the dog!”

When we think about any church we must think about it fulfilling its purpose. What does God want every one of His churches to accomplish for Him? Warren goes on to say, “If your church will make a great commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment then you will be a church with a Great Purpose!” When you look at the Great Commission and the Great Commandment there are five verbs that stress what every church’s purpose is as they pursue glorifying God. Whether a church is big or small these verbs ought to direct the actions of the congregation.

First, Go Make! This is evangelism and every church is to be salt and light. We must have contact with those who are far from God so that we might share the gospel with them. We are called to be His witnesses. Who are you actively building a relationship with so that they may see and know the love of God? Who are you praying for daily so that God the Holy Spirit will convict them and make them aware of their need of a savior?

Second, Baptize them! Next, we are to be actively working on our fellowship with other believers. The church is to be known by the love we have for one another and how we care for one another. We take care of each other and we make sure that others realize they are not in this alone. One benefit of being connected to a small group, Sunday School class, or Bible study is that they can be the “first responders” to those in their group when they need extra attention.

Third, Teach Them! Now we get into discipleship and developing a process that encourages every believer to grow into maturity with Christ. What are those next steps in your church’s discipleship process? Hal Seed uses the analogy of the Sower and the Soil. The next steps are described as Dirt, Root, Trunk, Branch, and Fruit. It is moving disciples from babes in Christ, to maturing in Christ, to mature in Christ, and then reproducing more disciples!

Fourth, Love God! We are to focus on worship! We place Him first because it is all about Him. We have been instructed by our Lord to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Anything or anyone that we love more than God becomes an idol. God will not allow us to have any other gods before Him. He must have the preeminence in our lives and rightly placed on the throne in every area of our lives.

Fifth, Love Your Neighbor! This is demonstrated in the way we minister and serve others. How will you demonstrate the love of God daily in a practical way? We have the opportunity to allow our lights to shine through our good works so they might glorify our Father. This can be done through servant evangelism, random acts of kindness, and figuring out how we can bless those who are far from God.

We are reminded by Rick Warren that these five purposes are modeled in Acts 2, prayed for by Jesus in John 17, and explained by Paul in Ephesians 4. Church health can be seen in the importance of these five purposes. We grow stronger through worship! (This is “loving Christ.”) We grow warmer through fellowship! (This is “Belonging to Christ’s Body” – a church.) We grow deeper through discipleship! (This is “growing in Christ.”) We grow broader through ministry! (This is “serving Christ.”) Also, we grow larger through evangelism! (This is “sharing Christ.”)

These five purposes should “drive” the vision and mission of a church. How well are you loving Christ and worshiping Him? How well are you loving one another and caring for one another? How well are you making disciples who make disciples that make disciples? How well are you serving others and serving the city where you minister? How well are you as a congregation sharing the gospel with those who are in your circles of influence? Begin making intentional plans to fulfill these five purposes.

Healthy churches are driven by these biblical purposes!

CENTRIPETAL VS CENTRIFUGAL

Centripetal vs Centrifigal

 

The message of Acts 1:8 is clear, but sometimes we do not grasp the full magnitude of the moment in which it was delivered. The disciples certainly appeared to be very hopeful that maybe this was the time for the Kingdom to be ushered in triumphantly. Then, instead of that occurring, Jesus ascends back to heaven and they are given their marching orders. We “get it” to a degree but look a little deeper and think about the seismic shift that the great commission asked them to make in their focus.

All through the Old Testament the people of God focused on the city of God, Jerusalem. They travelled there for the festivals and this great city was where their king sat upon the throne. The temple was built there and the Ark of the Covenant rested there. It almost appears to be a huge magnet that draws everyone’s attention, time, and worship. Even the woman at the well said, “Yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” It was the center of Old Testament worship, sacrifice, and service to God.

Now, in Acts 1:8, Jesus is instructing them to go out of this one city, Jerusalem, and go into all the cities of the world with the gospel. This major shift of focus and energy was to be embraced by all of the disciples present that day, all of His followers through the centuries, and all of His disciples today. Each and every church does not have a mission as much as the mission of God has churches to carry out that mission. Luke 19:13 makes this clear, “Engage in business until I come back.”

The centrifugal mission of taking His kingdom message to every city was replacing the centripetal mission of bringing outsiders into an earthly city. Centripetal force pulls everything to the center and creates a momentum (think black hole) that constrains anything from moving outward. This helps us to better understand this question; “Is your church more inwardly focused than outwardly focused?” In Subversive Kingdom, Ed Stetzer says, “Spiritual growth and maturity should not lead us away from contact with unbelievers but rather right into the midst of them.”

A great exercise for your church would be to make two lists. The first list is where you should write down every ministry that is focused on people already in the church. The second list is where you then write down every ministry focused on who is not in church. You may be shocked to find out that quite often 90-95% of all church ministries are focused on who is already there. How could you shift the focus outward? How could you better challenge and train your people to live focused on those far from God?

Centrifugal force creates a momentum moving and directing everything outward from the center. It is the exact opposite from centripetal force but both can be of equal power. Every church must ask themselves which force is the primary focus of their ministry and how that reality aligns itself with the scriptures? In 7 Steps to Transform Your Church, Bill Hull says, “The traditional church is talking out of both sides of its mouth, giving a hearty ‘amen’ to the Great Commission and an entrenched ‘no’ to the changes required.”

We are kingdom soldiers who are establishing kingdom outposts behind enemy lines. The reality is that we cannot reduce the mission of God down to attending services, Bible studies, and enjoying each other’s fellowship. The scriptures remind us repeatedly that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission by getting together a couple of times a week, teaching our best Bible studies, singing our best songs, and preaching our best sermons. These are all vitally important and valuable but they are to ground us in our mission and focus us on sending capacity not seating capacity.

Ed Stetzer in Subversive Kingdom also says, “We’re not just opening the doors and hoping for a good turnout. We’re opening our lives to show off the glory of our Savior by the way we live together, serve together, and reach out in Jesus’ name together.” The kingdom of God is compared to yeast, which means we have to “mix it up” to be effective. We are also told to be salt, which requires contact with world for us to have an impact in their lives. We are also to be a light unto the world and light streaks away and shines everywhere in every situation.

In Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount we are admonished by Jesus several times that “You have heard said but I say unto you….” One of those examples of having a kingdom impact is in verse 41, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” While there is much to say about the context of this passage, one truth is clear, we need to be willing to go do more, sacrifice more, and give more as we represent our king. One truth though is that if we willing to go the extra mile that gives us more time to tell the one we are traveling with about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Healthy churches work diligently and intentionally at moving away from centripetal force to being a centrifugal force church. The healthiest churches take Luke 15 seriously where it speaks about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Healthy churches are focused on the core, the crowd, but also the community. Our church strives to express it this way, “We desire to be centered on God, committed to one another, and concerned about our community. We must resist the temptation to be focused on the first two while neglecting the third.”

In UTurn Church Kevin G. Harney says, “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.”