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Mythbusters

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!”

In MultiChurchwe learn this about myths.  “Every day we hear platitudes that make promises.  People share common sense wisdom that seems true, but when we push and pull on the idea it doesn’t hold up.  Myths are powerful, controlling ideas that trick us into believing them. They are fascinating . . . and frustrating.  They can also be stubborn.  They grip our hearts and refuse to let go.  One reason for such stubbornness is the powerful influence they exert on our lifestyle, our values, and our dreams.  But as powerful as they seem, in the end myths are not true.”

Myths are described as being very deceptive because they appear to be true and we even act as if they are true but do not forget that they are not true.  Having written on this topic before we have mentioned myths such as thinking that large churches must have compromised the truth.  Size does not dictate or determine how biblically sound a church is.  Some believe that 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 and small does not mean inferior.

 1.  The ideal church has one pastor who knows all the members by name.  There is nothing wrong with this and yes God uses many churches that look exactly like this one we just described.  There is a danger here of stereotyping how a church must look and limiting what God may desire to do in a congregation.  Some seem to be convinced that when a church becomes larger that it guarantees it will be 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.

In the Old Testament Moses was rebuked by his father-in-law for trying to Pastor everyone.  In Exodus 18 Jethro challenged him to establish capable men who would lead multiple congregations among the people of Israel.  They were to divide the people up into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  Then on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts the church in Jerusalem has grown to over 3000.  So in Acts 6 the church chose additional leaders to spread out the responsibility of caring for the congregation.

Remember, it is not the pastor’s responsibility to care for every member but to make sure that every member is cared for.  Do you think that Peter and the other leaders knew every member by name?  Do you think they knew every member personally?  The point is not size and we must be careful of speaking against something that God is not against!  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.

2.  A church cannot grow large and maintain its intimacy and closeness.  The truth is that it can but it does take effort and planning.  The healthiest churches are when every part and every member is functioning properly and working together.  Usually, you can be as connected as you want to be because health is when each body part it participating to accomplish ministry together.  We speak often of the great commandment (Matthew 22:37), and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) but there is also the great charge given by Peter.

I Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” This great charge must be the goal of every church regardless of its size.  The goal is to involve every believer in ministry by using their gifts to serve others.  The truth is that saved people are supposed to serve people.  The natural instinct is to think of first of yourself and to make sure that your needs are being met.  The truth as opposed to the myth is that it has never been and never will be about selfishness but always has been about serving and sacrifice.

3.  Many churches are convinced they must focus on self-preservation.  This one is tricky because there certainly is some truth to this but all too often this begins the journey down an inwardly focused church.  As you begin to focus on your core you begin to ignore outreach and it is as if your church is experiencing hypothermia and all of the blood is flowing to the core of the body.  You limit the flow of blood to the extremities and begin to sacrifice what seems to be unnecessary at the moment.

God’s economy does not work that way.  Instead, Jesus has challenged us to leave the ninety-nine and pursue the one lost lamb.  Your church must resist the temptation for self-preservation.  Jesus modeled this behavior in the garden before He was arrested as He prayed, “Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me.”  Then He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.”  Self-preservation was an option that Jesus refused to take.  He resisted and rejected the natural inclination to focus first and foremost on himself.

Maybe the greatest truth to remember that busts all of the other myths is that your church does not exist for you but instead exists for others!

Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

Innovation and experimentation should not be seen as bad things when we are trying to “Break the Missional Code” of the community we live in and as we are focusing on reaching the people of our city. In I Corinthians 9:23 Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  While an “anything goes” approach is not what we are talking about we must also have a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel.

Tim Keller describes contextualization as “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may or may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”  The importance of a proper exegesis of the word of God is paramount but you should also do the same with the culture.  It will better enable you to understand the people God has called you to reach.

In MultiChurchthe authors say, “While the gospel itself needs and permits no innovation, the means by which it is communicated always demands contextualization.”  They continue with this wisdom, “While contextualization is certainly wrought with difficulties, neglecting contextualization is simply not an option for churches that take the Great Commission seriously.”  Much has been said negatively about contextualization and exegeting the culture but it seems that it has usually surfaced out of a lack of understanding what it actually is and what it is not.

In How to Exegete a CommunityBarry Whitworth says,When exegeting a community you are observing and conversing with the people in their cultural context. Your goal is to form an opinion to whether or not there is an evangelical presence that will foster spiritual transformation in that community…There are four areas to focus on when you are exegeting the community. The social, economic, physical and spiritual climateof the culture will communicate the need for a new church.”  Knowing the uniqueness of any community is a valuable asset in reaching it for Christ.

There are three things you want to focus on in each one of the four areas mentioned.

  1. You want to observe with your eyes.  What do you notice and see about the community that makes is distinctively who it is?
  2. Begin conversations with people and ask them good questions.  What is that you hear that makes them who they are?
  3. Think implementation as you develop a plan of what to do to reach them.  Certainly, they all need the gospel but knowing who they are and their history can enable your message to be communicated more effectively.

Exegesis normally has referred to the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture, but the term has never only referred to the Bible.  It can refer to many types of literature and even to better understanding why an individual acts the way they do.

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

It certainly can and should be used to help us to better understand the culture we live in and how we can more effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ed Stetzer says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Exegeting your culture is learning who lives in your community.  Once you know who they are then you can begin to prayerfully discern how you can best reach them.

You need to ask:

  • Who are the lost people in our community?
  • Where do they live?
  • How can you reach them?

This enables you to go deeper when walking through the community and using your observation skills.  Stetzer goes on to explain, “Good culture, combined with good strategy, is powerful.” I Chronicles 12:32 states that the Issacharites, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

Three key steps to a proper approach of contextualization and exegeting our community:

  1. Make sure you are doing what God wants!
  2. The way He wants it done
  3. At the time He wants it done.

It is a missionary task that is described in the scriptures and seems expected.  We see these principles and strategies in how Peter spoke to the Jewish audience on Pentecost.  We also see it demonstrated by Paul in his approach to the peasants of Lystra, and a totally different strategy with the philosophically sophisticated Athenians.

The Gospel Coalition describes it this way, “The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization.  If we over-contextualize it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture.  This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel.  If we undercontextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub-culture too much.  This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.”  This gives balance by remaining surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, submitted to the authority of God’s word, and sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with a totally pragmatic approach is that biblical success is not doing whatever “works.”  Pragmatism is not a stable foundation for any church.  The reality is that what is currently working successfully changes as the culture changes.  This can render models and approaches ineffective and unsuccessful almost overnight.  This requires that we seek the Lord’s face as we begin to better understand the culture we are in and how we can best reach people for Christ.  That is more important than models or methods and programs or projects.

Be open to innovation and be willing to experiment with different strategies that might open more opportunities to communicate the gospel more clearly.  If all it required was the right formula and packed approach then we would be tempted to applaud our efforts and not be as sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our context and in our culture!  If you would like a more detailed plan on how to exegete your community email me at larry@bmaam.com.

“We would do well to adopt a learning posture for the sake of the harvest!”  Kingdom First -Jeff Christopherson

Systems for Accountability

In the book MultiChurch, the authors speak of the danger of the “Cult of Personality.”  This is really nothing new to the church because Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 1:12, “What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.”  In verse 13 Paul goes further in saying, “Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name?”  There have always been those who have their favorites just as we line up behind certain men today.

In Revelation 1 we have John’s vision of the Lord given to us standing among seven churches.  In His right hand are seven stars, which appear to be the pastors and/or elders of these churches.  The picture here of being in His right hand is not about safety or protection as it often is when the scriptures speak about His hands.  Instead, the picture being described here is one of control. He is the Shepherd of His churches and pastors/elders are the undershepherds.  Paul made this clear by saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

There is a call in the word of God for a balance of leadership required for a church to be healthy but it all begins by everyone surrendering to the authority of the Word of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is ground zero and the foundation for biblical balanced leadership that builds a vibrant alive New Testament church that honors and glorifies Him.  We all seem to be a little edgy and nervous when we discuss and think about church leadership because of the abuses we have seen on both sides.

On one side we have all seen a leader who blatantly abuses the power that they have been trusted with.  Peter addresses this when he says, “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”  Others are nervous because they have seen how a wall of resistance can be built that stifles any initiative and leadership attempts through micromanaging.  Some have referred to this as a paralysis by analysis.  We have tried at our church to call our ministry groups teams instead of committees for this very reason.

Committees quite often sit around talking about what other people should be doing who do not even have a voice in the decision-making.  How crazy is that?  A team focuses on action where everyone on that team has “skin in the game.” Every member of the team is ready for action as they participate in the decision-making and the implementation of the decisions made.  Biblical leadership can be seen with the Lord as the head of the church, pastors/elders leading the congregation, deacons and ministry teams serving, and then the congregation affirming that process.

There will never be a perfect balance of this check and balance system without the Holy Spirit and the pastors remaining in the Lord’s right hand under His control.  All too often we hear people ask, “What would we ever do without our pastor…or our worship leader…or our youth pastor…or…whoever?”  Those are the wrong questions.  The right question should always be, “what would we ever do without Jesus?”  Check out Revelation 3:20 for the answer to that one.  The reality is that God can handle his church without you or me and none of us are indispensible but He is!

In MulitChurch they talk about two dangers involved in the “Cult of Personality.”

  1. Followers have a propensity to elevate a leader. Any position of leadership can encourage and tempt someone to think they are uniquely responsible for the church’s success or for its survival.
  2. Leaders have a propensity to desire to be elevated.  You can see this when you begin to think or even verbalize that you are not sure what the church would do without you.  Hear me well!  God can handle His church without you or me!

Being elevated, whether you want to or not, can be a greenhouse for the cultivation of pride and thinking far higher of ourselves than we should think. Do not forget what Paul said in II Corinthians 12:7, “Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messengerof Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.”  Paul says that God gave him this thorn to keep him humble.  It helped him to remember his dependence on Jesus and gave him a keen awareness of his own weaknesses apart from Christ.

The system necessary to not be bitten by the cult of personality is two-fold.

  1. Stay under the Lord’s authority and refuse to be placed on a pedestal.  It is easy to cultivate an air of arrogance whether your ministry is “successful” or not. When it is going well the temptation is to start listening to the accolades a little too much.  Everyone likes to be encouraged but don’t forget it is God who gives the increase.  Some believe they are not growing because they are the only one preaching the truth and no one can handle the truth.
  2. Make sure that you remain open and transparent to godly counsel.  Remain vulnerable and willing to live in a fish bowl by being open to criticism and critique.  Place people around you that you know love you, desire God’s best for you, and you can trust.  So often a leadership meeting is not so much for control and making the final decision but to have a sounding board.  Build teams that collaborate and think through all of the possible outcomes and allow others to speak into your life on a regular basis.

The authors of MultiChurch, Brad House and Gregg Allison, put it this way, “To the degree that leaders avoid accountability within their own church, people should avoid following their leadership.”  The system of accountability for leadership is to remain humble and accountable!

Personal Growth System

Systems are important because they enable you to sustain the momentum you have built. Dynamic Church Planting International has this to say about the importance of systems, “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry.” In other words, someone has to be in charge and take responsibility for systems to operate effectively.

Whose job is it to make sure you grow personally on a regular basis? Who will make sure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God? The three primary entities responsible for your spiritual growth are the Lord, your church, and you. We know that God will do His part as He promises in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if your church does not have a reproducible process for making disciples you are still responsible.

What system have you placed in your daily rhythm to make sure you are abiding in Christ? There has to be an inner work in your life before there can be an outer work. This is much more than a checklist for your devotional, Bible reading, prayer life, and quiet time. How will you strive to make sure that your spiritual well does not run dry? What will you do experience the abundant life through abiding in Christ constantly? What mechanisms and tools will you use to ensure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God?

Think and ponder how you can incorporate these three elements into your daily life: slowing down, silence, and solitude. These are crucial because all too often we are so busy that we miss what God is saying and doing. It is almost impossible to hear His voice without slowing down long enough to build silence and solitude into our spiritual disciplines. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

It will take discipline and determination to schedule this time into your daily schedule but it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, if you begin to run on empty spiritually usually no one will notice on the outside until a lot of damage has occurred. If you are task and action oriented you will find great satisfaction in all that you are doing but eventually you will burn out if you are not abiding in Christ. Christ desires to first do a work in you so that He can then do a work through you. Are you being refreshed and recharged daily in your time alone with the Lord?

In Psalm 27:4 David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord, and seeking Him in His temple.” His number one goal was seeking the face of the Lord. It was not seeking an answer to a problem, seeking His help in a difficult situation, or seeking a new message to preach on Sunday. It was seeking His presence and He was willing to wait on His presence and power knowing the wait would be well worth it. Are you using silence and solitude to wait on the Lord?

  1. You should understand that waiting on the Lord is a clearly stated and demonstrated biblical theme. Abraham waited twenty-five years for what God had promised. Job waits throughout the book of Job for God to reveal Himself. Moses waited forty years on the backside of the desert before God called Him through the burning bush. Psalm 106:13 says, “They soon forgot His works and would not wait for His counsel.” These disciplines are necessary for us to quietly contemplate God and consider what He is saying and doing.
  2. You must realize that God is not in a hurry nor is He in a rush. The problem lies in us in that we are too busy to really listen. We rush our decisions giving into quick fix solutions that really are not solutions at all. They actually create greater problems because we refused to wait on the Lord. We settle for what is not really God’s plan and turn to our own plans because we were not sure we could trust His any longer. When we get ahead of the Lord we will have to go back and begin all over again seeking His face and desiring Him to guide us.
  3. When you are not sure what to do and His plan is not clear to you the wise thing to do is wait. You might want to ask right now, “How long should I expect to have to wait?” The answer is simply that there is no way of knowing other than seeking Him and waiting on Him. It usually takes longer than we think and longer than we like but the wait will be worth it. If you become impatient and move ahead anyway you will miss the journey of seeking Him, knowing Him, and experiencing His presence and power in your life. Wait on the Lord, and again, I say wait!

The person most responsible for your spiritual walk is you. Hopefully, your greatest desire and motivation is to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We must slow down utilizing silence and solitude into the rhythms of our lives to ensure that we do what God has asked us to do, the way He has asked us to do it, and at the time He asks us according to His timetable. This helps us to make sure that our “being” with God is sufficient to sustain our “doing” for God.