Rss

Archives for : May2019

Do Not Steal My Glory

Jeff Christopherson in Kingdom Matrix says, “Churches can be reduced to man-centered organizations but the Kingdom of God cannot.  Should a church find itself functioning in the miserable state of pragmatic human-centered strategic planning, it is in exceedingly dangerous territory.”  The extreme example of this is putting into practice whatever works believing that the end justifies the means.  Churches focus on spicing up their messages, speeding up their music, and sprucing up their facilities and many times nothing actually gets any better. 

Paul tells us that one plants, one waters, and that it is God who gives the increase.  Christopherson puts it this way, “Whenever we focus on the goals over the process, we will always be tempted to produce the fruit ourselves,” This leads to a belief that bigger is better and size determines our worth.  The reality is that numbers do not equal gospel influence anymore than attendance to church guarantees spiritual maturity.  Just because you listen to truth it does not mean your values and priorities are being transformed. 

Joshua was a mighty warrior and man of faith.  He challenges the Israelites to decide, once and for all, who they will worship.  In Joshua 24:1-13 he communicates God’s word to them and shares seventeen rapid-fire proclamations.  It begins in verse 3, “But I took your father Abraham from the region beyond the Euphrates River” and ends in verse 13 with “I gave you a land you did not labor for, and cities you did not build.”  God tells these mighty warriors who had conquered this land in verse 12, “It was not by your sword or bow.”

We must be careful to never take credit for what God has and is doing.  Yes, we still must accept our responsibilities and obligations but we should always remember that God will not share His glory with anyone.  When Jeff Christopherson was planting a multiplying church in Toronto one of the things God impressed on their group very clearly was, “Do not steal My Glory!”  Joshua would concur and challenges us to always obey God’s word, to not pursue the gods of this world, and to never give our allegiance to anyone but God.

Planning and strategy are good things but it must be prayerful planning.  Thinking through how we can be more effective and efficient is important but we must remain true to the gospel and the scriptures.  While some will scream loudly that size does not guarantee spiritual maturity it could also be argued that small does not guarantee it either. Jeff makes this clear when he states, “Just because my church claims to be a community of Christ does not automatically mean that it is advancing the cause of Christ.”

New Testament churches have a purpose according to Ephesians 3:10, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church.”  The local church does not so much have a mission for God but rather God has local churches to carry out His mission.  If we are not advancing God’s kingdom then is it possible that we are reducing its impact and influence?  In Revelation 2:5 Jesus says this to the church in Ephesus, “Remember then how far you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first.”  

Daniel Im in No Silver Bullets gives clear and sound biblical direction in developing strategies and systems.  He defines a system as “a group of related parts that move or work together.”  It requires training your members in the areas of assimilation, outreach, and discipleship to name a few.  All of your systems can use prayer planning, strategic thinking, and intentionality.  This is the biblical directive of equipping one another as instructed in Ephesians 4:12, “For the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.”

In the area of discipleship Daniel Im states, “Since the starting point for every church’s vision should be the Great Commission and Commandment, it makes sense to view your discipleship pathway as the strategy that’ll get you to the vision.”  We know that our core identity is that we are His disciples (followers). In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Jonathan Parnell defines a disciple of Jesus as “a worshipper, a servant, and a witness.”  Are you identified as following Christ with precise compliance?”

Being identified as His disciples means that our core mission and objective is making disciples.  Matthew 28 commands us to go and make disciples of all nations. Daniel Im continues, “After all, a discipleship pathway is the intentional route that you have set up in your church to develop and form missionary disciples for Kingdom impact.” Most discipleship is pouring into people already saved, which is good, but it is not making “new” disciples, which is even better.  Evangelism is inviting people to Christ while discipleship is investing in them. 

Your discipleship pathway is what shapes character, transforms hearts, and develops the believer.  Your leadership pipeline is what equips these disciples to live out their calling.  Daniel Im uses a great analogy that helps us picture what this should look like.  “If your church was a car that had to get you to a particular endpoint, which would be the vision, the discipleship pathway would be the fuel, and the leadership pipeline would be the engine.  Both are equally important and have to rely on one another if the car is going to experience any movement.”

Galatians 6:14 says, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.”  Do not steal His glory! 

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!!!