behindt-he-cross

Fastest Growing Churches Have Modern Worship & Teach Literal Bible Interpretation

That’s the headline from the Christian Post that popped up in my Facebook feed recently.  This article was quoting a study of North American, denominational, Protestant churches.  The study compared growing and declining churches and concluded that “Theology Matters.”

One pastor interviewed about the study* stated that

“I think the wisdom of that study is the two parts. There does need to be a modern sense of an expression of the faith while at the same time a conservative, Orthodox view of Christianity,”.

What is an Orthodox view of Christianity?

  • Over 93% of those leading growing churches believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. Compared to only 56% of those in the study leading declining churches.
  • 100% of those leading growing churches believe God does miracles in response to prayer where only 44% of those in the study leading declining churches.

Here’s a crazy side note: 80% of the congregants surveyed from declining churches believe God answers prayers with miracles so maybe they just need better leaders. It seems to me that as a person who believes in the literal resurrection and that God still does miracles when we pray, if my pastor didn’t, I would leave that church.  Maybe that’s why they are declining…hmmm.

This study teaches us three things if we want our church to grow.

1.    Modern Matters. People prefer modern style worship services.

2.    Theology Matters. People want churches to believe in literal interpretation of the Bible.

3.    Evangelism Matters. Growing churches evangelize.

Every church leader surveyed from growing churches believed that it was ‘very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians.’ Only half of those in declining churches felt the same way.  If you don’t believe the Great Commission to go and make disciples is ‘very important’ then you’ll probably be leading a declining church.

For more on personal evangelism see Your Story Matters.

If you lead a church where your theology is sound but you still find yourself stagnant of declining. I can help.  A great first step would be to Come to the Maximizing Easter seminar.

The Maximizing Easter seminar will give you the tools to unlock your church’s growth potential. Potential that is there each Easter, but is untapped by stagnant or declining churches.

I am hosting this seminar, near Albany, NY with church growth expert Nelson Searcy, who has helped hundreds of churches grow.

What have you got to lose by checking it out? Go to: https://churchleaderinsights.com/maxeaster/albany/  to learn about unlocking your church’s growth potential this Easter.

 

PS: You’re not a church leader?  Send this blog to your pastor!  I want to help your church and your pastor.

 

 

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*Read the whole study at http://www.christianpost.com/news/fastest-growing-churches-have-modern-worship-teach-literal-interpretation-of-the-bible-study-171607

Captain America HOPE BACKDROP

Hope for This Election

MAX LUCADO, pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas said this:

We are really ready for this presidential election to be over. We’re ready for an end to the rancor and tackiness. Voters on both sides feel frustrated, even embarrassed by it all. There is a visceral fear, an angst about the result. What if so and so wins? When we wake up to Nov. 9, post-election, when the confetti is swept away and the election is finally over, what will we see?

I have a prediction. I know exactly what Nov. 9 will bring: another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has his providence depended on a king, president or ruler. And it won’t on Nov. 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Prov. 21:1).

Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands, we bend our knees and we select prayer over despair.

I couldn’t agree more Max.

Christians shouldn’t panic. We should vote, participate, demonstrate, boycott, protest, whatever legal political activities we wish to take.  However, we must not panic because God is in charge.

Having said that, here some things we should remember…

Never compromise your Christianity over politics.

Never, never, never give up influence unnecessarily. Never jeopardize a relationship, especially over politics.  Allow people to disagree and still be your friends.  Don’t sin by slandering political leaders, calling people names, swearing or losing your temper.  Keep your behavior consistent with a manner that would please God.

We will be disappointed but don’t sit this one out.

I have no idea who will win the election. But I know this: no matter who you vote for, you will be disappointed.

Think of some of these things: Benghazi, Locker room talk, missing emails, tax return, bullying…scandal.  Whether you walk behind a donkey or an elephant, you’re going to step into some unpleasant stuff.

If your candidate loses, you’ll be disappointed after Election Day. If yours wins, you’ll be disappointed after Inauguration Day.

We must vote because Evangelical Christians are the most important voting block in America.

John 8:32 – “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – vote truth.

Truth is not objective, it’s absolute. 3+3=6 no matter how we feel about it.  Gravity is absolute.  You can sincerely not believe in gravity but when you jump, you will still hit the ground.  Truth is not subjective, it’s not personal.  Truth does not come from within but outside ourselves. God is truth and the author of truth.

There are a few moral issues we as Christians should agree upon as moral truths. The right to life. I can’t believe we have to discuss a person’s right to exist but the right to life is a moral absolute.  The definition of marriage.  One man, one woman in a monogamous relationship.  This is defined by scripture.  Please consider these truths as you vote.

A side note about Intolerance:

Let me say something about being a loving church that shows God’s love to ALL people.  In America today, we have elevated tolerance to be an absolute truth. Tolerance today says we must accept people’s beliefs as truth.  If I disagree with something that’s actually isn’t true, but based upon another person’s feelings, somehow that’s intolerant.

Love says we treat ALL people with respect…not mocking, not judging but truly loving people who are actively sinning.  Love also tells the truth. If I see you using heroin, I will tell you that going to hurt you and offer to take you to a rehab. That’s not intolerance or hatred.

Our Hope is in Jesus

No candidate can fulfill all the hopes and dreams we have for our nation.

So, yes, we need to vote. Vote wisely and prayerfully. But don’t put your hope there. Don’t put our hope in a candidate, a party or even a system.  Put your hope in Jesus. You’ll never be disappointed that way.

Neither this election nor any election, neither Trump nor Clinton, will encourage my hope or discourage my hope in the Sovereign King and His Kingdom. I will go to bed the night of the election and I will wake up the day after the election with the same hope: that Jesus was crucified, was buried, was raised and ascended to the right side of the Father, from where he rules all creation. My hope is in him and in his rule, not in any human government or ruler.

 

Don’t know who to vote for?  Last election I wrote in Lon Dean.

How YOU can make sure Guests do NOT come back

Subtitle: how to turn guests in to one-time visitors

In our church we call new people guests not visitors.  To understand the difference, think of your home. A visitor shows up unexpectedly, uninvited and doesn’t stay usually.  A guest you’ve invited, you expected them, you’re glad to see them and you want them to stay.  You want guests to enjoy themselves and feel welcome.

We prepare at House of Praise for guests.  We’re glad they came, we’ve invited them and we want them to feel so welcomed that they want to join the family.

If you want visitors to just visit and leave, here’s what you do as a church member:

  1. Don’t talk to them.  (Remember it’s US and THEM) Look at them awkwardly and quickly walk away. Only talk to people you already know and most importantly, don’t welcome them.
  2. If you see someone who hasn’t been to church in a while (A Creaster- Christmas and Easter only) point that our to make them feel awkward.  Say “Wow haven’t seen you for a while.” Or even better, “We’d like to see you on more than Easter and Christmas.”
  3. You wouldn’t think this matters but it does.  Make sure we all dress in suits and expensive clothes so guests feel under dressed.
  4. Don’t help guests find their way around. (Think “It’s not my job.”)  If they do dare to ask where something is, just point in the general direction and say, “that way.” Or something so complicated “Louis & Clark couldn’t find it such as,  “Our kid’s ministry is out those back doors, to the left, then another left turn, down a hallway, then turn right, go outside into the other building.”
  5. Mistreat their kids.  Yell at the guest’s kids for something kids normally do like running or taking a 2nd cookie.  If you’re volunteering make check in a long and painful process. Help make the kid’s areas dirty, cluttered, & poorly with extras from the Walking Dead at the door. If a baby cries in maim service, immediately kick the family out of the sanctuary.  They won’t be back!
  6. Keep tension in the air.  Argue or speak rudely to someone in front of the guest. They won’t know it’s your friend you’ve been feuding with all week.  They’ll think we all treat everyone like that.
  7. Above all, Don’t invite guests back.  Don’t speak to them as they leave and don’t follow up on them later in the week to see what they thought

If you will do these simple steps it will keep your church from being filled with new people.  More people will give up on church so their lives won’t improve and yes more people will probably also give up on God and go to hell BUT you can keep your church a comfortable size where you know everyone.

Of course, if that’s not important to you…in our church we treat new people like honored guests.  We include them in conversations,  walk them to where they go, make sure their kids love it, let them know there are NoPerfectPeopleHERE, tell them we are glad they are here and invite them back.  If they’re our friends we may even call them next week to see how they’re doing. Why? Because we genuinely care about them improving their lives and their eternity.

Beyond Redemption

A few weeks ago I preached a message on how the church should treat gay people.  I called it Out of the Closet and Into the Church. (http://sc.fhview.com/sc_customplayer/seriesitems/1/118751) The goal of this message was for the church to examine our attitudes towards this particular people group.  After the message an elderly woman approached me.  She was wearing oxygen and walking with a walker.  I must admit I thought, “Here we go.”  I expected her to rebuke me for not condemning homosexuality during the sermon.  Much to my surprise she asked a simple question…

“What about murderers?” she inquired.

There was an unexpected brightness in her eyes, a curiosity and vigor for life one wouldn’t expect given her frail frame.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  Really it wasn’t that I didn’t hear her, I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts.  I was prepared for an onslaught of fire and brimstone senior saints, not an inquisitive truth seeker.

After all, I had just preached the most controversial sermon of my career.  I opened with “If you came here expecting me to condemn homosexuality today, you will be disappointed.” I chastised the church asking why we celebrated a straight couple who was sexually active, even living together, coming to church. We allowed them time for God to work on them without judgment but let a gay couple walk in holding hands…whoooo.  They weren’t welcome.  I did my best Jesus imitation calling us hypocrites.  The church just nodded.  I the weeks to follow, not one letter or disagreement.  I’m so proud of our local church and their Christ-like love.

Anyways, here I was after that sermon, expecting a fight, instead facing a sweet senior saint who still wanted to grow and learn in her last years on this earth.  Humbling.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  “Murderers.” She repeated more forcefully. “They are much harder to love and accept than homosexuals. What about murderers? Can they be forgiven and go to heaven?”

I explained that the Apostle Paul helped to kill early Christians before his conversion and that god didn’t just forgive Paul but wrote 2/3 of the New Testament through his hands.  I excitedly told her that Michael Franzese was coming to answer that very question.  To tell her how a Mafia Boss, a murderer, can be forgiven…and that no one is beyond redemption.

Three weeks later, my eyes lighted upon a pair of bright, excited eyes in a back section of a packed sanctuary. She was back to hear the former Mob Boss’ story of redemption. She smiled at me as she pointed to a row full of her family.  Full of confidence in God’s love for all sinners, she had brought her family to hear that there is no one beyond redemption.

Lent and Self Examination

I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent growing up.  I would give up candy, not eat meat on Fridays etc. While I know longer participate in the ritualistic practices of Lent, I appreciate the idea behind the Catholic Sacrament that takes place during the season. Abstaining from certain pleasures and foods for the purpose of getting closer to God is a biblical practice I often do called fasting & prayer. In the Catholic Sacrament of Lent, they also set aside time for mourning ones sin.  I’m not advocating that part because we don’t need to mourn sin that God has forgiven. If we’ve repented we’re clean (1 John 1:9).

There is Biblical reference for Lent, I do however think the practice of examining our lives and praying with fasting during the days prior to Easter is a good habit to get into.

We are fasting and praying for people to accept God’s gift of salvation this Easter.  Our church is fasting and gathering the Wednesday before Easter to pray together. I cancelled our satellite TV subscription for a while to spend more time reading and praying.  (Extra bonus, the kids are actually playing outside.  No joke, really, it’s true.)

I encourage you to turn of the T.V., skip a meal and pray more between now and Easter.  You may find yourself ‘mourning’ for  someone who hasn’t yet accepted God’s grace or maybe even ‘mourning’ and repenting a sin in your own life you didn’t even know was there.  I know I will.

Enduring Excellence

Excellence isn’t really excellence unless it endures until the end.  Think about it.  I can be the fastest guy off the blocks in a race, clear the first few hurdles with ease but if I trip over the last hurdle or slow down before the finish line and other runners pass me, was it an excellent race?  Of course it wasn’t.  To be truly excellent at anything we must finish as strong as we begin.

Paul said this near the end of his life:

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The prize that awaits is worth running this race with excellence, but how do we do that?

Begin with Duplication and Delegation

Exodus 18:13-26 – Moses & Jethro

Jethro decides to check on his son-in-law Moses and see how his life as a leader is going.  He sees Moses handling every minor dispute that arises for a whole nation!  He tells him this isn’t good. You won’t have enduring excellence, you’ll wear out!  He instructs Moses on duplication and delegation.

Moses you teach the people and delegate the smaller decision to faithful, honest people. Then delegate the authority to make decisions.  Leaders make mistakes by delegating tasks and not authority because of fear or control issues. Moses sets up leaders over 1,ooo; 100, 50, and 10.  Each according to their ability.

There were good people standing around Moses all day learning by watching him make decisions.  they just needed a change to be able to help.  Duplicate yourself in faithful, honest people then give them a chance.  The help you need is already around you, waiting.

Jesus went beyond Delegation to Discipleship

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” – Matthew 4:19

Jesus kicked it up a notch by saying in effect, I’ll mentor you.  I’ll teach you how to do what I do.  Jesus fed 5,000 but He duplicated Himself in 11 men and then He delegated the care of the Kingdom of God on this earth to them!

If Jesus can trust the care of His word and the eternal destiny of billions of souls to some uneducated fishermen, don’t you think you can delegate some task to those you are training?  Of course they will make mistakes, after all that’s how you learned.

If the people around you are willing to follow you, put your DNA into them and turn them loose!  After 3 years of discipling thieves, liars, uneducated fisherman and trouble makers Jesus was frustrated too.  He asked how long He had to put up with them and why they had such little faith but He entrusted His ministry to them.  Wow. Don’t make those you disciple wait until their perfect before you trust them because they never will be.

What’s this have to do with enduring excellence?  Jesus did the work better than His disciples. You can always do it better yourself. However, Jesus understood that excellence would come from the disciples eventually.  More importantly He knew that enduring excellence means building something that lasts beyond yourself. How long will the excellence you strive for today last?  Until you get tired? Even if it’s until you die, it’s not truly enduring.

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

I walk into an unusually tidy bedroom to see one of my daughters.  “Wow, you’re room looks great.” I commented surprisingly.  She explained that mom had said she couldn’t leave her room until it was clean.  “How long have you been up here working?” I inquired.  “Oh, not long.” she replied.  The Sherlock Holmes in me became instantly interested.  “Not long” I thought.  “Not long!  I’ve seen this room.” I investigated the closet.  The door was pushed out off the track and it was nearly impossible to open, even for me.  I then noticed several items of close and toys protruding from under her bed.  You know what happened next. I proceeded to explain that stuffing piles into the closet and under the bed wasn’t what her mother had in mind when she used the word ‘cleaning’.  Over the whines and objections I calmly and loving instructed about doing your best, doing things with excellence.  I don’t think she got it but neither did I, the first hundred times my mom explained it to me.  “Sometimes you do the right thing just because it’s the right thing.” my mother with exclaim in response to my “But Whyyyyyyyy?”

Doing things with excellence is an attitude.  It’s about personal pride in a job well done.  It’s about knowing you answer to a higher standard than most. “I don’t care what others kids do…” my mom would teach, “we don’t behave that way.”

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Colossians 3:23

When you’re on your job, in you school, or serving at church.  Do you best because you are working for God and because it’s the right thing.

My daughter can’t clean her room as well as adult and we don’t expect her to.  We do however, expect her to give her best effort. God doesn’t say we have to BE the best; we just have to give God our best.  He’ll make up the lack to multiply it.  After all, He’s never been impressed with our ability, but He is keenly concerned about our attitude.

This Sunday at House of Praise, (www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com) we’ll look at Giving God Your Best.  I hope to see you there.

 

Some new things to learn from the Christmas Story

Most of us know the Christmas story. However, a couple new things stuck out to me when reading the Christmas story this year:

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. – Luke 2:16-18; 20

Most people talk about the worship aspect, how the shepherds were low on the socio-economic ladder, or even how there was no room at the inn, but how many of us focus on what the shepherd did AFTER meeting Jesus?

First, the shepherds told everyone what they had experienced.  Don’t skim over that.  Hearing the good news and seeing the Savior caused them to share their experience with others.  One thing we should learn from the Christmas story is those that hear the good news of the Messiah and meet Him should tell everyone they know.  Some will reject the message but some will be astonished and seek Him for themselves.

The second thing, that is a very simple truth yet may be profound, is the shepherds went back to their flocks.  This statement by itself it seems so unimportant.  No one would make it their memory verse yet there is a profound truth here hidden in the mundane.  God has already placed you in your mission field.

Many people want to be in “full-time ministry” but the truth is you already are.  The shepherds, were shepherds.  They went back to their jobs and we may infer, continued to tell everyone they met about Jesus.  The Metalsmith who made their shears would hear, the other shepherds they would pass in the fields also.  Maybe the farmers whose lands they would buy water rights from would end up seeking the Savior or the tent maker’s wife would hear the good news.  The point is this, they went back to their simple lives and brought the wonder of that first Christmas with them.

We need to do the same.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 20: A Risk-Taking Church

We heard a challenging word from Pastor Matthew Barnett this morning.  He spoke one becoming a Risk-Taking Church.  I found that amusing since I had written on taking risks that morning.  Today’s blog is based off the notes I took during that sermon.

Churches start out as Risk-Taking Churches.  The word to describe them would be DARING.  We’ve heard the stories. They left the comfort of jobs, friends, and families to run after a dream God gave them.  The focus is vision or calling.

Matthew Barnett did that.  He left one of the largest churches in America that his father led in Arizona to start the Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. He was 20 years old and had 7 people with them.  Then when they were still small but growing, they purchased a 4 million dollar hospital when their weekly income was $1,500.
Everyone told him it was foolish.

There will always be well-intentioned people telling you why you can’t do what God has told you to do during the daring phase.

Then the church gets buildings, salaries…there is more to lose.  This the Care-Taking Church.  The word that best describes this is the word DUTY.   This church focuses on maintaining property and programs.  They care most about meting the needs of its members. The problem is if you’re not going forward in God you are in fact backsliding.  You can’t maintain.

The Care-Taking Church becomes the Under-Taking Church.  It becomes a dying memorial to what God had done.  They talk more about what God did in the past than what He has called us to do in the future. They study history and work to amass the knowledge of scripture. The word that best describes this is the word DEAD.

Here’s what will blow your mind.  The Under-Taking Church isn’t always a dead church meaning; no miracles, no presence of God.  Under-Taking is a death of vision a death of the Great Commission.  Sometimes this church focuses on the ‘next experience’ with God but the gift is emphasized over the giver.  It’s not about what God wants us to do when we leave His presence but simply the next experience I can have personally.

Reading Hebrews chapter 11 we see the ‘Heroes of Faith’, God’s Hall of Fame.  They were all Risk-Takers!  Noah had no support when he responded to God’s word.  Noone believed He had heard God.

You can’t walk by faith and walk safe.

“How to” becomes the question of safe walkers, trying to manage miracles.  You can’t manage miracles.  You leap into the unknown and pray God catches you.

Jesus risked the salvation of all mankind on 12 fearful, dysfunctional, difficult underachievers and one of them was a traitor!  That’s taking a risk.  What if they didn’t do what they were called to do?

Our problem is that we want security more than glory.  You can never be great without taking a risk.

In closing let me say this, failing to take a risk is a sin.  If we care more about our image than advancing the Kingdom of God, it’s a sin.  God’s plan for you is bigger than your potential!  God’s vision for our church is greater than we can even comprehend.  We certainly can’t make it happen without Him.  Give God the chance to do great things through you.

Don’t be afraid to go where God has already gone.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Help me to fear missing your destiny more than what others will think if I fail.  I choose to take a leap of faith rather than playing it safe.

Thoughts

  • Is our church playing it safe or taking a risk?
  • How can I support my friends in their Risk-Taking adventures?

Action

  • Take a risk by praying for a stranger who need a miracle.
  • Start a ministry for God that needs His supernatural touch to succeed.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 18: 30 Days to Glorify God

Bill Morgan gives us a glimpse of what he’ll be teaching this Sunday.

Isaiah 43:7 – Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory.

When one is facing the end of their life their entire perspective changes. One of the questions that comes up is “Did my life count?” For those of us who know Christ, given 30 Days to Live we can make our life count.

First we must recognize that God makes it simple. It is man who complicates the gospel for his own gain. The prophet Isaiah spoke the words of God plainly, “I have made them for my Glory.” Who is the “them” in this verse it’s those who “Claim Jesus as their God”. I have asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and I “Claim” Jesus as my God therefore I was made for God’s Glory.  If I was made for His glory then how do I give glory to God?

There are many answers to that question, many ways to glorify God. Anything that I do to further, promote, or expand the Kingdom of God brings Glory to God. When I read the bible and begin to change my thinking into the thinking of God, I give God Glory. When I love like 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, I give God Glory. When I feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give a cup of water in Jesus name, I give God glory. I know understand that the list is endless.

If I were to sum it up it would be this;

Matthew 6:33 – But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

If the question is, “Did my life count?” I could say, “Yes it did.” Why? Because I talked to someone about Christ and I lifted up a brother in need. I helped the poor whenever I could.

In the Song of Solomon it says, “Catch us the little foxes who spoil the young buds on the vine”. The buds become flowers and the flowers become the fruit of the vine. It’s not the big things that spoil the entire vineyard; it’s the small things. Likewise, Jesus says that if we are faithful in the small things we are worthy of bigger things. Giving God glory is not about the big things it’s about the little things. Offering to pray with someone who is down, inviting someone to church and even simply stopping in the middle of your day and thanking Jesus for being a part of your life. All of this brings glory to Him who made you.

When we give God Glory we are fulfilling the purpose of why we are here, we are making our life count.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, show me how to glorify you today.  Make me aware of the opportunities I pass by daily unaware.  I want to glorify you in every way.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do to bring glory to God yesterday?
  • Do I put God’s Kingdom first?

Action List

  • Ask one person if you can pray for them today.

Trust is Earned

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I have heard people say, “Trust is earned.” or “A person must show themselves to BE trustworthy before I’ll trust them.”  I want to ask a question…Has the Jesus done enough to earn our trust?

King David proclaimed God’s trustworthiness by attaching it to God’s character.

All He does is just and good, and all His commandments are trustworthy. – Psalm 111:7

If God is just and good then all He asks us to do must be just and good.  Therefore, we can trust what He says. The commandments He gives us in scripture are worthy of us trusting and building our lives on.

What are you building your life on?

I want to encourage you today, trust the Lord.  Trust Him with your hopes, your dreams, your future.  Trust Him with you relationships, your career, your present situations.  Trust Him with your past, your hurts, your disappointments,  your failures, your betrayals, your sins.

What part of your life have you not given to Him?

The Next Level, What Got You This Far Won’t Get You There!

Many people talk about “getting to the next level”.  We here is in business, from financial gurus, from relationship advisors and in our churches.  This year we’re going to a ‘Hole ‘Nother Level! (HNL) Have you ever wondered how?

Most people don’t enjoy change but the stark reality is that we can’t get to a HNL by doing the same things we did to get to this level.  I’m a big fan of consistency and realize that many things may be accomplished simply by not quitting BUT leaps in success or growth are almost always preceded by changes in behavior. One definition of insanity is “to repeat the same behavior over and over, expecting a different result.”  The method, the priorities, the effort, the staff, the relationships…something has to change.

As I look at how differently people perceive church growth I realize that usually the first thing must change is people’s perception of the situation.  Whether it’s a person who looks at a picture of themselves on the web and says, “Am I that fat?” or a business who makes excuses, “We’re losing customers because it’s a bad economy.” or a church that stops to realize that they haven’t experienced God converting more than “two sinners to saints” in the same year in so long, they can’t find a record for it…HOW the situation is viewed is the key to change, which is the key to beginning to grow.

I’ll talk more about church growth next blog but for now, please take a hard look at your relationships, your finances, your body, your career, your spiritual life, are your growing in that area or are you stagnant?

After the realization that a change is needed, ask the question “What needs to change?”

Next blog I’ll apply this to growing your church.

Who is my neighbor?

The Bible has a lot to say about neighbors.  In the Ten Commandments alone we are told:  not testify falsely against your neighbor;  not covet your neighbor’s house; not covet your neighbor’s wife; or their maid or pool boy; or their mode of transportation; or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16-17)

Jesus said, loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself is as important as loving God and the summation of the whole Old Testament law! (Matthew 22:35-40)

What does that mean to us today?  It means that we need to understand how to treat our neighbors right if we want to be right with God.

So, with this being such an important concept in scripture and the teachings of Jesus Himself, it seems reasonable that someone would ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  A Pharisee (a teacher of the Jewish law) asked that question in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus responded with a story that we call the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest walks buy and does nothing.  A church Deacon (Levite) looks at him but doesn’t help.  Finally a despised Samaritan stops and helps the Jewish man.

The Jews truly despised the half-breed Samaritans, they were unclean to them.  Damned by birth.  It would be like a 1960s African American man stopping to help a Klu Klux Klan man and the Pharisee knew this bigotry.  Jesus asked him a question:

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The Pharisee couldn’t help but replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus responded, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

His command to us today is the same. Be like the Good Samaritan.  If you are in a position to help someone, do it.  God will put people in your path, maybe even people you don’t relate to, maybe even people you have a prejudice towards…be Jesus to them.

Looking Forward

As we are starting our new year we are again forced to look forward.  Forced to look at a new year and ask, “What does the new year hold for me? For my family? For my church? For my city?”

It’s a good thing!  We can close the door on past failures and problems and start fresh!!  Each change of the calendar causes people to take assessment of their lives, careers, relationships, spiritual lives, even their bodies!  (haha)  That is why the new year is so full of resolutions.  I know, I know.  Most people never keep them.  But think of this, how many people make changes in their live that never make a resolution?  None.  We have to resolve to change and a new year is a great time to do that.

One of the best things we do is start each year with fasting and prayer.  It refocuses us on God, reestablishes prayer as a priority, buffets the flesh (not buff-A you hungry fasters, buff-ett) and gets us looking forward to a better new year.

I resolve this year to put God first in every are, work less, delegate more, blog weekly, finish school, get healthy, enjoy my family more, give more money, and reach 3 more people for Jesus.

How about you?  What are you looking forward to?

The Call from Heaven

The words of the familiar, old Christmas Carole ring out to us.

O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

There is a call from heaven to behold the King. In Luke chapter to we see the story that inspired this song.  The shepherds working in the field had their lives interrupted by and unusual sight, an angel!

I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

The Messiah’s been born.  He’s right in Bethlehem!  Go see Him!  In verse 15 we see the first response:

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Let’s go to the house where the Lord dwells and see what the Lord has done and what He has told us about.

Our response is the same today.

1. Go to Church.

First, we must go and see what the Lord has done and said in His house.  Christmas is the best time to go to church.  If you’re a believer, get there!  Go somewhere.  Next the shepherds had a reaction after seeing the Savior in verses 16-18.

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.

2. Tell Everyone What You Have Seen and Heard.

After seeing Him, they went and told everyone what had happened and what was said.  If we have seen the Lord, we must do the same. Look at verse 20.

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

3. Return to Where You Came From.

The shepherds went back to their fields and their flocks.  They went back to work, school, family and friends.  Your “field” is where God has planted you for your everyday life.  After you’ve met Jesus, go back to your field and introduce other to Him.

Don’t come to church alone this Christmas.  Bring a friend, classmate, relative, neighbor or coworker.

Ted & Gayle Haggard

Someone asked me recently, “Why would you have Ted Haggard in your church?”  My response was “Because we preach that God can forgive anyone for their sin.”

For the two or three people out there who may not know who Ted is.  He was the most powerful Evangelical Leader in the United States three years ago.  The head of the National Association of Evangelicals with 30 million members, an advisor to the President of the United States and the Sr. Pastor of a church of 14,000 members in Colorado Springs.  Then came the scandal that rocked the church world.  He was caught with male prostitutes. All the major news sources covered the scandal. Some like CNN and Larry King featured the story for months. HBO did a one-hour special on the Haggards. They have even been on Oprah twice.

My initial response to the story was one of disgust.  I personally judged him very harshly and was privately critical. (Thank God I don’t believe in criticizing people publically or using the pulpit to bash people.)  I know many of my pastor friends felt the same way, “Hypocrites like Haggard give us all a bad name.”  So what changed my mind?

I saw an interview with Ted and Gayle at Steve Furtick’s Elevation Church.  I respect Steve and was curious as to why he had Ted in.  Their story broke my heart.  I actually cried watching it.  We always hear testimonies of people who were sinners then saved from their sin.  “I was an addict, then Jesus set me free.”  “I was hopeless and suicidal, then I became a Christian.”  We never hear stories of fallen Christians being restored.

I decided to have them tell their story, a story of forgiveness.  A story that is important for all of us to hear. First for those that think “It could never happen to me.” and more importantly for all the Christians out there struggling with a secret sin but who are too afraid of rejection to ask for help.  There’s hope for you.  We will help you get free and guard your dignity.

I can’t close this blog without mentioning the heroine of this story, Gayle.  She had biblical grounds for divorce, no one would have blamed her for leaving but as she told Oprah, “I prayed and felt God told me to stay.”  She shared that with God’s help she thought she could forgive Ted and with much counseling work to restore their marriage.  Wow.  She truly forgave “all sins against her” as scripture teaches.

Learn that we can all be FORGIVEN this Sunday at 10am. Then at the Women’s Meeting at 6pm, hear how you can forgive those who have hurt you.  God Bless.

Note: I did check with Tommy Barnett’s church and a church in Texas that have been in charge of Ted’s counseling, inner healing and restoration.  They fell he has done everything asked of him over the last three years.  Ted isn’t restored to ministry as of the writing this blog.  I will be interviewing them not having Ted preach.

Your Experience Does Not Entitle You to Lead

The statement by Nancy Ortberg hit me like the chill that you get when you first jump into a cool pool on a hot summer day.  At first there’s the gasp of air leaving the lungs and the and the tightening of my skin just like when we first react to the cold.  Then something strange happens.  There’s a soothing feeling that follows as your body adjusts and remember why you jumped in. Sitting in the sun had caused you to become heated an sweaty, you wanted to be cooled down.  The water shocks at first but them soothes as as it cools.  Nancy’s statement did the same thing.

As I recovered from the brief shock, there was a soothing sigh of “Yes, that’s why I came.”  She brought out many insights on leadership in her session.  Experience doesn’t entitle a person to lead calling and character do.  I often articulated to people that maturity isn’t measured in years but in how much of the fruit of the Spirit one grows.  I had long felt the same way about leadership.  “Just because you’ve been in the church 15 years doesn’t mean you should be an elder.” was one discussion but I struggled to make it clearer.

I the soothing that Nancy’s teaching brought.  Saul couldn’t face Goliath but a teen shepherd boy could.  (1 Sam 17)  David asked why no one would fight the giant.  the reactions were interesting.  First, David’s brother accused him of being prideful and wicked for coming to the battle but David was just following his father’s instruction.  David ignored his brother and went to others again asking why none of them defended the Lord’s name.  Finally they brought him to Saul.  Saul reluctantly relented to David’s story of the God giving him the lion and the bear.  “Alright, you can go but wear my armor.”  Saul breathed.

In other words, “Ok, maybe God has sent you but do it my way.”  Saul had the experience to lead.  He was a king and a warrior.  But God didn’t call a warrior.  God knew no warrior could stand against the might of a giant who was a warrior since he was a youth.  No God called a shepherd boy.  New methods emerged.  A sling and stone instead of a sword and a spear.  Faith was his protection not a bronze shield.

I know understood how to articulate to others what the Spirit of God had been showing me.  Calling and character are what gives people the influence to lead not title nor experience.

Thanks Nancy.  That alone was worth the price of the Catalyst Conference and we’re just getting started!

Today Matters in Eternity

Paul told us to forget the past.  (Philippians 3:14)  Forget all the good things we did and all the sin and failure.  Why? because if we keep looking back we will waste today.

Jesus also told us not to worry about tomorrow…

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6:34

Basically, you can’t change tomorrow’s troubles by worrying about them so don’t waste today doing so.

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
–  James 4:14

Life is short.  We need to live in the moment, carpe diem.  Not the way people live without God in mind, grabbing as much hedonistic pleasure as we can or building our own legacy so we feel significant.  No.  Grab today because God only made one.

The value of something is often determined by how rare it is.  I have a Vecchio statue that is a small version (28″ long) of the famous life size statue called “Equestrian” that is a tourist attraction in Venice Italy.  I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to own it but let’s think of why it’s valuable.  Yes, it is a beautiful piece of art but in general small statues (even those made by famous dead artists) aren’t worth the thousands of dollars that larger statues are, but this one is.  Why?  It’s rare.

Only six were believed to have been made and it was made by a method called the “Lost Bronze-Wax Method” which is an ancient art-form used to make bronze statues during that era. (Some artist resurrect that art form today.) A rare antiquity, made by a master craftsman, in a rare way.

What makes that statue valuable also makes today valuable.  Today is a beautiful masterpiece created by the universe’s greatest artist and He only made one.

Here’s the part most people miss.  God made today to count for eternity.  Great artists make creations that people want to enjoy thousands of years later.  God wants us to enjoy the fruit of today, the beautiful art work we can create with Him, for eternity.

If we will live today to create eternity in our heart then share that beauty with someone else, God will come along side us to create something amazing.  Like Mozart reaching around a child’s hands as they plunk out ‘chop sticks’ for the first time, playing a brillant symphony, God will make today an eternal masterpiece through your hands.

Conquering Monday Morning Blues

You grab your favorite cup of coffee, sigh deeply and go to work. It’s not that you hate your job, well sometimes, but there so many other things you would rather be doing.  So many other people you would rather spend your time with.  You know you work for a paycheck but you wish that could be a little better too.  The week seems so long.  How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

Maybe you’re a student and you can’t bring coffee to school.  You don’t fit in with the kids in your classes.  There’s that one teacher that seems to have it in for you.  I can’t believe the weekend went so fast.  How could I forget that assignment? Ugh.  How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

Maybe you’re a stay at home mom with small kids, or a retired senior facing another day of cleaning the house and isolation. Sunday was great but now what? How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

It’s simple really.  Change your perspective. Worker, it’s not about the paycheck, sure it helps but that’s not why you are there.  Student you’re not in school just because it’s a state law or just because you need an education.  Mom or retiree, you can still make a difference.  You have all entered the mission field. [Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

See if we really believe that God orders our steps.  If we really believe that He knew us before we were born then He placed us where we are today.  It’s not meaningless it’s a mission.  So to beat the Monday morning blues, take all teaching you received Sunday, all the Spirit of God you were filled with, all the joy you received, all the encouragement and love the church members gave you and give it away TODAY!

Mission trips don’t just happen in Africa. They happen every Monday. God has strategically placed you in your job, school or neighborhood.  Meet the day with expectation for God to do miracles today.  Expect God to provide you with an opportunity to move someone a little closer to Christ TODAY.  You are a missionary on assignment to Connect Others to God & Church today.

Fearless: Why Are You Afraid?

In Matthew chapter 8 there is an unusual story.  A story where Jesus seems harsh when He should have been understanding.  The disciples are out on a boat when SUDDENLY a storm arose, not just any storm a fierce storm.  The kind of storm that makes seasoned fisherman weak in the knees.  The kind of storm that would make a non-sailor like Matthew cry out for help.  Here’s the peculiar part though…Jesus was sleeping in the boat during this storm.

He seemed to be completely indifferent to their situation.  They are working the rigging frantically.  Maybe someone was bailing water as the waves spilled into the boat.  Jesus slept.

There are times when suddenly we fighting for our lives:  Cancer, bankruptcy, divorce, heart attack, unemployment, betrayal, addiction returning, child leaving the faith, jail, depression…and we call out “Help I’m being overwhelmed!  I’m going under!”  and there is no answer from heaven.  This storm was like that.  The sea raged. The boat rocked out of control. The men yelled in frantic fear. Jesus slept.

Mark’s version of the story includes and interesting twist…

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – Mark 4:38

Mark records what all of us think but most don’t dare speak. “Lord don’t you care that I’m suffering?”  There’s an accusation sometimes in our prayers because we wonder if He truly cares.

The rest of Matthew chapter 8 was filled with the miracles and compassion of Jesus.  A leper healed, a demon-possessed man set free, even Peter’s mother-in-law healed.  (A blessing Peter never asked for haha.)  Jesus taught them about faith with the Roman Centurian asked Jesus to “speak the word and my servant will be healed.”

In this context Jesus’ response makes perfect sense.  He asks them, “Why are you afraid? and “Why do you have too little faith?”  He must have thought: You’ve watch my miracles moments ago.  You’ve learned of my authority over the circumstances of life. AND you know I’m right here with you.  Why do you still doubt my love?

Max Lucado says that “Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia.” (Fearless pg. 10)  We forget how much God loves us and how He will never leave us or forsake us.  Faith comes through hearing God’s word and remembering His love.

We start a series this week entitled: Fearless: Living a Life Free from Fear, Worry & Anxiety. Come learn how to overcome fear with faith so you can stand through life’s sudden storms.

Discouraged?

Discouragement, we all go through it.  When someone you love dies, when you pray as hard as you can and don’t see a miracle, when you seem to be doing everything right but life gets harder.  The temptation is to give up.

1 Cor 10:13 – Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.

Don’t give up. Everyone has temptation, even Jesus.  How we react to the temptation determines victory or defeat.  God will never allow you to be tempted more than you can take so don’t give in.  It’s your choice.

Heb 12:2-3 – Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

We will continue to consider the one we serve so that we will not grow discourged and weary!  He’s the finisher of our faith and WE WILL NOT QUIT.  Many people miss the blessing in their lives and the breakthrough by simply giving up too soon.

Like the kitty cat on the poster hang in there baby, God never comes too late or with too little.  God is the finisher of our faith and He’s not done yet!

Encouragement

We all need encouragement sometimes but what should we do when it seems there is no one to encourage us?  The answer comes from King David.

David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD His God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (kjv)

David encouraged HIMSELF in God.  There comes a point where you have to encourage yourself.  The people you thought were with you turn on you. You have no one to help you.

In David’s life he survived his leader turning on him (Saul), his family attcking him (Absalom), his own sin (that whole Bathsheba thing) and his friends that have pledged loyalty to him talking about stoning him.  How did he do it?  He learned early this simple truth, sometimes there’s only God and you so you have to get your encouragement directly from Him yourself.

David rehearse the past protection of the Lord to encourage himself.

The LORD who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine! – 1 Samuel 17:37

Stand on the promise that God won’t allow you to be tempted more than you can take.  He will rescue you before you are overwhelmed.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.
God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
– 1 Corinthians 10:13

In closing, there are times when we must encourage ourselves.  The best ways to do this is to remember the good things God has done and to rehearse His promises to us such as the one just mentioned in 1 Cor 10:13.  So no matter what you’re going through, choose to encourage yourself today.

World’s Dumbest Criminal, a Lesson for Us

I love the TV show called “World’s Dumbest Criminals” (I know but I like to see dumb people get arrested.) Recently I saw a story of drug dealer name Daron.  The police had surveillance on him for over a month and came with an arrest warrant to pick him up.  They knocked on the door and asked, “Are you Daron…?”

Daron replies, “No, my name is Herbert Spinkleman.” Or some ridiculous similar name.

The police officer then looks at Daron’s forearm and points to his tattoo. “You have you name Daron tattooed on your arm.”

“No that’s my girlfriend’s name Da-Ron.”  He replied.

You can’t make this stuff up!  He was trying to fool the police pretending to be someone else and his name was tattooed on his forearm!  Then he denied it was his name!  Priceless.

Daron tried to pretend he was someone else but his true name was evident.  Many people do the same thing.  They say they are Christians but the name of Christ is not on them.  Christian means “little Christ”.  It’s like saying “Jesus Jr.” you look like your dad.

Many people call themselves a follower of Christ but the name tattooed on their arm is “liar, porn addict, judger of others, thief, fornicator, gossip” etc.  They try to fool people but hypocrisy is evident to most.

Jesus said, “Why do you say you love me but don’t obey my commandments?”
We know that many people will be shocked when their lives end because they will say didn’t we do all these “Christian things for you?” and He’ll reply, “Depart from me, sinner.  I never knew you.”

Don’t be like Daron.  Don’t try to fake out Jesus because you’ll only fool yourself and you also will be taken away in chains.

Reaching Young Adults

I found out today that in our church (House of Praise) 30% of our adults have not yet seen their 31st birthday.  Out of the 200 adults that come to a Sunday Service on avg. 60 are between the ages of 18 and 30!  That is a blessing but that also brings the questions of how to properly care for that niche.

In our Sunday Service we have modern music, high energy presentations, video & technology, drama & art, and life-application teaching all targeted at getting the attention of the under 30 crowd and it’s worked.  Then what?

The Amercian church has done a great job of teaching Sunday school or children’s church.  We also have good youth programs for teens.  In the last few years we’ve gotten better at helping established couples with the marriages and finances.  We haven’t discipled well the young adults, the college and new career age. (I don’t think we do a good job at ministering to the retired and older either but that’s for another blog.)

To continue to challenge and grow the young adults we started with small groups to build relationships.  We had midweek series called “Dating, Mating, & Relating” that was enthusastically received by people. So much so I may resurrect if for a Sunday series.  BUT some how the young adults still feel disconnected.

We must be proactive about a three-fold approach.

  1. Hang time – there has to be organic times in the schedule for causual conversation about real issues.  Cafe’s that stay open all day Sunday, comfortable nooks and reading spots in the church for people to come during the day and sit.  Think, Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, the quad on the college campus.
  2. Serving – I know this seems to be the contradictory but if a young person is serving there’s a sense of ownership.  Here’s the important part though, not serving for serving sake.  Church leaders have to give young people a vision they can believe in and a task they are passionate about.
  3. Giving – We have done a poor job of teaching stewardship to the young adults. Just look at the fact that there is more credit debt for the 20-30 years old now than in any time in our nation’s history and you can see that.  Giving breaks a “what about me?” mentality and begins to get God involved in their finances.  Again, it also created a sense of purpose and connection with the church vision.
  4. Relationship & Decision Making Teaching – The big issue for this age is making life changing decisions especially in the area of relationships.  More young people leave serving God because of dating an unsaved person than all other issues combined!  Teach them that it is a sin to be yoked together with an unbeliever. (2 Cor 6:14) Tell them not to take counsel from ungodly people (Psalm 1). Help them to make Kingdom First decisions (Matt 6:33).
  5. Leadership – Having under 30 people in leadership roles, especially that are visible, helps young adult know that you don’t see them as kids.  I’m not just talking about youth and children’s pastors! We have had worship leaders, church secretaries, creative directors, service MCs, media directors, greeters, even ushers that are under 30.  It send the message, “You matter.”

In closing, I don’t have all the answers but I know we can’t minister to a 25 year old the same way we do a 55 year old.  They have different needs, desires and speak a different language.

We need to continue to modernize our methods while not compromising our message and we need to be intentional about discipling the young adults.

Citizen of Heaven

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.
– Philippians 1:27

Paul said it was most important for us to live as a citizen of heaven.  That means, we don’t always or else he wouldn’t have to remind us how important it is.

If we obey God’s commands then we are living as citizens of heaven and people will believe in God because of our conduct.  (Deuteronomy 28:9-10)

If you’re not obeying scripture.  If you are still sinning everyday then maybe you’re not a citizen of heaven.  That should lead to the next question…

How do you become a citizen of heaven?

In Acts 22 Paul reminds the jailer that it isn’t legal to whip a Roman Citizen without a trial.  The commader comes and basically says “How did you become a citizen?  It cost me a lot of money.”  Paul answered, “But I am a citizen by birth!”

We can’t buy our way into God’s Kingdom.  We must be born into it…more correctly “born-again” into it.

To become a citizen is to become a child of God.  It is to humble yourself like a little child and say, “Lord, I can’t control my own life. I give full control to you.”

If you haven’t done that, do it now, then tell me about it.  God bless.

Seek & Respond Well to Change

We heard a great message from Pastor Randy Hartwig called “Change the Key to Victorious Christianity”. Here’s some of the highlights:

Change is a Constant Process for a Victorious Christian.

2 Cor. 3:18 – We who reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…

A Christian who doesn’t want to change is like a caterpiller that doesn’t want to become a butterfly.  We need to actively seek change to become all that God wants us to be.

Change opens the fullness of God’s Kingdom to us.

Matt 18:1-4 – Jesus teaches us that unless we change and become like a little child we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven.

Change Brings Revival.

Look at the great revivals that God has brought, they are almost always preceded by a change in thinking and methodology.  For example:

  • Martin Luther changes our doctrine when he reveals salvation by faith not works
  • The Baptists reveal the truth of full water immersion for believers after salvation
  • Pentacostals bring the restoration of the Gifts of The Spirit including healing, speaking in tongues and prophesy

Are you a spiritual pioneer or a settler?  Pioneers push beyond the known limits to conquer new frontiers, to expand the Kingdom…

Why is the American Church in Trouble?

Don’t think the Evangelical church is i trouble in the US?  Consider these statistics:

•   The number of people in America that Do Not attend church has doubled in the past 15 years.

•   50% of  churches last year did not add one new person being saved

•   Only 15% of churches in the United States are growing

•   Just over 2% of churches grow because of new salvations

In the era of Mega-churches most believing churches are slowly dying. Why are some exploding while other shrivel?  I can answer this quesrtion best with an illustration from today’s sermon.

In Mark 2:13-17 Jesus calls Levi to follow Him and become His disciple.  Levi does, leaving his job, his neighborhood, financial security all to follow the Lord.

The next time we see Levi he has invited Jesus and His disciples over for dinner but he also invited his friends over.  The Bible calls them nortorius sinners.  The religious people couldn’t believe Jesus would eat with such scum.  Jesus replied that He didn’t come for those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners.

Levi understood what the Pharasees didn’t. From the moment we become followers of Jesus we must be inviting others to meet Him.  if we want God’s presence with us we must invite the people He wants to be around.  Sinners.

No new converts, none of God’s favor upon our churches.

Life, a Marathon not a Sprint

I can’t count the number of times in the last four years I’ve wanted to resign from ministry because of discouragement, conflict, feeling under appreciated or the disappointment that can only come from watching  people leaving the Lord’s will for their life.  When you feel this way remember the only way you lose is if you quit.

Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. – Philippians 2:16

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Any marathon runner will tell you that there are multiple times you want to quit either in training or the race itself. Here’s some things to remember…

1. Remember God’s words (either in scripture or personally) God has promised for your life. Hold fast to the word of life, they bring hope when you see none in your circumstances.

2. Remember that nothing we do (if done for the Lord and not our own desires) is done in vain.

3. Remember not to compare. It’s never wise to compare yourself to someone else because you don’t know what they walked through to get to that place or how their race will finish (2 Corithians 10:12).

Woody Allen said half of life was just showing up. I don’t know about that but I know half of life is not quitting.  So brush off those skinned knees, sake a sip of living water and start jogging again.  You’ll finish the race and hear “well done” if you just don’t quit.

Will They Come Back? Part 1

Is our church one that guess will want to come back to? That is the questions every church leader must answer.  If they enjoy the music and the teaching is understandable and they are able to apply it to their lives they may decide to give the church a second look but as important as the music and teaching are, it’s not enough to cause people to stay as part of the fellowship.

Before we look at what will cause people to stay let’s look at some things that drive interested guests away…

1. Having social networks that aren’t open to outsiders.  Guests notice if there are lunches, picnics, bible studies & groups that they aren’t invited to.  This is especially difficult if there are large families or groups of relatives in the church because it is natural to gather together with relatives and not realized it may perceived as a closed church function.

2. Feeling like their help isn’t needed. When a person wants to be a part of the church by serving and they aren’t allowed to there’s a rejection or feeling that they don’t belong.   Beware of controlling people within your church that may be well meaning but would rather do the work themselves than make room for others to help.  Also make sure you have good follow up in place for people to be plugged in quickly when they do volunteer.

3. Overcrowding. If over 80% of your chairs are full people will not come back. Rule of thumb, if 70% of you seats are occupied then get out more chairs or add another service.  Same principle applies to children’s church, if a parents sees overcrowded classes or nursery they may feel uncomfortable about their child getting enough attention.

4. Confusing service or facilites. People generally say no to whatever is confusing.  If they can’t find your sanctuary whey they enter anxiety begins to rise.  Good signs for restrooms and children’s wing definately help also.  How well do you insruct people what do to or inform them what to expect?  A simple announcement of “your kids will be dismissed to children’s church following the song service” can put people at ease.  Feeling relaxed allows people to focus on the spiritual aspects of the service.

5. Neglected facilities or grounds. Ever sold a house?  You fixed things that never bothered you.  Fresh paint for the shutters, trim the bushed and clean the windows make a good first impression.  Well, long time church members may walk by the ripped carpet and not notice it anymore but a new guest will.  Shabby landscaping or run down lobby says “we don’t care that much” and we probably won’t pay much attention to you either.

6. Inconsistent style.  People come to a flamboyant Easter pagent.  There’s a 50 person choir with rented robes, a 45 minute cantada with professional quality musicians, rented lights and scenery.  They come back two weeks later to one lady playing an accordian in an empty gymnasium.  I’m not saying don’t do special events but show people who you really are.

7. Tense or unwelcoming environment.  People need to be greated within the first 1-2 minutes they walk in the door by a smiling, friendly, normal person.  The facility needs to be decorated in a friendly manner.  As far as tension, if there is division, power struggles, or harsh and condemning leadership you can be sure people will run for the exits!

More next time…

Focus mean saying no.

Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”

It is the focus on making disciples that will make churches and individual believers great.  God gave us His authority for a reason, to make disciples.

Matt 28:18-20 – Jesus came and told His disciples, I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Loss of focus causes us lose God’s authority and eventually we become dry.  It isn’t sin that causes people to start to slide away from God, it’s loss of focus.  Once the focus is lost it will eventually lead to sin but it started by saying yes to seemingly good opportunities that weren’t focused on disciple-making.

What do you spend most of your time, talent and treasure (money) on?

10 Ways to Enhance Your Worship Service Experience

Have you ever left a church service and felt “I didn’t get anything out of that.”?  I think we all have.  It’s bad when the pastor says that…haha. Now, have you ever left a church service feeling that way AND heard someone else say, “Wow!  That was awesome.  I really met with God.”?  That’s a real eye opener.

I recently spoke to someone who said when they heard the excitement other people had they began looking at themself.  When they heard there were people saved, baptised and set free and they didn’t feel excitement, the knew it was them.  So how do adjust ourselves to get the most out of a worship experience and keep ourselves from growing indifferent?  Here’s 10 ways to enhance our worship experience.

1. Come Expecting a Good Service – As James taught us (James 1:6-7), we need to expect God to answer us.  This simple step many times bring the change in attitude we need.

2. Minimize Distractions – If there is a person who is always chatty near you, move.  I actually started sitting towards the front because I am visually distracted by people.

3. Change Your Routine – Sit in a different seat, serve as an usher, walk up front during worship (if your church culture allows that), visit a different church one Sunday, (Pastors don’t em-mail me it’s alright really.)  whatever it takes for some variety.

4. Hang Around After Service and Talk – You’ll be surprised how much chatting with some people for ten minutes will brighten your day.

5. Come Early – If your church has a place or time to pray do it, if not hang in the lobby and chat.  Bring an extra coffee and surprise someone with it.  Force yourself to be social.

6. Greet a New Person – Remember the first time you came to church? Help someone else to not feel nervous.  Say hello. Ask them if you can answer any questions for them.

7. Serve – Nothing adds the meaning of a worship experience like knowing you had a part in it being put together.  When someone reaches for the tissues you put there, it more than just blowing their nose.  They aren’t distracted loking for tissues so they heard the message and accepted Jesus for the first time as Savior. Guess what? You had a part in their escaping from hell.

8. Take Notes – We only remember 10% of what we hear but when we write it the % doubles.  If we review the notes later it triples.  It’s the eternal word of God, don’t treat it as common or unimportant.

9. Invite an Unchurched Friend – Nothing is more meaningful than seeing your church or even God through someone else’s eyes.  If that person meets the Lord and their life changes, it will be your best worship experience ever.

10. Experience God BEFORE the Service – Most Christians that don’t get anything out of the worship experience aren’t experiencing God during the week either.  I don’t know why but it’s like a cup that is being filled all week, smaller drops make it over flow.

Get to the church early and pray.  Ask God to meet with you. Ask Him to forgive you sins, forgive others who sinned against you that week.  Then give Him you issues, any distracting things and you’ll be ready.

Do these 10 things I guarentee you’ll have a meaningful and fulfilling worship experience!

He Prepares a Table

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. – Psalm 23:(niv)

God says in the midst of conflict, while you’re under attack, I’ll prepare a place of rest, a place where you can be fed and a place where you can sit with family. To me the Table represents the church. The food is the word of God.

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back again is drawing near. – Hebrews 10:25

The desire of the devil is to minimize the importance of church.  To make the Sunday service into something that good to do if you have time.  Experience has taught me that most Christians that aren’t actively involved in a good local church are at least stagnant and not growing, at worst carnal and slowly backsliding.  I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule out there but I haven’t met them.

Galatians 5:13 – For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.

Part of why God set us free is so we can serve.  Those that aren’t free don’t serve.  It’s the opposite of the world where those in bondage server their bosses or masters.  We serve because we want to!  Out of gratitude, love and calling.

Don’t be deceived, be a part of a local assembly and use your gift to build up the church.  God bless.

New Life

Have you ever known someone that continues to struggle with the same issue in their life over and over?  I’m sure we all do. It can be a sin habit, unforgiveness, low-self esteem, bad relationship or career decisions or simply not staying put in one place long enough for God to change them.

Israel disobeyed the Lord to enter into the promised land and traveled around the same mountain for 40 years!  If we don’t want to go around the same mountain for our whole lives then what needs to change?

To have a new life we have to learn new ways of living.

Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:23-24

Change isn’t easy.  We have to let God change us, we have to put on the new life.  New Life is messy.  Ever seen a baby being born?  New life is messy and sometimes gross!  To change we need the messiest of all sacraments, confession.

Confession?  Isn’t that just a Roman Catholic thing?

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. – James 5:16

We are only as sick as our secrets.  Confession brings forgiveness and freedom.

Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God felt the wait of their sin and hid.  “I’m not staying in this church.  There’s too many rules.”  “Don’t tell me how to live. It’s nobody’s business but mine.”  Sound familiar?  It’s all just fig leaves.  Covering rebellion with a blame-game smoke screen of “I’m being mistreatreated” or “I don’t believe that way.”

Adam blamed God & Eve, The woman you gave me asked me to eat it.  Eve blamed the serpent.  The snake didn’t have a leg to stand on. (haha)  The shocking thing is everything they said was true but they took no personal responsibility, no repentance.

Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.
– Ezekiel 18:30-31

Life’s too short to travel around the same mountain for years.  We must repent, change the way we think, and seek the Lord for new ways while we have time.

Born To Die

We’re all born with a purpose to our lives.  Jesus was born to die.  His very purpose was to die for us so that we can find our purpose.  From the moment of His birth Jesus was a dead man walking.  Really, we all are…

Paul said, “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Why did Paul say that the most important thing to pass on is Christ’s death, burial and ressurection?  Because without His death their is no resurrection, without the resurrection, He hasn’t conquered death.  if Jesus didn’t rise then we won’t.  If He didn’t die then death still has power over us.
(1 Corinthians 15:58)

As Christ followers we are to go where He went.  To pick up our cross and follow Him.  The cross, an instrument of death and torture.  Jesus was calling us to die.  To die to our own life and to rise again in a new life, but it doesn’t end there.  Being born-again is only the beginning.

We must daily pick up the instrument of our death and follow Him.  Carry our own elecric chair, plug it, sit down and strap ourselves in.  Death of our own selfish desires, our own purpose of what we thing we should be doing it the only way to find God’s purpose.

Knowing What to Expect

On Easter this year we did something different.  We didn‘t do anyting different.  No Easter play, no choir robes, no lillies, just our normal service.  I told our over 20 1st time guest and dozens of occasionaly attenders why.  “I want you to see what this church is all about each week in the hope that you’ll come back.”  I continued, “We’re not just going to do a great show on Easter and let you be disappointed next time you’re here!  The same music, teaching style and welcoming atmosphere will be here every time you come.”

I hope this approach also made out members and regular attenders feel encouraged.  They know that any week they invite their friends to church that they can expect a few things to happen.

  • Their friends will be made to feel welcomed
  • The music will be off the chain!
  • The teaching will apply to their lives.
  • It will NOT be boring. (We use creative methods and humor.)
  • God will meet with them.

Do you clearly communicate to your friends and family what they can expect when they come to church?  Can they look at your life and know what to expect from Christianity.  Talk to people.  You’ll be very surprised at what they think is going to happen if they follow God.

Check out: http://www.houseofpraise.cc/whattoexpect.html

A Life Time of Growth

Tom Holladay said people have one of three experiences in spiritual growth:

Some people have a one-time experience of growth.
Many people have a time to time experience of growth.
You can enjoy a lifetime experience of growth.

One-Time Growth  – I would also call event growth, meaning an event happened that caused a sudden burst of growth.  A retreat, a camp, a conference, a service, a prophesy or specific altar call can cause us to leap forward in a moment in understanding or commitment.

The issue always is do we use it to build on?  Have you ever seen a youth group that came back from an awesome summer camp only to have some of the members leave church that fall?  The experience wasn’t used as a spring board to a lifestyle change.

Time to Time Growth – This is the type of growth where people do very well for a while but then either because they get distracted, too busy or offended they begin to back away from church and God in general.  We need each other to grow.  We must be rooted deep enough that when strong winds blow we aren’t uprooted.

“Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from Him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught.  Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all He has done.”  Colossians 2:7

Be thankful for where you are at and stay strong.  I know so many people who leave their church and end up bitter, dried up Christians that are no longer really disciples of Jesus because they only had periods of growth and then periods of lack.

A Lifetime of Growth – This doesn’t refer to never making a mistake, never stumbling, but overall making progress.  I’ve always said, “If you’re the same Christian next year as you are this year, you’re out of God’s will.”  God wants us to go forward!

“So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.”  1 Corinthians 9:26 (TLB)

To grow over the long journey of life requires commitment. Nothing worthwhile comes quickly or easily.

“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.”  2 Chronicles 16:9

Commitment keeps us doing the right thing when we don’t feel like it.  Commit to a life of holiness, studying, praying, church attendance, serving and giving.  Only then do we sustain growth over many years.

Love Matters Most

If you want your life to count, you have to focus it.  You can’t try to do 50 different things – you don’t have time for all of them.  Also, not everything is of equal value. Spend time and energy on what matters most.  God says there are two things that matter the most.

Matthew 22:37-39  Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus, what’s the most important things in life?  Love for God and love for people.

To read your bible, attend church, and avoid the “big” sins…
Is this wholehearted passionate love for God?
The Seeking Heart by Francois Fenelon

We must be passionately, whole-heartedly in love with Jesus.  Our whole heart, soul and mind…everything we are!  Is doing the minimums of Christianity whole-hearted love?

Do you know what I’ve noticed? People who’s love for God has never truly been awakened or who have grown cold over the years, ask the same question…”How far can I go before it’s considered sin?”  There is a desire to walk as close to the line as possible.  To live in the dull grays of twilight, never fully embracing the darkness nor jumping into the brilliance of the bright light.

If love matters most, we must be passionately pursuing God like a courting, love sick teen AND pass that love onto others in need of God’s love.

If we don’t have love, then we really don’t know God.

40 Days of Love

We’ve started the 40 Days of Love at the House of Praise and I couldn’t be more excited.  For the next 6 weeks the Sunday services, the children’s church, the youth group and the church Connect Groups (home bible studies/small groups) will all be learning what Jesus taught about relationships.  What could be more important than that?

One of the main points last Sunday was “the best expression of love is time.”  Giving someone focused attention is one of the most important ways to communicate love.

Kids are crying, look at me daddy.  Turn the TV off.  Look at me mommy, stop cleaning for a minute.  Get off the computer and take a walk with your spouse.  All our relationships are damaged by hurry.  Eat fast, gotta run. Busyness feeds the ego but starves the family.

We shouldn’t be looking for more time to spend with family.  We should make spending the most time with loved ones the priority and try to fit other things into the schedule around your family and friends.

As Rick Warren says, “Stop watching reruns of friends and go make friends!”

Galatians 6:10 – Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity,  (NOW) we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Don ‘t put off love.  Right now, think of one person you could tell that you love them today.  Who should YOU call and encourage?  Who should YOU visit?

Bloggin Again

Hey, well it’s good to be back. After taking a month off to focus on changing some things in the church and organizing our schedule for the year, let’s blog some more.

40 Days of Love

Matthew 22:37-39  Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

All of Christianity can be reduced down to one word, LOVE.  Love God, love people.  The very best use of our life is to love.

Love also is how the world knows we really are followers of Jesus.  Anyone can be “holy”!  Buddhists are self-disciplined, Hindus are sincere, Muslims will lay down their life for their faith. What’s the difference between us and them?  LOVE.

John 13:34-35 – So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

People are watching you.  Do you know the question they are asking?  Is God real?  How will they know?  LOVE.  Wow, those Christians really treat people better than other people do.  Wow those Christians forgive people who mistreat them.  Wow, they really love God.  Wow, maybe they really do know God.

Finding Direction in the New Year

Have you ever felt lost?  Feeling like we have no direction, no purpose.  I think we all have.  As we begin 2009 our church took a look at how to find direction and purpose for our lives.  Here’s some highlights…

First Focus on Eternal Things.

I know it sounds funny to think about getting direction for our life by getting the focus off ourselves but that’s exactly how it works. Some good verses on this…

Prov 23:4-5 – Don’t weary yourself trying to get rich. Why waste your time? For riches can disappear as though they had the wings of a bird!

Matt 6:33 teaches us to pursue the Kingdom of God and live righteously then God will take care of our career, finances etc.

Prov 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

Begin with the Bible.

It’s amazing how many times we forget to read the creator’s guide to life when we are trying to figure life out.  It reminds me of a story of an at critic who stood in a gallery describing what the artist was trying to say with a painting when another man walked up and said actually I think the artist meant something completely different.  The critic indignant with pride snapped “How would you know?”  “Well I painted it.” the man replied as he walked away.  Let’s ask the one who made us what we should be doing.

Psalm 119:104-105 – Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.

Spend time directly in God’s presence.

There are things the word is silent on.  Where should you work?  What house should you buy?  These things God will speak directly to us as we pray.

Pslam 57:2 – I will cry to God Most High, who will fulfill His purposes for me. 

James 1:5If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask Him, and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking

Don’t give up.

After we have heard God for ourselves we must take action and never give up until His word to us is fulfilled. (Gal 6:7-10)

Does Religion Leave You Feeling Lost?

Religion leaves you feeling lost but relationship connects you to God. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God or to earn His favor.  Real relationship with the Lord may begin with a hunger for God but even that hunger comes from Him because no one comes to repentance unless the Spirit draws them. 

Religion knows about God but through Relationship we can KNOW God.

Before I was born-again, I went to church almost weekly as a child.  I could tell you Jesus died for me, I could even quote some scripture but never knew the savior personally.  I was religious, I trusted in my church, my confirmation, even the cross on my neck but had never even met the Savior!

Religion is a list of Dos and Don’ts but relationship causes you to alter your behavior because of love.

Matthew 22:35-40 – One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Love causes us to fulfill the laws of the one we love.  In the absence of love the law is needed. 

I’m Back

Well after a long absence due to holidays and a 3 week battle with pneumonia I’m finally back to blogging.  I apologize for the long absence.  Here’s a little catch up.

As we look at a new year we begin to take stock of our last year and our future. 2008 was a hard year, we battled sickness and buried a close friend whose loss still stings daily, but  I’m very thankful for the things God did in 2008 also.  We saw 38 people bow their knee to Jesus as their Savior for the first time and over 100 rededicate their lives to serving Christ afresh.  There were 65 new people added to our church and several people healed.  In the midst of trial and tragedy God built His Kingdom.  What more could we ask for?

As we begin 2009 I know God will do even greater and more exciting things in our midst.  Bring it on Lord.  Bring it on!

Jesus Came to Seek and Save Those Who Are Lost

Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost.

Christmas is all about connecting-with family, friends and even God.  We celebrate Christmas because God wanted to connect with us. During our christmas service we took a special look at the Christmas Story focusing on how Jesus came to seek us out and connect with us in a real and life-changing way.  Since there was a bad ice storm causing half our people to stay home I thought you’d like a brief summary.

Jeremiah 50:6 – My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.

Many believers start out in church and genuinely serve God but let the cares and disappointments of life get them out of church and off the path of God.

Ezekiel 34:16 – I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

The good news is Jesus searches for us when we’re lost.  He helps even those who have been hurt in churches and have lost their way.  The Christmas story is all about God seeking man, even those that don’t know they’re getting lost.

Matthew 1:22 -All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through His prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

God came to us, He was seeking us because we are valuable to Him.  In the parables of Luke 15:4-32 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) Jesus continually reminds us that God rejoices more over one of us that was lost turning to Him than 99 that are already serving Him.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

That’s the beauty of the Christmas story, we never earned the gift of the Christ child but like any valuable gift we need to remember how much that gift costed the one who gave it to us.

Merry Christmas

 

Are you Missional or Attractional? Yes.

In Christianity Today Magazine I read an article called “Defining Missional”.  It occurs to me that some of you might wonder about the latest in church buzzwords. There are consequences when the meanings of words become confused especially when we are trying to explain eternal truths to people. Here are some positives and negatives associated with various types of churches…

Attractional – This comes from trying to “attract” people to the church.  Advertizing, events, marketing are used as “outreaches”.  There is also a “build it and they will come” mindset attached meaning…If we just make our services attractive to the unchurched then they will come to us.  Sometimes associated with the seeker sensitive model but not completely the same. (see below) The weakness of this movement is people must find their way to church themselves and those who feel unworthy to come never do.

Emerging – The emerging church movement holds as its primary purpose attempting to make the Christianity culturally relevant for a postmodern generation. While I do think we need to be relevant (many churches are not) the emerging church movement has many times gone to the extreme of compromising on Christian morality such as ordaining people still trapped in sinful lifestyles.  Emerging churches may be attractional or missional or both.

Missional – Comes from the word mission.  It is sometimes confused with a Missionary Church (a church which is planted by a missionary). Missional churches emphasize the mission of the church, which is the Great Commission “Go and make disciples.” They key word is go. They do not expect people to come to them. The emphasis of a missional church is the opposite of an attractional church.

Purpose-driven – A term coined by Rick Warren in his book Purpose Drive Church.  In it Rick said a Purpose Driven Church is “one that is growing larger in numbers as it grows deeper in carrying out the God-given purposes for churches through worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions.”  Some have wrongly called Rick’s church (Saddleback) a seeker-sensitive church because of it’s laid back approach.  Emphasizing spiritual growth through purpose isn’t the same as being seeker-sensitive.

Seeker-sensitive – A term first coined by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek, this movement comes from the idea of being sensitive to the unchurched person who is seeking God, hence seeker-sensitive.  It should be noted that the idea isn’t bad, we want seekers to feel comfortable in our services but the movement got way off track.  However, in his report entitled Reveal, Bill Hybels admitted that they had failed at the Great Commission because they had not discipled or helped mature the members once they were converted.

Separatist – While not a name given to a particular movement, these are churches that emphasize extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church culture.  “Come out from among them.” and “Be in the world but not of the world.” are frequent phrases heard. This sounds spiritual diminishes their ability to speak to those outside and their people cease to win souls. Some examples are: Holiness churches where women can’t wear makeup and men can’t have long hair. Pentecostal churches where the emphasis is always on the next deeper experience so they have many meetings each week but don’t win the lost.

What kind of church do we have?  I answer that question with one phrase, we are a Disciple-Making Church.  We are a church that emphasizes the process of discipleship.  Many churches will say they make disciples but they usually mean they are evangelical or highly teaching.  Either they are making many new converts but maturing them or teaching a bunch of fat Christians who just want the “next revelation” from God. 

[Note: This is not to be confused with the Shepherding Movement in the 1970s where leaders used discipleship as a way to control their congregants lives in a cult-like fashion.]

A Disciple-Making Church has a clearly defined, often taught discipleship process that includes going into the world.  If you can’t tell me what the next step in anyone’s (including yourself) discipleship process is then your church isn’t a disciple-making church.

Are we attractional? Yes in that we will advertize to get people to come and adjust our services to make guests feel more welcome. (But not to the seeker-sensitive extreme where the truth isn’t taught and deep repentance required.)  Are we missional? Absolutely!  You’re not truly a disciple unless you are going out and winning souls.  We do both!  Who ever said you had to choose one or the other?

Doctrinally our church identifies ourselves as Charismatic, which comes from the Greek word charisma.  Charismatic means we believe that the Holy Spirit still does the same things today he did in the first century, New Testament church.  After all, it’s still the same Testament or covenant today.  We work hard to make a weekend service that is guest welcoming yet doesn’t compromise on ‘gifts of the Spirit’ such as praying for healing.

Don’t get hung up on our particular beliefs.  Remember that A Disciple-Making Church can be almost any doctrine.  It’s about the clearness of the process.

Things Learned from Made to Stick

Why do we remember the details of a funny or gross story yet have trouble remembering information that is vital to us?  The reason is the “stickiness” of the idea.  I recently read a book called Made to Stick.  It’s a marketing book by Chip and Dan Heath.  I thought I’d share some insights on making the gospel stick.

Simplicity is Sticky – We must answer the question, “How do I communicate my idea in a one-sentence proverb?”  The more complicated something is the more easily it’s forgotten, so “What can be stripped off the idea?  Sticky Ideas are Compact AND contain the Core of the idea. – Shorter sentences, less words are important to be remembered but not if the core of the idea isn’t communicated.  The most sticky ideas do both by communicating the core of the idea in a compact form, such as in a proverb.

To be Sticky, Use Unexpected Twists – Surprise is good but what is better is generating curiosity and increased interest.  This can be accomplished by generating gaps in people’s knowledge then filling those gaps.

Use Everyday Items to Create Clear Images in People’s Minds – Example: 37 grams of fat in a tub of popcorn means nothing to most consumers but saying, “This popcorn has the same fat as these three meals.” While showing a table filled with bacon & eggs, a McDonald’s Big Mac meal and a steak dinner is a clear message.   A Concept becomes Stickier When Tied to an Idea We Already Know.  Instead of giving a stream of data to be memorized using a well-known schema increases stickiness.  Example: a pomelo is a tangy, citrus fruit, with a yellow to pink flesh and a soft rind is much harder to remember or even comprehend than a pomelo is a super-sized grapefruit with a soft rind.

Avoid the Uncertainty Paralyses – In a study people were asked if they would go a on trip to Hawaii after a huge final exam that was important to their future.  They could buy the tickets and go, not go or pay $5 to hold tickets price for 2 days.  If the participants knew they passed the majority would go to Hawaii as a reward, if the participant of the study knew they failed, the majority still said they would go to cheer themselves up but if they wouldn’t know the outcome of the exam for 2 days, the majority would pay the $5 and wait for the exam outcome.  This doesn’t make sense since most would go whether they passed or failed.  The only explanation is caught up in uncertainty people postpone action.

Sticky Ideas Command Attention – The biggest problem of communication is getting and keeping people’s attention.  To create an idea that sticks, this issue must be overcome.

Invoking Self-Interest in How You Present Your Idea Makes It Stick. – You can do ____________ in five days with our program.  Sales people have learned this by emphasizing the benefits over the features.  “You’ll have the best looking lawn in your neighborhood.” sells more than, “Our seed is guaranteed to be 90% weed free and to grow quickly.”

Avoid The Curse of Knowledge – Knowing to much causes people to want to share it.  Instead of focusing on 1 or 2 key points they speaking gives massive amounts of information and the listeners remember none.  It’s like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose.  It’s more effective to use stories and engage people’s emotions.

Let’s all examine our presentation of the gospel and our church vision by seeing if we’ve presented in a way that sticks.

 

Decisions or Disciples

We know that in the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples.” Anything short of fulfilling this calling is missing the mission of the church.  Anything short of fulfilling this command is disobedience.

How do we make disciples?

Having someone pray and “accept Jesus” isn’t the criteria for evaluation of the success of our evangelism efforts.   We must measure those that follow Jesus. This means a changed life. In my humble opinion, the only way to measure this is by measuring those that are connecting to the church in active fellowship.   In Acts 2 we see a clear picture that those who were saved were “added to the church”.  They became an active part of the local group of believers.

This is what makes someone a disciple and what impacts church growth in general.  Teaching people to obey the word of God, worship, pray, forgive, repent, love and more are all done in the church.  As the church add these new converts they tell their friends the good news they have learned and momentum builds and growth accelerates both for the church and the individual.

We must focus not on simply making a decision to believe in Jesus for salvation but a decision to become a disciple, an obedient, sold-out, follower of Jesus Christ.

Leading a Growing Church

Are you a leader in your church?  Before you answer let me rephrase the question.  I didn’t ask if you were the Lead Pastor.  I asked if you were a leader.  Do other people look to you for advice, direction or mentoring?  Then you’re a leader!!

Will you help lead your church towards growth or stagnation?  Will you be an instrument that God uses connect to Himself or someone who says, “It’s nice to every person in the church by name.”?

According to C. Peter Wagner’s book Your Church can GrowLeaders of Growing Churches have 5 Qualities in Common:

 

I. Single Minded Obedience – Be willing to pay the price to fulfill the Great Commission and faithful to the Lordship of Christ.  Don’t get discouraged or distracted and beware of offenses.

II. Clearly Defined Objectives – They set measureable goals to evaluate the effectiveness of all ministries.  How do you know if you’ve been successful in your ministry gifting.

 III. Reliance on Discerning Research – Don’t guess at the situation but rely upon gathering factual data. Set aside the emotion of the decision and base your strategy on facts.

IV. Ruthlessness in Evaluating Results – When desired goals aren’t achieved a process of ministry is scrapped.  Are you willing to lay down your favorite event or ministry for the sake of church growth?

V. An Attitude of Faith and Optimism – Will God do all He promised to do?  Don’t focus on the one or two things not going well focus on the eight or nine that are!

We all need to look at these five characteristics and improve the areas we are weak in.

Does Your Church Want to Grow?

People have many theories on church growth but one thing is certain: a church must want to grow or it will not.

Some Christians do not want their church to grow.  This may be because they don’t want to give up power of control or because they want to know everyone in the building.  Sometimes churches have been taught a false “remnant theology” that derives satisfaction at being persecuted for their beliefs by the heathen masses or pride at being more holy than other churches.  An over emphasis on spiritual perfectionism leads to self righteousness that won’t tolerate weak believers or give new converts time to grow their faith.  Whatever the reason the mindset of the lay people wanting the church to be kept small must be conquered for a church to grow!

Sometimes the pastor is afraid to grow because they may lose control of the church or is secretly afraid that they won’t have the ability to lead a bigger church.  Either way the pastor must conquer his/her insecurities for the church to grow.

If the pastor and the majority of the people want the church to grow then they must also “count the cost” to see if they are willing to pay the price for growth.  When there are no goals, no pressure to grow, there is no risk of failure and everyone is comfortable.  Every businessman knows, high-risk investments yield high returns but there is a higher risk of failure.

Congregations that want to grow must risk failure, discomfort and criticism but if they are willing…oh the joy of seeing increasing numbers of souls rescued from darkness.

Eternal Things

Today is the funeral for my close friend and armor bearer Joe Savio.  A mighty man of God taken prematurely at age 52.  Joe was one of the most giving people I’ve ever known.  He would dress up like a clown and go to nursing homes or on the street to tell people about Jesus.  Any time there was anything that needed doing at the church he was there.  He told everone he knew about their need for salvation.

Joe always had a word of encouragement for me as his pastor.  Almost every week he would remind me that he was praying for me and the he and his family were with us and 100% behind the vision of the church.

You may be reading this today and have never met Joe.  You’re probably wondering why I would write this in a blog or what it means to you…here’s why his life is so important.

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  James 4:14 

Joe’s passing has woken me up in a way.  We all get caught up in the day-to-day details of life.  Joe’s reminded me that life is short and the time to fulfill or destiny on this planet even shorter.  Thank God Joe was a great Christian man and has now heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your reward.” but there are thousands of people outside our doors headed for hell.

I have made a vow today to refocus myself on the things God has called me to do.  A vow to not get caught up in the mundane details of life and ministry.  A vow to focus on the Great Commission of making disciples.

Will you join me?  Will you sharpen your focus to see eternal things more clearly?  I think Joe would like that.

A Cynical Look at Thanksgiving

We think of the Pilgrims as religious zealots bound on a divine missions trip.  Well, it might have been the divine providence of our heavenly Father that brought them here but it was the hand of King James who drive them out of England.  When King James took the throne of England he wanted to bring all the believers into agreement with the Church of England’s teachings.  He opposed any reformers who wanted to bring people more in line with what they felt the Bible taught.  He decided that everyone must worship the way he dictated or suffer the consequences.  One Christian sect called the Seperatists didn’t believe that a king should be the head of a church but God alone should be their head.  King James said, “I shall make them conform or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.”  It was fear of their earthly king that caused these Pilgrims to seek religious freedom in a new land.  Thank God for persecution.

Many times the Lord allows persecution to spread His gospel to new lands.  The first century church was driven from Jerusalem by the persecution from the Jews who were killing them, otherwise the gospel may have never spread into gentile lands.

King James was a devoted but misguided believer.  His efforts gave us one of the greatest English translations of the Holy Bible yet he persecuted anyone who practiced Christianity differently than he did.  The arrogant attitude of King James and religious spirit that guided him can be seen occasionally in those that teach unless you’re reading a King James Bible you’re reading a false Bible.  How ridiculous.  The KJV is wonderful, a breakthrough for the English speaking reader but it’s not divinely inspired.  The Bible in its original languages (Hebrew, Greek & Aramaic) IS.  In fact there are thousands of errors in the translations that were corrected in later English Bibles such as New King James, Revised Standard and New Living to name just a few.  So please don’t persecute other Christians for worshipping a little differently than you or having a different version of the scriptures…treat each other as children of the King of Kings.

This Thanksgiving remember to thank God for the freedom to worship the way you want in America.  Thank God for the founding of this nation on religious freedom.  Don’t ever let any president, congress or court limit our religious freedom.  And last, remember to thank God for persecution because many times He’s just extending His Kingdom farther.  When you’re persecuted because you won’t work or let your kids play sports on Sundays, because you have a Bible on your desk or because you dared to share your faith in a loving, respectful way with a coworker or another student…THANK God because He’s about to do something world changing through you!!

Take this quiz on Thanksgiving: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/quiz/?id=UHVLR although I disagree with one answer they give…Thanksgiving was a religious holiday.  Who says you can’t shoot guns on a religious day.  Come over my house at Christmas!