The Survey Says…

And the survey says

Churches that are inwardly focused are easy to spot and come up on the radar quickly when looking at the state of the churches we attend, relate to, and work with. When a church is ministering to itself and its members there are some vital signs that can be seen within the life-flow of the local church and that are rather obvious. When a local church is largely self-serving we see ten basic signs of the obvious coming death of that church.

I say “obvious death” because a local church will eventually die when it is self-focused, self-serving, and thus self-centred. Death is always there in the future for that local self-serving church because it is not doing what the Lord called the Church to do – seek and save the lost. So, there will be no life within the programming of the church – just ritual, rules, and regulations. Programs will sustain the church but will never bring life back to the church. Death is inevitable.

So, when a church is largely self-serving, focusing inwardly and not outward to the community and the lost, we see ten basic signs, ten dominant behaviour patterns…

1> Worship Wars … One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2> Prolonged minutia meetings… The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and the Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3> Facility focus… The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4> Program driven… Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5> Inwardly focused budget... A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6> Inordinate demands for pastoral care… All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have “membership status.”

7> Attitudes of entitlement… This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

8> Greater concern about change than the gospel… Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9> Anger and hostility… Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10> Evangelistic apathy… Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

In almost every behaviour above, church members were looking out for their own needs and preferences. I want the music my way. I want the building my way. I am upset because the church staff or elders didn’t visit me. I don’t want anything to change in my church.

You get the picture. I. Me. Myself…. and the church will die. This is what the survey states and history and experience have shown us. But a church can change if…

Agree to Disagree

FrankViolaImage

Frank Viola … a terrific believer and author who is leading the way in many of the needed changes in the way we see things in the Church. He is enabling people to think outside the box and examine the record of the early Church as found in New Testament epistles and the Book of Acts with fresh insight and with our religious glasses off…

Frank wrote:
We’ve all seen it. The belligerent smackdowns where Christians take the gloves off with fellow believers over doctrinal, theological, and political differences. Many of them can’t walk away from a fight or “lose.” Instead, some pour coals on an already roaring fire. Others bring in the gasoline trucks.

It’s time to recover the art of “agreeing to disagree.”

The enemy gloats when God’s children are at one another’s throats over their petty disagreements. Forfeiting a relationship over a disagreement effectively dismantles the words of Jesus,

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

That they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me … John 17:23

John Wesley was the first to put the phrase “agree to disagree” in print in the 18th century (applause for John). George Whitefield was his sparring partner, and Wesley attributes the phrase to him. Here’s the quote:

“If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.”

Whitefield used the phrase in a letter as early as June 29, 1750. In light of the doctrinal disagreements between Wesley (an Arminian) and Whitefield (a Calvinist), someone once asked Whitefield if he thought he’d see John Wesley in heaven. Here is Whitefield’s reply:

“I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”

Let’s take our cue from Wesley and Whitefield when encountering a disagreement among a fellow believer. Learn the art of agreeing to disagree. When it comes to most doctrinal, theological, and political disagreements, most of those hills aren’t worth dying on.

In The Beginning

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“In the beginning the Church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the Church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it move to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.” (Richard Halverson)

And, now it is time to go back to our roots, dig up and remove all the worldly influences that have changed and altered the original faith and the expression of that faith in the life of the early believers, the Church. It is time, I believe, to question everything we do and everything we believe to see if it really is a part of the Christian faith or simply an add on – philosophical truths, institutional structures, cultural Christianity, and the business it has become in many places with buildings, budgets, and bodies being the sign of success.

We need to dig deep – right to the very roots of what we believe and why we believe it. Many of the things we hold dear to our hearts are not biblical – not even in our wildest imagination. We need to examine the foundations we are building upon … they may not, most likely are not, biblical in nature. Many things have slowly crept in as the result of cultural influences and institutional adjustments. Many of these things have made our Christian faith impotent. We go through the motions but there is no emotion as it is all head knowledge. We go through the motions without any movement because we are good – safe, comfortable, and secure – and don’t want to change.

The early Church was powerful – supernatural. It influenced and impacted the culture in which it found itself. They understood the urgency and the need for the Kingdom to expand to every known part of the world. They saw the value of the human soul and truly believed that without a personal relationship with Jesus people went to Hell for all of eternity – forever separated from the love of God and from God who is love. Because of this focus on winning the lost and going into all the world to make disciples, the early Church was a movement that spread quickly and changed each and every culture it touched. It was a serious lifestyle that was so radically different than the norm that it was an actual counter-culture to the existing ways of life. Not a sub-culture of the regular culture as we often are today.

In the beginning Jesus was Lord of the Church and people simply listened to the Head and believed and obeyed what they heard. They did what the saw Jesus doing and spoke what they heard Jesus speaking to them. This was the same simple approach that Jesus used in His three years of public ministry before His crucifixion. It is not complicated. In fact, if it is complicated then it is religion and Jesus came to destroy religion. If it is Jesus it is simple, not complicated and everyone can get involved in following Him and working with Him thus starting another movement and then another and then another… until the true and unadulterated message of the Church impacts every life on the planet.

In the beginning … time to go back to the beginning and purge the Church of all that has been added by man into the mix we now call Christianity.

 

Early Christianity Was Radically Different

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Christianity was and is radically different than any other ‘faith structure” or what is fondly known as religion. Whereas other people only imagined a god somewhere above us, Christians boasted of a God who left His heavenly realm to be right here with us. Emmanuel is one of His Names and it literally means “God with us.” Whereas other religions required people to make sacrifices to their gods, Christians told the story of a God who sacrificed Himself for His people. That sacrifice not only atoned (paid the penalty) for our sins, it opened the door for God to come and dwell in the midst of the spiritual community, known as the Church.

The single most defining characteristic of the early Church was the God was clearly present in their communities and as they met for worship and the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42) on a daily basis in people’s homes.

Early Christianity was radically different from the religion of both the Jews and the Gentiles (meaning the non-Jews). Christianity probably didn’t even look like a religion to many people; it seemed more like a movement. The people who were swept up in this movement didn’t follow religious practices as much as live a particular lifestyle. This lifestyle not only went against the grain of secular culture, it was completely contradictory to many people’s religious sensibilities at the time. It was even different from what many would recognize as Christianity today.

Instead of worshipping God in special, sacred buildings, church members worshipped God in their ordinary homes (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2). Not only that, they went as far as to claim they themselves were the real temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). And instead of employing special priests, they viewed every believer as a fellow priest (1 Peter 2:9). Consequently, average church members were expected to carry out all the priestly duties in the church, such as confessing their sins to one another and praying for healing (James 5:16).

Rather than somber religious ceremonies, they frequently held feasts at each other’s homes (where some of the members occasionally got a little out of control) [1 Corinthians 11:20-21]. And instead of ritualistic sacrifices, they believed the only real sacrifice God wanted was their day-to-day devotion (Romans 12:1). In addition, the early church ignored most of the racial, political, economic and gender prejudices of the day. Jews fellowshipped with Greeks, slaves with masters, rich with poor, and men with women (Galatians 3:38; James 1:9-10). It was downright scandalous. As the King James Version of the Bible says, the first Christians were a “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). Or to put it another way, the early Church was the counter-culture of their day … and never considered themselves as a sub-culture.

We were radically different… time to be so once again!

The Great Comfort

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The Church that Jesus is building should be proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom – salvation through no other Name but Jesus. This is The Great Commission. However, many churches today are majoring on The Great Comfort. Life began for these local churches by reaching out and saving the lost. They were actively involved in The Great Commission to “go into all the world and make disciples.” However, over a period of years, the local church often moves from being a dynamic Great Commission body of believers to a religious country club with their focus on The Great Comfort.

Most local churches start well and end poorly. And the key word is “end” because when comfort becomes the key focus the church will slowly die and, one day, cease to exist. When a local congregation moves from being all about Him to being all about them … you know, Me, Myself, and I … then it is well on its way to death and burial.

Most local churches then need to make some major changes if they want to be part of what Jesus is doing today in the Kingdom and in His world. It is time to move from the natural state of an inwardly focused organization (social club) to the supernatural state of an outwardly focused organization that is dangerous to the work of the devil. To make this move there are four things we need to look at…

1> There needs to be an outward-focused leader. In other words, the leader changes first. People follow the leader. If you want to change a church then the leader needs to change first. You cannot lead change without first embodying change. So, turnaround begins with the leadership. Outward focus begins with the leaders. Revitalization of the local church begins with the leader. This may mean changing the leadership of the local church as some leaders simply don’t want to change.

2> The outward-focused budget. To change a local church there needs to be a change in the focus from inward to outward. This change will be noticed in the budget. If the majority of the church’s financial budget is for staff and building and programming for current members then there is a problem. It costs money to reach out and win the lost. It also often costs money to bring the needed internal changes that will turn a church around so that it is focused outward to the lost. Training and equipping the saints can be costly. Renovating the building to reach the lost (coffee bar, video and audio equipment, lighting) can also mean a substantial investment. Otherwise you may win them to Jesus but not retain them. So, reaching the lost must be a major consideration in all and every budget consideration.

3> The church needs to become outwardly focused in increments. We have all heard the cliche: “People won’t change unless they want to change.” It is similar with churches. Change usually does not take place until church members see positive evidence that it is good for the church. So, you change in increments – slowly but steadily. When a church is becoming outwardly focused, it is certainly changing. But it is also preparatory for even greater change that can be introduced later.

So, at this point, the effort should start with small steps and should be incrementally leading to bigger and better steps. So, then the focus is shifting gradually but steadily to being more outward and less inward. So, leaders should be prepared to pace the rate of change and thus prepare the church for even greater change.

4> Watch for and emphasize small, immediate victories as the change process begins. The idea is to demonstrate from an incremental perspective how the impending larger changes will be a positive outcome for the church. The leader thus seeks to find and articulate easier and early on victories for the church that will then lead to greater and potentially, more challenging, victories as change progresses and moves forward more rapidly. Some of the first-fruits of victory in the change process may not even be directly connected to the larger changes being planned … but people need to see the small victories so as to then buy into the major changes needed down the road.

Changing from The Great Comfort to The Great Commission never happens by accident. It is always intentional. And, it takes a strong leader to being the process. and see the process through to completion.

 

 

Live Life With Passion

Have you noticed how much passion people in the world have?

Football games – all the Bowl games in the USA
New Year’s Eve …
Hockey at -25C outdoors in Toronto
Toronto Maple Leafs against Detroit Red Wings – 100 years of the Leafs
American politics – still an ongoing topic as we live through “Trump Bumps”
Movie stars and Hollywood / Entertainment news…

When someone goes overboard in their passion for something they are called “fans”

But, when a believer goes overboard and has passion for Jesus they are called a “fanatic” (Sad) Read more

Received An Email This Morning

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One of the men that I have just begun to build a relationship with and mentor wrote this morning. He has a day or two off as it is Orthodox Christmas in his nation. This is a married man, a father, an interpreter, and he holds down a very respectable and excellent job that he actually likes and enjoys. He is a very active believer and has some really decent relationships with leaders around his area and across his nation as well as overseas. I have enjoyed working with him and I am enjoying building a decent relationship with him.

He writes in part: “I’m going to church for a jazz concert. Honestly, I’m a bit tired of visiting the church on Sundays, I don’t usually go on Sundays to tell the truth, I attend youth services on Wednesdays, but grow tired of those too. It just doesn’t feel right, Ii seems we have lost the purpose of those gatherings, I can’t find any relationships with church people during the week…I heard all that (they teach) many times and I do not believe half of the stuff I hear on Sundays.”

I hear these sentiments often. Many today, both young and old but especially young, are making similar comments and feel similar to this young, well-educated, family man. The church is simply not speaking into his world and the meaningful relationships that he is seeking are not forthcoming during the week or even on Sundays from within the Christian community. In fact, the main meaningful relationship he has is with one of the pastors due mostly to his work with the church and his involvement at a leadership level.

I believe it is time to take a good look at “our product” and realize that the way we are presenting our message is no longer touching the hearts and lives of many of our people – and is certainly not impacting the lives of those who do not believe our message. We are becoming, maybe we already are, irrelevant to the vast majority of both Christians and non-Christians. But hear me, the message of hope that we have is not irrelevant – it is the way we are packaging our message and presenting it to the world. And, the way we live and interact with others is declaring that even we don’t believe what we preach.

Last week in a house church that I attend – during the washing up after the supper and service – one person who was a visitor but well versed in the Christian faith commented on the fellowship time and all the “super-spiritual”  comments and “Christianese” that she heard and how it was a simple turnoff. Another weekly attender and long-time believer commented, when asked about her Christmas at another believer’s home responded, that there was too much ‘religious’ nonsense. Well, if believers and those well-versed in the faith are making comments like this we have little hope of reaching the lost.

It is time to rethink what we are or are not doing and how we are doing it. It is time to ask ourselves some really tough questions and get honest with ourselves. I mean, do we really believe the Gospel of the Kingdom? If we do, why are we not living like it is true? Why do we live like Christian atheists – saying we believe in Jesus but acting like God does not exist? If the Gospel of the Kingdom really is the only way into heaven should we not know how to communicate it in a way that it can be understood and received? Is our lifestyle so opposite to the Gospel message that people see the disconnect and thus want nothing to do with what we are offering?

Here’s a good question: Why do we do what we do the way that we do it? And, have we noticed that it has become ineffective and irrelevant to most people, Christians and non-Christians today?

Time for most local churches to wake up and face a stark reality. Telling ourselves the truth and facing the situation is half way to a solution. So, be “very strong and courageous” as God said to Joshua and let’s not deny the reality of what we see in most gatherings of believers.

And, in 2017, let’s move forward sharing the Good News of salvation and an abundant and purposeful life with both those who profess to be believers and those who have yet come to the place of accepting what God, our Heavenly Father, is offering them. But, “share in words and in supernatural deeds” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5) – a lifestyle that declares loudly that we truly are disciples of Jesus who declared Himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

 

Good-Bye To New Year’s Resolutions

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We are into a new year. And there is hope that 2017 will be different than 2016. But will it? For life to be different this year something will need to change.

If you just simply live life and relate to people in 2017 the same way as you did last year, 2016, then you will have the same results. Nothing will be different. But, really, it is not ‘something’ that needs to change – it is you that needs to change.

All real and lasting change is an inside job. It starts in your heart and soul. To change what life looks like and how it treats you – you need to change you. Real change, permanent change happens from the inside out.

So we make New Year resolutions. But then, they don’t work. The are usually vague goals with no inner push or motivation to actually bring them to pass in your life. Really, they are not goals – they are simply daydreams. By now even some of these daydreams has been discarded or, at best,  filed away for another time or another season.

Real change comes when we realize that there is a spiritual side to every human being – including you – and then take the time to look deep inside ourselves and discover the real you. This will mean finding time, being still, creating silence… and being honest with yourself. And, of course, you might want to invite God, who created you, designed you to help you take this deep heart look. After all, He is the One who gives you life and allowed you to enter into this New Year.

2017 is simply another step in your personal journey of life. But, it is an important step. If you work on inner changes that bring about new outward dynamics then you are building a new way to live in 2017 and a good foundation for 2018 and onwards. Life is a journey and each step we take, each year we live, determines where the next year begins and what it is going to look like.

So, why not take some time in the next few days to “be still and know that He is God” as the Scriptures state we should. And, in that inner stillness actually ask God to show you the real inside you and what needs to be changed, adjusted, removed, and added. It would make a great start to what could be, if you want it to be, a better year ahead.

Strategies for a Life-Changing Year

2017 goals - New Year resolution concept - word abstract in vintage letterpress wood type blocks against grunge metal background

At this time of the year I have put the finishing touches on my goals for 2017. In December of each year I work diligently in prayerfully forming my goals – making sure they are measurable and attainable (with God’s help) and taking me in the direction I know God would have me to go during this new year of life He is supplying. By this time, early January, I have reviewed and adjusted them and have established them as guidelines for the next 12 months.

Looking at the big picture of goal setting I would recommend the following:

1. Make a quality decision that you are going to invest in improving your life, your business, your ministry.

A quality decision is a decision that you will stick to come hell or Hiawatha.
Investing in improving your life, business, and ministry would include attending training events, taking courses, and investing in other educational opportunities.

Unless you are willing to take the time and spend the money to invest in transformative learning opportunities, everything in your life will remain the same. That goes for your ministry, your financial situation, your business, your relationships, and on and on the list could go.

2. Set six to twelve goals that you want to see come to pass next year.

I personally set goals in the following categories: Personal life and expression, relationships, believing God for, financial goals, study and reading goals, ministry goals, household (home) goals, essential goals (major changes in the way I do life), family and marriage goals. So, because I have been goal setting for many decades there are closer to 75 goals than six to twelve as I am suggesting. But, if you are just starting… 6 to 12 goals are plenty to move forward with.

3. Plan to do something you’ve never done before.

Yes, leave your comfort zone. Stretch yourself. It’s the only path to growth. In each of the 10 categories of goals I work with as listed above I set at least one “get out of your comfort zone” goal that pushes me past comfortable and into stretch and grow territory. It’s good for you and you will be glad you did.

Remember, without goals you are literally aiming at nothing. And, if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. And, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. Poor English, but true nonetheless.

Being of One Accord

The Christmas message is that God took on human flesh – was born as a baby – and dwelt among us

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory…”
John 1:14

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means God with us.” Matthew 1:23

And, Jesus is still among us…

Jesus, after His death and resurrection, ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us as another Comforter / Challenger … Jesus being the Comforter / Challenger Read more