Back to the Future

Time to go back to the future. We need to look back at the beginning of the Church as found in the pages of Scripture to discover where we are to go from here; the future of the Church. We need to look at our past to reach our future. 

In the beginning, the church was all about sending out disciples. There was no ‘sacred event’ on a Sunday morning to even speak of. Jesus brought his disciples together, taught them, spent time with them, and then sent them out. This is what the Church needs to be doing. 

Of course, we will come together on the weekend or even a weeknight and worship God as a community. But I believe we need to shift our focus from this ‘sacred event,’ usually a Sunday morning worship service and begin to see the rest of the week. So there needs to be a major shift in the Church model from building up an event (a once-a-week sacred service) to building up disciples. 

Have you ever considered that when you ask someone, “How was church?” They usually tell you one of two things? They say either, “The message was great!” or, “Worship was great!” Church has been dwindled down to two people doing two things for about two hours. That’s pretty crazy! What about everyone else? Everybody gets 168 hours in their week. Our strongest members spend five to eight hours at church, at best. But we spend most of our lives at work. Studies show that a third of our lives will be spent at work (92,120 hours). It sounds like that should be our mission field and church should be focused on equipping disciples to do the work of the ministry where people work, life, and play. Sunday should always be a priority, but I don’t think we can ever make disciples as Jesus wants us to if Sunday morning is the be-all and end-all.

In the Church of the future – the one Jesus is building – church will be much less an event and the main focus of the week for believers. It will be more of a pit stop. In racing, a pit stop is a place to refuel and get back in the race. However, the right put crew is needed to quickly and effectively build up the body of believers and send them the the racetrack equipped and ready. Thus we need the full fivefold ministry and especially that of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11-12).

The leader (not usually a pastor) of this new form of church doesn’t wake up and ask himself, “How is my church?”

He wakes up and asks himself, “How is my city?”

He believes – and here is a real key – that it’s not that God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church. 

If you start with the health of the church, it’ll never be good. So you’ll focus internally. But if you start with the health of the community – your friends, family, co-workers – you’ll see the church (its members) as a means to meet the needs of the non-believers. Then the church (God’s people) will become an instrument rather than an event.

When you consider the welfare of your community and not just the welfare of your members, you realize the gravity of need around you. So then you begin to equip your people to meet those needs and, in so doing, share the Gospel of the Kingdom. As you equip your members then you will have disciples who are ready to love their neighbour as they love themselves. 

Think about it. If Jesus had started each day asking, “How are the Twelve?” He’d never have gotten to do what He came to do, and the Twelve never would have become who they were designed to be. Instead Jesus embraced and engaged the community and especially those far from God and equipped His disciples to minister and make a difference. 

This change in the focus of the Church from a weekly “sacred event” to a pitstop in the week where we are encouraged, enabled, empowered and equipped will then allow all of the members of the church to be working to fulfill God’s mission in the place where they live, work, and play. Everyone then is a minister. 

Uber and Airbnb

Jesus had 5,000 people following Him, far away from their homes, without food, and with no clear idea of where they were heading. And yet they went anyway. They followed because that’s how badly they wanted to hear Him and learn from Him. This wasn’t a seeker-sensitive group. This group was hungry to learn more than they were hungry to eat.

But what is even more intriguing and inspiring is not what the masses do but what Jesus does when He gets His largest audience to hear His life-changing message. He doesn’t start a megachurch, He doesn’t create a conference, and He doesn’t launch a podcast. He preaches the Word of God, feeds the people physically, and then jumps in a boat with His disciples to sail away somewhere else!

What was He thinking? Most church leaders today would call that a wasted opportunity. Possibly even foolish. But not Jesus. Jesus was not using the same scorecard we use to measure our ministries.

Jesus saw His main ministry as discipling His chosen twelve. So, he left the multitude and went off to have quality and focused time with His disciples. We often see discipleship as a burden and something we don’t have time for because we are busy ministering. Jesus knew that faith a mile wide but only an inch deep could never compare with a few good men and women who were fully devoted to the cause. Most of us in ministry are focused on building an audience, but Jesus was committed to building an army. It’s far easier to build an event people attend than a culture people adhere to. 

John Wesley, one of my heroes, understood this when he said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, [they] alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”

John Wesley discipled young men reproducing himself so that these young men would buy into the cause of the Kingdom and multiply the work that he was doing. 

Jesus changed the world, even though He lived in only one tiny corner of it. He discipled people who discipled people who discipled people who discipled people, creating an unbroken chain that continues today all around the world.

The great thing about discipleship is that when we start making disciples, we stop relying on the church to feed us. Instead we start relying on the church to launch us. We move away from being a mere member and turn towards being devoted owners. We move from an audience mentality to an army mentality. This is not only what most people want (especially millennials); it’s what they need. It’s what we all need.

The irony is that the business world is doing a better job at this than the church is. Here’s what I mean.

Do you know what car company has more cars on a global scale than any other?

More cars across the world than Ford?

More cars across the world than Volkswagen?

More cars across the world than Toyota?

That company would be Uber.

Do you know what company rents more property globally than any other hotel chain?

More properties across the world than Hilton?

More properties across the world than Marriott?

And definitely more properties across the world than Motel 6?

That company would be Airbnb.

You know what’s brilliant about their strategies? The companies don’t own any of what makes them so powerful and successful. Uber’s platform has access to millions of cars globally, but they don’t own any of it. Their people do. Airbnb’s platform is disrupting the hotel industry, but they don’t own any property. Their people do.

These companies are benefiting from the perks of discipleship and multiplication. They haven’t just gained an audience off fans (like the charismatic leaders of churches). They have raised an army of owners and have thus decentralized leadership. What is beautiful about decentralized leadership structures is that they’re not dependent on their charismatic leader for survival. It’s the devoted contributors who are the real heart and soul of the operation. 

This is what discipleship is all about. Training. Growth of the person. Ownership! Decentralization! Multiplication! 

And in the process, taking a greater market share which is what Jesus meant when He said, “Occupy until I come.” Uber and Airbnb are doing what the Church should have been doing. But, it is never too late to adjust the way we do church and become biblical. It is time to tear down the church that man has built and allow Jesus to build His church, His way.

There Is No Off-Season

The year we have just entered is a year when the Gospel will be setting more people free than any other year in your lifetime. As we pray and the Holy Spirit works opportunities will open for us to share the love of God. And, that love is discovered and received through the finished work of Jesus the Christ. So, we need to be ready to share the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) as doors open allowing us to do so. 

The key to being ready to plant seeds and bring in the harvest is preparation. Always being ready. The most excellent athletes in the world have this principal down pat.

Every sport has an off-season. This is the time when players who have been enduring a long, exhausting season take a break to relax and rejuvenate. All sports have these designated periods of rest. The best competitors will take a few weeks to allow their bodies to recuperate, but then they’ll use the rest of the time to prepare for the next season.

They train.

They lift weights.

They run.

They go through drills.

They push their bodies to the limit so that they will not only be ready for the next season but will also be better than the previous season.

The Bible clearly states that there is no off-season for an ambassador of God. And we are all ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Notice this wasn’t a casual suggestion, but a charge. A strong command for all believers – not just pastors – to be ready to preach the Word anytime, anywhere, to anyone. When it’s convenient, and when it’s not. When it’s easily accepted, and when it is adamantly rejected. Our circumstances, situations, or surroundings do not alter the charge.

The mandate is still the same – no matter if you’re in Southern California, Mexico City, Bangladesh, South Africa, or any other region of the world: preach the Word!

God’s Word is precious. It is everlasting, unchanging Truth. We as believers have been given the awesome responsibility to become stewards of the Word of God. It is our duty and spiritual obligation. Now is the time to preach the Gospel … more than ever before. It is exciting to anticipate Jesus’ return to this earth – but until that happens there are specific mandates God has made clear to every Christian.

Receive the Word. Be faithful with the Word. And preach the Word as often as you can. 

To preach the Word simply means to share the love of God with others you relate to and those you don’t. It is more than helping or serving someone in a physical way. It must always include speaking God’s Word to them – sharing your experience of being born again and set free by the Cross of Christ. You will, of course, need to be familiar with the Gospel of the Kingdom. You will also need to learn how to share that good news with others in a way that they can understand and receive it. And, you need to become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work and let Him do what He does best – convict the person of their sin (John 16:8-10). So there is some training to undergo. 

And, as important, realize that when you are speaking to another generation – that although the message has not changed the method by which you share it must. You need to approach each generation differently and be sensitive to where they are at in their understanding of spiritual truths  and in their spiritual journey.

We are mandated to be ready to share. But, there is a season of intense preparation and I believe we have entered that season here at the start of 2020. 

If your church is not teaching you how to share the life-changing Gospel of the Kingdom, change churches. Find one that believes in being born again and that teaches, trains, and equips believers to share the Gospel with others. Find someone more mature than you are who is “going into al the world and making disciples” and ask them to teach you how to do what they are doing. It is your responsibility to fulfil this command that Paul writes to Timothy about. And, everyone of us will be held accountable for what we have done in this regard. 

Christians Can’t Be Passive

Jesus said, “”From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

The Passion Translation reads, “From the moment John stepped onto the scene until now, the realm of heaven’s kingdom is bursting forth, and passionate people have taken hold of its power.”

The original language reads, “The kingdom of heaven is entered into by force, and violent ones take hold of it.”

The message of this verse and others like it in the New Testament indicates that you cannot be passive and a believer. You Can’t get saved and then simply sit. You were not saved to sit. You were saved to serve. You cannot be laid back and letting life just happen to you and still call yourself a believer.

A true disciple of Jesus, a believer, will be aggressive. They will be passionate about Jesus and the cause of Christ. Their love for God will grow and overflow onto those who do not yet know the love of God. They will not be passive about sharing God’s love. They will be seriously intentional. 

In their own personal lives they will have a deep hunger to know and to grow. The major constant in their life, other than Jesus, will be change. And, this hunger to know and to grow will not settle for anything less than becoming more and more like Jesus and more alive and active for Him in their relationships. 

Again, this hunger, this passion to learn and grow,  will cause them to look for leaders who will disciple and mentor them. They will be constantly reading, applying what they are learning, and assimilating the lessons and insights into who they are and how they live. 

If you want to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit that you receive when you are Baptized in the Holy Spirit, you can’t be passive. You need to be passionate, aggressive, on fire, and even “violent” in the Bible sense of that word. The power is only released by those who are aggressive and passionate. The apathetic and passive need not apply. 

I have personally found that most people who ask me to mentor them are approaching the mentoring relationship passively. They are not taking the lead. They are expecting me to contact and connect with them. They do not come to a coffee appointment or an on-line connection loaded with questions that they need insight into. They apparently see the time as more a fellowship occasion than an opportunity to learn, to grow and to mature. So, they are passive. And boring!

In one particular case I am facing the person does not initiate the mentoring appointments. Coffee yes, mentoring no! This person does not read on a regular basis. It takes forever to get through a simple and relatively short book. And then the discussion is painful with me asking all the questions. Where, in a mentoring relationship they should come with all the questions ready to be asked. We work through life issues after I bring them up because they are so obvious. But, there is no follow through. So, a year or two later we are facing the same life situations again. And again and again. Although I have not asked I can almost guarantee that this person is not reading the daily blogs I post. Nor are they reviewing the teaching that come out every week. But, time for a coffee. Certainly. Passive, not assertive and aggressive.

Passive people are not moving forward in their personal lives. Nor are they grabbing hold of the Kingdom. And, they have absolutely not “taken hold of its power.” So, I am hoping that one day I will meet a passionate disciple who really does want to reach his or her full potential in the Kingdom and who actually wants to be be mentored. A person who is “violent.”

Social Issues and Jesus

I believe that I am fairly in touch with the social issues of the day. I work with people who are on the frontlines of drug addiction and alcoholism. I work with people who were prostitutes both male and female. I see the violence that is involved in many marriages – not just physical but emotional and verbal; and not just the men abusing the women but also women abusing men. Social issues are many. Some are as old as the Bible and some are relatively new. 

I am currently reading a book called “Beautiful Boy” written by a journalist who is telling the true story of his son and the family as the son slowly defends into serious drug addiction. I am reading it to become more familiar with what happens in and to the family of an addict as they watch a loved one decent into serious addiction sometimes ending in death. The house church I belong to is about to watch “Stopping Traffic” a real life story about sex trafficking of young children and young adult. A current form of slavery. We have a person who is involved in ministering to this group of people and we all want to know more so we can pray and even help end this epidemic.

Have you noticed that Jesus never spoke about social issues current in His day. In the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus there was rampant homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, unwanted children were taken to the fields to be left to die, slavery (the backbone of the labour force for the Empire), women were not treated with respect or dignity, prostitution (male and female), and on the list of social ills could go. In spite of all this Jesus never spoke about these issues nor did He directly address them in His teachings and in His discipling of the leaders of the Church – the early apostles.

Jesus simply treated people with dignity and respect. He introduced people to the Kingdom of God through His teachings and the miracles that He did among the people. He spoke of God the Father and how deeply and unconditionally He loves them. He spoke about being born again and having a relationship with the Living God, the Creator. 

When people become part of His Kingdom through being born again the issues of the day, society’s problems, can be addressed and changed. These issues we face are really issues of the heart. So, Jesus aimed at the heart. Change the heart you change the attitude and motives, values and beliefs of the people. Then society’s issues can be addressed and changed. 

The Church today is often so preoccupied with addressing the external problems that we forget the real root of these problems. So, we come across negative as we oppose so many things. People don’t see the love of Jesus. They see the judgment, condemnation, and rejection of those who do not believe as they do. Thus they see the Church as narrow-minded and of little relevance to the world in which we live. 

And, because our focus is addressing the issues we forget or neglect to speak about the Gospel of the Kingdom which is the power of God unto salvation. And, we run programs in the hope of interesting those who are not part of the Church to join us. And, we wonder why the born again Church is not growing and has, in many places, a seriously negative reputation. 

It is time to address the heart issue that causes the societal issues we get so upset about. It is time to focus on the Gospel releasing people from spiritual bondage. Shine the light in the darkness and stop yelling at the darkness. 

We have the answer but we need to earn the right to be heard and taken seriously.

Gone Fishing

Many years ago I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew when the Lord spoke very clearly to me. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” After I read that verse the Spirit said: “If you are not fishing, you are not following!” I thought, “How true. If we are not sharing Jesus with others and being a witness for Him where we live, work, and play then we are truly not following Him. We may think we are okay and still walking closely with Him. However, we are simply deceiving ourselves.” I still believe that.

When I reached the end of the Gospel of Matthew I again heard the voice the Spirit. I had just read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) God spoke and told me that I didn’t believe those words. After a brief argument trying to convince Him that I did believe His Word I stopped and listened. He said, “You don’t believe those words because, if you did, you would have a passport. Without a passport you cannot go into all the world.” I applied for and received my first passport. Within two weeks I was in Ukraine ministering the Gospel of the Kingdom.

You see, the purpose of the Church is not to meet your needs or heal all your hurts and woundedness. The purpose of the Church is to fulfill the Great Commission. To do that we need to be ‘fishing for men’ and telling them the Good News that Jesus saves. Jesus came “to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). We, His followers and disciples, are to complete that task that He started. We are called to go into all the world and fish for men. It is not an option, it is a command. It is not for special, anointed people. It is a command for every believer to obey. 

Again, as I read the Gospel of Matthew many years later God asked me two questions. Question one: “What business are we in?” I gave Him many answers – caring for the sheep, feeding the sheep, healing the sheep, teaching the sheep… But I knew none of them were the right answer. So, I asked Him, “What business are we in?” And He answered, “seeking and saving the lost!” I knew that but I had become so busy with the sheep I had in the local church I pastored that I was no longer taking the time to share the Gospel with the lost. 

The second question He asked me was, “How’s business?” And my truthful answer was, “It sucks!” Because people were not hearing the good news and people were not coming into the Kingdom. We had been “successful” and had grown a good sized church but had lost the passion of “seeking and saving the lost.” It had been a slow slide away from following Jesus and fishing – but the drifting had taken us a long way from where we had started (Hebrews 2:1).

That day I told the Lord that if He ever asked me that question again the answer would be different. And, since that day I intentionally look for opportunities to share the Gospel of the Kingdom. Being a witness does not happen by accident. It is always something we need to plan for, take time to do, look for open doors as we go through our daily activities. So, I schedule my day with ample time to say “yes” to opportunities as they arise. I live life aware of the urgency to share God’s love with those who do not know Him. Where they will spend their eternity is in play here. 

So, I have made many changes over the years to return to the purpose of the Church and the call upon every true believer. And, as we enter a new season in the physical it is a good time to think, once again, about what is occupying my time and my focus … and make more room in my day to be a witness to the resurrection and a disciple-maker. That is always the emphasis in the Kingdom and the call of the King on all of our lives. 

Been fishing lately?

It’s a New Season

In my nation it is the day before the children go back to school for the fall season. Summer is winding down and the weather feels like fall. The flowers are starting to show signs of the coming winter. The trees are slowly turning colours telling us that fall is here and winter is not far behind. As we change seasons – activities change as we wind down weekends away and begin to become involved in preparing gardens for the coming snow. Children will become involved in after school sports. A new season brings many changes in our social structure, our activities, and family life.

As the seasons change in the natural there are numerous changes in activities and events and the way we spend our time. It is the same in the church. As September begins there are many changes that churches go through – new activities, new programs, ‘back to church’ events to welcome those who have been missing most of the summer and those who have recently moved into the community. Churches go all out to regain the momentum that was lost during the summer break. It is a time for fresh initiatives and new hope. 

The Kingdom of God also goes through seasons. And, it appears that God takes advantage of the changes in the natural seasons to highlight changes in His Kingdom. So, as we move into fall we can sense a shifting in the spiritual realm – the Kingdom realm. We don’t need to guess what these changes are and the effect He is wanting these adjustments to make in the life of the believer and the life of the Church. God is not hiding what He is doing. In fact, He speaks loudly about the changes through His apostles and prophets.

In the Old Testament times He always spoke of changes that were going to happen through His prophets. Amos 3:7 states, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” In the New Testament – the Church age – God speaks about the changes through His apostles and prophets. 

Ephesians 2:20 “(The Church) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues…”

These changes should translate into adjustments in the way we “do church.” These changes should bring about adjustments to our church programs and activities. However, that is often not the case. I see two clear reasons why this is often the case. 

First, the local church does not believe in the present-day ministry of the apostle and prophet. Thus, they do not receive the revelation of the new season and the adjustments that are needed. They do not even recognize that we are entering a new season. So, for them, it is business as usual. 

Secondly, some churches become aware of the changing seasons and simply don’t respond. They feel safe, secure, and comfortable with things as they are. They are literally not interested in changing as change can be messy. People may leave. Adjustments will need to be made to our priorities and out schedules. So, they don’t welcome or receive what the Holy Spirit is now saying to the Church. 

In both cases God does not force Himself and the changes in His Kingdom upon these local churches. However, He also does not cancel His plans and the new season He is bringing upon His Church. He simply moves forward without these churches who don’t respond. Maybe they will join what He is doing later but, in my experience, that is not likely. He still loves them but He is moving forward with His plans and His purposes with or without them. 

The new season will arrive and changes in the Kingdom will happen. He will give everyone who calls on His Name the opportunity to hear about the changes and to respond. But, He does not force His will on anyone. We need to choose to respond if we want to continue walking in His perfect will for the Church (Romans 12:2) and be part of what He is currently doing through His Kingdom upon the earth.