The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Four

There is such a confusion in the Church today about what we are to believe and why. As I work with young people in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) it is obvious that both believers and non-believers have a lot of confusion about what we, the Christians and followers of Jesus, really believe and why we believe it.

A lot of the confusion comes because we are mixing Old Testament and New Testament together as if they were equally important for our walk with the Lord and our maturity as believers. Because of the amount of teaching rooted in the Old Testament we have people believing for things that were only promised to Israel of old – God’s people back then. Christians are being taught to live by Old Testament principles and laws that were for Israel and not for God’s chosen people today – the Church. 

Two nights ago as our church plant met in Toronto I received a message asking me about “blessings and curses.” This, of course, is found in Deuteronomy 28 but is referring to the ground rules that the Israelites were to follow as they lived for their God in the wilderness and then in their Promised Land. It is not something for Jesus followers today because Jesus died on the cross and removed the curse from those who believe. The Old Covenant was completed and fulfilled by Jesus during His brief life on our planet. He stated, “It is finished” as He hung on the cross and died for our sins. The Law is finished – we are living under grace and take our clues for life from the New Testament. 

Believers today are mixing Old Testament and New Testament together and ending up with confusion. The Old is a record of God’s interaction with the Jewish nation. It is the OLD Covenant. We are the Church, God’s chosen people today. And, our Scripture (inspired writings) are the 27 books of the NEW Testament. The Old Testament is good for a historical understand of God’s interaction with the human race. It also contains the prophetic voices that forecast the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus. So, it is important as background and history. And, it is inspired. But, we are living in New Testament times and should focus on reading and living the New Testament writings.

Paul said it clearly when he said, “…but we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and “I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2). If anyone could have preached from the Old Testament it was Paul. He was a Pharisee and well versed in all of the Old Testament writings. But, as a believer and leader in the Church, he chose to preach Christ.

This is our message. And, we need to go back to teaching on the King and His Kingdom; the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14). 

Joshua and the people of Israel walked around Jericho every day for a week. The seventh day they walked around seven times, shouted, and the walls came down. So, now leaders tell us to walk around our city and pray so that spiritual walls will fall and the city can be taken for Jesus. Really! God spoke those specific directions to a specific people at a specific time and place. He did not speak them to the Church. No where in the New Testament do you see the believers walking around their cities.

God said to His people that they were to fast and pray, humble themselves and that He would heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Christian preachers teach on this all the time and have their people fast, pray, humble themselves … But those words were not spoken to the Church. They were spoken to God’s people, Israel, and are not for today. They are not a current promise that the Church, believers today, can glibly pull out of context, claim, and confess as a promise that God made to them. Nope. Not real!

And on and on the example could go. Let’s preach Christ and Him crucified. Let’s live in the New Testament – the book for the Church as it is the New Covenant made between God and followers of Jesus. Let’s stop confusing believers and non-believers alike. Let’s get back to the basics and watch what will happen as people discover the bare and basic resurrection power of Jesus without all the “religious” trappings. 

Rise up Church and be the Church!

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Three

A friend of mine moved to a city north of where I live and took over a struggling Spirit-filled church. He is a good leader and he quickly built a new leadership team to help him as the church began a tough journey to becoming healthy.

He made a lot of changes – the music, the worship, the preaching, the way things function. He dreamed and cast vision and then worked hard to bring things into line with that new vision. He successfully transitioned the church and it began to grow. And, he added a new Saturday night service for the youth. Those that are known as Millennials (born between 1980 – 2000). They are a generation that is less ‘religious’ then previous generations and although interested in the supernatural and often believing in Jesus, they have little interest in or use for the church. See the notes at the end.

As time went on the Saturday evening service began to see substantial growth. Very similar in format and in preaching content to the Sunday morning service. However, a little livelier, a little louder, more informal, with an opportunity to discuss the teaching after the basic content was presented. As this new service began to grow it soon saw several hundred in attendance. It was amazing. New life for an older church; growth where there had been a steady decline in numbers; life and optimism replacing the pessimistic outlook of previous years. Saturday night became the key service for this church as it reinvented itself.

I asked a number of Millennials why they attended the Saturday services on a regular basis. Their answer did not surprise me. The stated two reasons: First, they came to be with others their own age to talk and relate. The world would call this building relationships. We would call this fellowship. Second, there was good quality coffee available in a relaxed setting where people could simply drink coffee and talk. No mention of the worship – which was better than good. No mention of the teaching – which was engaging, relevant, and on topic for Millennials. Fellowship with like-minded, same-age group and good coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. Hum! Starbucks with a spiritual overtone.

When pressed about the music and worship they all agreed it was better than good, in fact, some thought it was amazing. When questioned about the teaching of the lead pastor – again, everyone thought that he did an amazing job presenting truth and engaging their hearts and minds. But, they came for the coffee and the fellowship. 

My point: The message we preach does not change. However, we need to be in touch with the current trends in our culture and society. Then, address the never-changing message to them in a viable, relevant, understandable way being sensitive to their understanding and approach to life and the Christian faith. 

If we are going fishing for wide-mouth bass we use different bait then we would use to catch a walleye. So, we need to be aware of who we are trying to reach, what they believe, how they view life, and what the key elements of their social relationships are. Then, we use the right bait – the appropriate methods – to present the never-changing message of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

This is what my friend did when moving to an older church in a mid-sized city and he successfully touched a generation seeing many come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Wikipedia states…  

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or Gen Y, are the generational demographic cohort following Generation X and preceding Generation Z. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years. Millennials are sometimes referred to as “echo boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s, and because millennials are often the children of the baby boomers. Although millennial characteristics vary by region, depending on social and economic conditions, the generation has been generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.

Peter Pan generation: American sociologist Kathleen Shaputis labeled millennials as the Boomerang Generation or Peter Pan generation, because of the members’ perceived tendency for delaying some rites of passage into adulthood for longer periods than most generations before them. These labels were also a reference to a trend toward members living with their parents for longer periods than previous generations.[146] Kimberly Palmer regards the high cost of housing and higher education, and the relative affluence of older generations, as among the factors driving the trend.[147] Questions regarding a clear definition of what it means to be an adult also impacts a debate about delayed transitions into adulthood and the emergence of a new life stage, Emerging Adulthood. A 2012 study by professors at Brigham Young University found that college students were more likely to define “adult” based on certain personal abilities and characteristics rather than more traditional “rite of passage” events.[148] Larry Nelson noted that “In prior generations, you get married and you start a career and you do that immediately. What young people today are seeing is that approach has led to divorces, to people unhappy with their careers … The majority want to get married […] they just want to do it right the first time, the same thing with their careers.”[148] Their expectations have had a dampening effect on millennials’ rate of marriage.

Religion: In the U.S., millennials are the least likely to be religious when compared to older generations.[158] There is a trend towards irreligion that has been increasing since the 1940s.[159] 29 percent of Americans born between 1983 and 1994 are irreligious, as opposed to 21 percent born between 1963 and 1981, 15 percent born between 1948 and 1962 and only 7 percent born before 1948.[160] A 2005 study looked at 1,385 people aged 18 to 25 and found that more than half of those in the study said that they pray regularly before a meal. One-third said that they discussed religion with friends, attended religious services, and read religious material weekly. Twenty-three percent of those studied did not identify themselves as religious practitioners.[161] A Pew Research Center study on millennials shows that of those between 18–29 years old, only 3% of these emerging adults self-identified as “atheists” and only 4% self-identified as “agnostics“. Overall, 25% of millennials are “Nones” and 75% are religiously affiliated.[162]

Over half of millennials polled in the United Kingdom in 2013 said they had “no religion nor attended a place of worship”, other than for a wedding or a funeral. 25% said they “believe in a God“, while 19% believed in a “spiritual greater power” and 38% said they did not believe in God nor any other “greater spiritual power”. The poll also found 41% thought religion was “the cause of evil” in the world more often than good.[163] The British Social Attitudes Survey found that 71% of British 18–24 year-olds were not religious, with just 3% affiliated to the once-dominant Church of England.[164]

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Two

Why is it that church people seems to want to park where they are at in their journey with Jesus? Or worse, they want to retreat into the past as seen by the number of stories they tell about ‘the good old days’? 

I was recently in a meeting of leaders from one specific church. As we discussed some aspects of the life of the church I suggested that people today are not looking for what is being offered in the majority of churches on an average Sunday morning. That the current generation we are called to reach are simply not relating to the way we are “doing church” and that something needs to change. The message is always the same but the ways in which we share and celebrate that message should be open to change. Methods are not sacred – the message is established but the methods must remain flexible.

Well, we ended up in a decent conversation but I (and the other leader who came with me) were not really heard. The leaders determined that the problem was with the people. They were not hungry enough. They did not love Jesus or love Him enough. They were not engaging in the worship experience being offered. They were too busy with things in the world. They were passive and not willing to be become involved. Then, in defence of their own leadership, they spoke of the anointing on their lives, the things God had done in the past, the one small highlight of the past six months. 

Well, when it is all ‘their fault’ and we are not willing to look at the way we are packaging the precious message that we are to share; when it is ‘the others’ who need to change and get serious about Jesus and the church; when we think what we do on a Sunday is biblical and thus ‘sacred’; When we continue to do what we have always done – we will always get what we have always got. Someone once said, “that doing the same thing we have always done expecting different results is simply insanity.” I agree.

Today we live in a world where people can find better worship and better bible preaching on the internet than they will in the local church on a Sunday. And it is available when you want it.

Today we live in a world where we Google our questions, Facebook our friends, find news in a format we prefer and it is instant and live, and we microwave our food. The world has changed. And, we need to learn how to relate to this new reality.

Today we live in a world where people want to dialogue and not just listen to 30+ minutes of a ‘talking head’ no matter how good he or she may be. They want to be able to ask questions and wrestle with answers. They want to exchange ideas with others.

Today we live in a world where “the Bible says…” means nothing because the majority of people today – young and old – no longer see the Bible as their only authority or even as one of many places they go to seek truth.

Today we live in a world dominated by politics, sports, and economics. The center of life,  the reference point to life, is no longer the Church or the Bible. 

Today we live in a day when the sports bar is ‘attended’ more often than the church building.

Today we live in a time when ‘fellowship’ is found over a cup of Starbucks coffee or over a beer in a local brew pub and not the church.

Today what people think and feel is what they see as truth – and people no longer look to or even consider the Bible to be truth or even contain some truth.

Today we live in a time when people are questioning what 50 years ago was simply considered as truth and never questioned.

Back to the meeting I was in recently – I was blown away when the leaders commented that their church bible studies still used the King James Version. Really!

The world has changed and is continuing to change at a rapid pace. Things are not as they were 50 years ago – or even 5 years ago. Leaders need to understand the culture and society in which they live. They need to relate to the people around them whose lives are so different than they were even a few years ago. As leaders – as believers wanting to fulfil the Great Commission and see people born again – we need to understand how the people around us are living, what they believe, and how they are thinking. Then we can present the gospel – the message that never changes – in a way that it can be understood and received.  

To do so we must be open to changing a lot of what we do and how we do it and still hold true to the faith once delivered to the saints. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part One

I have just returned from a trip where I am working to plant a church in a major Canadian city and helloing to replant a church in the United States. While in the United Sates I inquired about two leaders in an area near the capital city who had stated churches. I learned that both churches (church plants) had ceased to exist. One had grown as large as several hundred but had failed due to internal conflict. The other simply did not attract the people support it needed to continue. I have been thinking about these situations and the two I am involved in as well.

Generally when someone goes to plant a church or wants to have a growing church there are a number of needed factors. Right up front, let me say that I don’t believe this is the way to plant a church today nor is it biblical.

First, we need a good performance. In an entertainment-driven culture, we need someone who can captivate the crowds. If we don’t have a charismatic communicator, we are sunk from the get-go, from the start. Even if we have to show him on video, we get a good speaker. And, for a bonus, we surround the speaker with quality music and arts.

Next, we need a place to hold the crowds who will come. This usually means investing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in a facility to house the performance. The more attractive the environment, the better. And, of course, foundational to a good environment is a “Starbucks level” coffee corner.

Then once the crowds get there, we need something to keep them coming back. So we start programs – first-class, top-of-the-line programs – for kids, youth, and families, for every age and stage. And in order to have those programs, we need professionals to run them. That way parents can drop their kids off at the door, and the professionals can handle ministry for them. We don’t want people trying this at home.

There it is: a performance at a place filled with programs run by professionals. The problem, through, is the one ‘p’ we have left out of the equation: The people of God, the priesthood of all believers.

This brings to remembrance a comment from my first mentor many years ago. He said, “It is easy to attract a crowd or run a three-ring circus (constant flow of entertaining speakers and music). It is hard to build a church.”

Where did we get the idea that all of this is necessary? Certainly not in the Scriptures. The early church did not have professionals running their churches. There were no professionals. Just believers in love with Jesus. They did not have buildings as they were meeting in homes and, in most cases, were persecuted and thus met secretly to fellowship and pray. And, programs were not needed as they simply celebrated their new found freedom and forgiveness, eating meals together, praying, fellowshipping, and studying the words that Jesus spoke. Simple enough. And, powerful in its own simple way.

“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b)