Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die

The following article was reblogged from https://www.sermoncentral.com

 

Many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

It broke my heart.

Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.

But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing.  Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
  7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
  9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.

Time is running out. Please, for the sake of the gospel, forsake yourself and make the changes in God’s power.

By Thom Rainer on Apr 7, 2017

President, LifeWay Christian Resources

What’s Going On God? – pt. 4

A life pull of purpose is available to all of us.  Each one of us is created for a purpose and not a single life born is a mistake.  We have a part to play in accomplishing our purpose and God is actively involved in our lives calling us towards a deeper relationship with Him and a life spent living out the purpose we were created for.  And many of the situations we face every day are simply training and proving areas where God shows us ourselves so that He can change us.

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

Both Saul and David had opportunities to be powerfully used by God in their generation.  Both were hand selected by God with a purpose.  Both men encountered hardships and testings that God used to show them who they really were and to show them their character.  Both men made mistakes and messes, but only one responded to the dealing of God in his life, and only one fulfilled the purpose of God for him. 

Paul as another man in scripture called by God with a purpose.   Now Paul had a little different start than David and Saul.  He was a man of prominence and power.  He was part of the Jewish council, and a staunch advocate for the Jewish faith.  He was a man of principle and extremely devout and fervent.  He went so far as to exterminate everyone he thought was a threat to the Jewish faith.  And yet God chose him.

Unlike Saul and David, Paul had a difficult past to overcome.  Daily Paul had to face the people he had tried to exterminate.  Paul had to forgive himself, and move forward.  Paul refused to allow his past to hold him back.  Paul understood what God said in Isaiah 43:18

“Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past.

Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14

“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul completely focused his life on the purpose God gave him to fulfill.  Paul chose to run forward, and not look back.  He chose to learn from his mistakes and to move on.  Paul’s life can give us hope as well because he shows us the possibility.  We can achieve all that God destines us for.  It is a matter of focus.  Will we accept our reality or deny it.  Will we accept the truth about ourselves, or make excuses.  Only when we see ourselves as God sees us can we move forward to the next stage.

The first stage is Revelation – God reveals to us what His purpose for us is.  Revelation always brings us to the second stage.  Confrontation – Every time God reveals a part of His heart, or His purpose for us He always confronts us with who we are.  We all like to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are really good people.  So God shows us what is in our hearts and the behaviors and attitudes that need to be dealt with and overcome.  So God uses situations we face every day to show us who we are.  Jesus said “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45  All of the situations we face draw out of us what is really in us.  All of the things we don’t want to see.

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

The next stage God brings us to is Transformation.  At this stage we have a choice to make as well. Will we allow God to change us.  Because transformation is not an easy task.  Confrontation causes us to face ourselves and our giants.  Transformation enables us to overcome them.  Transformation is the stage where God helps us to overcome the parts of ourselves that are holding us back.  This means that transformation can be a painful process.

  • This is the stage of surgery, where God cuts away the disease and cancers in our character and places them on the cross.
  • This is also the stage where the flesh fights the hardest against the spirit.

Because our flesh desires comfort and this stage can be anything but comfortable.  The good news is God usually combines this stage with confrontation.  He doesn’t confront us with a list and then expect them all to change.  God will bring something to the surface, causing us to realize it, and then have us face it and overcome it one step at a time.  David and Paul and many others in scripture and in history are proof that God is able to carry us through this into all that He purposes us for if we allow Him to.  The stages of Confrontation and Transformation are not easy stages to go through in our lives, but they are necessary, and God never leaves us to walk through them alone.

Are we willing to allow Him to see us through?

What’s Going on God? – pt. 3

A life full of purpose.  It is something we all are called to live.  We don’t always recognize what our purpose is, and we don’t always recognize how we fulfill our purpose.  There are a lot of things that are necessary to happen in us so that we can fulfill the purpose God designed each one of us for.  First God reveals His purpose for us.  It is usually revealed in small pieces, that as you assemble them you get to see a bigger picture.  And the little details bring us forward into the larger picture, as we make the steps necessary.

Secondly God begins to talk to us about the issues in our lives and character.  All the things that we have in us that keep us from being all He called us to become.  God deals with each of us in the unique ways that we need to begin to see ourselves for who we really are, not for who we portray ourselves to be.  So

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

Three men in particular whose lives were recorded in scripture reveal this process.   Saul, David and Paul all experienced God in this very way.  And the way they responded to God’s involvement in their lives determined if they accomplished the purpose of God for them.

Saul was from the smallest family of the smallest tribe in the nation of Israel.  In other words – He was insignificant. Not a person of prominence or important.  Saul was very insecure. He himself stated that he was insignificant.  Saul was also very proud. Scripture states he was without equal in all of Israel in physical appearance.  Both of these attributes show forth in the decisions that he makes.  He decides to do things not because they are right, but because people are looking at him.  Take the decision that cost him his destiny found in 1 Samuel 13.

Saul was going to fight the Philistines, so he gathered his armies and prepared for battle. Samuel was supposed to come and make the sacrifice and bless the troops. This happened before every battle,  the priest, or prophet would come and seek God’s direction for the battle and pronounce blessing. And the troops wouldn’t fight without a blessing.  And only a member of the priesthood could offer a sacrifice according to God’s law, so they are waiting for Samuel.  And on this day Samuel was late, not minutes but days, and so the troops started to leave and go back home.

When Saul saw what was happening he decided to fulfill the role the priest was to fulfill, because his people were looking at him.  He performed the sacrifice and blamed Samuel for having done so.

“What have you done?” Samuel asked.  Saul answered, “My soldiers were leaving in all directions, and you didn’t come when you were supposed to.

Saul decided once again, as he had done on so many other occasions,  to change the plans of God to suit himself and followed his own plans and as a result he missed out on all that God wanted for him.   Saul disqualified himself from his destiny because he continually chose to ignore the opportunities for change that God offered to him and He focused on himself and missed the confrontation of God and the opportunities to change. 

Now David had a similar start in life.  He was also an insignificant nobody.  He was just a small shepherd boy and even his own family thought little of him.  He had one major difference though, He knew his God.  But that didn’t stop the difficulties from coming.  He, like all of us,  had to overcome;

    • fear
    • insecurity
    • pride
    • selfishness
    • self promotion
    • discouragement
    • despair

Saul was constantly hunting and trying to kill him during his early years in the palace, and David had opportunities for revenge and refused.  David consistently worked at keeping his heart right.

David definitely wasn’t perfect, and many times did decide to do things his way.  His committing adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah was not the first time that David fell.   Nor was it the last.  What made things different for David was when God confronted him, would always repent and refocus his life to fulfill the destiny God had for him.  This was what kept David on track and allowed him to fulfill his destiny.  Scripture states that David did all that God called him to do, and then he died.  Acts 13:36 for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors.”

David, despite his mistakes, and despite his missing God’s plan on several occasions, was never disqualified from the destiny of God.  This gives us great hope, because many times we have all missed out on following God’s plan, and we have not always responded to God’s dealings properly.  But we can still obtain His promise, and fulfill His purpose for us.

We all still have the opportunity to fulfill the promise that God gave to us. Our choice is whether we will respond to the hand of God or resist.

What’s Going On God? – pt 2

Every person in scripture had a purpose from God to fulfill. Just like each of us have a purpose to fulfill.  Each persons life took different turns and twists on the way to achieving that purpose, and Each person had a different approach to his destiny and which either qualified him, or disqualified him.  Everyone had similar difficulties to overcome – 1Corinthians 10:13  “But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience.”

Each one had things happen TO them,

So that things could happen IN them,

So that things could happen THROUGH them.

Discovering God’s purposes for us leads us through 4 stages.  Now before this process can begin in our lives we need God to give us insight into what He wants to do and become We call this receiving a Revelation.  In this stage God sets our sights on what can be.  The possibilities of what He wants to do.  Receiving a revelation brings an increased expectancy and faith that challenges us to reach for the impossible.  Which means that hearing God personally is extremely important in our lives.  Without input and direction from God we will each go our own way and do our own thing.  Jesus said “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”  Matthew 4:4 Message.  We really need to know the heart of God personally and hear from Him regularly.  This starts us on the journey and is the easiest part.  God speaks, and we listen.  How we respond to what God does next determines if we begin to fulfill the purpose of God for us.  Immediately after we receive a revelation from God He moves us into the second stage.

Now this is an exceptionally important stage and one that cannot be passed over.

This is the stage of Confrontation.  It is where God begins to deal with our character.  And it is the stage where we feel the most uncomfortable because it is where God begins to show us ourselves.   God begins to confront us with the changes that need to happen in our lives so we can fulfil His destiny for our lives.  This is where things begin to happen TO us.  In order for us to fulfill what God has planned for us we require change

God isn’t going to change His mind about us, but there are things in our lives that are standing in the way of His plans.  It is here at this stage that God begins to reveal the changes that are necessary.  But it is also at this stage that much of what God is doing in our lives can go misunderstood and as a result go unresponded to.

As a result of our misunderstanding what God is doing at this stage we can often fall into resentment, bitterness and complaining.  Some people have so misunderstood what God was doing that they have completely given up on their future.  God’s desire is for us to be like Jesus.  And so God begins to squeeze us so that just like toothpaste, what is really on the inside of us comes out.  God has to confront us with ourselves.  We need to honestly see ourselves as God sees us so we can change.  We have to face the reality of who we really are, and not the rationalization.  If we simply keep justifying ourselves and our lives we won’t change.  And if we don’t change we will miss fulfilling our purpose.

We have to understand this process and take heart that even though it may be difficult there is a reward at the end worth all of this hardship.

Things happen TO me,

So that things can happen IN me,

So that things can happen THROUGH me.

We cannot become who God wants us to be to in a day.  Just take one step at a time as God leads. Things happen TO us to reveal in us what God wants us to deal with.  We have to choose to respond to or ignore God.

Securely Anchored

anchorAnchors have been around as long as we have had boats on water.  They are a means of securing a boat to keep it from drifting away.  On larger vessels capable of ocean voyages they also secure the ship against the storms that come.  Oil drilling rigs are often stationed in some of the worst areas in our oceans for storms and they are anchored securely and even the worst of the storms the crew can remain secure in the fact that the anchors have been designed to keep them secure and in place.  They won’t drift or blow away.

In our lives anchors are important as well.  We live in a world that is going crazier every day.  With new bombings happening in Belgium, and Turkey, and terrorist attacks on the rise all around the world our lives are become more and more unstable.  People are beginning to question much of what they had counted on for securing.  With global instability rising, and markets crashing even the finances we had set aside and based some security in for our future is disappearing.  Overnight people are waking up to realities where the moneys they had worked so hard to set aside and plan for had disappeared.  Many lost thousands as the market values crashed and world currencies devalued.  Security has become an illusion for many people.  With home invasions on the rise, and gun violence all around us many have become disillusioned with what we had at one time considered security.

In all of this there is an opportunity to have real hope.  An all-encompassing sense of security inside, even when the world is going crazy outside.  There is an ability to have a confident peace that is secure and quietly allows you to weather all that life may send your way.  It isn’t an absence of things going wrong, but a confidence and hope that fills us regardless of things going wrong.

1 Peter 1:3 talks about this hope that is available to us.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” NIV Jesus is alive.  He was dead, and was raised to life again, and because of this we can have a deep-seated hope and confidence that is not dependent on our circumstances.  A hope which anchors us securely through all that life sends our way.  This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:19 NLT

As we enter the season where we as Christians reflect on what Jesus did for us, and offers to us because of His death and resurrection we need to refocus our lives at times.  We can get distracted and allow ourselves to let go of our anchor and tie ourselves to many other things which will never be able to hold us true and steady.  In this season we need to ask ourselves what are we anchored to, and will it hold no matter what comes?

Are you following?

follow meWhat does it mean to follow someone?  In our world it doesn’t mean much.  It usually means that we go in the same direction as the one we are following.  But in Jesus’ day follow me actually had a depth of meaning.  When Jesus spoke to His disciples and said “Follow Me…” they knew it was more than traveling together.

A modern image of following someone would be an apprenticeship.  When you apprentice for a trade, you are a student or follower, and you allow the teacher or master to guide you and train you to become like him.  If your studying to be an electrician you will follow a journeyman or master and learn to be an electrician by doing what you see done.

Following in Jesus’ day meant more than just learning a trade.  It also meant learning a life.  When you followed someone you became like the one you followed.  You learned to think and act like them.  You didn’t trade in your personal identity at all, but you submitted your life to the one you followed, and you learned to live life the same way they did.  It went deeper than apprenticeship.  You learned a lifestyle, a world view, a way of relating to the world around you, and you took on the mission of the one you followed.  Your character changed, your life mission changed.  Peter and the other disciples left their respective trades and jobs to become like Jesus.

Paul, who encountered Jesus and became a follower stated in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. NIV  Paul understood what it meant to follow.  In essence you become like the one you choose to follow after.  You take on their traits, some of their habits.  You allow them to speak into your life and character and to build you up.  And you take on their mission.  You become an electrician if your following one.

If you look at your life who would you say you follow.  As Christians we are called to follow Jesus.  But we don’t see much of the life of Christ when we look at our lives.  Wolfgang Samson wrote “In the West, the lifestyles of many Christians are still centered on careers, TV, hobbies, privacy, and pets. We sugarcoat our faith with a thin layer of Christian behavior: attending church services, praying before meals, and listening to Christian music. This is not much different from the lifestyle of the average person living in the West where almost everything is geared toward the pursuit of personal security, success, fun, and even individual spiritual growth.”   We call ourselves Christians, or followers of Christ but are we following?  A follower always becomes like the one they follow.

One quick way to check if you are following Jesus is to see if you are passionate about His mission.  Jesus stated His mission was For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10 NLT  And He stated that following Him would have us taking on His mission.  Jesus said to them, “Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!” Matthew 4:19 NLV.  If we are not becoming sharing the hope that we have with those we come in contact with and seeking to connect them with Jesus, can we say we are following?  Someone once wrote “If your not fishing, your not following.”  Who are you following?  Does it need to change?  Only you can decide who you want to follow.  Everyone follows someone.  We need to decide if they are worth following and if we really want to become like them.

Connected pt 2

cowboy-sunset Togetherness.  It is something that goes against the grain at least here in North America.  We have an ideological concept of ourselves steeped in rugged individualism, where we ride in, become the great hero and ride off into the sunset again.  We see little need for others and usually people are the reason we feel the need to be alone.  People can be extremely cruel and harsh  and all of us have been on the receiving end of some form of ridicule and abuse which just seems to reinforce the stereotype.
Add to that all the busy bodies and gossips who seem to feel it is their God given mission to know all that is going on in your life and share it with everyone they know as well as their opinions of what you are doing and it is no wonder people don’t want to invest heavily in relationship.  Even the source of basic foundational relationships we were all born into has broken down into a deep source of pain for many.  Family isn’t even something you can count on any more.
Enter the church and the people who are supposed to be ones you can begin to turn to and count on as Jesus demonstrated and we have a group of people obsessed with what is wrong with you instead of helping bring out what is right.  There is a lot wrong with our world today and it just reinforces our desire to stand alone.
Unfortunately we were not created to be alone but to be in relationship.  And our level of connection to God is dependent on our level of connection with others around us.  One always will lead to the other.  When we come to know relationship with God through Jesus we are restored to a life-giving relationship with God and He instantly begins to network us to others around us.  And if we resist building relationship with others, our relationship with God begins to die as well.  We cannot have one without the other.  We need to change our view of relationships with others to become who we were meant to be.  Our growth personally and in our relationship with God is dependent on it.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr –
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 that Christ gave gifts to the body of Christ so that we would become mature and complete measuring up completely to Christ who is our head.  And because of that maturity we would stand firm in our faith and we would …Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”  Ephesians 4:15-16 NLT   What I found interesting the first time I read this and I began to understand our need for one another wconnectedas that we grow together.  There is no alone in Christianity.  No room for individualism.  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”   
We can never become who God wants us to be by spending time with God alone.  We also need to be in ever-deepening relationship with the people God begins to place around us.  One whole complete body of Christ around the world together becoming who God wants us to be.  “We must depart from a self-centered view of our life in Christ. We cannot independently remain apart from others. We are formed by the Spirit to be joined into community with others, forming a body indwelled by Christ.’  Ralph. W. Neighbour Jr.. Christ’s Basic Bodies