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

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 

Stay Connected

unpluggedWe have all heard the saying “it’s not about what you know but who you know.”  There is more that happens in and around us based on the connections that we have with others.  The idea of being “an island unto myself” is something that none of us were meant to be.  Who we are comes from what is allowed to be encouraged within us by the relationships we have around us.  It was Paul who wrote Do not let anyone fool you. Bad people can make those who want to live good become bad. I Corinthians 15:33 NLV  We actually become like the people we hang around with.

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone. ” – Margaret J. Wheatley

So when it comes to our walk with God why is that so many of us try to do it ourselves.  It is something we are all guilty of.  Statistics released by George Barna show that the average American pastor spends 7 min a day in prayer and the average Christian about 1 min per day.  And we wonder why we struggle so hard to become what we know we are supposed to be becoming and the world around us thinks we are just a bunch of hypocrites who spout off rules for life that we don’t even follow ourselves.

All this work invested into becoming and Jesus stated that we would become if we follow Him.  Matthew 4:19 AMP And He said to them, “Follow Me [as My disciples, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk], and I will make you fishers of men.”  We strive and struggle and work and miss out on the most important connection we have with our Father in heaven.  There was a reason Jesus spent so many hours in communion with His Father.  It was because He knew that His source for all He was to become was that connection.

It’s like we have a power cord attached to us, and that cord needs to be plugged in to a power source.  And when we desire to follow our path and do what we desire, or do what God wants but in our way and on our schedule we come unplugged.  And we instantly lose our ability to become what God designed and desires us to be.  Jesus said to stay connected to Him and the fruit would take care of itself.  Fruit is a result of being connected, not of us striving and struggling to be something.

John 15:5-6 MSG “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.  It is up to us to decide whether we will bear fruit or not.  If we maintain the connection a harvest is a sure thing.  Or we can continue to fight it out on our own convinced that we can do it ourselves.  The truth is we become because of relationship.  Will we plug in?

get plugged in

Transformed? pt.3

good evilOne day Jesus and His disciples were traveling and after a long day of travel and ministry they began to look for a place to rest.  It was getting close to the time where He was going to be betrayed and crucified and He was on His way to Jerusalem.  So He sent some people on ahead to the next town to find a place to stay.  The town was in Samaria and when the Samaritans heard He was traveling to Jerusalem they refused to let Him stay.  James and John, two of Jesus disciples were outraged at being treated this way and responded by asking Jesus James and John, His followers, saw this. They said, “Lord, do You want us to speak so fire will come down from heaven and burn them up as Elijah did?”  Jesus turned and spoke sharp words to them. (*He said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you have.  The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives. He came to save them from the punishment of sin.” They went on their way to another town.)”  Luke 9:54-56 NLV

You do not know what kind of spirit you have.   It is something that we as Christians need to ask ourselves.  There are three kinds of spirit at work on us.  We have the will to choose to do things our own way and follow ourselves.  God is constantly calling to us and we have the choice to follow Him.  And there is the devil who as long as we are not following God doesn’t have to do much with us.  We need to choose which one we follow.

Most of us as Christians follow ourselves and we don’t see transformation in our lives.  It is up to us whom we follow.  Paul wrote a lot on this topic, but specifically in Galatians 5.  He wrote similar to Jesus and said we have to decide which spirit we will have or follow.  And the one we chose to follow would be evidenced by our lives.  And this isn’t a choice we can make passively, because both sides are battling each other.  I say this to you: Let the Holy Spirit lead you in each step. Then you will not please your sinful old selves.  The things our old selves want to do are against what the Holy Spirit wants. The Holy Spirit does not agree with what our sinful old selves want. These two are against each other. So you cannot do what you want to do. ”  Galatians 5:16-17 NLV   By default we follow ourselves and do what we want to do.  If we don’t choose to follow God we choose to follow ourselves.  We need to decide and act on that decision.

Paul wrote that the evidence of following ourselves is The things your sinful old self wants to do are: sex sins, sinful desires, wild living,  worshiping false gods, witchcraft, hating, fighting, being jealous, being angry, arguing, dividing into little groups and thinking the other groups are wrong, false teaching,  wanting something someone else has, killing other people, using strong drink, wild parties, and all things like these.”  and the result of them is I told you before and I am telling you again that those who do these things will have no place in the holy nation of God.”  Galatians 5:19-21 NLV  This sounds just like the world we all live in, and unfortunately most of the churches we attend.

But transformed lives can be ours to live.  We don’t have to live life like everyone else.  And a transformed life is the best message we can offer the world around us.  One of the best times for evangelism is in the first few months after someone chooses to follow Christ and their friends can actually see the transformations happening.  And life with God isn’t supposed to be simply about talking to people,  it was meant to be about flowing with God and in His power.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power1 Corinthians 4:20 NLT

When we choose to let God lead our lives can be transformed because the evidence of our choice is transformation.  Paul continued to tell us But the fruit that comes from having the Holy Spirit in our lives is: love, joy, peace, not giving up, being kind, being good, having faith, 23 being gentle, and being the boss over our own desires.Galatians 5:22-23 NLV  This is a great contrast to living life our way.  Jesus demonstrated this life for us and invites us to do the same.  We need to evaluate the fruit in our lives and decide which spirit we will be of.  The choice is up to us, but the rewards can be huge.

who-you-follow-makes-a-differenceIf the Holy Spirit is living in us, let us be led by Him in all things.” Galatians 5:25 NLV

Worship? pt-4

Worship in truth pt.2

Worship1Do we really worship?  It has been a question I have asked myself many times.  Especially when I read Jesus’ comments in Matthew 15:8-9 NLV These people show respect to Me with their mouth, but their heart is far from Me.   Their worship of Me is worth nothing.”  When I worship I never want God to say that it has been worthless.  And yet I feel that much of what we do in churches today is worthless in God’s eyes.  We call it worship but our lives are lived for ourselves.

I once heard someone define praise as the fast songs we sing, and worship was the slow songs.  But I knew it had to be more than that.  Worship cannot just be a song we sing.  And God is actively looking for people who will worship Him.  “But the time is coming–indeed it’s here now–when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24 NLT

Last post I shared that worshiping in truth meant that we need to see God for who He really is and not for who we want Him to be.  We have been trying to force God into our understanding for a very long time.  One of the reasons Jesus wasn’t accepted by many of the Jews and the Pharisees and religious leaders was that He didn’t come as they expected or wanted Him to.  Even as Jesus was about to be taken into heaven after being raised from the dead the disciples were still trying.  They said “So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”  They we still trying to fit God into their expectations after all they had seen and experienced living and walking with Jesus and seeing Him raised.

We need to let God be God, and worship Him as He is not for who we think He should be.  But worshiping in truth also means that our words and our lives should be in agreement.  We cannot sing “let your glory fall in this room, and let it go forth from here to the nations” if we are unwilling to get a passport and be ready to travel.  Worshiping in truth means that the words we say and sing relate to the life we live every day.

To many people stand in churches and sing words that they never think about.  It is just what Christians do.  We live in a time where Christians are not Christians.  We are “Christian Atheists” to borrow from Craig Groeschel.  We talk like God exists, and live like He doesn’t.  It is important that we change this.  For our worship to be true it must come from our hearts, and not be just words we  say.  It must come from a live that is spent living out daily the words we sing and say.  This is the kind of worship God is actively seeking.  He isn’t looking for perfection, just integrity. 

The profession of our lips needs to be demonstrated in the way we talk and live.  And our lives need to show a dependence on and a submission to the God we say we serve.  Otherwise our worship is without value.

 

Worship? – pt.2

image

Worship.  It is a word that separates many people.  For most people it defines a style of music that is heard in church.  And the style you prefer causes you to join together with people who agree with you, and separates you from those who disagree.  We have fights over contemporary music vs hymns.  We argue over instruments and how many people should be in the band.  And all the while no one stops to wonder “is this worship?”

We focus on the music, and how it makes us feel and we forget that worship has nothing at all to do with us at all.  God is calling us back to the true nature of worship again, and if we get it right we won’t worry at all about what type of music is playing.  We are called to “worship in spirit and in truth” John 4:24  And worship that God seeks starts not with the music we sing, but with the heart we sing it with.  Worship begins in the heart of the worshipper.  The problem with our focus is that it remains on us.  We look for songs and music that make us feel good and fit our personality.  If we like fast tempos and a hard beat we love contemorary rock.  If we like quiet we prefer thoughtful contemplative music. 

But the fact remains that we are the focus of our worship.  We cover our selfish nature by making the subject about God, but we sing and dance for ourselves.  For most of us worship remains about what we want and has little to do with what God wants.  We “honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” Matthew 15:8  If all we have is the music we have missed completely the point of worship.

Worship is about giving awe, respect and value to someone.  It starts with an attitude and a heart posture of submission.  We cannot worship someone we feel superior to.  As soon as we figure we know better than God about something we remove ourselves from a place of worship to lordship.  As soon as what God wants for us becomes a suggestion we remove our ability to worship Him; because worship by it’s very nature means we bring ourselves under and submit to someone.  If we don’t return to making Jesus our Lord, and bringing our whole life under His control we will never be able to worship Him at all.  Worship must begin with surrender and exalt God for who He is which means He is God and we are not.