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

You’re such a Curmudgeon!

“You’re becoming such a curmudgeon!” one of mcurmudgeon-with-bow-tiey co-workers said to me a couple weeks ago.  I had to admit I didn’t know what he was talking about.  He grinned widely and said it means “a cranky old man.”  It’s a comment meant to be a joke but it has got me thinking.  Because the things we say we believe we don’t often live like we do.  Craig Groeschel wrote “The Christian Atheist”, a book which premise is that Christians today declare that God exists and is involved in their lives, and then live like He isn’t.

We live in a society which says that they are Christian.  For many it is because they go to church, at least at Christmas and Easter.  For others it is cultural, and while we are getting further and further away from a Christian culture many still see themselves as Christians.  And there are others who believe in the Christian message.  But it isn’t what we say we believe that matters.  In fact our lives declare more about what we believe than anything we may say.  And for many of us our lives are not declaring what we hope they may.  It is a fact I have been looking into in my own life.

It is not a bad thing to evaluate your walk with God from time to time.  If you don’t you will quickly become complacent and coast through life.  Paul wrote “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 MSG

Everyone of us needs to look at what our life is saying about our beliefs.  Are we following Jesus or are we saying we are Christian and living like He doesn’t exist?  Craig Groeschel wrote “Who do we believe in more? Ourselves or God? Our actions and decisions will reflect that.”  Our actions declare what we believe.  John Calvin wrote “the doer is he who from the heart embraces God’s word and testifies by his life that he really believes.”   Rick Warren said something similar when he said You only believe the part of the Bible you do.”

Paul said three times in scripture “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Philippians 1:27 NLT, Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1.  Our conduct says a lot about us and about what we believe, and the world around us is watching.  Are we declaring the majesty of Christ, or the selfish whims of our own hearts.  What is your life saying about what you believe?  Is it agreeing with the words you say?  It is a tough question to ask, but a very important one to answer.

The labels we wear

labels Labels.  We all wear them.  The things people have spoken about us or to us have stuck to us and changed the way we live.  For some it is trying to outlive the labels, and others try to live up to them.  Everyone of us has experienced the labels our world puts on people.

As humans we love to categorize people, and have them fit neatly into a slot that makes sense in our minds.  The standard we use for people is usually ourselves.  When people behave the way we want they are great people, and when they don’t we usually get upset.  If people behave differently enough from us we categorize them as different and set them aside.   We have labels for just about everyone we meet, and we relate to people based on the labels they have.

Growing up there were jocks and geeks, preps and Goths, punks, metal heads and grunge.  But there are more than the social labels we wear.  There are a lot of things spoken to us over the years that have labeled us as well.  Useless, bum, jerk, loser, worthless, good for nothing, dumbass, and many others.  The struggle to be yourself is especially hard for young people still discovering who they really are as they grow into adulthood.  And the labels can be extremely hard to live with as evidenced by our teen suicide rates.more than a label

We are more than a label.  And we don’t have to be the labels that others have placed on us.  Even our parents placed labels on us as we grew up and were told to be something.  Part of the journey of self discovery is learning to discern yourself from the labels.  Under all the labels our world has placed on us is the real you and I.  An extremely valuable person to find.  One that Jesus thought was worth leaving heaven and dying for.

All of those labels have created ways of relating and interacting with our world, and many of them are learned behaviors and are not the real us.  The journey is to help us decide which ones are not us and which ones are.  As we discover ourselves under the labels we can then begin to express ourselves for who we really are.  It isn’t going to be an easy path to take because some of the labels we wear have a depth of pain attached to them that will take some working through.  But the rewards for doing so are incredible.  Don’t let the worry of what you may discover keep you from searching.  There is a great wealth inside each one of us if we are willing to look for and discover who we really are.

Seeing the sights

one thingInside each and every one of us is a wonderful person the world is desperately wanting to know.  Every day all around us are people that have incredible talents and gifts that often go completely unseen and unknown, and the world is worse off for it.  So much potential that goes unused and unnoticed.

The world doesn’t need more carbon copies of others.  It doesn’t matter if they were the greatest person around.  What the world needs is people who are willing to be authentic, and allow their potential to be lived fully.  This comes by knowing yourself, your limitations, your talents and giftings and being secure enough in who you are that there is no need to “fit another mold”.  We were created unique and special.  Every person born is important and has a wonderful potential.   There has been and never will be another you, and if your life goes unlived because you were trying your best to fit in or measure up the world will have lost a great treasure.

Coming to know yourself is a journey.  It isn’t something that happens overnight.  In fact because we are developing and growing it is a journey that is continually ongoing.  Everyone of us needs to be going on that journey.  This is done with a lot of soul-searching, and thought spent deciding why we do things, what we love to do, what we are passionate about.  It involves analyzing motives to understand the reasons for behaviors we have.  Many of our behaviors are a result of our childhood, and often they are self-protection mechanisms that have completely outlived their usefulness and are now just keeping us from become ourselves.

This journey isn’t easy at times.  In fact it can be painful as we come to understand things about ourselves that we won’t necessarily like.  But the rewards for going on the journey exponentially exceed any discomfort we may go through.  The world around us needs people who know who they are.  There are a lot of people compensating, calculating and even being like a chameleon and changing themselves to fit the expectations of those they relate to.  Very few people are truly self-aware and confident in who they are and what they are gifted to do.

So it is an important journey for all of us.  The big thing is that we need to enjoy the journey.  Every journey we take in life has its ups and downs.  The car breaks down, tires go flat, engines overheat, flights are delayed or cancelled, traffic jams cause us to be late.  Everywhere we turn there will always be joyous highs and heart breaking lows.  Unfortunately it is a facIMAG0157t of life.

But even with the lows and high the journey can be worth while and very memorable.  I recently traveled to Turkey and Armenia, and there were difficulties and frustrations.  There were highs and lows, but the memories will stay with me for a life time.  It is the same when we journey to knowing ourselves.  The journey was meant to be enjoyed.  It will be hard at times, definitely life changing, and an incredible release of burdens we hang on to, and passions we have bottled up.  We are all worth knowing.  That is the way God created us.  But to be known we have to know.  I need to know myself so I can share myself with the world I live in.  If you haven’t started your journey, it is never ever to late.  Every journey begins with a single step.  Just enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. journey enjoy

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.

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