Oct 20, 2009

1.3 Does Your Church Worship You?

When did I accumulate all of this stuff? At the time I’m sure I needed it, but wow my garage is filled with a lot of stuff. I’ve got tubs of collectables that I’m sure will one day pay off. I have decorations, yard stuff and boxes that honestly I have no clue what’s in them. I guess I can say I have a good amount of stuff. Every bit of my stuff served a purpose at some time. I needed it, or at least I thought I did. I will admit it, I have a stuff problem, I like stuff. We all do.

(not the bloggers garage)

Walking into church many times is like walking into my garage. There is so much clutter that you can’t even see where to park the car. I’m somewhat new to this pastor thing, just 3 years experience as a “senior pastor” but I have struggled at one simple question- what is church. My text books tell me that a church is a body of believers that meets together for fellowship and growth. As I drive from place to place my eyes tell me with grand cathedrals every 3 blocks or so that it is a building. My experience tells me something different, church is programs. Boy howdy do we do programs.

It’s my heart to build a biblical church. As scripture directs, so I follow. Church should be biblical… right? The struggle we all face though is that the church of today looks nothing like the church of yesteryears. The clearest picture we get of the early church is in acts 2- “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” For me it just seems so natural. Church today seems forced. I struggle because nowhere in scripture do you see growth strategies, youth ministry, or even angst about church growth. What you saw was men and women transformed by the power of Christ, who looked to become a part of God’s body on this earth. The bible doesn’t talk about worship wars, nor does it speak of generational angst. In fact I have not found anything about programming in the bible.

My thought about the current church is that our love for programming comes from our love for ourselves. Now we don’t come at it from a selfish perspective, but ultimately we program to meet our needs. We feel youth are important so we start a program. We feel seniors are important so we start a program. In fact as churches we direct what we do by what programs would draw in people to our churches. From good intentions we have created bad policy. Here’s the rub, the church does not exist to serve its members, but the members exists to serve within the church. We are a place of service, not a place to be served.

The modern church certainly is a place of worship, but the question we must ask is who do we worship? Far to often we end up steering the church to worship the needs of its members. When people met in the early church they were so humbled by the perfect gift of Christ that they realized how little this world had to offer, and they just started giving what they had away. Church was natural to them because they came together as a body to worship God as strive together. Evangelism grew from an overflowing heart, not a program.

When needs arise in church often what we look for is another program to fix the leak in the dam. We as churches have just placed one more tub in the garage, further cluttering what we are doing. As weird as it sounds, maybe if we as churches began doing less, we would start growing. Maybe if we saw ourselves as the equipper, that which scripture encourages, and stopped programming every aspect of our member’s time, we would free our members to go and minister to those around them.

What do you think?

Oct 14, 2009

1.2 Church Scoreboard

There it is on the back wall of every church, the sacred cow that every church lives and dies by. It is the scoreboard of all scoreboards… Attendance Today- Attendance Last Year- Offering. As churches this is how we measure success “Are we growing“, “are we making budget“.
Before I get to far into this, I think a healthy church will be a growing church, it will be a giving church, but to place one’s values in those aspects alone would be to place very earthly values on the church.

Here is my heart, what matters in church can’t be expressed on a scoreboard. How do you express that a church is growing in the knowledge of the lord. How do you express church members experiencing the joy of the lord in a new way. How do you express men and women grappling with tough questions in their faith and turning to trust scripture for the first time.
Mark 9:33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Whether in church or life, our temptation is to try to define greatness. Every pastor wants to be the next mega pastor, every church wants to be the its neighbor down the street. Ultimately we all covet what we do not have. If we stopped caring about numbers, we would start producing them.

When our reason for reaching out is to grow the church- are we not simply stoking the fire of our church ego? Evangelism should be done out of a humble loving heart, not a prideful self centered number loving heart.

Here is the problem- we find our value in an arbitrary set of numbers that do not communicate God’s work in a church. When our numbers do not go the way we wish, we look for ways of fixing them. We begin at this moment to look for the next great program, ministry, style that will elevate us to be the new hot church in the area.

It works, add a top notch children’s program, youth program, etc, and your target audience begins to find its way to your church. Where I take issue is that those families that join tend to join by letter and all you are doing is teaching people to become church consumers… when the next buffet opens, your families move on.

We as churches have become extremely busy filling score boards while our baptisteries’ remain empty… we are targeting the saved in our community. So where does our focus need to be? We need to refocus on making disciples from our members so that they do the work of ministry. We need to show people that we are more than a gathering of people who move from trend to trend. We need to let the lost know that we care about their souls, not their attendance. We need to move away from empty religion and grow to become the body of Christ.

Oct 13, 2009

1.1 In Search of the Harvest

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Mathew 9:37-38

Look up. Do you see the harvest? Honestly do you see it? I can picture peter looking around trying to imagine what Jesus was talking about, and coming to the same conclusion as me… where is the harvest. We are living in a time of unparalleled similarity to the Jewish world. For example we are holding to a tradition that maybe strangling our churches, we are holding to a legalism that produces no fruit, we are looking at a world that grows farther and farther from us, while we retreat from it. Where is the harvest?

Many of you know I am burdened by the great number of churches that are plateaued and declining. I think the most recent number I saw was at 85%. Here is where I struggle, God is faithful, the church is his bride, and He will not leave his bride. On the other hand, God prunes branches that do not produce fruit. Where does this leave us… what is our future? I have long held that if a church is faithful to God, God is faithful to the church, but the question I keep coming to is, are we faithful?

As a pastor in the buckle of the Bible belt, I have seen about every brand of church you can imagine… multi campus, home, contemporary, cell, traditional, kid friendly, senior friendly ect. We truly have a full buffet of churches in the United States. The question must be asked though, If we have created so many options for church, why is the world still just as lost. This may be stepping out on a limb, but, we must ask, are we just creating more options to those who are already attending.

When I read Romans 12 I understand that God created the church to be the agent of change in this world, if this is the case why is it that the church seems to be tossed around by style more than surfboard in a typhoon. In the name of relevance are we jumping on every trend, while forgetting the power of the gospel. We are trying to lure people in through music, coffee shops and gimmicks while forgetting how big God is.

If we look I wonder if we could find a parallel of the decline of the church and the specialization of the church. Since there has been youth ministry, retention of youth has plummeted. Our churches have to a large degree stopped asking what would disciple people, and asked people what would make them happy. In return we have built a culture where church members move from church fix to church fix looking for a joy in programming that can only be found in Christ. We are not called as churches to be social organizations, we have not been called to be day cares, we have been called to be God’s hands and feet on this earth. We are not called to make men happy, we are called to make men holy.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Christ’s call is clear- go out into the harvest… maybe our problem is that we are so busy being entertained in our churches that we can’t see the harvest because of our stained glass.

Over the next few weeks I would like to start a journey of asking tough questions about our current system of church and I hope that at the end of this journey we all could see the harvest that is right before our eyes.

Oct 1, 2009

Would Jesus Watch American Idol?

Recently my wife and I have been on a journey. We have been taking a journey in trying to understand holiness. A few months back, I read a book “Worldliness” by C.J. Mahaney. In this book I became severely convicted about my television habits. Up until I read this book I was watching family friendly shows- The Office, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, 30 rock ect. I knew there were things in those shows I didn’t agree with, but it was good to relax turn off the brain and veg for a while. That said, I realized that I was inviting sin into my living room and allowing my family as well as myself to be poisoned by these programs.

Ok Wes your being a bit legalistic right… Well this has been my struggle for the last few months. Here is the basic conclusion I have come to. In regards to the office, I was rooting for a relationship that was openly promoting living together before marriage. In Dancing with the Stars, I was watching half naked women prance around in sexual positions, and sadly this is probably the most “kid friendly” programming on right now. How about American Idol… well the name…. and really I watch to see a bitter man rip apart men and women, how does that humor honor God at all? Over all TV has numbed my conscience to what is right and led me to accept that which I would have never considered acceptable.

Recently I preached a sermon on what I saw as a black and white topic. I asked the question in that sermon “How do we accept things that 50 years ago seems unacceptable? What has changed? Have we? Has the Word of God?” The truth simply is the word of God does not change, we have slowly allowed the influence of it to shrink, where we have allowed other influences in. We would never allow murder, adultery, idolatry, or any other sin to become normal in our churches, but we welcome those sins into our living rooms or a daily basis through TV.

Romans 1: 29-31 states that” They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

We may not participate in the sins that are shown on tv on a daily basis, but we do give our approval by allowing them to have residence in our homes. We often look silly when we scream at Washington about morals, especially when we celebrate the morals we protest on our TVs. What if instead of watching this junk, we simply used the easiest protest of all, turn it off. If we all actually get a conscience and not watch garbage, the networks would produce what we would watch- quality programming. Turn it off.

Here’s the bottom line, when we follow Christ, we want to follow the things He’s about… When we follow this world, we want to follow the things this world offers… Do you dwell on the things of God, or do you dwell on the things of this world?