Are We More Invested In Bringing People to Church? Or to Jesus?

By Karl Vaters

Church attendance should be a tool to help people draw closer to Jesus. Not the other way around.

I have a confession to make.

As a pastor, I have too much invested in getting people to attend church.

My salary depends on it.

My reputation depends on it.

My sense of self-worth depends on it.

All to a much larger degree than I’m comfortable with.

And I’m not alone.

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Come to Church? Or Come to Jesus?

The way most church systems are structured, many pastors have a greater stake in getting people to come to church than getting them to come to Jesus.

In fact, sometimes it’s detrimental to our bottom-line to have people draw too close to Jesus.

When people are more committed to the church than to Jesus, they will

  • Attend regularly and quietly
  • Spend all their volunteer hours at the church
  • Give all their charitable donations to the church
  • Be happy with the status quo

When people are more committed to Jesus than our churches, they might

  • Volunteer for some of their ministry outside the church walls
  • Find other places that are worthy of some of their charitable donations
  • Leave when God calls them into full-time ministry
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Make us feel threatened by reducing the clergy/laity dividing line

But we have to do it anyway.

We have to point people to Jesus more than to the church.

 Church Is a Tool, Not a Goal

Overcoming our tendency to emphasize church more than we emphasize Jesus won’t be easy. And I’m not in a position to point any fingers. I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone.

But I have a longing. For more. For better. For deeper.

I want to live, preach and disciple people in such a way that they’re committed to Jesus, not just their church.

Of course, church is valuable. It matters that we participate in a local body of believers through worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry. If it didn’t matter, I’d leave the pastorate today.

We’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

But we’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Church attendance is not the goal. It’s a tool to help us reach the goal.

As a pastor, I have to remind myself of that on a regular basis.

A Matter of Pastoral Integrity

I don’t want to pastor a group of nice, polite church attenders, or waste my time entertaining bored believers.

I want to participate in the gathering, training, and releasing of an army of Jesus-worshiping, people-loving, barrier-breaking world-changers.

Sometimes it feels like my salary depends on the former. My integrity depends on the latter.

I also want my bills paid. But making pastoral decisions that have more to do with holding on to our salary packages than making disciples has made much of the western church anemic.

The church I pastor is no exception to that. At least not as much of an exception as it should be. That’s not their fault as much as it is mine.

Jesus promised that if we serve his kingdom first, “all these things” will be taken care of.

Let’s trust him to do that and turn the church loose.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/january/invested-in-bringing-people-to-church-or-jesus.html?start=2

 

Upper-level Vision

By Scott Armstrong

What is your passion? What gets you out of bed even on the bad days?

When I was a teen, I probably would have thought of such questions as irrelevant or even dumb.  I was driven to get good grades, but I was probably just as passionate about eating ice cream or playing basketball.

Although my youth pastor and many other speakers urged us to share our faith with our friends, I think I was mostly focused on trying to not look stupid – unsuccessfully, by the way.  I knew I should be passionate about winning my school and city for Christ, but I was actually much more excited about my baseball or football team winning it all.

More than two decades later, I’m in a different place.  Don’t get me wrong: I get pretty pumped about the Kansas City Royals finally winning some games, and I’m unequivocally passionate about slow-cooked, barbecue pork ribs.  But those things do not drive me.  There are two firecrackers that now wake me up every morning with an explosion louder than any alarm clock: Christ and his mission.  I am consumed by God and want everyone in this world to know Him!

Yet, even with those forces propelling me, why do I sometimes allow my focus to be so often on lesser things?

I recently heard the church planter Will Mancini talk about helping our churches to dream and plan big.  Mancini maintains that most church attendees are connected to the following:

  1. Place.  If you’ve ever tried to broach the possibility of moving church structures or allowing another congregation to use your facilities, you know the physical location is important to people.
  2. Personality.  The dynamism and the talents of many leaders attract and inspire.  When we feel most attuned to God and his kingdom, sometimes we are actually connecting with a certain leadership style or personality.  This is why members frequently leave a congregation when there is a change in leadership.
  3. Programs.  “They have a great children’s department.”  “I love singing in the choir.”  Programs help us and our families fit in and involve ourselves in ministry.
  4. People.  Think about five favorite friends that are part of your local church.  Praise the Lord for meaningful relationships like those!  At the same time, if those five people were to suddenly not be a part of the congregation, would that adversely change your attitude?

To clarify: none of these “connector categories” are bad at all.  Our facilities are a great blessing, and we would rather have charismatic, personable leaders than not!  A church with no programs at all is a virtual impossibility, and people loving people is the definition of Christian fellowship!  Nevertheless, I agree with Mancini when he says that all of these are lower-level visions.  None of these should be goals in themselves.  If we fail to move our focus beyond these four areas, we will never see upper-level multiplication dreams come to fruition in our churches.

That term: “upper-level dreams,” reminds us of a few upper rooms, does it not?

In one upper room we see in John 13 that Jesus takes the towel and basin and washes his disciples’ feet.  His time is short and he chooses this powerful means to “show them the full extent of his love” (v. 1).

The focus in that upper room? Service.  Love.  Christ.

Acts 2 tells us of another upper room.  Nearly two months later, the resurrected Jesus sends his Holy Spirit upon 120 of his followers and they are deployed into Jerusalem and the world with the multi-lingual message of repentance and hope.

The emphasis in that upper room? Unity.  Wind.  Mission.

You see, when we dwell in the upper room, we begin to have upper-level dreams.  We do not focus on the petty or trivial.  We are overcome with things of eternal significance.  Place, personality, programs, and people have their moments.  But what connects us and compels us in the day-to-day is the work of Jesus Christ in us, among us, and through us.

I spent my teenage years as a good Christian boy.  I liked church and I for the most part made good decisions.  But if I had to do it over again, I would get out of the lower level and start to dream upper-level dreams.

What about you? Is your focus on lesser things, or are you obsessed with Christ and his mission?!

May we hesitate no longer.  Let’s intentionally walk up the stairs to the upper room.

Why Jesus Never Commanded us to Plant Churches – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

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Do our actions match our words?

We say we want to see churches planted from out of the harvest, but our actions and our leadership practices do not often match our words. And the sad thing is that even when faced with such inconsistencies, we are likely to continue repeating our past behaviors–expecting different future results (Maybe the Ridley Assessment has something to say to those of us who oversee church planters?).

Whenever a biblical model for church planting is viewed as unusual, the path to change will come with pain.

In order for healthy change to occur, we have to change our ecclesiologies, missiologies, and what we celebrate, reward, and expect.

Poor definitions = poor practices

We have a poor understanding of our Commission.  We act as if Jesus has commanded us to plant churches.  We are commanded to make disciples.  It is out of disciple making that churches are to be birthed.  The weight of the biblical model rests here.  Not transfer growth. Not acrimonious splits. It is evangelism that results in disciples, who covenant together to be and function as the local expression of the Body of Christ.

We have a poor understanding of the local church.  If our definition is poor, then everything we say and do related to church planting will be poor.  We often expect newly planted churches to manifest structures and organizations like what is observed in churches of 20, 40, 50 years of age. Our definition of a local church is oftentimes so encased with our cultural desires that we do not know the difference between biblical prescriptions and American preferences.

We operate from a poor definition of church planter.  If we do not recognize the missionary nature (and thus apostolic functions) of church planters, then we end up equating them with pastors.  And take it from a pastor who has been involved in church-planting: missionaries and pastors have different callings, gift-mixes, passions, and functions to play in the Kingdom.  We end up sending pastors to do apostolic-type work, or sending missionaries and expect them to be pastors.  Such is a perfect storm for problems, frustrations, burn-out, and disasters.

Are there other ways to plant churches than what we read about in the ministry of Paul?

The problems with our current models

Yes, and I am in favor of some of those models. Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes.  Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.

However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made.  The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here.  Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting.  Today, they are often the expectation.

I expect my “surprising” conversations will continue in the future.  Such is necessary as we move in a direction where a biblical model is not looked upon as the exception.  But until our church planting expectations change, we must ask ourselves a question and recognize the troubling answer:

What do we have whenever a biblical model is viewed as unusual?

We have a major problem.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2013/09/09/why-jesus-never-commanded-us-to-plant-churches/3/

Why Jesus Never Commanded us to Plant Churches – Part 1 of 2

By J. D. Payne

I recently spoke with a church-planting leader for a particular denomination.  As we talked over coffee, he inquired about the direction of our church when it comes to church planting.  My response was to describe our future missionary labors in terms like we read about in Acts 13-14; 16; 20; 1 Thess. 1:2-10; and Titus 1:5.  He responded with much surprise as if my thoughts were coming from an unusual source.

Unfortunately, over the years, I have found myself surprising many people during similar conversations.

What does it reveal about our missiology and biblical convictions whenever we think it is strange to advocate that those first century church planting teams have something to teach us?  What does it reveal about our Kingdom stewardship when we view such an advocate as being peculiar?  Do we not recognize a problem exists whenever we label a church planter as being innovative, creative, or unusual for following a Pauline model?

Granted, not everything we read in the Bible is prescriptive. However, I believe our brother Paul and his example should be on a pedestal for us to consider. He was a church planter, you know.

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Having the right definition

As wise stewards of the mystery of Christ, we must subscribe to a definition of biblical church planting as evangelism that results in new churches. Or, to communicate it in other terms: disciple-making that results in new churches. The weight of the biblical model is on this definition.

Imagine what would happen if we began to create a church-planting atmosphere in North America whereby the expectation for new churches is that they should consist of 95-100% new believers–at the moment those churches are planted.

Consider what would happen if our strategies did not embrace methods that would result in new churches consisting of 95-100% long-term Kingdom citizens – at the moment of their births.

We Don’t Need More Flavors

What would happen if we recognized that a wise use of our Father’s resources (e.g., money, people) should be to assist in planting churches from out of the harvest fields, instead of establishing a new work in a community to provide a different style of worship/ministry for the believers who are already there?

We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches.

What would happen if we equipped and commissioned church planters with the task of only going to the lost in the people group/community?

Yes, we say we are advocating these things, but let’s begin to question our results.

Try this. The next time you hear about a new church planted, a record number of new churches birthed in an area, or church planting goals reached, just ask the question, “What percent of the members of those churches recently came into the Kingdom of God?”

This article will continue in the next post.

Our Massive, Incomparable God

By Rev. Rob Prince

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We have no idea how big the Universe is.

The farthest thing we have measured so far with the help of a mighty telescope—actually two telescopes: one in Hawaii and one in outer space—is 13 billion light years away (a light year, by the way, is 5.88 trillion miles). So the farthest thing that we have measured is 5.88 trillion miles times 13 billion. That’s A LOT! 

Somewhere in the middle of this vast universe is a spiral galaxy called the Milky Way—which is made up of hundreds and billions of stars.

One of those stars is our sun—rotating around the center of the Milky Way once every 250 million years.

One of the planets circling our sun is a tiny little ball called planet Earth.

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Our tiny little ball of water and dirt, planet Earth, is only 8,000 miles in diameter and orbiting a tiny star on the outskirts of the Milky Way in this vast, vast universe.

And you and I are just two of the 7.4 billion people on this tiny, tiny planet.

Why the astronomy lesson?

Listen to this:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

    their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 

Let all the earth fear the Lord;

    let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be;

    he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6, 8-9)

 Let the truth of those words sink in. 

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

    their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 

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God didn’t even lift a finger—to create this massive, blowing your mind, huge, vast, incredible universe.

He did it without the use of a “how to make a universe kit.”

He had no diagram.

He had no blueprints.

Speaking, speaking, speaking…and it came into existence. 

God is more massive than our wildest imagination.

BIGGER than the biggest words we have to describe Him.

After an eternity of being God…

He shows no sign of wear and tear.

He has NO dilemmas.

No quandaries.

No counselors.

No shortages.

No rivals.

No fears.

No cracks.

No worries.

He is Self-existent.

Self-contained.

Self-perpetuated.

Self-powered and

Self-aware.

He has no needs.

God does whatever God wants.

His purposes are a sure thing.

There’s no stopping Him.

No cutting him off at the pass.

No short-circuiting His agenda.

God is in control.

God knows everything and everyone.

There is not a bird flying on this tiny little planet or perched on a little, little branch that has escaped his vision.

He could start with Adam and name every man, woman, and child who has ever lived and tell you every tiny detail of their lives.

Nothing is hidden from him.

He wrestles no mysteries.

He doesn’t have to wait for a polygraph test to decipher the truth.

He has no equal.

No peer.

No competition.

He is God almighty! (I wish I had some timpani playing after I said that)

But that’s not the end of the story.

Though we are a mist…

Here today, gone tomorrow…

A tiny little speck of dust on this vast enormous universe…

One of 7.4 billion people on this planet…

God created you.

Think about that.

In his image.

God created you.

And he fashioned us with the ability to know him.

And here’s the good news…

The really, really Good News…He loves you!

HE. LOVES. YOU!

Yeah… you. 

Maybe you just flunked your first test of your college career and He still loves you.

You… who got so angry for no reason at your spouse last night… and he still loves you too.

You… who just let somebody down… yup, he loves you.

You are one of 7.4 billion people on this tiny little planet on the outskirts of the Milky Way.

But God knows you,

knows everything about you,

knows all your deep dark secrets, and he still loves you!

He healed the sick.

He fed the hungry.

He walked on water.

He calmed the storm.

And here’s the deal:

The ONE who can heal the sick,

FEED the HUNGRY,

Walk on water, and

CALM THE STORM,

The one who created this massive 5.88 trillion times 13 billion mile universe…

Knows you.

Loves you.

And can rescue and redeem and refresh and renew and revitalize you!

Does anybody need that today?

Smoke Went Up

By Rev. Rob Prince

Smoke went up when I said “Yes” to God’s call into full time ministry. It wasn’t a “white-smoke-out-of-the-chimney-like-when-they-elect-a-pope” kind of smoke; it was more like a “too-much-wet-wood-on-the-fire” kind of smoke.

I was sitting beside a campfire on the Church of the Nazarene’s Eastern Michigan District Campgrounds at a teenage “afterglow” following a campmeeting service when I first thought that God was calling me into some kind of Christian service.

I was in the seventh grade. 

I didn’t see any writing on the walls. (We were outside—no walls).

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I didn’t hear an audible voice. (Except for the guy leading at the campfire and trying to get a bunch of musically challenged Jr. Highers to sing, “Do Lord,” no one was talking or singing.)

But I knew deep into my bones that God was calling me.

Why would God call me to ministry?

I had never spoken publicly.

I was a pretty squirrely, 75 pound, weak-hitting little league second baseman.

I really was not skilled at much of anything except collecting baseball cards and annoying my siblings.

I had no clue as to what a pastor really did. (Maybe I was thinking they only worked Sundays and Wednesday nights. I was pretty lazy at the time.)

Still I knew that God was calling me. 

I didn’t know that the calling would lead me to Olivet Nazarene College (University now) and Nazarene Theological Seminary. I would have never guessed I would serve on the pastoral staff of a Presbyterian church while in seminary and Nazarene churches in Alanson, Bad Axe, Roseville, and Otisville, Michigan and now in Lenexa, Kansas. I didn’t know that I would be able to preach not only in the wonderful churches that allowed me to stand behind their pulpits each week—but I have had the privilege of also preaching in Dominica, Russia, El Salvador, Swaziland, Israel, Jordan, and now Cuba. I cannot adequately describe for you how blessed I have been in my life since saying “Yes” to God around that campfire.

There was no smoke that went up in my office at the Metropolitan Church of the Nazarene when God called me to write. Again, I didn’t see any writing on the walls (there were walls there—but no writing on them). I didn’t hear an audible voice.  But once again, I knew deep in my bones that God was calling me.

Why would God call me to write? 

I was not an English major. (I was a psychology major—which kind of explains a few things, doesn’t it?) 

I’m a bad spellar. (Do you see what I did there?)

My grammar ain’t no good. (I did it again, Ha!)

My typing stinks. (If you scratch and sniff your computer screen, you would smell some foul typing techniques.)

Still I knew that God was calling me.

I’ve written a few articles here and there in publications that just about no one reads. In fact, one magazine that published an article of mine is now defunct; and another one, after publishing several of my articles, has gone to an on-line only version. I don’t think I’ve been kind to the publishing world. Mr. Pulitzer has not been recommending me for any writing assignments.

In spite of that history (possibly with fear and trembling), the Nazarene Publishing House has agreed to publish my book, Following Jesus with a Migraine. I will be signing the contract today. I am not sure when the book will be released. I am not sure if anyone will actually read it. Here’s what I know: God called me to write− and this book in many ways is a fulfillment of that call.

I didn’t know that I would experience a brain hemorrhage to give me a topic on which to write.

I didn’t know that it would be fifteen years after sensing that call that an actual book would be written.

I didn’t know a lot of things.

I just knew that God called, and for me to be obedient meant I had to write. 

Maybe God is calling you to something that you are not technically qualified to do.

Maybe it’s something you think there is no way you could do.

Maybe you think you are too young, too old, too uneducated, too busy, too overworked already to accomplish God’s calling.

Maybe it will take some time before the calling comes to fruition. (It was 15 years for me− remember).

Maybe someone will be less than encouraging. (For the efforts of my very first book submitted for publication, I received a “Thanks, but no thanks” form letter.)

Maybe other factors out of your control will happen. (I had a few chapters lost when my computer crashed a while ago).

But if you are called by God to some task and you know it deep in your bones—don’t worry about the reasons why you can’t accomplish God’s plan. Just do it. Follow that calling!

I love what Jeremiah said when he knew God was calling him to speak. He wrote:  But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).

If God is calling you—and you can’t hold it in, you can’t let it go, you can’t do anything but follow the calling— then follow it! Will there be challenges ahead?  Probably. Will you be tempted to quit? Maybe. Will it be easy? Nothing great usually is. Still, God has great things in store. When He calls—He enables and empowers you to realize that calling. If God is calling, He will make a way for you to achieve what He is calling you to do. 

There might not be smoke rising when you say “yes”—but then again maybe there will be.

New Beginnings

By Scott Armstrong

Need a new beginning in your life, in your city, or in your church? God specializes in helping us start afresh. 

God gives us fresh songs of praise.

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” (Ps. 40:3)

God is in the heart-transplant business.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 11:19)

In the driest wilderness, God’s refreshing fountain springs forth!

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Is. 43:19)

God changes minds, attitudes, and entire selves so that we are like him!

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

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God truly makes ALL things new.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Is. 65:17)

In Christ, God gives us a fresh start.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

The new beginning does not have to wait – God’s mercies are new every morning!

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Even at the end of the story, God starts another one.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Rev. 21:5)