The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

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Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

 

The Worst Brand Ever

By Rev. Brady Wisehart

Dying to live

I was greeted this morning as I sifted through my inbox with an email titled “We can HELP your Church’s brand” sent from a church branding company. I had not solicited help form this company and I was about to move the email to the trash folder when I paused and was captivated by the following thoughts… 
What is the brand of the church? Not just my local church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Is there a difference between the brand of the broader Church of Jesus Christ and my local church? Have we in western culture elevated our local church brands above the core brand of Christianity? 

My thoughts were not debating denominational distinctions, or dumping on marketing or branding as tools. My thoughts were quite the opposite. I believe denominations are helpful to the Body of Christ, and I believe that the greatest news in the world, the gospel, is worthy of our best efforts to communicate as effectively as we can. 

Marketing consultants tell us that your brand is very important. It’s what tells the story of the core of your message. It’s what you present to the marketplace as who you are, what you are all about, and what you have to offer. 

For centuries, the brand of the Church of Jesus Christ was embodied by the cross. Atop of a cathedral or a country church the branding was consistent, a cross. For centuries, the image of the cross has been universal. Not limited to one culture but around the world the cross communicates the message of Christianity.

But think about that with me for a moment. The core branding image of Christianity is an execution device. Can you imagine a marketing consultant encouraging your institutional identity to be an electric chair? Welcome to our Church, the church of death! Yet this is the message! When Paul says “I did not come to you with persuasive words of wisdom but…I preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-4) The message of the cross is one of death to sin and life in Christ (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 12:2; 1Cor. 1:17-18; Gal.511-14; Phil. 3:18).

It is in the death of Christ that we find freedom from sin and life in Him. This brand of the cross is not just a symbol of what Christ did for us. Jesus clarifies the message when He says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Jesus calls us to choose. When I choose to accept Christ by grace and faith alone I walk with Him as a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Apostle Paul writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21).

That’s a lot of death talk for a core brand. I can see how some may be tempted to “refresh” the brand and give a lighter spin on the message. But Paul helps us in Galatians 2:21 see that if righteousness could be gained some other way other than Jesus, then Christ died for nothing.

In short, a “refreshed” or “touched up” brand, sanitizing the uncomfortable parts of the message and replacing them with a more “crowd friendly” narrative is not only dangerous but completely undermines the entire gospel. Leaving us with a “product” that is powerless. 

I came across this graphic today depicting how the Apostles died. Suddenly it hit me, they lived the brand! They all gave up their life for Christ. This was not just a testament to their devotion to the brand, but more so… they “lived” the brand in their deaths. 

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While I’m not suggesting God is calling each of us to be physically martyred for our faith in Christ, I do believe the core brand is clear. Through the cross I find life in Christ. When I am in Christ the old has gone and the new has come. Truly following Jesus leads us to a dying out to self and sin. To the point… If you are not ready to die, you are not ready to truly live. 

Are you a Christian? Are you a true follower of Jesus Christ? If yes, are you living the brand of the cross of Christ? Or have you drifted into a fixation with your own unique niche articulation of your preferred “idea” of Christianity? Has your faith become more focused on your preferences, your interests, your agenda? Has there been an erosion of the call Christ gives to love Him so much that by comparison it’s like you hate everything else? (Luke 14:26)

I have amazing news for you friend! There is no better way to live than to die! When we allow Christ to save us from our sinful selves, when we allow the power of His spirit to lead us to crucify our desires so we can embrace the desires of God… We start TRULY LIVING! The old has gone and the NEW HAS COME! 

Dangerous Holiness Prayers

By David A. Gallimore

Several years ago I was on a personal journey for more of God.  I was hungry for a fresh Word.  While reading Psalm 139:23-24 one day, I discovered what I call “5 Dangerous Prayers” that have literally revolutionized my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I have prayed these prayers every day for the last 20 years and it has been an incredible ride.  However, let me warn you…these prayers are dangerous!  They will mess you up!  I say that in the “best” of ways. At the end of the day these prayers will produce a fully sanctified and surrendered life.

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DANGEROUS PRAYER #1:  Search Me

Picture yourself going to the doctor and getting on the examination table. You put yourself in a vulnerable position where the doctor can perform the examination.  You give up control, privacy, etc.  It can actually be an uncomfortable experience.  Would you be willing to get on God’s examination table and say, “I give you permission to search every area of my heart, mind and soul?”  

DANGEROUS PRAYER #2:  Break Me

I must confess when I first prayed these prayers my attitude was cavalier at best:  “Go ahead God…search me…I think I’m doing pretty good.  I’ve grown up in the Holiness Movement.  I know how to do church the RIGHT way!”  I had no idea what I was in store for. I started praying these prayers and God started breaking me of what I will call for lack of a better term, “spiritual pride.”  I began to realize new growth comes when old habits and attitudes are broken.  To say it even stronger…there is room for repentance even in the saved and sanctified life.

DANGEROUS PRAYER #3:  Stretch Me

When I first began praying these prayers God led me out of a very comfortable pastorate into a cutting edge multi-cultural church that forever changed my perspective of ministry.  Hymn books were replaced by Hillsong, suits and ties were now shorts and tee shirts, and testimonies changed from “I’ve been saved and sanctified for 50 years,” to one innocent but enthusiastic biker who shouted from the altar to a packed congregation, “this is the greatest day of my life…God just saved the Hell out of me this morning!”  Was I ever being stretched out of my comfort zone!  I had the privilege of baptizing 50 new converts one Sunday.  Three women approached the baptistry in two piece bathing suits!  I got all mixed up.  I’m thinking to myself “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” what am I going to hold on to!  We got on the phone in the church office on Monday morning and ordered baptismal robes.  That took care of that problem.  Watch out when you pray these prayers.  

They’re dangerous!

DANGEROUS PRAYER #4:  Lead Me

King David prayed “lead me in the way everlasting.”  For the past twenty years I have prayed that God would daily lead me out of my comfort and safety zones into a life of radical obedience.  After serving the church as a pastor for many years, God called me into a fulltime itinerant ministry of evangelism.  I tried to reason with God about this…it’s not 1950, most churches do not have revival meetings anymore, we will starve to death!  I ran the numbers on the calculator and they did not add up, but I kept praying these prayers.  Lead me Lord…I’ll follow.  We took this huge step of faith and left the security of a great church that was taking wonderful care of me and my family and we found that when you trust and obey, God always provides.  For the past 10 years I have averaged preaching 45 evangelistic meetings a year here in America and abroad.  What I’m saying is that you can trust God with your life.

DANGEROUS PRAYER #5:  Use Me

When all is said and done, has your life counted for the Kingdom’s sake?  The mantra of this world is “he who has the most toys at the end wins.”  My prayer for you today is that God would deliver us from the wisdom and ways of this world and that we would be willing to live fully surrendered lives that say “I am available today God…lead me to the person who needs you most and use me to be a winning witness.”

Would you be courageous enough to pray these five prayers every day?  Remember the disclaimer…the fine print…they are dangerous, but they have the potential to radically revolutionize your life.  May God bless you as you start the adventure.

This article was originally posted at Holiness Legacy.

Stop Just Going To Church

By Jeff Vanderstelt

It all began in a boat on a lake with a few fishing poles. It was there, surrounded by the lazy water, my dad and I would have a key conversation that would change the trajectory of my life. My dad was giving me a simple update on his life and shared that his church was hiring a discipleship pastor.

After I pushed past my internal dialog about how hiring a pastor for discipleship betrayed that the church didn’t see everything they did as discipleship, I heard my father say he was excited to learn how to make disciples—finally.

I was thankful for my father’s surge of energy toward Jesus’ commission but also a bit troubled. My dad didn’t seemed to realize he raised me in a home where daily life was engaged as intentional ministry. He owned several small businesses and believed his business was meant to be a blessing to people and the city we lived in. As a result, we joined our parents in countless acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

It was not uncommon for one of us four boys to give up our room for a season to make room for a young man getting a fresh start, a broken husband whose marriage was on the rocks, or a runaway teen who needed some stability. My dad would love and mentor these men during the day at one of his businesses while my mom would nurture and care for them like one of her own.

I watched young and old come to know the love of Jesus and receive very informal but effective training in how to become responsible, hard-working, loving men. Because of my parents’ ministry at home and at work, many men still call our family “their own.”

However, the church never called this “ministry.” They didn’t see that my mother’s gracious hospitality and my father’s mentoring through work created both the environment and means for discipleship to happen.

I was not saddened simply because my parents’ ministry was never legitimized; Jesus was working through it all along, and God the Father was pleased to watch His children at work. What saddened me was that many churches (and many in the church) don’t view their homes as one of the best contexts for ministry, and their workplaces are some of the most overlooked places for mentoring and mission.

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Most people will spend one third of their lives at work and at least another third in or around their homes; that means that more than two-thirds of our lives are considered non-ministry space. In addition, most still believe church is a place you go for one-to-four hours a week where most of the discipleship happens. This means a very large majority of Christians see only a very small percentage of their lives dedicated to the mission of making disciples. It’s no wonder so few believers are fruitful in ministry.

What if we could help everyday people live with gospel intentionality in everyday life, both at work and at home, to make disciples? What if every workplace, school, neighborhood, and café were filled with Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, disciple-makers every day? We might just see cities and towns saturated with the presence, power, and love of Jesus through everyday people like my mom and dad.

Pastors and church leaders were not called by God to do the ministry for the many. They are given to the church to equip the many for the ministry in the marketplace and the home. It’s time to equip and mobilize Jesus’ church out of the building and into life.

Let’s stop just going to church and start being the church every day and everywhere!

This article was originally posted at: Verge Network

 

So, What Is a Nazarene?

Today marks the first day of the Church of the Nazarene’s Global Conventions and General Assembly.  These events are held once every four years and this time in Indianapolis, Indiana we are expecting more than 15,000 attendees and delegates for times of corporate worship, training, fellowship, and business.  However, maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Some may ask, “What is a Nazarene anyway?” On an exciting day such as today, Rev. Daron Brown reminds us of our equally exciting origins.

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

A few days into my freshman year at Trevecca Nazarene College, one of the guys in my dorm suite pulled me aside. He was unchurched, attending TNC on a baseball scholarship. He spent his first week wide-eyed, watching us Church of the Nazarene folks, wondering what he had gotten himself into. With a hushed voice, half embarrassed and half amused, he whispered, “What is a Nazarene?”

Since then I have been asked the question dozens of times. While there are different ways to answer it, perhaps the best response is to look back at how we got the name.

In the first century, the town of Nazareth in Galilee was considered a second-class community. This attitude can be seen in Nathaniel’s response to Phillip when he spoke to his friend about “Jesus of Nazareth.” Phillip evidenced his skepticism with, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46, NIV). The assumed answer to Phillip’s rhetorical question was “Of course not. Nothing worthwhile ever happens in Nazareth.”

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In Luke 4 when Jesus returned to Nazareth, he was physically rejected and nearly killed by citizens of his own hometown. Their response might be described as, “Why should we listen to you? You’re no better than us.” To be a “Nazarene” in the first century didn’t win you much credibility.

It is remarkable that the Second Person of the Trinity would come to us by way of a remote place like Nazareth. God himself chose to reside in a community where people believed goodness did not exist. In doing so, He reminded us that we are not always so quick at distinguishing good from evil. It’s a problem we’ve had since the first chapters of Genesis.

Some 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah foresaw the life of Christ with the words, “He was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). In embracing the role of an outcast, Jesus the Nazarene showed His solidarity with those who were marginalized, persecuted, and without hope.

Nineteen centuries later, in Los Angeles, California, a Methodist Episcopal Church preacher named Phineas F. Bresee felt the call to take the message of Holiness to poor families—urban outcasts who likely were not welcomed by well-heeled folks in prominent fellowships. Leaving his denomination over the issue, he partnered with a well-known physician and former president of the University of Southern California, Joseph P. Widney. In 1895, they joined with others in the community to start a new church. The late historian Timothy Smith said that in doing so Bresee “declared that the only thing new in the movement was its determination to preach the gospel to the needy, and to give that class a church they could call their own” (Called Unto Holiness, Vol. 1, p. 110). The name they chose for their movement was suggested by Widney, who said the term “Nazarene” symbolized “the toiling, lowly mission of Christ… to whom the world in its misery and despair turns, that it may have hope” (Ibid. p. 111).

Since that time almost 122 years ago, our fellowship has expanded into more than 160 areas around the world. You’ll find Nazarenes of diverse ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds, worshiping in beautiful sanctuaries, cinder block buildings, and strip malls. Our thousands of churches may have different personalities and programs, but we continue to share a common aspiration. First and foremost, we are driven to take the message of Holiness to the poor and needy around us. Secondly, we embrace the identity of the God who himself became an outcast in order to reach the outcasts of this world—people like ourselves.

Since my freshman year at TNC, I have gotten better at responding to “What is a Nazarene?” These days, the best answer I can give is: “Come with us into the neighborhoods. Let us show you the jail ministry, the community garden, the food pantry, the mentoring and backpack feeding programs. Come join us as we work alongside those who suffer—the sick, the aging, and the addict—and then you will clearly understand what it means to be a Nazarene.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

This article was originally posted at: pbusa.org

Creator God

By Emily Armstrong

He came into the room and handed me a little box and said “Merry Christmas, I hope you like it.”

I took the little square box into my hands.  I felt around the edges and shook it a little, just to see if I could figure out what was hidden inside before I actually lifted off the top.

“Go on…open it!” my husband urged me.  

As I lifted off the small cover, I knew immediately what it was.  It was a necklace.  But not just any necklace – it was the necklace that I had wanted for the past year.  It was a necklace that had to be designed just for me.  The four unique charms caught my eye instantly, the first of which being a small silver moon with the words “To the moon and back” stamped on it.  The second was a small circle with the words “Elijah” and “Sydney” stamped on it.  The last two were small, plastic, circular charms – one the color of an emerald and the other the color of an amethyst.  

It was the “mother” necklace that always caught my eye when I saw it.  I had dreamed of wearing it every single day, thinking about my children every time I put it on.  It was the perfect complement for jeans and a t-shirt or my Sunday dress.  “To the moon and back” was the phrase from a children’s book that we read over and over again when they were no taller than my waist.  There was nothing more perfect in my mind.

“So, do you like it?” my husband asked me with expectation in his eyes.  He knew he had hit a home run with this gift and was anxiously awaiting my nod of confirmation, and maybe even a few tears of joy to run down my cheeks.

“I love it,” I replied.  “It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted – in fact, it surpassed what I even knew I wanted.  You chose the perfect charms!  You remembered the book we read together when they were young and you chose colors that match their birth months.  It’s beautiful.”

Taking the exquisite necklace into my hands, I thanked my husband and then quickly threw the precious gift into the trashcan. 

Wait.  What?

That doesn’t make sense.  Is this real life? What in the world would possess someone to trash a precious gift that was designed just for him or her?  My honest answer is, I don’t know, but it happens everyday.

The first handful of words in the Bible introduces us to our God, the Creator.  Laced throughout the poetic writings of the Psalms we see the praises of the Creator being proclaimed.  This Creator, OUR God, lovingly designed everything with purpose.  He knew what we wanted before we knew what we wanted.  Creation wasn’t just utilitarian; it was aesthetically pleasing.  God the Creator handed humanity – a part of God’s creation – a gift.

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The world he created was a perfect ecosystem that was picture-perfect when it all worked together – that is the picture of the Garden of Eden in the beginning chapters of Genesis.  The earth was watered by the rains that fell and the streams that rushed through it.  The sun, moon and stars governed the seasons so that the perfect amounts of rain would fall, producing lush vegetation that in turn would nourish forever the animals and the people. People and animals eating the fruits of the earth would create a natural pruning process, which provoked more abundant harvests in the future.  Man needed nature just as much as nature needed man. It was flawless.

However, perfection comes to a screeching halt when Adam and Eve sin.  Genesis 3:21 says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  Death has come to natural creation, and now shame needs to be “covered” by the killing of the same animals that had previously been in perfect harmony with man. Nature is “exploited” and the flawless relationship that the divine Creator had set in motion is marred. 

One of my favorite parts of being a Nazarene is that we are optimistic.  We believe that God is restoring perfect relationship between the Creator and his creation.  And because God is actively restoring the relationship with us, it compels us to restore perfect relationship as well.  Could this possibly mean that we should be seeking a flawless relationship with nature? Obviously so. 

Remember the necklace that I threw away?  Even after my husband had so carefully and thoughtfully created it for me? I didn’t really throw it away – I cherished it.  I wear it almost every single day, and think about the blessing that my family is to me.  I have had to replace the chain twice.  I have had to buy a special polishing cloth for it.  I go out of the way to appreciate it.  

Could it be, that restoring perfect relationship with nature is not an optional part of Christianity?  I propose that we don’t get to choose if we should care for God’s natural creation or not – it’s part of the covenant we make when we ask him to be our Savior.  

Maybe you think that recycling is about politics, that putting trash in the trash can is an inconvenience, or growing your own vegetables is a little over the top.  Maybe you’ve never even thought about why a Christian should prioritize caring for God’s creation.  Well, now you know.  We should care.  God shared his special creation with us, as a perfect gift – and it’s because of this that we will honor our Creator by taking care of it. 

3 Steps To Develop A Culture of Service – Part 2 of 2

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

Repeat it

The pulpit (or table, in my case) will always be a key place to shape the values and culture of a church. When the pastor repeatedly inserts the idea of serving others into messages, writings, and conversations, it has an impact on the hearers and can work to correct a misguided focus.

For example, at Grace Church I work to talk about the culture we want to have. Our church uses the concepts Begin, Connect, Thrive, and Engage. Those are our four values. We’ve got a lot of people at Begin and Connect. But then, how do we move people into the last two: Thrive and Engage, creating a culture that our passion is disciple making? How do you do that?

We have to hammer it relentlessly. (And, we are not perfect at it; we need to do it more.)

As churches grow, most often you find that a higher percentage of people get the desired culture of the church at the beginning, while fewer people take hold of it later. You have to help those who come later (whether the church is 200 years old or two years old) to have the level of service they had at the beginning.

It’s that consistent repeating of the culture and its values that helps us to create a mindset discipleship.

To perpetuate this cultural value (or bring about a cultural shift) you must continually reiterate it with key leaders and get them engaged first. Then, you encourage them to repeat it in their small groups and within their circle of influence. You work with the various ministries in your church. Have them all consistently focus on developing a serving culture.

This is not a six-month process—this is a multi-year one. You will echo the values of your culture over and over again. Those who are not on board from the beginning will either allow the repetition to sink in and they’ll follow the new culture or they will become annoyed at repeatedly hearing about serving and they’ll leave. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

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Celebrate It

I’ve repeatedly said, “What you celebrate you become.” The International Pentecostal Holiness Church celebrates church planting by giving pastors pins for planting or sponsoring church plants. Not surprisingly, their last two decades have been their best in a long time.

When I preached at Progressive Primitive Baptist Church, they clearly celebrated the educational achievements of their members including one young man who had a list of academic achievements from high school through his master’s degree.

Denominations and churches should affirm positives at least as much as you reject negatives. The people in the church should know that you stand against what is unbiblical, but there should be no doubt about the type of church culture you support.

You celebrate what you want to become.

If you want your church to keep a serving culture, you should celebrate it at every opportunity. Have recognition services for volunteers in your children’s department. (Medals may be appropriate there!) Create a monthly feature on your website to highlight a member who served others in an extraordinary way. Announce a church-wide celebration of every member who was involved in a mission trip during the past year. Whatever ideas you can come up with to continually remind your church what it is you value—do it!

We give away a volunteer award at our nights of worship. Last week, I had everyone applaud for the set up crew at the movie theater. We’ve had appreciation dinners for volunteers. The list could go on and on.

Those who visit your church should leave with a clear picture of what it is you value through what you celebrate. Members and attendees alike will see that servanthood is appreciated, which will encourage them to adopt the serving culture you have instilled and repeated throughout the body.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Here’s the thing, culture eats strategy for breakfast every day. That’s not from me. The quote, attributed to the late business guru Peter Drucker, reminds us that our plans are pointless if the environment in our church undermines them. Your strategy becomes sort of an add-on in which few people are engaged.

In John 20:21 Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” So that tells us that all of God’s people are sent on mission. 1 Peter 4:10 reminds us that all of God’s people are called to the ministry.

So, don’t miss it—all of God’s people are sent on mission and all of God’s people are called to ministry. The only questions: Where?, Among whom?, and Doing what?

Having a serving culture established through instilling it, repeating it, and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). With that culture in place, they won’t be asking if they should serve. The questions will be where should I serve, among whom should I serve, and in what way can I serve.

That creates a serving culture—part of a missional focus—in your church.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/march/moving-to-missional-part-i-3-steps-to-develop-culture-of-se.html