The Dual Dangers of Legalism and “Traditionalism”

Our Mesoamerica Genesis office is working diligently on assisting churches that exist in large urban areas to become healthy and missional.  One of the first steps in doing so is to take a church health survey in order to discover strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a brave task to undergo actually.  No one wants to find out they are sick, or even worse, dying.

One of the biggest reasons we have found for lack of health in congregations is a combination of legalism and worship of tradition.  Having order and obeying the laws of God are quite important to be sure.  But if we allow our adherence to rule-following to get in the way of mission and loving the world around us, we’ve missed the mark. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and celebrating our rich heritage is a must as Christians.  But if we think the methods from decades ago are holy in and of themselves, we are in dangerous territory.

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Jean David Larochelle’s book in Spanish, A Natural Development of Faith, has much to say about legalism and “traditionalism,” as he calls it:

“The message of the gospel is not negotiable. We do not doubt it. Every principle is eternal.  Every principle is immutable.  Every principle is spiritual and every principle is divine.  But strategies are not principles or doctrines. Neither are they eternal.  I say again, one of the greatest sins of the church is to try to win a postmodern generation with primitive strategies.”

The Good News is not good if it is not understandable. When we do not update our methods for different generations or cultures, we can be almost certain they will not understand them, let alone respond positively.  Grace is diluted by the importance we place on rules and tradition.

“Doctrinally, legalism and traditionalism can become positions essentially opposed to grace . . . God has given freedom to his church, but many continue tying it to legalism and traditionalism.”

In reference to the Pharisees in John 9 who questioned the blind man who received his sight, Larochelle continues, “It is sad to note that, for them, the day of rest had been given priority over the person. Things, interests and laws were a priority over the human person.  Nevertheless, Jesus also made them see that he was opposed to the foolish traditions and legalism they had invented in respect to the day of rest . . . They did not rejoice with the man. They saw humanity through eyes of judgment.”

In closing, the author invites us to evaluate ourselves. “Consider if you have legalistic, rigid attitudes or thoughts towards others or towards yourself.  In the story we are analyzing, which role would you like to take – that of the Pharisees or of Jesus? Which role have you played? Which would you like to play from now on?

These are essential questions for the whole church and for each Christian who desires to reflect the love of Christ in their society.

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More Peaches, Better Peaches

By David Busic

A few months ago, I spent the afternoon with Junior and Jaci Rodrigues. They are Nazarene church planters who have helped to birth five congregations. Although they are both from Brazil, they have planted and are pastoring a church in Argentina. The city where their church is located is hard soil. It is the academic capital of the country and home to many universities. Being very secular and post-modern, the city is more aligned with North America and Western Europe than many other places in South America. A high percentage of the population are atheists and agnostics. They are the only evangelical church in their entire urban neighborhood.

The church building is in a semi-commercial neighborhood with many apartments and small houses close by. They were able to purchase it for a good price because for many years it was an illegal abortion clinic. The proprietor of the clinic died in the clinic and was not found for several months. Thus, many in the neighborhood believe the building is cursed. The church meets on the first floor and the Rodrigues’ live on the second floor with their two children. The congregation is growing and is having a Kingdom impact among their neighbors.

The back area of their small building opens up into a little courtyard. There is a peach tree there that had never produced fruit before. However, shortly after they moved in, the peach tree suddenly began producing peaches. Lots and lots of peaches! So many, in fact, that they could hardly keep them off the ground, and a number of peaches began to fall into their neighbor’s back yard area. One day their neighbor came by to pay them a visit. Jaci invited her in and said “I’m sure you’re here because of the peaches falling into your yard. We are so very sorry. We will be happy to come and clean them up for you.”

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The neighbor woman replied: “I am here about the peaches, but not because I am upset. I am curious and have a question. For the last 20 years, I have lived next door. This house has been an abortion clinic and that peach tree has been dead. It has produced no fruit — not a single peach. But when you moved in with your church it suddenly came alive and became fruitful. I want to know what happened? Did you put a spell on that tree?”

Jaci was surprised but prepared. “No,” she said, “There is no spell. All I can tell you is that this was a dark place of death, but now it is a shining place of light and life. I guess that is why God is blessing our peach tree!”

Their neighbor was intrigued and began to attend their church. Today she is a new Christian and growing in her faith.       

This amazing story reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples about missional fruitfulness: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing . . . [but] if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:5, 7 NIV).

Pastor Junior and Jaci Rodrigues are remaining in, relying on, and abiding with Jesus. Christ in them is bringing light and life to dark places. It was my privilege to ordain them as elders in the Church of the Nazarene.

In the inaugural chapel sermon for Nazarene Theological Seminary, General Superintendent J. B. Chapman challenged the faculty and students with a clear mission: “More preachers — better preachers.” I have always liked that phrase. I would like to suggest a small twist to the phrase and turn it into a prayer. What if all of our missional outposts, every local church, had a similar refrain: “More peaches — better peaches.”

More fruit — better fruit. May it be so for all of us.

Dear American Church…I Am Not Renewing My Membership This Year

By Frank Powell

Dear American Church,

Let me cut to the chase. I am tired of this club. I want out.

Here is the thing. I didn’t sign up to join a club. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe I contributed to the confusion. I am not sure how we arrived here, but things are going to be different. I am not renewing my membership this year.

Here’s why.

Jesus didn’t die for a club.

The church should be missional. The church should have an external focus. The church should shine as a beacon of light in the community. I feel like you started this way. When you began, your focus was reaching the needs of your community and your world.

But something changed. Now you focus on your needs. Your mission is comfort and security…at all cost. You invite people into this “mission.” I am afraid you created a monster. A country club minus the golf course, which is the best part.

I love the church Jesus Christ died to establish. I believe in the church’s future. I believe the church is the primary means through which the world comes to know the power of the cross and salvation.

So, believe me when I say this decision is not a declaration of the global church. It is also not a declaration of every church in America. As long as the King sits on the throne, the church will thrive and be a beacon of light in a dark world. This is a declaration of the American church culture, generally speaking.

Let me highlight some of the reasons I think this a club.

Clubs pour time and resources back into themselves.

People in clubs think paying their “dues” gives them stock in the club. People in clubs expect resources to be used on them and their needs. The church of Jesus Christ should never equate giving with power. It should never use most of its resources to feed internal programs and events.

Clubs value comfort and security.

This is why you pay to enter clubs. You want to feel safe and comfortable. Clubs value health and comfort. I am not saying churches are wrong for pushing into suburbs. Our cities need men and women passionate about the mission of God in those areas.

But I am worried your desire to embrace suburbia is often more rooted in your country club mindset than in God’s direction.

Clubs keep conversations in the shallow end of the pool.

Clubs are not venues to share feelings, disappointments, and struggles. Clubs keep conversations in the kiddie pool.

“How ’bout them Cowboys? What about the stock market? Will Trump be the next President?”

True story…I have a close relative (let’s call her “Jill”) who was asked the question “How are you doing?” by a member at her church. Jill had the audacity to tell this lady she was not doing well and needed prayers. The lady then proceeded to tell Jill she never intended Jill to actually tell her how she was doing.

This is a club mentality.

“How are you doing?” is not an open door to tell people about your problems. It is simply their way of acknowledging your presence.

Let’s be real, American church, you secretly hope “How are you doing?” does not lead to someone telling you about their problems. You don’t have time for that.

The church of Jesus Christ should value transformative community. You should bear one another’s burdens. No one should walk the road alone. No one. Galatians 6:2 says you fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. That’s weighty stuff.

Are you bearing anyone’s burdens, American church?

People in clubs want to make their club the biggest, brightest one around.

Being a club is about competing. I am competing against you. You are competing against me. Clubs don’t care if they steal people from other clubs. In fact, stealing people from other clubs is calling “winning.” It shows that one club offers something another club does not.

This looks a lot like the American church. You view stealing people from other churches as “winning” because the bottom line is attendance on Sunday.

The church of Jesus Christ should view church growth through the lens of people coming to know Jesus. How many people have you baptized this year? How many people know Jesus today that did not know Him a year ago?

Why is this a competition, American church???

Clubs only invite people into their lives that look like them.

Clubs value likemindedness. The church of Jesus Christ should value diversity. Can you honestly tell me, American church, you value diversity? You chalk up your lack of diversity to things like cultural differences.

Really?

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Clubs are divisive and argumentative.

A few days ago my wife and I passed eight churches on the way to the church we were attending. We live 1.5 miles from the church building. Eight church buildings in 1.5 miles. That’s one building every .15625 miles (sorry, I like numbers).

I understand I live in the Bible belt, but is it necessary to have that many notches on the belt?

Please do not misunderstand me…this country is diverse and you need different expressions of the church. But do you really need 8,000,000,000 churches in one city? This, however, is what clubs do. Insiders believe their way of doing things is THE way. This is a dangerous trap.

When the focus shifts away from Jesus, the level to which you will become divisive has no end. This starts by refusing to associate with those outside of Jesus. Then it moves to those outside of your fellowship (or denomination). Then it moves to people within your denomination who think similarly but differ on one “important” issue. Then it moves to those in your denomination who think less like you. And so on, and so on.

Eventually you create what you see today. Over 9,000 different denominations (your divisiveness makes it difficult to even define a denomination). Do you see the slippery slope?

American church, if you rallied around Jesus and not your traditions, your impact would be exponentially greater.

People in clubs value keeping everyone happy.

Clubs hate losing members, so they cater to every need. If Joe is unhappy about this change, the club caters to him. If Jill is unhappy about that change, the club caters to her.

Most churches today equate unity with happiness. Unity does not mean you keep everyone happy. Unity means you keep everyone focused on Jesus.

Some people feed on the attention they receive from getting their way. The church should be unapologetically focused on making disciples and shining light into the darkness. Clubs don’t like change. Clubs do things the way they have always been done. Making disciples and refusing to change are usually at odds with one another.

So which value drives you, American church? Making disciples or preserving traditions?

Honestly…

____________________

Again, I am not leaving church…I am leaving the club. There are churches living out the mission of Jesus Christ all across America. Praise God for these churches. But I am tired of spending time and energy contributing to a culture that fattens itself with more resources.

I am tired of spending my time convincing others I am right and they are wrong. This only feeds my natural tendency to be judgmental. If I am right, everybody else is wrong. But if Jesus is right, love, grace, and truth become the standards by which I look at the world. I like those standards. It feeds a much less natural tendency to accept and love.

I want to focus on those who haven’t experienced the gospel. I want to spend time figuring out how to minister to my neighbor whose marriage is on the rocks, my friend battling cancer, or my classmate struggling with pornography. I want to surround myself with a group of men and women that are missional.

There is hope for you, American church. There is hope because God reigns over all things and situations. There is hope because Jesus is the head of the church. But I can’t sit comfortably in a club any longer.

I want to be join a movement. I hope you understand.

Sincerely,

Frank Powell

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

This article was originally published at: FrankPowell.me

Slogans that Awakened the Church: Intensely Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” –Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia.

Henry_Martyn.jpgKnow anyone who views world missions support involvement as being only for those who happen to be really passionate about it? I know people who think that way.

“It’s their thing,” they dismissively say.

If Henry Martyn were still around, he would object. “It is not just their thing,” he would protest, “It is Christ’s thing and it must therefore be a ‘thing’ of every Christ follower.”

Martyn, early 19th century missionary to India ad Persia, saw world evangelism as a central passion of God’s heart. That means, said Martyn, that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will share Christ’s passion for world evangelism.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 call us to “think the way Christ Jesus thought” (Easy to Read Version). Although that exhortation occurs in a passage about Christ’s humility, it appertains to every other context. Being Christ-like to the point of thinking like Christ includes embracing His desire that all the world hear the Good News.

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Pastors sometimes lament that those in their congregation supporting world mission are often the senior citizens. Where that is true –and sometimes it is– it may be because those older people who support world evangelism have walked with Christ over a number of years.  With the passage of time, as they have grown closer to Him, they have become “intensely missionary.” Because Jesus Christ is passionate about world evangelism, it should not surprise us when older, mature believers become passionate about it, too.

So, global passion in those older “saints” validates Henry Martyn’s words: “The nearer we get to [Christ], the more intensely missionary we become.”  On the other hand, Martyn’s statement does not limit mission passion to those who have been believers for decades. He is simply stating something that is clearly a Biblical message: If we get our hearts in tune with Christ’s heart, we will become passionate about proclaiming in all the world the Good News that God has come in Christ Jesus to redeem fallen human beings.

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org

 

Keeping Your Church Young

By Dan Reiland

Churches age and churches die. But intentional leadership can make that divine journey significantly longer and much more spiritually productive. There are several things you can do to help keep your church young, alive and vibrant even though the chronological aging process continues.

This post isn’t about an ecclesiastical fountain of youth. However, I believe “aging” can pivot to “maturing” by making a few key decisions and commitments towards keeping your church young.

1) Choose young leaders.

Mature staff are extremely valuable on your team. Their experience is needed for successful ministry. However, the absence of young leaders, lots of young leaders, is a decision to allow your church to age unnecessarily.

Some churches don’t like to use young leaders. It’s messy. Young leaders lack experience, I know. But young leaders will keep things alive and fun. Young leaders are also full of energy and great ideas; they help you stay relevant with current culture and vision for the future.

Leadership development for your leaders, and especially for your young leaders is essential. 

2) Place a premium on children’s ministry.

When I say premium, I mean choose great leaders, invest significant time and energy, and be as generous as possible with the budget. Without this you are absolutely capping your ability to reach your community.

Please don’t confuse relevant ministry to children with childcare. They aren’t the same. In order to reach kids you need to keep up with the world they live in. That world is fast-paced and built around technology. When you add to that mix loving adult leaders who truly care about children, you create a winning program that the kids will love.

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3) Design your Sunday morning service with a relevant feel.

What is and isn’t young and relevant is subjective. But the big issues are clear. First, choose your music wisely. If you are still singing and playing the stuff we did in the 90’s, it’s time to freshen up what you do.

Second, involve young leaders on the platform. The young musicians and singers will lead you to younger music and a younger vibe overall.  Again, this attracts young people to your church!  If you are thinking, “What about the older people, don’t they matter?” Of course they do. I am one, and I can still make a difference. But we should be more mature. We know that this is not about us, the mission is to reach the lost, and if you reach the next gen, other generations will follow.

Last, make sure all the components of the service reflect a young culture. As you think about humor, video, illustrations, art and especially technology, think young.

Again, if you focus on a younger crowd, the older generations with join in. If you lean toward older, the young will leave.

4) Invest in the next generation.

Raise up and train young leaders, invest in student ministries, and champion the call to vocational ministry among your young adults. Communicate that you believe in the next generation! They are the future!

The vision of the church must capture the young people, and at the same time be compelling enough that older generations get excited about the vision in such a way that they will invest both time and resources. Let’s face it, middle-aged and older generations have no trouble loving and believing in kids; just watch a grandparent with their grandchildren!

This article was originally published at: DanReiland.com

Urban Evangelization – Part 2 of 2

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

We must be a continual presence in our city.

Jeremiah continues his prophecy and tells the Israelites to involve their children in marriage ceremonies and to increase in number. We are talking about generational impact in the city – our evangelism must produce transformation and change that will be seen for generations in the city.

In order to impact generations through our evangelistic methods, we must embrace a posture of challenging the broken social systems of our day. We must begin to know the young people that are being courted by the gangs in our neighborhoods, the children that are being forced into human trafficking, the broken families that seek healing in alcohol and drugs.We have to get our hands dirty. Urban evangelism is not easy – it’s heartbreaking. When we begin to see the people that NEED the good news of Jesus, we begin to respond to those environments differently.

Recently I spoke with some urban church planters that are in an area that is filled with apartment buildings. They told me about the building that they felt the most comfortable in – the building where the neighborhood gang is in charge of who’s coming in and out!  At first, they were nervous every time they thought about going into that building.  But because they are now known by the neighbors as “good people who are serving God”, the gang extends their “protection” over them. I smile to think about the day when we hear that the gang members have given their lives over to Christ, and they start to see generational and societal changes in their lives. 

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We must pray for our city.

Perhaps the most blatant instruction we can take from Jeremiah is: seek the peace of the city and pray for her prosperity

Praying for the city is one of the most important parts of urban evangelism. The spiritual forces at work in the city are battling every day, and we engage in spiritual warfare when we step into its realms. We must pray and truly long for the SHALOM, the holistic well-being, of our city. And to pray effectively, we must deeply know our city. We need to know her rhythms, her hurts, and her people.

God is already at work in the city, and prayer is our connection to Him and His work.  When we engage in the prayer of peace for the city, God begins to guide our path to the daily encounters that He wants us to have, and He replaces fear with love. Then and there, in the supposedly mundane and secular, God uses us to evangelize: to bring His good news to the people of our city.

Evangelism in the city is not about the latest and greatest technique (we wish it were that easy!). Urban evangelism is based on creating strategic and intentional relationships. And quite simply, that takes time. If you are called to urban evangelism, you are called to a long-term vision. Consider moving into a neighborhood where you see God already at work. Spend time with people in their places of work and times of entertainment. Get to know the people that are involved in systemic sin and befriend them. Above all, pray for peace in your city. Trust that your city is on God’s heart and that He desires to use your daily testimony and interactions to bring peace to your city.

Urban Evangelization – Part 1 of 2

By Scott and Emily Armstrong

The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN.  Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.

You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?

First things first: God has a plan for the city.  You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs.  However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained.  Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about!  God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY.  We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time?  Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?

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Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:

We must live in our city to love our city.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

We must pray for our city.

We must live in our city to love our city.

Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…”  He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there. 

I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.”  What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there!  The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.

How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city.  If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love.  And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities.  Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.

Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities.  We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests.  We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well.  Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city.  One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship.  We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.

*This article will continue in the next post.