Culture Change

Warning If You Track Church Attendance: The Numbers Are Lying to You

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There is much conversation in my church right now about whether we are a declining church body and whether or not we will survive this decline.  So, purveyors of statistics tell us that we are in for a long slow, steady dip before we hit rock bottom and recover.  Not exactly the message you want to hear if you are a believer faithfully caring out the work Christ left the church to do.  Here’s the thing, the numbers are the numbers, right?  We have to trust the numbers, the numbers wouldn’t lie, right?  Na, Na I say the numbers are lying. Here is what we know about the church. Chuck Colson summarized it nicely in his book, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing, p. 70.

“Yet membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together.” His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church,” Calvin wrote,” that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.””

The Lie.

If we measure the success of the gospel by church attendance and dollars in the offering plate, then we have to also admit that the life-saving message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins is not working.  That is what the numbers say, right?  No matter how faithfully you preach and teach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptize, it won’t change the numbers.  We continue to see a steady decline in the numbers of people coming to church and supporting the work of the church.  What we don’t want to deal with is that if we believe the numbers, our work is ineffective.  The gospel has lost its power.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Is that what is deflating morale in our churches?  We see the numbers, and our answer to stop the decline is to do what God called us to do, and it is not working.  The numbers do not define the power of the gospel.  Attendance is not a reflection on God’s word.  The lower offering numbers do not mean we have no mission left to accomplish.  It’s lies all lies.  God made us a promise, and God keeps his promises. In Isaiah 55,

10 Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky
and don’t return there without watering the earth,
making it conceive and yield plants
and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater,
11     so is my word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.

 

The numbers do not define us, they serve as useful data.  But God’s mission is still needed.  If anything, the numbers prove that God’s mission is needed more than ever.  The church is facing stiff competition for the heart of culture.  This writer captures the challenge well by comparing the church to sports.

“Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…

Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came to
see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.”- Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.

Be Encouraged.

One of the most hurtful things the idea of church attendance has planted in the America Christian psyche is that “if you are not growing as a church you are a failure as a pastor and congregation.” So, we play the comparison game with our younger self.  So, how were we doing 10 years ago today?  Imagine doing that in your life now.  Compare your fifty-year-old body to the body you had in your twenties, how is that comparison going to turn out? And we judge our shepherds on the number of new converts.  And our church body on the number of new churches planted.

If you want to stop that madness, then we need to find new ways to gauge the congregational health and denominational health.  By putting the health report numbers of attendance and weekly offerings in the Sunday bulletin, we are asking those reading it to judge our success based on those measurements.  And we are buying into a false narrative about the effectiveness of the Word of God.  When the church continues to miss the mark of the weekly recording of those numbers it only serves to further demoralize the membership and even an entire church body.   So, if you don’t want to be judged by those figures and feel like you are losing the battle, start tracking other things.  Not to mention the numbers are Holy Spirit driven numbers, and we can’t control His work anyway.

Instead, track numbers that help hold your church accountable for those things that the church in Acts was measuring: people studying God’s word, the number of individuals engaged in living life together in community, the number of people helped with the offerings of God’s people, the number of prayer gatherings and the number of answered prayers.  Imagine measuring in church what God is doing among his people vs. the number of individuals coming on one day a week?  Isn’t faith a 24/7 thing not just one hour on Sunday?

More on Metrics:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/09/new-metrics-for-the-small-congregation/

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Racial Healing

Enough Already! It’s​ Time to Defeat Racism

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When I began this writing journey nearly two years ago, little did I know where God would lead me.  The summer before this writing adventure launched, a teenager named Michael Brown’s unarmed shooting death ripped a hole in the racial universe.  Ferguson, MO started a race riot heard and seen around the world. What made this event different was these riots would go on for weeks raising the tension levels and unrest to high alert.  The tension was felt in every community across the country.  Riots and protest would break out in Baltimore, Dallas, Baton Rouge and Milwaukee after other shootings took place.  The fuse was lit, the powder keg about to explode.

It was out of this that my Bible Study One Nation Under God-Healing Racial Divides was birthed.  This is not a sales pitch.  I toyed with several endings to the study; I wanted to call for a day of reconciliation where we could come together as a nation and all voluntarily lay down the burdens that have been built on mountains of hurt, injustice, and the dehumanization of not just black Americans, but Native Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, and White Americans, we have all been gravely wounded by all this fighting and division.  Recent events have opened this tender wound a new and caused even more hurt.  I don’t have the clout to pull that off and reconciliation is something all parties need to equally desire.  As the Bible study was field tested, it was obvious that would not work.  Several test congregations had the same disappointing response, “Racism is too big a problem to solve. Things will never change.  We just have to deal with it.”  My response was a bit snarky but sincere.  “Well, I see how small your god is, but I am convinced my God is bigger than racism.  If God can solve the sin problem, I am sure He can handle racism.”  I know you who are reading this think how Polly Anna of me.  But here are some verses to consider.

Nothing Is Impossible!

In Genesis at the tower of Babel, the people were building a tower to reach the heavens.  This is what God said, “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Genesis 11:6

In Matthew 17:20 when Jesus is talking about faith. “He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

When Jesus is teaching the disciples about salvation, He reminds them in Mark 10:27.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’”

Calling on ALL people of Faith! “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[a] it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:23-25

If like me, you are fed up with the hateful, destructive, painful impact that racism is having on our country and the world then join with me and take to your knees in prayer.  Pray for an end to racism in your congregations, synagogues, homes, workplaces, in the parks, whenever you see violence breaking out around you, or you hear hateful, divisive speech, pray.  Church leaders lead prayer vigils. Church members pray alone in your small groups.  Join with me and just pray, pray, pray, that God would melt the hearts of those who have hardened their hearts to people who are different from themselves.  Pray that we stop seeing color and start seeing each other as human beings endowed by our Creator, with the right to live out lives in the peaceful pursuit of God’s dream for us, to be a holy nation set apart for a divine purpose, to point the lost and erring to the Savior.   We have the tools to win this fight.  Greater is He who is in us than he who is deceiving the world.

 

Discipleship, The Journey of Faith

The Dangers of a Joyless Christianity

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There is a sense in some circles that being joyful is not a part of the Christian life. The tension is between reverence of God and the joyful expression that others may see as drawing attention to oneself.  I understand the delicate balance, but I also recognize that if what we do for the Lord does not give us joy and fulfillment how long can we survive the rigors of Christian service.

Is there a place for joy in Christian service?

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, SP Publications, 1990, p. 171.

Take this journey with me.  We will take this quote in sections because there is a wealth of wisdom contain it this paragraph.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…”

Joy is not something we can internally produce just like grace is not a natural concept to accept because both are birthed outside of our natural sinful human condition.  Joy is almost infused in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to carry out a great mission.  To announce the reign of Jesus Christ to the world “…as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Matthew 10:7

We are a people called for a divine purpose, to get the message out to those far from God. The heart of our message has the power to turn cold, unrepentant hearts, alive and ablaze with zeal for God.  The good news is God has sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. Jesus confronts the world lost in sin, while also comforting that same world with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.  Fellow travelers, you have the privilege to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  How can this not enliven your heart and give you a reason for celebration?  You have been set apart for a holy purpose and sent on a vital life-saving mission.

The alternative to embracing Joy.

“Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin or doctrinal error is that we lose our joy in Christ. When your heart stops singing, that is a warning to watch your life and doctrine closely.”- Jim Johnstone

“…the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Our other choice in life is to go around miserable and to complain about what a horrible lot life has afflicted upon us.  The danger of doing ministry without allowing your joy to shine brightly is the witness it gives to a believing and unbelieving world.  Who wants to journey with people who appear not to enjoy the ride?  The love we have for God should overflow to people around us in our preaching, teaching, and service. That overflow is a joy.

The psalmist describes it this way, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalm 43:4. It is possible to lead with a quiet, reverent sense of awe at the wonders of God while also having a heart filled with exceeding joy over the love and grace of our Lord and Savior.  Ministry is not about us, it is always about Jesus.  Since ministry is about Jesus, understand the awesomeness of God while rejoicing in the joy of our salvation.

Devotional Message

Church We Need You Standing Firm

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Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

The Background:

It is always difficult to do a devotion on such a shorter piece of Scripture and do it justice. Therefore, what is happening before this is crucial in placing it in context?  The background is the apostle Paul is collecting an offering for the Christians in Jerusalem because many were living in extreme poverty. He wanted to provide them with relief from that suffering. It is possible that Paul saw the collection as an opportunity to deal with the tensions between the Jewish and Gentile Christians thus creating a greater unity between the two diverse communities of believers. Remember the Jews and gentiles were worlds apart. Their division went back hundreds of years. Acting from a heart of generosity, which flows from a heart overflowing with gratitude for the salvation won through Christ’s death and resurrection.  Paul hoped Gentile Christians being moved to compassion and concern will give to the Jews who were suffering and that act of mercy would demonstrate the power of God’s love.

Right at the end of the chapter, there is a personal note from Paul pointing out that he was writing the final greeting in his hand. Out of the Blue, right in the middle of these last addresses, Paul inserts a short but profound statement of advice to his readers:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Boy are these words timely, relevant, and compelling for us Christians today. As we seek to walk as children of the Light the statement is stunning in its simplicity and profound in its depth.

Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. And this can cause us to pull back and hunker down and wait for the storm winds to pass over.  Paul in these few verses reminds us that we must never to forget that the church is built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:16), over which the gates of hell itself shall not prevail.

“Be on guard,”

The literal translation is “to watch, or be watchful, or even pay close attention.” It is a call for us to be on spiritually on guard. Remember that the church in Corinth struggled with a myriad of problems in the area of spiritual immaturity. In other places in Paul’s letter, he dealt with these issues specifically—Here is a list of some of the problems the church was struggling to address.

  • The arrogance of those who were in leadership positions (Paul labeled the leaders spiritually immature),
  • There were factions, or cliques, within the church (which caused arguments and strife and not only weakened the church, but threatened to destroy it),
  • There was chaos in worship services.
  • Christians are suing other Christians in civil court.
  • Leadership was tolerant of members who were living openly in sexual sin.
  • The Church is dealing with gluttony and drunkenness at communion meals.
  • And you have pride in spiritual gifts and misuse of spiritual gifts, etc.

How would you like to be pastoring this congregation?  To be honest, this list sounds an awful lot like the issues the church is facing in the 21st century. Notice though that Paul’s call was not to be tolerant, or retreat, become meek, or throw up our hands and say, “Oh, well I guess that is the way things are today.”  Instead, Paul implores the church was “stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong” and this is my favorite part, “act like men.” No offense to the women reading this. It was a call to stand on the power and truth of God’s Word. That is what “act like men” is referring to. The world when it is confused and led astray does not need a meek church. It doesn’t need a church with squishy theology.  The world doesn’t need a hip or flashy church. The answer to the push to conform by the post-Christian society is not a call to become a compromising church. What the world needs are a strong confessional Church founded on the truth of God’s Word.  A church ready to stand on the strength of the Rock, Jesus Christ and point people to the only source of light in a dark world. Point people to Jesus. How does the church do in a manner that it does not come off as intolerant, rigid and condemning? The key is the last part of the section, where Paul says, “and do everything in love.”

Do everything in love

Paul in this short commendation brings the Corinthian Christians full-circle, back to the basis or foundation for how Christians should live and act. “Do everything in love.” Another way to explain it we should be like Christ. We should reflect His love for us in the way interact with each other.

Paul’s encouragement to the Church is to remind us of love’s priority. Love is to characterize all that we do. We are not only to do things with love but in love: it is to be the atmosphere that we breathe and the context in which we work.  As we deal with each other and an unbelieving world we are firm yet loving.  It is the balance that we parents live in daily.  We know that if we are too heavy handed we could lose heart and respect of our children.  On the other end of the spectrum if we are to lack in our admonition of our children we could lose their souls.

Paul ends his letter with the words, ‘My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen’ (v. 24). Many of the Corinthians had shown themselves to be critical of Paul, and much was unattractive about their behavior, as this first letter shows, but Paul loved them and told them so!

Our love too must be for all God’s people, no matter how awkward or disappointing they may sometimes be. Love is always ‘the most excellent way.’

Pastors we are to love God’s people because they are His people. That is not always easy just so you know flock, you are difficult to like at times.  While our churches are full of beautiful people, like all people, they will be difficult to love at times.  And church your Shepherd will be difficult to enjoy at times as well. You may not always agree with music he picks or the way he leads.  Your pastor may propose changes that will upset you, and you may find it hard to love him at times.  Remember Paul’s words, “and do everything in love.” It is not about us; it is about Jesus and his work of salvation.  It is about us sharing that hope of salvation with a lost and dying community.  May your churches be a beacon of hope for your community.  May the lost and erring come here and hear the life-saving message of the Gospel preached in truth and purity.  Love the community with your walls and beyond as Christ loves them.

My prayer for the church at large is that the Holy Spirit will keep us spiritually aware, standing firm in our faith, grounded on the strength of our confessions, yet wrapping our interactions with God and each other in the Christ-like love of our Savior.

Community Outreach

Two Ways to Bring Christ to Culture

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Christians are losing their power and influence … because they are losing their separateness.- Charlene Kaemmerling

When Robert Ingersoll, the famous atheist, was lecturing, he once took out his watch and declared, “I will give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I have said.” The minutes ticked off as he held the watch and waited. In about four-and-a-half minutes, some women began fainting, but nothing happened. When the five minutes were up, Ingersoll put the watch into his pocket. When that incident reached the ears of a certain preacher, Joseph Parker, he asked, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?” [1]

The world outside of God’s sheepfold is fond of playing this game of spiritual chicken.  “Come on God prove to me you exist.”  As Paul faced the religious skeptics in Athens, he explained a foreign concept to them, the patience of God.  People are familiar with the wrath of God, or so they think, but patience is a concept far from the mind of the skeptic.  In this post, we will cover the final two ways Paul turned their religious thinking on its head and left the learned spinning in their philosophical seats.

Jesus is the Savior (v. 30).

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  As Paul brought his arguments to a close, he summarized the clear evidence of God’s patience and the power of His grace. For centuries, God was patient with man’s sin and obliviousness.

“This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Romans 3:25

Let’s not get things confused here.  This by no means indicates that humanity was not guilty, as You will see below in Romans 1.

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Romans 1:19–23.

What Romans 1, does reveal is that God withheld His divine wrath.  Does that fit the narrative of a God who wants to punish all humanity in a whimsical sort of way?  It instead exposes a different side of God that we Christians know all too well; God is a God of love.  In His time God sent a Savior, and now He commands all men to repent of their foolish ways. This Saviour was killed and then raised from the dead, and one day, Jesus will return to judge the world. The proof that He will judge is that He was raised from the dead.

Paul wipes away the prideful Greek culture by calling it “times of ignorance.” With all their knowledge and learned thinking, and being the height of culture, the Greeks failed to find the true nature of God. If humanity just repents and believes, God is ready and will forgive no strings attached.

Jesus is the Judge (v. 31).

 “…because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

There will come a day when God will judge. God has appointed a day of judgment, and the Judge will be His Son, Jesus Christ. Why that should give us comfort is that this is not some distant judge, but one who understands our struggles and our temptations because he has experienced them Himself. For us as believer’s, judgment day is not a day of dread but a time of celebration.   If we trust Christ through faith in His death and resurrection, He will save us.  However, if we reject Him, tomorrow He will judge us.

The people of Athens responded with three different attitudes toward the Gospel. Surprisingly enough those responses are still relevant today.  1) Some people openly oppose the Word, 2) some will mock it and even openly challenge God to prove His existence as in the opening illustration, and 3) some receive the Word gladly and believe. We cannot control the response.  We are not called to, that is all the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit produces faith.

God calls us to be seed-planters and not to grow tired and discouraged.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

The proof of the pre-eminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a risen Christ with whom we have to deal. And this Christ has died and risen from the dead for you and for me, and invites us to believe on Him and live forever with him in Eternity.  Does it make sense to the learned, NO?  It is a message and a gift that we receive by faith alone. The Holy Spirit makes the Unknown Savior, Jesus Christ the God of our Salvation.

[1]  Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (pp. 146–147). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

The other post in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/24/where-did-we-come-from-and-where-are-we-going