Five Reasons Why Churches Won’t Grow

September 19, 2017

dying church

Although never voiced I have discovered that there is usually a degree of internal institutional opposition when it comes to church growth. It is not just that churches don’t grow; often it is they won’t grow. Here are five reasons why:

  • Lack of intentionality. For a church to grow it must plan to grow. It must be purposeful in evangelism. It must expect growth along with anticipating how to manage it. A church that grows is intentional about sharing God’s message; intentional about being hospitable to guests; intentional about assimilating new members in a healthy fashion; intentional about building meaningful relationships. They intentionally plant, water and are ready when God gives the increase.
  • Maxed out leadership. This includes maxed out vision for the church body and maxed out ability to manage the church body. A church will grow only as far as its leadership envisions and leads. When a leadership settles for status quo so does the church. Growing churches have leaders who walk by faith, not sight; who raise up new leaders to share in and expand their vision while escaping burnout; and who create an atmosphere for growth.
  • Apathy. Often churches are inwardly focused—more concerned and urgent about members needs then about outreach. This challenges every church. But beware! Apathy may be comfortable, but apathy dooms churches.
  • Fear. Fear is apathy’s partner. Fear presents all sorts of barriers (both real and imagined) to growth. Fear paralyzes leadership. Fear stymies vision, innovation, boldness and outreach. According to the Bible it is a spirit foreign to God.
  • Tradition. Tradition can be healthy. Some ritual is God-ordained–an essential and extremely meaningful part of our church life. Tradition helps define us as a community of faith, but frequently tradition can also be limiting to growth. Because we have never done it that way before does not necessarily mean it cannot be done that way. If tradition or traditional thinking is limiting a church’s ability to evangelize, then there should be a reevaluation of that tradition and thinking.

Avoid these not-so fab five at all costs! They are preventing churches everywhere from realizing the potential God sees within them for outreach and growth. Haven’t we let them stop us long enough?

(Bible verses referenced include 1 Corinthians 3:7; 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:7 & 2 Timothy 1:7)

 

 

 

 

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Why So Isolating?

June 19, 2017

iso cell phone

I was reminded again recently while grocery shopping with my wife in our local ubiquitous gigantic one-size-fits-all store about how things have changed within my lifetime. As a child I have fond memories of walking the few blocks from my house to our neighborhood grocery market—Lucky Food Store in Greenville, MS. It was small but adequate. Folks frequenting this store knew each other. I could go there unaccompanied at a young age, browse for comic books on the rack while feeling safe and at home. It was a community of sorts.

I felt none of that familiarity in Wal-Mart. No knock on them—it is just the way of things now. It also made me contemplate what is next. Soon it appears the need to shop in the big stores will transition out. On the horizon is online grocery shopping. Need milk and bread? Just order it up on the website and have a drone deliver it to your door. Convenient for sure, but healthy? Maybe not.

What is getting squeezed out in our technology is contact with people, relationship and community. In all of the convenience we are increasingly isolating ourselves.

Everyone seems to have their own personal screen. Just look around the next time you are in a public space. You probably will notice more folks looking down at their phone than interacting with each other. This occurs in homes as well. Vanishing are our dinner times together or even shared TV watching. We are segregating by our own streaming preferences—just me and my screen.

And when was the last time you enjoyed a nice telephone chat with a friend? We text, message, tweet, and maybe still email. They all serve a purpose. Social media is here to stay, but no amount of proficiency with or time spent on social media replaces the benefits of personal contact.

Then there is this. It seems that even the old standby business lunch is fading and being replaced by people eating alone at their desks.

So why my lament about all of this?

God created us not to be isolated, but for community and he created a community for us that we call church. From the beginning God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Our trending isolationism is not healthy emotionally, physically or spiritually. God’s community was designed for personal relationship, hospitality and fellowship. Those cannot be experienced through a screen.

Sure it gets messy sometimes (just read any of Paul’s New Testament letters), but it is worth the struggle. The community and connectivity we enjoy in Christ is but only a glimpse of the fully realized and shared kingdom of heaven that is to come.

This post is not meant to be a deep study of the dangers of our increasing trend for isolation or a detailed discussion of the need for community together as believers.

Certainly it is a lament—loneliness is more common than we imagine—but it is also meant to hopefully spur us to rethink our own tendency to isolate—if we do.

So, invite someone to lunch. Demonstrate hospitality in your home. Put the screen down and engage someone the next time you are in a public area. Enjoy a meal together with your family. Call someone on the phone just to chat. Start up a conversation with a fellow shopper in the big box superstore. Go to church—regularly. Meet someone new there. Hug an old friend. Celebrate God’s community. Discover the blessings within it.

It is not good for us to always be alone.


God and Government #2

October 18, 2016

Here is the second lesson in this series. 

The first major text dealing with Christian’s relationship with the government under which they live is found in Romans 13:1-7.

To fully process this text we must first firmly root it in its original context. The target audience for this teaching was Christians—both Jew and Greek—living in first century Rome, the capital of the vast Roman Empire. An empire by definition is “an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress.” It is important to the text to grasp the type of government under which they lived. It was not a representative form of government in any way. Those who were citizens (like Paul) did have some rights and civil liberties (such as appealing directly to Caesar to ultimately arbitrate legal matters—Acts 22-28), but it was not democracy. So we first must try to hear and process Romans 13:1-7 through their ears, lives and experiences.

One contextual situation that no doubt formed—at least in part—the occasion for this teaching concerned the civil disobedience rampant among parts of the Jewish community. This had earlier created the banishment of the Jewish population of Rome under Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. (in which Apulia and Priscilla were caught up- Acts 18:1-2. It also was the background for much of the Jew/Greek problem within the church in Rome that prompted Paul to write the letter). Knowing this and the damage it caused the Jews, Paul realized that this type of rebellion against established government would be counterproductive to spreading the gospel and to the reputation of Christians within that community. He did not want the church to get caught up in such civil unrest.

From an immediate contextual perspective, this body of teaching seems to flow from the previous teaching in chapter twelve concerning blessing those who persecute, repaying good for evil, not seeking revenge, and doing everything possible to live at peace with everyone. This divine advice mirrors the teaching of Christ- who did not embrace the radical agenda of the Jewish Zealots of his day, but chose rather to be obedient to the governing powers (even though they were unjust and killed him).

The ultimate goal Paul was seeking in this section of teaching was to urge the church in Rome not to engage in any type of civil disobedience that would bring undue attention to the church and hinder their ability to spread the gospel of Christ. Instead they were to submit to their civic governmental context and work within it as good citizens (as he himself was doing) to allow every opportunity for the gospel to be spread and influence their community.

TEXTUAL POINTS

From the text we learn:

  • Paul presents a positive picture of government. It is to be seen as established by God for the purposes of punishing wrongdoers and as such it serves God’s purposes.
  • Rebelling against the God-ordained government equals rebelling against God and brings about a judgment.
  • “Everyone” is to submit to the governmental powers and not be in rebellion against them. Considering their context this was wise advice because Rome could and did act swiftly to eradicate rebellious and subversive activity (as they did against the Jewish community in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) The Christian’s responsibility within their governmental context is to “do what is right” – not just for fear of punishment but because it is the right thing to do (“conscience”- vs. 5)
  • Doing what is right includes paying the various taxes required by government and paying your debts.

Coupled with the other NT texts previously mentioned we see a consistent ethic put forth. Jesus agrees that taxes should be paid (Matthew 22:21). The Romans teaching agrees with Paul’s words to Timothy concerning living a quiet and respectful life within a community (1 Timothy 2:1-4). And Peter echoes the idea of respect and submission to the king and those in governmental authority- as well as emphasizing that in doing so it would best present the gospel message and silence critics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

To really grasp the impact of the Roman text (and the others) is to understand that Christianity was this fledgling movement operating among misunderstandings, suspicion, and opposition in the cities where it had taken root. On one hand it was opposed by most of the Jewish establishment (which often spread salacious rumors about the church) and was viewed by many Roman authorities as simply a splinter sect of the troublesome Jewish community- and therefore untrustworthy and suspicious. So, this teaching was crucial to establishing that Christians were not the threat to the empire so perceived. The call was to be good citizens, live at peace, and conform as completely as possible (sometimes- according to the demands of the ruling powers- complete conformity was impossible- Acts 5:29) to governmental powers so as to give the gospel every opportunity to take root and flourish. This indeed is one major way they could live out the transformation to which they were called (Romans 12:1-2). Such a lifestyle would differentiate Christians from others (especially the Jews who were constantly a problem for Rome).

LIVING OUT THE TEXT TODAY

Reading the text through 21st century filters leaves us with many questions. What if a governmental system is not just? Should we live peacefully within a form of government that oppresses and promotes evil? If Christians fall under persecution what should be our response? Is it okay to participate in activities designed to overthrow evil governments? Can we participate in peaceful protest? Should we become involved in the governmental process?

To address this- we first must remember that the Roman texts (and others) were not written specifically to answer these questions. They were context specific. (In fact, it was only a few years after Paul wrote this that Roman Christians faced horrific persecution under Nero and persecution was at times and in places- harsh for Christians until Constantine).  So just what does this text have to say about the above questions? These are not easy questions to answer but ones we will consider/pursue/answer through this study.


Four Ways Not To Treat Your Preacher

October 26, 2015

Churches and their preachers–always an interesting relationship.

I know of wonderful stories and of horror stories. I have experienced huge doses of the former and a small taste of the latter. As a result of the latter category here are a few things I have learned–four ways not to treat your preacher.

  • Do away with the comparisons. I suppose it is human nature to make comparisons. We do so consistently with almost everything, but it is not always wise–especially when it comes to preachers. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and most importantly–giftedness. We are most definitely not in competition with each other. That comparing/competitive spirit got one New Testament church in bundles of divisive trouble (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead of comparing your preacher to your favorite past preacher, how about accepting him as he is and appreciating his giftedness? This will encourage him to grow in his ministry.
  • Avoid foyer ambushes. Every preacher knows about these. This is when some good church member takes issue with a sermon point and decides to air it out immediately after worship in the church foyer. Never really a good idea here. Regardless of the point being made, it becomes an embarrassing situation that puts the preacher on the defensive. Trust me, he will not hear much of what is being said and instead feel like he is being attacked. Try to speak with your preacher in a more private setting and you will likely be surprised about how cordial and profitable such a conversation can be.
  • Stop the demeaning jokes. It may seem funny to tell your preacher that perhaps “he will make a good preacher one day.” Or to rib him about his salary. Or to say that he only works a few hours a week. Or to introduce him as your “little preacher.” Every preacher everywhere has heard versions of all of these and every preacher everywhere really does not care for them–even if they grin and go along. Overwhelmingly preachers take their calling seriously. It is not just a job for us–it is who we are. While we work in congregational settings with our greatest desire being for our church to be healthy, to grow, and to make a difference–we still answer above all to God. Most of us love to joke on occasion, but do not consider our calling a joke.
  • Do not make your preacher starve. Okay, admittedly this is an extreme way of saying honor your preacher and his family with a fair wage and benefits. From what I understand generally we are at a much better place here then in the past, but still be sensitive to your preacher’s financial needs. Providing a comfortable salary, health insurance and retirement benefits, etc makes a major supportive statement to the preacher and his family. It messages to them that the church is investing in the preachers success and expects a prosperous, healthy relationship. Preachers can flourish in such an environment.

This is not a comprehensive list of course–just four things that can commonly happen.

Here is my favorite Bible verse about preachers. It demonstrates the high value God puts upon us. It is also incredibly humbling.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Value your preacher. It will be a blessing to him that will return to you many times over.

*To be fair my next blogpost will address the ways preachers should not treat their churches


People, Not Issues

February 19, 2015

issuesQuite often during the ministry of Jesus, attempts were made to draw him into the middle of some controversial, hot-button issue. Whether it was healing or working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-5) or identifying just who is your neighbor (Luke 10:29ff) the law experts and Jewish theologians were anxious to involve Jesus. But he refused to take their bait. He either ignored them or handled the issues in such a way as to deflect the controversy and defuse the debate.

Jesus and his ministry was about people–not issues. He came to serve and to save (Matthew 20:28; Luke 10:10). He had no time for issues. Reaching people was his priority.

It should remain so for his church. Issues continue to abound. Churches can get lost in them–making the issues their identity. God forbid!

Our world does not need more issues. It needs more servants sharing the gospel of Christ. Issues cannot save. Jesus can.

Three observations:

  • Issues splinter, the Gospel reconciles. Issues create strife, quarreling, and division–a toxic mix for a church. We should work to avoid this at all costs (2 Timothy 2:23-24). The gospel has the opposite effect. It reconciles and unifies (Ephesians 2:16; 4:1-6). It creates a healthy, harmonious, growing atmosphere for a church.
  • Issues are nothing new. Not only did Christ have to deal with issues, but the first churches did as well. The solution was always Christ-based and gospel focused (1 Corinthians 2:2). What an important example for us. When issues arise–put them at the foot of the cross.
  • People want Jesus, not issues. Most people do not know about nor do they care about most of our church issues. In fact, being made aware of our issues has pushed many away. They have enough issues of their own living in our broken world. By lifting up Jesus we are offering a heaven-based alternative to their issues; a message of hope and joy; of forgiveness and grace.

This is the message Jesus shared in his ministry. It penetrated the issue-laden focus of the religious leaders to reach the hearts of many–hungry to hear a word of hope. These people marvelled that Jesus was not an ordinary teacher with an ordinary message (Matthew 7:28-29). The first church grew rapidly because of their focus, not on issues, but on the “Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Let’s learn from this.

It is about people, not issues.