Five Ways to Be a Healthy Church

February 12, 2014

For years I read every church growth book on the market. I hung on the testimony “experts” shared. I rode the waves of the church-building trends. I wanted my church to grow; to be relevent; to be on healthy churchthe cutting edge (as much as allowed within my congregational setting, anyway); and to attract others. Eventually, however, I learned that while all of this could produce activity, it was not always healthy activity. What was good for that happening church in the metropolis, was not necessarily good for my church.

Churches come in all shapes, sizes, and traditions. Before importing the latest and greatest from a successfully growing church, we all need to thoughtfully consider if it really fits into our church context. Some things may; some things may not. The key to me is in understanding our own church–and working within it to bring about congregational health–just as we are. I wholeheartedly believe that regardless of worship style, church tradition, location, etc., every church can be healthy and productive in the Lord. Here are five suggestions on how to be a healthy church–just as you are; right where you are:

  • Be Real. This is foundational. Churches that demonstrate a genuine faith struggle attract fellow strugglers. This is the opposite of Christianity as performance. This is church–not about how proud we are to be church; how exceptional our preacher is; how cutting-edge our worship is; how amazing our building and campus is; it is about real folks who have found forgiveness and fulfillment in Christ. It is about demonstrating and celebrating the real difference Christ has made in our lives. It is about being true to him, his will and who we are in him. No pretense; no put-on. Jesus is our identity. He is the reason why we worship. It is not trying to be something we are not. If we can learn to become genuinely transparent with our faith at our church–our church will be healthy and being healthy, ready to be used by God in fantastic ways.
  • Be Welcoming. Truthfully, many churches are not that welcoming. They think they are, but in practice they are not very sensitive to the experience of guests. To be welcoming means to be intentional about it. It is more than just a friendly mindset, it is an intentional atmosphere created within a church to make every guest’s experience as pleasant and encouraging as possible. All churches have people who visit. What is the reception they receive? Are they greeted? Are they assisted in finding their way around? Is there informational material to share with them? Is that material updated? Are church members interacting with the guests? Why is this so key to being a healthy church? Not only does it greatly assist guests–ensuring a great church experience for them and an incentive to return; it creates an outward focus for the church. Unhealthy churches have an inward focus. Healthy churches seek ways to serve others. Being a welcoming church is where an outward focus can start.
  • Be Your Best. This point really speaks to worship and worship styles. Perhaps nothing has harmed churches more over the last few decades than worship wars–people feuding within churches as to which worship style will be practiced. None of that has been very healthy. What is healthy is when we simply do our best (within our worship context) to worship God “in spirit and truth.” We put our entire heart and soul into our Sunday gathering. We do not hold back in our devotion and praise to God. Certainly, we use gifted people to lead and assist us, but it is also our best God desires. We can have the latest technology; the most gifted leading us; the most contemporary song selection and still not have healthy worship. Healthy worship is when we are all engaged–offering the best of ourselves to God as we worship. When we do, it will be a tremendous witness to our faith and relationship to God–a witness other’s will notice and from which they will gain strength. Healthy churches do not get lost in an over-focus on the latest worship bells and whistles–they engage the heart of the worshipper to bring out the very best we have to offer.
  • Be Grace-Filled. Healthy churches realize that there are none perfect (“not even one”- Romans 3:10) and operate in God’s spirit of grace. Forgiveness is fundamental among healthy churches. Healthy churches welcome everyone to journey as fellow grace travellers. Healthy churches are not judgmental nor self-righteous. Healthy churches offer a safe place of refuge for all who are weary in the world. God’s grace oozes from healthy churches.
  • Be Flexible. This may be the most difficult! Not speaking of any type of Biblical or value compromise here, just the ability to adjust to changing culture. Think Paul here–becoming “all things to all people” in order to spread the gospel to as “many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Healthy churches do not get stuck in the rut of tradition to the point that they fail to live in the present. The church is called out to minister in our time and place. Healthy churches have enough flexibility to adapt to their changing communities and offer a compelling contemporary message about the old rugged cross.

How all of this will look– lived out in churches is as different as the churches themselves. It is not presented as some exhaustive check-list–just what I have observed over the years within healthy churches.

 

 

 

 

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Five Reasons Why It Is Easy to Bash the Church

January 15, 2014
  1. It is easier to criticize than to praise. It requires much less effort to point out what is wrong, than to celebrate what is right. A church may be engaged in all kinds of encouraging, life-changing ministry, but it is the flaws that seem to get most of the focus. And there are flaws and always will be. Which means…
  2. The church is an easy target. Yep, we have hypocrites, liars, the immoral, the insensitve, the intolerant, and the self-righteous. Often we seem out-of-touch and archaic. Name it (and the critics do) because we got it. Never mind that we also have the faithful, the loving, the pure, the servant-hearted: you know, folks trying to model Jesus. Forget the fact that by its very nature the church welcomes all of the above to enter into a transformative relationship with Christ. Ignore the reality that we are and will contiune to be (until Christ returns) a work in progress– never claiming perfection. Our mistakes just make too big a target for many to see beyond.
  3. Misery sells. Good news creates much less buzz than bad. The media has grasped this for decades. Church bashing simply has broader appeal than church praising. It has become a cottage industry.
  4. Everyone is an expert. Just ask and you will discover that almost everyone has an opinion (usually a strong one) about the church. These opinons usually contain criticism complete with a “how to fix it” plan. Very few experts see themselves as part of the problem, however.
  5. It is self-serving. For many church bashing serves to create justification for their own choices. “The church is bad therefore I will not support it” or “The church is bad and I need to change it” or “The church is bad therefore I will oppose it”- is the idea. Obviously, this is not true about criticism across the board, Also, it must be acknowleged that some have suffered genuially terrible experiences in churches, which has created difficult personal spiritual struggles. But for many criticizing the church simply serves their own purposes.

There is a difference, of course, between healthy criticsim which seeks to instruct and improve. I see the apostle Paul engaged in this kind of criticism as he dealt with the first century churches. He pointed out their flaws; their sins, but always with the goal of correcting them in the most productive way in Jesus. He never engaged in bashing. His was redemptive criticism. Some, who survey the church today and offer a critique do so in the same spirit and for the same purpose. We need that. It is healthy.

What we do not need is the type of critcism reflective in my five reasons. It is counterproductive and damaging.


Dialoging About Jesus: Five Approaches

November 21, 2013

By now, I am confident that most of you have heard all about our postmodern culture and its impact on how people process information.

So I ask, what do you get when you cross a postmodernist with the mafia? You get an offer you cannot understand! Yea, go ahead and groan.

Yet, the challenge of sharing Jesus; of dialoging his message; of effectively bringing him into a conversation remains ever present in a culture influenced by postmodernism. What is the best way to do it? Here are five approaches:

  • The silent treatment. Not an approach really. We just say nothing. Maybe it is out of the intimidation factor. Maybe we are unsure what to say. Maybe we never feel compelled to include Jesus in the dialog. This may be a safe and totally non-confrontative approach, but it accomplishes nothing in terms of sharing the kingdom alternatives of Christ.
  • I miss Mayberry. We can go all nostalgic in our approach and talk about the good ole days when people respected truth and reason and chide folks now-a-days for their wishy-washy ways, but this approach isn’t going to help anyone.
  • It says what it means and it means what it says. We are talking about dialog here and that approach ends it before starts. There is not much traction at all to this approach anymore.
  • I’m okay; your’e okay. This allows for too much. Christ’s teaching are very distinctive. He calls us to discipleship– to model the values of his kingdom. It is an enlightening and transformational process. Therefore, it will at times also be confrontational.
  • “Speaking the truth in love”- Ephesians 4:15. I call this the Jesus model. It is dialog without divisive debate. It is compassion without compromise. It is saturated with his “grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is not judgmental, but does invite self-evaluation. It does not hesitate to engage, but never dominates or intimidates. Neither is it intimidated by opposition. It is verified by the transparency of faith lived out. It is not easy, but it is the best way to dialog about Jesus–to share his wonderful words of life to an increasingly skeptical audience.

There is an additional component to add when dialoging about Jesus.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. – James 1:19

Thoughts?

 


Divided We Fall

August 22, 2013

Seems many of us these days have forgotten the “united” part of the United States.

I cannot ever remember a more divisive time than the one in which I now live.

Everything has been politicized– race; gender; sexual orientation; reproduction; health care; marriage; personal income; religion; education; gun ownership; retirement; even the weather.

A desire to work through issues with constructive dialogue and mutual respect has been replaced by angry accusations, pandering and partisan politics, irrational and irresponsible behavior and sometimes, violence.

It has become all about “getting mine” regardless of the long-term consequences.

It is increasingly dividing us as a nation– and divided we will fall.

More than ever then, it is to God and his kingdom to which I seek refuge.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.- Psalm 125:1-2

 

 

 


Truth, Propositional and Relational

February 14, 2013

The excellent article below was written by Cecil May, Jr. who currently serves as a Dean at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. Brother May is a highly respected scholar of the Word, educator, and preacher. The article first appeared in the February 2013 publication, Preacher Talk. It is presented here with his permission. Brother May’s email is cmay@faulkner.edu if you would like to contact him about the article. 

A frequently heard postmodern statement is “Truth is not propositional; it is relational.

It is worthy of notice that much of postmodern writing and conversation, including this sentence, is self-contradictory. “Truth is not propositional; it is relational,” is itself a proposition. Is it true?

It is important to understand that Christian truth is personal and relational. Jesus is a person and he is truth personified (John 14:6). Jesus said in a prayer to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you are the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In order to know “the only true God and Jesus” we must know what Scripture tells us about them; or better said, what they tell us about themselves in Scripture. But an unbeliever can know everything Scripture says about Jesus and still not have eternal life. It is one thing to know about him and another to know him. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). There is a real person to whom the facts in Scripture speak, and we know him, the living Christ by faith. Christian truth is relational. It also brings us into precious relationships with others who by faith follow Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Christian truth is also propositional. Any sentence intended to state a truth is a proposition and that describes  many Christian truths. Jesus’ statements, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), are often cited to show truth is relational. But they are propositions, and if they are not truth, there is no basis for saying truth is relational.

Simon Peter’s statement to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), is a proposition. If it is not true, any relationship people may think they have is not with Jesus, but with an invention of their own subjective imaginations.

“Jesus is Lord” and “God raised Jesus from the dead” are propositions. They are true and they must be believed and confessed if we are to have a relationship with Jesus and God. “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Jesus himself asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Propositional truth  becomes relational truth when we trust and obey.