The Church in the Bible

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the Church. As a follower of Christ I am placed into a group of people that we call the Church. It is easy to think of the Church in a singular way. The Church in the Bible is described with multiple images to help us understand this unique gathering.

The Church is

1. A Flock of Sheep – Acts 20:28-29

2. A Chosen People
A Royal Priesthood
A Holy Nation
A People Belonging to God

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

3. The Army of God – 2 Timothy 2:4

4. The Family of God – Galatians 6:10

5. The Temple of God – 1 Corinthians 3:16

6. The Body of Christ – Colossians 1:18

7. The Kingdom of God – Revelation 1:5-6

These are not all the scriptures that underline each image. Also this is not a comprehensive list and I am sure there are some metaphors I am missing.

The Church is not described in a singular image because it does not convey all that the Church is and does. Lately I have been pondering the meaning of each of these images and what they mean for us as a local Church. A temple is considered the dwelling place of God and that has huge connotations for our view or worship. The family is an intimate place of relationships and that has implications for our view of fellowship.

All of us have a favorite image but what if the local Church tried to be all that God desired it to be. How would we do things differently?

Eeyore

A friend of mine put this quote found on Facebook in his newsletter. I do not know the original source but it pretty good and I decided to share it anyway.

“One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. What is amazing is that they never expect him to pretend to be happy, they never leave him behind, they never expect him to change. They just show him love.”

Assuming the Best

One thing I have noticed about people, even Christian people, is that they assume the worst. If I forget to make a call it is because I do not care about that person. If I do not stop to talk to a person then I am cold toward that person and probably angry with them. If I am out of the office then I am being lazy and not doing any work. I could go on and on. It is not just with me, but with other people to. They didn’t talk to me when they walked by so they must be angry with me. They did not come even though they were invited so they must … you get the idea.

I wonder how life would be different in the world and especially in the Church if we would assume the best. What would happen if we assumed the absolute best in the other person.

They didn’t come so they must have something wonderful happening in their life. They didn’t say hello I hope they are not distracted by something painful. If so, maybe I should pray for them. Is this how your brain works? Unfortunately it is usually not how mine works either.

So today, would you commit with me to assume the best in people. Let’s see what difference it makes.

Growing Churches

I grew up attending a growing Church. Unfortunately it quickly went into decline. Praise God it finally started growing again and is still growing today.

I eventually went on to Bible College and became a Church leader. As a preacher I have led 6 Churches while in college and since graduation. All of them have grown while I was leading them. One of them only grew by one family, which was big considering the situation. The others doubled in size or more. I have had the privilege of leading dozens and dozens of people to a saving relationship with Jesus.

While in ministry I have attended numerous conferences held at growing Churches to learn what they are doing. I have read about growing Churches and attended them while on vacation. I read books about church growth, evangelism, outreach and Church programming on a regular basis and have done so for the last 20 years. About 1/2 of my bookshelf contains books about reaching out to lost people as a Church and as a pastor.

Church growth is a topic I am very familiar with and I have learned a few simple principles through the years.

1. Church leadership is the single biggest factor in Church growth. The pastor, the elders, the deacons and “unofficial” leaders either hold the Church back or unleash it for outreach. I firmly believe the reason that most Churches do not reach more people for Jesus is because of their leadership.

2. A quality Sunday morning worship is a top priority. Growing Churches understand that Sunday morning is not about fellowship but rather about worship. Fellowship happens in other venues like Sunday School, small groups and simply fellowship events. Each week the Church gets together for a few hours for worship. Everything else is accomplished the other 6 days, but a great worship experience that engages non-believers is essential.

3. Healthy systems keep the Church moving forward. The human body has different systems – the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, etc. Each one must function properly for the body to do everything. The same is true in Christ’s body. There are systems that each Church has to accomplish the Lord’s will. There is an Outreach system, an Assimilation system, a Volunteer Ministry system, a Small Groups system, a Discipleship system, a Leadership system, a Finances system and a Worship System. Each Church is doing every one of these ministries, but growing Churches act intentionally. A flawed system will mess up the whole body. An ignored system will derail the whole train of growth.

4. Growth is painful and we like to avoid anything painful. I heard a camp manager once say, “The Church will not grow because it has looked at the price tag and determined it was too high.” I know what he means, because growth means change. Change is hard. I might have to give up my seat, listen to another style of music, connect to someone other than on Sunday morning, I might have to serve more, give more and be pushed to grow spiritually. Some people will hate it and complain and probably leave. The list could go on and on. It is hard on everyone – I think it is hardest on the leadership which leads me back to #1.

5. People must be clear about the eternal need for Church growth. Christians need to be clear that we believe the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3). Motivated by eternity we share Christ with our friends and family and we will pay any price to see them saved. Rick Warren once was quoted as saying, “The Church that refuses to reach out and share their faith is basically telling the world that they can go to Hell.”

There are dozens of other principles I could write about Church growth but these are the big ones. In fact, most other issues fall under one of these. These principles are the ones that I try to work on in the local Church. A Church must be constantly asking itself hard questions concerning these issues. If it doesn’t, the doors will not close immediately, but usually it will ride along at the same size for years without ever asking why. Or maybe I should say, they don’t care why.

Quote

This is one of my favorite quotes. It is by Mark Moore who used to be a professor of mine at Ozark Christian College. He wrote it on his blog several years ago. Unfortunately he no longer blogs but I am glad he gave this statement.

At a recent men’s retreat I had the privilege of being sharpened by a number of fellas who had true brokenness in their lives: Unfaithful wives, sexual addictions, violence in the home, anger management issues, failing parents, failed ministries. One old friend emailed me just to say thanks for the time we got to share together after years of lost contact. My final sentence to him was this: “From one wounded warrior to another: stand in the grace we have come to cling to, no longer out of theological commitment, but raw necessity.” Look, I’m not OK and neither are you. We serve our king, not because we have earned the right, not because we have lived right, not because it is right, but because we have expended all our other resources and run out of options. As Peter said, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” Lord, all we can offer you is broken lives and wounded hearts, inflamed with the passion of one indiscriminately loved.

Missions

Last week I started working on a new bulletin board here at the Church. It is located in our library and will have all of our missions information. This Church supports several ministries in this state and several in southeast Asia. While working on this project I have been enlightened about our missionaries and where they serve. I would encourage all of the people who attend Adrian Christian to stop by and look it over this weekend.

The whole time I have been working on this board I have been thinking about a sermon by Chuck Sackett. I did not hear this sermon preached but rather I ran across it in a book. In college I was traveling with a group of students called “The Lord’s Reepers.” This group was composed of students interested in missions who went from Church to Church speaking about the need for the local Church to get involved in missions work. I went along as the preacher many weeks. I was in my second year of college and it gave me the chance to speak on a regular basis. As a student who was not planning on going into the work of a missionary I was always searching for a good sermon on this topic. Then one day I ran across a book in the library entitled “My Favorite Missions Sermons.” One of them was by Chuck Sackett, a preacher I had heard speak at college, who I knew was a powerful preacher. The title of his sermon was “Delete the ‘S.'” His sermon has affected my views of missionary work ever since I read it.

His concept was that in Churches we talk about missions or overseas missions. In fact, I have written that very thing a couple of times in this article. He said we should take out our typewriters (remember those?) and delete the “s” on the end of the word missions. He then went on to argue that all of us are involved in the mission of God. Jesus gave us our mission in Matthew 28:18-20 to “go into all the world.” Some of us have taken that mission to our job in our local community and some people have taken it to the far reaches of the world. Ultimately there is not ministry in the local Church and then this separate other thing that happens overseas. We are all on the same mission but some do it locally and some do it overseas. This truth reminds me that I am missionary in my current setting and it challenges me to support the work across the globe of similar believers in their mission field.

Christian Bubble

I was reading through several old illustrations this morning and ran across an extended quote from Dan Kimball. He is a minister and Church planter and wrote a book called, “They like Jesus but not the Church.” Dan is a leader in the area of a “Missional Church” that see their role in society, no matter where they are in the world, as missionaries of the gospel of Christ.
Chapter 2 is entitled “Why I escaped the Church office” and has a section he calls “The transformation from excited missionary into citizen of the bubble.” He describes how he views the steps most Christians take in their life of faith. Phase 1 is simply “We become Christians.” Phase 2 is “We become part of Church life.” Next he describes phase 3 as “We become part of the Christian bubble.” Now, I typed in this section and hope you understand and enjoy.

“Things really start changing in phase 3. As we slowly withdrawal from ongoing relationships with those outside the Church and focus on relationships with those inside the Church, something happens. Once, it was more natural and even exciting to share life with people at work or at school, with relatives, or with neighbors. But slowly we begin to see evangelism as something the Church does, primarily through events. We get more excited about going overseas to the mission field on summer trips than about the mission field we live in every day. We start to see evangelism as inviting people to go to a Church, where the pastor will do the evangelizing and explain Christianity, instead of spending time with people and talking with them and being the Church to them.
During this phase, we stop praying daily for those who don’t know Jesus and instead pray for our Church’s latest building project or latest program. Other than maybe at an office Christmas party that we have to go to, we rarely ever hang out with non-Christian friends or go to the movies with them. For the most part, only Christians are in our circle of peers. We begin buying little Christian stickers or put metal fish symbols on our cars, and we even have a few Christian T-shirts. We set our radios only to our favorite Christian radio shows, and most of the music we listen to is Christian. We make a trip to the amusement park that has the special Christian day each year featuring Christian bands. We find ourselves regularly using Christian words and phrases and clichés, such as backsliding, prayer warrior, fellowship, quiet time, traveling mercies, ‘I have a check in my spirit.’ The transformation is complete. We have become citizens of the bubble.”

-Page 44 of “They like Jesus but not the Church: insights from emerging generations” by Dan Kimball

Dan Kimball’s fear (and mine) is that too many Christians have taken up residence inside the “Christian Bubble.” We no longer have contact with people outside of Christianity. He ends this section of the book by saying that at Phase 4 “We become Jonah.” Not only do we no longer have contact with people outside of God, we really don’t care about them anymore. My question is, “Does any of this sound like my life?”

Interesting Blogs

I have mentioned that I read several blogs each day. Some people have asked me what those blogs are so that they can read them too.

Here are a few that you might find interesting. Click on the name and it will link you to the page.

Family

Mark Merrill (excellent stuff)
We are THAT family
Refine US Ministries

Church Leadership

Carey Nieuwhof
Church for Men
Ron Edmondson

Theology

Jack Cottrell

Generally interesting

Indexed
Seth Godin

Telemarketing and Outreach

In 2009 I was between my ministry in Iowa and my move to Alaska. I needed to do something to pay the bills. It was a recession and a lot of people were out of work and surprisingly a preacher is not qualified to do much. I ended up working in a factory warehouse, but for 9 long weeks I was a telemarketer. It was the single most difficult job I have ever done. It took an emotional toll on me as I tried to maintain my integrity while getting sales over the phone for some interesting products and services. I did keep a notebook of my experiences so that I would never lose the insights I gained during that time. I could write numerous blog posts of the conversations I had, the products I sold and the reactions of people on the phone.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was about the number of responses. Our supervisor would announce what we were going to be selling over the coming hours. Then she would write a number on the big white board in the room. That number was our projected sales per hour. Based on research and previous experience they would calculate how many sales an average telemarketer could make per hour. The number was usually 1 or 2 with only one product getting a 3. Being the curious person that I am I asked a supervisor about the number and she told me that they company makes 600 calls or more an hour. That put us statistically in a place where each of our sales staff would be able to sell 1 time per hour. If you made that number you were paid without fear of getting fired. If you sold more than that you would get a bonus for each sale. A little motivation never hurts sales. They would track the numbers on our computer screens and one day I wrote down 3866 calls for 65 sales.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because it illustrates the “law of large numbers.” That is the concept that the more calls you make then more sales you make. If you want more sales, then you need to make more calls. This is true in telemarketing but it is also true of Christian outreach.

I know this sounds very nonspiritual. I know it could remove the possibility of prayer and divine intervention. I know someone will raise an objection. I think this truth can be devoid of Christian principles but I also think it can work in direct connection with my spiritual life. Here is what I mean. I can pray and ask God to lead me to people who need to hear the gospel. I can ask Him to put people into my path that I can invite to Church. I believe God will do that for us, but it may take me asking 600 people to get that one response.

I am not saying we need to go out and knock on doors of total strangers. I am talking about speaking of Church and Christ with every person we come in contact with each day. That might be our co-workers, the lady at the store, my children’s friends parents, the neighbor, and any other person I come in contact with. All of us have at least 250 people we have a minor connection with in the community. Some of us have way more contacts that average.

Telemarketing forced me to talk to people I didn’t know to make a sale of a crappy product and it worked because I talked to enough people. Which is why they keep doing it by the way. How much more would we be able to share the best information in the world to people we know if we just forced ourselves to do it more often. Most people tell me they have only been able to bring a couple of people to Church and no one to the Lord. Maybe we just haven’t asked enough people.

Interpretive Worship

Ed Young Jr. is the pastor of a mega-church named Fellowship Church in the Dallas Texas area. Each year the Church hosts a conference named the Creative Church Conference or C3 for short. I attended one of their conferences about 10 years ago and tried to learn as much as I could learn in a two-day experience. They had some powerful main sessions and some insightful breakout sessions during the conference. But of all the things that I experienced the one that stuck with me was a story Ed Young told from his own life that planted the seed for Fellowship Church.

Ed’s father is a preacher in a large Church and Ed had grown up going to Church each week. He had no desire to be a preacher but rather set his sights on being a basketball player. I believe that dream was sidelined by an injury that changed the direction of his life. While in college he attended a local Church near his university and took a friend from the team with him. He found himself becoming an interpreter for everything going on during the service. He would tell his friend, “Okay that person is giving a call to worship. That is an attempt to try to get people excited about what we are about to do.” Then it was “that guy talking is an elder – that is a leader in the Church – and he is talking about money because we are about to take up and offering.” And then, “That lady is singing a special song. I know she is not very good but she is the chairman of the board’s wife.” And on and on it went.

He said that after that Sunday he asked a question that would help direct his ministry. “Is it possible to have a Church where guests can understand the worship without an interpreter?”

I have thought about that story many times through the years and it has helped to shape my view of ministry as well. But over time I have furthered my thoughts about his experience and the dozens I have heard like it. I have come to the conclusion that my view of what happens on Sunday morning is greatly influenced by the number of non-Christians I bring with me.

If I do not bring anyone with me then I am okay with insider language, strange unexplained rituals, and poorly done activities. If I bring several people with me then I want things to be explained, simple and done well. If I bring people to Church with me who are non-Christians on a regular basis my views will be very different from the person who has never had to interpret what we are doing each week.

I dream of a Church where it is possible for the guests to participate in worship because it is filled with people who are bringing their non-Christian friends.