Good Reads

Every once in a while I like to share some of my favorite blog posts from around this interweb thingy:-) If you live in my area this will give you some reading on a cold and snowy Presidents Day. Enjoy.

Great Articles on Personal Issues (In light of Valentine’s Day & 50 Shades of Gray movie)

*4 Love Languages Gary Chapman Forgot by Barnabas Piper

*10 Articles on Pornography by Tim Challies

*9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself – by Carey Nieuwhof

*My Spouse Doesn’t Enjoy Sex – At Desiring God

Top Lists on Church

*10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders are Attending Less Often – by Carey Nieuwhof

*10 Principles to Building a Great Guest Experience at Your Church – by Paul Alexander

*The Top Ten Most Fiercely Defended Traditions in Churches – by Thom Rainer

*15 Concerns in Children’s Ministries – by Thom Rainer

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Not a Mega-Church – Familiarity

I am continuing my series of post based off of conversations I have had lately about Mega-Churches.
*NOTE – I had trouble with the last two posts so I am reposting them*

When I boil everything down I hear people say about Mega-Churches I find one common theme – Mega-Churches are unfamiliar to us. It is like a person going from Adrian Missouri to New York City. They are both cities but that is about all they have in common. I once heard a Church consultant say that a Church of 100 has more in common with a Church of 100 across town from an entirely different denomination than it has in common with a Church of 1,000 of the same denomination.

For most of us there is a familiarity with smaller Churches. I am told that 80% of all Churches are under 200 people so it is very likely that most of us grew up in a smaller Church, attended at least one as an adult, possibly we were married in one and it is where our parents go every Sunday. Smaller Churches have numerous things in common from coast to coast and those characteristics make us comfortable from the moment we walk in the doors.

Here is the problem I see – smaller Churches are familiar to US. They are comfortable to believers like you and I. If you have spent much time in one you are ready for all of them. But more and more the people who walk in the doors are not familiar with our customs and rituals. What we accept as familiar is odd to others. The way those of us who attend smaller Churches feel in Mega-Church settings is the way many of our visitors feel each and every week. They attend and we assume they understand everything going on. After all we know it by heart. We know when to stand and when to sit and who to shake hands with and when.

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately a number of people through our does have no clue what is going to happen. Many people come hoping they will not get embarrassed, be confused or bored. They are rarely drawn in by our happy fellowship; instead they are focused on making it out alive. One larger Church I attended in college still had the practice of having guests stand up and introduce themselves. I slid down in my seat hoping that I would not be noticed. I don’t remember most of what the preacher said that day I just was glad I made it out with my dignity and unnoticed.

Sometimes I like to attend a Mega-Church to listen to the sermon, hear the worship and draw close to God. Other times I go just to remind myself what it is like to be an outsider. To be sacred or nervous about what is coming next. To feel uncertainty in all that is going on. I do this because it reminds me about the people who attend the Church I lead every week.

I often wonder what a Mega-Church could do to make me more comfortable with my experiences. But then I really wonder what I can do to make our worship experience better for those I will see this Sunday. I hope you will join me in this search.

Not a Mega-Church – Quality

I am continuing my series of post based off of conversations I have had lately about Mega-Churches.
*NOTE – I had trouble with the last two posts so I am reposting them*

Most of the time people are not negative about Mega-Churches but occasionally when I hear people use them like an excuse. It happens like this, I mention that our worship program needs to limit announcements and have quality sound and music. Some people respond with a statement like “Well, we are not one of those Mega-Churches.” I have heard this type of statement about Children’s ministry, leadership, giving, the worship folder and about everything else involved with the Church. When I suggest that the quality needs to be better in what we do I am met with the resistance of “we are not a Mega-Church.”

I believe that the Church should do everything to the best of its ability no matter the size of the congregation. Being a smaller Church is not an excuse to let the quality of our service slip. After all my service is to the Lord and not just to people so I should never take it lightly.

I am reminded of the story in Brother Lawrence little book “Practice the Presence of God” about him cleaning in the very corner of the kitchen behind the stove. Another monk made fun of him and asked why he was worried about a little place that no one else would ever see. Brother Lawrence responded that there would be one set of Heavenly eyes that would see everything he had done. So it had better be done to the best of his ability.

Yes, Mega-Churches do things at a higher quality level because they have more people who see the work being done. But to me that does not matter. What really matters is that God will see all we do, so we had better do our very best. That doesn’t change if the Church is 20 people or 20,000.

Not a Mega-Church – Relationships

I am continuing my series of posts based off of comments I hear about Mega-Churches.

“But I won’t know everybody.” This is by far the biggest concern I hear as a Church grows or about attending a Mega-Church. For most people there is an enormous concern that relationships will be lost with a Church that has a high attendance.

My response to people who say this is usually two-fold. One, you are right. You won’t know everybody. Two, unless your Church is less than 35 people you don’t know everybody now. Oh sure you may know 100 or more people’s names but I don’t you actually know them. I define knowing someone with two phrases; “you know what makes them laugh” (brings them joy) and “you know what makes them cry” (brings them sorrow). The average person has 12-15 people in their life that they currently know. The other people in your life fall into one of three categories: 1) I don’t know them at all. 2) I only know their name. 3) I used to know them (back when they were little or when we were in class together), but I no longer know them as their life has changed. If your congregation is over 50 people you do not know every one. I am the preacher and I do not know everyone.

After we clear away the facade, I want to underline that there is a difference between “not knowing everybody” and “not knowing anybody.” No matter the size of the Church you attend you need to develop 12-15 deeper relationships. You need to have people who know you and are known by you. These connections can come in a Sunday School, small group, leadership, a ministry team, play group, a card club, an affinity group or any other number of possibilities. No matter the size of a Church an attendee needs to focus their attention on knowing a few people really well. This is the most healthy way to grow as a believer and find joy in your Church relationships.

I see this difference all the time. Someone gets sick and goes to the hospital. They feel sad because no one from the Church came to see them other than paid staff. Upon further discussion I find out this person knows something about everyone at Church and really does not know anyone deeply. There are no deep connections but rather surface relationships and thus no one comes to visit. Then I visit the hospital with someone who has 12-15 deep connections and their room is filled with people all day and night because they have relationships with people who know them and really do care. Their “group” shows up to love and support them and simply show they care.

The hard truth is that I can be a part of a small Church or a large Church and really never connect to anyone. The flip side is also true – I can be a part of a Mega-Church or a smaller Church and have deep relationships. The size of a Church is not the issue. The real issue is will I focus on deep relationships or surface ones? Do I want to know everybody in a shallow way or a few in a deep way? Who have I let into my heart and shared my life with? Who is sharing their heart and life with me? Church relationships have no correspondence to the size of the Church but rather to my willingness to connect to a few others in a deep way. The choice is yours.

Not A Mega-Church – Numbers

I continue my series of posts related to several statements I have heard lately about Mega-Churches.

Several years ago a non-christian singer named Bob Seger wrote a song entitled “Feel Like A Number.” A few lines into the song Bob sings out:

I feel like just another
Spoke in a great big wheel
Like a tiny blade of grass in a great big field
To workers I’m just another drone
To Ma Bell I’m just another phone
I’m just another statistic on a sheet
To teachers I’m just another child
To IRS I’m just another file
I’m just another consensus on the street

A few lines later he finished out the song with:

And I feel like a number
Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land
I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Most of us clearly understand what he is saying. We have our social security numbers, account numbers, credit card numbers, employee numbers and on and on it goes. A friend of mine once attended Kentucky Christian College and he told me that they had a T-shirt in the bookstore that said, “Everybody is Somebody at KCC.” Well, a group of students bought the shirts and then had their student ID numbers printed on the back. He thought it was hilarious but the faculty failed to see the humor. No matter where you live or work it is easy to feel like a number.

I say all this to underline that the Church is the last place we want to feel like a number. We want to feel like a part of a community, that we fit into a group that truly cares about us as unique individuals. Most of the time when I hear people say something negative about a Mega-Church it reflects the basic truth that in a big Church you feel like a number. A number used to boost the Churches political influence or the pastors reputation or make the leadership the envy of their denomination.

I must admit, I have been to about a dozen or more Mega-Churches in my life and in one or two I did feel like a number. Actually in most of them I felt very special. At Southeast Christian Church I was directed where to park. Then I was offer a beverage in the parking lot. Next I was greeted at the outdoor porch area. The door was opened to me by some nice people who greeted me again. I was greeted once again by a lady handing out worship folders and finally once more by an usher who helped me find a seat and asked if he could answer any questions. I have had similar experiences in other large Churches I have attended where they did even not know I was a pastor.

These types of experiences have underlined a truth to me – Every Church has to be careful not to treat people like a number. Being treated like number has nothing to do with size but with overall action. The actions of kindness can be present or absent in a large Church just the same as they can be present or absent in a small Church.

So no matter what size Church you attend you need to continually be asking yourself, “Do I treat people as special or like a number?”

Here are some spin-off questions to follow:

-Did I greet people with a smile?
-Did I only talk to people I know or was I open to new people?
-Did I offer people I didn’t know help finding anything?
-Did I ask people their name? (Did I repeat it and try to remember it?)
-Did I invite anyone to sit with me and my family?
-Did I have to sit in the same chairs in the same area?
(Would I allow other people to sit in MY seat?)
-Did I talk to the new people I met and ask them about their life?
-Did I offer to take anyone to lunch?
-Did I do anything to make someone feel special?

You see, in my experience, the reason some Churches get large is because everyone who attends feels very special. The opposite can also be true, the reason some Church stay smaller is because people do not feel special but more like a number. As Bob Seger frequently reminds me, no one wants to feel that way.

Not A Mega-Church

I have heard a very similar statement made numerous times by very different people since the first of the year. The comment has actually generated a great deal of thinking inside of me about my experience and what people are really trying to say. So this week I am going to explore the idea of what it means to be a Mega-Church from those comments. The simple concept of each statement was “Our Church is not one of those Mega-Churches.” Each time it was stated in a sort of negative way. People said, “I am glad our Church is not one of those Mega-Churches.” “I could never be a part of one of those Mega-Churches” “We don’t need to handle that like those Mega-Churches.”

Two clarifying thoughts for you to know up front. One, I do not lead a Mega-Church nor have I ever lead one. I am a small Church pastor. Two, I do not consider a Church a failure if it does not reach Mega status. I do however think that God is doing something great through the largest Churches in our country and I am greatly encouraged by them.

So, for me today I want to start in the most ordinary way, by looking at the Bible. The first Church ever started was a Mega-Church. In the book of Acts it tells us in 2:41 that about 3,000 people were added to the original 120 (Acts 1:15). In one day God took the Church from a mid-size Church into a Mega-Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. The story doesn’t end there. In Acts 2:27 it says that God was adding to the number “daily.” Next in Acts 4:4 it says that the number of men grew to about 5,000 people. The growth from there continues with almost every page. Acts 5:14; 6:1,7,15; 9:31; 11:21; 12:24; 16:5 and 19:20 all state the Church was growing and continually being added too. When we reach Acts 21 there is a statement in verse 20 about “how many thousands of Jews have believed.” The word there is “myriad” which literally means tens of thousands. Some estimate that there are over 25,000 believers by this point in the book of Acts. The Church is pictured as growing and growing and growing and …

For me, to say that we do not want to grow into a Mega-Church is like saying you do not want to restore New Testament Christianity. The Bible shows the Church as a group of people who are reaching out with their faith and are never content with the current size of their Church. This is true because each number represents a real person. The early Christians seem to really believe that each person should reach out to at least one other person with their faith and win them to Jesus while placing them in a Church (Re-read Luke 15). Their faith fueled a desire to see the Church grow because they believe Jesus was the only name by which people could be saved.

Honestly, it makes me a little nervous when someone says that they do not every want to be a part of a Mega-Church. My fear is that what they are really saying is that they do not care if the Church is reaching people with the gospel. Sometimes the difference between a Mega-Church and a non Mega-Church is not the size of attendance but the attitude toward reaching the lost.

Plus One

I usually do not just simply copy someone’s else blog and repost it here. But I thought this one was really good and it captured what I have been saying for years.

THE PLUS ONE APPROACH TO CHURCH
by Kevin DeYoung

[Originally posted HERE]

Are you just starting out at a new church and don’t know how to get plugged in? Have you been at your church for years and still haven’t found your place? Are you feeling disconnected, unhappy, or bored with your local congregation? Let me suggest you enter the “Plus One” program of church involvement.

I don’t mean to sound like a bad infomercial. Here’s what I mean: In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, pick one thing in the life of your congregation and be very committed to it.

This is far from everything a church member should do. We are talking about minimum requirements and baby steps. This is about how to get plugged in at a new church or how to get back on track after drifting away. This is for people who feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. This is for the folks who should make a little more effort before slipping out the back door.

The idea is simple. First, be faithful in attending the Sunday morning worship service. Don’t miss a Sunday. Sure, you may miss a couple of Sundays during the year because of illness. Vacation and business travel may take you away from your local congregation several other Sundays too. But keep these to a minimum. Don’t plan all your cottage getaways over the weekend so that you miss out on your own church (and perhaps church altogether) for most of the summer. Don’t let the kids’ activities crowd out Sunday services. (What did Joshua say? “If soccer be god then serve soccer, but as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” Something like that.) Don’t let homework or football or too much rain or too much sun keep you from the gathering of God’s people for worship. Commit right now that Sunday morning is immovable. You go to church. Period.

Now, add one more thing.

When you meet people who feel disconnected from church, start with this question: Are you committed to worshiping with us every Sunday unless you are providentially hindered? If they say yes, then move on to “Plus One.” Is there at least one other activity in the life of the church in which you are consistently and wholeheartedly participating? Usually the answer is no. Most people who feel disconnected from church feel that way because they have not made the effort to connect consistently. This doesn’t mean churches don’t have to do more to care for senior saints, singles, those with special needs, or any number of other folks in the church. This doesn’t mean pastors can say (or think), “It’s all your fault.” Sometimes it precisely the pastor’s fault. But I find that most often–not always, but normally–people who want to get involved, find a way to get involved through the existing structures of the church.

That’s why I say, be faithful on Sunday morning, plus one more thing. Personally, I’m partial to the Sunday evening service. I think it’s the easiest, most historic, and one of the most biblical ways to really get to know your church. In most churches, the evening service (if they have one) is smaller, more informal, and contains elements of prayer and sharing that may not be as present on Sunday morning. Plus, the time after the service is usually less rushed and allows for more genuine fellowship.

If Sunday evening is not an option, join a small group. (I reiterate: these are baby steps. I hope people in our church will participate in Sunday evenings and small groups.) If your church doesn’t have formal small groups, you could still invite a group of friends over every other week for prayer and fellowship. If that’s too much right off the bat, find a good Sunday school class and go every week. Or join the choir. Or get involved with the youth group. Or sign up to be a greeter. Or go on the men’s retreat. Or join the outreach committee. Or take the leadership training course. Or come to the prayer meeting each week. Or teach a kids class. Or volunteer with a local ministry your church supports. Or do Meals on Wheels. Or join the softball team. Or do the mid-week Bible study. You get the idea.

Large churches have hundreds of Plus One opportunities. Even small church will have plenty to choose from. Make Sunday morning your first priority. Then try one more thing and stick with it for at least six months. Maybe you’ll realize the church is not for you. Maybe you’ll still need help getting plugged in. Maybe you’ll find it’s time to sit down in person with a pastor or elder. But I suspect you will find that you feel more invested, you’ve made new friends, and you’re eager to see Plus One become Plus Two or Three.

Success and Failure

I stood quietly in the dark after shutting out the lights. I hung my head and couldn’t believe how big of a failure that experience had been for me. I had attempted to do a rocking Sunday evening worship program and it flopped. The Church I was serving had been given an old Church building and we were not sure what to do with it. So we came up with a plan to continue our adult contemporary worship on Sunday morning at the movie theater and then have a loud rockin’ band in the evening at the Church building. This would enable younger people to sleep in and enjoy worship in the evening. It would also allow the musicians to keep their gear set up each week without moving everything back and forth. With this plan in mind, I gathered a band, set up the building and put together a series of sermons and went for it. We publicized and prayed and held our first program we called “Connection.” The first night we had 25-30 people other than the band. The second Sunday night dropped to 10. By six weeks into the program we had 5 people attending other than the band and myself. Finally at the end of the seventh service I told them that we were going to cancel the evening Connection program. Everyone cleaned up, took their gear and headed home. I was left alone shutting out the lights and feeling like a failure.

In every game my children play there are only the two outcomes of winning and losing. Success or failure. About 50% of the time I have sat in the stands to watch my children give their best effort only to lose … and sometimes to lose terribly. Other times I have sat in the stands and watched my children win and have great success in their efforts. Everyone who lives in America knows exactly what I am talking about for themselves. We ride the roller coaster of happiness and sadness with every game they play.

One problem I see is that we can bring this type of thinking into the Church. Actually we can do it any relationship, but I see it played out in how people do ministry for God. It is easy to think that when we do ministry that the only two outcomes are success or failure. I believe that is simply not true. I guess my real problem is that I do not know how to define success in ministry. Failure either.

Is it a success or a failure if only one person hears the gospel for the first time? I mean it is not 10 people who heard, or 50 or 100.
Is it a success or a failure if I learn to trust God more than myself through attempting something new? I mean I was the only who grew spiritually.
Is it a success or a failure if Church people spent time in prayer for a program only a few attended? I mean is it ever a failure when people pray?
Is it a success or a failure if a few people spend time together attempting to do something for God? I mean is it ever really a failure when someone does ministry?
Is it a success or a failure when the Bible is preached or taught? I mean, it is the Bible.

The older I get the harder I find it to clearly define a success or a failure in the Church. Sure, some events do not have the same impact as others and as a Church we need to focus on what bears the most fruit. As a leader I clearly understand that truth. But if the church in an effort to find what works the best in their context has a few less than successful ministries along the way, is that a bad thing? If you were to attempt something for God and it did not go as planned does that mean the effort was wasted? Is that a failure?

That night I bowed my head and I thanked God for the people who put together this program, who prayed for this program, who attend this program and anyone who had grown even a little because of those 7 weeks. Was it failure? Maybe. Was their success? Maybe.

I encourage people to give their best in a ministry and to work toward their greatest impact, but I really feel like no effort is ever wasted by our God. Maybe there are no failures only some things are more successful than others.

Unknown

It was December of 1995 and I was finishing a one year ministry that had been filled with pain and heartache. The only bright spot in that year had been joining with a fellow college student to unify our two youth groups into one. We both had been having 8-10 teens in our groups but when we combined the numbers climbed to almost 30 teens each Sunday evening. Myself and C.J. really connected with the group and a couple other college students along with my wife joined in the leadership. We wrote birthday cards, encouragement cards, thank-you cards and “we miss you” cards every Sunday night after the group was over. We regularly prayed for the teens and the struggles they were having. It was a powerful year with one student giving their life to the Lord and several rededications to living the Christian life.

Unfortunately my interactions with the adults in my congregation had not gone so well. We could not see eye to eye on anything concerning the Church. They thought I should perform miracles and I thought they should at least come every week to worship. It all came to a head at a meeting where we voted to change the by-laws. To that point, everyone who had been baptized in the Church was a member. All male members were deacons. I mean all. Finally, all deacons could attend any board meeting. The sad issue was that we had men coming to Church once a month or less and then attending board meetings. There was no spiritual depth and every decisions was hard-fought including the one to fix the baptistery. The sump pump issue was a 3 month ordeal that almost ended in a fight. It was awful in every way so I had suggested we adopt a more biblical model. We invited in a professor who walked us through what the Bible said and made suggestions. The elders and I drew up a new plan and then presented it to the board. Suddenly several men realized that to change the by-laws would mean they would no longer be on the board since we made deacons meet the Biblical requirement. Then on one Sunday night in November we held a vote about the by-laws and every man in the congregation showed up to vote. That night with one quick meeting the Bible was voted down and the men kept their position. With that done, I sat down and prayed and handed in my resignation.

The final Sunday was a moment of relief. I was finally going to get out of a bad situation for me and my wife in ministry and look for greener pastures. There was only two families in the Church who had become friends and they knew exactly why I was leaving. But then there was that youth group. Over 30 teenagers who I cared for deeply and I wished the very best for them. What was I going to say to them? Well, I gave them a brief explanation as to why I was leaving and assured them it had nothing to do with them. I then taught them one principle that helped me appreciate our time together and I hope helped them too. I still hold onto this lesson today. I told them this; “We will never know the amount of good we do in our lives on this side of heaven.” I explained to them that I did not know what would happen to most of them but I prayed for the best.

Would they remember me? Would they remember anything I taught? Would they remember the late Sunday night conversations? Would they remember the cards? Was my time with them wasted?

Honestly, I have no idea the answer to any of those questions. I have never heard a single word from any of those teenagers in the 20 years since that lesson. My life moved on and so did theirs. Deep down inside I hope my time was not wasted on them during that year, but I really will never know.

The result of much of the service we give to Jesus in the Christian life is unknown. We will never know the lives we touch. We will never know the impact of our presence. We will never know the lessons people have learned from us. We will never know how our service helped another person to know God. We will never know the details of what has been done for God. Ministry is something we can measure – how many lessons taught, small groups hosted, and the number of people who attended. The impact of a ministry is unmeasurable. For those of us who serve God on a regular basis we have come to live with the unknown.

A Man of God

Throughout the Old Testament we have stories about kings and leaders being confronted by “a man of God.” Sometimes we are told the person’s name and sometimes we are not. Elijah is called a man of God for example, but in stories like 2 Chronicles 25 we are never told the man’s name. At first this bothered me because I wanted to know who it was and any other stories from their life. Lately I am thinking this is the perfect way to tell the story of the Bible. Ultimately the story of the Bible is the story not of individual achievements but of God’s work in the world. The people who follow him and serve him as “men and women of God” are not the center of the story – God is.

Honestly, I think the same is true of our walk with God. We serve Him and make sure He gets all the glory. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, I came to a simple conclusion a few years ago that I will never be “matthewharris.com” or Matthew Harris ministries. In fact, I hate to even put my name on the website or on the front of the program or even on the sign out front. I made a commitment about 7 years ago that I will stop trying to build my kingdom and try to build God’s kingdom. I do not need my name in lights or even the recognition of my peers to make my life meaningful. I am a servant of the God most high.

The second way I see this played out is in my daily ministry. I do not care for people to know everything I do as their preacher. I know that sounds odd to some but to me it makes perfect sense. I do not want any ministry to be about me. It is not my youth group or my worship planning or my cleaning ministry or anything I do that makes this Church great. It is God’s ministry and we all participate in it for His glory. I really do not want any part of the local Church to be my little kingdom. I want simply to be a man of God.

My hope is that when the story of my life is told to future generations you could take my name out of the story and put in the words “man of God” and the story will have the same meaning. My greatest desire is that what happens in our Church is recognized as the work of “men and women of God” and no one individual. Sure, no one will know exactly what each of us has done, but they will know that God was at work through us. I think that is the greatest story that can be told.