Stop Saying You Are Trying to Be the Church

The first time I heard it, I was on board. Almost 25 years ago I received a flyer for an event where the Church would meet on Sunday morning and then instead of worshipping; they would travel all over the community serving people. Once their activities were complete everyone would return to the building for lunch with a time of testimony and prayer. It was a challenge to the Church to “leave the building” and “be the Church.”

With every great idea, over time it gets watered down, changed and perverted. Now I hear this phrase used almost every week. I see it on social media, read it on blogs, and listen to it in lessons. Most of the occasions in which I hear it or read it the hair stands up on the back of my neck, and I feel nothing but anger.

First, YOU are not the Church. To clarify, let me give you the definition of the Church. The Church is a gathering of believers who are committed to living for Jesus. The Church is a group of people called Christians. You alone in the world are not the Church. Now, you can live in a Christlike way as an individual, but that is not the Church. Anytime you say “I” or “you” are trying to be the Church, by definition you are wrong.

Second, most of the time I hear people say it, it is an excuse not to be a part of a Church. Quite often it is a justification for attending kid’s events, going to the game with friends, sleeping in or whatever else occupies our time. I have even heard it used smugly, as in “I will be with a group of unbelievers on Sunday morning because I am trying to be the Church.” Please, please do not justify your lack of connection to the people of faith by saying you are trying to follow Jesus.

Third, when Christians gather, it is the Church by definition and by action. Somewhere along the line people started to believe that what happens on Sunday morning is meaningless. That is simply not true. When believers gather there is time for fellowship, prayer, interaction in the word, communion and singing praises to God. According to Acts 2:42 that is what the Church did in the beginning as led by the Holy Spirit. Though the years I have witnessed people change their lives as they came together in the worship and service of the Lord.

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I firmly believe the people who call themselves by the name of Christ must allow their faith to affect them wherever they live every day. I want people to be Christ to the people around them.

My frustration is that we have entirely lost sight of the Biblical view of Church have replaced it with a cultural perspective that no longer pushes us toward greater faith. Please stop saying you are trying to be the Church when you mean that you want to do what comes naturally to you without a community around you. For us to be the Church, we need to be connected to other believers and serving the Lord together, anything less is not what God intended, no matter how you label it.

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You Need to “Moneyball” Your Life

I am a numbers guy. I try to track everything in as much detail as possible. Not only do I keep track of numbers, but I usually make notes on the story behind them. There is so much knowledge to be gained when you do this correctly.

This single issue has been one of my biggest pet peeves. Most people from parents, to Church leaders, to Christians, and even coaches try to follow their gut feelings. Unfortunately, this often leads us to wrong conclusions. We believe fiction when we do not have all the facts.

This type of thinking was dramatically displayed in the movie Moneyball. You need to know I am not a baseball fan, but I loved the emphasis in trusting our gut over trusting the numbers. There is one scene where a group of old baseball scouts is talking about potential players. They end up talking about how one guy has an ugly girlfriend. “What does that mean?” a coach quips. “It means he lacks self-confidence,” comes the response. Then in comes a guy who suggests the team start looking at the numbers and put a team together not based on feelings but statistics.

Can I suggest to you that you need to Moneyball your life? You need to stop trusting your gut and look at the real hard facts. I recommend you come up with a series of trackable numbers for any and every activity and then do an honest evaluation.

Take your marriage for example. Try tracking some of these numbers: How many hours you spend each week with your spouse in conversation? How many date nights have you had this month? How much time do you spend physically touching?

Then take those numbers and compare them to your children. How much time do you spend with your children? How many hours and evenings are given to your children every week?

Then compare those numbers against your work, your hobbies, and even your religious activities.

Be honest how much time do you spend in prayer, Bible reading, worship, fellowship with believers, and anything that will help you grow in your faith.

The one glaring mistake I see many people making is that they are trusting their own feelings far more than the facts. Down the road, everything goes wrong, and they wonder why it happened. They thought they had a healthy marriage, even though they were only giving it an hour a week. They thought their kids would grow up and live for Jesus even though they were only doing anything religious one hour every other week. They thought … and they were wrong.

I challenge you to track the numbers for a month or two and see where they lead you. The truth might be far different than you imagine.

The Books of Life

Revelation chapter 20 paints a picture of the coming judgment of all of humanity. No matter what your perspective is on the book of Revelation, most people agree that this scene is the culmination of time before we enter eternity. Within this chapter comes a statement that is easy to read past without noticing but it could affect your thoughts on God’s judgment.

Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (NIV 2011)

There stands all of humanity before the throne of God and the passage says, “and books were opened.” Wait … books?

I thought on the final day that there was only one book that would be read. It is called the Lamb’s Book of Life and in it will appear the name of everyone who accepted Jesus as their Savior.

To be sure, your name must appear in the book of life. Rev. 20:15 says, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (NIV 2011) The first and most important book on that day will be this one text. If you have not trusted Jesus and have your name written there, then the story is over, and your judgment will be to condemnation.

The problem is that verse 12 says there are books – with an “S.” In fact, the rest of the passage states that we are judged according to what we had done as recorded in those books. This set of books is clearly different from the book of life which is called “another book.”

The general consensus on this passage is that in the final judgment there are two books that God will view. One is the book of life, and the other is the book of your life. Everything you do is written into a book that God will look over in the final day.

Why in the world would he do that? Well, in the Bible everything, especially legal decisions, must be established on at least two witnesses. One testimony is not enough to be legally binding. You need someone or something to corroborate your story.

Let me pull all of this together. At the final judgment, God will look to see if you once stood up and proclaimed Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Then he will flip open the story of your life to see if that was true in your actions. Did your life and your proclamation of faith line up in agreement?

I am afraid that somewhere along the way most people who claim faith have believed a lie. (This is not surprising since Satan is the father of lies.) We think that faith is about a one-time event that I did in my past. When the truth is that true trust in Jesus is lived out every single day.

Today I have a single question for everyone who claims to know Jesus including myself. When the story of your life is written will it reflect that you believed Jesus was my Lord and Savior? The answer is of eternal significance.

Inside the Mind of a Small Church Pastor

Not only have I been a pastor for 25 years, but I also know several other pastors. Recently my circle of connection as increased as I joined some groups on social media designed for pastors only. One is very focused on the people who work in churches that are less than 500 people in attendance. Another is for leaders on groups with less than 200 people in the congregation.

My exposure to these Christian leaders has led to seeing a few things that all of us hold in common.

1. We desperately want to please Jesus. Every person whom I have ever met that leads a Church was deeply committed to Jesus. They want their thoughts, actions, and words to please their Lord and Savior. Now, some will fall to temptation, some will burn out and others will lose their way, but initially, most of us have surrendered our lives to the leading of Jesus.

2. We don’t understand why other people don’t want to please Jesus. The work of the Lord runs through our lives so completely that it is hard to grasp why the Church is not full of people like us. Pastors often talk about people who get “it.” They are these wonderful and rare people who are fully devoted to Jesus. They immediately become kindred spirits. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what we are talking about when we speak of commitment.

3. We love people but are unequipped to handle their issues. In Bible college, I took classes on almost every book of the New Testament. I learned how to interpret accurately along with reading the original languages. On the flip side, I had one counseling class. ONE! No one prepared me to work with people and all their issues. This is true for most pastors in the world. The only way we learn is by trying and failing repeatedly.

4. We want to be a part of a community, not just lead it. Most of us believe we received a special call from God to be a Church leader. We carry that joy and burden with us as move into a community to lead them. Soon, many of us feel all alone. People look to us for answers, but not for friendship. Many often feel isolated, and loneliness fills our hearts.

5. When you skip worship on Sunday morning, we feel it in our souls. Every Pastor I know feels the weight of Church attendance. When people miss a Sunday morning, it raises so many questions. We think things like, “Is everything okay?” and “I wonder if they are quitting.” The burden does not come from the pressure of trying to build our own kingdom. Instead, it is the weight of trying to help people grow in their faith. When someone misses worship, we know they are unlikely to do anything that causes them to grow in their faith that week. Pastors believe that we will stand before God and give an account not only for our own actions but also for the people we were called to lead.

Sunday nights and Mondays are hard on most of us pastors. The burden of Church leadership washes over us as we replay every person who was there on Sunday, everything that was said and everyone who was not there. We try to gloss over our inadequacies and insecurities, but the truth is that we struggle in our walk of faith just like everyone else. Every week is a roller coaster of emotions born out of our desire to serve the Lord and the people who follow him.

Weekend Listening

A couple of times a month I like to share the best posts I have read lately. Unfortunately, while I have read several good posts in the past few weeks, very little would I consider great. Much of it has been a regurgitation of the same old material. Since I have no articles to post, I thought I would share a few of the songs I am enjoying lately. I hope you enjoy.

1. Here Again – by Elevation worship

2. Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues)- by Matt Maher

3. Be Kind to Yourself – by Andrew Peterson

4. Stand in Your Love – by Bethel Music

5. Fill This Place – by Red Rocks Worship

What’s Your Name?

Walking through a store that is about thirty minutes from home I encountered a group of ladies blocking one of the aisles. I tried to slip out into the store around them when one of the women says, “Well, look who we have here!” Not thinking she was talking to me, I put my head down and kept moving. The lady then says in a louder voice, “Hey Ken.”

Noticing her eyes were looking at me, I did what every person would do; I looked behind me to see if someone was close by that she was addressing. I did not see anyone near me, so I turned back to her and said, “Are you talking to me?”

Finally, when she heard my voice, she told the rest of her group, “That’s not Ken.” They all seemed disappointed and went back to their conversation.

I continued walking through the store, and my mind began to think about our identity. From what I gather Ken is a stunningly handsome man who is fortunate enough to look like me. He also lives in the area and is usually seen visiting this establishment. The look was right, and the location was correct, but the substance was wrong. I am not Ken.

The people who claim to follow Jesus can be a deceiving group. Many of them go to the right locations like Church meetings and special holiday programs. Many of them have the right look as they carry their Bible (or have the Bible app) and post spiritual things on social media. Unfortunately, they lack the substance to be the real thing. They are not Christians.

A Christian is not someone who looks the part, their identity is wrapped up in Christ, and their actions reflect his will for their lives. Faith is about our substance and not our style.

Looks can certainly be deceiving, even in the Church, but hopefully not in the mirror.

Some Lies We Tell Ourselves

The devil is described in the Bible as the father of lies.

Sometimes his lies come to us from other people. They distort the true, and it hurts us. They might have meant it for good, but when the truth comes out, there is still hurt.

The deadliest lies are the ones we tell ourselves – those conversations that take place inside the walls of our mind that no one else hears. They twist the truth in ways that are convenient and yet they are misleading. Here are three of the biggest lies I fight against regularly, and perhaps you do too.

1. “My intentions are all that matter.” Inside my head, I am a great person. I would serve more sacrificially if I had more time. I would give away a lot of money once I have some. I want to make peace with my enemies. There is no limit to the good I would do, the next time I am given a chance. This lie separates my thoughts from my actions. If I thought about doing something in the name of Jesus, then score a point for me, when the harsh reality is that I haven’t done anything good for anyone outside of my brain.

2. “I am deeply committed to Jesus.” In my heart, I think about Jesus more than people know. I don’t mind Christian music, I have a few Christian friends, and I even do religious some stuff when it is convenient. Recently I was talking to a lady, and she spoke about our Church like she was a committed member, but the truth was that she had been here twice in the last two years. My immediate thought was a little judgmental of her as I said to myself, “she is only fooling herself.” Then I flipped my thinking over and wondered where I am doing the same. The problem with a faith that is connected to the heart is that we can lie to ourselves and separate it from our actions.

3. “It was just that one time (I am sure I will do better next time).” Sin frequently grabs us and pulls into a miry pit of shame. We feel remorse and regret and those feelings of guilt that accompany all failure. This is where I tend to tell myself, “It was just that one time.” Then I go on living exactly as I did before. This lie keeps me from making the changes necessary to move forward in a new way. What usually happens is that I repeat the cycle and end up doing the same stupid thing over and over. It is hard to admit that I might have a character flaw that needs to be changed.

Being honest with yourself is difficult. It requires not only self-reflection but also people who are willing to be brutally honest with you. Those are both hard to do and hard to find.

The devil does not need to bring someone in from the outside to lie to you and destroy your life. His greatest tool often resides between our own ears. Moving forward with Jesus will require us to stop lying to ourselves no matter how hard the truth is to hear.