Truly Attractional Ministry

Over 25 years ago, when I graduated from Bible college, I went into a world where attractional ministry was the norm.  Churches would do things to attract people to enter their building.  They would hold big events, have give-a-way Sundays, get a special speaker, or do just about anything to get people to walk in the door. 

This was not just true for Sunday morning but was used the most in youth ministry.  The youth leader would play games, go on trips, and spend every extra dollar to get people to attend their group meetings.  Some groups and Churches went to extreme lengths to attract people to their events. 

Through the years, the mindset has shifted dramatically.  Most Churches today speak of going out and serving their community with the hope of making an impact.  Their service would then lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus. 

I am not a prophet from God, but I have one prediction for the Church.  I believe that ministry is going to become attractional again. However, this time the attraction will be different. In the early days of ministry, people were drawn to contemporary music, fog machines, candles, and fun.  I think the return to attractional ministry will be a quest for people to find genuine relationships.  People will seek places to find connections and community with other people.    

Individuals can find almost anything online spiritually.  They can find the best preacher and videos of his best sermons.  Then they can listen to excellent worship music recorded professionally by extremely gifted singers.  They can give online.  They can even take communion at home with a little travel cup sealed for their health and convenience they bought at Amazon. However, there is one thing online people will not be able to find adequately online:  Human relationships. 

Sure, they can have friends online and share a virtual connection. But these interactions lack the dynamics that make friendships special.  I heard a preacher one time say that Jesus was continually offering three things:  a look, a kind word, and a touch of his hand.  These are things you cannot get online in the same way you can in person. 

The Church stands at a place where it has more appeal than it has in years.  It can attract people to come and hear about Jesus simply by offering people the relationships they desire.  This will be true on Sunday morning, in small groups, and even in youth ministry. 

People long for a community where they can experience human connection.  In a world like that, we will once again see the true beauty and wisdom of the Church.   

Understand and Apply

A friend recently shared something with me about reading and teaching the Bible. This person said that other people accuse them of trying to apply the Bible too much. Other believers were encouraging them to read the Bible without being concerned about its application.

The concern is understandable. Our first goal should always be to understand what the Bible says. We cannot rush to application. To understand a passage, we need to get the context, historical background, learn words and phrases that the writer uses, and make sure we interpret the passage correctly. The first step in reading, studying, teaching, or preaching is to understand the Bible clearly without concern for what we will do with the information.

The second step is just as important as the first. We must always seek to apply the Bible. It is not good enough for us as believers to know what the scripture says. We must always strive to use it. Jesus preached his longest recorded sermon in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. As he reaches the end, he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 – NIV 2011) The power of the word of God is found in its application to our lives.

It is a repeating cycle. First, we read to understand so that we will properly know how to apply it to our lives. Then, as we live for Him, we will want to understand more so that we might do more of what God desires. Read, understand, apply, and then repeat.

It has been said that the Bible is like paint. It is great to find the right color. It is fun to buy the paint and bring it home. But, as long as it sits in the can, it is worthless. The only way paint adds value to someone’s life is when it is applied. The same is true with scripture.

Be Like Jesus

A lady was sharing her story of evangelism.  She had answered God’s call to share her faith with another woman she knew through school.  The second lady was known for dressing in “goth” fashion. Her regular attire was all black, including black shoes, pants, shirt, lipstick, nail polish, and hair. 

She reached out as a believer to this other unique lady and quickly became friends.  Soon she invited her to Church, and within a short amount of time, her new friend made Jesus her Lord and Savior.  Then began a process of transformation in her mind and soul.  Reading scripture, prayer, and Church attendance was all part of her new life. 

The original lady was perplexed as she shared the story and said something like, “she still hasn’t given up her goth dress yet.”  As she shared that line, I froze in stunned silence.  The thought in my mind was specifically, “Are you trying to make her like you or like Jesus?”

One mistake that believers can make is to think they are living the exact way Jesus would want, and for people to convert to the faith, they should also become like me. Their clothes should change, the style of music become like mine, and what they do for fun should be things that I enjoy.  At one point in history, this problem was big among missionaries.  They would preach the gospel but also attempted to make people become American as well as Christian. 

God made us all unique.  We all have different likes and dislikes.  Everyone has things that are part of our personality that may never change.  Believers need to accept this truth and embrace it.  The work of grace in our lives is to make us like Jesus, not like each other. 

Faith is a Muscle

One of my favorite analogies of faith is that of a human muscle. 

Without regular exercise and use, muscles atrophy. They slowly deteriorate until they are unable to perform when needed.

To get the most out of them, they must be developed.  Proper development comes two ways.  The first way is through repeated use.  Take the time to use your muscles through regular exercise.  The second way is to use resistance.  Weight training is the use of artificially heavy objects to develop stronger muscles. For example, you pick the barbell up and down to gain strength.

Faith is developed in much the same ways.  You need to be regularly using it in some way through prayer or service.  Ask God to show up and see what he does.  Use what you know in some new and scary way and see how God makes it work out.

The other way to increase faith is to meet resistance.  This can be stepping out into the unknown with only God to catch you.  It can also come from walking through difficult seasons with only your faith to guide you.

Muscle development is not easy.  It takes dedicated hard work daily to develop a body you are proud to show off to others. 

Faith is even more difficult.  It takes a completely committed Christian surrendering their will to God daily to develop a faith that will shine a light to others. 

Faith is a muscle.  The follow-up question is, “Are you a weak or a strong person?”

A Round of Applause

In 1942, composer Aaron Copland wrote a piece of music for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra entitled “Fanfare for the Common Man.”  The music was supposedly inspired by a speech made earlier that year by then Vice President Henry A. Wallace, in which he proclaimed the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man.” 

Even if you do not immediately recognize that name, you have probably heard the music somewhere.  Ironically it is often played before the performance of professional athletes, which completely nullifies the title of the work.  The goal was to create music to celebrate common people who do ordinary things to bless their families and make this country great. 

I have often thought I should play a video of the song at Church.  Every week people will come and tell me how much they enjoyed the sermon, love the Church, or have been blessed by our community.  It usually feels like they are giving me credit for things of which I had no part.  This wonderful group of people allows me to be one of their leaders, but the real work of ministry is carried on every week by the “common men and women” who love Jesus and serve selflessly. 

Today I want to take a few lines and thank all the wonderful people who make, not just my Church, but every Church great.  The greeters, nursery workers, cleaning crew, kitchen helpers, snack makers, Sunday School teachers, worship singers and players, office workers, and prayer offering people.  Every week is the result of dozens of people giving their time and talent to the work of the Lord.

If you love the Church you attend, I strongly encourage you to thank those who serve behind the scenes organizing, preparing, and participating in the work of ministry.

If you are one of those people who do help to keep the ministry of the Church going.  Then I want to say “thank you” for all that you do.  The Church could not exist without you.  You deserve a round of applause.

Continuing to Worship

Like every other one before it, the Church will gather to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Sunday morning.  In our setting, we will take about an hour to sing, pray, share communion, and listen to the Bible taught.  Some people will meet for a second hour with a small group to share their lives and look more intently into God’s word. 

I hope that this event will be the result of each individually worshipping Jesus throughout the week.  Our gathering is the corporate expression of what people have been doing alone with their Savior on Monday through Saturday.  Hopefully, people are setting aside time to pray and read the scripture on their own. In addition, they are listening to worship music and songs from the Christian community.  Each day is given to God in all they do, so Sunday is when they gather to connect with those of a similar lifestyle. 

Sunday morning worship is designed to be an addition to your faith and not a total expression. Unfortunately, Sunday will seem artificial and fake when it is the only form of worship in someone’s life.  It will be like speaking a foreign language for a high school class.  Sure, you know enough to get by and not look like a fool, but it is not your native tongue. 

If you want this Sunday to be a genuinely Godly experience.  It starts with what you do with your time every other day – even today. 

This Preacher’s Pet Peeve

A pet peeve is officially defined as “something that a particular person finds especially annoying.”  It should not surprise you that even preachers have them when it comes to things of religion.  My biggest one is when a preacher uses several totally different translations when teaching or preaching.  They quote the NIV, ESV, NLT, KJV, and the RSV during a single message.

Unfortunately, some translations are unreliable, and some are actually paraphrases like the Living Bible and the Message. I am not opposed to using those tools when studying to help you understand the passage better.  That way, you know what people have done with tricky words and complicated phrases.  But I hate it when a preacher jumps around to different translations because it uses a word that serves their agenda.  Some of them can be used to convey thoughts that do not accurately align with the rest of scripture.

I prefer everyone to choose one translation and stick with it over and over again.  Our Church has determined to use the New International Version (NIV).  I use it every week, and it is found in every Bible the Church purchases for use.  Others prefer the English Standard Version (ESV), and I am great with that choice.  Pick one and use it, learn it, and know it.

The next time you are reading through posts on social media or even listening to a preacher, and you see a quote from the Bible and some strange letters after it, take the time to look it up in the translation you use.  The goal is to know God’s word accurately and not search for phrasing that we like better than others.   

Being Friendly or Being a Friend

I hope you are friendly to everyone.  Being friendly is defined as living in a kind, good, and pleasant way, without being harmful or competitive. 

Being a friend is something different.  A friend is defined as a mutual affection between two people as they support, encourage, and help one another. 

You can be friendly and keep people at arm’s length.  You never let them get close to you or never allow yourself to get close to them.  People are casual acquaintances to whom you act nice when they are around, but there is no connection at a deeper level.    

A friend is a person who shares their life with you, and you return the favor.  You deeply care about one another, talk regularly, stand together, and pray for the best for them. 

The call of scripture is to love one another (John 13:34-35, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11).  This is a plea for us to become friends with other people who follow Jesus.  That requires us to do more than be friendly on Sunday morning. 

Being friendly is good, but it is a poor substitute for being a friend. 

Routines

For the past 18 months, I have been on a journey of weight loss.  About nine months were spent losing pounds, and since then, I have been trying to maintain my lower weight.

How have I accomplished such goals? 

It came because I changed my routines.  First, I started waking up at five in the morning.  Then I began walking and occasionally jogging.  Along with that has come a low carb and high protein diet.  Meals are eaten early in the day, and I try to be done before six in the evening.  Each day has an entirely new look as my routines have led me to a new life, physically speaking. 

Actual change comes through adjusting our actions, especially our daily habits.

The same is true of our spiritual lives.  Determine what you want to become and then set up a series of regular actions to achieve it.  This can be Bible study, prayer, reading a Christian book, using the Youversion Bible app, or a long list of other possibilities.  Give yourself to the practices of learning, serving, giving, and quiet.  These spiritual disciplines will help to mold your mind but also the actions of your daily grind. 

Know that the first 28 days will be the most difficult.  Once the patterns take hold, they will become the steady rhythm of your new and improved life.

If you want to change yourself, physically or spiritually, start by adjusting your daily routines.  Each new habit will bring you one step closer to who you want to be.  

As Seen On TV

There is a section in Walmart near the front where the items are labeled as “As Seen on TV.”  Once I was at an outlet mall that had an entire store by the same name.  All the items you have seen advertised on TV from infomercials to traditional commercials are in this store or section.  These fantastic inventions are right there in the store for you to see.

I wonder if anything would change if we labeled people as they leave worship on Sunday morning with a little stamp that said, “As Heard at Church.” Then, that week as people went into the world, they would be a living example of what the preacher was saying.  People would see the mark on others’ hands and be able to see the fantastic things of which they had heard. 

I know this sounds crazy but be clear about one thing:  You are a walking advertisement for the faith you hear proclaimed to you.