The Strength of Small Churches

Currently, I am a part of a book discussion group online with some ministers who are serving in small Churches. All of us lead Churches under 250 in attendance that are a part of our brotherhood of Churches, and each leader attended my alma mater Ozark Christian College. Together we are reading the book Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters. We are all reading the book on our own, and every other week we have a video conference to discuss what we are learning.

Yesterday our group had a conversation about chapters 4-5 of the book. Basically, smaller Churches find their greatest strength in relationships while larger Churches find their strength in vision and programs. The two sizes of Church are both serving the Lord, but they are unique in the connection people feel. The discussion yesterday focused my thinking on three different issues.

1. Do people in small Churches realize the power of relationship? It was stated by these preachers in almost those exact words. Do you, as a member of a Church under 250, realize the potential of connecting to other believers in the Church. A small Church is a great place to meet new people and share your life with other members of your community. This is a place where people want to share life with you.

2. Do people know the benefits of these relationships in Church? On Sunday I was asked a question from a lady in our congregation after the program. She invited a friend to Church, and he responded by saying something like “I can worship God anywhere, why should I go to Church.” She asked me, “What should I say to that?” I told her that Jesus says the Old Testament hangs on two commands. One is to love God, but the other is to love our neighbor. A Church community is a place where we can fulfill both the first and the second command. The Church is the place where we can care for sick and hurting people. We can also receive care when we need it. The Church is the place where can express love and be loved by people of like faith. All of us want to feel important to someone; the Church community exposes us to people who are trying to show us our value and worth in Jesus.

3. Do people realize that the primary relationship they need is with other believers and not the preacher? To say the strength of a small Church is in relationships leads some people to believe that everyone needs a relationship with the leader. That is just not true, in fact, it can be detrimental to your spiritual growth. Let me be honest, I love the Church I am serving, but one of three things are going to happen. I am either going to have God call me somewhere else, I will be called home to heaven, and if not, one day I hope to retire. I am going to move, die or quit as a leader of the Church one day if the Lord continues to delay his return. What then? Through the years I have watched small Churches ride the roller coaster of growth and decline based on the leader. Quite often this is because they are the primary relationship for most people in the Church. This is a dangerous position for you and the preacher. The relationships we need are with people within the Church that we can walk through all of life together.

Having been the pastor of a small Church for almost 25 years, I totally agree it is a great place to build strong relationships for a lifetime. I hope you know that, understand that and are trying to connect with people in the name of Jesus. If not, we will get together again this Sunday morning, and it would be a great time to start to get to know someone new.

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Social Media Advice for Christians

Here this post as an earnest plea from one Christian to another. See me as begging you. I am down on my knees and asking you this in total sincerity.

I request that you would hesitate before you share, or even “like” something on social media. Pause and do some of the following.

1. Talk to God. Quietly ask God if sharing this information will further his kingdom on earth. Before you click on the button, speak a one-line prayer and see if your attitude changes.

2. Read the Article Yourself. I am amazed at the number of people who share an idea about a link that was shared in an article by a friend that appears to be true. Before you share about the survey or study, read the material for yourself. Take the time to read every word, once or twice before you share it.

3. Do Your Research. Some things are too good to be true. Some things are too bad to be true. Do a google search to find out details. Check Snopes. Try to gather all pertinent information to the best of your ability. Was this material produced by a Christian or an anti-Christian writer? Is there an overwhelming political bias? We live in an age of fake news.

4. Use Your Head. Think before you type anything into social media, that as a Christian you represent more than yourself. Every word you write will leave an impression on the hearts and minds of your believing and unbelieving friends.

5. Share. If you have something that checks out as legitimate and it is helpful to people, then share away. As you share useful articles, you will gain credibility and develop a voice for the kingdom of God.

I debated sharing several stories of disaster on social media. People sharing false news, biased information and unresearched junk that was detrimental to the cause of Christ. Those stories are many and still leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Instead of focusing on the negative, I want to remind you that all tools, like social media, can be used for God. Be wise about what you are sharing and let’s build each other up for the glory of the Lord.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy them.

Why Church Members Are Attending Less Frequently – A short video with synopsis. Interesting insights, especially the last one.

5 Books to Read If You’re Getting Burned Out on Church – I have only read one of these, but the list might be helpful to you.

7 Signs Your Church Is (Finally) Reaching Unchurched People

JESUS AND JOYSTICKS: WHY THE CHURCH SHOULD STOP MAKING FUN OF VIDEO GAMERS – Some interesting statistics.

Why Your Friends Can Make or Break Your Future – a good reminder for all ages.

Hearing What You Want to Hear

Your brain is an enormous filter. It can take massive amounts of data and decide what is important to you and what is not. It chooses what ideas to latch onto and determines what to leave behind. Your brain has spent years being trained to receive the information that you find the most meaningful.

With that said, let me ask you a couple of questions?

1. Do you find joy in the failure of others? This is how gossip is made. Real juicy gossip is the true stories you hear about the mistakes other people make, that you repeat. Some people can listen to a whole conversation and pick out the one negative piece to share with others.

2. Do you privately enjoy being mad? Some people are only happy if they are upset about something. The deep psychological reason is that it gives us the attention we desire. If you are mad, then people will listen to your concerns and try to make you happy. These people listen carefully for any words that will frustrate them.

3. Do you hear reasons to be happy in your conversations? When you are finished talking with someone can you repeat all the positive things they said? Do you hear the good things louder than the bad? Some people can find joy in every season and situation, no matter how I tell the story.

One big question is what kind of person are you? All of us have a tendency toward one type of thinking and listening. We hear what we want to hear. Our brains have become magnets to attract thoughts that we like. The question I want you to ask is not only about what type of material catches your attention but is that the best for the kingdom of God in your life?

We hear what we want to hear, but is your brain being filled with information that furthers the work of God in your life?

Two Assumptions of Scripture

I said a line in a conversation about baptism with a man when he and I were debating. He argued, “If it were that important he would have mentioned it in every book in the New Testament.” I responded by saying, “You must understand, some books of the New Testament are written to people who want to know God and others are written to people who want to know God more.”

Those words have replayed in my brain repeatedly through the years, and I believe them now more than ever. There are two underlying assumptions in the New Testament, if not the entire Bible. The words written in our scripture are for two groups of people.

1. For those who want to know God. There is this fundamental understanding that what is written on the pages of the New Testament is for people who have a spiritual desire. The words are not recorded to convince you that God exists. They assume that if you pick up the Bible, you have some desire to know the God found in those pages.

2. For those who want to know God more. Many of the letters Paul wrote that are found in our New Testament were written to Churches who already had a relationship with Jesus. Paul wanted them to live with a deeper level of commitment to their Lord and Savior. They are not introductory works of faith, but next steps for the believer.

These two pieces of information are important to understand. If you pick up the Bible and read it, there will be little value if you have no desire to know God or know him more. Sermons, lessons, small groups, and all forms of teaching about the Bible will have little effect if you do not want to know God or know him more.

This collection of books is not the place to find passages that confirm what you already believe. Generally, they will challenge you in your thinking about God, yourself and others. Scripture is not a nice bunch of stories to teach moral lessons. The New Testament is the place where we read about God and his work in the world. We absorb the truth, not for the sake of knowledge, but to transform us into the image of Jesus.

My encouragement to you is two-fold. If you want to know God, then I challenge you to read the New Testament. Start with a Gospel account and then the book of Acts before moving to a letter from Paul. Also, if you are already a believer and you want to know God more, then read the scripture. Pick any book of the New Testament, especially the letters, and learn. Finally, if you have no inclination toward the Holy, just ignore your Bible. It will make no sense to you anyway.

Move Away from Isolation

In the National Geographic special, the lions approach the herd of wildebeests quietly from the side. They stand and wait for the exact right moment. Their opportunity comes when one of the smaller animals walks unsuspectingly away from the group by itself. The lone beast is now vulnerable, and the lions attack from all sides and pull down the animal who no longer has the protection of the heard.

The Bible describes the devil as a roaring lion, seeking whom it can devour (1 Peter 5:8). He stands and waits for the right moment to attack. The best opportunity is when we are alone and separate from the protection of the herd.

In fact, I would suggest that evil will try everything to pull you into isolation so that you are vulnerable. He will use your TV, phone or computer to keep you from truly connecting with others. Your work can fill all of your time or maybe it is the project you desperately want to finish. If your calendar is completely packed, and you never have time to communicate with anyone on a personal level, you are moving toward the isolation that destroys.

This past weekend I forgot that I had been invited to a small gathering of people merely to spend time together. When I was reminded of the event, my mind went through all the reasons I could skip this one. I’m busy. There is no teaching going on, so what’s the point? I will catch the highlights through social media. I’m tired from being busy and teaching. There were at least a dozen legitimate reasons I could miss this small gathering with other believers. Finally, I remembered that wildebeest. He was all alone, and there was no longer the protection of the herd. The lion was ready to pounce. So I went, and I had a wonderful time.

Moments like this remind me of a simple summer project. When the weather is beautiful, and the kids are out of school, take time to connect. Spend time with other believers. Move away from isolation by using your porch and a grill, the park, a ballgame, a campfire or whatever resources you have at your disposal. Now is a great time to build relationships in your life that will help you to grow in your faith and push back the forces of evil that seek to devour you.

Four Relationships to Help You on Your Spiritual Journey

A friend of mine leads a Church that continually tells people that “Life is a spiritual journey.” One of their core values under that description is, “Don’t travel alone.” Life in Christ is best experienced with other people. They help us to learn, to grow and to stay strong as we walk with God. Here are the four most prominent relationships every believer needs to reach their full potential.

1. Someone to Teach You. There is so much to learn about God and faith in him that you need an instructor. You need somewhere you can ask questions and seek solid biblical answers. One failure of many believers is that they listen to the wrong voices. You need someone who is a mature Christian to help you understand the Bible and the ways of God.

2. Someone to Encourage You. There are days that all of us want to give up on God. The road seems too hard, and the people are difficult to handle. These days you need someone in your life who sees the positive. They cheer you on when you feel like giving up. Too often I see people quit their faith because no one encouraged them through a rough season of life. We all need someone to believe in us when we are ready to give up.

3. Someone to Challenge You. This person might also be your teacher, but it is best when it is another person. You need someone to see your flaws, failures, and shortcomings and not let you get away with it. Think of it as a personal trainer for the soul. They are not there to give you nutrition (like a teacher) instead they are there to push you to a level you never thought possible to achieve.

4. Someone for you to teach, encourage or challenge. The goal of following Jesus is not just to develop yourself, but to help other people. You have your own set of unique gifts and experiences that make you best suited to help someone else. Find a person who is either new to faith or younger in age and help them on their journey. Just as people are helping you, you need to help someone else.

I am sure there are other meaningful relationships in the lives of believers, but I think each one of these is essential. The problem with most Christians I know is that they are missing at least one of these if not two. In fact, every person I have ever known who gave up following Jesus was missing a vital relationship which could have helped them. Their failure was not one of improper doctrine, rather one of inadequate connections.

So if you are serious about following Jesus then take time to evaluate the people in your life. Maybe today is an excellent time to make a new friend.