Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Partnering With God's Mission


Mission. Vision. Direction. Purpose.


These are powerful concepts. Organizations that want to be successful need to skillfully employ them to get people to participate.

This same strategy is often used in local churches.

Many pastoral job descriptions include casting vision. Successful churches often have mission statements as a focal point of all their church ministries and literature.

Do you have a mission statement? Does your church?

Do you know God's mission statement?

Many people long to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be part of a movement.

The grandest mission is God's. He has revealed it plainly in the Scriptures. God is at work in this world. If you don't understand His mission you may not know how to discern His activity. Many falsely preach that God's mission is to make you happy and fulfilled. If that's God's mission then He isn't doing a very good job at it.

God's real mission is clear. God is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people from the curse that is currently upon this broken and fallen world. God is reconciling these people to Himself through His Son, Jesus the Christ. When this process is complete God will gather these people to Himself and establish His kingdom in its fullness.

God is not doing this because anyone deserves it. He is doing it to glorify His great name. God will glorify His name through both the redeemed and those who persist in rebellion against Him. His mercy and grace will be magnified in those who receive salvation through Christ. His wrath and justice will be magnified in those who perish under His condemnation.

This is the biblical picture.

Understanding God's mission is pretty awesome. What's even more breathtaking is the fact that God chooses to call His redeemed into partnership with Him in His mission.

No matter what local church you attend. No matter what denomination you identify with. No matter what generation you live through. No matter your net worth, skin color, gender, hobbies, or interests. If you are redeemed by the blood of Christ you have been purchased by God and given a job as an ambassador in His kingdom. You have become a minister of reconciliation.

By the grace and calling of God you are a difference-maker. At least, you can be. If you participate.

Ambassadors are supposed to live on mission. You are not supposed to be derelict of your duty. You are also not called to be distracted with lesser pursuits.

We have been entrusted with a stewardship in God's expanding kingdom. We can have confidence that we are participating in the greatest movement in human history. We can know for certain that our efforts will make a difference in both our own generation and eternity.

The Apostle Paul knew the mission. He also called other believers to understand it and have confidence in its completion.

A well-known and often cited passage is easily misunderstood. It is easy to read this passage individually and miss the grander truth that is being expressed.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul's confidence is not simply about the salvation of the individual. He is writing to all the saints in Philippi. In addressing this group of believers his confidence is in a singular work being done among the community of believers.

This singular work will continue until it is brought to completion (that is, is "perfected") on the day of Christ Jesus. The work includes individuals because it encompasses the entire group. Paul describes the glory of that day in the next chapter:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Paul immediately gives an exhortation to live in accordance with this mission:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Are you partnering with God in His mission? Are you laying down your life and fleshly pursuits and obeying God so that He will work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure?

God's mission is to work through His redeemed -- the community of faith called "the church" -- until He has redeemed a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. This is not a defensive mission but an offensive one.

Are you partnering with God's mission or have you settled for something else?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Offense Vs. Defense

Stop playing defense.

If we're going to let Jesus have His way in His church then we need to stop playing defense. We need to focus on playing offense.

Look carefully at what Jesus said about the nature of His church: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18).

Gates are defensive structures. They are built to protect their own. Jesus plainly said that He would build His church. This building would happen on the rock of people confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

As Jesus builds His church people will come out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light (1 Pet 2:9-10). The gates of Hades will not be able to stop the advance of Christ's kingdom expansion.

Somewhere along the lines those who call themselves Christians reversed the purpose of the church. We stopped being gate crashers of the kingdom of darkness. We started building our own gates. We stopped playing offense. We began playing defense.


The Defensive Church

What are the marks of a defensive church? A defensive church:
  1. Protects its own territory
  2. Responds to attacks from without and within
  3. Seeks comfort and offers ministry to those who are not "comfortable."
On the surface all of these activities seem good and right. It is certainly what we are used to. Are there not an abundance of passages in Scripture that we can point to that affirm all of these practices?

Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith once for all handed down to the saints. Should we stand idly by as false teachers spread heresy in disobedience to Paul's instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3? Should the church ignore the broken and hurting and tear James 1:27 out of their Bibles?

No. We shouldn't do that.

But we also shouldn't employ worldly strategies when Christ has given us His strategy.

The defensive posture fails. It doesn't fail because it's not aiming at many of the right things. It fails because it fails to aim at the cause. It only aims at the symptoms.

In the process it creates new symptoms that are deadly to the Body of Christ.

A defensive church protects its own territory and attempts to establish its own "mini-kingdom." Consequently, a defensive church is often unwilling to participate with other genuine Christians in advancing the kingdom of God and tearing down the gates of Hades.

Heaven forbid that some of "our people" may find a pastor they like more and sit in his pews instead of ours!

The defensive mindset convinces us we must protect our own. We become competitors with other "mini-kingdoms" as we seek to grow and protect our own territory. Often the gates of Hades remain unshaken while the gates of each local church expand and contract based on transfer growth from one congregation to another.

Instead of raiding the kingdom of darkness the defensive posture has turned us into raiders of other pastures to compete for the sheep already in the fold!

Jesus' strategy was radically different. Jesus designed His church to play offense.


The Offensive Church

  1. Seeks to take ground from the kingdom of darkness by expanding the kingdom of God
  2. Initiates attacks against the kingdom of darkness
  3. Ignores comfort and seeks to release captives as the major ministry
  4. Then it seeks to equip those who have been released to further crash the gates of Hades.
Although the Bible uses aggressive terminology it must be stated clearly that Jesus' followers are not called to engage in physical violence of any kind. The "attacks" that are being discussed are spiritual in nature. The weapons of the biblical Christian are the proclamation of the gospel, love, prayer, and service -- all empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The offensive church seeks to bring the gospel to the world. The offensive church recognizes that only the gospel has the ability to genuinely transform a spiritually dead world and bring it back to life. The offensive church seeks unity and fellowship with other believers regardless of where they congregate on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Potlucks can't do that. Programs can't do it either.

An offensive church understands that we cannot dismember the body of Christ and compete with one another if we really want to crash the gates of Hades. We need each other.

Are you playing offense? Or are you still focused on defense?

Jesus did not call us to defend the gates of heaven but to crash the gates of hell. The best defense is a potent offense.

Monday, April 24, 2017

American Christian Or Christian American?

Christian American or American Christian?

What a difference word order can make.

The question is about priorities.

Which takes precedence for you: your faith or your patriotism?

I'm not asking you to abandon one or the other. I am asking you to be honest with yourself and answer this question: Is your life more defined by your Christianity and the Lord you claim to serve, or by the American dream, and your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

How would your family answer this question about you? What about your coworkers? Your neighbors?

How would those who read your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any and every other aspect of your public life answer that question about you?

Are you more defined by your right to living your own life? Or by Christ living through you as you lay your own life down?

Are you more defined by your right to liberties? Or by your right to lay down your freedoms for the sake of others?

Are you more defined by your right to pursue happiness? Or by your privilege to pursue the glory of God?

I can't answer these questions for you. You can't answer them for me. We each have to wrestle with these questions and answer them on our own.

Then, we have to figure out what we're going to do about it.

There are three ways we can respond.
  1. We can reject God's Word and purposes for ourselves and His church.
  2. We can agree (in principle) with God's Word and purposes, yet live as if they are optional or only apply when we want them to or it's convenient.
  3. We can agree in word and in truth by actually living in accordance with what we say we believe.
How will you respond?

I'm tired of living in a culture that treats the church just like Burger King. Aren't you? It's not about having it your way. It's not about having it my way, either.

Do you desire to let God have His way?

In your life? In your family? In your church? In your country? In the world?

What will you do today? Will you live as an American Christian or as a Christian American?

Same words. Different pursuits.


(To read more about these themes, check out the books page.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Wanted: The Ideal Church Model

Church Growth

I've been exposed to a lot of church growth books and materials over the years. I've seen programs, systems, agendas, theories, and campaigns.

A question we must wrestle with is how do we measure success?

Perhaps you're expecting me to diminish a focus on numbers and reaching the multitudes and emphasize spiritual factors that are harder to quantify. Things like spiritual maturity and growth in Christ's likeness.

Actually, I'm not suggesting that we focus on or emphasize either to the neglect of the other.

Can't we think about both?

Sadly, our modern Christian culture often demands that we pick and choose. Should we be a seeker-sensitive church that uses every means possible to gather as many worldly people as we can to be exposed to the message? Or should we limit our groups to a manageable size so that we can build greater accountability, depth of relationships, and do life together?

Where does the Scripture tell us that we must choose?

Sadly, we've been offered a multitude of less-than-ideal options. As a result our local churches - whatever end of the spectrum they fall on - are falling short of Christ's ideal.

Just so you don't think I'm picking on anyone I'll give two examples on opposite extremes.

Deep, But Not Wide

Often the small, discipleship focused church emphasizes that Jesus only had superficial contact with the multitudes. Instead, our Lord focused on a small group of committed disciples. In fact, Jesus devoted more personal time and attention to Peter, John, and James than the rest of The Twelve.

Unfortunately, the disciple-making church often fails to recognize that the amount of time and dedication Jesus and the disciples had for one another is world's apart from our current church schedules. Only cults that demand their followers sell everything and follow their leader could make a reasonable claim to be doing discipleship like Jesus.

Wide, But Not Deep

The seeker-sensitive type model seeks relevancy at all costs. This often means bringing all sorts of worldliness into the worship service and claiming that they are redeeming the culture. The rationale to the endless use of entertainment, media, and activity is based on the apparent reality that it "works." While the Bible may not explicitly endorse any of the seeker-sensitive models methods per se, it doesn't necessarily forbid them either. Where is the passage that says, "Thou shalt not use fog machines"?

Unfortunately, the seeker model also fails to achieve what it's aiming at. And, the devil loves pragmatism. When we appeal to "what works" to the neglect of a biblical mandate we are the epitome of walking by sight and not by faith.

Sure, the numbers can seem impressive. But only by our modern standards. If we take a look at what the Scriptures say our modern standards are actually pretty low.

Biblical New Covenant Churches

The local churches we read about all throughout the New Testament were pretty amazing. Don't get me wrong - they had their share of problems just like we do. This is why we shouldn't lose hope. Even dysfunctional local churches can be used mightily for the Lord.

But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't repent when necessary. We always need to re-focus our energy into more God-honoring pursuits over time.

Deep

When we look to the pages of Scripture we see deep churches. Churches where life change was expected and obvious. Numerous examples could be cited. Here's one from the most notoriously messed up church in all of Scripture:


Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, bold added)

Even the church with the most problems in the New Testament had amazing transformational grace abounding upon its members. This amazing transformative grace touched on every conceivable lifestyle.

Shouldn't we expect the same today?

When we fail to expect transformational grace we are in active disobedience to Scripture. In the same letter, Paul writes his apostolic counsel regarding associating with "Christians" who are living openly sinful lives. The short version is, "Don't."

Here's the full version:

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
I know, I know. Paul was wayyyy too judgmental to be part of many of our local churches today.

Shouldn't it alarm us that we've so strayed from the apostolic foundation? Many local churches actively disobey this Scriptural command proudly.

Wide 

We are told that emphasizing holiness will diminish our ability to reach people. Nevertheless, New Testament churches focused on holiness without limiting their reach. The Apostle Paul was shockingly serious about personal holiness amongst the fellowship of believers. He was also able to fully evangelize all of Asia in just two years.

This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:10, bold added)
Paul didn't spend a ton of resources on events. He didn't make use of Easter, Christmas, and Mother's Day services and their inflated attendance to boast of reaching multitudes.

He simply taught that Jesus was the Christ. From the Old Testament Scriptures. Every day.

It was effective. He was just one guy.

You know of any local churches today that have reached entire countries in two years? Any that could actually say that they reached everyone who lived there with the word of the Lord?

If you do know any it's a short list for sure.

Some will object. Paul was an Apostle. His ministry shouldn't be the benchmark for our congregations and ministries today. Right?

Let me simply remind you that this was common practice in the New Testament churches.

The church at Thessalonica had a rocky start. When Paul first went and preached a few believed. The majority formed a mob. Paul fled. You can read about this in Acts 17:1-10. When Paul arrived at the next location they are compared favorably to the lousy reception received in Thessalonica:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
Since Paul wasn't able to spend much time with the few believers they understandably had some theological problems to work out. Paul wrote them a letter shortly after being run out of town. It had been less than a year since he came and preached and this is what he writes about them:

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, bold added)
This little group of confused believers was having a global impact in less than a year. Not too shabby.

All of our modern mega-churches pale in influence to even the most basic New Testament congregation.

Well, Now What?

The purpose of this post is not to criticize. It's to encourage. The New Testament churches had very few of the resources and advantages we have today. Our problem is not outside of our ability to fix. We just need to adjust our focus and our systems.

The Scriptures say:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.

His power is at work within us.

To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.

To all generations forever and ever.

That includes us.

We need to stop settling. We need to set our sights higher. The reason we're not seeing the same impact is because we've radically strayed from Jesus' design for His church.

Instead of doing it Jesus' way, we keep on looking for models to emulate that seem to bring the results we value most. We have convinced ourselves that the pendulum swings and we must choose. In reality, every option that we're being offered is less than the biblical ideal.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that we must choose from the buffet of available options. The truth is we are allowed to break free from the mold of our culture. Even our "Christian" culture!

We don't need to settle. We can reclaim what has been forgotten. It's not really that complicated. That doesn't mean it will be easy though.

The Scriptures describe our present situation as a spiritual battle. Thank God that it is Jesus who will build His church. It's not us. Do we believe that He is able?

We just need to do it His way. Are you willing?


Suggested resources:

Gate Crashers: The Offensive Church

The Forgotten Officer: Restoring The Fullness of God's Design