Clues to a Spiritually Dead Church

Let me say upfront that I am not in the business of criticizing other parts of the body of Christ. However, I am not naming names…just the criteria

Clues to a spiritually dead church…

  • Have lost their sense of mission to those who have not heard about Jesus Christ and do not pant after the Great Commission;
  • Exists primarily to provide fellowship for the “members of the club”;
  • Expect their pastors to focus primarily on ministering to the members’ personal spiritual needs;
  • Design ministry to meet the needs of their members;
  • Have no idea about the needs of the “stranger outside the gates”;
  • Are focused more on the past than the future;
  • Often experience major forms of conflict;
  • And watch the bottom line of the financial statement more than the number of confessions of faith.

Does that describe your church?

Faith in a Pandemic (part 2)

We live in uncertain times. The coronavirus. A plunging stock market. Cancelled flights. Closed borders. Schools and workplaces shutting down. Empty grocery shelves. It can feel like this is a new thing, but it is not. The truth is, life in a broken world is always uncertain and disruptive. While most of us have never experienced these dynamics before, the fact is that unexpected and upending disasters have been a constant of human history. I was talking to Doris Green on the phone and she reminded me of some of the things her generation has faced. We get frustrated about low supplies of toilet paper. She remembers rationing food as a child to survive during WWII.

When his disciples asked him what the future held, Jesus warned them of sudden and calamitous events to come: “wars and rumors of wars,” “nations will rise against nations,” “famines and earthquakes,” “tribulations,” “lawlessness,” and “false prophets.” It didn’t take long for Jesus’ followers to experience these very things.

Some sixteen years after Jesus said this there was a massive famine that hit Judea and so affected the early Christian community that Paul carried out an extensive relief effort among the new Gentile churches to help the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28). Forty years later rebellion against Rome broke out among the Jews which resulted in Roman legions destroying Jerusalem and slaughtering large swaths of the population, just as Jesus predicted. Sixty-two years after that a second Jewish revolt resulted in all the Jews, including the followers of Jesus, being driven out of Jerusalem by the Romans.

While Jesus warned his disciples that these kinds of experiences were coming, he repeatedly told them that there is no way to predict exactly how and when disaster will strike. What he did tell them is to prepare for these challenging times by being focused on doing the Father’s will no matter what is happening in the world around us. Here’s what that needs to look like:

1. We are a “non-anxious” people: Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. (Matthew 5:25) The followers of Jesus are by definition people of faith which means we are certain of things we cannot yet see. Although we don’t know what specific events will happen or when they will come to pass, we do know our future destiny and that the One who will bring it about is incredibly good. This means, in the face of unexpected challenges, we can live in peace and hope as fruit of the Spirit, even if we feel fear or dread in our flesh.

2. We are a gathered and scattered people: From the very beginning believers followed Jesus’ pattern of gathering and scattering. The first church in Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts to hear the teaching of the Apostles and then scattered to extended family homes to share life and carry out the mission of Jesus. When persecution hit, the followers of Jesus were scattered out of Jerusalem to Samaria, Cyprus, Antioch, and north Africa just as Jesus had foretold before he ascended into heaven. This is how the movement of Jesus began to spread. For many of the first three centuries Christians were not able to gather in places larger than an extended family home and yet the movement was unstoppable! Why should it be different in our time? Maybe the current restrictions on large group gatherings will help us to recapture this healthy and fruitful rhythm of a decentralized church that knows how to function in both large gatherings and in extended spiritual families that we have begun calling Missional Communities (MCs).

3. We are an abiding and fruitful people: Jesus was very clear that good and lasting fruit comes from intentional connection to him. He also explained that those branches on his vine that bear fruit will get pruned in order that they might bear more and better fruit. The frenetic pace of our modern western culture often keeps us from the consistent abiding that would dramatically increase our fruitfulness. As public institutions shut down and we practice physical distancing it is clear that this is a season of pruning meant to give us an opportunity to slow down, rest, and take more time to connect with God and the people closest to us. We will squander this opportunity if we simply isolate ourselves, nurture fearful stress, and try to escape by binging streaming and social media.

4. An “others-first” people: When we are subjected to threats, our natural survival instinct turns our focus on ourselves and our own needs. When Jesus was on the cross, his moment of greatest crisis and disorientation, he comforted a dying criminal and ensured his mother would be recognized as part of the spiritual family. The Antonine Plague of the second century and the Cyprian Plague of the third century wiped out a huge part of the Roman empire, but the followers of Jesus became known as those who courageously cared for and ministered to the sick and dying. What are the opportunities for us to love our neighbors in this pandemic even as we exercise wise discernment?

I believe with all of my heart that times of challenge and suffering are when the true church of Jesus shines! I am so grateful that we don’t have to live in fear even when we feel anxious and don’t know exactly how or when challenges are going to come. I am so glad we don’t have to face it alone when the crisis hits.

Faith in a Pandemic

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I know how anxious and stressed a lot of people are. I know how disappointed you are right now with life in general. This virus has caused us to make a lot of short-term changes that seem…painful. It’s not just a viral pandemic but in this country and community it’s a pandemic of human disappointment. Things that folks have planned for, worked toward, got excited about are postponed or worse, cancelled. I feel awful for the students who couldn’t do planned trips to Europe or compete in state tournaments. I’m sad for my daughter who was in the middle of her last semester at Centre College and now feels abruptly pushed out of her community of friends who are all having to leave campus. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see a classic University of Kentucky vs. Michigan State Spartans championship basketball game!

But seriously all that pain is real for a lot of folks. Those cancellations brought the viral pandemic to reality for a lot of people. So more than ever, we need to show grace to each other. I’m sure anxiety and fear are much higher today than a week ago.

I don’t speak as an expert on science. I don’t know exactly where this is going. But I’ll try to speak into it from a faith perspective, while also mindful of what health experts are telling me.

I’m not going to make any long term and permanent decisions today. I’ve found in times of crisis and panic it’s best not to project out into the future. It’s always best to make wise decisions based on what we know today.

As disciples of Jesus, the filter that forms our decisions is different. Why? We are not of this world! We are not to be conformed to this world! Do not live like those who have no hope!

There are 3 ways we are not like this world. #1, We live by faith, not fear. God’s not sitting in heaven thinking, “I didn’t see this coming.” Our God is faithful—He’s in control. Our God is good—He has a plan. Our God won’t leave us or forsake us. He’s working in all things. Do you belioeve it?

We live by fear, not faith. #2, we are sacrificial, not selfish. The Christians of the early church faced extreme persecution, even losing their lives for their faith. The first century Christians didn’t hoard their goods! They weren’t rushing the Jerusalem Mega-Mart to grab emergency supplies. We are the body of Christ—We put others ahead of ourselves.

We live by faith, not fear. We are sacrificial, not selfish. #3 We shine the light, we do not hide it. During this time, people are afraid, unsettled, anxious, looking for hope. We are the world’s hope dealers. We are the light shiners. We are the love givers. This virus may be highly contagious. I’m praying for some Christians to be more contagious. Spread hope. Spread love. Spread life in Christ. I’m believing that the love and hope of Jesus spreads faster than any virus.

In many ways, I think there’s a good chance that some will look back at this time in history and call it the “lost” months of our lives. I hope that’s not true. Because Christians from the very beginning of the early church have sought the opportunities in the most difficult times, and made them into Kingdom building opportunities.

Listen to God’s word, which is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 4:2-6, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains [or maybe in our day we might say, “Pray for us that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in social distancing.” He continues,] Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversatation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

I know we’re disappointed to say the least to cancel Spring Break vacations. I know that pain is real. I also know that there are a lot of people who have had to deal with the real health complications of this disease. We pray for them. And because we value the health of the most vulnerable in our community, I support the decision to limit our meeting together. But this does not mean that we hole up in our houses, under our blankets or tucked in our backyards. No, we’re called to be the peo. who love their neighbors. Now is the time to check on those people in your cul-de-sac or apartment bldg. This is an opportunity, not just a burden.

The church isn’t a gathering on Sunday morning. I’ve been saying that for years! Let’s prove we are the church by how we respond outside one hour a week with how we manage this issue. WE are the church, you and me, the body of Christ in the world. How do we show this world what it’s like to follow Jesus? Is it by showing up for that hour to try to prove the experts wrong? No, it’s being a good citizen. We practice keeping distance in order to love our neighbor. But distance isn’t separating ourselves completely from others. It’s checking on each other & helping each other get things from the store or pharmacy or wherever. It’s checking on our neighbors & seeing how we can help them.

It’s also important during this time, especially for those of us with children, to continue as many of our routines as we had before or create new ones. There is a comfort in routines

When I went to Haiti two summers ago with a group from my church along with my then 16 year old son Micah, we got stuck in Port au Prince. Our plane arrived at the moment that the government made an announcement that effected the livelihood of every Haitian. It was a silly and even ridiculous announcement to make and so the people got angry and began protesting on the streets immediately. And when I say protest, that’s putting it mildly. There were some looting and closing of streets. And here we are, Americans far from home and far from the safety of the Mission in northwest Haiti.

Now, we were being well cared for at a hotel in PAP but we couldn’t safely leave the hotel for several days. During that time we could hear gunshots and smell the smoldering remains of burnt tires.

Now, I can put on a pretty brave face for a group of people amd I did. I needed to. But I’m not going to lie to you now…I was a little scared. Just a little. But I was more disappointed because we were basically quarantined from our mission. I mean I hadn’t seen my daughter in two months, and she was already in NW Haiti serving and I’m in the country and unable to see her. I was disappointed because we couldn’t get to NW Haiti to break bread and serve with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the small village of Mayette. Those Haitian Christians depend on us for encouragement. I was devasted a little more each day we were delayed.

It also gave me a lot of time to pray and read the Scriptures and think. Every morning I would wake up to the sound of this older employee of the hotel who was sweeping the walk ways. Sweep, sweep, sweep. And there was a comfort in hearing that noise. Sweep, sweep, sweep. It meant that the sun had risen and that he had gotten out of bed much earlier than me despite the economic conditons of that impoverished country. And he went to work. Sweep, sweep, sweep.

And about the third day I heard that sweeping, it would make me smile. On the fifth day I heard that sweeping, it made me cry. Because I knew God was good. He is faithful as the sun rises each morn. And was the routine of that man, who has overcome much more than I have in my life, it was his daily faithfulness, that brought ME hope.

We will get through this, but it will be much easier together. Remember. we can’t do life alone. We need each other…more than ever, but for now let’s keep six feet apart.

Why Doesn’t FCC do Altar Calls?

Someone asked me that question recently and the answer is simple: because people typically don’t make long-term, life-changing decisions right at that moment in a worship service. In my experience most people who come forward are doing so out of a sense of obligation or guilt or emotion only. I believe that the Christian walk is best done in relationship with other Christians and specifically as part of a local church family. That’s why I know 99% of the time beforehand who’s coming up on a given Sunday if I give an “invitation” to confess Christ, recommit your life to Christ, or officially join our church.  That doesn’t mean I won’t surprise people at times or be surprised.

So we don’t do the traditional altar calls but depending on the message I do give “invitations.” I just won’t sing 6 songs in order to get people to come forward.  If the Holy Spirit isn’t urging them in the first 3 minutes then I don’t think any music or verbal manipulation should be done. Manipulation? Yes, if I really want people to come forward and make a decision, I can get that done. I did it when I first got into ministry.  But then I saw the reality of those decisions a week later. Most of those decisions have no accountability and are more like New Year’s resolutions. Few succeed. Many churches have gone to a similar understanding. But that doesn’t mean altar calls are bad or wrong…just memorable. Like this…

What do you think? What’s your experience?

Happy Church Leaders

It is important that church leaders be happy in their work, that we “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). A church experiences love through the happiness of its leaders. Hebrews 13:17, “[Your Leaders] are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Indeed, it is a joy to serve First Christian Church  and serve our community alongside the FCC family.

5 Reasons You Need A Small Group

The reality is that we “can’t do life alone.” We need each other. So why not join a class or group? At FCC we have Adult Bible Fellowships (ABFs) on Sunday morning and Connect Groups on Wednesday nights (and a few at other times).

5 Reasons You Need a Small Group (thanks to Rick Warren)

  1. It’s the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. Only in regular contact with ordinary, imperfect believers can we learn REAL fellowship and experience connection God intends for us to have.
  2. A small group helps me to develop spiritual muscle. You’ll never grow to maturity just by attending worship services and being a passive spectator.  We need more than the Bible in order to grow; we need other believers.  When others share what God is teaching them, I learn and grow too!
  3. A small group confirms my identity as a genuine believer. I can’t claim to be following Christ if I’m not committed to any specific group of disciples.  Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  You can’t be the Body of Christ on your own.
  4. A small group will help keep me from spiritually backsliding. “Mind your own business” is NOT a Christian idea when it comes to helping each other!  We’re commanded to be involved in each other’s lives.
  5. The Body of Christ needs me! You have a background and experiences that other people can learn from and draw strength from!

So if you aren’t already in one, then I encourage you to get involved in one soon.

FCC’s Mission and Values (part II)

Yesterday we looked briefly at the mission of our church (FCC). Today I wanted to  look briefly at our “Value” statements. These are things that we value as a church. Do we live them out perfectly? Obviously not. We have a long way to go. But this is what we want to see:

Heart for Christ Alone: We are united in our focus on the redeeming life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In essential beliefs, we have unity.  In non-essential beliefs, we have liberty.  In all our beliefs, we show love.

Mind transformed by the Word: Christ followers should manifest authenticity and yearn for continuous spiritual growth.

Arms of Love: We must be a welcoming and inviting community, helping people to make loving, enduring relationships.

Knees for Prayer: Prayer and worship is the essential foundation for all effective ministry.

Voice to Speak the Good News: Lost people matter to God and must matter to His church.  Because of that, we must communicate God’s Love in culturally relevant ways.

Spirit of Servanthood and Stewardship:  Every Christ follower is called to serve according to their gifts, open to being equipped for ministry.

 

FCC’s Mission and Values

Here’s our mission at FCC:

God calls FCC (Versailles) to make disciples by being a Christ-centered family, reaching out to all.

So our job is clear: make disciples. To do that we need a church culture that is always seeking to be a “Christ-centered family, reaching out to all.” We need both the inclusion of outsiders and the desire to go into all the world. That is the lens by which we ought to be making our decisions as a church.

“Should we do _____?”  Only if it help us “make disciples by being a Christ-centered family, reaching out to all”?

Spiritual Contributors, not Spiritual Consumers

Often I hear about people “church shopping.” This makes a lot of sense on one hand because when someone moves to a new community they should probably check out a few churches to see where they might fit best or where the doctrine/beliefs match their own. Sometimes this might also happen to someone who has experienced severe conflict in a church which makes them uncomfortable to return and continue there. But the language “shopping” with church really is not the best approach to finding a church home. It implies that the individual is a consumer looking for a church that will “meet my needs.”

I’m glad people want to find a church home. But looking for a church that meets my needs is an unbiblical statement. The church becomes a product to consume. “We loved the children’s programming but the sermons are really boring.”

God has called us to be spiritual contributors. The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing to others.

So ask yourself: Am I more of a consumer or contributor? If you are a Christ-follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church.Do you drop your kids off in the nursery (without ever serving there), drink some free coffee, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you’re a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully for church leaders? Do you give consistently of your finances? Do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

I’m not trying to be mean or make you feel guilty. I simply want you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God allows you to tell. If you’re more focused on yourself than serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages–lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world.

Dear Pastor, You’re asking too much of us

Dear Pastor Marcus,

We think you’re asking way too much from us. In an average WEEK you think we should attend worship, a class or group, serve at least one hour, AND give of our finances. And then you say at home we should take time each DAY to read the Bible and pray for a few minutes. That doesn’t even include your idea that we should be investing and inviting unchurched people so they might have a relationship with God and a church family. We think you are expecting way too much from us. We’ve got things to do, places to be, mouths to feed, golf to play.

When we prayed that prayer to have Jesus in our hearts, we thought we were done. We got a “get out of hell free” card and we’re grateful for that and the future hope of Heaven, but we can’t imagine that God would expect MORE from us. We know Jesus came to earth and died for us. Yes, we’ve heard all about how we have to take up our cross daily, imitate Christ, surrender our lives to him. But we think that’s unrealistic. We just don’t have time, money, or energy for Jesus or His bride, the Church.

We’ve gone to church for years and even went to Sunday school as kids. So we know all we need to know about God, Jesus, and the church. We’re not bad people. We’ve got a few hang-ups but we don’t really need much more work on our souls. Mark needs help (he’s not bad either but he still hasn’t gotten into the habit of putting the toilet seat down!).  But we’ve pretty much grown as much as we can spiritually. What we really need is a new car!

You can keep telling us what the Bible teaches (we really like your humor!) but we thought we might save you some time. We’re not changing. We’ll keep doing the same things the same ways so keep any of those thoughts to yourself. We will come to church (when we don’t have a late Saturday night), go to an occasional all-church event (we love the cooking in this church!), give when we have extra money (and not saving for that car!), but you can stop the call to commitment. Jesus gave up everything for us, but we think He’s quite content with what we have to offer.

Sincerely,

Mark and Mary Member