Archives For January 2013

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Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsDisciples are made by building relationships; the best way to introduce someone to Christ is to first become their friend.

A study of 720 potential disciples of Jesus Christ:

Dr. Win Arn was the founder and president of the Institute for American Church Growth. He was also publisher of Church Growth: America magazine. He shared with me once about a study his organization had done with 720 people. Of this group 240 were new Christians who continued to be actively involved in their churches. Another group was made up of 240 new converts who had already “dropped out.” The third group of 240 had had the gospel presented to them but had chosen not to respond positively.

720 People studied

240 never made professions of faith

240 Made professions of faith but later dropped out

240 made professions of faith and remained actively involved in the church

Each person was asked to classify the person who had introduced them to Jesus Christ and the church into one of these categories: Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsMore and more research is disclosing something the Christian church would rather deny. Church activity does not necessarily result in spiritual growth.

We do a lot of good things, but we aren’t doing a very good job carrying out our core mission, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

After five years studying 1200 churches and examining the results of 280,000 in-depth responses, Willow Creek’s seminal “Reveal Study” concluded, “Church activity IS NOT a blueprint for spiritual growth.” In fact, they discovered that the longer someone attends church without significant spiritual growth the less likely they are to ever experience significant spiritual transformation. Those who had attended church for more than five years were far more likely to indicate they were stalled in their spiritual growth than those attending less than five years. Continue Reading…

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsIn my last post I listed ten barriers the Church faces in its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The first barrier listed was, “Most church members don’t really know what a disciple is nor what one even looks like.” I want to address that important issue here.

If I wanted to build a factory to make widgets, it would be important to know exactly what a widget is, how it works, and how to build them. The church should be a factory for building Christian disciples. If we are going to make disciples we need to know what disciples looks like, what they do, and how to make them.

In Ephesians 4:11-14a we read: He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults–to be fully grown, Continue Reading…

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The mission of the Christian church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. So, why isn’t the church doing a better job? I suggest here 10 barriers the church faces. 

 

 

  1. Most church members don’t really know what a disciple is nor what one even looks like. (More about this in my next blog.)
  2. Given the reality of the above, church leaders don’t know how to make disciples. Few churches have an intentional, measurable system in place that actually produces mature disciples.
  3. Given the reality of the two above, the church lacks vision and a passion to fulfill its mission. The congregation does not really “own” the mission to make disciples.
  4. There are many theological barriers. For example, Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsHow are lives transformed? How do we become the person God created us to be?

Jesus commanded his followers to “make disciples.” Disciples are followers of Christ who grow into mature people who find meaning, purpose, peace, and joy in life. But just how are disciples made? I believe this is the most pressing question for the Christian church in the 21st century.

Many people believe it is a matter of inviting Jesus into our hearts. Pray the sinner’s prayer, then on to baptism and church membership. Deal done. Others believe that God simply chooses some to be disciples. Deal done. Of course, that’s not exactly how they explain it.

Jesus practiced a process of coaching and mentoring, investing most of his time in twelve men; these, in turn, coached others. Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsAre the methods that worked  to reach new church members in the 1950s working today?

In the fifties there wasn’t much to do for entertainment in the rural community where I grew up. The little country church my family attended held a couple of revivals each year. A firebrand preacher was usually invited to bring the “messages” and folks would come from all around to hear him. For that week it was the best “entertainment” in the community. Even the unchurched attended. That’s why revivals worked as an evangelistic outreach. People came to know the Lord through these revivals.

For much the same reason, through the 1950s churches thrived by simply being there. There was not much competition on Sunday, even in our towns and cities. Cinemas, shopping, and sports events weren’t open for business on Sundays. Nothing else to do, might as well go to church! The church was the place to be.

But now it’s the 21st century. The church has plenty of competition. Cinema, shopping, television, the Internet, and a multitude of other activities are competing with the church on Sundays and every other day of the week. We can no longer just erect a building, put a sign out front that says church, and expect people to come. Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsLutheran pastor Michael Foss suggests that many Christians act more like consumers than disciples. He describes the culture of many churches as a culture of membership. He explains:

I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but for the sake of illustration, let’s think of the membership model of church as similar to the membership model of the modern health club. One becomes a member of a health club by paying dues (in a church, the monthly or weekly offering). Having paid their dues, the members expect the services of the club to be at their disposal. Exercise equipment, weight room, aerobics classes, an indoor track, swimming pool—all there for them, with a trained staff to see that they benefit by them.

This attitude has resulted from having forgotten the authentic nature of the church. Too many of us have misappropriated the purpose of the church. The church is a place of worship, ministry, and mission.

Most of the literature I read about how to reach more people for Christ begins with a discussion about meeting their felt needs. The approach is usually one of marketing. Of course, we need to be meeting the needs of others. Jesus certainly did that and calls us to follow his example. But Jesus met their real needs, and people don’t always understand what their real needs are. I’m afraid we may have turned the church into the neighborhood “religion club.”

On his blog dated 10/21/09 Bishop William Willimon wrote “I get frustrated reading newsletters of church after church that tell me how the men’s group is going to have a breakfast on Saturday and the women are going to have a bazaar next Thursday and the youth will have a dance next Friday after the ball game.” He then asked, “Do you really just exist so that men can have breakfast, women a bazaar, and youth can dance? What is it exactly that you want me to support?”

The church seems to be attracting people who are asking “What can the church do for me?” not “What can I do for the kingdom of God?” Perhaps we have brought this upon ourselves, at least to some degree, by the way we seek to attract potential “members.”

As a pastor I have struggled for years trying to figure out how we can change the consumer culture of the church. How do we develop disciples committed to Christ and ready to serve, rather than being served? I’ve been warned many times that if I preach too much about the radical nature of the gospel or the cost of discipleship I will lose my audience.

Is that where we are in the church? Attract people by telling them what we can do for them? Keep them by telling them nice things about God’s love but ignoring Jesus’ teachings about discipleship and God’s uncompromising call upon our lives?

Is this where you feel we are in the church? Why? Why not? How do we develop disciples committed to Christ and ready to serve?

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsJohn Wesley was an 18th century evangelist and founder of the Methodist movement. He was probably not the greatest preacher you ever heard, but he was a fantastic organizer, and he knew how to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Wesley traveled throughout England and beyond on horseback, preaching the gospel and organizing “societies,” what we would really understand as churches. He divided these societies into smaller groups, called classes, that had up to twelve people. The classes met weekly where each member was given the opportunity to tell how they had lived out their life for Christ since they last met. Members were to “watch over one another in love.”

These class meetings were essentially accountability groups. Wesley had discovered the power of mutual accountability when he and his brother Charles organized what they called the Holy Club at Christ Church, Oxford University. The following is one version of the 21 accountability questions used daily by the Holy Club:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence? Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. AM I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. AM I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that i am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publicans?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to Me?

Many of us read this and respond somewhat negatively. It is a far cry from what most of us experience in our churches. But, don’t think that people didn’t respond negatively in Wesley’s day. Critics made fun of the Holy Club. There was a popular ditty that went:

By rule they eat, by rule they drink,                                                                                   By rule do all things but think.
Accuse the priests of loose behavior.
To get more in the laymen’s favor.
Method alone must guide ’em all
When themselves “Methodists” they call.

But criticism didn’t stop the Wesleys. They went on to practice their accountability and eventually began a movement that now includes millions of Christians around the world. I can’t help but wonder what our churches might be like if we were willing to accept a bit of ridicule for the sake of Christ. What would the church be like if we truly “watched over one another in love,” holding each other accountable without unchristian judgmentalism. I really believe this was John Wesley’s secret to making reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsI almost always enjoy reading Thom Rainer’s blogs posted at http://thomrainer.com/. Thom is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before that he served as the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was there I received a Master of Religious Education degree, way back during the dark ages.

Thom recently wrote a blog he called, “Ten Things Church Members Desire in a Pastor.” The huge response to that blog led him to write, “Ten Things Pastors Desire in a Church Member.” For this blog he interviewed 23 pastors, simply asking them, “What do you desire in a church member?” He got some interesting responses, listed here in the order of frequency:

  1. Vibrant prayer life.
  2. Spirit of unity.
  3. Respect of pastor’s family
  4. Members who are critical to my face.
  5. Encouragers.
  6. Faithful attendees.
  7. Members who share their faith.
  8. Members who lead their families spiritually.
  9. Members who confront other members for being negative and critical.
  10. Members who read the Bible regularly. 

Now, I would hardly disagree with any of these; as a pastor I certainly would like members who do all of these things. However, it seems to me there is something vitally important missing from this list.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew Jesus describes the final judgment where the goats will be separated from the sheep. Those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked, etc. will be the sheep who inherit the kingdom. Jesus repeatedly taught his followers to be servants; as a pastor I most want members of my church to be servants who meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus Christ.

I have no way of knowing if this thought came to Thom as he analyzed the pastors’ responses to his question or not. But his next blog was (is), “The Main Reason People Leave a Church.” In this blog he argues, “the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.” He gives some very good suggestions to pastors about how to address this issue.

As a pastor I know how difficult the job of leading a congregation can be. But Thom’s two blogs, a reflective look into my own soul, and the observations of 64 years, make me wonder if an entitlement mentality isn’t prevalent in the hearts of our pastors as well as our congregation. We pastors can’t lead where we are unwilling ourselves to go.

I certainly don’t mean to criticize those who answered Thom’s question. But I do believe that only servant leaders can lead a congregation to serve. And only leaders who make servanthood a core value and expectation will lead a congregation of servants who fulfill Matthew 25 and inherit the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian disciple is more than praying the sinner’s prayer or walking down a church isle. It’s about life transformation.

I grew up in a tradition that taught me to present a plan of salvation to lost souls. This included reading or quoting a few key verses and asking for an immediate decision. I even went door to door and, since I had sales training, I was quite successful in getting people to pray that sinner’s prayer. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lot of permanent transformation in people’s lives.

Over the years I’ve discovered that salvation is miraculous, but it’s not magic. Changing lives, even by the Holy Spirit, is a process. And it’s usually, if not always, a gradual process. In addition, it’s more about relationships than dogma or salesmanship. The following is a simplified list that outlines a process many have found effective.

1. Make a list of your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. (Your FRANs)

Everyone will have different criteria upon which this list will be based. I tend to focus on those who are “unchurched.”

2. Develop a profile of each individual.

Simply write down what you know about this person in the way of a basic “bio.” Focus on what you know about their physical, emotional/psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

3. Pray regularly for each person on your list.

Pray especially that God will give you a deep love for each person. Ask Him to reveal the ones you should focus your efforts on and what specific efforts should be made.

4. Choose three or four individuals on whom you will focus.

Choose those you relate to well and you believe will be the most receptive. Look for common interest or hobbies.

5. Develop a deeper relationship with those chosen.

Doing things together that you both enjoy is one of the best ways to deepen a relationship. Take them fishing. Invite them to attend a ball game with you. Go shopping together at a local flea market or festival. LISTEN. Then, listen some more. Listen to their dreams; listen even more for their pain and struggles. As you listen, you will discover ways to minister to them and build trust.

Years ago I was a district sales manager for an insurance company. One of my most important responsibilities was to recruit and train agents. I often told them that the best salesperson was not the best talker, but rather, the best listener.

6. Introduce them to other mature Christians.

Enlist Christian friends to help you deepen your relationships with those you seek to reach. For example, invite them to go fishing with the two of you. As you expand the individual’s circle of Christian friends, the likelihood that they will be receptive increases. They are much more likely to go with you to a worship service, Sunday School, or small group Bible study if they already know people who will be there.

7. Share your story.

As you listen to their hurts, hang-ups, and destructive habits, you will find opportunities to tell your story. You will find ways to share how God has helped you through similar problems in a very nonjudgmental fashion. The best definition of evangelism I know is, “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” This kind of honest, intimate sharing is much more effective after the trusting, loving relationship has been established.

8. Mentor/coach them.

Remember, discipleship is a process that takes time. Don’t count a scalp when they make a profession of faith and think you can move on to someone else. Encourage the new convert to enter into a serious accountable relationship with you or another mature Christian.