Archives For Church Renewal

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Second Mile Logo without nameListening to our partisan politicians in Washington reminds me of the old County Line Union Church back home, where the Baptists and the Methodists shared the same building. The Baptist preacher preached on the first and third Sundays and the Methodist preacher preached on the second and fourth. 

All the folks got along together most of the time. They were neighbors-friends. And besides, it was only religion, nothing to get excited about. The Baptists didn’t really mind listening to the Methodist preacher, and the Methodists didn’t mind the Baptist preacher as long as he was careful not to get too loud. There aren’t many shouting Methodists any more. 

Everything went just fine until the day the church caught fire. Now, I don’t mean spiritually.  

They were having their annual joint August Revival. The thinking was the hot Summer heat in the unairconditioned building was always a bit suggestive of Hell and just might prompt sinners to make a decision for Christ. The visiting evangelist was in the middle of his fire and brimstone sermon when everyone seemed to be hotter and hotter. Folks had never heard such a sermon before that could make it all seem so real. 

It was some of the young boys on the back row that first noticed the smoke seeping through the cracks in the ceiling. “Fire!” they yelled, as they pointed up. 

The evangelist was caught completely off guard. He just stood speechless. It was Brother Barnes, the Chairman of the Baptist deacons, that first spoke up. “Preacher,” he spoke in his most authoritative voice, “I move that we call the fire department and get this here fire put out before our church burns down.” 

Brother Leon, the Methodist Lay Leader, then quickly pulled himself up on his cane. “Now Brother Barnes, you know I live in Leake County, and you live in Neshoba County. And the church is here on the County line. Which fire department do you reckon on calling?” 

As everyone filed out of the building, the debate raged on. The fire department was never called, and the church building was totally destroyed.  

The story reminds me of politicians in Washington. But come to think of it, maybe it should remind me that Old County Line Union Church is not the only church that has made this kind of mistake. It’s easy for any organization to be too busy debating issues, taking sides, fiddling while Rome burns.  

Let’s not lose focus of what’s important. Let’s keep our minds and hearts on Jesus and our eyes on our mission. For the church that’s making disciples. 

QUESTION: Do you know what your personal life mission is? Are you staying focused on your God-given mission? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsPassing it forward is God’s strategy for meeting the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of all people.

I grew up on a farm where hard work was expected from everyone, including the children. The boys began driving the mules or the tractors at a very young age. My first hand at the wheel came when I was no more than six or seven years old, steering the tractor between bales of hay while my older brothers loaded the trailer. I began “chopping” cotton when I was not much older. My dad had a heart attack when I was eleven years old. The next summer he assigned me one of his primary tasks. It became my job to drive our truck through the nearby Indian Reservation to gather “hands.” I picked them up, took them to the fields, worked them all day, paid them their wages, and then took them home.

Chopping cotton on a farm in Mississippi gets to be hot work. In the edge of one field stood the old original farmhouse with its well in the front yard. There was a hand pump with a quart jar of water sitting beside it. The water in the jar was used to prime the pump.

Now the problem was that when the pump had not been used for a while the seals would become dry. There was a bit of a trick when this happened to get the pump primed with just a quart of water. My father, however, warned me never to drink the water in the jar. If I did this there would be no chance to prime the pump.

You may have heard the story of Desert Pete.
 A man was lost in the desert, dying for lack of water. He came upon a shack and saw an old rusty water pump. Beside the pump was a jug of water and a note: “My friend, you have to prime the pump with the water in this jug. P.S. Be sure to fill the jug again before you leave.” It was signed, Desert Pete.

The man was faced with a decision. What if he used the water in the jug but it failed to prime the pump? He decided to trust the note. At first there were only squeaks. . . but finally, cool, clear water began to gush from the earth below. He proceeded to drink all he wanted, then left the jug filled with life-giving water for the next person who might come along.

Jesus tells us in Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given unto you.” God has given so much to you and me. He calls us to pass it forward. Many of the blessings God has bestowed on me have come through others who were willing to be used by God. God wants to bless others through you and me.

Passing it forward is God’s strategy for meeting the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of all people. Augustine said, “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” Jesus instructed his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison. Moreover, he didn’t make this an option. If you don’t believe me, read the 25th chapter of Matthew.

We also need to understand that this is God’s evangelistic strategy. Few people become Christians because they are out-debated. Individuals are drawn to Christ when they see the love of Jesus in us. Perhaps your experience is different from mine. Perhaps you are a better Christian apologist. But I have never discussed the Christian faith with an unbeliever who, all of a sudden said, “Oh, I see your point. I believe.”

Early in my ministry I was taught a pretty “hard sell” form of evangelism. Most “converts” I had quickly returned to their old way of life, if I even saw any change from the beginning. I recently questioned a friend who worked on a church staff for years in the area of evangelism using programs such as Evangelism Explosion. “How many people came to Christ when you personally used these methods, remained active in the church, and showed signs of mature discipleship. She couldn’t recall a single person.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone who is sincerely offering the love of Christ to others. I’m simply suggesting that the Great Commandment to love our neighbor is God’s strategy to carry out His Great Commission to make disciples! 

QUESTION: Are you willing to give your time, talents, and treasure that others may be blessed? Are you paying it forward? I invite you to respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsGod is doing a new thing with Christians around the world and it’s finally coming to the United States. Of course, it’s not really a new thing, its actually an old thing. It’s called “making disciples.”

 

The 2013 Verge Conference was held this year in Austin Texas, the first two days in March. The theme was “Disciple Making.” The Exponential Conference is coming up April 22-25 in Orlando; the theme is “DiscipleShift.” This conference will be discussing Jesus’ Great Commission to His followers. Speakers will include Francis Chan, Ed Stetzer, Rober Coleman, Alan Hirsch, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, Wayne Cordeiro, Mike Breen, Randy Frazee, Neil Cole, and many others.  

This Exponential Conference will stress five shifts that churches need to make in order to effectively develop growing disciples of Jesus Christ. The following is copied from the conference web site: 

Shift 1 – From Reaching to Making DiscipleShift occurs when Continue Reading…

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The world is full of people who need someone to come along beside them and care about their brokenness.

 

I was in my office at the church one Saturday morning working on a writing project when the phone rang. There was a very distraught individual on the other end of the line who began to tell me his story. He was a single father who had just lost his job because of his drinking. He had sent his son to live with relatives because he had no food in the house. Tom (not his real name) wept as he explained he was at the end of his rope and simply did not know what to do. As we continued to talk I began to realize this man was desperate and might even be contemplating suicide.

I invited Tom to come down to my office where we could Continue Reading…

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Lukewarm faith that surrenders to the values of secular culture will not accomplish the mission God has given us.

 

Yesterday I received an email from Antonio Cordero, a psychologist from Venezuela who holds a doctorate in science management and serves part-time as a youth pastor. He had been reading my blog and wished to respond.  He began by mentioning several issues he feels presents “a gloomy spiritual future for the nation of America.”  

Mr. Cordero explained: 

“Well I believe there is still a fundamental misunderstanding in very many American Christians today: They confuse their own culture with Christianity. Somehow main stream historical denominations of Christianity are engulfed within a culture, which they define as western, civilized and Christian. But, the truth is that the suburban American way of life has mostly succeeded in placing the message of the gospel inside some sort of cultural cocoon, where it Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOne of my all-time favorite book titles is William M. (Bill) Easum’s book, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers: Ministry Anytime Anywhere by Anyone (Abingdon Press, 1995). He began the book by insisting “Established churches worship at the feet of the sacred cow of CONTROL.”

My own experience confirms Bill’s claim. I spent most of my “career” as a pastor leading churches who had been experiencing decline for many years before I arrived. However, any effort to change things in order to get different results was always ( and I do mean always) met with great resistance by some in the congregation. There were multiple reasons for this, but I discovered quite early on that the greatest issue was one of control. Certain people were threatened by any kind of change because change might have led to their loss of control.

Many years ago I heard someone suggest the seven last words of the church are “We’ve never done it that way before.” Easum also lists other cries often heard in declining churches: Continue Reading…

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Ralph Franklin was my band director at Delta State University back in the sixties. What I remember most about his leadership was his frequent admonition to “Do something–even if it is wrong.”

He explained that he could correct mistakes but there would be no success without an honest attempt. Many times since then my experiences have confirmed the wisdom of his counsel. In a rapidly changing world such as ours there are times a person or organization has to experiment to determine what works.

Billie Wilhite loaned me a book recently and suggested I read it. The book’s title is Unchristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . . And Why It Matters. The research upon which this book is based confirms what I have experienced in the church over the last few years. The Christian church is increasingly ineffective at reaching the younger generations. To an alarming degree what the church is doing is not working! I’m reminded of Continue Reading…

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsElton Trueblood believed Jesus was organizing a company of followers with military-like discipline who would go wherever God called them to go and do whatever God called them to do.

 

I wrote last week about Elton Trueblood’s influence on my life. Few, if any other contemporary books have made a greater impact on my that The Company of the Committed. Today I would like to share some more thoughts from this book. 

Dr. Trueblood did not recommend going back to the model of the New Testament church “with superstitious obedience.” He recognized that times change and the church sometimes needs to make changes in order to better accomplish its mission. He pointed out on many occasions that there was, in fact, no singular model of the Church to be found in the New Testament. “What we want,” he wrote, “is not slavish adherence to a supposedly perfect and changeless pattern, which is in fact nonexistent; rather, we want Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without words“It is not only Church members but the Church itself which requires a radical conversion. Few phrases deserve currency in our time more than the phrase “The Conversion of the church.”                  Elton Trueblood

 

Yesterday I introduced Elton Trueblood’s vision of the missional church. Many responded by sharing with me how this great Quaker theologian influenced them. It occurred to me that many people, especially the younger ones among us, never knew this great man of God. So, I want to share a little more about him and encourage you to read some of his books, starting with The Company of the Committed.

Given his Quaker roots, it probably surprises no one that Dr. Trueblood was committed to the doctrine of universal priesthood. He agreed with Martin Luther’s statement from the reformer’s book  To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation:

“That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all Continue Reading…

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“When we think that religion is what goes on in a building of recognizable ecclesiastical architecture, the damage comes in the perfectly natural human tendency to minimize religion in other places”  Elton Trueblood

The missional church is a renewal movement based on the biblical call to mission and ministry. This emphasis upon the missional nature of the church and the specific term “missional church” began to become popular at the end of the 20th century. However, I would argue that there is nothing new about this idea.

Elton Trueblood made a powerful impact upon my life. I first read his book The Company of the Committed (Harper & Row, New York, 1961) during my first year in seminary in 1972. I’ve never been the same since reading that book. Leaders in the modern missional church movement are not just taking a chapter out of that book, they are repeating the whole book he wrote in 1960. And remember this was at a time when the institutional church was Continue Reading…