We live in a world plagued by consumerism and unfortunately the local church reflects that trend. If you stop and take an honest look at most churches you will find that twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. To further complicate things the demands of every individual’s time is beginning to reduce the amount of time that the “twenty percent” are able to put in. This is leading to a crisis where church members are doing less and less and staff are having to pick up more and more resulting in increasing numbers of staff burnout. But, you say, isn’t that what we pay them for!” The biblical answer to that assertion is a resounding NO! The Gospel isn’t about what “I can get” but rather what “I can give”.
The Bible clearly teaches and biblical leaders model that it is up to every person who is a part of the Body of Christ to serve. Consider Ephesians 4:11-16,
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
This passage instructs us as to why it is important to serve in and through your local church; first it grows and builds up the body and second it produces spiritual maturity. Let’s take a look at these two principals.
Having consulted and coached well over one hundred churches God constantly amazes me at how he not only has a specific calling for a local church but he also gathers those leaders and people together who He needs to accomplish His mission. One of the things I commonly advise a pastor as they lead their church to discern their purpose and vision is to take a look around at those whom God has brought to the church. An assessment of their gift mix (a combination of spiritual gifts, natural abilities and acquired skills) can help inform the church’s leadership of its ministry direction. The question is will those who God has called step up and serve?
This morning my wife and I were on our morning exercise walk around “The Loop,” a popular path for walkers and runners in our area. We saw several people out running but there was one in particular running as if he were a well-oiled machine. Every part of his body was working in perfect harmony with every other part propelling him forward at a pace I could only dream of. It was a great reminder of how this passage teaches how a local church should work. With Christ as the head, the leadership, pastors and staff, equip the people of God for works of service and each person steps up and fulfills their place of service.
On the contrary if I were to try and run like the above mentioned runner it would only take a short distance before my right knee would call out in pain and if I were to keep pressing it would soon fail me and to put it simply, I would end up falling on my face. In much the same way whenever a member of the church declines to do their part in working toward the accomplishment of the mission of the church it weakens and decreases the effectiveness of the church. If the church, the body of Christ is going to accomplish its task it will take “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament.”
I mentioned earlier that the Gospel isn’t about what “I will get” but rather about what “I can give.” That being true the paradox of the Gospel is that in giving I receive. Look again at what Ephesians 4:13 says will happen when a Christian is involved in works of service, “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Many Christians believe, and I say this, as something I have observed is that “growing in Christian maturity” is all about studying and learning the Bible. While these things are very important we must understand that it is impossible to know God outside of the mission of Jesus. Let me explain.
We know the Father by knowing Jesus (John 14:6-7). We get to know Jesus by engaging in the mission of Jesus. In other words Jesus’ disciples are made in the trenches.
When Jesus called his disciples it was a call to join him in his mission of being “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). When Jesus appeared to the disciples following his resurrection he told them “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). His last charge to the disciples before his ascension was to continue the work he had started of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). In Philemon 6 the Apostle Paul encourages Philemon in his faith, “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” In other words as I engage in the mission of Jesus I become more aware of all of the blessings of Jesus!
Think back to a time where you have played on a team or served on a team at work, in a civic club or in church where everyone on the team had the same end goal, each understood their role and pulled their weight. Do you remember the feeling of harmony and unity? What if that were true of your whole church body? It can be if each member of the church embraces the mission of the church, understands their unique role and engages in their part.
Is it time for you to get out of your comfortable seat and get in the trench?
Over the past thirty plus years the primary strategy (time, effort and money) of churches has shifted more and more toward the large church gathering on Sunday morning and less and less on the relational side of making disciples. An example of this is with most denominations and church-planting networks a new church isn’t considered “launched” until regular Sunday morning services are being held.
Recent studies of churches as well as our culture as a whole indicate that the church hasn’t been doing a very good job at making disciples. The really good news is the number one question churches are exploring today is how do we engage people in a way that does truly make disciples. A great place to begin is by studying the Gospels to explore the way Jesus made disciples.
First, he invited the twelve into a relationship. He invited them to be with him in the most intimate and vulnerable times of his life on earth. They saw him at his happiest and at his saddest moments. They were with him when he healed the multitudes and when he confronted the Pharisees. They participated as he fed thousands sitting on a hillside and knew rejection with him as his own hometown turned on him. They were with him when he raised Lazarus from the dead and when Judas betrayed him. With sadness and confusion they saw him crucified and with renewed hope and passion they witnessed his resurrection. They saw him model redemption following his betrayal as he confronted Peter by the lake. He gathered them through relationships and it was through those relationships that he kept them.
He gathered them through relationships and it was through those relationships that he kept them.
Second, from the very beginning he invited them not to just sit and learn until they knew enough, but rather to journey with Him as he taught, modeled and released them to do what they saw him do. He trusted them to go and share the good news before they even fully understood all that meant. It was a “go and send” model – exactly what he meant when he commissioned the Church in Matthew 28:19-20. If you will look at a more literal translation of this passage it says something like this…
All authority is given to me in heaven and earth. I am transferring this authority to you so that as you go you too will make disciples of people everywhere. As you find and begin making disciples here is what I want you to do: First, help them to identify with me. The indicator of this identity shift is to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Second, teach them in the same way I taught you to live the life the Father invited you into. Use words but more than that model for them the way to live in the same way I have modeled for you. Thirdly, release them in the same way I am releasing you right now to go out and make other disciples. Always remember – I will continue to be with you, and go with you, as you go and send others and then with them as they go and send others and then with them as they go and send…
How is your church making and multiplying disciples?
I recently received my monthly cable bill for my TV and Internet service – it had gone up by $20. Not what I had anticipated so I called the local cable company to inquire why.
What I found out was that a year earlier, when the same thing had happened (my how limited my memory is) they had given me a “special deal” aimed at keeping disgruntled customers. When I think back over the years that I have had service from this company this has been the pattern. They gave me a “special deal” as a new subscriber and when that special expired they gave me another special and another and another…you get the picture. The fact is I am going to keep going back to the cable company ever year as long as they keep giving me the “special deal" and when that stops I'll probably look at my options! It’s the principle of “Whatever you have to do to “get” someone is what you have to do to keep them!”
“Whatever you have to do to 'get' someone is what you have to do to 'keep' them!”
If you stop and think about it, this pattern happens throughout life – in personal relationships, business and yes, even in the church. Think about the way the majority of churches “get” people today. Even though the presentation might be different (music, style, dress, etc.) churches are still doing what has been done for the last 60 plus years – trying to attract people by providing a “relevant” religious service. This might include a Sunday worship service but it could also be a lot of other types of “religious services.” In and of themselves these things aren’t bad. After all we do want people to get connected to the church because it is through the church that Jesus intends to carry the Gospel to the world. So what’s wrong?
This mindset, though well intentioned, actually perpetuates the problem that most pastors say is their number one issue, getting people to serve – with service usually meaning on Sunday or other times when “religious services” are provided. Think about it, we invite people to come and observe (become a consumer of our religious services) with the hope that they will want to become a Christian (great news!!!) and then get enough of whatever it is they need so that they can invite someone else into the same process.
Dr. George Hunsberger writes in Missional Church,
…this producer-consumer model separates its notion of church (a religious firm producing and marketing religious products and services) from its members (potentially and hopefully committed customers consuming those products and services). Members are ultimately distanced in this model from their own communal calling to be a body of people sent on a mission.
I don’t think I know a pastor that would ultimately say that is what they want – but it is the “machine” that has been created and it is perfectly getting the results it was perfectly designed to get.
So how did Jesus model this for us? As I read the Gospels I see Jesus doing two things that were intertwined together. First he invited people into a relationship, “Come follow me” and second he invited people into his mission, “And I will make you fisher of men.” You couldn’t have the relationship without the mission and you couldn’t be on his mission without the relationship.
How is your church “getting” and “keeping” people?
Jesus didn't tell the world to go to church...
...but he does tell the church to go to all the world!
Churches that want to move to the edge must be willing to embrace the way Jesus modeled disciple making by embracing the command of Jesus in John 20:21,
“…As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
In other words Jesus expects us to follow his example. So how did the Father send Jesus and what does he expect of us?
I believe the first thing we need to understand is that Jesus came incarnationally – God with us! Yes Jesus went to the local synagogues and the temple to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom but we find him mostly out in the day-to-day world of the people that he was trying to reach. We see Jesus walking through the villages and surrounding fields; we see him engaging people by the shore and in the market place and yes we find him being entertained at the home of Zacchaeus along with some of Zacchaeus’ sinner family and friends.
If a church is going to move to the edge it must be willing to move ministry and the proclamation of the Gospel from inside to outside its walls and among the world that God has called them to impact. There must be a willingness to even go to the places and hang with the people that the religious might look down their noses at.
If a church is going to move to the edge it must also be willing to give-up the “come and hear” mentality that plagues the majority of churches across North America and move right past the “go and tell” idea to the principle that Jesus modeled for us in his ministry on this earth of “go and send.” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus gives his final commission to his disciples by telling them that they were to go and make disciples. As you look at the Greek word interpreted “go” we find the expanded meaning to be one of traveling on a journey or “as you go.” Yes Jesus took opportunities for teaching and instruction but it was always in the midst of everyday life and going. It was as he went that he was constantly sending his disciples.
If a church is going to move to the edge the leadership must embrace that the “works of ministry” that the Apostle Paul speaks of in Ephesians must be more than handing out bulletins, serving coffee, working in the nursery and parking cars on Sunday. It must become about equipping every believer to be a go and send disciple maker in the world they live.
Questions to consider:
- How does your church engage incarnationally in the world?
- What shifts might your church need to make to become more incarnational?
- How does your church make disciples?
- What might need to shift for your church to become a go and send church?
The church exists for those who aren't yet a part of it...
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus commends Peter’s faith as the kind of faith that He will build HIS Church on in such a way that the very gates of Hell will not be able to withstand it. In this passage Jesus reminds us of two important principles that we must embrace if the church is going to “move to the edge.”
The first principle is that the church belongs to Jesus.
You don't have to be around church people long before you start hearing the phrase, “My Church.” Generically speaking we all understand what people are saying, “This is the church I attend or am a member of.” The other side of the meaning comes out though when some sort of change is introduced into the church. Soon you will hear the phrase, especially in the church parking lot after the Sunday service, “We’re not about to do that at ‘my church.’” Possessive takes over and produces entitlement!
We, the church, must be willing to surrender the church back to Jesus and live in the tension of the fact that indeed the church does belong to Jesus – He called it out, He died for it and He will come once again to gather it unto Himself – and in the very next verse He gives the very keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to his followers and tells us it is up to us!
"We must be willing to live in the tension that the church does indeed belong to Jesus and the fact that He gave His followers the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and told us it is up to us!"
The second principle is that the purpose of the church is to invade the very gates of Hell!
When I envision this idea of invading the gates of Hell my mind’s eye goes to the HBO series, Band of Brothers. This mini series tells the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army’s role in defeating Germany in WWII. As I watched this series unfold it hit me how an army reflects not only what I believe is Jesus’ purpose for the Church but how the Church should function as well.
Armies exist for a mission. In WWII, Easy Company was a small part of a larger force that was sent to defeat the repressive Nazi forces. During their existence, Easy Company engaged in many battles including the D-day landing on Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge as well as the liberation of a concentration camp near Landsberg.
The Church exists because there is a mission – God’s redemption of Man. The local church, though a small force within the mission of the Church, exists to be the frontline force in this battle between heaven and hell!
To effectively engage in this mission a church must be willing to live in the tension between the fact that Jesus never intended His Church to become localized safe places for his followers to gather and as a frontline force, the church must provide the support needed for His followers to be successful. Think about it this way, a church like an army must…
Churches that stay at the center become safe places for their members to gather. A church that moves to the edge will not only will engage the gates of Hell but also provide the resources, processes and systems needed.
Let’s face it, for all but a few people standing on the edge of anything, especially when it is a long way down makes us nervous – maybe even sick. A while back my wife and I were at the Grand Canyon. I walked along the path to one of those spots where I could peek over the edge. Needless to say my heart skipped a couple of beats and I quickly retreated back to safety. Being on the edge can be quite scary and very possibly risky, but it is where the adventure is found.
Ever since I can remember the Church has been at the center of our American culture – until the last few years. In my growing up and even into the first ten years of my serving in vocational ministry “church” was at the center of the community. Whether for right or wrong the majority of people were a part of a church at some level and the church had a voice in what was going on in our communities.
This past Friday’s ruling from SCOTUS was a wake-up call for the church to what has been happening for years – the church is being pushed further and further toward the edge of our American culture. The latest research from the Pew Research Center shows that people are not as apt to identify with a church simply because they were born into a certain denomination or attended church as a child.
To be honest, because of the freedom of religion that we enjoy as a Nation, being pushed to the edge of our culture is very uncomfortable. We don’t know how to live on the edge because all we see is danger and risk.
Last Thursday, the day before the SCOTUS ruling, I was on my monthly prayer and planning day. As I was contemplating about what I was to write about over the next two months I came across this quote from Kevin Roberts…
“Go to the edge. Everyone at the center thinks the same way. That’s why they ended up there in the first place. The edge is unsettled and risky, perfect to shake up conventions and formulas and come up with new ideas.”
"The edge is unsettled and risky, perfect to shake up conventions and formulas..."
I realize that this is written from a business perspective but as I read and re-read the quote I began to realize that the Gospel takes us to the edge. Think about the life of Jesus. He was constantly on the edge in whatever situation he found himself whether it was with the religious leaders, the ruling class or even with his own family and friends. Jesus didn't have a “safe” place to retreat. In fact, he told the religious leader who wanted to follow him that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
I think Jesus is calling His Church back to the edge. It’s not a very comfortable place to be – it makes our hearts skip a beat and makes us want to retreat back to the center – but I think that is where He can best do His work and build His Church.
So the question that must be asked is…
What would it look like for me, for you, for my church and your church, for The Church to move back to the edge? What would we have to give-up and what would we have to take on?
Solutions aren’t found in the answers…
…but in the questions!
So, what question is your church asking?
Go back to part one of this series. Coke-a-Cola was asking the question, “What is our percentage of the soft drink business? Competition was fierce. As their profits were shrinking they continued to battle Pepsi and a growing market of other inexpensive soft drink companies. Then the question was changed. Their new CEO, Roberto C. Goizueta simply looked beyond what had been and changed the question to “What is our market share of the total amount of fluid the average person drinks per day?” The new direction – increase that market share!
Solutions aren’t found in the answers…
… but in the questions!
One time or another we have probably all asked the question, “What is the meaning of life?” I think most that ask that question go through life looking for “the answer” and never find it. The problem is they are asking the wrong question.
Solutions aren’t found in the answers…
…but in the questions!
Many times there can be many answers to a question that don’t actually provide the solution for what is being sought out. Let me illustrate with a story about the top branded company in the world.
When you read through the definitions of “legacy” they all have to do with giving something of value to a future generation. It raises a lot of questions for me, one of which is, “What value do I add?”
I was first challenged with that question many years ago when I read Bob Buford’s book Halftime. In the book he challenges people at mid-life to move from trying to live a life of success to one of significance. Not long after reading Buford’s book I was in a meeting concerning the future of the association of churches I was leading and a larger regional organization I related to. There was a lot of discussion about what was relevant and what wasn’t. A business leader and member of the regional board stepped in to make a point about the difference between success and significance or “value added” by his words. He asked me, “Wayne, what would you do if this association no longer existed?” I quickly replied, I could always go back and pastor – been there, done that. I will never forget the piercing question that followed, “You mean you add no more value to what you do that you could so easily give it up?” To be honest, I am not sure what happened in the rest of that meeting – my soul had been pierced.
For the past thirty-nine years Wayne has served the Church in local churches ranging in size from 50 to 4,500, in two denominational roles as well with an international missions organization. Through these varied experiences God has developed in him a deep passion for His Church and the leaders that lead her.
Wayne’s calling is see the re-missionalization of the Church in North America! MORE>>