How can I help my church to be more healthy?

Health Alert

It is surprising how often we talk about what God wants our churches to do. Every leadership meeting, every regional council, every Synod – we all discuss what God would have us do.

Implementation is where we tend to fall down. That may be true, but the question of your own personal resolve and desire is more basic. So, let me ask: Do you really want your church to be a more healthy place? Do you really want to grow? If so, the question really becomes one of how to bring growth and health about.

There are no easy answers here. No pat formulas.

When it comes to personal health there are some basic rules to follow: don’t smoke, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t barrack for Collingwood, etc. When it comes to specifics, however, what I need to do to become healthy might be very different to what you need to do.

It’s the same with church growth and health. There are general things every church should be mindful of. Here, tools like NCD can be really helpful, and Jack de Vries can help you with all of that. But once we get past that general picture, specific strategies will vary a lot.

Some think you can just copy what has worked well in some other context into their own. I am not convinced. For a start, I am not ‘him’. My church is not their church. Their local community is not mine. Maybe that other church would even do it differently now. So, be careful about bolting someone else’s program or strategy onto your own context. This rarely works.

So, back to the question: what are some of the general things to keep in mind about growing disciples and church health? First: God brings his church to health one life at a time. One personal context of change and transformation after another. Programs and things have their place, but the better strategies always focus on people. Nothing changes until people start to change. 

 

God brings his church to health one life at a time

 

Which brings us to a second question: how do people change? How will Gospel transformation start to be seen more and more? Answer: one decision at a time. Obviously, this needs to start in our own heart. There’s no point in expecting other people to change, to grow, to follow and obey if I am not interested in doing that myself. 

Some think this focus on personal decision and desire displaces God’s sovereignty. I think this is crazy logic. Here’s why: when it comes to obedience and growing as a Christian, God’s sovereignty rarely operates outside of human responsibility.

What I mean is that you can pray for growth and to be more like Christ all you like, but if you do not get out off the couch and do something, you will never change. People who are always waiting for God to make them grow or to change them on the inside, who are not prepared to do anything about it, are just being lazy. Lazy Christians and lukewarm churches do nothing to show the glorious wonder of God’s transforming grace before his watching world. The light of his word, and his recreative work through his Son is too often hidden under the bucket of human indifference.

So your response, your obedience, your desire for your church to be more healthy is critical. Every time you decide to do something to honour Jesus, every time you decide to turn you back on sin and its chaos, every time you decide to respond with compassion, every time you obey God’s word and follow his call, every time you put the needs of others before your own, Gospel transformation becomes more visible. People see it. The church sees it. The watching world sees it. And in the end it brings glory to God (see 1 Pet 2:12).

This last thought has enormous implications for churches and individual Christians, but I’ll have to leave that for another time.

For now, I want us to embrace that thought that change and growth is not only God’s expectation, the normal way he brings people to growth is though his Spirit drawing people to change their behaviour and their attitudes one person, one decision at a time.

The Call to Growth: Business Method or God’s Desire?

Is the call growth a selling out to secular business method?

When discussions revolve around encouraging growth in Christians, or setting goals around church health, or setting any goals at all, some people will suggest the bible has been exchanged for the methods of Harvard Business School. I have never been convinced by those criticisms.

Leadership writer Ken Blanchard become a follower of Jesus following a career as a top level management expert. Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager has sold over 13 million copies since its release in 1982. The interesting thing is that after Blanchard become a Christian, he was surprised to find many of the basic principles he had written about were found in the Scriptures. That doesn’t mean the bible is a textbook on management or leadership. It probably just means that there is not much new under the sun. It might also mean that thinking about leadership and goal setting is not a bad thing after all. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to growth, and to be purposeful about it. On the night before he went to the Cross, Jesus had this prayer for his followers: 

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:25–26, NIV)

Did you know that? Even Jesus prayed that the love between the Father and himself would be fully expressed in his people. No doubt, Jesus’ heavenly prayer ministry (see Heb 7:25) also focuses on drawing us deeper into his life and likeness. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ prayers not flowing out of his divine desire to save us completely. 

In Paul’s writings, however, our understanding of the purposeful nature of God moves to an entirely different level. In almost every letter Paul wrote he expresses his desire for people to grow, and keep growing. Christians believe the Scriptures are more than Paul’s words. They are God-breathed, so when we hear Paul speaking, we hear God speaking. So Paul’s prayers reveal the heart of God for his people.

Here are some examples:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV) 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious richese he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph 3:14-19)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight… (Philippians 1:9, NIV) 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV) 

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,… (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV) 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us

See how these prayers reveal Paul’s strategy? His deepest desire was for Christians to grow to maturity. He agonised over the growth of the churches he pastored. This was not just because he was a passionate apostle. It was because the Spirit of Jesus drove his heart and mind into the very heart of God for the the church. 

It mattered to Paul that churches would grow. It mattered to Jesus that he would be fully revealed in his followers. It matters to God that Jesus’ followers grew to full maturity in his Son. The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us. If God is purposeful about his work in us, we better be purposeful in the work we do for him. 

The more we reflect Christ’s purposes and the more churches move toward the kind of maturity Jesus desires for them, the more healthy this churches will be. They will be places of grace, love, forgiveness, joy, restored community, deepening relationships, and loving, compassionate, transformational mission. 

A powerful, motivating, stimulating vision isn’t it?

I love Jesus, but do I have to be radical?

My opening post reminded us that growth is natural and normal. It also openened up the thought that health is desirable. Whether we are talking about growing vegetables, human beings, organisations, or the church – it is a normal expectation to want them to be healthy.

As we worked through these concepts at Gateway, we began to think that God actually wants us to be radical followers of Jesus. But we knew the word using ‘radical’ would be a little risky. We hear how people become extremists by being taken in by a militant leader and radicalised over a period of time. Normally, the consequences of such actions are terrible.

At other times, when we hear the word ‘radical’ we think of those rent-a-crowd protesters we see on TV. People who don’t wash their hair, don’t eat meat, and don’t use deodorant. A caricature, I know, but you get the drift.

‘Radical’ may have some negative overtones in our culture, so we need to understand the word well. To be ‘radical’ is to go right to the core, right to the heart, right to the root. So, when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who not only accept the teaching of their Master Jesus, who not only accept Jesus at an intellectual level. We are really talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives, right to the heart of their values, right to the root of everything they seek to do and to become. To be a ‘radical disciple’ is to be as totally transformed by the grace of the Gospel as we possibly can be.

when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives

If this is what being a radical disciple is, then it is hard to imagine anything better than everyone being exactly that: a radical follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: the call to be radical disciples pushes us away form some of the negative expressions of the church and Christians today.

Radical disciples are not people who keep their Christianity for Sunday, and who forget about Jesus’ claim on their lives as leave their palace of worship.

Radical disciples are not people who have an occasional thought about Jesus, or who restrict their ‘time with Jesus’ to 10 or 20 minutes every day. They don’t divide their time into ‘time for God’ and whatever the rest is: time without God? Who knows.

They are not people who worship every now and then. They don’t just put in an appearance at weekly gatherings, or who tilt at doing a ‘church job’ every now and then.

Here’s what radical disciples are: They want their entire life, everything they do, everything they think, to be an expression of the new life they have received in Jesus.

Every hour of every day they want to breathe the new heavens and the new earth, to be living, walking, talking, loving expressions of life the way God created it to be.

Radical disciples live in the profound privilege of bringing Jesus’ new creation to expression.

More and more they live and breathe this desire to honour God in everything: their family, their work, their sex life, their relationships, their leisure choices, their spending habits. Everything.

Radical disciples display something similar to my overzealous gardening habits: they check themselves out regularly to see whether they are growing. They know that growth is normal, growth is natural, and health is desirable.

Q: Do you think the call to be radical is helpful? Do you think we can make it a positive value in today’s cultural climate?

Next: Is the focus on growth something God calls us to in His word?

Why Church? – Good Question…

Recently, I preached a series of sermons called ‘Love My Church’. I was seeking to develop a very positive mindset toward the church, and why we should engage more deeply with it. That got me asking another set of questions, and those questions have grown into a series of posts…

For those who don’t know God…

I wonder where the church fits in the experience and awareness of the general community. Maybe the question is not one of ‘where’ but ‘whether’… I guess we have all heard the cliched responses that in the mind of the general community the church is irrelevant, or invisible, or worse. Church leaders have asked often their congregations “if our church was to disappear overnight, would we be missed?”. The question my be cliched, but the answer often troubles us, and that may be for good reason.

For those who know God…

You might expect that for those who know God and follow His Son, Jesus, there would be a more ringing endorsement. Here, the feedback varies. Some Christian love their church, and dedicate much time and energy to making their local church a really terrific place.

But how many of us would say that they love their church, and that meeting with other Christians ‘at church’ is the highlight of their week? And if their answer is not resoundingly positive, what are the factors there?

what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is

Maybe how we talk about church exposes something of the issue:

People ‘go to church’

People ‘get fed with the word at church’

People ‘have fellowship at church’

People ‘are blessed by the ministries, programs and services their church provides’

Pastors ‘work at church, serve their church, and prepare for the services to be held at the church’

My thought is that what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is, and how well it does what God calls it to do in the community and the world.

The next posts will explore these thoughts a little more.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Ed Surrey’s 26 Thoughts on Youth Ministry

Today at the EQUIP Youth & Children’s Ministry Conference, Ed Surrey shared some of his thoughts on youth and children’s ministry. Well, he works in youth ministry, so it was mainly a youth ministry thing as opposed to a kids ministry thing.

Ed expanded on each one of thoughts, of course, but I’ll record them in their brief form. Ed’s thoughts are good common sense, so I thought I would get them down for you to think about:

1. Respect, redeem and reject – in that order – what parents do

2. Work with and for parents, rather than without and against them

3. Love the church, rather than mock it

4. Have strategic favourites as the best way to love them all

5. Do everything as though the person you really want to be present is there

6. Success without a successor is failure, so plan to leave now

7. Teach the Bible to engage them, rather than engage them to teach the Bible

8. Realise they learn to serve by doing, rather than by merely watching others serve

9. Create missionaries in schools, rather than Christians in bunkers

10. Let them see you personal life, but not your private life

11. Make your camp the best possible holiday of their year

12. The way you lead says something about your faith: abusive behaviour and unhealthy food (Ed called this ‘food poisoning’) is a spiritual issue

13. If you can’t explain what your ministry is about in one sentence, you need to simplify

14. Never cancel a commitment, especially not with a text message

15. Don’t feel you have to dress and act like a teenager

16. Work with the imperfect people you have, rather than the perfect people you don’t have

17. Serve the church, rather than trying to change it

18. Having no leader is better than having a bad leader

19. Get some old people involved with the young people

20. Get an ‘awkward silence’ tambourine (still not entirely sure what this means – what do you think?)

21. Pitch your promotional material at the non Christian friend’s mother, rather than the kid you already have

22. Youth ministry is important, more because it’s ministry than because it’s with youth

23. Once or twice a year imagine what you’d do if you were the only Christians in your area

24. Make it so the kids come or go because of their response to Jesus

25. Think about who they’ll be when they are 25, rather than just 15

26. Be the one place where they don’t get lectured on the evil of drugs

Leave a comment about which one resonates with you most

Why you (still) need the church…

(Apologies that my posts have been a little irregular these last weeks. Leonie and I have visited a few churches, as well as ReCharge – The CRCA pastor’s conference, we have considered a few calls from churches, we’ve decided to accept a call to Gateway CRC, and this last week we’ve out our house on the market, and it appears to have sold. I am hoping that I can now maintain a little more regularity…)

It’s tough being church these days. You have to wonder how even hi-tech and well managed church ‘productions’ compete with easily accessible forms of entertainment. Or why people attend a local community when they can access Driscoll, or Piper, or Ortberg on their smartphone or computer. How can local church ‘Pastor Bob’ compete with all of that? With these choices so readily available, it seems more people are staying away from church, and managing their own spiritual development.

Do we still need the local church?

Ephesians 3:14-20 says we do. If we’re mapping out our own DIY spiritual growth, we are selling ourselves short, as well as dishonouring the community that Jesus gave his life for.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can

Paul prays that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. He prays that we might know the full dimensions of Christ’s love. All its texture, every nuance, every subtlety and variation. The surprising thing is that this does not come from the world’s best preachers, or the Christian book of the year, or even the work of the world’s most erudite Christian scholars. Instead, it comes ‘together with all the Lord’s people’. It comes as the Christian community does new life together. That doesn’t mean preaching or scholarship is not required. It just means that when it comes to you growing into the full dimensions of Jesus’ love preaching, scholarship, and books have considerable limitations.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can. Yes. Your church. That failed and fallen group of people, with all of their quirky and irritating aspects. These people are the very means by which God draws you into the full dimensions of his love.

How does that work? Here are a few suggestions:

• Only your church can love you with all of your faults and failings

• Only your church can express the forgiving grace of God when you fail

• Only your church can draw you into reconciliation and bring the grace of a receiving and welcoming God to full expression

• Only your church gives you a context to use your gifts and to serve others. Stay at home Christianity is basically self worship

• Only your church can express the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth to the people of your neighbourhood

• Only your church can bring healing and restoration to the broken lives and the troubled families that live in your local community

All of this comes as a loving and sovereign God does his work in his people, through the power of his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing, but as he works in us, his people express the truth that Jesus is the hope of our world.

Sure, it can be tough, and not church is perfect. But don’t give up n your local church: it’s God’s means, God’s personally selected context to bring you into the full dimensions of his love.

Q: How is God calling you to renew your love for the local church today?

John Piper interviews Rick Warren – a definite ‘must watch’

I have just taken 90 mins to watch this excellent interview between John Piper and Rick Warren. It is definitely worth your time to do the same. Here’s why…

Piper  Warren

You can view the interview here:

My interest was piqued because Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was incredibly influential some years ago, having become one of the biggest selling books of all time (after the Bible). PDL was also a great resource for the development of the small group ministry at Redlands Christian Reformed Church in 2003. That we could have sermons, small group studies, and reading materials all themed together was a terrific way to launch into our small group ministry. We have never looked back.

Beyond any organisational aspects, the subject matter of the Purpose Driven Life was also a great encouragement and stimulation to us. That’s why we could not understand some of the negative criticism levelled at the book. Rick Warren was denounced from some quarters as a mean centred theologian, light on theology, as one who played fast and loose with the text of the Bible, as well as a raft of other criticisms.

So when Rick Warren recently published the interview between John Piper and himself, I thought that was not to be missed. John Piper is of course one of the more popular reformed evangelical voices in the USA. His views are widely received and respected in circles where I serve amongst the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.

If you’re a person who loves the reformed heritage, I would encourage you to watch the interview in its entirety. As you do, you may just

* Be challenged: that there is good reason to be respectful of Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’ and thankful for the contribution his work has made to Jesus’ Kingdom and glory

* Be surprised: that there is not so much separating Rick Warren and John Piper. Well, that’s how I saw it. You draw your own conclusions

* Be reminded: that we need to be balanced and gracious in the way we deal with what other Christian leaders say and do. Australian Christian leaders are sometimes a little too quick to engage in the tall poppy syndrome. We are not immune to this weakness, friends.

* Be encouraged: Piper and Warren are so gracious to one another and so warm in their interaction. I found myself saying ‘I wish I would interact a little more like that’. They made me desire to honour Jesus more in my work

Q: Leave a comment and let us know what you think about this interview