How to respond to the “Marriage Equality” issue

I just  read an excellent article from Ryan Anderson about how the church can respond to the issue of marriage equality. Anderson frames his response by speaking about the role of ‘the church’. I get this, although I see the response in terms of the task of all Christians as the church, not some church hierarchy. Even so, Anderson makes a couple of great points:

  • we need to present a case for Christian sexuality which is attractive, appealing and engaging. We need to capture the moral imagination of this and the next generation
  • we need to develop sensitive ministries for same sex attracted people and those with questions around gender identity
  • we must learn ways to defend religious liberty in an age when one social agenda becomes non negotiable public policy
  • we must live out the truth of marriage and human sexuality

You can read the article at ABC Religion

5 Steps To Creating A Culture of Evangelism In Your Church

By Brandon Hilgemann

It is a sad reality today that many churches are simply not reaching many people for Christ.

No, it’s not all about numbers. Yes, fellowship and discipleship are important. But if we are trying to follow the great commission, why are we not doing more to try to reach more people?

Put simply, I believe it is because we have not created a culture of evangelism in our churches. Somewhere along the way, many churches have lost their evangelistic fervour.
If we want to create a culture of evangelism in our churches, I believe there are at least 5 things that we must do.

1. Model Evangelism Yourself

You cannot expect your people to do something that you yourself are not doing. It is as simple as that.

You can only lead people as far as you have gone yourself. If you are not actively seeking evangelistic opportunities, your people won’t either.

This should be a given, but I know this is something I need to get better at myself.

It is easy to get so consumed in the busy work of being a pastor that we neglect our own obligation to reach out to people who are not part of our church.

2. Preach Evangelism

It surprises me how many churches desire to grow but never preach a sermon about how important it is for Christians to actually reach out to others.

Why don’t we hear more sermons on how important it is for Christians to invite friends, neighbours, family members, and co-workers to church?

If you want your church to be more evangelistic, tell them to be. Preach from the many passages of scripture where people introduce others to Jesus. Then, tell your people that life and death are literally in the balance for them to do the same!

If Heaven and Hell are real, we had better start acting like it. Why aren’t we doing more to rescue those headed for eternal separation from God?

3. Create Environments Where Non-Believers Are Welcomed And Expected

In your preaching, don’t just address Christians. Always assume that there are skeptics, non-believers, or people who don’t know what to believe in the room.
If you always talk in a way that assumes everyone is a Christian, then people who aren’t Christians will know this isn’t a place for them. However, if you regularly address those in the room who are not Christians or are on the fence, you accomplish two things:

1. You communicate that people who aren’t Christians (yet) are welcome at your church.

2. You create a place where people can feel comfortable inviting their non-christian neighbours because they know you will speak to them too.

When you preach about something that is confusing or “weird” in the Bible, address it. Don’t just assume that the average person accepts miracles in the Bible or other seemingly outrageous concepts such as animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

When you are doing things in church that the average Christian takes for granted (communion, baptism, etc.), explain it to those who may not be familiar with it.

Here is the bottom line: People will not invite other people to your church if they don’t think it is a safe place for them.

If they are worried that their coworker will come to church for the first time and hear a sermon that has no application to their lives whatsoever, they simply won’t invite them.

However, if they know that you address people in their coworker’s situation every single week, there will be one less fear in the way of them to make the invite.

4. Create Good Excuses For People to Invite Others to Church

This one seems obvious to me, but again, many churches don’t do this.

Create a good excuse for people to invite people. Maybe it’s as simple as having a block party with free food after the services. Maybe you have an attraction like bounce houses for young families with kids. Maybe you have a fun event like a car show or carnival. Maybe you just take advantage of natural times to come to church like Christmas and Easter.

Whatever you do, circle a day on your calendar and promote it. Tell your people that you want them to invite people that day.

It sounds really simple, but again, many churches don’t do it. They have events, but the events are for members and fellowship. Clearly tell people that you want them to invite people to these events. Give them simple tools like invite cards to hand out. You will be surprised how much this works to introduce new people to your church.

5. Celebrate Evangelism

When someone comes to your church and gives their life to Christ, celebrate it! When people get baptised, celebrate it! When someone in your church invites someone, celebrate it! When you hear about spiritual conversations that your people are having with friends or co-workers, celebrate it! When attendance is up, celebrate it!

Whatever gets celebrated in your church will get repeated. Celebrating evangelism shows everyone that this is what your church values. If the angels in Heaven celebrate whenever a lost person is found, it might be a good idea if we did too.

Make a big deal about it, because it is a big deal!

Will You Do This?

Building an evangelistically focused church starts with you. If you model evangelism, preach evangelism, create evangelistic environments, promote evangelistic opportunities, and celebrate evangelism… your church will naturally become an evangelistic church.

Some of you are already creating a culture of evangelism in your church. Great job. Don’t give up. Keep pushing the kingdom of God forward.

Some of you are part of a church that has long forgotten its evangelical roots. It is not too late to begin turning things around. God still wants to use your church to advance His kingdom.

This is not about the size of your church. It’s about the size of our mission to make disciples of all nations for Jesus Christ.

Let’s do this together. Let’s build a culture of evangelism in our churches so that more people may find the hope, peace, love, forgiveness, and purpose that we have all found in Christ.

This post was originally published at Lifeway’s Pastor’s Today blog

(Used with permission)

Pentecost

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Initially, I felt like an outsider. I was different to everybody else. I was from a different country. I spoke a different English. Most obvious of all? I looked different: my skin was a different colour. All of this was a totally new experience.

A few of us were visiting the Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, N.J. and we were like fish out of water. Five white Australians amongst thousands of African Americans. We had visited other churches on our trip, but here the racial divide was more evident than ever.

I don’t recall wondering whether we would be accepted or not. I didn’t have time. We were greeted warmly, we walked in, found a seat, and the service began. As people sang they moved with the rhythm. Their gestures full of praise and emotion, lyric and feeling in one organic expression.

…we felt like we belonged

We had found seats among a throng of regulars. No great skills of perception were required for them to notice we were ‘from out of town’. None of that seemed to matter. And surprisingly, when we were encouraged to join prayer with the people around us, they drew us into their prayer and into their hearts like we were old family friends. They were sharing their struggles, their joys, their lives. We shared who we were, and some of the things on our heart, and they prayed for us like we were just one of them.

Here’s the thing: the fact that we were visitors was immaterial. Our different culture was invisible. Not an issue. Irrelevant. We were brothers and sisters in Christ, and for that hour we felt like we belonged. No one had to tell us we were welcome there, or to make ourselves at home, we were so warmly embraced, we were prayed for, we were loved, we were accepted. Community happened beyond any words that might have been spoken.

…when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed

In the book of Acts, there are several key times when the church expands and receives people who had previously been on the outer. Samaritans are drawn in (Acts 8), as are non Jewish peoples (Acts 11). I know there’s debate about some of the ways the Holy Spirit is manifested in these passages, but I actually don’t think those things are the focus of those passages. The real point is when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed. People who had been broken, marginalised, despised and forsaken are by this Spirit drawn into community. Jesus breaks down all those barriers, overcomes all the chaos, dissolves fear, people come together, and God’s new community is born.

A pentecost church is a church where new community thrives. Where people are drawn in and where they feel like family. Where barriers are crossed, and Jesus’ transformation bring people together. Restored. Accepted. Forgiven. Renewed.

Q: How could you bring the new community of Jesus to expression in your church?

Church Health and the call to change

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My last post addressed the need to be clear about the Gospel: bringing the person and work of Jesus to expression in everything we do. This is not a new challenge. Church history shows how keeping Christ at the centre of public, corporate and private life has not been easy.

This was the burden of the protestant reformation in the 16th-17th Century. The church had become bogged down with theology, structures and traditions which, to put it mildly, did not help people know Jesus and grow in him.

People like Martin Luther and John Calvin sought to bring the church back to the centrality of Jesus, clarity in the Gospel, the supremacy of the Word. This sounds good to us, but it was not a popular move with the established Church hierarchy. Luther ended up with a bounty on his head. Calvin had to move several cities before his teaching base could be established.

But here’s the thing: These men never assumed that once they had corrected the emphases of the church of the time, once they had returned to a more biblical base, that their work was over. They knew it wasn’t possible to reform the church once and for all. They knew the human heart, even the redeemed human heart, was slippery and mercurial. So any effort to draw the church toward a more biblical base would never be a perfect work, and those men and women who strove to give good leadership knew the fallibility of their own perceptions and conclusions.

This is why we’ll often say ‘a reformed church is always reforming’: the work of reformation is ongoing.

we can be faced with a situation where we really need to change some of our established ways, but find it very hard because we love those traditions too much

This presents us with a challenge. Churches work with people, and are led by people. Over time churches develop established ways of doing things. These established ways become traditions because they work well and give people a sense of security. This is good as far as it goes, but it gets complicated because culture moves on, and our ways of relating change. At such times we can be faced with a situation where we really need to change some of our established ways, but find it very hard because we love those traditions too much.

So much of what we call the ‘worship wars’ would have been avoided if we all recognised that the Scripture’s call for us to effective Gospel communication requires the positive embrace of change to that end. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge to the established church today: to be both diligent in ensuring the biblical basis of the church is retained and vigilant in doing the best it can for Gospel transformation to take root in the lives of people.

Question: how do we strive for a positively cultural relevant Gospel without accommodating our culture, thus making the gospel devoid of power?

PS. All the very best of the Lord’s richest blessing for the New Year. And yes, I am on leave, but while on leave I still do the things I love and which energise me.

Growth, Health & ‘The Gospel’

Here at Gateway Community Church we’ve been listening to God’s call to make and grow disciples, to have a healthy church, to ensure our structures work best for these ends. We have a long way to go, but there are a few things we want to start doing. The next few posts will outline what some of them are.

Our first priority is this: we want have clarity and unity in ‘the Gospel’.

This is not always straightforward. R C Sproul has written about some of the distortions and over simplifications of ‘the Gospel’ here. For some, ‘the Gospel’ amounts to jargon: ‘we’re here for the Gospel’, ‘this is a Gospel church’, ‘what matters is the Gospel’, ‘nothing but the Gospel’, ‘I love Gospel music’ – all well and good, but what do you actually mean by ‘the Gospel’?

Amongst the people of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, ‘the Gospel’ is commonly a set of orthodox truths about Jesus, for example:

  • Jesus is the eternal Son, only begotten of the Father
  • he became a man, born to Mary
  • he lived a sinless life, suffered and was put to death on the Cross
  • his death bore the sin and punishment his people deserved
  • he rose from the dead, winning their rescue, restoring them to life, and reconciling them to the Father
  • he ascended to heaven, and now sits in the most powerful place in the universe
  • he will return to judge all humanity and to recreate the universe which now, rightly, belongs to him

These truths are crucial: If I fudge on one aspect, I don’t have the full picture of who Jesus is. This is why good theology matters: it helps me think clearly about who God is, what he has done in Jesus, and why it all matters. I believe the statements above are objective realities, absolute certainties. They remain true whether I believe them or not. In this sense, the Gospel simply is.

Even so, when at Gateway said ‘we want to have clarity in the Gospel’ we were, however, talking about more than agreeing to a raft of objective truths. This because it is possible to accept those truths but still not live under them. Think of it this way, I believe Capt. James Cook sailed Endeavour into Botany Bay in 1770. I can study the accounts of his voyage, read his diaries, and get some sense of the man. But when I roll out of bed in the morning, James Cook is not going to make a difference to how I live. Why? Because acceptance of historical truths is not necessarily life changing.

The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner.

So, how is ‘the Gospel’ more than a statement of objective truth? How is the Gospel the transformational good news? In this sense: The Gospel is the person of Jesus and everything he has come to do. John Piper opens this reality beautifully in his 2005 ‘God is the Gospel‘. I would just change Piper’s title to make it read ‘Jesus is the Gospel’. I say this because ‘accepting the Gospel’ is more than agreeing with a set of truths: accepting the Gospel is accepting Jesus, bowing the knee to him, naming him as my Lord, my Leader, my Rescuer, the Redeemer and ultimate Restorer of my world and this universe.

We want to be clear about this: The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner. It is that, for sure, but the Gospel announces Jesus’ restoration, his new creation, his Kingdom coming to expression in our here and now. It proclaims the inexhaustible hope that Jesus is reconciling all things to the Father. Can we find a more earth shattering, life changing, heart transforming statement of the Gospel than what we read in Colossians 1? …

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)

We want Gateway to understand this glorious Gospel. We want this reality to be the ground for our unity. We want this Jesus to be the focus of our ministry and mission. This Gospel, Jesus Himself, has staggering implications for how we live and behave, for how we engage our community and our world. Perhaps the most humbling reality of all is the wonder that through Jesus we now get to bring new his creation to expression (see 2 Cor 5:17-21).

As leaders we are convinced that the more unity we have in this very big picture, the more we will all pull in the same direction, and the more glory will be given to Christ our King.

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?