Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gospel of the kingdom 9: Thy Will Be Done

All of us can be channels of the life-saving good news to others. If we open our hearts to the Savior and our eyes to those who are drowning, we can be used to do some incredible things. God will do the work through us, and He will use us if we are willing to lay ourselves down for others.

The announcement of God’s kingdom had a common response: repentance and belief. This was the response John called for (Matt. 3:2), and it was also what Jesus compelled people to do when the kingdom had arrived (Matt. 4:17). Like two sides of the same coin, repent and believe go together and cannot be separated. To repent is to turn away from the path that we were following. To believe is to turn to the new path of Jesus’ kingdom. It is one move, away from the old and to the new.

All kingdom life begins with this same response of faith. When the only response is to intellectually accept two or three facts about the historic person of Jesus without any change in direction, we end up with “Christians” who are self-absorbed rather than kingdom agents. When we start with the foundation of what is best for “me,” we end up self-centered. But when the foundation is about surrendering to the King of kings, we end up with an entirely different result.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Gospel of the kingdom 8: Thy Kingdom Come

While there is no doubt that the gospel brings eternal salvation and escape from death and hell, it is more than that…much more. The gospel of God’s kingdom will consume an entire life. There is nothing that is kept from falling in submission to the King. To withhold something from the rule of the King is foolish when one comes to understand who Christ is.

When is the last time you heard someone announce that the kingdom of God is here? I must ask, in all our gospel preaching, “Why haven’t we heard this?” Jesus instructs us to announce this, whether or not people are willing to accept it (Luke 10:9-11). In my experience the last couple of years of ushering in the Kingdom of heaven into dark corners of the world, I have found Jesus’ instructions shockingly relevant.

I truly believe that one of the ways the enemy has kept the kingdom of God from ruling in this world is to convince us Christians to be timid and easily embarrassed. Often times, under the guise of spiritual outreach, we convince ourselves that we need to be quiet and respectable people that do not stir things up with people. The reality is that we don’t really believe in the good news the way we say that we do. What other option can it be? If we truly believed in the good news for what it really is, we would not be ashamed to tell others about it. In fact, one can surmise that, if in our hearts the good news were true, we would all be sharing it boldly. If you found a cure for cancer, you would not be shy about letting people know.

This is where the path of disciple making begins—with a changed life. If your own life isn’t transformed by the power of Christ’s reign, you have no business trying to make other disciples. Once a life is changed by the presence of Christ reigning over His kingdom subjects, each becomes a change agent.

There is no system, program, or tool that man can fashion that will have the power to change a life. Only the gospel has that power. Only the presence of Christ and all His authority can set captives free and overturn injustice and evil. Now that sounds like good news to me. As we talk about making and multiplying disciples, it all starts with a heart set free from the shackles of evil bondage to sin. Nothing else can change a life. From that point on, a disciple is to freely give the same good news he received.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Gospel of the kingdom 7: A Never-Ending Story

Salvation is a life-long process. It doesn’t begin at Law One and end with a prayer after Law Four! I like the children’s fantasy film The Never Ending Story. After the film, just before the credits begin to role, instead of saying “The End” it says “The Beginning.” The adventure has just begun! They released a fourth part to The Never Ending Story, so I guess we can take them at their word. Like marriage, when you say your vows, the engagement is over, but the marriage has just begun! When you say the prayer to commit to Jesus, it’s not the culmination of your salvation⎯it’s the beginning!

The gospel is not just for the unbeliever, but the Christian. It's the power of God for salvation for those who believe (Rom. 1:16 emphasis added). In fact I don’t think the non-Christian will take the cross seriously for him or herself until we take it seriously for ourselves! It’s not enough that we have once tasted the blessing of the cross. To attract the lost to Jesus, we need to have an appetite for the gospel ourselves. The more it means to us, the more attractive it will be to the lost. Why should they be interested in that which we give feigned interest in ourselves? If they don’t see that we need it ourselves, then why would they feel compelled to need it themselves?

Salvation is so much more than mere fire insurance or reservations made in heaven. It is not just a “Get-out-of-hell-free Card.” Salvation is a transformed life. Salvation is a becoming. Regeneration is an ongoing process of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Each of us should be more like Christ this year than we were the year before. Our lives should reflect more of the grace and truth found in Christ next year than they do this year.

I have as much or more need to take up my cross and follow Jesus today as I did years ago when I first started on this path. My need for freedom remains. My need for being cleansed and renewed is as strong or stronger than ever before. I once heard Billy Graham, who has walked with God much longer than I, say, “The closer I get to heaven, the more aware of hell I become.”

Theologians refer to this ongoing salvation process as sanctification. It means to be set apart for significance. The idea is that we are in a process of becoming closer to who we are to be in heaven⎯closer to being like Christ Himself. If we are truly moving closer to God, nearer to holiness, our awareness of our own flesh must become more obvious to us. Our sensitivity to sin and its subtleties should increase as we grow closer to Christ.

Some older Christians have done away with certain obvious sins, and their spiritual life is now placid and in their own minds holy. But comparing ourselves with ourselves is foolishness and is not anywhere near what holiness is all about (2 Cor. 10:12). For one who is truly becoming sanctified in Christ, the more they take on the character of Christ, the more they realize the distance they still have to go to realize the fullness of Christ.

We should all experience a deep hungering for the things of God as we know Him better, not a duller routine of spiritual and cultural behaviors suitable to be labeled “Christian.” There is so much more in Jesus, we have not even come close to the fullest knowledge of Christ.

We must recognize that salvation is more than a decision made at the end of the saw dust aisle in a tent. Salvation is a process. It is a state of being. It is also a destination. It is so much more than what is sold to people from most pulpits, tracts, and crusades today.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Gospel of the kingdom 6: An Unshakable Kingdom

We have a saying in our ministry: “Where you go, the King goes, and where the King goes people bow.” The idea is that you bring the rule of Christ with you. Where Christ rules, things change. The gospel is not just a set of facts to believe, it is a change in allegiance and therefore a change in life. Someone who accepts the gospel does not just accept a few facts about Christ, he or she accepts the rule of Christ as King—a King with all authority of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Imagine what we could do with such authority filling our sails.

From our small-minded, and humanistic point of view there are resources lacking, closed doors, and insurmountable obstacles to fulfilling a global transformation movement. It is too much. But to the King, who has all authority of heaven and earth, there are no limits. The kingdom of heaven is more powerful than any kingdom of the earth. There is not a government, a law, a criminal cartel, a cultural fad or religious movement that can withstand the rule of God’s kingdom.

When instructing His disciples to go out and preach the gospel of the kingdom in the various cities and villages of Galilee, Jesus firmly told them that even when people reject your message and you are leaving town without any change left behind you are to announce, “Nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come.” The kingdom of God is not subject to the whims of man. Acceptance or rejection does not affect God’s kingdom, because it is above all of men’s calculated methods or reactions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom 5: Hope for the Here & Now, not just the Here-after.

When the King comes, he is not just selling afterlife insurance policies door to door. He is bringing the rule and reign of His kingdom wherever He goes. In fact, every person who comes under His rule is empowered to be one of His kingdom agents. This is good news for the here and now, not just the hereafter. The good news is that Jesus came, died, rose again and lives in heaven and is interceding for us every day. The good news is also that the King is here now ruling in our lives and bringing a revolution of hearts and lives that will transform neighborhoods and nations. In fact, the whole point of the cross and empty tomb direct us to a more profound reality: continual and abiding acceptance into God’s holy presence and power. And that doesn’t just happen when you die, it is yours right now! It is a gift for any who would choose to surrender their own life to Him and follow Him as their King.

This understanding of the gospel is bigger than just a few facts regarding our eternal salvation. This good news makes a difference in the way you raise your children, balance your checkbook, treat your neighbors and give to the poor. This good news can make you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This good news will also make enemies for you and incite persecution, whereas the simplistic view of the gospel we have inoculated our culture with does not. Why? Because it doesn’t set the flame lose of a changed life. It is so concerned with life after death that it isn’t concerned with life before death—where we actually can make a difference.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom 4: Here Comes the King!

What would a first-century Jew living in Jerusalem consider good news? I would imagine the coming of the promised Messiah who is the true King of the Jews would be good news. The Jews lived under an oppressive Gentile government, with a fake puppet king, so the good news would entail an overthrow of injustice and putting in place a true rule of God on this earth. Well, perhaps the gospel does reflect some of that good news as well. Actually, I can’t imagine that the horrific suffering and death of the Messiah would be considered good news to these people, which is one reason why the disciples could not hear what Jesus clearly told them.

Mark writes that Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” For Jesus, the gospel was this: the kingdom of God is here. It required a change of heart and a response of faith and obedience. It was a change of allegiance that would forever alter one’s life’s direction.

The gospel of the kingdom is the good news that the King has come! He is here…NOW! And He is here with power and authority to rule justly and lovingly. That is good news. This was what the disciples (Matt. 10:7) and John the Baptist (Luke 3:18) as well as Jesus Himself was preaching (Mark 1:14-15).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom 3: All This & More!

For all of my adult life the gospel was clear and compelling. As the apostle Paul put it,

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to (many).”(1 Cor. 15:1-5)

Four foundational truths: Christ died, was buried, rose and appeared to others. This is the gospel that Paul preached. This is true, powerful, and it has changed my life forever. I must ask, however, is this all that the gospel is? Is accepting these facts enough, or does the truth need to be deeper, incarnate and revolutionary in one’s life? Even for Paul, the Gospel became so intense and personal to him that he sometimes referred to it as “my Gospel” (2 Tim 2:8).

Because we have limited the gospel to an assent of belief to the above four historic facts, we have also limited the impact of the very message itself. Do not hear me wrong: the redemptive mission of Christ—the sacrificial atonement for sins, the power of the resurrection and the authenticity of what Christ did for us—is without question powerful, true, and shapes all of human history. But this is the starting place, not the destination.

We must come to terms with the fact that the gospel was preached by Jesus and His disciples BEFORE the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is perfectly clear from all the gospel accounts in the New Testament that the disciples did not understand that Jesus had to die and rise from the dead until after the fact. Nevertheless, they went about the cities and villages preaching the gospel before Jesus’ sacrifice. What gospel were they preaching? Is it possible that the gospel is more than just the cross and empty tomb, as incredibly powerful as they are? I think there is more to the gospel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom 2: Are We Good News?

One thing that the evangelical protestant church thinks it knows well is the gospel. After all, it is part of their name. “Evangelical” comes from the very word good news, which is really what gospel means. I wonder if any in our world would consider evangelicals to be good news?

Sometimes, however, familiarity breeds contempt. In much of Christendom, I fear the gospel has become a small statement of facts that must be intellectually agreed upon in order to be welcomed into the club. The world is not enticed by a list of historical facts, what they need is real good news, and that is something far more dynamic and holistic than just Four Spiritual Laws.

In most cases, if you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and rose from the dead, you’re in! What does it mean to be “in”? It means that you now have eternal fire insurance and are a Christian. But is that truly what it means to be a Christian? Is that all that the gospel is? Is the gospel some sort of litmus test of who is in and who is not?

I want to challenge us to see the gospel as more than a few facts (as sacred as those facts are) and see it as a living and powerful presence that does more than grant us a “Get out of hell free card.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom 1: Do we make a difference?

If aliens came and abducted all of the truck drivers at once in our country, our whole economy would soon unravel. You probably give little thought on a daily basis to truck drivers except for the annoyance of having to get around a slow moving semi on the highway. But if they were suddenly gone, stores would close due to a lack of merchandise. People would lose jobs. Prices for the goods that are in stock would triple. Families would soon go hungry because stores would not be able to stock their shelves. The effect of truck drivers on our life every day is felt and real. We may not give it much thought, but it is real nonetheless.

If suddenly all the garbage collection trucks broke down at once, everyone in town would soon know about it. If all waiters and waitresses were suddenly sick and unable to work, we would all know about it. If teachers couldn’t work, we would have a crises on our hands.

But if all the churches in your community suddenly disappeared, would the average person in your town even notice? If just your church closed its doors for good, would the people who live within a 15-mile radius even know about it?

I suspect that somewhere along the line we lost the plot, and consequently we lost our influence. It is time to awaken again to what it means to bring the kingdom of God to the world around us.

What does it look like when the kingdom of God comes to the world around us? What happens when Jesus comes and does what only He can do? What are the things He does for people? He does give the gift of life eternal, no doubt, but I suspect He also gives something very present and real in the here and now.

In response to some discussion raised as a result of the Misguided Misgivings posts, I have decided to post some thoughts on the Gospel itself. The content from these blog posts come mostly from my book Search & Rescue. I wrote S&R to appeal to the ordinary Christian and not just professional leaders. Because of its more popular style of writing many have assumed it is not as substantive as my other books, but I think there is actually some important content in it that even Christian leaders will find helpful.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cannibalistic Competition

I have written before of a church planter who took out an ad in the newspaper offering to pay people $100 to attend his church. Today he has changed his philosophy and is quite embarrassed by his attempts at church growth no matter the cost. It’s sad but true that even good folks can get caught up in some unsound thinking regarding these things.

Many gimmicks have been tried to get people to attend a church’s services. One congregation raffled off a five-hundred-dollar gift card for gasoline. A fast-growing church in my own area advertised free raffle tickets to the first one hundred newcomers who showed up at their Easter service. The winner of the drawing would receive a new car. Another church in my area had added a new service time and offered free popcorn to anyone who would attend the new service, thus making room for other worshipers in the other services.

As churches in an area feel they must compete with each other, they begin to offer special perks to attract attenders. One church starts serving Starbucks coffee on Sunday mornings, and before you know it other churches in town are doing the same. Not only is this seen as a good thing, some would say it constitutes being relevant and hospitable.

I’m not objecting to serving good coffee but I do see danger in the spirit of competition that these tactics reveal. And I don’t mind when my local movie theater offers special deals with free popcorn to get me to become a loyal customer. After all it is a business competing for my dollar. But when the church, feeling the need to compete for attendees and their offerings, adopts the way of the world, we are in trouble. Some churches have exiting pastors sign a “noncompetition contract,” so they will not start a church within a certain distance of the one they leave. This is how far we have ventured into a capitalistic Christianity that treats church like a business, service like a product, and people like customers.

I know of one leader who left a megachurch in Southern California, which had thirty-five hundred in attendance each week, to plant a church in another community. The church plant went from zero to almost three hundred people in just a couple of years, which should be considered phenomenally successful. Unfortunately, the church planter’s model of success was a church of more than three thousand people. His church plant also happened to be in the shadow of Saddleback at the same time as its dramatic growth. The church planter felt like a failure and resigned.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Rampant Consumeristic Mind-set

I know someone who chose to leave his home church of many years and started attending a megachurch because the opportunity for business contacts was far greater there. Granted, this sounds bad, but it just reflects the sort of church we have developed. In a sense, this person is simply living out the theology we have taught him to have.

Many pastors complain about the consumeristic mind-set in their churches. It is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” attitude that causes the pastor to feel pressure to keep up with the megachurch around the corner. But our people have a consumeristic attitude because we have trained them to think this way. When we try to “sell” our worship and programs to the largest crowd possible, we will attract and reinforce a consumer mind-set.

Church growth used to be about adding souls to the church through the preaching of the gospel to the lost. Because we have foolishly come to equate church with the Sunday worship service, church growth has been reduced to increasing the attendance on Sunday mornings. Now we find ourselves competing with other churches for parishioners who are looking for the best service they can find.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Defining Pharisaism

Jesus had these harsh words for religious leaders:

Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . . You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. . . . invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.
Mark 7:6–9, 13

Pharisaism is when non-biblical religious traditions, upheld by professional religious leaders, become at least as important as scriptural commands and practices. Friends, I think we are unintentionally there. We have religious practices, which are not wrong in themselves (perhaps even good), but when we attribute to them the authority of the Scriptures, we cross a line that puts us in a dangerous place.

We cannot add to God’s Word and expect good results. If almighty God had intended the practices we have elevated in importance to be biblically binding, he would have made it clear in Scripture. When we give biblical authority to non-biblical practices, we face two lethal problems. First, these practices which are not authoritative, become authoritative, which is a form of legalism. Those who practice legalism take for themselves God’s place of authority, which is not just wrong, it is idolatrous—even blasphemous.

Second, such practices begin to supplant the important ones that the Bible does prescribe. As Jesus said, in following such practices, we are “neglecting the commandment of God.” We end up filtering out a gnat while swallowing a camel. Like a foreign infection in the body, traditions invade the church and try to take the place of biblical teachings. We cannot submit to two lords. Either God’s Word is our truth or our traditions are; we cannot meld the two and expect a healthy outcome.

Now, to be fair, there are some “Christian” sects and denominations that actually make their traditions part of the sacred canon, giving them as much authority as Scripture. At least these groups are being logically consistent with their abuses, rather than acting as though they are biblical. On the other hand, I cannot find biblical precedent for making tradition authoritative and I find tons of reasons to reject the practice. Basically this is just an attempt to be consistent and justify religious practices that are not found in the Bible.

Let me reiterate. There is nothing wrong with worship services, the functions done in the sacraments, or abstaining from heavy lifting on the Sabbath. It is not how we observe the Sabbath that is wrong, but the spiritual significance and value we place on the man-made edict/application attached to it that is the problem.

Along the same line, the church has laid down what it considers healthy constraints to safeguard the righteous standards of God’s people. Directives are given such as: go to church (read a religious event on Sundays or in some cases Saturdays), don’t listen to secular music, stay away from R-rated movies, and abstain from all alcohol. These are not bad ideas for some people and may even be wise suggestions given the right context. Unfortunately, what begins as suggestion soon attains the clout of holy writ, especially when religious leaders pronounce them with authority and support them with Scripture verses ripped violently out of context. In little time we find ourselves functioning in a religious culture that has biblical principles intertwined with man-made injunctions, and few can distinguish between them. In fact we are certain to mix up the two, and spiritual priorities get messed up.

This is what motivates my writing. I really want us to get back to a pure understanding of God’s word and living in radical obedience to His command out of love for His gift to us. I want Jesus to be the Head of His body, not tradition, or human religious leaders. I want the church to be recognized as special, holy, apostolic and a functioning body in this world.

Friday, December 19, 2008

One Another

Let me just state it clearly: attending a church service is not the same as being a church family. The church, according to the New Testament, means being involved with one another in an open, vulnerable, and interactive relationship.

If God had intended the Sunday service to have top priority, he would have commanded the practice in the Bible, but he did not. Instead there are many passages that address what the church should be and what people need in the church.

According to the New Testament, people in a church need to:

• Love one another (John 13:34).
• Be devoted to one another and give preference to one another (Rom. 12:10).
• Be of the same mind with one another (Rom. 15:5).
• Accept one another (Rom. 15:7).
• Wait for one another before eating (1 Cor. 11:33).
• Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25).
• Greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12).
• Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
• Tolerate one another (Eph. 4:2).
• Be kind to one another and forgive each other (Eph. 4:32).
• Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).
• Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
• Regard one another as more important than oneself (Phil. 2:3).
• Share God’s message and admonish one another (Col. 3:16).
• Comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18).
• Encourage and build up one another (1 Thess. 5:11).
• Live in peace with one another (1 Thess. 5:13).
• Confess sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
• Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
• Serve one another (1 Peter 4:10).
• Fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
• And yes, gather together (Heb. 10:25), but not in the form of a worship service but rather in such a way that we can challenge one another to love and good deeds (v. 24). In other words, to live out together all the other mandates given above.

By the way, “one another” does not mean a pastor interacting with a congregation; it means everybody interacting with everybody else. The artificial setting of the worship service makes this nearly impossible. For us to minister to one another as described in these verses, we must be in a family-like setting where we can interact.

I hope that I have been clear in this. I am not against weekly worship or the church. I am not saying in any way that it is wrong to gather together weekly for worship. I do question, however, the high value we place on the Sunday morning service, often at the expense of practicing the New Testament one-anothers, which are indeed the true expression of the church.

An interesting phenomenon has developed. In most churches in America, the people are encouraged to join small groups, which are presented as optional. These groups are like small spiritual families where all the “one anothers” of the New Testament are practiced. This is indeed the church. But participating in such groups is usually considered optional, whereas most Christians feel they must attend the Sunday morning worship service. They think it is the biblical mandate.

The truth is that the New Testament clearly makes mandatory participating in the spiritual family, the small group. The larger gathering is, frankly, an optional alternative. This is the very opposite of contemporary practice.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Biblical Support?

Let me just ask straight up: why is the Sunday morning service so important anyway? We Protestants have the same religious zeal for it that the Roman Catholic Church has for the sacraments or the Pharisees had for the Sabbath and temple offerings. But we have much less Scripture to back up our making the Sunday morning service a priority than either the Catholics or the first-century Jewish leaders had for their practices. Yikes, is that true?!? Certainly the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ could easily point to OT passages commanding that we keep the Sabbath and observe the rites of temple worship. The Roman Catholics can easily point to texts commanding us to take the bread and cup and baptize. Granted, we may argue about what that means to us, but they at least have Scriptural commands to back their practices up.

We evangelicals give so much talk to holding firm to our Bibles in faith and practice, but in reality, much of what we consider most important is not found at all in the Bibles we preach from each Sunday. We emphasize sound hermeneutics and doctrine, but then we presume that our Sunday functions of preaching the Word from a pulpit to an audience is not only Biblical, it is central to what church is all about. While this isn't a bad thing to do each week, it is not commanded in the Scriptures and is not what church is all about in the NT.

Pick up your New Testament, open it, and read it as if for the first time. Search the Scriptures. Show me in the New Testament the verses that command us to gather together for a worship service, complete with sermons, announcements (commercials), tithes, and offerings. You will not find any verses that prescribe or even describe such a thing. What you will find are verses, chapters, and entire books dedicated to the church functioning as a spiritual family--loving Jesus and each other while on a mission to redeem the lost.

Many point to the first few chapters of Acts to defend the practice of meeting publicly for worship and teaching. Never mind that these are not prescriptive texts but merely describing what was done, and done for a very short time period. The practice found in these early chapters of Acts was not preaching to the saints as much as to the lost. In fact, the word for preaching in the NT is almost always exclusively used of presenting the gospel to those who do not yet follow Christ.

The rest of Acts does not describe such a gathering. Even in Ephesus where Paul says he was teaching them both publicly as well as from house to house (Acts 20:20), the public training was a discussion rather than a sermon, held in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). This was most likely daily ministry training rather than a once a week worship service. In the New Testament the pattern of church life was not a weekly worship service but it was a spiritual family, gathering regularly to live life together under the common headship of Jesus Christ with everyone fully participating. All attempts to squeeze something else out of the text are nothing more than trying to defend a traditional practice that is not biblically authoritative.

Some will say that Paul’s admonition to set aside a monetary gift on the first day of each week (1 Cor. 16:1-3) is a Biblical command to have a weekly worship service. I am sorry, but that is a HUGE stretch. It is simply telling the Corinthians, as he did with the Galatians, to have a time once a week where donations are received for help with the church in Jerusalem that was enduring a famine. It was a special project for a specific context to extend love for famine relief in another part of the world. It was not an instruction to take tithes or offerings on a weekly basis to sustain a local church’s ministry expense. Any time the verses are used to support such a practice they are being used out of context and abused. There are many Christians also abused by this.

Does the verse imply, however, that the Christians were gathering with each other on the first day of the week? Well, perhaps that is implied, but not commanded, and it is certainly not a large worship service but more likely a family gathering complete with a full meal (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Did they worship there at the meeting? Was there teaching? Actually, yes there was both teaching, singing and worship. Paul discusses that in the next passage of the same book. He describes it with the words: “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification (1 Cor. 14:26-27).”

The assembly is described as participatory and involving each person. Now, realize that this passage is addressing the need for clear communication when the church assembles together. You would expect something about the sermon being taught by the pastor, but instead it speaks about two or three prophets speaking in order (v. 29) and then says, “For you can all prophesy, one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted (v. 31).” One of the main points Paul is getting at in these paragraphs is to have order in the gathering. With that in mind, he does not suggest that all listen to one person speak even though that would certainly be very orderly.

I am not saying that the Bible doesn’t teach that we should get together as a family; I am arguing for the exact opposite. We are commanded to gather together (Heb 10:24-25), but not passively listening to a worship concert and a sermon. We must gather in groupings where we can all participate and function as a spiritual family together. If the “one anothers” cannot be accomplished in the gathering than there is something wrong with the way we are doing our assemblies.

It is actually easier to justify having a meal together each week as biblically prescribed than having a sermon each week. Think about it. We not only reduced the meal to a lifeless cracker and a thimble of grape juice every now and then, but we elevated the role of sermonizing as central to what church is all about.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Extreme Example Demonstrates our Lack of Balance

I read of a church in which two people were shot dead and many others were wounded by mad gang violence on the church property early Sunday morning. Later that morning, police cars were all over and yellow police tape was cutting across the crime scene as an open investigation was taking place. The coroner was taking away body bags, while a sign, hastily hung below the police tape, read, “Church Service Will Go On As Usual.”

Our first response might be admiration for such a thing. Nothing can keep God’s people from obedience; they will worship no matter what happens. But obedience to what? There is no command in the New Testament to attend church services as we know them on Sunday morning.

Is it wrong that this church met despite the ongoing investigation of murder on their campus? No, it isn’t wrong, just a bit extreme and portrays that we may have our priorities out of balance.

A pastor friend of mine does not understand the reason I think this is so extreme. He asked, “If a murder happened on the same block as the house where your organic church meets, would you cancel a get-together?”

I said, “No, but if the murder took place at the same house where we meet, and the police were still dusting for fingerprints and removing body bags--yes!”

I have heard pastors say that what we do on Sunday mornings is the most important thing we do all week. Such platitudes sound religious and pious, but I do not believe they are true. I think God is far more concerned with how you treat your family, your neighbors, and the strangers on the street than how well dressed, timely, and inspired you are on Sunday morning at church services.

Just the fact that we can get away with convincing people that Sunday services are the most important thing we do all week is testimony to how far removed we are from the Scriptures. The devil has succeeded in deluding us and removing us from truth. We leaders are taking people down a path that is not the truth with all of the conviction of our belief in the Bible and none of the substance of it.

I would imagine that many of you reading this post right now are shocked by my assertion that a Sunday church service is not a biblical mandate. You are probably searching for verses in your mind right now. You will not find any, and the ones you think you find do not carry the theological assumption you've been told that they do. I will address this a bit more in a later post.

All of this shows us how out of balance we are on the importance of a Sunday worship service. I'm not against gathering and worshiping. I am not saying it is bad or wrong or even wasted energy. I am against placing Biblical authority on a duty to something that is not instructed in the Bible.

Two people died that morning on the church grounds. Police were still actively investigating the crime scene, taking testimony, and searching for evidence when parishioners started arriving for the service. The coroner was trying to remove the bodies before the choir started singing! In any other context the police would have prevented anyone from entering the scene of the crime, but I am sure a church on Sunday morning is an intimidating force even to a police department.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Most Important Thing?

We simply must move from seeing church as a religious event to seeing it as a spiritual family. Without this context, leadership will emerge deformed—mutated by corrupt views of church and mission. Contrary to the Scriptures, those considered the top leadership will be the ones who are best at entertaining the crowd or organizing a large weekly event.

I am not asking if a Sunday worship service is right or wrong. I am asking, Why is it so important to us? Obviously, worshiping together is a good thing—but is it the main thing? Is that what church is according to the New Testament? I believe that our practice and priorities are way off.

In the next series of posts I will address the issue of whether Sunday morning worship services are as important as we make them. These entries will spark controversy. These are from my book Organic Leadership. I have heard many espouse that some who are questioning the priority of the Sunday Service are heretical and extremists. I only ask that you be bold enough to at least search the Scriptures to defend your practice and not give Biblical authority to something not found in the Scriptures.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 6: Here is some fruit...

I do not know why Dan didn’t call me and ask where to find a missional church in California (where we both happen to live). We have many here that are reaching people, making disciples and planting churches. We also have many that are helping out in their city with ministries to the homeless, AIDS hospice care, victims of abuse and many other social concerns. You cannot find these churches in the Christian yellow pages. Because these movements are decentralized, small and highly mobile, they are hard to find. You have to know someone to find them.

I cannot speak for the many other networks of missional churches in America right now, but I can speak on behalf of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA).

At a conference in 2007 a study of our movement was conducted by an outside source. Leadership Network sponsored a “House Church Report” conducted by Ed Stetzer’s ministry surveying some of our leaders who attended the conference. 97 leaders responded representing 53 organic churches.

82% of the leaders were being mentored and/or coached by other individuals as one of their primary means of training, which is important in a multiplication movement. Discipleship in organic churches was significant in 79% of those in the survey group. These numbers are probably much higher than conventional Christian leadership would claim, but in my opinion they are not high enough.

From the 53 organic churches represented in the survey, there were 52 new churches started out of them in 2006 alone. I can’t complain about that number (nearly 100% reproduction), but I do want to know which church was the one that didn’t plant a church and ruined our perfect score (just kidding).

There were 34 church plants started in the past 5 years by the 97 leaders surveyed alone. And of those 34 churches planted, 10 of them had gone on to start new churches themselves. In other words, 30% of the daughter churches had grand-daughter churches over the past 5 years. In a sample of almost 100 Christian leaders there were 34 new church starts out of them in the past 5 years and 30% of their daughter churches reproduced to a third generation. That is a pretty high level of missional involvement. But again, I think we can and should do better.

The 53 organic churches in the survey reported seeing 189 people who became followers of Christ (first time commitments) in 2006. That is an average of 3.5 people coming to Christ per organic church in a single year. Considering the average organic church has about 12 people in it that is a high percentage of conversion growth for any Western nation—higher than 25% conversion rate. Of course that is simply an educated estimate based on the survey data. That is not confirmed data.

CMA is not just a US movement. We had representatives from 11 or 12 different nations at the conference where this survey was taken. If those leaders outside of the US were taken under consideration there would have been 944 decisions in 2006 o (yep, if you do the math, two leaders overseas account for 755 conversions and a whole lot more churches, things do change when you cross borders). That would mean we are averaging over 17 conversions per organic church, which would probably be a conversion rate higher than 100% in our churches. But this study was really looking at the movement in the US, where we are more likely at closer to 25%.

This past year (2009) CMA has conducted over 52 Greenhouse Organic Church Planting Retreats in 15 different nations and all across the US. We averaged a training every week! The average attendance has been over 40. We are estimating that we are starting between one and two churches a day just from the Greenhouse trainings alone. But the number of churches we started this year as a movement would be far higher because you would have to count all the daughter churches and grand-daughter churches (and so on) of those who were started before this year (my own church family started five this year alone and would not be included in the above estimate). This is a task we are not capable of undertaking, and, frankly, we do not feel the need to investigate. A decentralized, multiplicative movement must, by its very nature, go beyond one's ability to count.

The organic church I am a part of has started five new churches this past year alone. That would raise the number of church planters sent from this small church alone to about 30 in seven years. Last week I saw two of my disciples baptize two of their disciples. Josh came to Christ in a coffee house a few years ago. Today he leads a couple of churches and went to India and Chicago to conduct Greenhouse trainings and was one of the disciples baptizing last Wednesday night in my spa. We still have two more disciples to baptize in the coming days.

There are missional churches that are doing the work if you know where to look. My prayer is that they continue to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

The problem is that some of what Dan was saying is true. There are a lot of people calling their work missional and are not truly making disciples who multiply (even within CMA). So, while I can refute Dan’s facts, I will not refute his overall sentiment—we need to see more fruit! Thank you Dan.

Misguided Misgivings 5: A cost too high

The typical attractional church model costs too much to multiply effectively. Buildings, budgets and bigshots are the roadblocks to reproduction of churches. Salaries, rents/mortgages, equipment, advertising the list of expenses is long. In today’s turbulent times many in church are feeling the resources drying up. Last week I was in a pastor’s meeting and many were wondering how their churches would continue. Some were selling their facilities just for survival. We will see more and more of this in the coming year.

Survival is one thing, but reaching a city proactively is another entirely. I have seen a report of research to determine what it would take to reach the US. In the report the financial costs to reach particular cities for Christ using the traditional attractional model of church are listed. The results are alarming. Just to reach one city alone would be astronomical. The study shows that to reach Atlanta would cost over $63 billion. To reach New York City alone would cost more $418 Billion. Where would we expect such money to come from? I guarantee you the government is not going to bail us out on this one.

Giving USA
, a non-profit foundation that studies philanthropy in the United States, in its 2008 report found $103.32 billion went to houses of worship and denominational organizations in 2007. That entire amount could only reach the greater Washington DC area and would leave the rest of our country lost. But of course, if it did go to that cause it would not cover any of the costs of all our current churches and ministries and they would all go out of business. This says nothing of reaching the rest of the world.

If you want to compare the attractional model against the organic/missional model of church I think the cost alone makes it clear which is a more reasonable approach.

This is just not a good way to reach a city for Christ, let alone a world. There are better ways. We could reach the cities faster and for a fraction of the cost with a simpler approach to church.

What we need to be about is the reproduction of healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements, in that order. We cannot focus on complex and expensive systems and try and reproduce them if we do not first reproduce the simple and more basic entities first. We do not start churches to make disciples. We must make disciples, and then churches will start. It doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple, it only costs your life.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 4: Do the math

Here is where I see a big difference between the attractional model and the missional model. An attractional model will not reproduce and multiply, it can only add. Addition growth is not enough because the population of the world is rapidly multiplying and addition will not keep up. We must change to reach this world.

Basic math is absolute. For every equation there are infinite numbers of wrong answers and only one right answer. You cannot use addition formulas and hope to get multiplicative results. The attractional formula is at best an addition strategy. In most cases I do not think it is even addition, but subtraction—taking Christians from other churches.

Adding services or video venue sites is not multiplying. Stop calling it that! Multiplication occurs when the offspring birth offspring that birth offspring. Without multiple generations there is no multiplication, only addition. Don't say you are multiplying until you get to the fourth generation (2 Tim. 2:2).

The more expensive the church is, and the more there is a demand for professional leadership to conduct the ministry, the less likely there will be any multiplication. This has been proven time and again. The evidence is, in fact overwhelming. You can say what you are doing is multiplying, but if the only key you hit on the calculator has a plus sign on it you will only get addition results. You cannot use addition methods to get multiplicative results. You have to stop using addition practices if you want to start using multiplication strategies.

Addition is not bad, it is better than subtraction or division, but it is not multiplication. If you are adding churches, that is not a bad thing, but it is not enough to reach this world. If we are so engulfed in addition methodology that we cannot change we will forfeit our call on this planet. The first commandment God gave to man was to multiply. The last command Jesus gave His disciples carried with it the idea of multiplying. This is not an option, it is our mandate.

Multiplication strategies always start small and always start slow. Momentum picks up as the generations reproduce themselves. Our problem is we get impatient and are easily seduced by the faster addition growth possibilities.

Misguided Misgivings 3: Bigger isn’t Better

There are thousands of pastors of smaller congregations across the country who live with a feeling that they are failures because their church isn’t as big as the megaplex congregation down the street. This is sad and should not be the case.

A global survey conducted by Christian Schwartz found that smaller churches consistently scored higher than large churches in seven out of eight qualitative characteristics of a healthy church. A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and Life Way Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more. The research seems to even indicate that the pattern continues—the smaller the size of the church the more fertile they are in planting churches.

It pains me that so many churches and leaders suffer from an inferiority complex when in fact they could very well be more healthy and fruitful than the big-box church down the street and just what God wants of them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 2: The Walmart Effect

Dan Kimball says, “Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people ‘come to us’ isn't going to cut it anymore. But here's my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.”

Here comes some evidence:

30 years ago the number of attractional megachurches in the US were only a handful. Today every city in the US has a handful of megachurches, some have two hands full and still cannot contain all. That is a momentous change. You would think that this is good news, but the truth is that at the same time the percentages of Christians in America has not grown, but diminished. What’s worse, is that we as a people in America are not better for it. Our culture and the values of our population is not improved, but worsened in that time.

These churches, offering lots of wonderful programs and music to attract people are attracting, by and large, Christians from other churches. The Walmart effect is at work here. A large full-service, big box church has opened up and the smaller family style congregations are closing their doors unable to compete with the productions and programs of the bigger church. I cannot celebrate that as success.

I am not saying that every attractional megachurch is only reaching Christians. There are always some exceptions to the rule. For the most part, however, I do believe that the megachurches are attracting people who find Christian worship music and preaching attractive, which would adequately describe only a small percentage of our society today--Christians. Most who do not follow Christ are not attracted by these things, sorry, but it is pretty obvious to them. It is time we realize it.

Granted conversions are not all that being missional is about, but it is core to what it means to be missional. Dan said as much himself.

But there are more reasons to question the attractional model than this. I will post more tomorrow.

Misguided Misgivings 1: A Response to Dan Kimball’s Editorial comments

Recently Dan Kimball wrote an editorial piece in Leadership Journal called Missional Misgivings. It is posted on Out of Ur, here is the url:

In it he asked several important questions about the missional church movement. He seemed to imply that house churches were missional churches. In the next few entries I intend to respond to Dan's remarks. This is just the first one...

A thorn by any other name is still a thorn.

I do not believe that missional churches and house churches are synonymous. There are many house churches that like to adopt new terms like “missional” “simple” and “organic” to describe themselves because those terms are currently cool, but they are still just the same as they were before—house churches. We’ve had dysfunctional, angry, inwardly focused house churches in America for well over a century. Adding a hip descriptive word doesn’t change the internal DNA.

Like Dan, I look around and see a lot of people claiming to be missional but in reality are not. I see many people wanting to join this organic/missional church movement but they bring their old baggage with them and it is too heavy to take out into the fields. We need to hear Dan's comments before we react to them too negatively, because there is some truth in there.

That said, I think Dan has over inflated his own research/experience. There is a lot he has not experienced yet. Perhaps he has thought that simply meeting in a living room is what we mean by being missional. It is not. More to come...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So how do we cooperate and actually believe in something?

Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), the “organization” I helped to found, is a diverse movement that has all sorts of expressions of Christ’s body within it. One of the ways we determine those we will work alongside of is the “bullet test”. The bullet test is simple, but not an absolute test. The test works like this: Imagine someone put a gun to your head and said, “Renounce this doctrine or I will shoot you!” If you say, “Go ahead, pull the trigger, I will not renounce this doctrine!” That becomes a “bullet doctrine”.

Now this is still a very subjective test, but it is surprisingly effective nonetheless. Of course, there may be some fanatics who would die for their view of when the rapture is to come, but most levelheaded people will not. The threat of death is a surprisingly good way to evaluate devotion.

It is fine to have non-bullet doctrines, but we work alongside those who share the same bullet doctrines and even rejoice in the diversity of viewpoints on the other lesser points of view. I know there are many in Christendom who could not function with this sort of process, I am simply describing our mindset on this important issue. It is not meant to be a definitive absolute measure, simply a prioritizing of what we value as important for the purpose of joining together.

Even in my own mind, there is a doctrine that I would take a bullet for that others whom I know, love, and work alongside of do not hold. Just to be transparent, I would die for my belief in the eternal security of my salvation…but I will not shoot anyone over it! We can still maintain fellowship even if we differ on this volatile doctrine. The “bullet test” is not an absolute, fix all, but one way of discerning those you will work alongside of.

When the Moravian Church came together in Hernhutt under the hospitality and growing influence of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, they were fractured and paralyzed by several competing doctrines. It was the special filling of the Holy Spirit, much like the day of Pentecost, that changed everything and unleashed something that would change the world. Love prevailed among them from that moment on. They developed a motto (some say it came from Augustine first) that continues to this day: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.” This began a movement that eventually ushered in modern world missions. The Moravians sent out hundreds of church-planting missionaries all over the world. At one point they had two people in the field for every one at home. And those who remained at home were not idle. From there, prayer continued twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for an entire century!

CMA, at its core, hopes to be a movement that follows this example. We unite on the essentials, grant freedom on the nonessentials, and desire to be controlled by our love for Jesus and one another in everything.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The problem of cooperation based simply on doctrine

There is a problem in defining our Christian fellowship based on the subtleties of our doctrines. We are then forced to decide what we believe on a variety of theological issues and develop a creed or statement of faith by which we determine who we will work with and who we will not. We place on this theological banqueting table our best theological assumptions, but also our less certain ones. Unfortunately, all the entrees are treated with the same certainty and given the same authority. The consequences are that minor doctrines then carry the same weight as the major ones. Our view of speaking in tongues is as authoritative as the deity of Christ. Our view of the timing of certain end times events carries the same weight as the inspiration of Scriptures.

The worst thing when this occurs is not the elevated importance of lesser doctrines, but the diluting of the more important ones. In either case, we have problems.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Theology is a Journey into the Mysterious

I am bored with theologians who think they have an answer for all the questions of divinity. I find theologians who live with unanswered questions far more interesting. I fear that some theological systems are so “sound,” with categories and boxes for everything, that they simply cannot be true. Faith is not merely an intellectual exercise; it is a journey through new uncharted waters full of unexpected surprises and unexplained mysteries. In fact, “faith” and “facts” are really at odds with one another. If you know something, it is no longer faith it is now a fact. Faith requires, at its core, unanswered questions. Some of the theological systems that men have forged are more like a logical workout then a mysterious journey.

When two people in suits come to my door with logical answers about every theological subject I not only find them boring, but I know that they are false prophets. If you can explain all there is to know about God, then your god is too small for me. I want a God that is bigger then my 5.5” x 6.5” cranium.

One day, Augustine was walking along the shore of the Mediterranean contemplating the triune nature of God. He happened upon a small boy who dug a hole and was running back and forth from the ocean to the hole collecting and then pouring water into the hole. Augustine asked what he was doing. The boy said, “I’m putting the ocean in this hole.” Augustine realized that by trying to understand God entirely was as ridiculous a proposition as filling a small hole with an entire ocean.

The theologian who worked alongside of Luther in the reformation, Melancthon once said, “It is better to worship the great Divine than to explain Him.”


I have been posting excerpts from my upcoming book Organic Leadership. Hope it stimulates thinking and discussion. The book comes out February from Baker Books. We will give away 100 to the first 100 who register for our conference Feb 19-21 in Long Beach, CA. register at this link:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Exit Strategies & Empowerment Strategies for Christian Leaders

The best exit strategy is a sound empowerment strategy. If you are unable to empower others to do the job you will never be able to leave well.

I have seen my life change from being a valuable pastor to a disposable pastor. Instead of being needed, I want to be unnoticed. I consider myself a success when I can fade from the picture and others rise to the job before us. This is the true calling as a leader in God’s kingdom. The one who wants to be great is a servant of all. This is the difference between being a doer and being an equipper.

When you exist to help others do the job instead of yourself you have finally matured to the level of an equipper. The more valuable you are the less successful you are as an equipper of others. Ironically, the more disposable you become the more valuable you are, because there are not that many leaders today who are able to do this. We have entered into the day of recyclable disciples and disposable pastors. If you are not willing to give your role to another you do not deserve the role. As a leader in God’s kingdom, your success is no longer to be evaluated by what you do but by what others around you are able to do. You cannot get to the place where you see your life and ministry this way without taking the lonely road through the cross. A crucified leader is an equipper of others.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Separating the business from the church

Businesses and the church are not the same. The objectives of a business and the objectives of the church are two very distinct and competing propositions. What makes a church successful is far removed from what makes a business successful. I have seen businesses that try to sound almost church-like in their mission. One business touts: “Our business is to serve people.” But the reality is it exists to make a profit just like most other businesses. Even “Non-profit” businesses make a profit, and cannot function if they lose money continually.

There are some businesses that have as a mission to resource the kingdom of God and are not about making money. They wrestle with the tension of serving the church and surviving at the same time. I know, because I am part of a team that leads such a resource business: CMAResources.

We have, more than once, made suicidal decisions for our business. I will elaborate more on this in a later chapter, but suffice to say, our purpose is not self-preservation but kingdom expansion. That sounds very church-like, doesn’t it? Some would wonder then why we would consider ourselves a business and not the church. We are a business in that we seek to resource the kingdom; we are not a church. We exchange goods and service for money and that puts us in the business category, even if we’re intentionally not very good at it.

I learned something a few years ago about all this. It is a simple two-point formula that seems to make sense and bring clarity.

1. Running a business like a church will kill it.
2. Running a church like a business will also kill it.

When this became clear to me, we decided to separate Church Multiplication Associates (CMA) from CMAResources so that we could view them both differently and not unwittingly kill both of them.

CMA is pure kingdom, no employees, no job descriptions, no organizational flow charts, and no exchange of goods and services for financial remuneration. It is like-minded servants of Jesus who are in relationship together while on mission for the King.

CMAResources, however, does have employees (two of them). We exchange resources for money, and that alone puts us into a business category as far as I am concerned. We are an intentionally lean organization that tries hard not to be exploitative. We keep our prices lower then we have to so that our resources are more accessible. We intentionally give much away. Our mission is to create resources that reproduce healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements. But we are a business, although not a profitable one.

We may actually be a business that functions like a church, but not the other way around. Now, I did say that such a proposition would kill the business, didn’t I? Well it can, and actually, we’re okay with that idea. We do not exist to make money but to further the kingdom. Still, we want to stay in the business category so that we do not assume the sacred trust of being a church and all that goes with it. We want to resource the church and not compete with it. If we go “out of business” in fulfilling our mission without exploiting the church, we would view that an acceptable risk…even a success.

There are also a great many churches that, unfortunately, function like a business. In fact, this is a rampant problem of epidemic proportions in my opinion. Churches have become brokers of spiritual goods and services to Christian consumers. They have a board of directors and a CEO, and if they are large enough, they may even have a CFO (Chief Financial Officer).

Running a church like a business is a far more dangerous proposition then running a business like a church. A business that runs like a church will just go out of business. Running a church like a business, however, will suck the life out of the church. The church will die, but unfortunately, the business may not—it may continue to thrive and remain a business that calls itself a church. That is the danger.

It is a very scary plot when a business carries on with the authority of God’s sacred church behind it in the eyes of God’s people. Science fiction horror stories are made of such schemes. An exploitive company that acts in the “business of God” and is profited by it, all with tax-exempt benefits is a dangerous proposition if you ask me.

We all seem to understand the principle of the separation of church and state. Perhaps we should start understanding the wisdom of the separation of church and corporate business. Everyone who knows me or has read any of my previous work would know I am not saying that church should be removed from the marketplace. No, I am suggesting that the marketplace be removed from the church. Perhaps we should overturn the money tables again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Indulgences Today?

Those who are perceived to have access to God have great power. In Luther’s day, those people were the Roman Catholic church leaders, and he made a stand against such practices. They made a fortune selling indulgences—access to heaven for those who paid enough money and built great monuments to their cause in Rome.

Indulgences are no longer sold today, but we still wrestle with the same underlying issues. Some leaders hold on to the power of God’s word and keep people in a sense of obligation to these authorities, who are perceived to be the only ones we can trust to truly understand God’s Word. Others use every means necessary to receive money from God’s people in exchange for spiritual goods and services.

Simply peruse the Christian television channels for a single evening, and you will see those who sell prayers, healings, blessings from God, and perhaps even salvation to those who will send in their money. In exchange, you may even receive a signed copy of the speaker’s latest book—a $24.99 value for a onetime gift of $100 or more. In one case a prayer cloth that was personally prayed over and anointed by the pastor was sent to anyone who would send in a “faith-gift” of $25 or more. Donors were instructed to place the cloth over any ailing part of their body, and they would be healed. One leader, wanting to demonstrate his servant leadership, would actually send out a moistened towelette packet that he prayed over to “faith-givers” so that donors could use it to wash their feet, thereby enabling the leader to do so by proxy. It is disgusting how abusive Christian leaders can still be even in this day. We may not call them indulgences today, but they are much the same.

The extreme abuses have been well documented by others, and we need not delve any further. Actually, it is the less extreme cases that I find more dangerous because we tend to simply accept them as normative or, worse, spiritually right.

It starts subtly, like serving Starbucks coffee on Sundays, but it can end up going to extremes and, like the frog in the slow boiling kettle, we don’t realize just how far we have gone.

I have written before of a church planter who took out an ad in a paper offering to pay people $100 if they attend his church. Today he has changed his philosophy and is actually quite embarrassed by his attempts at church growth no matter the cost. I want you to see how easily even good folks can get caught up in some unsound thinking regarding these things.

I read of one church that raffled off a $500 gift card for gasoline in order to get people coming to their services. A fast growing church in my own area advertised free raffle tickets to potentially win a new car to the first 100 newcomers who showed up at their Easter service. Like a business, our churches are competing with other churches for our attendance…and tithe dollars.

I’ve not heard any evangelical churches threaten the fires of hell for those who refuse to give money yet, like in the time of Luther, but we are closer than we might think. From the perspective of the non-Christian it is clear that unless one attends a religious service weekly they are not a Christian in good standing.

Just to give you an example of what I mean: We emphasize that Christians are going to heaven and non-Christians are not. We tell them they need to decide to become a Christian (like us) to escape hell. When we evangelize people it usually ends with us taking them to church to hear the gospel and close the deal. We give them the call to walk forward down the aisle to receive salvation. At the altar we escort them to a prayer chamber where we counsel them and sign them up for a newcomers class to become a church member. In the new member class these same people are taught the importance of tithing to the church if they want to be a good Christian. I am aware that most of the churches in America would not believe that church membership is a requisite for salvation, but I am describing how it may appear to someone who is not a Christian yet. We are not as far from selling indulgences than we may think.

We divide the world into two categories. Sometimes we use the distinctions of “saved” or “unsaved”, “saints” and “sinners”, “Christians” and “non-Christians” sometimes it is “believers” and “unbelievers”, but often in our language the words “churched” and “unchurched” are thrown out in the same vein as the others. The logical assumption is that they need to change their Sunday morning routine if they want to avoid an eternity of suffering in hell. We may not truly believe this, but our actions communicate something else entirely. And people do pick up on our nonverbal sermons as much (or more) than our recorded ones.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

From Stardom to Stoning (from Organic Leadership 2b released this February)

Acts 14 tells a story about Paul and Barnabas who are preaching in Lystra. A miracle occurs, and the people begin to think that Paul and Barnabas are gods; they start to worship them. Paul and Barnabas immediately rush out into the crowd tearing their robes saying “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you.”

Christian leaders today need to do the same thing. No longer allow people to be irresponsible with their lives as if they are not accountable to God for the bringing the kingdom of God to their vocation, neighborhood and family. Pastors need to reinforce the idea that they are not more important in God's kingdom than any other follower of Jesus. Every one of us is an agent of God's kingdom, with a holy calling to Serve the King. We must end the cycle of dysfunction where the church leaders are codependent (needing to be needed) and the parishioners are relieved of the responsibility of being kingdom agents.

It is important, however, that I be honest. When co-dependents decide they will no longer enable addicts, the response is usually harsh and immediate. Those who are dependent on some compulsive behavior do not like to have their irresponsible lifestyle cut off. They will strike swift and hard.

Just the next few verses in Acts 14 and the same people who wanted to worship Paul as a god ended up stoning him and dragging his dead-like corpse out of the city. It will cost us to break the cycle, but it is the only way for God’s people to gain the freedom necessary to carry the Kingdom of God into the world.

Monday, December 1, 2008

You’d be surprised what people will do for Jesus

We ask for volunteers all the time. We offer spiritual-gift assessments to see where people fit best in our program, but we never really offer very challenging experiences for people. Handing out bulletins, directing traffic wearing a bright orange vest, chaperoning a youth function, or changing a diaper in the nursery may be helpful for the church program, but none of it is a task worth giving your life to. Many who struggle to do these things have a nagging unspoken question: “Did Jesus come so I can do this?”

We must transition from seeing church as a once-a-week worship event to an ongoing spiritual family on mission together. Then people will see church as something worth giving your life for. Honestly, people need one another more then they need another inspiring message. You would be surprised what people will do for Jesus, or for a brother or sister, that they will not do for a vision statement and a capital giving campaign.