Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Churches Die?

This Fall I am finishing up my Master of Divinity degree by taking an internet-based course on Evangelism. One of the subjects the course covers is an examination of both church growth and church death. My church is at a critical point in its history right now as the church has experienced decline over the last several years due to many factors. We are seeking to “turn the battleship” by Biblical reform and renewed emphasis on the gospel. It isn’t a quick or easy process but there is such great potential here and I am confident the Lord will bless obedience and faithfulness. Concerning the course on evangelism, our notes this week addressed the question, “Why churches die?” This is clearly a path I don’t want to go down so I paid special attention to the insight provided. Hollis Green provides five reasons why churches die (included in our class notes and from his book, Why Churches Die).

1. Churches begin the death process when they overly prioritize their program. My professor, Dr. Dan Crawford suggests, “Perhaps we are spending so much time at the church building that we have little time left for being the church in the workplace.”

2. Churches begin the death process when they employ or continue to tolerate ineffective staff members. I once heard John MacArthur say, “People are where they are because someone led them there.” Leadership has a critical influence and a critical responsibility.

3. Churches begin the death process when they fail to realize the importance of organizational structure. Evangelism is the beginning of the discipleship process and we are called to “make disciples”. Discipleship demands organization. Churches must do a better job at connecting people and keeping account of people.

4. Churches begin to die when fellowship becomes an end within itself. Dr. Crawford adds, “It may well be that without meaningful fellowship a church will die, but it also is a fact that when fellowship’s end is more fellowship, the church is almost dead. That kind of fellowship gradually decreases the circle of interest until there is no vision of people outside that circle. Eventually, the circle itself becomes non-existent.”

5. Churches begin the death process when they continually ignore any type of spiritual renewal or revival. Most people would not admit to this but it happens everywhere. People get caught up in “doing church” they stop “being the church” and the fervency for prayer, evangelism, and genuine disciple-making relationships fades.

This is good insight and we would be wise to heed the warnings. The Bible provides the blueprint and the power for building healthy, Christ-magnifying churches. Let us cling to its words and take them seriously. After all Christ promised that He would build the church (Matthew 16:18)… we must simply be obedient and faithful to Him.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Culture of Sacrifice or Culture of Entitlement?

Ready for a rant this Monday morning? Here it is. I’m a football fan. Friday nights I enjoy our season tickets to the Port Neches-Groves High School Indians’ games. When time avails I’ll catch a college game on Saturday afternoon and on Sundays after morning worship at my church I enjoy floating in and out of a nap on my couch while watching an NFL game. What I do not like is how the amateur and professional athletes seem to reflect our culture’s “entitlement” mentality. Our culture seems to believe that we are all entitled to material prosperity, positive attention, and circumstantial happiness. Many even believe that certain rights, freedoms, and privileges are entitlements rather than responsibilities. This attitude was reflected to me by the recent comments of one Kellen Winslow of the Cleveland Browns.

Winslow is a tight end for the Browns, who currently have a 2-4 record. He has contributed 187 yard and one touchdown so far this season. Winslow missed last Sunday’s game due to a staph infection. He is angry. After speaking with Browns’ general manager Phil Savage, Winslow went to the media to discuss his disappointment over the conversation. Winslow said, “I didn’t get a ‘How are you doing Kellen? It’s good to have you back.’ Nothing like that… I was very disappointed. I basically told him I don’t feel appreciated on this team by you, and I feel like a piece of meat sometimes.” Now Savage is the one who negotiated with Winslow’s agent to pay the 'unappreciated' tight end a 2008 salary of almost $4.6 million. Will someone 'unappreciate' me like that??

This is just one example of the entitlement culture we live in. Let’s not just blame the superstars though. We all battle it. It is called pride. As Christians we need to heavily guard our hearts from that pride so this mentality becomes a foreign concept in the church. We need to be counter-cultural as Romans 12 instructs us. Instead of a culture of entitlement, pride, and selfish ambition we need to demonstrate a culture of sacrifice which magnifies the worth of God in our lives.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two Days with John Piper

Yesterday and today I had the privilege and joy to attend the Desiring God Regional Conference in Austin, TX. John Piper has been used by God for many years to have a profound influence on my life through his preaching and writing ministries. His pastoral ministry has been an example to me of faithfulness. So it was a real blessing to sit under his ministry for two days and soak up his preaching on the subject of "Job: When the Righteous Suffer". I want to recommend the two messages and Q&A session to you as sources for encouragement in the sovereignty of God and Biblical insight into this always applicable message of suffering. Here is a link to the conference messages (audio, video, and notes).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Doctrine of Repentance

We are at war. It is a deadly war and it’s a lot closer to us than the war being fought in Iraq. I’m speaking of course of the war against sin (Matthew 11:12; Romans 7:23; Ephesians 6:10-17). As I’m typing this I’ve had to work at repenting from my anger. My computer is bi-polar and today is the day it won’t cooperate with me. This presents a great temptation to say and think ungodly things. As silly as that may sound to you most of our sinning is not planned out. We react. We spill over. So battling sin begins with saturating our minds and seasoning our lips with God’s Word (see James 3:1-12). Even then however, we are still in the process of being sanctified and we will sin as long as we have breath on this earth. We fight back through repentance.

Repentance is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied doctrines of the Bible. Repentance is not the same as being sorry. It is more than confession. It is more than seeking forgiveness. Repentance is the willful act of changing directions. Repentance is bound up in faith. To have faith in Christ you have to repent from whatever else you were clinging to before, namely sin. Jesus called us to repent (Luke 13:3). Peter preached repentance (Acts 2:38). Paul wrote to the church about it (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). In fact, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians provides us with some very clear instructions about what repentance looks like. Repentance begins with sorrow. Godly sorrow is not just being sorry you got caught and it goes beyond just being remorseful. Godly sorrow ought to move us to change. Paul lists seven qualities of repentance:

1) Earnestness (this is to be serious about change);
2) Vindication of yourselves (this is to seek and show evidence of reform);
3) Indignation (this is to loathe-not love- the sin itself);
4) Fear (this is to realize the holiness of God- see 1 John 5:16-17);
5) Longing (this is to eagerly desire integrity, trust, and relationships restored);
6) Zeal (this is passion to overcome sin); and
7) Avenging of wrong (this is to make every effort to help those whom you have hurt as a result of your sin).

This is the battle we must fight. It is a serious battle, but when we belong to Christ we do not fight in our own strength. The Holy Spirit works through us to refine us for God’s glory (1 Thess 4:1-8).