A Tale of Two Churches: Sending Churches Parts 5 and 6

5. Sending Churches resist the “maintenance” model of ministry. According to Webster, the word maintain means, “to keep in an existing state.” I am not sure that a more fitting and accurate descriptor of the ministry approach of today’s church can be offered. Churches have become successful at keeping things they are or the way they were. Why is this? I believe it a simple matter of ease. It is easier to take no risk. It is easier to not try. It is easier to work within what is comfortable and familiar – even if it doesn’t work. It has been said that a ship is safe in harbor, but ships were not made for such things. The church wasn’t birthed to remain in harbor under the watch-care and supervision of those who belong to its ranks. The church was birthed to be on offense – moving forward with a clear objective and message. Sending Churches resist maintenance and choose action. They choose risk over ease.

6. Sending Churches view missions not as a singular activity to do but as a lifestyle to be embraced. Churches have become masters of compartmentalization with each ministry element (children, adults, students, music, etc.) working independently boasting their own leader, budget, and calendar. Missions and outreach are no different. Missions is often viewed, although improperly, as a single event, offering, or emphasis. It is something the church does rather than who it is. Sending Churches weave the pursuit of those outside of God’s family into the fabric of their overall ministry and work. The tangible acts of service and love that open the doors for gospel conversations (missions) are part of the church’s DNA and ministry expression. Instead of simply “doing” missions, Sending Churches intentionally live a missional lifestyle.

A Tale of Two Churches: Sending Churches Parts 3 and 4

3. The passion and resolve to reach their community is reflected in the budget of a Sending Church. Budgets say a great deal about priorities. How a family, business, or non-profit spends its limited financial resources paints the picture of what they value. If a church is inward-focused and believes its role is to keep the membership comfortable and happy, their budget will reflect this with a higher percentage of comfort and fellowship ministries. As a result, less money is set aside for missions and community ministry. This is the tendency of Staying Churches. However, Sending Churches prioritize the work of missions and community ministry and their budgets reflect their commitment to an outward focus.  Careful study of their budgets shows the value of others, those not part of the body. Sending Churches believe that ministry should be funded. Why? Two reasons. First, funding gives you the freedom to serve. When the opportunity to serve/minister comes along, money does not become the deciding factor. Second, funding provides visual confirmation to the importance of community ministry. When ministry is funded, it becomes real to the body of Christ.

4. Sending Churches intentionally schedule ministries, events, and activities for reaching their community. The key word here is “intentional.” For far too long churches have expected growth and ministry to just happen. They sit back and wait for the community to walk in the front door. This is a poor outreach strategy. Ministry must be premeditated. To reach communities, churches must move from doing things “by accident” to doing them “on purpose.” Nothing good happens by accident. Hesitancy is planning brings about certain failure. Churches must be intentional in the areas of planning, evangelism, and follow-up. Sending Churches place opportunities for service on their calendars and encourage involvement on behalf of the body. The discipline of intentionally scheduling opportunities for service and involvement moves the peg from “on accident” to “on purpose.”

A Tale of Two Churches: Sending Churches Parts 1 and 2

After an unscheduled hiatus, I will continue the “A Tale of Two Churches” series. I began by offering the definition of staying and sending churches. Following the definition of the two church types, I offered 10 characteristics of staying churches. Allow me to recap the definitions.

Staying Churches are those who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. They acknowledge their community, but the acknowledgment doesn’t necessarily translate to responsibility.

Sending Churches are those who are externally focused and intentional when it comes to sending people and resources into their community for the sole purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ. The acknowledgment of their community translates to responsibility and action.

Let’s move on to the characteristics of Sending Churches.

1. Sending Churches understand that time in an enemy. God’s Word have much to say about time. We place time into three concrete categories: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Yesterday in an enemy. We have no control over yesterday, it is gone forever. Yet, Satan would love to keep us here. He would love to keep the church in living in the past. He would enjoy keeping our focus on the “good ole days.” He knows that to do will render the church ineffective today. Tomorrow is an enemy. We enjoy living here as much as we do in the past. We make plans. We talk about where we are going and what we will be doing. We are reminded in James 4:14, “… you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

It is impossible to have control over something that is not even promised to us. Satan would have the church play the “wait until tomorrow” game. On the other hand, we have control over today. We must take advantage of it and spend it in pursuit of what matters to God. The hurting, the broken, the hopeless, and the 3 out of 4 North American’s who are lost do not need the church to waste the time it has been given. With no way to change the past and no assurance there will be a tomorrow, today has to count. It was Dr. David Allen who said, “The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.”

2. Sending Churches have resolved in their heart and minds the church exists for those who are not yet a part of it. Churches are communities of people who have been and are being changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ – that He died and rose again to save the lost. Churches are not places for perfect people, but for those who are broken and sinful. In fact, this is who Jesus came to call and continues to call to himself today. The Church cannot be a place for the saved and satisfied only. The Church has a purpose – to be a living example of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ in this world. Sending churches are willing to sacrifice comfort, traditions, personal preferences to reach those who have not been transformed by God’s grace.

The purpose of anything is in the mind of its creator. The Church was built and formed to be a missionary force empowered to bear the good news of the gospel. Through the centuries we have allowed it to become a sanctuary – an institution for meeting the needs of the saved. Sending Churches has not forgotten William Tyndale’s words, “The Church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.”

 

My Commitments for 2018

2018Today is the day – the first day of a brand-new year. It is a day many people anticipate. Some view today as the best day for watching college football (I am one of those). Some view today as simply a day off from work. Others view today as a chance for a new beginning. Those who view New Year’s Day as a new beginning will make resolutions to stop or start something. Resolutions offered today will include such things as weight loss, increased family time, saving money, to name a few. Personally, I don’t make resolutions. I do however believe in making commitments based on an honest evaluation of the past. With my family at the top of this list, I would like to share with you the commitments I am making this year.

  1. I plan to read smarter, so I may write better. If you are at least an occasional reader of my blog, you know I enjoy reading and writing. The two are joined at the hip in my eyes. My plan this year is to focus and confine my reading to the areas of ministry and leadership. In 2018, I will choose quality over quantity. For me, this smarter reading will sharpen my focus and lead to more beneficial writing here.
  2. I plan to say “no” more often to what pulls me away from my pastoral duties. I tend to say “yes” too often. As a result, I have found myself stretched thin and overloaded. I have been the pastor of First Baptist Church of Perry for five months. It is a huge work. I am enjoying getting to know and spend time with our people. I have a long way to go. My church deserves and needs my attention. I believe God is going to do a great work among His people this year. He is giving me a vision for our church going forward. I/we cannot afford to be distracted.
  3. I plan to be more focused in my preaching and teaching. Having looked back at my preaching and teaching this past year, I realize that at times it was scattered. My prayer is for the Lord to make me increasingly aware of the needs of my congregation, as well as the struggles and issues plaguing our city, state, and nation and speak to them biblically and strategically. This will involve dedicated time away from my pastoral duties for sermon planning/writing. I cannot say how thankful I am that First Baptist Perry makes this time available to me.
  4. I plan to spend more time with my ministerial staff this year. I am privileged to lead the largest ministerial staff in all my years in the gospel ministry. I anticipate the addition of another staff member this year. My desire is to encourage and strengthen them in their areas of ministry. My desire is to move away from “I’m here if you need me” and move toward “Let’s do life and ministry together.”
  5. I plan to begin my book this year. For years I have I have flirted with the idea of a writing a book. Over the past three years I have completed two large bodies of work. The first, a verse-by-verse exposition of the book of Ephesians. This exposition was a requirement for my Doctor of Ministry degree. The second, a three-hour training conference outlining the principles of community ministry and engagement. I envision either of these works serving as the framework for my first book.

Why share these commitments publicly? Accountability. I hope throughout 2018 those who read my blog will ask me, “How are you doing in these areas?” What commitments have you made?

 

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 9 and 10

9. Staying Churches tend to look through the rear view mirror instead of the windshield. Imagine for a moment you get in your car to go somewhere. You get in, adjust your seat, secure your seat belt and take off. You must then choose which glass feature you are going to look through while you drive: windshield or rear view mirror. If your intent is to move forward where you have not been, it would impossible – even unsafe and unwise – to navigate by looking behind you. Staying churches tend to navigate in this manner. These churches spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on where they have been instead of focusing on where they are Please notice that I said, “an unhealthy amount” of time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of what the church has accomplished in the past. It can be helpful at times. If a church lives in the past, consistently looking back to past pastors, programs, and practices, it won’t be long until the phrase, “Our best years are behind us” is uttered.

10. Staying Churches tend to push back against cooperating with other churches when it comes to kingdom work. I want to be careful here. Not all staying churches push back against working with other churches. For whatever reason, many churches- including Southern Baptist churches who tout cooperation as a defining denominational characteristic – are not always ready to cooperate. Perhaps there is a deep-seeded feeling of competition. Perhaps there is a sense of guilt or embarrassment that other churches are doing more. Perhaps it is a fear of other churches stealing members. Perhaps it is easier not to work together. Perhaps it is a lack of understanding of that we are involved in kingdom work and we desperately need each other. I don’t know. Staying churches are content to the pull the entire weight of the Great Commission on their own, and the results are evident.

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 7 and 8

7. In Staying Churches, excuse-making replaces risk-taking. Staying churches tend to be pessimistic in their attitude and demeanor. They tend to see the glass half-empty. When ministry ideas and opportunities are presented, responses such as, “We tried that once and it didn’t work”, “We don’t have the people”, “We could if we had more money”, “No one will help”, and “_________ Church is already doing that” are the norm. When churches move to an inward focus, they stop dreaming and taking risks for the sake of the gospel. Churches should always be stretching, attempting, and moving forward. Time is too short and lostness is too real for the church to not to take risks when it comes to making Christ known.

8. In Staying Churches, people serve out of a sense of obligation rather than from a sense of purpose. Purpose is linked to service. When one understands their purpose for existence (corporate or individual), opportunities for service that fulfill that purpose are viewed with excitement and enthusiasm. These opportunities are viewed as points of fulfillment. If one does not understand their purpose for existence, service is merely a job, a burden, or an inconvenience. It is the responsibility of church leaders to know the church’s individual purpose and engage its members in the fulfillment of that purpose. When the purpose is clear, there is joy in service.

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 5 and 6

5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Many churches today are stuck in a rut. They utilize ministries and strategies that worked decades ago that are no longer fruitful. For a local NT church to reach and impact an ever-changing, ever-evolving community, business as usual cannot be the ministry approach. “Business as usual” carries certain unspoken beliefs. It says evaluating what and why are not important. It says the church is willing to accept mediocrity when God is worthy of excellence. It does not consider the real ministry needs of the community. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty. Change is difficult because it requires work. Change is difficult because it requires real sacrifice. Change is difficult because it brings with it the unknown. On the topic of resisting needed change, Thom Rainer in his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church made this observation about the trajectory of a dying church:

“But dying churches are concerned with-self-preservation. They are concerned with a certain way of doing church. They are all about self. Their doors are closed to the community. And even more sadly, most of the members in the dying church would not admit they are closed to those God has called them to reach and minister.”

 FYI: a rut is a grave with both ends knocked out.

6. Staying Churches believe the church exists to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the member exclusively. Many in the church today believe, whether it is spoken or not, the exists for them and their comfort is of the utmost importance. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” For churches to make difference in the communities where they have been planted, there must be a change in the mindset of the congregation. Less inward focus and more outward looking. Less about self and more about others. It is true that churches have a responsibility to minister to members of the congregation in the areas listed above. While it is true, the focus of the church must be on those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.