What Is the Goal of a Local Church?

It is my perception that some churches that are growing quickly see it as their purpose to facilitate as many conversions as possible. Just get people saved. This is a great goal! Churches that aren’t working hard to see converts are not being faithful.

At the same time, Ephesians 4:11-13 shows the opposite end of the goal of a local church–complete Christlikeness of every member.

he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Like I mentioned above, a local body of Christians is being unfaithful if they’re not working to see conversions. According to Ephesians 4, however, a local body is also being unfaithful if they’re not working to see their members grow to Christlikeness.

According to these two goals, which church is being more faithful, the one who spends all her time looking for conversions while neglecting the growth and health of the current members, or the one who neglects working for new converts and spends all her time on the growth and health of her members?

I contend that they are equally unfaithful churches. A church is called to make disciples–by starting relationships with people to evangelize so they will see conversions, AND to continue relationships within the body to encourage spiritual growth in Christians.

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Why Membership Is Part of the Young Adult Exodus Discussion

church-yaI started reading about young adults leaving churches when I was working at Randall House in 2009. Then it was more about stats and ideas. Now that I’m a pastor, it’s hitting home. This is about real people.

I’ve had several conversations with young people who have grown up in church and who are now either abandoning orthodox Christianity or are considering leaving. They’re wondering whether or not God exists, whether there is validity in other religions, and whether or not they can trust the Bible. Others don’t express their doubts as honestly as their peers, but show where their heart is by their apathy toward Christ and His church.

Lynsey and I were talking when we both wondered aloud: “Why is this happening? What’s so different about their upbringing than ours?”

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I don’t know if we ever will. Perhaps seeking those answers is futile in some ways. The milk has been spilled, so to speak. This does not mean I am giving up on these young people. I pray for them regularly. I express to them that they are welcome to ask hard questions of me, our church, and of God.

At the same time, I acknowledge one thing (of many) churches must do if they want to seriously deal with this issue of young people leaving Christianity:

Make membership matter.

Who’s showing true evidence of conversion in their life by devotion to Christ in repenting of sin? Those people should be members. Those whose lives profess something other than Christ should not be members of local churches. The next generation depends on it in part.

This doesn’t mean Christians are perfect or that if you’re a sinner you’re not accepted at our church. In fact, if you deny you’re a sinner, you’re not going to fit in very well (in fact, you’ll never be a Christian until you do). But those of us who have trusted in Christ to save us are repenting sinners–people who acknowledge their sinfulness but by God’s grace and power, seek to turn from their sin to obey their Savior. This is a Christian, and this is a church member. Those who deny their need to repent by their consistent refusal to do so show they want no part of Christ, and should not be affirmed to be in Christ by being received as members in a church. It will help those who are searching to know who is really in and who is really out.

If no one knows who’s in or out, how is a young adult supposed to know what a real Christian is supposed to look like? Perhaps it is foolish to assume that college students who grew up in church will follow Christ when many of the church members they’ve observed throughout their lives haven’t been.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian today is because I saw how real my parents’ faith was. I always knew they weren’t perfect people, but I knew they were repenting people. I saw the tears on their faces when I walked in the living room to see them reading their Bibles. I was humbled when they would apologize to me and my siblings for letting their anger get the best of them.

Not every child or student who walks through the doors of a church will have parents like mine. We can’t equip parents who don’t want to disciple their children. And not every student who has parents like mine become true disciples. There is not one determining factor we can point to that decides whether or not someone follows Christ. But there’s one factor we can control better than we have: we can make sure the members they do see at church are true disciples.

Then at least they’ll have a better idea what a Christian really is.

A Purpose Statement for Corporate Singing

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Here’s our purpose statement for corporate singing at Central Church in Royal Oak:

To glorify God by equipping the congregation to encourage and teach one another through rich, Christ-centered songs.

There are few things we mean when we say that. Here are some of them.

“. . . equipping the congregation to . . .”

This influences what we sing. If the congregation is not skilled enough to sing the song, then we don’t sing it no matter how rich or Christ-centered it is. Some songs are great songs, but they are not congregational songs. I’ve heard someone make the argument, “Well, have you ever been to a U2 concert? Those melodies are not easy, and everyone sings them.” Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But how many 80-year-olds do you know that could sing them? The last time I looked at my congregation, I saw young and older people.

It influences how we sing. A few weeks ago I was playing drums and noticed that when we did a key change on a particular song that we lost about half the congregation. We won’t do that keychange again. Why? Because it wasn’t clear enough for the congregation to follow. Another example is how loud I play the drums. I sometimes get too excited and play too loud. It can be distracting from people singing. That’s a no-no, and yours truly needs to tone it down to encourage people to sing.

“. . . encourage and teach one another . . .”

“I love worship services because I know it’s just me and God alone in such an intimate environment.” It’s certainly good to glorify God in singing. In addition to that, we see one of the main purposes in singing according to Colossians 3 to emphasize the corporacy of the moment. That means if what we’re doing encourages people to “zone out” everything around them, then we’re not leading well. Why? Because we want to help foster an environment where the congregation worships God by encouraging and teaching one another in singing.

When the congregation gathers, it’s a corporate event. The most spiritual thing to do during singing in a church service isn’t necessarily closing your eyes and raising your hands (I have nothing against that, however!). It could be opening your eyes, singing loudly, and looking around while you do so to listen to others sing with you.

I don’t mean to minimize acknowledging the Spirit’s presence in us and with us as a congregation. It is wonderful to glorify the Lord with our voices and hearts in singing, and Lord willing we do that. We shouldn’t worship the congregation. But we should worship as a congregation, not just as individuals.

“. . . through rich, Christ-centered songs.”

We want to sing songs that are going to last long enough so our grandchildren could sing them. We want them to have depth and meaning so that they don’t leave you wondering what they’re really saying. A good worship song is more like a quality steak than cotton candy. Each bite leaves you appreciating a different nuance in the taste, and when you’re done, you’re satisfied.

If Scripture is about Christ, then our singing should be about Christ. If a Mormon could sing our songs without any problem, then we should be second guessing what we’re singing. I don’t mean to say there isn’t truth in songs that don’t mention Christ. Instead, I say this because of a continued nominalistic “Christianity” in our culture that embraces many spiritual things but never really spells out who Christ is and what His followers are called to. We don’t have time for nominalism. As the Sovereign Grace Music line goes, “Show us Christ.”

When People Don’t Show Up

Ever since I began full-time ministry I’ve been struggling against finding my worth based on how many people show up. It doesn’t really matter what event it is: Bible study, hang out, worship service, whatever. If I’m heading it up, I feel more significant when more people come and I feel foolish when not many come and give lame excuses.

I know this isn’t right and that I shouldn’t think that way or feel that way, but it doesn’t mean the battle isn’t real.

I have picked up on something that lets me know my heart motivation is in this place. Whenever someone doesn’t come to a gathering and my initial reaction is sarcasm, I know I’ve succumbed to the lie again. Sarcasm for me is a nice way of being angry.

How do I know this is a sign I’m justifying myself based on attendance? Because the biblical response when someone is resistant to being part of the body of Christ isn’t anger, but Godly sorrow. Most of the time, I confess, I am not sorrowful that people aren’t interested in wanting to know Christ more through the class we’re offering or the program we’ve worked hard on. Most of the time I’m angry they’re more interested in going fishing than spending time with me.

That’s pride on my part. I don’t want to be that way.

And yet, I remember the truth about someone who died to justify me before God. I look to Him for freedom from my self-justification method, and ask for grace to have His heart toward those to whom He has called me to minister.

Part of What Church Attendance Means and Doesn’t Mean

car_in_garage_by_C_DOBeing inside of a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being inside of a garage makes you a car.

I love pithy statements like that.

Mind if I attempt another one to help balance the one above? While its true that being inside of a garage doesn’t make you a car, it’s also true that if a car is going to function like its supposed to, it definitely has to spend time in a garage. While being in a church building doesn’t make you a Christian, a Christian must spend time with other Christians (the church) in order to function like he’s supposed to.

We should be clear that salvation is by God’s grace in Christ through faith in Him. No one is declared righteous before God because they gather with Christians every Sunday. There very well may be people who are trusting in their religious fervor instead of trusting in Christ for salvation. We should warn against that. I warn against that at my church.

At the same time, Scripture is clear in calling believers in Christ to meet together:

. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).

If those who have been born again by the Spirit of God upon their faith in Him are “the body of Christ and individually members with it” (1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12; Ephesians 4), then those members will sense their need for one another. After all, there is only one Spirit of God, and that Spirit is one that promotes unity. It would be silly to claim to be unified with a group of people if the group of people never united in a regular gathering.

It is true that salvation is by grace through faith, and it is also true that those who have been saved will show evidence of their conversion, and that one of those evidences is a love for other believers expressing itself in a local church (1 John 4:20). Church attendance doesn’t save you, but for the Christian who has opportunity to gather, it does give evidence of it.

Kingdom Priorities

There was a man who stumbled over treasure in a field and was willing to sell everything he had so he could get the treasure. That’s how valuable the kingdom of God is–it’s more valuable than everything you’ve got (Matthew 13).

May I suggest that a way to tell how much the kingdom of God is worth to us is to ask: “When the priorities of God’s kingdom and another kingdom come into conflict, which one consistently wins?”

Not attending church one Sunday doesn’t cause you to go to hell or lose your salvation, but a lack of desire to attend that expresses itself in missing for almost any reason could be evidence that you don’t truly understand the value of the kingdom of God. That’s a nice way of saying, you might not actually be saved.

Remember these?

Remember these?

Look, I’m not trying to be a “if you aren’t at that building every time the doors open you’re not saved” kinda guy. I get that a local church is more than just a building–it’s a body. I get that a lot of real church stuff happens throughout the week as we encourage, check on, write, text, hang out, etc, with one another. But that doesn’t mean local churches aren’t called to meet together corporately.

I also get that sometimes  you get sick. Sometimes you’re out of town visiting family. Sometimes your job has extenuating circumstances that forces you to work on Sunday for a short period of time. I’m not worried about out of the ordinary situations. I’m worried about those who show a pattern of missing and the implications for that person and the church he is supposed to be part of.

When something conflicts with the kingdom’s priorities, which one consistently wins? How you respond to that in your lifestyle reflects how much you truly value the kingdom of God.

Suppose you’ve got a “friend” who you keep inviting over to hang out, but at the last minute, almost every time, he comes up with an excuse not to come: “I got tickets to the football game.” “I stayed up really late last night.” “I’ve got homework I haven’t done yet.” “I was nervous about getting out in this weather.” Every once in a while he shows up, but based on the excuses he gives you and how many times he has said no, you’re beginning to wonder whether or not he’s really your friend. You’d be crazy not to wonder that! Why would we think it would be any different when it comes to the priorities some have over regularly coming together with other Christians?

After all, going into a garage doesn’t make you a car, but a car won’t be functioning for long if it never spends time in the garage.

Watch Out for the Creativity Trap

imagesI fell into a trap I’m all to familiar with last night: the creativity trap.

Creativity isn’t bad for people in some occupations, but it is often a trap for pastors.

It happens when a pastor sees a need or a problem in his church. “We need more volunteers.” “We need to help our youth get past a spiritual apathy they seem to have.” “We need to win more lost people.”

Not bad things to think about, and most definitely good things to move past. But the trap comes in how I usually respond to the problem. My usual response is generally, “What creative or ingenious thing can I think of to fix this problem?”

That’s the creativity trap right there.

The creativity trap convinces us that we can use non-spiritual means to fix spiritual problems.  

It’s good to be creative. But we fall when we think our creativity is the main way God builds His church.

Spiritual people need spiritual nourishment–God’s Word. The Word of God is the guaranteed method to build Jesus’ church. It cannot fail.

Isaiah 55:10-11:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

There are people associated with your church who will leave saying, “You didn’t wow me.” Listen bro, you can spend all your energy trying to keep those people by making church cooler. More lights. Hipper graphics. Higher resolution videos. More current music. But cool does not build the people of God. God’s sheep long for the food of God’s Word.

Which would you rather have: a cool church full of people threatening to leave unless you entertain them again? Or a church with people content to be spiritually nourished no matter how uncool it is? One crowd comes for creativity, the other comes for God’s Word.

Do you really believe God’s Word will do what God claims it will do? Watch out for the creativity trap.

Why We Should Talk About Sex and Sexuality at Church

men-and-women-symbolsThere’s a certain stigma at many churches that we shouldn’t talk about things that are sensitive or super personal–especially to students.

The problem with that is students are forming their worldview about sensitive and super personal topics whether not we’re talking about them at church.

We need to match the candor of the truth of God’s Word with the candor from the media.

Part of my responsibilities at Central are to teach on Wednesdays to students–high schoolers and college students. Next Wednesday we’ll be starting a series about everything related to sexuality.

I’m going to shoot straight and be very challenging with them. Why? Because they’re thinking about it and are being shaped by our culture. And I’m guessing they haven’t heard much of anything about sex at church other than “Don’t do it until you’re married, and even when you’re married, don’t enjoy it.”

Neglecting to talk about these issues is sending a loud message to those grappling with them: God’s Word is irrelevant to your real life. It’s telling our students that the Bible it cool for knowing where Paul went on his missionary journeys, but for the nitty gritty stuff of life, nah. We’d rather not talk about that here.

Guess what, if we can’t answer intelligibly, truthfully, and compassionately from God’s Word, then people will get answers elsewhere.

*Rant over*

I’ll probably share some of what we’ll discuss here on the blog. Until then, here’s a few topics we’ll be covering, all from Scripture:

  • Sexuality 101–what does it mean that God made us as sexual beings, what happens when people have sex?
  • Why is sex before marriage such a big deal?
  • Homosexuality 1–if God makes people, how could the way I am be wrong?
  • Homosexuality 2–is there any hope for gay people?
  • Homosexuality 3–practical questions and answers
  • Physical Affection for Dating Couples–what is or isn’t appropriate?
  • Sex in marriage–are there lines to cross or not cross?

Are there any particular aspects of this you think high schoolers and college students need to hear about that I haven’t mentioned?

Like an Organ on Ice

20100315PHT70670_original“I can still be a Christian without being committed to one local church.” Sure you can, in the same way an organ can stay alive on ice.

The church is called the body of Christ, and individual Christians are like parts of a body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). Different parts have different purposes and gifts. Each body part needs all the other body parts in order to function well. The health and functionality of an individual body part depends on (1) whether or not its connected to the body and (2) the health of the other parts.

I suppose you can still be a Christian and not be faithful to one local church. But you most certainly cannot be as healthy as you could be, nor can you function the way God intends. 

Here’s an attempt at a practical application:

The Holy Spirit gives gifts to people so the body can be built up (1 Cor 12). If you’re a Christian, He’s gifted you in some kind of way–teaching, mercy, hospitality, discernment, whatever. This fact necessarily assumes you’re going to be around other Christians on a consistent basis (the same Christians) in order to actually use the gift.

How can you use your gift if you’re not around the same Christians on a consistent basis? It takes time to build relationships of trust in order to let someone come into your life and be comfortable with them. If you’re constantly changing churches, don’t go to church at all, or don’t go enough to build any kind of legitimate relationships, how can you use the gift the Spirit has given you? You can’t. At least not well. The result? You suffer from not benefiting from the gifts of others and the body suffers by not benefiting from your gift.

Not to mention other benefits of being committed to one group of people: accountability, purpose, friendship.

Being uncommitted to a local church doesn’t mean you’re not saved. But it does mean you’re not healthy or functioning the way you could be–like an organ on ice.

3 Reasons I’m Blogging Again

Reason 1: I miss it

Life changes. And so do blogs. I’ve been blogging at different places for several years now–when blogs weren’t cool, and then were really cool, and now when they’re only cool for certain reasons. I haven’t blogged for about 6 months, and I miss it.

Blogging taught me to formulate thoughts before I ever spoke in front of people. Now I speak regularly and attribute any kind of comfort I have to, you guessed it, blogging.

I want to continue becoming a better writer and communicator. Blogging will help me do that.

Reason 2: my church

I also want to stay in touch with my church family more than just once a week. Central, many posts will be written with you in mind. Comment, text me, call me. Let’s keep growing in Christ together. Maybe this will be a helpful medium for us to do that.

Reason 3: other pastors

It’s impossible for me to turn thoughts about pastoring, church, and preaching off, so many posts will be about that. Church revitalization is hard work, and I’ve only been doing it for 6 months! I realize most church members won’t care about this side of things, and that’s OK (not sure I would either!). Others of you who are pastors and ministry leaders hopefully will. Help me by sharing your thoughts about the same topics. I’m a rookie, so I need your help!

For what its worth, this is the new blog. Thanks for joining the conversation.