We’d Rather be on the Bench?

Ken has been very clearly sharing each week about the reality of community life in the church, which causes us to think about our current relationship with God. Perhaps his biblical challenges have forced you to admit that we as a church have often been simply a casual fan of Jesus, rather than a committed follower of Jesus.

We believe just enough to know that heaven is the place we want to go after this life, but not enough to make actual changes in our lives that will allow God to use us and therefore make an eternal impact on his kingdom.

We believe the mission and purpose of God is to call out pastors, teachers, and missionaries to build his kingdom, but we settle for sitting on the bench, or sidelines, never really wanting to get into the game.

  • We’re glad we “made the team” by saying YES to Jesus at some point in the past.
  • We’re wearing the team uniform so others know we are on God’s team, but we really don’t make an impact on the team’s success.
  • We know there’s a playbook we have been given, but admit we have not read it enough to know the team strategy.
  • We regularly show up at practice, but make little preparation for the actual game.
  • We’re content to just sit here on the bench and leave reading the playbook and running the plays to the starting team.

We think to ourselves…

  • “I don’t expect to get in the game so I’m just fine sitting here on the bench, dressed out, and wearing my team’s colors.”
  • “I don’t really like practice all that much: the coach is always telling us what to do and how to do it.”
  • “I don’t like that the coach makes the whole team run, shoot, get in shape, hone our skills, and get prepared for the games.”
  • “I admit that don’t really DO all that stuff. I prefer just sitting over here on my team bench, next to this little orange water cooler filled with Gatorade.”

So, you may be asking, “Why are you even on this team?”

“Well, it’s because I like the crowd cheering for me and my team, knowing I just might make it to the Final Four and the Championship Game because of all the dedication, commitment, skills, and efforts of those five starters who get all the playing time.”

Wow, I didn’t think I would take this illustration so far, but the more I thought about it, how often is this true in the church?

  • My faith is all about ME.
  • My faith is personal.
  • My church is also about ME, and my preferences.
  • My church is here, people know how to find us.
  • My spiritual growth is optional.
  • Finding my place of service is optional.

But the Bible begs to differ. Faith is not something that we just have or live out personally or in isolation. There is way too much evidence in Scripture that the Christian faith is meant to be carried out in the context of community.

We often seek God’s will in our own lives but fail to realize that God has a will for HIS church.

  • The church is the gathered group of Jesus followers.
  • The church is people, those who have confessed allegiance to the One who bought them and saved them, not just to sit and soak, but to serve.
  • The church is gifted to do exactly what the Lord desires for each of us to do and accomplish.

I’m not talking about just volunteering, although that is expected when we have a corporate mentality of Christianity. I’m talking about truly understanding what the church is all about.

  • What does God expect of the church?
  • What is God’s vision that he has shown to pastor Ken?
  • What does a disciple of Jesus look like?
  • Why do we gather in worship?
  • What is the Great Commission (Acts 1:8) and how am I supposed to be a part of it?
  • What are my spiritual gifts and where can I exercise or use them?

Jesus mentioned that there are two great commandments: to love God, and then to love others (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 22:36-40). The whole law can be summed up in these two commands, but the Bible also has a lot to say about HOW we live as believers and followers and disciples of Jesus.

This is why Ken has spent so much time casting vision for King’s Grant, defining who we are as a church, helping us to discover our spiritual gifts, and how to exercise and employ the gifts of grace that God has so thoughtfully supplied.

Let God have his way for this church (Philippians 1:6). Stop being content to sit on the bench.

Shepherds in the Church

I read and recommend Jim Putman’s book called, “Church is a Team Sport.” As followers of Jesus, we know that the Bible uses the imagery of a shepherd to describe the leadership in a church, but many pastors and leaders fail to lead the sheep as God intends. Here are a few quotes from the book…

Jesus gave us the example of a true shepherd when He gave up His life for us. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders to shepherd the flock of which he had made them overseers. He reminds the leaders in that passage that the sheep were purchased by God.

God describes His expectations of a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–10. [ read more about shepherds here and here ]

We see God judging the shepherds because they failed to fulfill their responsibility—they had not fed the sheep but only themselves.

In Ezekiel 34, the sheep were not cared for. When they were hurt, they were not nursed back to health. When they strayed or were lost, the shepherd didn’t look for them. They became food for wild animals. This is what happens in the church when God’s people are not shepherded.

Unfortunately, sheep stink, bite, and wander, and they can be stubborn. Yet God expects shepherds to care for His flock.

Many pastors teach but are not around when the sheep need help. Granted, a pastor can’t do everything, but his responsibility is to make sure all the positions on the team are filled.

Every coach needs to have a game plan for shepherding the hurting and chasing strays. We are often like the hired hand Jesus talks about. When the wolf comes, we run or ignore the plight of the sheep because we don’t really love them.

Sometimes, shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information.

Most of us think this means writing better sermons, but you have heard the true statement that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A leader must be someone who knows his sheep and understands their needs. He leads them, teaches them, and models for them how to serve God and others. There is mutual accountability and trust. The shepherd knows when his sheep have succeeded, and he celebrates with them. He knows when they feel defeated and need encouragement and support. He grieves with them, and when the sheep wander, he does all he can to get them back on track.

When a church becomes a shepherding community, when they care for the needs of others, when they help people beat the habits that have always beaten them, when they dare to be real, others can’t help but notice. They see joy and a change in the person they have always known, and they become interested—even excited. At the very least, they keep watching.

Fully Engaged in My Church

In the book, unChristian, I discovered that Christianity has an image problem. We just heard random people on the street talk about their impressions of the church. They’re talking about us. We are boring, hypocritical, deceptive, interested more in conversion than the person themselves, too political, anti-choice and anti-women, anti-homosexual… like we’re known more for what we are against than what we stand for. The question of the day is, “What would anyone in our society want to be connected to the church, much less become fully engaged?” I hope I am able to come up with an answer over the next 15 minutes.

Last week the message was on the importance of being fully engaged with God, so this week I’m going to talk about the local church being the key to our engagement with God!

The key verse: 2 Chronicles 16:9 – The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

There is power in a fully committed life, but what does it actually look like?

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus, to become fully engaged with God and my church. But look again; these 10 behavior traits don’t look much like the disciples. I dare say they are not of Jesus’ disciples at all, but of his chief opponents, the Pharisees. Perhaps you’ll take a look at this post on What Does a Disciple Look Like?

I’m convinced that real-life discipleship (becoming more like Jesus in character and attitude) is what happens between the gathering times at church. What are people like at home, at school, in the lunchroom, in the office, on dates, at parties, in the locker room, in the boardroom, on the computer, or at the after-school job? What are they like when no one is looking? Do they demonstrate unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, concern for others, kindness, servanthood?

I also believe that real-life discipleship is also marked more by footprints than by monuments. For me, discipleship focuses on long-term commitments rather than a one-time decision to “accept Christ” or to become a Christian. It involves forward motion, a journey, a marathon. People may look at imperfection and failures of so-called Christians, but remember that the word disciple means learner, not expert.

At the beginning I want to remind you that we need to develop what I call firsthand faith. This is not faith inherited from parents, or Sunday school teachers or the pastor, but we take ownership of our own faith. Once faith becomes firsthand, it transforms into a conviction that will not be swayed by competing worldviews or other religions. Is there little wonder why teenagers often leave the faith when they leave home, or graduate God after they graduate high school?

Perhaps the church must stop trying to cram our bags with only the right beliefs and make us carry it because they said so. Rather, we should use questions and strategies that help people unpack the baggage they’ve been carrying. Re-examine the faith they have and discover why it’s in there.

So, how do you know that you are living out your own faith? I found a Gallup poll from October 2004 which described church members and non-members and their spiritual commitments, do they “strongly agree” to these nine factors.

  1. I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
  2. My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
  3. Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
  4. Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
  5. My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
  6. I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
  7. My faith gives me an inner peace.
  8. I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.
  9. I am a person who is spiritually committed.

On the chart, notice that 39% spend time in worship or prayer on a daily basis, and 62% treat others with kindness or encouragement. Gallup also discovered that 90% of Americans believe in God or a higher power, yet as we see here, so few of them spend much time communicating with this God or higher power.

Overall, the results are that 22% of church members and only 3% of non-members are described as fully committed. The bottom line is that there is a disconnect between faith and practice in America.

So, what does it take to become fully engaged, sold out follower of Jesus in my church? I hope that this list will be something you use to evaluate yourself… “do I have this action, am I doing it, am I not doing it?

1. I take responsibility daily for my spiritual growth.

Key phrases: Take Responsibility, let’s say it together. Once more.

Think about a brand new baby, we have to do everything: feed, change, clean. Babies need someone to help them grow, but there comes a point when they have to be responsible for their own growth. Bethany’s hungry, when she was little I had to do everything, but now she can walk to the refrigerator and get something all by herself.

Can you imagine your child when he or she was in a high chair? It’s fine when they’re two, but now that they are 35 it’s a little weird. A lot of Christians are like this… feed me, feed me! It’s like they still want to be in the high chair, but it has turned into an “I” chair, because they really think it’s all about me, and what I can get. So, that’s the first step of becoming fully engaged with my church.

James 4:8 – Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

How do you start? Draw close to God, instead of living this divided life. Listen, you are as close to God right now as you want to be. God is not playing hide and seek.

2. I practice contentment in all areas of my life.

I am basically asking if you are satisfied with your life. Surveys show us that Americans are a pretty dissatisfied group. We are always discontent; climbing the corporate ladder, finding the right spouse, driving the better car, buying the next iPhone or gadget.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with your marriage, relationships, job, career, where you live? Notice that discontentment comes when we can’t enjoy the NOW because we are too stuck in the past or too focused on the future. I have struggled with this, coming from Chatham and the small town life to the busyness of Virginia Beach. I could walk to the church, to Hargrave Military Academy where I taught, to my favorite Mexican restaurant right on main street.

Others look in the other direction, into the future, so they are not content in the present. They are not fully engaged in the church because they know they are stationed here for a short time and know they will move, so why get more involved? Besides, it hurts when we make friends only to leave in a short time, so why risk the pain?

Philippians 4:12 – I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

Do not let the past or the future rob you of the joy and contentment your have today!

3. I serve others and not just attend church.

Here is where it gets practical; from taking responsibility and contentment to something very practical. Service is a very real path to engagement in my church. Serving others is also the Jesus path to greatness.

John 12:26 – Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

So, how are you serving Jesus? You start by volunteering to meet needs… preschool help, Operation Inasmuch, setting up for classes, teaching a class, making phone calls, folding letters, chaperoning a youth event.

There are plenty of people in this congregation that always step up to the plate when there is a need, and others that always seem to let others step up. They say people in our society desire anonymity when it comes to church, but that is not what church is about, it is about community, faith, and love.

What must we do if we desire greatness? Here is what Jesus said…

Matthew 23:11 – The greatest among you must be a servant.

4. I invite people to come to my church.

Inviting people does not always mean they will come. But are you generally excited about what God is doing here? Do you see lives changed? Needs met? Purpose realized? Coming to understand a spiritual truth when you finally get it, it just clicks?

Do we really believe that people are lost without hope if they reject the good news of Christ? Sometimes we just get comfortable with our small group and are not interested in growing. We always say that we want to grow, but what steps do we take to actually grow, what sacrifices do we make to help growth to happen?

Do you pray for lost people you know? Do you stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you took a step a faith and actually “got out of the boat” because Jesus was out of the boat walking on the water?

Colossians 4:2-6 – Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

How are you doing with the checklist? Responsibility, Contentment, Service, Inviting people? The last item is a very practical step.

5. I bring my tithe to God each week.

The Bible tells us that what you do with your money is the one initial and greatest signs of your engagement with God! Let me illustrate.

When Stephen was young, we would occasionally eat out at fast food places. It happened that I finished my fries, none left, and saw Stephen had quite a few on his tray, so I reached over and took a few. To my surprise he objected, “Those are mine.”

  • Did he not know that I’m the one who bought him the fries in the first place? Perhaps next time I would not buy any fries at all, then where would he be?
  • Does he know realize that I can go up to the counter and buy more fries than he could possibly eat?
  • Does he underestimate my strength? I could just take all of his fries away from him. So, what’s up with, “Those are mine?”

In the church, it’s like God saying to us, “If you want me to bless your life, just share your fries.” And we just cross our arms and say – no. God just wants 10% and for us to realize that we wouldn’t have anything if it were not for Him.

Malachi 3:10 – Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!

  • Bring – Bring (as Paul says, on the first day of the week – 1 Corinthians 16:2) what you have purposed in your heart, don’t rob God of what He requires.
  • All the tithe – Ten percent, not a potion of what is left over at the end of the month.
  • Into the storehouse – This represents the church, so don’t split it up between several worthy causes. Support other causes with your offerings, not your tithe.
  • Put Me to the test – See what happens as we honor God in this area; a blessing so great we won’t know what to do with it.

Ultimately, this is not a money issues, it is a heart issue. Jesus said that where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

So, these are the fruits of an engaged life. Taking responsibility, experiencing contentment, serving God and others through the church, inviting people into the fellowship, and bringing the tithe to God each week. How are you in all these areas? What is the fruit of your life? Do you have all five? Which one can you work on this week?

Matthew 7:16-17 – You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.

I trust you will step out in faith today and bear the fruit that God desires and deserves.

What We Need From Pastors

Today, I was reading Brian Dodd on Leadership. A good word for pastors…

We want our pastors to work on their craft, to be prepared, to think of new and creative ways to communicate the timeless message of Jesus Christ. But because of the over-abundance of pastoral talent and our access to it, we no longer need slickness and craftiness.

Here are a Few Things we Need:

  1. When you stand up on Sunday, we do not need you to impress us with your brilliance and insight. We just need to know you have been with alone with God and he has marked your life.
  2. We do not need a talk. We need you to have a message for us from the Ancient of Days addressing the issues we face at this point and time in human history.
  3. We need you to have calloused knees on our behalf.
  4. We need you to elevate the importance of the Bible. It is God’s Word on paper and we want to know what it says.
  5. We need you to preach the truth of Scripture, the virgin birth, the sinless life of Jesus, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
  6. We need you to tell people there is a heaven and a hell and everyone will go to one or the other.
  7. We need you to challenge us to live righteous and holy lives.
  8. We need you to prioritize the pursuit of personal holiness over the pursuit of personal freedoms.
  9. We need you to be a picture of the desired destination at which you wish for us to arrive.
  10. We need you to put your relationship with God above all else and your family second.

Here are a Few Things we Need for You to Know:

  1. We need you to know how much we love and admire you.
  2. We need you to know how often we pray for you.
  3. We need you to know how much we appreciate the fact you could make far more money consulting or in corporate America but you choose to pastor sheep like us.
  4. We need you to know how much we look forward to hearing you each Sunday.
  5. We need you to know we have you and your family’s back.
  6. We need you to know we were glad you were there at our most defining moments – weddings, funerals, baptisms and baby dedications.
  7. We need you to know how sorry we are for saying stupid, uneducated, and ill-advised things we deeply regretted later on.
  8. We need you to know we should have paid you more.
  9. We need you to know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.
  10. We need you to know how glad we are you did not resign this past Monday but decided to come back for another Sunday.

[print_link] [email_link] [ Brian Dodd on Leadership ]

Statements that Kill a Church

Six Statements That Can Kill a Church

Words can kill churches because they often have deadly actions behind them. As we begin this new year, please allow me to share six statements that I have heard from church members whose churches have died.

Please hear that last statement again: These are statements from church members whose churches have already closed their doors. I am convinced these statements were major contributors to the churches’ demise.

We pay our pastor to do evangelism.” The common meaning behind this statement is that the members have no intentions of sharing their faith. A church with non-evangelistic members is a dying church.

Without our money, this church would be in trouble.” Ouch! The key word here is “our.” Members with this attitude do not give with an open hand; they perceive the money they give to the church is their money, not God’s money. This tight-fisted non-stewardship, if prevalent in the church, is a sure sign of sickness or death.

This church is not meeting my needs.” For certain, members’ needs should be met. But have you noticed that, often times, the most needy members are the first to complain and the first to leave? We should certainly care for the needs of the flock, but the attitude of the members should be that of serving instead of being served.

We pay the salary of the pastor and staff, so they should listen to us.” This deadly statement has two major inflictors of pain. First, the money is treated with a tight fist, as I noted above. Second, the money is used to control leaders. I served in a church where a member made that statement to me frequently. Years after I left, I learned he never gave a dollar to the church.

We will let the next generation deal with change.” When older generations make this statement, they are resolutely refusing to make necessary and immediate changes. Sadly, the next generations won’t stick around in such a church to make the changes.

I was here years before the pastor came; I’ll be here years after he’s gone.” This statement is one of power and control rather than service and giving. It’s about out-lasting each pastor to keep the church just the way the member wants it. It’s a statement that was commonly heard in churches that have closed their doors.

I remain an obnoxious optimist about our local congregations. But, sadly, many will die in this year and the next. Most of them will have had members who made these six deadly statements.

[print_link] [email_link] [ This is directly from Thom Rainer’s blog ]