A Vision for Healthy Churches

Christianity is not simply a personal relationship with Jesus because there are implications about how we should live as followers of Jesus. Most visible is the relationship we have to the body of Christ.

There is an ongoing participatory relationship in Christianity, and simply put, church is not optional.

Church Matters: for some people, church attendance is boring and unpleasant, like a chore one must do. Other people sense the church is a buffet of programs and events (Bible study, camps, retreats, podcasts, sermons) that seek to help them in their spiritual growth. For the former, church doesn’t matter, but for the latter, church has a purpose, but it doesn’t matter if you drop in and out of some items, there are plenty of other options from which to choose.

According to the Bible, church matters. Participation is not simply a side dish we skip if we already have a full plate. The church should be central in our lives because God made his plan of salvation clear, and his way of developing spiritual maturity is also very clear.

The Church, at the Center of God’s Saving Plan: From the beginning, God’s created people to be in community, just look at Adam and Eve, it is not good for man to be alone. Abraham was promised to be the father of many children and nations. When Jesus walked the earth, did not not call individuals but the Twelve to be his disciples (Mark 3:14). The book of Acts is full of stories about God not calling individuals, but gathering people into a community called the church. Notice God’s purpose for the church in Ephesians 3:10-11.

The Church, at the Center of Christian Growth: Take a look at Ephesians 4:11-16 and notice the purpose of pastors and teachers. We grow as we connect to others through the church. What might you do to better connect to a local congregation?

Image is Everything: How might we detect when a church is healthy or unhealthy? When we talk about image, it is not about physical appearance, but the image of God. We are created to reflect God’s kingdom, his rule and reign over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). After the fall, Christ came to restore the true image of God (Colossians 1:15) and we are to grow into the image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

A Healthy Church is therefore a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been reveal in the Bible. This means we are constantly growing into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18). This is a life-long process called sanctification. All that we know about God we learn through his self-revelation, we call the Bible. It is our only source for faith and practice. We learn who God is and what he is like by reading the Word of God. Read Isaiah 6:1-7 and discover what we know about God’s character.

The Two-step Plan to a Healthier Church: the answer is simple. We are to LISTEN to God’s Word and FOLLOW after Jesus. Read the Word and put it into practice (James 1:22-25, Matthew 7:24-27). Either we build our lives on God’s Word or we don’t; we’re just playing theological games. Mere hearing is not enough.

The Most Important Thing About the Church: Some might say it’s their Sunday School class, youth group, worship, music, missions efforts, food pantry, activities, or even the family life center. Really, the most important thing we must do is expose people to God’s Word every week, and according to the author, that involves expositional preaching.

So, what is expositional preaching? It is preaching that exposes God’s Word, getting the meaning out of the text, explaining it, and helping us to apply its truths. It reveals God’s Word to God’s people. What inspired the author to write this passage? How does it apply to them and then apply to us? (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:1-5).

Without God’s Word preached or explained, there will be no faith (Romans 10:17) and sinners won’t experience death to life (1 Peter 1:23). Everything else the church does should flow from the preaching of God’s Word. We will grow to love what God loves and hate what God hates. All of this will spill over into everyday life.

So, listen up! How often do we leave church only to fail at remembering what we just heard? Take notes. Pray over the text and what was preached. Actively and attentively listen. How we listen reveal something about what we believe about God and his Word. God expects us to listen, trust, and obey. Consider what you expect to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4). How might you respond to what you hear (Acts 17:10-11). How might you discern between truth and error? Listen in order to be transformed and obedient (James 1:22-25, Luke 13:17).

Responding to Conflict Biblically

These are my notes from a seminar on resolving conflict, based on a book by Ken Sande, available at Amazon.

The Peacemaker’s Pledge:

  1. Glorify God – instead of focusing on our own wants and desires, let’s focus on seeking to please God and honoring and obeying him.
  2. Get the log out of your own eye – instead of focusing solely on the faults of the other person, focus on my part in all of this and how I might grow and change my attitudes and behavior.
  3. Go and show your brother his fault – instead of pretending the other person does not exist or overlook his offenses, focus on talking directly to the other person in a biblical manner.
  4. Go and be reconciled – instead of accepting premature compromise or allow the relationship to wither, focus on pursuing peace and reconciliation, forgiving as Jesus would.

Understanding Conflict and Our Responses to it:

  1. What is conflict?
    1. A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.
    2. In a fallen world, conflict is inevitable and should be expected (Romans 3:10-18, James 4:1-3, Acts 15:1-2, 36-39).
  2. What causes conflict?
    1. Misunderstandings (Acts 15:22-29)
    2. Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
    3. Competition over limited resources (Genesis 13:1-12).
    4. Sinful or selfish attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions (James 4:1-3).
  3. God provides a way to deal with conflict.
    1. Many believers have only a devotional theology for conflict resolution.
    2. To be a peacemaker, we need a systematic theology that resolves conflict in a biblical manner.
    3. We are guided by the Peacemaker’s Pledge, the four G’s.
    4. We are inspired and empowered by what God has already done and continues to do for us.
      1. We are powerless in our own strength (Romans 7:15).
      2. The foundation for peacemaking and reconciliation is our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3:24, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 1:20, 3:12-15).
      3. Jesus is our perfect model of a peacemaker: he died for us while we were yet sinner (Romans 5:8, Philippians 2:5-11), he suffered wrongs without retaliation (1 Peter 2:23), he confronted others for their good (John 4:1-26), he loved and forgave even his enemies (Luke 23:34). He promises to work in us so that we may do the same things (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 3:15).
  4. How do we respond to conflict?
    1. Escape response – on one end of the spectrum (designed to get away from the pressure).
      1. Denial – pretend the conflict does not exist or refuse to deal with it properly.
      2. Flight – run away from the person with whom you have conflict (which is appropriate if someone is in danger).
      3. Suicide – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    2. Attack responses – on the other end of the spectrum (designed to bring pressure on your opponent to defeat them).
      1. Litigation – a matter is taken to civil authorities for a decision.
      2. Assault – use force or intimidation to force submission.
      3. Murder – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    3. Conciliation responses – on the middle area of the spectrum (designed to find just and mutually agreeable solutions to conflict). The first three are personal, the latter three are communal.
      1. Overlook an offense – walk away and forgive (Proverbs 19:11, 12:16, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
      2. Discussion – personal offenses are resolved through confession or confrontation, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15, 5:23-24, Galatians 6:1-3, Proverbs 28:13).
      3. Negotiation – substantive offenses are resolved through a bargaining process to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement, involving compromise and collaboration (Philippians 3:3-4).
      4. Mediation – one or two others will meet with the parties to improve communication and facilitate a resolution (Matthew 18:16). Solutions can only be suggested.
      5. Arbitration – When the parties cannot come to a voluntary solution, the arbiter has the power to render a binding solution.
      6. Church discipline – When a Christian party refuses to do what is right and just, the church family intervenes to promote repentance and reconciliation (Matthew 18:17-20). Note that relationship is more important than worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Conflict Provides Opportunities:

  1. To glorify God – show him honor and respect, bring him praise, to be a witness for what he has done in your life.
    1. Trust him (Psalm 37:5-6).
    2. Obey him (John 14:15).
    3. Imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  2. To serve other people.
    1. Help carry their burdens (Galatians 6:2, 10).
    2. Help them change through constructive confrontation (Galatians 6:1).
    3. Teach and encourage others by example (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
  3. To grow into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-4, Hebrews 12:7-13).
    1. Conflict humbles us to remember our need for God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
    2. Conflict confronts us to uncover sinful attitudes and habits (Psalm 119:67, 71).
    3. Conflict provides an opportunity of cast off the old self through repentance and faith, and put on the new self created to be like Jesus (Ephesians 4:22-24).
    4. Conflict helps us practice godly habits (1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14). Remember the ABC’s (Adversity Builds Character).
  4. Opportunity, leads to Responsibility, which leads to Stewarding (a biblical approach to conflict). Stewarding requires an accurate view of God.
    1. If you believe that God is limited in power or his love is inconsistent, you will find it difficult to trust and obey his commands. Now you will take matters into your own hands.
    2. Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and omnipresent, he is unlimited and in charge. (Isaiah 46:10, Daniel 2:20-22, 4:34-37).
    3. God is also all-loving, holy, just, gracious, good, merciful, and faithful. He is for us (Psalm 62:11-12, Isaiah 43:2-3, Matthew 10:30-31).
    4. Therefore, all that happens does not take God by surprise (Matthew 10:29-30, Exodus 4:10-12, Proverbs 16:4-5, Acts 2:23, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Genesis 45:5, 50:20, Daniel 3:16-18).
    5. Stewarding means trusting that God is always up to something good, even when his purposes are not clear (Deuteronomy 29:29).
    6. Stewarding views conflict as an assignment, not an unfortunate accident.
    7. Stewarding focuses on faithfulness more than results (Matthew 25:21, Luke 12:42-47, John 12:24-26).

Peacemaking is Not Optional: (Romans 12:18)

  1. Three dimensions of peace.
    1. Peace with God (Colossians 1:19-20, Romans 5:1-2).
    2. Peace with other people (Romans 12:18).
    3. Peace within ourselves (Isaiah 32:17, 48:18, 26:3, Romans 3:20-22, Matthew 22:39).
  2. Jesus’ reputation depends on peace and unity.
    1. The priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-23).
    2. The command of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
    3. The worship of Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24).
  3. Make every effort – Ephesians 4:1-3, Romans 15:5-7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 5:19-22, Colossians 3:13, 15, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15).
  4. Conflict resolution inside the church, not the courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
    1. It’s a bad witness.
    2. It ignores the root problem.
    3. It does not bring peace or reconciliation.
  5. Peacemaking is not optional (Matthew 5:9).

Is This Really Worth Fighting Over? (Proverbs 19:11)

  1. Two kinds of “logs” to remove.
    1. A critical negative attitude that leads to unnecessary conflict.
    2. An actual sinful words and actions.
  2. Overlooking minor offenses (Proverbs 12:16, 19:11, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
    1. Why? To imitate the Lord (Psalm 103:8-10)
    2. When? If the offense is not dishonoring to God, if your relationship has not been permanently damaged, if others are not being hurt.
  3. Change your attitude (Philippians 4:2-9).
    1. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).
    2. Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).
    3. Replace (cover or control) anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
    4. See things as they truly are (Philippians 4:8).
    5. Practice what you have learned (Philippians 4:9).
  4. Count the cost (Matthew 5:25-26).
  5. Remember the rights and privileges given by God (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Matthew 25:24-27). This R does not stand for rights, but responsibility (to glorify God, serve others, to grow into the likeness of Christ).

Examine Yourself: (Proverbs 28:13)

  1. Take an honest look at yourself (Psalm 139:23-24)
  2. Repentance is more than a feeling.
    1. Mere remorse leads to further grief (2 Corinthians 7:10).
    2. Godly sorrow comes when we see sin for what it is, a personal offense against God (Luke 15:18, Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:3-4).
    3. Genuine repentance involves a change of heart and a new way of thinking (Luke 15:17, Isaiah 55:7-8).
    4. Genuine repentance leads to changed behavior (Acts 26:20, Matthew 3:8) resulting in confession, repair, and change.
    5. The benefits of confession and genuine repentance.
      1. Clear conscience before God.
      2. The first step toward constructive change.
      3. Sets an example for others to follow.
  3. The seven A’s of confessions – never make a confession just to get a burden off your shoulders.
    1. Address everyone involved (Psalm 41:4, Luke 19:8).
    2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Psalm 51).
    3. Admit specifically what you did.
      1. Sinful attitudes (Matthew 15:19, James 3:13-4:12, 1 John 2:15-17).
      2. Sinful words – reckless words (Proverbs 12:18, 15:1), complaining or grumbling (Philippians 2:14, James 5:9), Deception or twisting (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 24:28), gossip (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, 26:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), slander (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3), worthless talk (Ephesians 4:29).
      3. Sinful actions – not keeping your word (Matthew 5:37, Psalm 15:1, 4), not respecting authority (Mark 10:42-45, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:18-25), not treating others like you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
    4. Apologize expressing sincere sorrow for how you affected the other person.
    5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19, Numbers 5:5-7, Luke 19:8).
    6. Alter your behavior (Ephesians 4:22-32).
    7. Ask for forgiveness (Genesis 50:17).
    8. Allow time – OK, there’s an eighth A.

When Should You Go and Confront Someone?

  1. When someone has something against you (Matthew 5:21-24)
    1. You may be able to clarify a misunderstanding.
    2. You may learn that you were actually wrong.
    3. You may help to deliver the other person from the bitterness of unforgiveness.
  2. When someone’s sins are too serious to overlook (Matthew 18:15)
    1. Is it dishonoring to God? (Romans 2:21-24).
    2. Is it damaging to your relationship?
    3. Is it hurting other people (including you – Luke 17:2-3, 1 Corinthians 5:6)?
    4. Is it hurting the offender?
  3. Issues of confrontation.
    1. You are not to be a busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Timothy 2:23)
    2. You should not listen to excuses for not confronting someone.
      1. The Bible says not to judge (Matthew 7:1-5)
      2. Isn’t God the one who will show someone they are wrong? (2 Samuel 12:1).
      3. Confrontation is needed when someone is caught in a sin (Galatians 6:1).
      4. The purpose of confrontation is to restore the offender to usefulness to God (Galatians 6:1).
    3. The same principles apply to non-believers (Galatians 6:10).
    4. The same principles apply to persons in authority (2 Samuel 12:1).
  4. Communication skills.
    1. Speak only to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).
    2. Listen carefully – waiting (Proverbs 18:13), concentrating (Matthew 7:12), clarifying (Are you saying? Would you give me an example?), reflecting (From your perspective, I was wrong. You really care about this issue), agreeing (You’re right, I should have… A lot of what you say is true. I understand how you feel).
  5. Elements of effective confrontation (Proverbs 12:18).
    1. Prayer.
    2. Choose the right time and place.
    3. Believe the best about the other person until you have the facts that prove otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:7).
    4. Talk in person whenever possible (Matthew 18:15).
    5. Plan your words.
    6. Use a gracious tone of voice and friendly body language.
    7. Be objective (facts vs. personal opinions or conclusions).
    8. Use the Bible carefully (don’t preach).
    9. Ask for feedback.
  6. Recognize your limitations (Romans 12:18, 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
    1. Your job – speak the truth in love as clearly and persuasively as possible.
    2. God’s job – to change the hearts and minds of other people.

When Should I Involve Other People? (Matthew 18:16)

  1. After you have attempted step one – to overlook minor offenses.
  2. After you have exhausted step two – to talk in private.
  3. Step three: take one or two others with you. The key is “refuses to listen.”
    1. Mutual agreement.
    2. Unilateral request.
    3. What do conciliators do?
      1. They encourage self-control and courtesy.
      2. They ask questions and clarify facts.
      3. They counsel and admonish by God’s Word.
      4. The expand resources.
      5. They observe and report to churches.
    4. What is the opponent is not a believer? (Galatians 6:10).
  4. Step four: tell it to the church (Matthew 18:17).
  5. Step five: treat the other person as a non-believer (Matthew 18:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Titus 3:10-11).
    1. “As” means a functional decision, not a heart decision.
    2. Treat sinners like Jesus treated sinners – love them enough to tell them the truth.
    3. The purposes of church discipline:
      1. To prevent dishonor to God (Romans 2:23-24).
      2. To protect the purity of the church, preventing the offender from leading others into sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Matthew 18:16).
      3. To restore the offender, leading them toward repentance (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 12:20, Acts 3:19).
    4. When to go to court?
      1. If you have exhausted church remedies (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
      2. If you are asserting biblically legitimate rights (not all rights are right).
      3. If you have a righteous purpose (so count the cost). Will it glorify God, benefit others, and is it necessary?

Forgive As God Forgave You (Ephesians 4:32)

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling, nor forgetting, nor excusing (at first).
  2. Forgiveness is a decision.
    1. The major penalty of sin: personal separation (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23).
    2. Forgiveness releases us from this penalty (Ephesians 2:13, Jeremiah 31:34, Psalm 103:12).
    3. Four promises modeled after God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:12, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 130:3-4).
      1. I promise I will not think about this incident.
      2. I promise I will not bring up this incident and use it against you.
      3. I promise I will not talk to others about this incident.
      4. I promise I will not allow this incident to stand between us hinder our personal relationship.
    4. When you forgive, you tell them the real source of their forgiveness is Jesus Christ, and promised to forgive when we confess (1 John 1:9).
  3. When should you forgive? (Luke 17:3, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37).
    1. The ideal biblical response to sin: repentance, confession, restitution, and change.
    2. Promise #1 – forgiveness
      1. Conditional – a commitment made to the offender.
      2. Ideally, after repentance and confession.
      3. Minor offenses may be forgiven even if there is no confession or repentance.
      4. Major offenses – these promises may be delayed until the problem is resolved following Matthew 18.
  4. What are the consequences?
    1. There is a time for mercy (Matthew 18:21-25, Luke 15:21-32).
    2. There is a time for consequences (Psalm 99:8, Proverbs 19:19, Numbers 14:20-23) Forgiveness of personal offenses does not necessarily release a person from the material consequences of their actions.
  5. Overcoming unforgiveness.
    1. Unforgiveness will separate you from God (Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25).
    2. Renounce sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13).
      1. Expecting the offender to earn or deserve forgiveness.
      2. Desiring to punish the offender.
      3. Demanding a guarantee.
    3. Remember that our baptism into Christ and experience God’s daily forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
    4. Draw on God’s strength (Philippians 2:13).
  6. Reconciliation and the replacement principle.
    1. Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored at least to the condition it was before the conflict arose (Matthew 5:23-24, 6:12, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 5:18-21).
    2. Reconciliation usually take deliberate work.
    3. The replacement principle (Luke 6:27-28, Leviticus 19:18, Ephesians 4:22-24).
      1. In thought (Philippians 4:8).
      2. In word (Romans 12:14).
      3. In deed (Romans 12:20).
    4. It’s not forgive and forget, but forgive TO forget.

A Biblical Approach to Negotiating (Philippians 2:1-4)

  1. Cooperative vs. competitive negotiation.
    1. Competing is appropriate in some cases, but neglects the problems and needs, results in inadequate solutions, is inefficient, and damages relationship.
    2. Cooperating is preferred (Matthew 7:12, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 13:4-5, Matthew 22:39).
  2. When you negotiate – PAUSE.
    1. Prepare.
    2. Affirm relationships.
    3. Understand interests.
    4. Search for creative solutions.
    5. Evaluate options objectively and reasonably.
  3. Prepare (Proverbs 14:8, 22) – Pray, get the facts, identify issues and interests, study the Bible, seek godly counsel, anticipate reactions, pick a good time and place, and plan your opening remarks.
  4. Affirm relationship (show respect and concern) – communicate in a courteous manner, spend time on personal issues, exercise authority with restrain, submit to authority in a godly manner, seek to understand the other’s point of view, look out for the interests of others, confront in a gracious manner, allow face saving, and give sincere praise and encouragement.
  5. Understand interests (1 Samuel 25:24-31, 32-35) Issue (an identifiable and concrete question), position (a desired outcome or definable perspective on an issue), and interest (what motivates people and gives rise to positions; a concern, desire, need. limitation, and something the person values).
  6. Search for creative solutions (Proverbs 14:8, Daniel 1:11-13)). When brainstorming, separate inventing from deciding, no idea is out of bounds.
  7. Evaluate options, don’t argue – look for God’s truth (Psalm 19:7, 111:10), get objective facts (Daniel 1:11-16), seek objective opinions from trusted advisors (Proverbs 12:15, Matthew 18:16), look behind the opinions of others and deal wisely with their opinions and objections, and the last resort (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Romans 12:17-13:7).

Dealing with Unreasonable People (Romans 12:21)

  1. We have supernatural weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Luke 6:27-28, Ephesians 6:10-18).
  2. Control your tongue (Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 2:15).
  3. Seek godly advisors (identify with others, avoid being isolated – Romans 12:15-16).
  4. Keep doing what is right (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:15-16, 1 Samuel 24).
  5. Recognize your limits (Romans 12:18-19).
  6. The ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (Romans 12:20-21, Luke 6:27-36).
    1. Demonstrate love (Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).
    2. Doing good can protect you from your own bitterness and resentment.
    3. Doing good can help to bring another person to repentance.

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.