Impact of the Church

Years ago I read a book that changed my life and ministry, The Church Unleashed: Getting God’s People Out Where the Needs Are, by Frank Tillapaugh (1982). It was primarily writing about how our people need to be focused on those outside of the walls of our facilities. When all the church knows is the status quo, what he writes about is a real paradigm shift.

Recently I was reminded of these ten paradigm shifts by Os Hillman of Marketplace Leaders. Here is a summary of chapter 12 of his Faith at Work:

A paradigm is a model consisting of shared assumptions regarding what works or what is true. A paradigm shift is that “aha!” moment when one sees things in such a new light that you can never go back to the old ways again. A new paradigm is the new wineskin that will be needed to hold the new assumptions about what is true. To maximize our impact on our communities, we need changes in at least ten of our paradigms of how we currently view church.

1. From building walls to building bridges. “You are the salt of the earth, You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). We must see ourselves in relation to our communities, not just who we are inside the church. We are to infiltrate rather than isolate.

2. From measuring attendance to measuring impact. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33). People are not impressed with our size or programs or how committed we are to the truth and how we fight for it. They want to see followers of Jesus living out what they say they believe. How can Jesus live in our communities, impacting the lives of others and drawing lost people to himself? Ministry must be holistic, reaching the person, not just their souls. (Galatians 2:10, Romans 1:15-17, Acts 10:36-38)

3. From encouraging the saints to attend the service to equipping the saints for works of service. “It is (God) who gave some to be… pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service.” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City writes that the process of mobilizing members into ministers “starts by articulating clearly and regularly a theology of “every-member ministry.” Rick Warren emphasizes the same thing in his purpose driven model. People must find needs and meet them with the goal of the expanding the kingdom of God.

4. From “serve us” to service; from inward to outward focus. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give” (Mark 10:45). Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church in East Los Angeles says that the single biggest factor in his church retaining people is not personal follow-up or joining a small group, it is being involved from the very beginning in service to others in the community. When members have told him that they want the church to meet their needs, his reply is: “You are the church and together we are called to meet the needs of the world.”

5. From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). The Bible is filled with examples of how God used secular people in partnership with His people to fulfill His purposes. Think of Joseph and Pharoah, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes, and Esther and King Ahasuerus.

Instead of each congregation having its own food pantry, why not partner with the local community food bank? When needy people request food, congregations could refer these folks to their “partner ministry.” We form partnerships not around theology but around our common concern and love for the city.

6. From fellowship to functional unity. There is a strong case to suggest that there is really only one Church in a city or community (made up of all believers) that meets in many congregations around the city. In Philippians 2:2 Paul implored, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

Only unity of purpose around the vision of a transformed community is strong enough to unite pastors and churches of different denominations. Uniting the Church around a common goal is preferable to trying to unite the church around a cooperative project. Community transformation begins at the intersection of the needs and dream of a community, the calling and capacities of the Church (and the community) and the mandates and desires of God for a community.

7. From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it. Jeremiah 29 begins by saying: “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem… to those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” What follows are instructions on how to live as aliens in a foreign land. He says: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

For too long we as the Church have positioned ourselves as adversaries to our communities. The monolithic Church has stood from afar and lobbed in messages of condemnation toward the city and those who are trying to serve it. Maybe it’s time we begin blessing the city by blessing those who have given themselves to the city!

8. From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a parish. “As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41). A congregation is made up of people who attend a local church from a community. The minister typically feels that this congregation is his flock whom he must baptize, marry and bury. They consume his time and energy. Being in a parish is different.

A parish differs from a congregation in that it is a geographical scope of concern and responsibility. A congregation is a subset of a parish. Being in a parish gives one the God-given right to minister to anyone in the community, whether they are part of one’s congregation or not. Urban theologian, Ray Bakke, illuminated this point by writing that every minister has two functions: 1) to be pastor to the members and, 2) chaplain to the community.

9. From anecdote and speculation to valid information. Two pieces of information changed the course of Nehemiah’s life that resulted in the transformation of a community. In Nehemiah 1, he learned that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were broken down and her people were in distress. These two pieces of information were catalytic to his prayers and plans to restore a broken wall and a broken people. His burden to transform the city came from accurate information.

We, too, need correct information about the real needs of our community as well as the resources we have to meet these needs. Do we know the demographic information of our community? Do we know the number of churches? Do we know the spiritual history of our community? We also need to identify the spiritual assets of our community – the number of faith communities and believers. Together, these two research pieces give us a picture of our “mission field” and our “mission force.” Armed with accurate information, we can determine best how to go forward.

10. From teacher to learner. “Everyone should be quick to learn, slow to speak” (James 1:19). It is interesting to note that for the historic African-American churches, the concept of holistic ministry is not a new one. They have never suffered from trying to split effective evangelism from social justice or meeting the needs of those around them. It’s how they’ve always done church.

The effective churches see the community as one that is full of assets more than full of problems. Where do we go from here? From Isaiah 65:17-25, Ray Bakke outlined seven characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God:

  1. Public celebration and happiness (Isaiah 65:18-19);
  2. Public health for children and the aged (Isaiah 65:20);
  3. Housing for all (Isaiah 65:21);
  4. Food for all (Isaiah 65:22);
  5. Meaningful work (Isaiah 65:22-23);
  6. Family support systems (Isaiah 65:23);
  7. Absence of violence (Isaiah 65:25)

This list outlines our potential marching orders. The Spirit of God is at work. There is a good chance that the next great movement of God will involve putting the Church back into community where it can be the leaven, salt, and light God designed it to be. Will we join God in this transforming work? For the sake of the gospel, the Church, and our communities, in faith – let’s move forward!

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What’s Your Special Skill?

The community of faith relies upon the giftedness and servanthood of its members and regular attendees of the church. I think everybody ought to officially join the church because we all know that “membership has its privileges” and it is a privilege to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I like what Moses writes in Exodus… God says:

“And I have personally appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make:” (Exodus 31:6)

Did you catch that? First notice who gave the skill. God tells Moses, “I have given…”The skills and abilities that we possess are God-given and they need to be used for his glory. We also need to stay humble because GOD is the one who gave us any skills at all.

In this same phrase, notice the past tense, (or in Hebrew) the completed action of when God gave the skill. The phrase, HAVE GIVEN tells me that the skill is already there, we must simply exercise it and turn it loose. How will we know if we are good at something unless we attempt new things and develop the skills within us?

Next, notice that God had given a special skill to ALL the gifted craftsmen. How many times do we feel like God gives skills and abilities to only a few people. Search for the skill that he has given you, develop it and use it for his glory.

Then notice that God PERSONALLY appointed Oholiab, which tells me that God CALLS people to come out of their normal routine in order to join him in his work in the this world. You possess a skill that only you can use to further the Kingdom of God. God has a plan and he wants you to walk in obedience, and he personally calls all of us to join him. God help us to listen.

Additionally, notice that God is talking to MOSES about the skills of Oholiab. I have to wonder it God already spoke to Oholiab or is Moses the first to hear about this and will go to Oholiab to enlist him in God’s service. Perhaps God will open the eyes of some skilled people by using OTHERS to enlist them into service. Who is around you in whom YOU notice their skills and how those skills can be used for the Lord?

Also notice that God commanded MOSES to make the sacred things for worship, so the leader NEEDED skilled people to make it happen. Who around us has the skills we need to accomplish great things for God?

Finally, notice that he gives skills to people for a PURPOSE, “so they can make…” The skills he has given are to be used for the building up of HIS kingdom, because all else will fade away (Isaiah 40:8).

Do you ever get down on yourself and think you don’t have any skills to offer? It’s not true, God has given you many skills. Thinking you don’t have any skills is not humility, instead, you fail to correctly see the blessings given to you by God. We even devalue our skills when we compare ourselves to others and wish we had THEIR skills. Those thoughts are not complimentary towards God either. God has given skills to everyone and by embracing them we can truly use our skills to worship God. Take a moment to correctly identify your skills and embrace them to honor God.

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We are Created for Eternity

This love relationship into which God calls us is our life’s priority. Imagine climbing a ladder up to the top of your profession and not realizing until you get to the top that the ladder had been leaning against the wrong wall. The same is true in your spiritual life!

We are people who love to DO things; we’re active, goal oriented and sometimes we feel that if we do just a little more, God will bless us more or love us more. We need to learn how to rest in the love relationship God has with us. I would call this DOING vs. BEING. Being is the reality of being adopted into God’s family of faith, by faith… not by doing. We simply ARE God’s children when we received Christ as Savior (John 1:12).

We are not created for just this earthly life, we are created for eternity, to spend forever after with God. This life is preparation to be in his presence, becoming more like Jesus, conforming into his likeness (Romans 8:29).

Our satisfaction in life must be in God rather than our accomplishments. How often do we tend to forget God when things are good in life and all is well? Then we call on God and evoke the relationship card when we are in trouble. It’s an age old scenario. Once the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, God warned them about getting satisfied and forsaking God (Deuteronomy 6:10-15). He point plank says it, “when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord.”

Paul’s aim was also at relationship and eternity (Philippians 3:4-14). He considered all his accomplishments, status, position and possessions as loss and rubbish in comparison to Christ. He wanted to KNOW Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship in his suffering (Philippians 3:10 – we certainly don’t pray for THIS very much).

  1. Paul wanted to gain Christ at any cost.
  2. Paul wanted to become like Christ even unto death.
  3. Paul wanted to attain the resurrection from the dead.
  4. Paul wanted to press on toward the goal and win the prize.

Remember to seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness and all these other things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

God’s Greatness and Service

So, just how can we get people to take the call of God seriously? I’m not talking about God calling them to salvation, but God calling people to a live of sacrificial service. Why is volunteerism dead in so many places? What will it take to get people on board with God’s purpose and mission in the world?

As you read through the Bible, you’ll notice that whenever people come face to face with God’s greatness, the next scene often shows them on mission.

  • Moses trembles before God in the burning bush. Next he is standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!” The majesty of God displayed before Moses’ eyes on a faraway hillside is the same majesty God displays before the greatest empire of the day.
  • Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord in His temple that was so staggering that he fell on his face like a dead man. Notice God didn’t even have to tell him what to do. God simply asks, “Who shall go?” and the awestruck Isaiah volunteers: “Here am I. Send me!”
  • The Samaritan woman at the well was amazed at the supernatural knowledge of Jesus. Next we see her running into town telling her friends and family about His greatness.
  • The women at the tomb are the first to witness the resurrection power of God. Next we see them telling everyone, “We have seen the Lord!”
  • Peter denies Christ and hides. After encountering the greatness of King Jesus, we see him boldly proclaiming Christ as Messiah and Lord before thousands of people.
  • Paul has an encounter with the risen Jesus, and then he spends the rest of his life seeking to help the Gentiles see the very One who initially blinded him.

Why should it be any different with us? Missional fruitfulness comes from a heart gripped by God’s greatness and overwhelmed with His grace.

May we be so mesmerized by the glory of Jesus Christ that we count it as nothing to lose our lives for the spread of His fame! Let’s get on our faces before God and then get on our feet for His mission.

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We are Called to Bear Fruit

In January 2012, our church is going to focus on a very important topic, one which is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You might check out a men’s study we did years ago on the Secrets of the Vine.

Just as one would expect grapes from a grape vine, the most obvious fruit of a Christian is another Christian. We should tell others how Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and arose from the dead for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). God wants us to “show and tell” so that others will become disciples as well. Bearing fruit is the way we prove we are his disciples (John 15:8).

Other spiritual fruit will include our personal character qualities, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruit is produced in and through our lives as we abide in Jesus, which includes gathering together in community to study his Word and worship.

There is only one command of God that humans have not failed to do… God’s first recorded words to Adam were, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28). This meant having children but on a spiritual level, it also means for us being fruitful in serving God and other ways. Jesus gave a similar commission when He said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain,” (John 15:16). Just before His ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

So, how can you work with God in His garden? Jesus said, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4, 5).

First, you must have the right seed: Jesus is the seed of Salvation. You must receive Him and be vitally connected to Him (John 1:12). When you believe in Jesus, yielding your life to Him, He grafts you into Himself (Romans 11:17). This speaks of personal salvation. Has that happened to you?

The soil of your life must be cultivated: This involves abiding in Jesus. He said “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Consider this interpretation:

  1. If you abide in Me – that would be worship.
  2. My words abide in you – that would be Bible study or involvement in a small group.
  3. Ask whatever you will – that is obviously prayer.
  4. It shall be done for you – that could be personal obedience (John 15:10).

Having good soil includes getting the rocks and weeds out of the soil. Rocks and weeds could refer to sinful attitudes and habits, which prevent spiritual fruit bearing.

Jesus said, “My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1), which could be translated “farmer” or “gardener.” God’s Holy Spirit shows Christians areas that need work, and change. Our humble response to His conviction allows God to get the rocks and weeds of sin out of our lives.

Jesus says the vinedresser “takes away” or “prunes” the unfruitful branches to increase their fruitfulness, (John 15:2). Many plants produce too many leaves and unfruitful branches. This compares to Christians who get too busy (even in good church related activities) or get their priorities confused. Our lives may be filled with many good activities while neglecting the best, such as worship, Bible study, prayer and witnessing. Does God need to prune your life of unfruitful activities so that He can make you more fruitful for Him?

Gardens need to be protected:  In literal gardens, there are enemies like rabbits, deer and insects. This could compare to the attacks of the enemy. Our divine “vinedresser” will defend us as we abide in Christ.

  1. Sunshine and rain involve God’s gracious response to our prayers.
  2. The nutrients from the soil could be compared to the food of His Word.
  3. Fertilizer could be our kind deeds to others preparing them for the seed.

So, how is your spiritual garden? Is it fruitful for God? Abide in Christ and His Word. With His power and grace you can have a bumper crop. Amen.