A Wealth of Resources

What is your dream team? For a basketball coach it might be a star guard who is good at feeding a wide-bodied seven footer. Maybe like Kobe and Shaq? For a bank robber it might be made up of someone who is the brains, someone who is the brawn, and a wheelman? For a Navy Seal unit it might contain a comms guy, a sniper, an ordinance expert, and a squad leader? What makes all of the team makeups similar?

A good team draws from a wealth of resources from people with different gifts and specialties.

Are any of these specialties, gifts, or resources more important than the other? Well no… they work in tandem to accomplish a goal. Community allows us to put together our team and function towards a goal together. It widens our abilities and opens us up to new resources.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 says,

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

We have been talking for the past several weeks about the importance of having a faith community. We have determined that a Spiritual community is key for us to grow and persevere in the Christian faith, and we have also established that we are safer when we are operating together… meaning that we have the confidence and support to defeat sin and live a God-honoring life. This week we are going to talk about the wealth of resources available to us when we choose to life in Christian community.


Gifts

I like tools. For some reason there is nothing more satisfying than having the right tool for the job and being able to solve a problem yourself. When I first moved out on my own I started to put together a tool box. I’ve got a hammer, a variety of screw-drivers, assorted wrenches, needle-nose pliers, channel-locks, socket sets, files and rasps, wire strippers, a drill, nails, screws, etc…

Most of these tools came from necessary purchases. What I mean is there came a point in a task where I realized I was not equipped for the job. I had to go get the right equipment. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are God’s tool kit. To keep us spiritually healthy, God gives various members of the body specific tools, specific gifts. There are times we just can’t fix ourselves. We need someone whom God has specially equipped.

When we’ve hit bottom, we need a listening ear, a word of loving counsel, a friend who will affirm God’s forgiveness. These are the spiritual gifts of mercy, exhortation, a word of wisdom. When our faith is ebbing, we need someone who possesses a gift of faith to pray for us. When we are confused, we need the gifts of a teacher or a Pastor.

These gifts seldom operate in isolation. The fellowship of believers is the context where the gifts flourish. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

In a Christian fellowship we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to build our Christian lives.


Role Models

Who has impacted your life the most? Your parent(s), a friend, a mentor? How did they do it? When thinking about these questions we will most likely all have something in common… the people who have and are impacting our lives the most do so on a personal level. We all have celebrity role models, whether they are movie stars, rock stars, or celebrity pastors/ authors is irrelevant, because these people can only do so much… they can instruct from a distance on an impersonal level but that is their limitation. What about the average blue collar guy who lives life beside us and speaks wisdom into our heads and hearts everyday.

What makes him special?

The thing that sets the important people around us apart from others is the personal interactions we share with them. They live life beside us… they are in the trenches beside us everyday. We know that when the going gets tough that they are the ones who will stand strong beside us through it all. They truly care.

I remember the first time I met my friend Zach. His big smile, loud laugh, and the way he bounces around and lights up a room can’t be missed. His genuine interest and care for people is apparent and I have seen him go way out of his way to help myself and others out. Ever since, I’ve wanted to care and serve others like he does.

When we’re around people who clearly portray Christ’s character we are stimulated to grow. When we see the fruit of the Spirit fleshed out before us we are eager to try it out ourselves. Hebrews 13:7 urges us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Being around Zach inspires me to emulate his strengths. Being part of a whole body of Believers keeps me balanced. In a Christian community you will discover a well-balanced menu of role models who will protect you from developing flat spots in your character.

Emulation changes lives and congregations. Look at the chain reaction at Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 says,

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Fellowship gives us exemplars in the faith to spur us to growth.


Sidekicks

Did any of you ever grow up watching wrestling? I always liked the tag team matches. It’s where a 2-man team squares off with another 2-man team… but only one person can be in the ring from each team at a time. In order to get your break… your backup… you had to slap your partner’s hand and “tag” them into the ring. So as the match went on inevitably one partner would get his tail whipped. He would start to crawl towards the ropes and his partner’s outstretched hand, and the other fighter would do everything in his power to drag him as far away from his teammate as possible. You see… his help was dangerous and just needed a simple slap of the hand to turn loose!

There are plenty of famous 2 man teams that we can all think about. Batman and Robin. Abbott and Costello. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. A good team has to include more than one person! Who is walking beside you? Who is gonna reach out and allow you to tag them in when you’ve just about had enough.

It’s easier to face down your problems when you know you have an army behind you. The fellowship of a church at its best is people watching out for people, not in criticism but with love. We help one another through the unpredictable turns of life. When we are down and out and getting our tail whipped we all need a community of partners reaching out their hands waiting to be “tagged” in.

In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes,

Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

When you get sick, your community rallies behind you. When you fall into depression, your brothers don’t let you lose touch. We are all needy at times. You’ve been lonely, discouraged, or depressed. There are times you’ve longed for somebody to show he or she cared. In Luke 6:31 Jesus said,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The help we give to members of His body is, after all, given to Jesus Himself.

Matthew 25:40 says,

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

In the fellowship of Christians we work out Jesus’ command to love one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The Christian fellowship is a mutual aid society of believers pledged to build each other up, to watch out for each other’s good. The fellowship is even designed to help the hapless and the careless.

Paul urges in Romans 15:1,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.


Yes, Christian fellowship is indispensable. The community reinforces our faith. Its spiritual gifts heal and build us. The body’s godly members serve as role models. And our Christian family supports us in time of need.

Believers can curl up and die without fellowship. At best they become stunted, never growing to full, healthy adulthood. But it’s amazing what can happen when we reach out and touch someone.

Get in fellowship. Join a community. One cannot stand alone.

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First Impressions

Welcoming people to your church is the first step in growth and opening the possibility to continued discipleship. We’re called to share the gospel with our neighbors and we throw the doors open on Sunday morning. But too often when church visitors come, our churches, or even the people within it, are less than welcoming.

Think about a time when you went to an unfamiliar church. What hesitations did you have? Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. Are we making our first-time guests feel welcome? Or are we driving them away unintentionally by the things we do or say, the state of our buildings/ ministries, etc.?

There is an old saying that is absolutely true,

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

It may seem silly to dedicate a blog post to this arbitrary topic… but the reality is that if we don’t have a welcoming environment to keep people around then we are making our job of sharing the Gospel with them harder! All of us have visited churches where our first impression was less than positive. First impressions matter, and sometimes no amount of work on the backside can make up for a poor first impression. A statistic I recently read stated that, on average, people make eleven decisions about things in the first seven seconds! Think about that; inside the first minute of coming in contact with your church, people are making decisions about it whether good or bad.

How are we helping ourselves out and how are we hindering our possibilities? Let’s talk below how we can make better first impressions.


  • Pray and accept.

The first step for us in making a good first impression is to throw off our preconceived notion of what kind of people God will send us. Not every person who staggers into church is going to look like us, sound like us, smell like us, or even have the same interests as us! Does it make them any more or less needy of Jesus. Nope!

How many of us “church-folk” pray for an abundance of people to pour into our churches so that we can effectively minister and expand the Kingdom of God, but then turn our backs on accepting them as they come because they “mix things up” a bit.

Heath Mullikin says,

Lots of people pray for God to send new people to their church. Few accept the folks God actually sends.

Let’s consider how our churches can welcome teenagers, 20-somethings, 30- somethings, working professionals, high and low income, elderly, etc… What types of things are we scared of? Tattoos? Piercings? Non-traditional church attire? Cultural differences? Musical tastes? Reality check… there is nothing Non-Christian about these things! What kind of things are we desperately holding onto that aren’t the Gospel that serve as roadblocks against our community, a community that is drastically changing? What if we could change the way we look in order to more effectively reach them? What if we could change the way we sound? What if we could lose our “religious” and theological vocabulary in order that they might hear and understand?

In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul says this,

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

I like the New Living Translation version where it put it this way,

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.

Is this statement by Paul something we should imitate, or is this just something for special people to do like missionaries in other cultures?

In fact, Paul himself answers that question in the next chapter(s). 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 says,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I love the freedom we as Believers are given in that verse. It says, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” In other words, adapt as much as you can in non-sinful ways!

Then Paul confirms we have the freedom to take this approach where he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ask how you, in your own life, can use your freedom the way Paul and Jesus did, if by any means you might save some. Are we accepting the people we are praying for?

  • Do the prep.

First impressions are no longer physical but often they are virtual! Potential visitors will check out your website before they walk into your worship service. We all have done some “research” or “snooping” before visiting a place of business or church.

Statistics say that the first visit that folks make to your church is virtual! Prospects and potential members are starting their quest on the internet first! They are checking us out in the comfort of their homes and deciding whether or not they’re going to physically make the visit based on what they find. We have to make sure our online presence is attractive. We must push our LiveStream (if we have one) and make our websites/ social media sites easy to navigate and overall simple for anyone to use.

Most of you have spent a little time online already just by reading this. Imagine if we all took a moment every time we were online to promote our church and the activities that are coming up. I know where I work we have a pretty extensive video collection on YouTube. We have songs of worship, full-length sermons, and even sub-2 minute “post-able” clips. By simply posting church content we might open a door for a visitor to have their interests peaked by something we do or offer.

  • Do the “small” things well.

Have you ever watched America’s Got Talent? Many of the acts are great… but do you know what stands out to me? The preparation! They have all kinds of artistic needs ranging anywhere from trapeze equipment, musical equipment, etc… They have staff prepared to do quick changeovers, the sound is good, the lighting is on-point, and the announcers/ judges/ hosts know what to say and how to say it. They have planned commentary and entertaining in-between segments to constantly be “pulling in” the viewers attention. They do even the “small” things well!

If you are like me (production minded/ artistic) a whole program can be dismantled by a small oversight or disruption, and unfortunately many of our churches make these “small mistakes” every Sunday!

It could be a dead microphone battery or an inexperienced operator. It could be the “announcement-giver” going off the cuff in a painful way. Maybe the sound is bad or the lighting is distracting? There have been times as a church staffer that I have even been unsure what is going on during a service and who is supposed to be doing what!

These issues honestly aren’t a big deal to us who can look past them because of our reasoning for being at church… but to someone who is a first time guest and may not be sold on the whole “church-thing” they can be a HUGE deal.

If we take what we do on Sundays seriously then we should be seeking excellence and professionalism alongside our authenticity. In order to be trusted with the “big” things we must first excel in the “small” things.

  • Use “fresh” eyes.

Many church members, pastors, and volunteers have forgotten what it’s like to be a church visitor. I fall into this category.

Have you ever been in a room that was a mess? Maybe if you are a parent it was one of your children’s? Maybe you had a college roommate that was a slob? It never ceases to amaze me when you ask that person where something is and they can tell you exactly where it is within the mess. They have become comfortable at navigating their own mess! Sometimes us “regulars” get comfortable navigating our own mess! We spend countless hours in the church and can probably navigate the facilities with our eyes closed.

Any good realtor understands this approach. When they first enter your home, they will take a quick tour. They will notice things that we don’t because of their “fresh eyes” and direct our attention to them.

Whether it is a lack of church directional signs, disorganization, or uncleanliness… we just might not notice it! As Andy Stanley says,

Your sermon starts in the parking lot.

Once guests decide to visit your church, what do they see when they drive up? Are the church grounds maintained? Are we offering a professional, inviting, and prideful atmosphere? Is it clear to guest which door they should enter and are our directional signs guest-friendly? Are there parking lot greeters there to assist and welcome? If it’s true that most impressions are made within the first 30 seconds, we’d better pay attention to what’s going on in the parking lot.

Once in your building, what do visitors see? Is it obvious that your church is prepared and is expecting guests, or are people surprised that a guest would show up and are operating “as-normal?”

We see our church on an ongoing basis, so we don’t have the benefit of outside eyes. We only have one time to make a first impression, so we must go out of our way to make it a good one!

  • Communicate well.

“You want me to do what?”

confusing-road-signs

Like we talked about above… we are accustomed to ourselves, our church, and our way of doing things, but others certainly are not! For some people going to church might feel just like going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the native language. Because of that all of our directions and everything we say must be intentional, easy to understand, and clear.

Let’s face it… church can be weird, so sometimes we need to explain what’s happening.

We need to make directional signs clear, go out of our way to direct and escort guests to where they need to go. Remember that members know where to go; guests don’t.

Another important note is that we need to pay attention to and watch our language. The words we use and how we say them can make church visitors feel like outsiders or make us look outdated or ill informed. Not everyone speaks “theologian” and things that seem obvious to us are cryptic to others.

  • Enthusiastically welcome, but don’t enthusiastically overwhelm.

Visitors please stand up!

That is always my worst-case scenario at a church I am visiting. It happens to all of us… Pastor or not. Let’s put it out there… first-time church visitors don’t want to embarrass themselves or be spotlighted!

Every person is different, and that can be a challenge. One person’s welcome is another person’s too much. Sometimes we have to give people space. Most of us want to make people feel welcome, but we don’t want to scare them away by being creepy or overwhelming. There is a delicate balance that has to happen in this area, and what works for the ministry I serve in may not work for you.

I think that one of the hardest things for churches to do is understand what it’s like to be a newcomer. Sometimes we forget, because we are ritualistic or “routine” people. We go to the same places, park in the same spots, enter in the same entrances, talk to the same people, and sit in the same seats.

Make the life of a visitor easy and make their first time a pleasurable experience.

  • Create a “safe” space.

No… we aren’t talking about the “political” and cultural safe spaces we hear about on the news and through the media. We will preach the Gospel truth whether it is agreeable or not. What I am talking about here is a place that someone can feel “comfortable” in.

I personally am not going to get into what your security policies should be…that’s another post by itself, but I will say that you need to have some. It is better to be prepared for any type of emergency and not need to ever implement any of the preparation than to need it and not have it.

This “safe” place also implies that visitors feel safe from what they are used to in the world… harshness, rumors, backstabbing, etc… Sometimes us church folk can be ruthless to each other and I will be the first to say that when a visitor picks up on that they won’t come back. Visitors want to feel “secure” in a new environment because that new environment itself is probably making them uncomfortable.


So… with all that in mind, how bad do we really want to grow? Let’s put some work in and watch God move.