Leading or Telling?

How many of us have ever had to speak to a travel agent to get some information on an upcoming trip? You sit in their office, they tell you about places they themselves haven’t been, they show you a bunch of brochures, and they describe the wonderful packages they could put together and how much they would cost you.

One time while on vacation in Arizona with my family we took a guided jeep tour. Our guide met us with the jeep, gave us useful information about the area, and then drove us through the streets, back roads, and mountains of beautiful Sedona. He didn’t just sit in an office and describe the scenery; he drove us through to see the scenery himself!

Travel agents give us information. Tour guides lead us to a destination.

Spiritually speaking, which of those two has helped you grow the most? The agent who tells you what to do, or the guide who shows you what to do? As a pastor, one of my main concerns is that I tell people how to grow spiritually more than show them how to grow spiritually, and I believe many Christians sit back and do the same.

In your Christian life, you can be a spiritual travel agent or a spiritual tour guide. Travel agents sit in climate-controlled buildings and tell people where to go, how to get there, and what to do when they arrive. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like the modern way we do church? Tour guides lace up their shoes and trek alongside you. It’s definitely not always comfortable. It can be risky and messy, but ultimately very rewarding.

Heather Zempel author of Big Change Small Groups puts it this way,

We can’t just talk about prayer . . . we’ve got to do it with people. We can’t just complete a workbook on serving our community; we’ve got to get out there and do it. We can’t just explain to someone, we’ve got to do it alongside them.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Do you live your life in such a way that you want others to follow? Are you committed to following Christ, so that others can follow you?

The way I learned how to ride a bike was my dad showing me. The way I learned how to pray was by my parents modeling it for me. The way I learned to preach was not just by reading books on homiletics but by actually preaching and having teachers help guide me.

Don’t be a travel agent Christian who just sits in a church building and tells people what to do. Be a tour-guide Christian who walks with others and shows people what to do!

Let’s follow the lead of the greatest Tour Guide who ever lived when he said in John 13:15,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Lets get up off the pew, exit the building, and get to guiding!

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Developing the Foundation of Christian Character – SERMON

How do we hold onto Faith when Life is Hard?

Why would God allow the mass bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka which killed 253 people and wounded 500 others? Why would God not stop a gunman from killing one and injuring three more in a California synagogue? Why didn’t God stop the cyclones in Mozambique that have killed 38 people?

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Maybe you don’t, either. There are no easy answers, are there?

Vance Havner was widely recognized as one of America’s most traveled evangelists and popular Bible conference speakers. When he lost his wife to disease, he was disconsolate. Years later, he was able to write:

When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in fulfillment what we now believe in faith—that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry “My God, why?” Instead, “alas” will become “Alleluia,” all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.

Did you notice the reference to “years later”? Even for the die-hard believer and a well-seasoned evangelist overcoming pain, grief, loss, and sorrow didn’t happen overnight. Sometimes the pain may never be fully assuaged. Many live with chronic pain or depression that affects them every… single… day.

During the Korean War, Pastor Im was torn from his family and imprisoned for years, locked in a dark cell with only a small bowl of soup to eat every day. He kept his sanity by reciting Scripture, especially John 13:7,

What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Like that passage says we can only see a portion of what is going on. We cannot fully know or comprehend what is taking place on a spiritual level and how things weigh in eternity. We only see through a darkened mirror, but one day we will see face to face. We only know in part, but one day we will know fully, as we are fully known!

So, how do we hold onto faith when life is so hard?

William Cowper, an eighteenth-century English poet, struggled with depression his entire life. On one of his darkest days, he hired a carriage to drive him to the Ouse River, three miles away, where he intended to kill himself. A dense fog enveloped the area, and the driver, sensing that something was wrong with his passenger, purposely lost his way only to return back to Cowper’s home. Cowper realized his life had been spared, and that same evening in 1774, at age 43, he wrote these words:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread; And big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Believe, trust, and know that God is with you in the pain. He is with you in the struggle. He is with you in the hurt.

Isaiah 53:4 reassures us that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and in Hebrews we are reminded that He will never leave or forsake us… even in the pain.

A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

Pray in Confidence

Other than being caught in traffic, or the occasional Doctor’s appointment we spend fewer and fewer hours each day waiting. Waiting is “old fashioned.”

In this day and age everything is so instant. In fact, they are so instant that I think many of us have forgotten the art of waiting. Everyone wants everything instantly, and I think it has changed the way many Christians today view God.

We pray to God and expect immediate results, but most of the time, that’s just not how it works! God has His own timing. We may want something right away, but God needs us to wait until the timing is right. While this often doesn’t make sense in our minds, God sees the bigger picture and knows what we need and when we need it.

This expectation for instant gratification has left many Christians frustrated and doubting the goodness of God, or whether or not God hears their prayers and can do anything “for” them. I think that instead of becoming disgruntled when God doesn’t provide right away, we need to have a mindset that allows us to be patient and trust in the perfect plans of God. I must admit that for me personally this is hard to do.

Maybe you’re praying for companionship, healing, or help and see no results headed down the pipeline. I have felt this way! In fact, I feel this way a lot! I pray and pray, asking God for something I want so desperately and nothing seems to happen. This is incredibly frustrating. Despite this, I encourage all of us not to lose hope or give up on God. He has a plan. It may not be your plan, but it’s a perfect plan.

Psalm 27:14 says,

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

How do you trust in times of waiting? How do you pray in times of waiting?

Let me ask you… when you pray, petitioning God for something, do you really expect results? Do you pray as one who is already defeated just because you feel as if the timing is off, expecting before you even pray that God will not answer your prayer? Or do you pray with confidence that God hears and answers prayer, and that His timing is perfect?

Acts 12 contains a wonderful story that shows how even the giants of the faith and the pillars of the church had trouble putting their confidence in God through prayer. In that chapter we read about Peter’s arrest and imprisonment by King Herod. Having just had James the brother of John put to death, and seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod sent his soldiers to arrest Peter and put him in prison, intending on having him killed after the Passover. We read in verse five “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” The churches prayers for Peter were constant!

The point is clear in this passage that God’s people were praying with great zeal, great emotion, and great sincerity, asking God to save the life of their beloved brother.

While the people were on the other side of town praying for Peter, God saw fit to rescue him. He sent an angel to Peter who led him from the prison and to the gate of the city. Peter seems to have believed this was a dream, for verse 11 says,

When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

He immediately went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, knowing that the church at Jerusalem would be gathered there. He no doubt realized that they would be gathered together to pray for him.

But what happens next is interesting… as Peter knocked at the door of the gate of the house of Mary, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But all those that had gathered together to pray didn’t believe her.

Acts 12:12-17 says,

When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.

Do you see what happened there? Believers who had been with Jesus and had learned from His disciples were gathered together to pray for Peter. These were people who should have had great faith, in fact many of them had seen great miracles, yet when they heard that their prayers had been answered they did not believe it! You can almost imagine them snarling to the poor servant girl “You’re crazy! It can’t be Peter! He’s in prison and we’re busy praying that God will save him!” The situation is almost comical, isn’t it?

You have to ask yourself, is there any purpose in praying if you do not really believe God is capable of answering prayer? Why pray if you do not believe that God is willing to hear your prayer? God is not only capable of answering prayer, but He is also willing to answer prayer!

Pray to God with your expectations set high. Exercise faith through prayer, trusting that God hears your petition. God may not answer your request at the time you expect or in the way you expect, but trust that He will answer.

Sometimes it seems that our answers can’t come fast enough.

It is easy to lose hope while waiting on God, but we have to hold on to the hope that God will give us what we need in His perfect timing. It is this God-given hope that will get us through the days of unanswered prayers. So while it would be easy to lose hope and give up on God, don’t! God has a plan.

He has always had a plan. 

Take a deep breath and keep praying in confidence. Pray for peace, and hope, and above all, patience to deal with the sorrows of this life and the things we want to be fixed right away. Some things take time. So take heart and wait on Him.

 

 

 

“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

Heart Check

Recently my wife and I moved to a new house. If you’ve ever experienced the “joy” of moving, you know it can be a long and stressful process. All the boxes, the packing, and the aimless strolling through your home every morning to find the box that contains your socks and underwear… it can add up to pure madness. I know that I personally have doubled the amount of gray hair in my head over the past two months.

Packing up a house can also reveal unwanted surprises. Like when we moved our couch for the first time in two years only to find a variety of bullets in varying calibers (you have to understand my home for this to make sense), a plethora of candy wrappers, and a very questionable half-eaten Chick-fil-A fry. During our move, I constantly was asking myself, “Are we really this messy?”

Then comes the worst part… when everything is out of the house and all that’s left is cleaning up the aftermath. After scrubbing and sweeping with the help of extended family a realization finally set in: with more maintenance, the house would have been in much better condition. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m a tidy person! I like things to be clean and in place… but when you live in a space long enough all of those hard to get places get gross and you even become used to a certain level of mess.

As we transitioned into our new home I immediately felt the urgency (maybe even a little too much) to maintain our home and its cleanliness. I vowed to be intentional on a daily basis to faithfully steward our home, even in the things that aren’t visible. Mowing the grass, sweeping, mopping the floors, and dusting are now a regular thing that I treat as preventive maintenance, so that maybe next time we are moving and things get shuffled around we aren’t left standing in a messy room asking ourselves, “how did things get this bad?”

This same illustration can be applied to the heart of a Christian. Intentionality is important in maintaining the health of your own heart! There’s a reason Jesus stresses the importance of the heart so much in the Scriptures, because it’s the life and breath behind everything you do. Sadly, you may be able to fake things on the outside with the right answers or charisma but I believe that the Christian whose heart is far from God is of no value to the kingdom.

Take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is your life like underneath the surface?
  • If you stripped away the surface, would your life reveal a heart that has a zeal and passion for God?

Nothing is more vital for our churches, our families, our spouses, the people we serve, and ourselves than for our hearts to be healthy. Here are four vital practices we must have in order to make sure our hearts are constantly chasing after God. These disciplines may seem simple, but they are crucial if we’re to avoid the pitfall of “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” Matthew 15:8 puts it this way,

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Let’s think together!


Drink from the Well

Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Be in the Word daily! While this discipline seems to be a no-brainer, it’s often overlooked amongst the many tasks, emails, jobs, and chores we have on our daily plate. In the hustle and bustle of your work life and home life often the importance and value of a daily intake of Scripture is lost.

To have any strength and maturity in your walk with Christ, our days have to start with the self-care of being in the Word. It’s truly that simple. The inspired Word of God is “living and active”

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Daily Scripture gives us a constant and consistent reminder of who Jesus is, and what He’s done for us. Run to his Word daily, and drink from the well that never runs dry.


Sit at His Feet

When is the last time you stopped and just meditated on the Lord? If you are like me then you might struggle to recall when it last was. Sometimes we can get so caught up in serving the Lord and “working out our salvation” that we lose sight of what it is to be a Child of God all together.

We see a story that portrays this exact thought in Luke.

Luke 10:39 says,

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Most of us know the context of this story of Mary and Martha. Jesus enters the house of Martha and while she is consumed with serving, Mary just wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. It’s a familiar passage to most people but it’s easy to overlook the simple concept that sitting at the feet of Jesus through prayer is everything!

While God certainly calls us to do good works, he wants us to remember that we are his sons and daughters first. He wants us to spend time with him; he wants us to know and rely on him more. One of the ways we can pastor our own hearts away from self-reliance is by spending time with him through his Word and through prayer.


Stop and Listen

Exodus 20:8 says,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

One of the greatest detriments to our ministries and the people we lead is failing to rest from our work. I remember early in ministry I felt like I needed to be “on” at all times, even the weekends. This drove my wife insane and certainly didn’t help out our relationship or even my relationship with the Lord. Taking a Sabbath day for rest each week is not only a good practice but is a command of Scripture. You must have it… God designed it to be this way!

Use this day of rest to disengage from “work” and to refocus your heart and soul back on the Lord. Take time to stop and listen. This day of rest will recharge you, and remind your heart that whatever ministry tasks you have are under the sovereign hand of God. Pastor your heart well by obeying the regular rhythm to Sabbath.


Be in Biblical Community

Galatians 6:2 says,

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One of the best ways to grow as a believer is by being in a solid Biblical community. This may look different in your context, but you need to surround yourself with people who will walk alongside you in the Christian life. This includes people who you give permission to call out sin in your life and see your blind spots. Being in Biblical community is about being with people who know everything about you… your strengths, weaknesses, sin struggles, and pitfalls. It’s about constantly being “gospeled” by other people so that you’re growing in Christ-likeness. Take care of your heart by surrounding yourself with godly people and living in Biblical community.


While this is not an exhaustive list, these four practices will help to maintain a healthy heart and prevent the cobwebs that apathy and neglect create. Our churches need Christians who are diligent in pastoring their own hearts. May we be Believers who strive toward these disciplines with hearts aimed towards glorifying the risen Christ.

Kingdom First

Let me ask you a question…

What if the members of our churches started sharing their faith, but it wasn’t in a way that brought more people to our church? Would we celebrate and encourage that?

If not, we may not be as much about kingdom growth as we think we are.

We hear a lot today about church growth… and church growth is good. A healthy church should be growing just like a healthy person should grow. A healthy church cannot help but grow! Like any revival draws people from all over to it, genuine Spirit filled believers are drawn to a movement from the Lord.

A lot of churches are starting to evaluate every program and decision according to how much it helps the church grow. Are we too traditional? Too contemporary? Is our music too loud or too soft? Do we need a coffee bar, a younger more hip worship pastor, a funnier preacher?

Evaluation is good and healthy as long as we look at the big picture. The big picture that I am talking about is the Kingdom of God. Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We do not seek his kingdom to get what we want, but as we seek first the kingdom of God our lives and ministry cannot help but grow.

Church growth cannot be the only reason we do what we do in our local churches. There is a much higher calling to grow the kingdom of God.

In the book Externally Focused Quest Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson have a great discussion about the Kingdom. Here’s some highlights that may challenge your thinking:

How important is the kingdom? The word kingdom is mentioned 152 times in the New Testament and 116 times in the Gospels. By contrast, the word church is mentioned just three times in the Gospels – all in the book of Matthew. The first public words of John the Baptist and Jesus were to announce the kingdom (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). The first prayer request that Jesus taught his disciples was “Thy Kingdom come…” (Matthew 6:10). The first priority for the believer was to seek God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

 

What is the kingdom? The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion. The kingdom is where the King is reigning. So if Jesus is reigning as king in your own life, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

In the book Liberating the Church Howard Snyder writes,

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy, and truth. Church people think about how to get people into church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

The church does not exist for itself. The church exists to proclaim and demonstrate that the kingdom is near.

So… what’s the difference between church thinking and kingdom thinking?

  • CHURCH: local, internal, evangelism the goal, programmed, gospel explained, Sunday, growing MY church.
  • KINGDOM: global, external, evangelism the starting point, organic, gospel lived out, Every day, growing THE church.

Jesus said in the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples. Those people that need to be reached and discipled in all the world don’t just include people from our local communities that will attend our local churches.

As people use social media to make new relationships and keep in touch with friends who have moved away, more aspects of our lives are happening without regard to geography. From crying with a friend going through a divorce, to celebrating the joy of childbirth, many of our most intimate moments are being lived through Facebook Live, Skype, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and FaceTime.

More people who share their faith are doing it online, too. Which means that the friends and family members they’re sharing it with are becoming less likely to be able to attend church together.

These recent nuances in connectivity and communication provide great potential for our church’s participation in kingdom growth, even if it doesn’t always result in the numerical growth of our local congregation.

I love the mindset of the senior pastor I work under. When he is asked about programs we could add like youth sports, Celebrate Recovery, etc… he normally redirects the conversation to a local church in our area that does that particular ministry with excellence and says, “Why would we try to compete with another ministry in our area instead of just sending people to that ministry to be nurtured?”

Sometimes our evangelism and discipleship can end up with us encouraging someone to follow Jesus to another church!

In the western church world, we have become so used to tethering evangelism to our church’s programming and attendance that we can forget they’re not the same thing.

NEWSFLASH: Church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal.

What if a church was teaching and practicing evangelism in such a way that people shared their faith in Jesus at work, in their neighborhoods, with their families and online, not only as part of a church program, but as a natural outgrowth of their faith? We must always remember that, while church attendance is a vital element in our spiritual growth, church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal – even if it means they attend a different church than ours!

We must remember that Jesus didn’t call us to make congregation members… He called us to make disciples. Making disciples comes first!

Let’s focus on the Kingdom and be just as happy when someone comes to Jesus and attends another good church as we are when they attend ours. It’s great when a church member invites an unchurched friend or family member to come to church with them. But it’s even better when that person invites someone to follow Jesus with them. People need to know we’re concerned about them more than our church’s bottom line. The kingdom of God is always bigger than our little corner of it.

 

Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

Worship Leaders: Seek Him First

In this season of Thanksgiving and reflection that exists between November and the new year I want to write to all my worship leader friends, creative ministry volunteers, and musical coordinators and say… I appreciate you.

You are one of the most influential people in the life of your church.

Each and every week you are entrusted with the task of standing before your people and leading them into the very presence of God. Your role is to point people to Jesus, not yourself; yet, you do so through an art that is incredibly personal and that you’ve worked tirelessly to perfect. Trust me… I know the challenges, tendencies, and pitfalls! Our roles require us to be a gifted artist continually honing our craft, a theologian, and a leader all rolled up into one. All of those things combined make an arduous task.

The Bible references the predecessors of the modern worship leader in several places, such as the list of people in 1 Chronicles 25:1,

David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.

The Scriptures are also filled with admonitions to worship, very often including song.

Psalm 150:16 says,

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

So the role of a Worship Leader or Pastor is, in my view, a clearly articulated biblical role.

Even so, your responsibility brings with it some pretty big challenges. The sad fact is that we all know that music can easily become one of the more controversial things within the life of the church. Everyone in our church has an opinion, often in direct opposition to another, and each will expect you to satisfy both somehow.

You will need to be more modern and traditional at the same time, louder and softer, and lead for longer but shorter time periods all simultaneously.

As someone who has been there, and who is there, I want to encourage you to feel free to listen to people’s suggestions, but focus on pleasing the Lord in the manner that you and your leadership have prayerfully chosen to affirm, stylistically and culturally. Seek Him first… the details will all shake out!

Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jeremiah 29:13 promises,

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

And most importantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.


To all of you serving week after week… I appreciate you. Your churches appreciate you. Keep on fighting the good fight!