Tag Archives: assembly

Hodgepodge Evangelism

eyeseeyouI believe that one of the most beneficial changes any church could make is to correct their misunderstanding of evangelism.  We’ve made such a monster of it in our minds that very few of us do any of it at all.  We count on having user-friendly churches with seeker-sensitive assemblies featuring a great preacher, state-of-the-art equipment and methods.  We rely on doing Bible classes and assemblies so well that when people visit us to do their church shopping, we hope they’ll choose us instead of that other church down the road.  There are three things wrong with that.

·         First, it’s not evangelism it’s accumulation.

·         Secondly, people who have to be won by attractive methods and surface cosmetics will only last as long as those remain valid.

·         Third, it is a focus and emphasis unknown by Jesus, the apostles and the early church.

The church that won the Roman Empire knew nothing of “user-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive churches or spectacular methods of reaching the unconverted.  Mark Galli writes,

What it did have seems paltry: unspectacular people, with a hodgepodge of methods (so hodgepodge they can hardly be called “methods”), and rarely a gathering of more than a handful of people.  The paltry seems to have been enough, however, to make an emperor or two stop and take notice (Christian History, Issue 57, p. 8).

Without publicized campaigns or even an explicit evangelistic strategy, Christianity made its way quietly and effectively in an environment not wholly unlike that in the post-Christian West today. 

            Glenn Hinson writes, “Most churches had the same goal: evangelism.”  But it was not evangelism based on getting people into church buildings since it was nearly 300 years before the first one was built.  This was evangelism by friendship.  It was outreach through good works such as feeding the hungry and rescuing abandoned children (1 Peter 2:12).  It was the message of a moral and pure way of life (1 Peter 3:2).  It was seen in their keen pursuit of justice.  Each disciple was ready to tell their friends and associates the reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15).

            Evangelism is the life-blood of any congregation of the church.  Only if it becomes our goal, we will truly become alive.

2 Comments

Filed under "Worship Services", Advertising, Altruism, Assemblies, Christlikeness, church, Church Buildings, Churches, Community, Evangelism, Friendship, History, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Persuasion, Preaching/Teaching, Religion, Respect, Restoration

Edify or Amplify?

eyeseeyou

The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

5 Comments

Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

Preaching as Position

 

Foxworthy Preacher

Photo from Randy Boyd via Levi Sisemore

Generally, I love the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy.  This time I am both laughing and crying.  I was a preacher for a long time and I know the pressures of the profession.  When the congregation is not growing/happy/interested/involved/etc., the preacher is the first one blamed and, very often, sent packing.  Maybe a new preacher will be more dynamic/younger/pretty/gregarious/educated/entertaining/etc.  Sorry, Jeff, that’s not really his job.

Most of this pressure is because we have become assembly-oriented.  “Going to church” is the expected and almost exclusive activity of the majority.  Because of this, it had better be well-orchestrated (maybe even have an orchestra).  If “going to church” is not interesting/exciting/ entertaining, then attendees will drift to a more appealing (I almost wrote, “appalling”) venue.  Consequently, all kinds of shenanigans are pulled to draw the crowds away from one congregation to another.

It never seems to cross our minds that our purpose is not to have the biggest congregation, but simply to follow Christ with the strength and wisdom that God provides.  It doesn’t seem to occur to us that assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If we restore assemblies to their scriptural purpose, we won’t need smoke bombs, rock bands and a new preacher to keep folks coming back.

The light that we are commissioned to bring to all the world has nothing to do with electricity.  It has everything to do with letting the light of Jesus shine through our words, actions and attitudes, bringing glory to God.

Nowhere in the instructions of Jesus and the apostles is there even a hint of having preacher as a position, much less heaping upon him primary responsibility for the state of the congregation and the quality of the “worship service” (a term not found in Scripture).

With church affiliation declining across the denominational spectrum, it is high time to take a fresh look at Scripture.  Are we truly following Christ into the world or leaving him in the uncomfortable streets while we attend another comfortable “worship service” in our well-appointed “church buildings?”

May God forgive me (us) for participating so long in something so foreign to Scripture and deviant to our purpose.

4 Comments

Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, Change Agent, Christlikeness, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Encouragement, Evangelism, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Restoration

Are We Commissioned to Build Buildings?

eyeseeyouI received another note today (on an unnamed social medium) about another building expansion being completed.  It celebrated funds raised to add more brick and mortar to an existing building.  Oh Hurrah!

We act sometimes like the Great Commission said, “Go into all the world and build buildings to worship in.”  What He really said was to make disciples.  Furthermore, even though Jesus had nothing to say about “worship services,” we can worship anywhere…in a park, under a tree, in a rented hall, in a house…anywhere.

I can’t, for the life of me, see the connection between building or expanding buildings and seeking and saving the lost.  May God forgive us for putting untold billions into buildings constructed in the middle of neighborhoods we have no plans for reaching with the saving gospel.

2 Comments

Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, Community, discipleship, Evangelism, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Preaching/Teaching

Getting Them “In”

eyeseeyouChurch leaders are lamenting declining attendance and seeking creative ways to get people into their buildings.  Preachers are even going to where the people are…imagine that!  (Sounds suspiciously like something Jesus did.)  But the goal appears to ultimately get people into their “worship services.” (We seem to forget that we are the “called out” not the “called in.”)

I hate to break it to you, but that’s not going to work.  People have better things to do with their time than to file into an auditorium, sing a few songs, listen to a few prayers, observe a few rituals, pay homage to a few traditions and listen to a monologue that may or may not be relevant…all the while staring at the back of the heads seated in front of them.

Some pin their hopes of getting people into their auditoriums on hiring a hotshot young Osteen-like preacher and a rockin’ band led by a highly talented choreographer/director/producer.  Unfortunately, without a large membership and a large budget, small congregations are left out in the cold.

The only way to increase attendance in assemblies is something any church of any size can do: fulfill their intended purpose namely, to build up our fellow disciples.  What we are doing now is just not cutting it.  When our assemblies become focused on encouragement, enlightenment and stirring up one another to love and good works…our assemblies will be packed.

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion, Garlic and Onions, Heart, Motion Pictures, Science, Uncategorized

10 Things Christians Must Do Now

Do we want to be taken seriously?  Do we want to overcome misconceptions about our faith and practice? Do we hope to ever fulfill our mission and make an impact on our culture?  Then here (in no particular order) are a few things I believe we must do:

  1. Refuse to let public lies (false teachings) stand publically unopposed.  When someone lies publically, someone needs to publically expose and oppose that lie and tell the truth no matter what it costs.  That is part of our job as the called-out of Christ.
  2. Refuse to be lulled into the toleration and acceptance of immorality.  Think about what we tolerate which would never have been accepted twenty years ago.  If it was truly wrong then, it is truly wrong today.  If it was ever a sin, it is a sin now.
  3. Ignore those who equate Christianity with established religious groups…no matter how ancient.  Foolish and ignorant critics will blame Christ-followers for the excesses of those who, over the centuries, falsely labeled themselves “Christians.”  True followers of Christ were never involved in the exploitation, suppression, torture and/or death of any person or group.
  4. Rise above the prevailing gloom and hopelessness of today’s culture.  We enjoy and offer the world a way of hope, abundant life, joy (not the same as “happiness”) and an eternal end of suffering.  We are “light-bringers.”
  5. Renounce materialism and greed.  We must recognize the love of money and “stuff” for what it is – the source of evil.  Christians must learn to be content with what is needed for life.  Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and transportation are all we need.  The overflow needs to be shared.
  6. Combine good deeds with good news in holy symbiosis.  One without the other will not accomplish our mission.  Very few will be persuaded by a failure to combine these initiatives.  This is what Jesus did…this is what we must do.
  7. Renounce citizenship of a country in favor of citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.  Political parties and their candidates have serious flaws and faults; the Kingdom is perfect and flawless.  We are not mere Americans, Germans, Poles, Russians, Australians, etc.  We are citizens of a nation with no boundaries, no racial, linguistic barriers.  Thy kingdom come!
  8. Get out of our meeting places and into the streets.  Quit expecting people to come to us and do what Jesus did: go to the people.  Do good deeds!  Proclaim Christ!
  9. Quit “going to church.”  Restore the true purpose of assemblies.  Assemblies are a means to an end, not an end.  “Faithfulness” is far more than attendance.  Assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If they fail in that regard, they are useless.
  10. Think and act as the counter-culture we were meant to be.

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

2 Comments

Filed under Altruism, Christlikeness, church, Culture Wars, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, Evangelism, Good & Evil, Integrity, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, morality, Politics, Preaching/Teaching, Quotations, Religion

Are You Lonely?

Ah, look at all the lonely people.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

(“Eleanor Rigby” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

In the near future, it will be my honor to conduct a wedding ceremony.  In my remarks I nearly always quote the passage: “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).  If all goes as planned, this couple will grow old together.  They will experience work and play, sorrow and joy, love and heartache, victory and defeat.  Most likely one will die before the other and the one left behind will know (as they never could otherwise) what it means to be lonely.  Their years of togetherness will be a wonderful, glowing memory.

Humans were not created to be alone.  We are a “flocking animal.”  Some animals are “loners” by nature.  They wander solo through most of the year and only congregate with others of their species at mating season to reproduce.

Oh yes, a great number of our sort seem to seek the lonely life.  They live alone, eat alone and, aside from the occasional one-night-stand, sleep alone.  Even in a crowd they may seek to be alone.  But we humans were meant for deeper relationships.  When we keep things shallow we miss most of the richness and consolation of life.

Loneliness seldom works for long.  It seldom works well.  Early in my backpacking days I was warned to “…never hike alone.”  If you’ve seen the film, 127 Hours, you know what I’m talking about.  Too many things, some deadly, can happen – falls, snakebites, sprained ankles, encounters with unfriendly animals, getting lost, getting stuck and other situations and circumstances where companions become lifesavers.  We all need companions, comrades, confidantes, confessors…friends to share life’s joys, triumphs, sorrows and challenges.

There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,  yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless— a miserable business!
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down 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.
(Ecclesiastes 4:8-12)

Are you lonely?  Are you trying to fly solo through an empty sky?  May I suggest a way to land safely?  In every community of size there’s a group of people who will eagerly befriend you.  They meet together one or more times a week to connect with their Creator and each other.  Oh, they’re not perfect (just like you) but they’re not lonely.  They’ll take you in and overlook your faults if you will theirs.  It is a safe place where God teaches us how to love Him and each other.  They pray together, sing together and seek guidance in God’s Word together.  And, every so often they will sing:

Blest be the tie that binds, / Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds / Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, / We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, / Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes / Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows / The sympathizing tear.

If you are seeking an end to loneliness, let me know where you live and I will do my best to help you find a group of friends who just might be seeking you.

3 Comments

Filed under church, Community, Encouragement, Life, Loneliness, Love, Love and Marriage, Singing, Trust

The Answers for Everything

Two questions: Why did the number of disciples explode in the first three centuries after the establishment of the church on that wondrous Day of Pentecost? And, why isn’t similar growth occurring now? Once we have answered these questions, we will have the answers for everything. So what are the differences between then and now and us and them?  I can think of a few:

1.      They were Holy Spirit motivated and driven. Too many of us are ignorant of the Spirit’s provision, power and His primary legacy: inspired Scripture. It is within these God-breathed words we will find the answers we seek, not in some book on church growth.

2.      They were not building-oriented. We are. We spend millions on structures we mistakenly call “churches” with a “sanctuary” and classrooms. Try finding that in Scripture!  What a classic misappropriation of time, energy and money!

3.      They did not have a “professional class” or clergy. We do. We spend millions on their salaries and benefits. Then we work the hound out of them. This too is alien to Scripture. As Lisa Sells has written,

…the pastor (“preacher” for us restorationists-DW) is expected to both nurture the mature and win the lost through a one-way monologue (i.e., the weekly sermon-DW).  Then through the week the pastor is expected to satisfy member needs for personal love and concern.

“The result is often a membership that watches the pastor try to do all the ministry as well as a pastor that is overextended and skating on the edge of burnout. (Lisa Sells, “Avery Willis’ Last Dream,” Mission Frontiers, USCWM, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 626-7971111, www.missionfrontiers.org. January-February 2011, p. 9)

4.      They were not assembly-oriented. We are. Assembly has been called, “The Sunday Morning Show.” It has replaced The Great Commission as the focus of our resources and energies.  Assembly an essential part of our Christian walk but it must not become our major focus.  As Steve Smith wrote,

The Great Commission says we are to go, not invite people to come to us.  We must go to where the lost are, and train the new believers to also go to the lost, into factories, homes, shops and neighborhoods (Steve Smith, “Training for Trainers Process,” Mission Frontiers, January-February 2011, p. 11)

5.      They understood what “making disciples” was and how to do it.  We don’t.  They proclaimed the word, lived the gospel, baptized those who came to belief and taught them to observe all that Jesus commanded.  Those disciples made more disciples who could make disciples and multi-level discipling was born.

6.      They knew that their mission was to follow Christ.  We know it too, but we get distracted by stuff that has nothing to do with our primary mission. They didn’t get involved in peripheral diversions.  Since Jesus came to seek, serve and save the lost, they knew that was their job too.  It’s all right there in the Gospels and the Letters.

It is time to dump the ineffective inventions, innovations, diversions and distractions that have gummed up the simple process of seeking, saving and discipling the lost. It is time to stop wringing our hands in despair and to fill those hands with a copy of Scripture.  It is time to quit looking around wondering what to do and to fill our eyes, mind and heart with the teachings and examples of Jesus and the apostles. There we will find what to do. There we will find the answers to everything.

1 Comment

Filed under church, Community, conversion, discipleship, Evangelism, Faith, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Preaching/Teaching, Restoration, Salvation, Scripture, Uncategorized

Edification and the Holy Spirit

A reader responds to the blog on edification with concerns about gifts of the Holy Spirit (see also comments on that blog)  He writes, “… what about the unmentionable, controversial inclusion of…the Holy Spirit’s role in edification by the coveting of and inclusion of charismata in the assembly as stated by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:1-4?
“If the charismata have passed, as concluded by many, how is the church going to be edified, exhorted and consoled as Paul states in these verses and especially verse 3-4?  ‘But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolution. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.’”

Well it is not exactly “unmentionable,” since I did mention it.  Is it controversial?  Yes, because the problem has always been about authenticity.  Persons in the assembly believe they have a prophecy for the church.  How can their words be proven and accepted as genuine?  Is it even important to do so?  Can we not simply accept that God is speaking through a person and let it go at that?  The danger of doing so is seen in the many warnings about false prophets and the tremendous damage they can cause (Matthew 7:15; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1).  John cautions us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

In the context of I Corinthians 14, the Sprit reveals through Paul how prophecy can be tested and proven genuine, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (I Corinthians 14:24,25).  When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and revealed facts about her life he could not have known naturally, she said, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (John 4:19).  Jesus was very specific, “Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (John 4:17,18).

I, for one, would welcome genuine prophecy in the church.  In fact, I would welcome all authentic spiritual gifts.  How could I do otherwise?  None of us, however, should put the church in jeopardy by acceptance without testing.

In the meantime, let us strive to edify the church in word and deed.

2 Comments

Filed under church, Holy Spirit, Prophecy, Scripture, Supernatural

The Imperative of Edification

Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification (Romans 15:2)

So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

…love edifies (I Corinthians 8:1).

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase (Acts 9:31).

The Greek word translated “edify” (oikodomeo) implies “building up.”  As used in the writings of Paul and Luke, it simply means that we help each other grow spiritually in the things we say and do.  This is not a mere suggestion, it is an imperative.

If I understand the above passages, in all of our interactions edification must be paramount.  Whether it is an assembly, Bible class, business meeting, a potluck, a conversation over coffee, an encounter on the street, grocery store…wherever…the goal is to build up one another, to encourage spiritual growth.

We have lost sight of this in so many ways…to our detriment.  Is edification the goal when we file into our assemblies?  Do we file out edified?  Too often we leave our assemblies having listened to an irrelevant sermon, sung to the backs of those in front of us and communed with no one in particular.  It is even worse where the use of loud musical instruments makes singing to one another impossible.  Could that be why we are commanded simply to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)?

Edification is an act of love.  It gives grace, produces peace, respect for our God, peace and comfort.  Churches where edification is paramount “increase.”

Edification is imperative.  “Let all things be done for edification.”  Those of us concerned with restoring primitive Christianity must add edification to the list.

1 Comment

Filed under church, discipleship, Edification, Kingdom Growth, Love, Peace, Preaching/Teaching, Restoration, Scripture