Tag Archives: church

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.

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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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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THANK YOU!

 

eyeseeyouI am thankful to God for so many things…primarily that He has loved me so much that He has made provision for my eternity through the gift of His Son and the Grace and truth He introduced into the world.  It is beyond possible to thank Him enough.

I also have multitudes of people to thank in this life.  If it were not for my late father-in-law, and his generosity life would have been very difficult in some of the early years of our marriage when medical bills threatened to sink our ship.  I don’t think we ever asked for his help, he was just tuned-in enough to know when it was needed.  I trust he is enjoying his heavenly reward.

Nearly every job I’ve had was the result of someone suggesting, recommending, pulling strings, pulling rank or vouching for me.  I can only think of a few times I was hired because I acted totally on my own.

The church has been the source of so many blessings.  Lake Highlands church in Dallas was my sponsoring congregation as Brenda and I did mission work in Australia.  Aside from their prayers and monetary support, they sent things to us that made our work easier.  North Davis church in Arlington literally saved us from being homeless and broke during a very difficult time.  Our present church home, University church in Abilene has overflowed with kindness toward us many times.

I don’t ever want to be guilty of forgetting those I cannot embarrass by naming here.  Brenda and I have been the recipient of gifts from many people in Australia and here at home.  Frequently those gifts have arrived at very critical times.  We have enjoyed the hospitality of wonderful Australian and New Zealand saints in our travels.  They have fed us, sheltered us and entertained us simply out of their love for Jesus.  Truly, God works through His people!

In my meditations I often review, with tears, the kindnesses and mercies of God and His people who have loved us, prayed for us and given to us.  I can only say from the depths of my heart, THANK YOU!

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Shut Up and DO Something!

Heirs of the “Restoration Movement” (Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ – and a plethora of groups believing this and that) have largely been an innocuous force in the contest for the souls of men and women.  There are several reasons for this in my opinion (and I have been “at it” for over 50 years).

  1. We have preached “the church” instead of “The Christ.”  I have, in the past been as guilty of this as anyone.   You can claim to be “non-denominational” but this is about as denominational as you can get.  Our message must not be the “church of Christ”, it must be the Christ of the church.
  2. We have invested our resources in buildings.  With the money we spend on construction and maintenance, we could feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and reach a hurting and hungry world with the only message that can save them.
  3. We have fought each other and not Satan.  We seem to have forgotten that he is the real adversary —  not those who are seeking to follow Christ even if they do some strange things you don’t find in the Bible.  We can work all that out as allies in the fight against our real adversary.
  4. We have done everything except what Jesus told us to do.  He never said to build “Christian Colleges and Universities (they seldom stay that way very long anyway).”  He never said “Go forth and build buildings throughout the world,”  He never said, “build hospitals, put your denominational name on them and charge the same outrageous prices that other hospitals do.”  He never said hand out food, clothing and drill water wells but don’t worry about connecting it with the gospel (I know this is not the case in all instances).
  5. We put would-be missionaries through the ringer (remember those?).  We make them sweat, strain, wear out tires and/or automobiles travelling around begging for support and ask them, “How little can you live on?”  Meanwhile human beings are dying and going to hell.  What’s the matter with us?
  6. Our job is to be Christ to our world (starting with our communities).  Our job is to speak, act and conduct ourselves as He did.  He still draws men and women to Himself.

I can probably think of some other things but this is my short list.  All this has to change and all the lectureships, “summits,” conferences seem to this writer like exercises in futility.   Let’s shut up and DO SOMETHING!

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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.)

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From Service to Service

We read recently of a church that transitioned from primarily serving themselves to serving others as the result of a natural disaster.  I thought, “Hooray!  That’s one!”  Regrettably, this kind of change is outstanding because of its rarity.  Why is understanding and practicing the principle of serving so difficult for those who are followers of the One who said He came to serve and not to be served?

It’s ironic that we have come to call our times of assembly “services.”  Really?  Who are we serving?

  • Are we serving God?  Exactly how are we doing that passively sitting in a building?
  • Are we serving our brothers and sisters?  How? By sleepily listening to a preacher or singing to the back of their heads?
  • Are we serving our community?  Is that remotely possible segregated from the community with our butts planted in a pew/chair in one of our edifices?
  • Are we serving our world? How?  It is a stretch to gather into the rarified atmosphere of some auditorium going through motions of minimal meaning and claim we are “serving.”

Our times of assembly can be times of service if we turn them into times of edification and encouragement.  If our preaching, singing, partaking of the wine and bread bring us closer to each other and our Lord then mission accomplished.  If, however, we continue to lethargically linger to lifelessly go through the routine “exercises of this service” (“exercises” is an interesting way to put it), then, at the end of the closing prayer rush to our cars, who will be served?

True service will be accomplished in the world…not out of it (those who isolate themselves in monastic solitude need to understand this).  Our service must be taken out of our comfortable retreats and into our uncomfortable world.  Let’s lift up our eyes.  We are surrounded by suffering and need.  If Christians responded to these realities, there would be little need for a “Nanny State.”

There is no power greater than the words and works of the Holy Spirit as we blend the gospel with service.  One without the other is like faith without works: dead and useless.  Put them together and people will be saved physically, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually and eternally.

To pin our hopes for national and international salvation on electing the right president, senator or congressperson is misguided and a striving after wind (and, we are getting a lot of “wind” at the moment).  Taking the same energy expended to get our favorite candidate into office and turning it to serve our world and save its lost would truly answer the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

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Where is the Love?

L
GOD
V
E

If love can’t be found among God’s people – where can it be found?  In the gospels and letters, Christians are admonished over and over to love one another and our neighbors. Love is our identity.  It is how we are recognized as followers of Jesus.  It is the badge that marks us as Christians.  It is the quality that sets us apart from the dog-eat-dog culture of materialism and greed.

What an unmitigated tragedy when the lack of love is noted among congregations of self-proclaimed Christians!  It is so contrary to what we should be that it even occasionally makes the news.  Most of the time, however, it is merely observed and noted.  The results are ugly.  People are driven away from such hypocrisy.  I am always reminded of what Gandhi, who lived and died a Hindu, had to say about the Christians he observed, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Yes, some unfriendly observers may be looking for something wrong – but we make it too easy for them.  Lovelessness is always starkly obvious and always a source of ammunition for those who oppose any form of faith.

Recently one such unfriendly website chronicled the story of a young couple who dared to question leaders of their church about the expenditure of funds (to which they had contributed) and the lifestyle of some of the leaders (who lived off these funds).  If their account is credible, they became the object of scorn, anger and denigration.  Ultimately expelled from their church, their faith took a fatal hit and they are no longer practicing believers.

I really can’t verify this account but it is too much like some of my personal experiences and stories from others over the years to reject out of hand.  And, if true, what a repudiation of the love we should embrace and practice!  We have handed a gun to Satan and asked to be shot.  We have presented a sword to our adversaries and asked to be run through.  Truly, we are our own worst enemy.

I repeat: if love cannot be found among the people who purport to believe their God is the personification of love, where will it be found?  No matter how wonderful we think we are, without love we are nothing.

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek?

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questioning
Where is the love?

—Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”

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