Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Non-Growing Christian Is...

The Bible assumes that Christians grow--there's no real comprehension of any other kind (Col. 3:9-10). However, most contemporary American Christians do not grow--they are stuck, plateaued, in a holding pattern--and because this is so common, we fail to see how odd it really is from the Bible's perspective. In fact, if we're not careful, we'll come to see stagnation as normal and movement as strange and bizarre.

So, to counter this heresy, I thought it might be good to re-cast what a non-growing Christian is like through some modern-day word-pictures. My hope is that these will help challenge you to see how offensive a lack of growth in our lives is to God, and strengthen your resolve not only to be a growing Christian yourself, but to spur others on to the same.

A non-growing Christian is...

  • A sinus infection--slimy, gross mucus that creates pain and pressure because it's not going anywhere.
  • A bowel obstruction--a blockage of movement that causes you to hang on to all your crap.
  • A pimple--a clog of oil and dead cells that produces embarrassment.
  • A port-a-potty--a stinky repository of garbage and waste.
  • Engine sludge--gooey gunk that not only won't move, but even causes a whole engine to stop, and eventually break down.
  • A hemorrhoid--a painful torment that cries out for fixing, but most people are unwilling to do anything about it.
  • A free ticket to a mortuary--it counts for nothing, and nobody wants it.
  • Gangrene--dead, rotting flesh caused by a lack of blood flow
  • A government agency--bloated, unnecessary, useless, ineffective, uncomprehending... need I say more?
  • A parasite--a being with no purpose of its own, which contributes nothing, produces nothing, provides nothing. It draws its life by sucking from from the healthy, and spreads sickness simply by doing what comes naturally to it.

Not growing is painful because we repeat the same bad choices over and over, and reap their consequences. It's tragic because we fail to learn from our own life experiences. It's gross and disgusting because that's always the case when something is intended to move and it's stuck. It causes our lives to be rendered worthless and ineffectual. It is one of Satan's greatest sources of satisfaction.

The Christian life is designed to MOVE!!! So let's shift it out of park and put the pedal to the metal, people!!! I feel the NEED for SPEED!!! Woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!

What's the next turn you need to make to get on-track with God?

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is Church About?

Before I share my answer with you, I'd really invite you to wrestle with this question... What is church about? If you're reading this blog, I'm assuming that you go to church, you're part of a church, you belong to a church. So this should be easy. What is church about?

Think about it. Write it out--it helps to make things clear in our minds when we write them down. OK, have you done that yet? No? Then why are you still reading? I'm serious--write down the answer to this question: What is church about? (Don't worry, I'll wait for you...)





OK, have you done that yet? See, here's what I think. I think your answer more than likely sounds something like this:

  • Church is about learning about God and Jesus.
  • Church is about worship and learning more about the Bible.
  • Church is where we go to find out what we're supposed to believe.

Now, maybe not. Maybe I'm all wrong here. But I think I'm right. I think this is the answer that I'd get from 90+% of church-goers. And that is a crippling indictment of us as Christians, on a couple of fronts:

  1. Church is never about where we go. The church is not a building you enter, it's a group of people you belong to. In the Bible, the church is a family, a flock, a body, a bride, a fellowship, but never a literal building. And just like in a family, in a flock, in a body, we belong to each other. Romans 12:5 says, "Each member belongs to all the others." So whatever church is about, it's about belonging to other people.
  2. Church is never about Sundays. If "church" is a group of people we belong to, we belong to them all the time--in the exact same way that you don't cease to belong to your family just because you head separate ways during the day. To say that church is about Sunday morning worship services is like saying that family is about sleeping under the same roof at night, or eating dinner together (if your family does that). Those may be things that happen in a family--even fairly important things--but that's a pretty poor description of what family is all about.
  3. Church is not really about learning. Now, again, maybe learning is something that happens in a church (hopefully so!), but church is not like school. Church is not an educational institution. The Bible tells us that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1 NIV). Knowledge for knowledge's sake is useless, less than worthless. In fact, "If I... can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2 NIV). Let me say it again--CHURCH IS NOT ABOUT LEARNING!!!

So what is church about? One thing. There is only one reason the church exists. There is only one reason to belong to a church. There is only one reason to serve in a church. There is only one reason to believe in the church. There is only one reason to worship with the church. And that reason is this:

Life. Change.

That's it. Nothing else. We are in the business of allowing God to change our lives, and letting him use us to change the lives of others. And we join together to support and challenge one another on this journey of life change, as we all head in the same direction, so that we can all get there because we could never make it on our own--it's way too hard.

And if we don't understand this, we don't really understand anything about the Christian faith. If we don't grasp this, we may not even really have a relationship with Jesus at all. And I'm not exaggerating even slightly.

Church is about life change.

And so the only kind of knowledge that counts for anything is the knowledge that changes your life. If you learn something, and change as a result, that's good. If you learn something and don't change, you were better off not even learning it in the first place. Way too many Christians are educated beyond their obedience.

As we've said endlessly (and we'll keep saying it), Pathway Community Church exists to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We meet them where they are, but we don't let them stay there--we lead them to a new place. That's life change. And that's not just for the people "out there"; it's for us "in here" too. In fact, we can't do diddly squat "out there" until we allow God to do his work "in here." If our lives are untransformed, we have absolutely nothing to offer this world. We operate with no power. We model a false gospel.

As we implement this simple process throughout our church, there's only one reason behind it--life change.

  • Reaching Up/Worship Services are about life change.
  • Reaching Over/Small Groups are about life change.
  • Reaching Out/Ministry Teams are about life change.

This whole process is about one thing--helping you cooperate with God to let him change your life. If you're happy with your life exactly the way it is and don't want to change anything, you're in open rebellion against God, and you're going to find yourself more and more uncomfortable with the direction our church is moving. And that's only right, because the only thing church is about is life change.

Monday, September 14, 2009

faith : simple

This week, we rolled out our simplified, streamlined, concretized process for... well, everything we do and are at Pathway Community Church. In the past, we've had a mission statement, two vision statements, thirteen core values (separated into three categories), a church structure, an assimilation/discipleship strategy, and a set of Journey classes that we wanted everyone to take--in addition to all the other ministries and programs that we have operated--worship services, small groups, Awana, youth group, Soccer Camp, Dinner Theatre, Trunk or Treat, potlucks, etc.

As I said yesterday, individually each of those things is good, right, biblical, God-honoring, consistent with his purpose for his church, and so forth. But taken all together, it's a little overwhelming, confusing, complex, and just plain noisy.

As leaders, the elders and I recognized the need for a clearer, more focused approach--one that would be easy to communicate and easy to understand, one simple process that ties everything together. And this is it:

Here's how these things are now tied together:

  • Mission: To meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We began asking the question, "What does a fully devoted follower look like?", and we made a list of characteristics and qualities that someone would have if they were fully devoted to Jesus. Then we asked, "What do we do in our church that helps people acquire these character traits?" We identified these three areas as key in helping us accomplish our mission.
  • Ministries/Programs: We now have just three main things that we focus on. "Reaching Up" corresponds to our worship services. "Reaching Over" involves our small groups. And "Reaching Out" is tied to our ministry teams. By focusing on these three areas, we increase our effectiveness by being more intentional with each of them, making sure they relate to a specific part of the process of making fully devoted followers.
  • Core Values: These are now connected directly with the mission. First we help people reach up toward God (Real Spirituality). Then we help them reach over toward other believers (Real Community). Then we help them reach out through ministry (Real Story). The core values are now put into a step-by-step process, which helps people grow into acquiring a balanced, fully-developed Christian life.
  • Assimilation Process: This is the question of how someone becomes connected and attached to our church. The worship service is the front door--the most likely point of entry for a new person. The next step in helping them get connected here is moving them as soon as possible into a small group so that they develop strong relationships with other believers. The next step is to help them find a ministry that fits how God has shaped them so that they have a stake in the success and health of our church. Once they are a contributing member of the body, connected with other believers, and growing in their faith, they will be far more likely to work through the problems that come up, which might otherwise cause them to leave.
  • Immediate Vision: To trigger a dramatic reaction between our neighbors and Christ in a fusion of real needs and real love. This vision entails mobilizing people for ministry, which is also the objective of the simple process. Now we have a step-by-step process that will help us move people toward that goal. As we do, we will have a greater and greater impact on our community, which will bring glory and honor to God (Matthew 5:16), and which will attract people to a relationship with him through our church.
  • Broad Vision: To become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. We believe this simple process will help our church become more effective at accomplishing our mission, which will lead to growth. With more people and more resources, we will be able to realize this vision, expanding the reach of God's kingdom through the planting of new churches throughout the county.

In essence, it's the difference between a light bulb and a laser beam. In many respects, they're the same thing (after all, light is light), but in practice they're vastly different. The laser beam is exponentially more effective than a light bulb because all the energy is focused.

You may look at this and say, "Well, we're already doing this." That's right... we have worship services, small groups, and ministry teams already. What's the difference? The difference is focus. The difference is applying all our strategic energy in this one direction. The difference is making sure that at each step of the process, something is happening that will help produce fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.