Saturday, April 17, 2010

Churches in Competition

Do churches really feel competition? The answer in our local community is an overwhelming, yes. Two of the most common questions and/or comments among regular church going folks today is: "Which church do you go to" or "that is so and so's church." Adding a little to this, three or four recent surveys and polls recently released show that almost two-thirds of the churches in the U.S. indicate that they feel competition from other churches.
Stories of churches accusing the other of taking the others' members as well as leaders aggressively competing for positions in the church; and of course the many other petty disagreements. Church members at one church refusing to help or participate in a ministry or program at another church. It has even reached the point that it now has become difficult these days to ask a Christian from another church just to unite and pray together for an hour. Goodness the list could go on and on. Churches as a whole, and Christians as individuals, today have taken a downward spiral in terms of being united.
Overall the time has come for churches to serve God's purpose and not their own. After our generation is gone from this earth; we shouldn't expect the next generation to come up with different ideas from ours. The legacy we leave today as a church will be the same that the next generation will take up. What Christians fail to understand is the fact that as long as there is resistance, indifference, or a sense of competition with each church; then no progress is made and above all the devil's work is cut into half.
Is it not crazy that Christians from various churches do not do many things in life together; much less ministry? Is it not seemingly, or entirely, ridiculous that churches keep trying to build ministries and programs without even talking to each other? Partnership is a much more satisfying (not to mention Biblically appropriate) model for building strength than competition. If another church needs help, why not help? If you want to start something new and exciting, why not reach out to other churches too? If another church is starting something different than your your church, why not reach out and see how the two churches together can make more impact? Churches should unite to be powerful in this community; the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:10 "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."
Churches are not to be in competition, they are to be in community. Churches are not competing businesses trying to get the bigger market share. Churches are the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, working toward a common goal of reaching people for Him; and making a difference. This is about being kingdom minded with the same pursuit.

Effective Working in the Lord

The Word of God clearly tells us to never put our confidence in things the world considers to be our protection, defense, or strength. One clear illustration is, "No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save" (Psalm 33:16-17). The Bible is full of others besides this, front to back and cover to cover. However, the man or woman who does not perform well on the job, or in the world, is left behind in today's competitive world. This is this typical area of the world at large, but even many Christians promote the importance of identifying our strengths and encourage us to move in them to accomplish God's will. Yet, the Bible is clear that we are discouraged from depending upon our own strengths; and we are urged to rely totally upon the Lord.
God wants us to depend upon Him, and He demonstrates this throughout Scripture. Clear Biblical examples include: Judges 7, God wouldn't let Gideon fight against another army until he reduced his own from 22,000 soldiers to 300, so that Gideon could not boast about his army's strength. In Joshua 6, God told Joshua to walk around Jericho and blow trumpets instead of relying upon the army personnel to overpower the enemy. In 2 Samuel 24, God judged David when he counted his troops to determine the size of his army's strength, apparently because David took the census out of pride or overconfidence in the strength of his army, instead of relying on the strength of the Lord.
On the other hand, Jesus instructed the disciples through the parable of the builder, to to consider the cost before beginning to build. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30).
Will you be able to finish? Have you counted the cost? Have you began to lay the foundation of your life and now everything is unclear? Maybe you have laid the foundation and now feel the heat of ridicule and conviction as your foundation was laid in your will and your strength; and not the Lord's. Today, bring all you have and all that you are before the Lord; this includes everything. Every desire, dream, job, chore, project, and endeavor. Bring it all before the Lord as you ask for His power, His strength, His blessing, and His grace to accomplish it. This allows for the using of all of your God-given natural gifts and skills with your spiritual gifts, within the power of the Holy Spirit. This will allow you and God to work together, totally in Him.

Pastors and their Flocks

Recently I received a call from a pastoral leader wanting me to come and preach at his church. While speaking with him, he expressed that he wanted me to "come sheer his sheep." Evidently he desired to do a great number of things and no one in the church would help out. He went on to give me a list of things he wanted to do and where the people were failing at them. I explained to him that I would be glad to come, but the Holy Spirit determines the message; not me or anyone else. After preaching on that Sunday, this pastoral leader seriously got on to me as he wanted me to sheer his sheep and tell them like it was. Evidently he was afraid to say the wrong things to his congregation and wanted a hired hand to say it. Never the less, I explained to him, respectfully, that it was the pastor's job to sheer his sheep. After all the pastor is the shepherd. I also explained that I had helped him that day, as I corralled and motivated the sheep to the stall. But it was his job to operate the sheer.
A lot of preachers, and even pastors, today want to brow-beat and beat the people over the head with the Bible. This is not the way. All many Christians really need is encouragement, motivation, and how to apply the Word of God in their lives. This is why I preach the Word, the whole counsel of God, and not 5 ways to do this or 10 ways to do that. This brings me to a couple of points.
First off, if a pastor or Christian leader is going to call me, or another preacher, to sheer his sheep because he is afraid to; then he is in the wrong line of work. I find nowhere in the Bible of a hired hand doing the work of a pastor. A pulpit preacher or evangelist is suppose to supply a word from the Lord in which the people will respond; and the pastor is the one who is suppose to sheer the sheep and tell them where they are wrong. As a matter of fact, many times in the Word of God Jesus included many words about shepherds and the sheep. These are the Biblical words of example for today's pastors and preachers.
Second, Christians today should already be motivated to do what they are suppose to do. While everyone already knows this is not true and does not happen with the majority, the fact still remains. Christians in the church house today should be enthusiastic and ready to do what their pastors are guiding them to do. God gives the pastor His vision and it is up to the pastor to apply the vision God has given him. Christians who are not responding to their pastors are, in essence, disobedient and not doing as they should. If you are just going to church and not responding to your pastor's calls and vision, then how do you expect your church to become all that God intends for it to be and/or become?
As you read this today, ask yourself were you can come along-side your pastor and help. Whether it is doing a job or just a job of encouraging your pastor; pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal this to you. Talk with your pastor and the leadership at your church and find ways to become and do more than you are currently doing. Remember, you are the sheep and the pastor is the shepherd. The pastor is the man of God called for his duty. The pastor will be held accountable for you and everyone else in the flock that God has given him. Come along-side him and work with him to develop your church into all that God wants it to be and do. May God get the glory and be glorified in all that is accomplished by you personally working together in the duty and vision that the Lord has given to your pastor. A men.

Ministering to Singles

According to recent data, the growing number of unmarried adults in the United States is over an excess of 100 million. This number alone places over a third of today's population in the single relationship area. Some of these are never married, some are single parents, and some are widows. Whatever the case may be, from never marrying, to divorce, to the loss of a spouse; this number is a large ministry area for the Christians and the church today. Not to even mention that the people who are lost, or out of the church altogether, in this category is unable to number.
The churches everywhere today are largely focused on married couples and their families. There is a huge gap in the divide here. Some churches have tried to establish ministries and programming for young adults who are between high school and the point of getting married. This is a good start, yet it misses the thrust of the ministry context in this area. Christians and churches should, and can, become more intentional about reaching out to divorced and unmarried people who are in that category for a host of reasons. Anyone can easily become judgmental about why these people are single; but instead we need to meet them where they are. Christians and churches should identify and befriend the single parent families; where a person has been widowed or where there has been a divorce. These folks need our acceptance and our support in raising their children with the help of proper role models.
There are many single adults, single moms, and single dads out there who are making the adjustment of living independently. Life alone is hard enough with two, much less just one. The Christian family and the church as a whole could be paramount in helping and guiding these through some of life's basic areas, needs, and/or skills. Take a look around your church house or place of employment to see and meet the unmarried, the single parent families, and the widows. These are people who desperately need friendships with others who can help them cope with many areas and disappointments of life. The people who are lost or out of the church altogether in this category is unable to number.

The Music in the Church House

In today's society, people listen to music and sing together in the strangest places, from the church house to concerts and even birthday parties; music has a special way of binding the people together. It enables us to spend extended periods of times expressing the same thoughts and passions. Why does music affect us so deeply? Cause God made it that way is the only answer. Music can bring forth the association of things that happened in certain periods or experiences in our lives. Music and singing has played a huge role in the church of the Lord ever since the day of Pentecost when the church really began. Furthermore, The Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing. God himself sings (Zeph. 3:17) and Jesus even sang with his disciples.
Today in church houses all across the way the people are arguing over hymns or contemporary, praise music or traditional. One church says worship should not be a rock concert, while another says hymns are old school. Should it really be a choice? Can it not be all of the above. As one preacher put it, "God has blessed those with voice and He has blessed those with skill." In other words, if someone uses a guitar or drums to express their self in worshiping the Lord, who are we do judge or argue? If someone can bend those guitar strings like nobody ever could before, should they not be allowed to have a solo in the middle or somewhere in the song that is worshiping their Lord and God? Folks, it takes extraordinary skill to play an instrument, period. It is a skill and gift that is God-given. I will never forget, just a few months ago, hearing a 20 minute version of the "Old Rugged Cross" in a certain church. The song was complete with powerful singers and powerful musicians. It included all the lights and professional concert-style production (yes in the church house). With a piano introduction, two different guitar solos, and even a drum solo right in the middle. When it was done, the alter was full and I was ready to come out of my skin. I had just experienced a total worship of the Lord experience. Seriously, today's church does not need to pit different styles or traditions against one another. They each serve to help the church in different ways. Music can also help the church engage the words more emotionally and more spiritually. Furthermore, the host of heaven is not united in their style of music but in the words of their song (Rev. 5:9-10). What kind of music do people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation sing? We don't know, but the Bible tells us what the focus should be: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
So next time you get ready to put down a certain type of music in the church house, ask yourself, what are we doing to encourage our church in corporate music and singing? What are we doing to discourage it? Jesus is the one who makes it all possible. God doesn't hear the church on account of the skill in playing the instruments and in singing. He hears it because of His Son. We should be looking to for music to move us to worship, praise, and celebrate Him who has already done the moving in our own individual lives.