Recalculating: Changing Direction

There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

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Recalculating…it’s a word that pops up on the GPS screen when we miss a turn in trying to reach a destination.  We count on those recalculations to get us to our destination.  As a unique individual, you are trying to reach a different destination.  But…you’ve missed a turn somewhere and deep down you know you’re not getting there and you need a recalculation of where your life is going.  Garmin, Waze, Google Maps—none of those will help you find the destination for which you heart longs.

The church, the Body of Christ, is trying to reach a destination.  Along the way to that destination, we are supposed to be bring others along with us in that journey.  But declining membership and attendance reveals we have missed a turn somewhere.  We need a recalculation.  Some try to recalculate by looking backwards, trying to repeat some era in our history went we were growing.  But the recalculation we need isn’t by looking backwards—it’s by looking forward.

God’s Vision for your individual life and the life of the church is what is needed most.  God has a recalculation…and His recalculation involves His Vision.  Join us for the next 4 Sundays…just in case you need a recalculation…

What was once primarily a military device is now a common device.  We have them in our cars, in our hands, and on our phones.  It’s called GPS.  We know them as Tom-Tom, Garmin, Waze, or Google Maps.  GPS helps us get to places we may have forgotten where they are; or we are uncertain of where they are; or to places we’ve never been before.  If we aren’t paying attention to it, or we simply miss a turn, they do this thing called Recalculating.  Recalculating helps us get back on track—and Recalculating Requires A Change Of Direction.

It’s not only when we travel that we may need a change of direction, but also in our life’s journey.  It’s easy to not pay attention to the tried and true directions God gives.  It’s easy to miss a turn.  And we get lost—and lose our bearings.  This is true for us as individuals and for us as the Body of Christ.

I am asking you to pray and find the answers to 3 questions: 

  1. What is God asking you to do? 
  2. What is God asking this church to do? 
  3. Are you willing to do it? 

These questions were not randomly chosen, nor are they the result of my creative mind—even I’m not that smart.  It comes from the heart of God to the heart of this congregation—to you. 

It’s About Vision—Not Seeing What Is, But Catching A Glimpse Of God’s What Will Be.  God has a What Will Be—for each person and every church.  God’s What Will Be comes out of God’s Power And AbilitiesNot Our Own.  It is easy, so very easy to be caught up and confined to what is.  What Is creates a prison where people, dreams and churches die.

These 3 questions are about the direction you are heading towards—as an individual and as a church.  And they are the questions about arriving at where God wants us to be, as individuals and as a church. They are the questions that challenge us—about our faith, commitment and fears.  There are moments in our journey where we need a recalculating moment to get our lives back on track with God’s Plans And Purposes.

And this leads us to our text.  Usually, I like to read from the more modern translations because even I can understand them—but this morning, I want to read first from the KJV.  Turn to Proverbs 29:18… 

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

We’ve probably heard the first part of that passage, but did you listen to that last part?  Now, let me read this same passage from The Message…. 

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: If you don’t know the Vision of what God wants of you and this place, then our goose is cooked, we’re a dead duck, our jig is up, our ship is sinking, the light is on but nobody’s home.

This morning I have Good News, Bad News, and Hard News:

  1. Good NewsThe Best Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes accessible to a hurting world through the People of God.  In our simple acts of compassion and servanthood, in our worship and ministry of the Word, through our breaking of bread, we make the invisible God visible.  John wrote in I John 4:12—No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. The church stands as a powerful testimony of a God who will not let us go until He blesses us.  There is not one period in history you can point to and say, “The church offered the world nothing.  It had no light at all!”    We’ve always given something to the world, even at our worst moments.
  2. Bad NewsThe Worst Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Every day, God becomes more remote to a cynical world because of the church.  In our foolish acts of self-righteousness and self-indulgent attitudes, in our judgment and smugness, through our breaking of trust and lack of actions, we obscure God.  John goes on to say in Vs. 20-21—If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And He has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  Even when we’re at our best, the church is still marred by hypocrisy, apathy, and false piety.  There is not a single period in history you can point to and say, “Yes! There it is! The church in all its fullness, exactly as God intended it.”  We’ve always fallen short.
  3. The Hard News: The Only Real Argument For God To The World Is The Church.  Put aside all philosophical defenses and church doctrine.  Philosophies and doctrines can convince the mind, but only the church, walking in the light, can win the heart.  God does not have a Plan B.  He does not have a backup strategy for making himself known among the nations.  It’s the church or bust.  We’ve always been all there is.

The church lives between the splendor of God’s intent and the debacle of our own shortcomings.  Paul speaks of God’s intent for the church in Ephesians 3:10–11…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s intent is for all His rich and varied wisdom to be clearly seen. The church’s life is meant to be a heart-stopping drama staged on a cosmic scale—a grand expression, that astonishes our world.  God wants us to wow the whole creation.  Too often, though, the reality is we’re the laughingstock.  The church is not always a powerful saga; it’s often mixture of tragedy and comedy. 

But don’t you want to live out God’s intentions for you?  Isn’t there a part of you that wants to have all God wants to give—no matter what it costs or where it leads?  Don’t you want to be able to say, “I’m what He had in mind when he made me and called me.  I’m exactly what God wants to reveal His Glory!”

I believe that this church today doesn’t lack for vision—but like many congregations, we are lacking God’s Vision.  I read of someone who compiled over 40 Killer Phrases—Phrases that will kill the Vision God has for a local church.  Let me share with you to Top 10 Killer Phrases

10] It’s Right In Theory, But It Won’t Work Here

9]   It Will Be More Trouble Than It’s Worth;

8]   It’s Not In The Budget;  

7]   You’ve Got To Be Kidding; 

6]   It’s Too Far Ahead Of Our Time; 

5]   We’ve Tried That Before; 

4]   It May Offend Some Of Our Members; 

3]   We Don’t Have Enough People To Do It;

2]   Let’s Appoint A Committee To Look Into It And Report Back;

1]   But We’ve Never Done It That Way Before!

Now, a vision from God will have 3 key elements, always.  Now with these 3 elements, the vision for here will be powerful and life changing.  I know it works because all 3 elements have been tried and tested—and happening now in our culture.

1.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Purpose!

There is a reason why this place exists today, a purpose for us being here.  That purpose will define our mission and ministry.  The problem is that we have allowed our mission and ministry to define our purpose; and that’s backward—it’s putting the cart in front of the horse.  

The purposes of God will be much bigger than our individual selves and even bigger than all of us combined.  If you can do it with your own effort and strength, then it’s not likely that it’s God’s purposes you are following. 

God’s Purpose Transcends Beyond Our Selves In Order That We May Be Transformed By God’s Power.  Church does not exist for Sunday morning service, and to meet just your needs.  And that purpose will go beyond the physical confines of this community.  This answers your 1st Question.

2.  In God’s Vision, There Will Be Preparation!

God doesn’t just throw the vision out there and then say, “Just do it.”  He prepares us.  He’s Been Preparing You Your Entire Life For His Vision.  What Are You Doing To Allow God To Prepare You For His Vision?  Do you spend a lot of time in prayer?  Do you read, meditate and study His Word?  Each day, are you reading Christian writers, listening to Christian music?  Are you giving yourself to Sunday School, Bible Study, and creating small groups? 

You must believe that you are here because God has been preparing your whole life for such a time as this.  If you are not prepared for God’s Vision, then it’s not because God has tried to prepare you, it’s because you haven’t made yourself available to God.  This answers your 2nd Question.

3.  And In God’s Vision, There Will Be A Plan!

There was a time when the “Field of Dreams” worked—You remember the Kevin Costner movie—the voice telling him “If you build it they will come”—and they did come.  But that style will not work any longer.  It didn’t work that way for the 1st Century Church.  There’s an old saying, but it is so true—God Will Not Lead Us Where His Grace Will Not Sustain Us!  And like the purpose, the plan is much bigger than we are. 

Those plans are not only for this community, but they will reach out beyond the confines of this place and out into the world.  I’ve heard some church people say, “I don’t think we need to get involved with world missions because we have enough to do right here.  But God’s plan is bigger than this community.  It’s not local projects or outside missions—it’s BOTH local projects and outside missions.  That plan includes the involvement of each and every one of you.  And this And this is where you answer your 3rd Question.

Think about Jesus and This Process We Are Beginning Today.

  1. God Had A Purpose!  In creation, God, out of His love, made us in His image for the purpose of sharing a relationship of love with Him and to join with Him in the care of His marvelous creation.  But sin alienates us from His relationship of love.
  2. God Was Prepared For Our Sin.  Before He created one thing, redemption was in God’s heart—so He was prepared to send His Son to atone for sin and redeem us back to Himself.  1 Peter 1:18-20— For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.
  3. God Had A Plan!  His Son, would become one of us, live among us, but without sin.  He would then offer His life in the place of punishment, the place we rightly deserve.  Then He would call those who accept the Gift of Grace, to share the Message of grace.

Next Steps

  1. What is God asking you to do?  It will reflect Jesus and help the church.  It will be with the people you know—teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, where you eat, at the library, at the bank, at the grocery store, where you work, where you hang out, your next door neighbors.  And it WILL BE with people you see but don’t know and people who haven’t met yet.
  2. What is God asking this church to do?  It will be something that shows we care about people and places.  Think about things that will improve the places that involves the people you know and see.  Schools, libraries, community events, police department, fire department, nursing homes, places for those with physical, emotional or mental health issues.  God seeks to redeem people, and He longs to redeem places where people live, work, play and struggle.
  3. Are you willing to do it?  Without exceptions or compromising the Vision.  It may require giving up some things.  It will definitely require expansion—expansion of possibilities—expansion of what you see as your capabilities—expansion of your relationship with the Holy Spirit.

A Moving Journal-Day 6

Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive.  Well, no more trips to the curb.  This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare.  Timing is everything as they say.  Packed some more.  The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst.  While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes.  I still have some more to pack up.  While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations.  Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.

While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years:  “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”.  What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think.  He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend.  In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons.  Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch.  With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.  Amen.”

Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms.  Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart.  Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart.  Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled.  Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them.  They will be going with me, not the movers.

Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more.  So what lessons did I learn today?

  • I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”.  By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work.  And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart.  We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up.  I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
  • I learned that self-care is necessary.  The trip to the dentist was long overdue.  I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself.  I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
  • You can’t prevent the inevitable.  Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning.  Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome.  Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow.  Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences.  Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us.  However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them.  Fighting is a losing battle.
  • Vision needs to be handled care.  The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me.  If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting.  So I take care of them.  And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care.  If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
  • Memories are a part of life.  This was the big one for me today.  When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me.  In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones.  Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter.  But there are situations and people who create bad memories.  And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones.  I choose to focus on the good one.  The bad memories will just eat you alive.  And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.

Well, it’s time to wind down the day.  Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7.  Say, “Good night, John Boy”.  Good night John Boy.

1639349-Billy-Currington-Quote-God-is-great-beer-is-good-and-people-are.jpg

A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Are You A But? Don’t Be A But!

but

Most of the time, well, practically all the time, the title of this blog is spelled with an extra “t”–“Don’t be a butt!”  What we usually mean by this statement (putting it nicely) is “Don’t be so critical!”  “Don’t be so ignorant!”  “Don’t be so mean!”  “Don’t be so judgmental!”  “Don’t be so stinky!”  Well, that’s not the word I’m using, but the meanings could be applied to my thoughts today.  So be forewarned, I could become offensive.  And if this post doesn’t offend you, keep reading future posts because I will get around to you in due time.

No, I am thinking about a certain passage that has this left-handed right-side-brain pastor with some more musings about The Kingdom of God.  The passage is Luke 9:57-62 and it sounds like this from The Message:

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”  Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Most of the time we “backwards collar types” (that means preachers for the uninformed) use this passage to talk to those who are “lost” and need to make a decision for Jesus right now.  And the Grace Pharisees like to use it in the same way.  What?  Grace Pharisees?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Sounds like it, but there is a new Pharisee in town, actually in the church, who feel it is their duty to determine who is worthy of Grace.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Worthy of Grace!  They must have fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.  Oops, I may have just offended someone.  Oh well, if the shoe fits…

Today, I want to apply this passage to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters.  Only  someone who has their head buried in sand cannot see that the Western Church is in serious trouble, which is what inspired me to even start this blog.  In all fairness to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters, I do believe that they want to see this downward spiral (because it has become more than a trend) stop and reversed to significant growth.  They sincerely want to see the sanctuary full every Sunday.  They want to see every classroom in use and full of Sunday School students of all ages.  They want to see more programs and more than enough volunteers to handle a myriad of ministries.  They want to see people outside their church oohing and aahing over all that’s happening at their facilities; so much so that they will just rush in to join and be a part of it.  BUT…

  • But don’t change anything as it is now
  • But make it like it was in 1960
  • But don’t make me give up what I like
  • But don’t ask me to get out of my comfort zone
  • But don’t expect me to do it
  • But don’t fill this place up with all “those” people
  • But don’t expect me to fast and pray
  • But make it easy
  • But don’t make me give up my sin because it’s not all that bad
  • But give us a pastor and staff who can be successful doing it our way
  • But, but, but, but….(can you think of other “buts”?  Add them to the comments below)

Some may think I’ve gone on out a limb, a very thin and fragile limb, this time.  BUT there are those comments by Jesus:  First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  And No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”  Did you find it?  God’s Kingdom!  You cannot add a “but” to God’s Kingdom.  Either He rules completely over your life, your activities and your congregation or He doesn’t rule.  In which case, it is no longer God’s Kingdom in your congregation, but YOUR social club.

Do not be a BUT!  Jesus is right!  (Isn’t He always?)  Our business is life and it is urgent!  So seize the day!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure that all the glory goes to Him!

Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

choices

“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor…

Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 1

Why We Need To Allow Church Programs To Die

why-churches-are-dying

(Note:  This is the first of a 5 part series around the issue of Programs, Missions, and Vision of the local church)

I know that the very title of this first of five blogs will offend many long time faithful members of local churches.  And if you are one of them, I simply ask that you follow this to the end.  I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.  (If this is your first time to read one of my blogs, get to know me by reading “About Me”.)

I grew up and was trained in a church that believed, invested in and promoted top quality church programs as the key to growing the local church.  To be honest, I cannot remember all the training events I have attended since 1974 that promoted a variety of programs that promised to radically transform the direction and attendance for the church I served at the time.  And I confess before God and to you that many of those programs I bought into and promoted in those wonderful places I had been appointed.  In some cases there would be some change happen in the local church, but it did not last.  Churches were changed, but not transformed.  And being the well-trained pastor who believed that it was all in the programming, I kept trying more programs.  I looked to what was called “successful” churches and tried to adapt their programs to fit our situation.  I was smart enough to know that I could not imitate “their” programs but vainly believed that if I adapted them into our context, the church would grow.  (But at the time, I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture.)

Most pastors and local church leaders have some type of definition for what constitutes a “church program”.  Allow me to share my definition and hopefully it will give some insights into where I am coming from and where this series is going:

Church Programs are those activities and events that we plan, design and implement in order to maintain the vitality of the local church and which we believe will lead to sustainable church growth.

We all know that the key phrase in this definition is “sustainable church growth”.  Here is one of the Top 10 Understatements of all times:  Without Sustainable Growth The Local Church Will Die.  And for a few decades, this model of sustainable church growth seemed to be working.  For a season we could do what the voice told Kevin Costner to do in the movie “Field of Dreams”:  “Build it and they will come.”    But it became a competition to build the best to reach the most.  Since then, mainline churches have for the most part either maintained a plateau (meaning no sustainable growth) or started to decline.

For many congregations it became a blame game.  “We don’t have the right programs.”  “We don’t have the right staff.”  And my favorite excuse, “We’ve got the wrong pastor.”  And pastors who long for sustainable church growth have their excuses.  “It’s the denominational leaders fault.”  “I’m not at the right church.”  And my favorite excuse from pastors, “They won’t listen to me.”  It is futile to believe that the right programs, right staff, right pastor, or right church is the answer to the decline of the church in the United States.  There is something much deeper that we need to consider.

I have found a verse in the Bible that may well explain the current malady in many churches.  Normally I opt for the more modern translations, but this is a time when I think the King James Version says it best.  The passage is Proverbs 29:18-

Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Instead of the word “perish”, other translations use phrases such as “they run wild” (NLT); “they stumble all over themselves” (The Message); or “cast off restraint” (NIV).  The Hebrew word means all of these but the word “perish” is a word that ought to grab our attention because of the current condition of the church in the United States.  When we run wild, stumble all over ourselves, or cast off restraint we step off onto that slippery slope where one thing that kills and prevents sustainable growth leads to another.  And so we scratch our heads wondering why all these wonderful programs and leaders are not resulting in vibrant congregations producing sustainable growth.

Well, let’s go back to the first part of this passage:  Where there is no vision (emphasis mine).  This point is really clear, but I think that if we look at it from The Message, we find some light and deeper understanding.  It goes like this:  “If people can’t see what God is doing” (emphasis mine).  Vision is about seeing what God is doing while programs are about seeing and measuring what we are doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing we elevate our programs, at the very least, as a substitute for what God is doing.  Or we do something even more sinister-we ask God to bless our efforts as a means to seek God’s approval, or in many cases, as an attempt to change God’s mind.  I want to share with you 3 key reasons why maybe, just maybe, we need to allow “our church programs” to die in order to find what will produce vitality in our congregations along with sustainable growth:

 1)  Church Programs rely on human skills and strengths.

We want the best Children’s Director.  We want the best Youth Pastor.  We want the best Preacher and Pastor.  Why?  Because these are the things that programs tell us that we need.  Take a moment to think this through before you tar and feather me and burn me at the stake for being a heretic.  Sometimes programs take on a life all their own, outside the activity of the Holy Spirit.  So much so, that to suggest changing a program will almost create a riot at church business meetings.  And, if a program is faltering, then the answer we think is to fire that staff member or pastor and get new ones.  I will admit that for a season, these so called “right staff members and pastor” can create some excitement that resembles congregational vitality and will produce seasonal growth.  But the sickness returns and they will not provide the long-term sustainable growth that reveals the presence and Kingdom of God.

2)  Church Programs put a drain on our limited resources.

Once programs take on a life of their own (meaning they become sacred and are protected from any changes), then our limited resources must be used to sustain the programs.  Please notice I said “our limited resources”.  Typically church governing bodies see their resources as financial, people, buildings, and time.  When these are seen as our only resources, then there is a limited amount of said resources.  So, if someone senses that God is moving in a new direction and calls for changes the almost immediate reaction is, “Where is the money going to come from?”  “We don’t have the facilities for such a thing.”  “We’re already asking so much of our volunteers, they don’t have the time for something else.”  When programming reigns supreme, then our limited resources have to be dedicated to that and anything else will just have to wait, or worse–be ignored.

3)  Church Programs rarely, if ever, align with what God is doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing, our programs may or may not align with what He is doing.  When they are aligned, it is either accidental or coincidental.  Again, please frame my context properly.  I’m talking about when there is no Vision of what God is doing.  The focus becomes sustaining the programs at the expense of experiencing vitality and sustaining growth that transforms the hearts of lives of people.  When Programs become the “thing”, we assume that it is of God.  When we make this assumption it will neither maintain vitality nor produce sustainable growth.

What I am offering in this series of blogs is that there is another way for vitality and sustainable growth to happen in any local church of any size and in any location.  It starts with the Vision–The Vision Of What God Is Doing.  Many congregations may have a “vision” or even a “vision statement” but a careful examination of it might reveal it is just another way of sustaining our programs–programs that rely on human ingenuity, effort and strength.  Next week I will being looking at what real “Vision” looks like, by looking at what “Vision” isn’t.  Are you ready to tar and feather me and run me out of town (or pray that I never become “your” pastor)?  Please remember my opening comments:

I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.