Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Reasons Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter in Church Revitalization

About a month ago I read this article by Dr. Chuck Lawless as it relates to churches that are striving to turn around from their declining state.  It is well worth the read and I truly support his observations.  Nothing happens through man’s own accord but by God’s might and power (Zech. 4:6).

The call to disciplines reveals our heart. If we don’t spend time with God daily, that choice tells us something about ourselves. Perhaps we are more self-dependent than God-dependent (see #6 below). Maybe we are “fixers” who try to address problems first, and then pray if necessary. We may evaluate our walk on the basis of public results more than a personal relationship with God. Any of these realities will hinder revitalization.

Our personal walk with God affects the corporate walk of the local church. Leaders who spend little time with God tend to spend less time challenging their members to be with God. Their stories of personal victory are often more past tense than present tense. Those who do not follow God intimately seldom see genuine revitalization in their church; in fact, they sometimes produce congregations that unknowingly need revitalization

The Bible is a book about hope and life. We know this truth – perhaps so well that we have forgotten its power. We preach about the promise of resurrection and new creation, all the while wondering if even God can revitalize dying congregations. To have hope for revitalization, we need to be reminded regularly through the Word that God brings life out of death.

Disciplines strengthen our faith. Reading the Word and praying are more than just disciplines; they are lifelines to the Father. Knowing that God divides seas, collapses walls, slays giants, and empties tombs strengthens our trust in Him. Talking to Him and recognizing He listens to our prayers magnify our wonder of Him. No task of revitalization is too big for this God.

Prayer is an expression of relationship with, and dependence on, God. When we pray, we express the truth that we cannot do in our power what God has called us to do. The reverse is also true: our prayerlessness is an expression of idolatry of the self. God does not bless the leadership of idolaters, even those who have great skills for revitalization.

Daily obedience undergirds our praying. Simply stated, revitalization requires the power of God. The kind of praying that results in God’s power demands obedience (Isa. 59:1-2), including reading the Word, praying continually, and rejecting temptation. Perfunctory prayer from disobedient hearts hardly produces new life in a congregation.

Disciplines focus our attention on God, not on our circumstances. It’s the apathetic, dying church that needs God’s renewed touch, but it’s that same church that can most frustrate its leaders. Unless we are regularly focusing on God via study and prayer, the obstacles to revitalization can quickly become overwhelming.

Disciplines help to turn our heart outward. It’s hard to read the Bible consistently without seeing God’s heart for our neighbors and the nations. The resounding message of the scripture is that the God who desires a prayerful, intimate relationship with us loves the world. Leaders who live in that truth daily are best prepared to lead inwardly focused churches toward turnaround.

Apart from being with God, we can produce deceptive revitalization. This reason may seem to contradict #2 above, but here’s the tricky part: if revitalization is limited to increased numbers, even the leader who is not faithful in his walk with God can lead a church to “revitalization.” What might seem to be a move of God, however, could be nothing more than popularity and attraction.

Faithfulness to spiritual disciplines gives us humble confidence to lead. Revitalization requires helping churches see their current situation and then change as needed to reach this generation. Leaders who live in a state of ongoing dependence on God are most prepared to lead in this direction.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What is an EFCA Church?

Although many people have attended an EFCA church for many years there are still some who struggle trying to explain what an EFCA church is to others.  Why the use of the tree in their logo?  What is the history of the EFCA church and where are they going? 

I am currently at the EFCA National Conference in California.  I love to network with other pastors and the leadership of the EFCA in talking about the vision of the EFCA.  The Evangelical Free Church of America does not identify themselves as a denomination, but a movement of churches centered around common beliefs and a common vision who can do much more together for the glory of God.  I support the doctrinal statement of the EFCA without reservation as each point is centered around the Gospel and founded upon Scripture.  I truly encourage each church member to take the time to read this statement as it is on our own website and it serves as the foundation for all we do in ministry at Maywood.    The vision of the EFCA is to glorify God by multiplying healthy churches that produce fully devoted Christ followers of ALL people (race and ethnicity), who share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world without Him.  The logo of the Free Church represents the broad work of the EFCA.  It is a picture of the diversity welcomed in the Free Church, such as color and style of churches that make up the richness of this movement. 

The name EFCA identifies various characteristics of the movement and its history.  The term Evangelical comes from the word evangelize.  An Evangelical Christian is one whose life is built upon taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost world.  Evangelicals are those who embrace inerrancy and the authority of God's Word.  Many are confused when it comes to the word Free.  Are we Free to do what we want to do?  Is it Free to attend our church?  Are we Evangelical Free (like sugar free)?  What it does mean is that the church will remain Free from state control.  While started in Sweden, the Evangelical Free Church was pressured by the state for how they would function and the church refused to be ruled and regulated by anyone but Jesus Christ.  The word Church means a called out assembly of believers and the term America identifies where our group of churches exist (there are also the Evangelical Free Churches of Canada and Africa). 

While visiting various EFCA churches (there are about 1500) you will find diversity and liberty to worship as that church deems acceptable based upon God's Word--all are welcomed and all can be right.  The mantra of the Free Church is, "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ."  Within the Free Church there is room for legitimate differences in some areas of doctrine.  Personal holiness and separated living is part of our Christian duty, but we are not separatist--we must reach the world for Christ.  EFCA churches are congregational in government, meaning they are free (autonomous) to regulate their daily affairs under the authority of God's Word for His glory.  Church leadership serves to feed the flock, lead the flock, protect the flock, and free the flock of God to worship their GREAT God.  Christians are to be responsible, godly men, women and young people who desire to live under the control of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the principles and precepts of God’s Word, and in harmony with God’s will for life as revealed in the Scriptures.

The future of the EFCA is bright with the new president, Kevin Kompelein, being voted upon today (June 18, 2015).  He is a humble servant who has served as a pastor, missionary, and in key roles within the EFCA (missions in all of Africa).  Kevin is very committed to the proclamation of the Gospel, discipleship, and moving forward together for His glory.  You can take great confidence in what God is doing within the EFCA.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Warriors for Battle

The very thought of battle is never pleasant, as it reveals itself in victories and costly defeats.  The idea of an enemy set out to slay us is fearful and even paralyzing.  Those that are in the battle faithfully can teach us many things about warfare. By refusing to acknowledge a battle is taking place, or by failing to prepare for it does not excuse us from entering the battlefield.  Yet, all enjoy the freedom and benefits that come through victory. Victory is sweet and precious!  According to Scripture, Christians should plan for battle each day and walk in confidence that they can have the victory through Jesus Christ.

There are some challenges that believers encounter when it comes to standing for Jesus Christ.  First, according to Ephesians 6:10-20, we were never intended to walk the Christian life alone or to combat Satan on our own.  In fact, we can plan on being defeated if not destroyed by Satan if we are not preparing with Christ.  Believers are told to be strong "in the power of His might" (v. 10).  Christ said in John 15:5 that "apart from me you can do nothing".   With that said, how could we ever think we could live a Christian life not empowered by Him each day?  This is one of the first lies we believe from Satan.  Should we wonder why we live in defeat when we walk apart from Christ?

Second, we often fail to see who the enemy really is.  Many of us believe it is our employers,  our spouses, our ex-spouses, our families, and even our fellow church members.  This is also a lie accepted from Satan to sidetrack us from the battle that he is waging against us.  If Satan can cause us to focus on the wrong enemy, then he can hinder us from taking the Gospel forward. Too much physical, emotional, and spiritual energy is spent on fighting the wrong enemy.  Satan causes God's people to turn on one another and to destroy one another.  Over the years, his strategy has proven successful in destroying families and church families from being what God created them to be.

Third, believing the TRUTH OF GOD'S WORD is essential to defeating Satan (v. 14a).   Trusting God's promises and His character is necessary if believers are to experience daily victory.  In John 17:17, Jesus prayed for His followers, "Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth."  This means believers MUST study God's Word and know how to apply it for daily living.  On the contrary, Satan is identified as a liar and the father of lies, he attacks with lies (John 8:44).  Without knowing and living God's truth, Christians are highly vulnerable for defeat and destruction.  Most Christians who walk strong through crises do so because they understand the truths of God's Word.

Finally, victory in battle comes to those who walk in righteousness.  Those who yield to God's Spirit and walk in godliness will experience victory over  Satan.  Those who are living for Christ, those who are practicing the truths from God's Word are a real threat to Satan and he struggles at taking them down.  It is much easier for him to go to the next unprepared soldier.

I desire to be a warrior for Christ that poses a real threat to the enemy.  However, it means doing battle with Christ, understanding who the enemy really is, and walking a life that is consistent to God's ways.  Let's fight and win the battle together over the real enemy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Signals of a Maturing Church

Sam Rainer writes an excellent article which church members can use to evaluate their own church health.  Sam is the son of Thom Rainer and serves with him in church health.  Please read and consider carefully:

Is your church healthy or not? It’s a difficult question to answer. When people ask, I often reply, “What is your definition of ‘healthy?’” There are many metrics that point to—or signal—the health of a congregation. If attendance has declined for 50 years and the church has not baptized anyone in 10 years, then the likelihood of that church being unhealthy is high. But a fast-growing church may or may not be healthy. Defining church health is a bit of a moving target.

As most established church pastors know, you inherit a culture when you come to a church. Changing that culture takes time. Therefore, “healthy” is more a process than a static point. You are either becoming healthier or less healthy. In each church, there should exist a maturing process. I use the word “maturing” as opposed to “mature” to indicate the process of becoming healthy. We never really arrive at a point of maturity, individually as a member or collectively as a church.
Some pastors land at a rapidly maturing church. Others inherit messes. A few walk into death traps. Ironically, the least mature churches at times can be the oldest. And new congregations are not necessarily immature. Blaming a new pastor for the unhealthy state of a 100 year-old, multi-decade declining congregation is like blaming brand new homeowners for the ramshackle home they just bought. Give them time, and the transformation will happen. But it takes time.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” We don’t arrive as believers until we are glorified, but there is a process of maturing along the way.

How can churches know they are maturing—moving towards better health? How might leaders discern if a church is moving forward and not backward? Like the flashing arrow sign on roadways, certain signals provide a direction.

Signal 1: Maturing churches have a posture of service, especially the leaders. Maturing churches have leaders that serve first and lead second. When people are willing to take a posture of service and wash feet, it speaks volumes to the general tone and direction of a congregation.

Signal 2: Maturing churches have an outward focus. The people in these congregations have a desire to reach others that are not like them. These churches know their community, are committed to diversity, and are willing to make sacrifices to reach the next generation.

Signal 3: Maturing churches have a large segment of people who attend frequently. No church can work towards a healthier state when people do not gather together. In fact, a culture of infrequent attendance produces a death spiral from which few churches recover.

Signal 4: Maturing churches build community in small groups. There is no such thing as a healthy church without healthy small groups.

Signal 5: Maturing churches pray regularly. The prayers of the people in these congregations are not only reactive (someone is ill) but also proactive (reveal a lost person for me to reach).

Signal 6: Maturing churches understand the difference between personal preferences and vision. These congregations build upon the past, but they also know greater things are out in front and not in behind them.

Signal 7: Maturing churches not only understand the “what” of discipleship but also the “how.” They have a clear process of making disciples.

Obviously, this list of signals is not all-inclusive. But they act like giant flashing arrows, pointing a church towards an avenue for better health. If many of these signals are absent in your congregation, then it might be time to change direction.