Thursday, February 2, 2017

How To Be A Good Church

I know, the title writes checks the author can't cash. But he will smile trying.

I belong to a wonderful church family. The people love each other, show kindness consistently, serve joyfully and worship sincerely. However, there in the shadows, like dust swept under the sofa, if you look closely enough, you will find flaws. If you lean in you may catch whispers of gossip, or murmurings of complaint. Careful observation may uncover selfishness, pride/insecurity or even (gasp) hypocrisy. Shh! Don't tell anyone.

Actually, go ahead, tell someone. In fact, we encourage it. No one will be surprised to hear that an imperfect church exists in our town. More likely, people are waiting for us to come out of the closet and admit it. Public confession proves elusive these days; the church could revive this lost art and earn some respect in the process.

So my church family is fantastic and flawed. No surprises there. But are we a "good" church? If you stopped in on a Sunday morning, your first visit to a church service in years, would you enjoy your experience? Would you want to return? Would you invite someone to join you next time? These questions invite controversy.

Some would ask, "Who cares?" The underlying principle expressed so eloquently here goes like this: It doesn't matter if unchurched, dechurched, overchurched people "like" our Sunday service. It's not for them. In fact, if they do like it, we're probably doing something wrong. They should experience nothing that feels good, only the conviction of their sinfulness so they will turn to Jesus and repent.

I disagree in 12 languages.

It matters very much if lost people have a good experience in a church service. The Apostle Paul said it before me (1 Corinthians 14:20-25). Jesus said it before Paul. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the light of the world." Are salt and light repulsive to people eating bland food and living in the dark? People in any and every stage of belief or non-belief should walk away from a gathering of believers thinking, "Those are the kindest, most authentic people I've ever been around, and their Jesus really likes me and wants something better for me."

I believe we have a responsibility to give non-believers a reason to return, to lean in, to draw closer. This is what a good church does.

So how do we become a good church? If you're starting from scratch with a brand new baby church, you simply serve the Mission for every meal. When mission is the only food they know, they will live it out as though it's normal behavior for Christ followers - which it should be.

However, if you have "nice but ineffective" church that has been fed a steady diet of "the church is here to keep you comfortable until you die" you have an uphill battle to fight. "Normal Christian behavior" no longer looks like the mature sacrificing for the immature, the believer sliding out of his regular seat at the end of the pew to make room for the non-believer. It feels extreme to talk about inviting your gay neighbor to your small group, or loving the guys at work with such sincerity that they no longer watch their language around you.

If you're part of a "nice" church, how do you help it become a "fruitful" church?

1. Focus on Jesus - Keep Jesus' lifestyle, teachings, mission and present-tense work at the center of what you do, think and say.
When we focus on the real Jesus, we learn that He is not interested in his own comfort or ours. In fact he regularly sets comfort aside, expecting us to do the same, for the sake of the mission.
Jesus was tough on insiders and engaging to outsiders.
Jesus actively Cared for people in need, intentionally Connected people to the Father and relentlessly Challenged people to take steps of faith. We would do well to follow this example.

2. Model Selfless Love - Sacrificial acts have power. If kindness doesn't cost you something, it's too small.
My friend Duane was a quick-tempered brawler before he surrendered to Christ. Not longer after, a co-worker tried to pick a fight with him. The old Duane would have been quick to throw punches. The new Duane stepped close, embraced the man and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. He sacrificed pride, reputation and dignity, but Duane is now actively leading this former enemy to know Jesus.

3. Develop a Burden for the Lost - Pray for those who do not know Jesus and be on the lookout for opportunities to be the answer to your own prayers.

4. Take responsibility for the Mission: The mission Jesus started and which continues through the limitless endowment of his spirit is represented in phrases like "as in heaven, so on earth' and "go, make disciples". Believers engage in a daily effort to expand the rule and reign of God on earth. All believers. We only gain ground when the non-professionals take responsibility for the mission.

Some day, every church, every church leader will stand before God and give an answer to this question: What did you do with the people, the resources and the opportunities I gave you?"

What will you say? Did you bury it all in the ground to keep it safe, not risking any loss? Or did you invest passionately, sacrificially, in hopes that your investment would bear fruit for the kingdom?

Good churches have only one answer.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Loss of innocence opens the door to redemption.

A dear elderly lady stopped by the office last week to say hello. She says I remind her of her son, so she feels some motherly connection with me. Nice for her. Weird for me, but we roll with it. "We're all descended from Adam," she says, "so we're related somehow." Sort of, I guess. It's a nice thought as long as you can keep from thinking of all your past girlfriends as sisters. Then my wise friend said, "But that Eve, I don't claim her. She ruined it for all of us." She refers to Eve eating the forbidden fruit and thereby ushering sin and death into a previously perfect world. Yep, thank you very little, Eve.

But what if it was all for the best?

If the choices are: remain innocent forever, never knowing sin and guilt. Or crossing a line, experiencing sin and the ensuing heart break of rejection and sentence of death, but then later to receive a gift of grace, a sacrifice of redemption, to be forgiven, broken but loved, which is better?

Maybe it's a tough choice. Maybe there are pros and cons on both sides. But having experienced the forgiveness and grace, the redemption and restoration, I can't really stay mad at Eve for very long. If not for her, maybe you wouldn't have to deal with mean bosses, tyrants, lying podiums, greedy suits, pancreatic cancer and abortions. But neither would you get to know the grip of a strong hand on your wrist pulling you up out of a stinking pit of your own making, gentle words ways washing you clean, a fierce embrace and the hot tears of a happy Father overjoyed to have you back home. Don't take that away from me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not Enough

When I travel, I suffer from a strange fear. Many travelers may fear flying, strange cultures, foreign languages, foreign restrooms. I fear poor packing. The idea that I will arrive at my destination and find I do not have everything I need to be comfortable and prepared really upsets my Chi. Why? Because this has happened on a few occasions. I spent a week in Hungary woefully unequipped for the biting cold. I went back-country camping with too many cookies and not enough water in my pack. I can never travel with too many socks. Always wish I had more socks.

My strange fear causes me much stress in the days leading up to a trip, but I gain little or nothing from this. Of all the anxious moments, the making of lists, the trips to Wal-Mart, the packing and repacking - the ROI is too small, not worth what it costs.

But fear pretends powerful.

And we bow to it, allow it to control us.

We are constrained by our fears of not having enough:
So what can we do? We can just get used to it. Like a shirt that doesn’t quite fit or wall paint that’s just a shade off. We can learn to live with it, avoid it, ignore it, build by-passes around our fears. And why not? What do we really lose? Well, there are some destinations that can’t be reached from the by-pass. There are places we’ll never go as long as fear blocks our way.

How do we deal with the fears in our path?

Depend on something stronger, something or someone better suited to the task.

I have recently relinquished control of packing for trip – turned it over to someone stronger. My wife now packs for me. I allow her to do this because I trust her to do a good job, a better job than me. And the freedom that comes from turning that task over to someone stronger enables me to enjoy my pre-trip experiences.

I am not built for surviving long falls. So if I was going to jump out of an airplane, I would have to overcome my fear by depending on a parachute – something designed to keep me from crashing into the ground.

Whatever fear I face can stop my progress only if I can find nothing stronger to trust.
My fear of not having enough or being enough can be rendered powerless if I find someone stronger than me, someone who always has enough and always is enough.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Psalm 27:1

He is enough. If I really trust Him to do what I cannot and be who I cannot, no fear can hold me back from living a life of freedom.

Do I trust Him to be strong when I am weak?
Do I trust Him to be wise when I am foolish?
Do I trust Him to be bold when I am timid?
Do I trust Him to be…?

No need to bow to fear – I serve someone stronger.