Tuesday, September 24, 2013

6 Characteristics of a Church on Mission

In my current sermon series out of 1 Peter  on 'What Church Is'--I recently discussed the need to love the city and its culture (while not compromising/conforming to it). Related to this subject, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, discusses six characteristics of a missional church ("The Missional Church", June 2001).

1.  Its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood.

2.  They speak in a language that is not filled with Christianized self-righteous or technical terms and phrases, nor using disdainful or embattled language. [In other words, not creating an 'us vs. them environment'--which is a very difficult place to start when desiring to share the good news of the gospel.]

3.  Preaching and Bible studies are not disconnected from the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture.

4.  The people of the church are obviously interested and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically.

5.  The church exhibits deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money, respect with regard to the opposite sex, and shows humility toward people of other races and cultures.

6.  They do not bash other Christians and churches.

Tim Keller says that when these characteristics are present, seekers and non-believers are more likely to explore spiritual issues with that church.  If these marks are not present, then that church will only be able to include believers or traditional, "Christianized" people.

Become a people committed  to blessing our community by celebrating creativity and diversity while recognizing the need for gospel renewal.  "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

(If you want to be notified of future blog postings, friend me on Facebook 'John Schmidt'.  Also, my recent sermons in both an audio and video format can be found at www.NVbridgechurch.com.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

10 Church Diseases

A friend of mine forwarded this to me and I thought I'd share it with you.  Following is my summarized repost of a repost by Thom Rainer (http://thomrainer.com/2013/09/17/10-church-diseases/).  Interesting list--does your church exhibit any of these early warning signs?

By Chuck Lawless

In the 1990s, Peter Wagner published The Healthy Church, a book describing several diseases that churches sometimes exhibit. Some of his descriptions are quite helpful (e.g., koinonitis = excessive, inward fellowship), and the list itself challenges readers to come up with their own descriptions. Here are ten diseases I see as I consult with unhealthy churches around the country:

1.       Community Disconnect Disease. Churches with this disease meet within a given community, but they do not know that community. Often, church members drive to the church building, meet as “church,” and then drive home—without ever taking note of a changing community around them. In fact, I’ve seen church members with this disease lock their doors as they drive through the community where their congregation gathers.

2.       Methodological Arthritis. The name says it all: this church is stuck in doing things the way they’ve always done them. Change (that is, movement) is painful, and it’s seemingly easier not to take a step forward. What these churches often don’t recognize is that standing still is also risky. Eventually, they will not move at all.

3.       The “Grass is Greener” Syndrome. This syndrome is a malady of leaders who are always looking for the next church leadership position. They establish no roots, and their current congregation is only a stepping-stone to the next place. Because they are always looking elsewhere, they miss the present tense blessings of their ministry. And, though leaders think otherwise, a church often recognizes when its leader has this syndrome.

4.       Professional Wrestling Sickness.   Professional wrestling is hero vs. villain, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil—but it’s all fake. The church with PWS talks a good game in standing for righteousness, but hypocrisy is everywhere. And, as in professional wrestling, most spectators watching the show know it’s fake, too.

5.       Program Nausea. Churches with Program Nausea try a program, toss it soon, and then quickly try the next one. They never have a settled “organizational stomach” and direction. Members of this kind of diseased church are so accustomed to change that they seldom invest in any program. Why should they invest in what will soon be spit out, too?

6.       Baby Believer Malady. This congregation is doing evangelism well, but they have no strategy to grow new believers. Their unwritten, and wrong, assumption is, “As long as you show up for our small groups and worship service, you’ll grow.”  This church disciples poorly and often elevates leaders on the basis of attendance rather than spiritual maturity.

7.       Theological Self-Deception Ailment. I am cautious here, lest I leave the impression that theology does not matter. No church with an unbiblical theology can be healthy. TSDA, on the other hand, is characterized by a belief that teaching theology is all that is required to be a healthy church. Teaching theology is critical, but a theology that does not lead to intentional evangelism, disciple-making, and global missions is not biblical. Indeed, TSDA congregations tend to be classrooms more than New Testament churches.

8.       “Unrecoverable Void” Syndrome.  Church leaders and laypersons alike suffer from this syndrome, characterized by statements like, “This church will close its doors after I’m gone.” Symptoms include spiritual arrogance and self-righteous anger, though they may also include hyper-spiritual speech  (“This is God’s church, and we’ll see what He does when I shake the dust off my feet”). Church members with UVS fail to realize that God’s church will go on without any of us.

9.       Talking in Your Sleep Disease. You may recognize this church. They go through the motions, but the motions lack energy. They meet for worship, yet the singing is lifeless. Even the preaching is lackluster, as if the speaker is monotonously only meeting his obligation. Here is one way to recognize the church with TIYSD: many of the attenders really ARE sleeping!

10.   Congregational Myopia. The congregation with this condition is nearsighted, focusing on themselves only. They have no vision for the future, and they fail to see that their current direction will likely lead to further disease and decline. Ask the leaders what their hope is for the church five years from now, and their description will sound strangely like the church in its current state.

What other diseases come to mind for you?

(If you want to be notified of future blog postings, friend me on Facebook 'John Schmidt'.  Also, my recent sermons in both an audio and video format can be found at www.NVbridgechurch.com.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why We Need Rural Churches (and Why They May Need to Change)

One of the advantages to becoming disciplined in writing a regular blog (in my case, this seems to be about weekly) is that you become much more aware of potential subjects and/or are constantly thinking about the next blog posting.  For myself, this is an experience that is similar to what I go through every week in my sermon preparation--except I can ramble more in my blog. [Also, I don't have to look at you as your eyes glaze over reading my blog.]

I just finished reading an article in the current issue of Christianity Today called "Why We Need Small Towns" (by Jake Meador, Christianity Today, September 2013).  In this article, the author writes about how residents of smaller communities can "...remind an American church intent on doing and being more that sometimes, the best life is given to quiet, simplicity, and smallness."   He notes that there is a trend among rural churches that is a reflection of the trend in our society--pastors of rural churches are harder and harder to find because 'pastoral success' is measured more about the size of a ministry/church than about making a Kingdom impact for where you are planted/sent.  He calls the resulting rural effect "ecclesial deserts."

Following are a few of my 'musings' concerning this subject:

1.  Every person needs Jesus. Population density per square mile does not change this basic fact of creation.  Thus, evaluating Kingdom need must factor this in--otherwise large swaths of people will die without Jesus.

2.  The independent nature of rural residents (especially Nevada rural residents!) in a post-Christian culture (see my 9/02 blog for discussion on this topic) only underscores the need to focus on the inherent value of 'community' rather than on the institution of the church. 

3.  The emphasis of a rural church in trying to maintain traditional church approaches/programs in an increasingly relationally disconnected society may actually accelerate the decline of that church's life:

-  An emphasis on preaching as the main focal point of a church service (rather than the experience of relating to God and each other in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit) means that paltry preaching translates into paltry attendance.  Also, difficulty in hiring a 'preacher' who will invest in the lives of the community long-term will have a much greater negative impact on a church with this singular sermon-centric focus.  [Don't misunderstand me--God's written Word must always be central, but it must become the Living Word, not just a spoken word.]

-  An emphasis on 'coming to church' to experience Christian life rather than the Great Commission's command to "go to the community" (Matthew 28:19-20) means that it becomes easier and easier for other 'more important' things to take precedent from a community that doesn't want to come to church--especially as post-Christian values and perspectives increase.

- An emphasis by regular church attenders in protecting the traditions of the church rather than seeking ways to become greater influencers in the life of the community will result in a church's slow but inevitable demise.  An unfortunate side effect is that a church becomes more inward focused, thus, losing its call to be a mission organization beginning in its own 'Jerusalem' (Acts 1:8-9).  Once a church begins marching down this path, the energy and focus of church members naturally becomes directed towards church survival--trying to maintain a semblance of 'once was' rather than 'what could be.'

4.  Rural churches must be open to moving away from the ministry model of creating 'attractive events' to a model of ministry that emphasizes becoming an 'attractive community.'

5.  Change is painful. However, growth (in any area of life) can only happen in the midst of change.  By definition, if we are unwilling to change (because of comfort, fear, disobedience, pride/stubbornness, etc.)--we have automatically told God that we are unwilling to grow spiritually anymore.  Accordingly, we should have no expectations of God's blessing on our church because He always considers partial obedience to be the same as disobedience (see the story of King Saul in 1 Sam. 15).

6.  Finally, I would encourage those who are currently serving as pastors in a rural environment to recalibrate your perspective of 'ministry success.'  It is not about bigger and better--it is about responding in obedience to the call of God in every aspect of your life.  We are to operate with a sense of urgency (as if Jesus could come back tomorrow) and we are to always seek to reach more people (because God's desire is that no one should perish)--but we should always do it from smack dab in the center of God's will.

I can authoritatively state, based on Scripture, that God does not desire our rural communities to become "ecclesial deserts" but desires the Body of Christ in every community to be oases of people leading others to He who is Living Water. 

Enough ramblings for today. Until next time...

(If you want to be notified of future blog postings, friend me on Facebook 'John Schmidt'.  Also, my recent sermons in both an audio and video format can be found at www.NVbridgechurch.com.)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Defining a Post-Christian Culture

This coming week, I'm going to start a new sermon series at Cornerstone called "What Church Is" (a study in 1 Peter).  Peter addresses the church as foreigners, strangers, and exiles (1:12; 1:17; 2:11).  This is exactly what we are--living in a post-Christian culture.

What is a post-Christian culture?  Stuart Murray in his book After Christendom defines it as a society that is shaped less and less by the story of the Christian faith and characterized by a decline in influence of institutions meant to express Christian convictions. He lists seven transitions from a Christianized culture to a post-Christian culture:

1.  From the center to the margins.  Moving from where the Christian story and churches were central to post-Christian where these are marginal.

2.  From majority to minority.  Moving from Christians comprising the majority to where we are the minority.  [I would add that this is more than those calling themselves Christians, but those who are devoted followers of Christ.]

3.  From settlers to sojourners.  Moving from a place where Christians feel comfortable in society [and I would add, complacent], to where they feel like outsiders in their own culture.

4.  From privilege to plurality.  Moving from a place where Christians enjoyed many privileges to a post-Christian culture where our community is one among many in a pluralistic society.

5.  From control to witness.  Moving from where Christians could exert influence on society to where we must communicate (witness to) the story of God and its implications to influence individuals.

6.  From maintenance to mission.  Moving from a place where our focus is on maintaining a supposedly 'Christian' status quo, to being on mission in a contested (and sometimes) hostile environment.

7. From institution to movement.  Moving from a place where the focus was significantly on operating and growing the institution, to a place where the focus must be on once again becoming a Christian movement. [I would add that this movement is a result of the moving of the Holy Spirit--not new gimmicks, programs, or the latest fads.]

I may be in the minority on this, but I am actually encouraged by reading this list.  We lament the state of the American church and the rapid decline in the culture and values of our society.  But what a great opportunity for those who respond the right way and are willing to make the adjustments in how they share the good news (evangelize) in a post-Christian culture.

We need to be shaken out of our comfort, complacency and apathy.  When we become a member of the family of God, our identity is to be so radically changed that it should always appear to the rest of society that we offer an alternative that cannot ever be fulfilled or adequately explained by the world.  In other words, we are foreigners and strangers and exiles in a post-Christian America--called out by the Holy Spirit to be on God's mission.  What a great place to be!

(If you want to be notified of future blog postings, friend me on Facebook 'John Schmidt'.  Also, my recent sermons in both an audio and video format can be found at www.NVbridgechurch.com.)