Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Abetter Way

A Better Way?
I want to share some conclusions about the most effective way in which to evangelize the world. First though, I have to admit my bias. After 32 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the local church is God’s best plan for reaching into a local area. God’s people gathering together to worship, to fellowship, and to be equipped is a powerful testimony of God’s grace in action. I know that there are those out there who are quick to criticize the church as out of date or ineffective, yet Jesus refers to it as his body and infers that it is his bride. If you believe the Bible is an accurate revelation of God’s heart, you can’t help but see that He cares deeply for His Church, local and universal. I have always believed that the answer to a bad church is a good church, not no church!
Everywhere the early apostles went they established new churches; vibrant communities that were stirred and shaped by the remarkable grace of God. These communities were known for their good works, care for the poor, and their love for one another. They weren’t perfect, yet were loved by God and moved forward by His Spirit. Ephesians 4 states that Christ gave leadership gifts to the church for the equipping of the saints for works of service; encouraging every believer to discover their gifts and calling for the purposes of God. The end result is the building up of the body of Christ and the reaching of those who are outside the faith.
Paul, in writing to the local Corinthian church made a startling statement, “… you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12:27-28 NASB )” Each local church is a living representation of Christ in their neighborhood or city. As a leader, I have had to take a hard look at what I am trying to accomplish in leading a local church. The primary reason leadership exists is to get people “into the game”, serving each other and those who are outside if the church. The church is called to make Jesus known throughout the whole world, and yet much of “ministry” today is focused on meeting the needs of Christian consumers. We build bigger buildings and staff more people to meet the perceived needs of those who attend our churches. Leaders feel the pressure to increase numbers, to build programs as the proof of their ministry. All of it looks good in our American mindset, but it seems ineffective at equipping and getting people involved with those who are far from God. I believe there is a better way! Churches in the New Testament invested heavily in planting new churches. Early Christians were scattered by persecution and everywhere they went churches sprung up, communities who were outreaching and madly in love with Christ. The churches they established then in turn planted others.
Church planting offers the same opportunities today. It has been said that in most churches 20% of the people do the work and the other 80% watch. That is not true in a church plant, 80% are working and 20% are checking it out. New churches, by their very nature, need all hands on deck. New churches tend to be out-looking in their attitude for their very survival depends on it. If the goal is to equip and release people into service, church planting is the most effective method of getting people involved. Because the future of the church plant is at stake, people invest their prayers, their time, and their energy to reach out. Their whole ethos is different than the “I go to church to have my needs met” mentality.
Many church plants are more efficient in terms of finances as well. They can meet in schools or other rented space, and can therefore invest in people who are serving in the kingdom instead of buildings which sit idle much of the time. There may be a time when a church needs to have their own space to facilitate ministry and it is appropriate to do so, but not at the expense of reaching out. How much more could be accomplished if a majority of churches in the NW would invest the time, effort, and money to plant a church. Hundreds of believers would be mobilized. Their people would be leaving familiar surroundings, going into new cities, having to make new friends. These transitions force believers out of their shell and into the community.
Church planting can revitalize mature congregations through the faith and effort it takes to launch a new church. It’s time to embrace a new view of what success looks like in our churches. Lets get people in the game!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tragic Mistake

I remember in my 20’s in the early years of my journey as a follower of Christ I heard a teaching that prayer was a vital discipline for anyone involved in ministry and that anyone serious about serving God would pray an hour a day. There was much talk about being mighty men of God and being sold out. So I tried to join an intercessors group led by a very anointed woman who was in her seventies. I will never forget my first impression as I went into this group. First of all I noticed it was primarily women present, some attractive gals that I was infatuated with to be sure, but no men. You can imagine the scene, chairs in a circle, some kneeling, soft music in the background. There was a lot of wailing and “standing in the gap” for various loved ones and people with problems. I was stunned, what on earth could this accomplish? I was used to being out on the streets in Arcata California preaching the gospel. Most of my friends and I were into the ‘in your face’, confrontational type of evangelism. So here I am with a bunch of ladies, and in my mind, wasting time. Being young and dumb, I expressed my dismay at the lack of mission that I saw at this meeting. Where was the prayer for justice, conviction, for the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness? As you can imagine I was not welcome at that prayer meeting any longer. Of course my perspective of what they were doing was flawed, I had come at a time just set aside for praying for individuals. Other times that group would pray and fast for the church, for the sending of church planting teams around the world. Many church planters attributed their success in making inroads in the cities they were sent to the prayer of this woman and her prayer team. In my youthful zeal and pride I concluded that prayer was overrated, I was about doing the stuff, I would pray for the sick, but I wasn’t going to “just sit around”. What a tragic mistake.

A few years later I was given the responsibility to be a part of a leadership team leading a place called the Lighthouse Ranch, a Christian community in Loleta California. It was in state of decline and was in serious financial trouble. The people were discouraged, the leadership was tired and had lost their passion for leading, it was a pretty hopeless situation. It was clear that we needed help, so the leadership asked David Drieling to come and oversee the ranch. I remember the first leadership meeting with Dave, he announced that the first thing that we would implement is that as a team we would pray for an hour each day for the Lighthouse community. I was stunned, I thought “you got to be kidding don’t you see this boat is sinking!!” He was serious though, when some of the leaders would not attend because they were to busy, he would reduce their responsibilities, when they still wouldn’t participate he relieved them of all responsibility. It became clear real fast that the work was moving forward under a different paradigm. It was in this context that I learned to pray. David’s passion was infectious, his prayers fervent and sometimes loud, but the results were amazing! In 28 days that community, which was discouraged, downcast and almost bankrupt, had begin to attract new people, the atmosphere was electric; worship times were over the top, financially the Ranch was in the black and owed no one. Those who would pray with David where jokingly called “David’s mighty men”. This man had demonstrated by his example of what prayer does. I will always be grateful for the time that I served with him.

What does my rambling have to do with today? I believe that we need to pray more. You know the passionate, infectious, fervent kind of prayers. Not just in our personal time but corporate times with other believers. Much of the early churches time was spent in praying together. I believe that God responds to a praying people. Prayer can bring change to any circumstance, it leads to help in times of trouble, it helps us trust God.