Thursday, December 11, 2014

Church: Family or Store? by James Emery White

Vol. 10, No. 93

On Halloween, a member of our church’s staff came to our door to trick-or-treat with her three kids.

It was their 17th straight year.

Her oldest son is taller than me and stopped dressing up long ago. In fact, he drove the family to our house.

The daughter is probably on her last year (she dressed as Katniss Everdeen – that should be a hint).

The youngest may have a couple more years in him. Tops.

Their mother has been a part of the church for even longer – twenty-two years, to be exact. She was actually at Meck’s very first service on October 4, 1992, and was the very first person to become a Christian through our services.

For whatever reason, it made me think of two different ways of viewing a church: a family or a store.

If church is a family, then you relate to it as a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister. Deeply biblical ideas, I might add. When the Bible talks about Christian community, these are the metaphors it falls back on.

If a church is a store, then you are nothing more than a consumer. There is a retail outlet and a customer, a provider and a receiver.

It strikes me that these are the two ways that people can view a church.

Family...or store.

If it’s a family, they stick with it. Work through it. Stay in it. There are deep blood ties. It’s not about what you get, but what you give.

If it’s a store, then it’s a consumer decision. Who has the best prices? Most convenience? Quickest access?

The great danger, of course, is when churches intentionally posture themselves as “stores” in competition with other “stores”. This is not only biblically misguided, it is theologically heretical.

And will not serve in the long run.

Open the front door wide, to be sure, but never fail to remember that who you are at your most foundational level is “family.”

And make sure you help people become that family.

James Emery White

    
Editor’s Note


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president.  His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This Thanksgiving “get to Him” and give thanks.


One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect. He said, "I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store."
Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said "Did I leave anybody out?" His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, "God." Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, "I was about to get to him."
Well, isn’t that the question about which we ought to think at Thanksgiving time? Are we really going to get to him this Thanksgiving? The Psalmist said, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth, O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!  (Psalms 105:1-6 NAS95)

This Thanksgiving “get to Him” and give thanks.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Ways the Enemy Gets the Upper Hand in a Church

Reposted....

Let me start this post with a clear caveat: Satan will not ultimately win as he attacks God’s church. Jesus broke the powers through His cross (Col. 2:15), and the enemy will eventually be cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, though, the devil strategically attacks us. Consider these ways he seeks to get the “up”per hand.

  1. He wants us to mess up in sin. The results of our sin are numerous. Our witness loses credibility. Our prayers are hindered. Our joy wanes. Relationships often suffer. The world looks at us and sees no difference– and the enemy temporarily wins.
  2. He wants us to cover up our sin. He did it in the Garden of Eden, and he still does it today: if we sin, he wants us to hide like Adam and Eve did. That way, we never confess it and turn from it. Likewise, the enemy wants the local church to ignore the sin among its members.
  3. He wants us to get hung up on difficulties and discouragement. “You’ve served God faithfully,” he says to us, “but what good has it done? You’re still struggling and lonely.” He delights when we cower in the cave like Elijah (1 Kgs 19), forgetting God’s previous blessings and focusing on only the trouble at hand.
  4. He wants us to clam up in evangelism. God has only one plan to get the gospel to our neighbors and the nations: believers tell the story to others (Rom. 10:9-16). It’s the enemy who points out reasons for us not to share the gospel. Maybe you’ve heard messages like “You’re going to lose your friendship” or “You really don’t know enough to do evangelism.”
  5. He wants us to bow up over position and power. The enemy who himself sought the throne of God is pleased when we guard our turf and protect our positions in the local church. “You’ve served in that position for years,” he reminds us, “and why should you give it up? Nobody can do it as well as you can.”
  6. He wants us to break up. This strategy, too, started in the Garden, where Adam turned on Eve and blamed her for his wrong. From the beginning, the enemy has sought to sever marriages, families, friendships, and congregations. He knows the church will hardly make a difference when we shoot each other in the back.
  7. He wants us to build up our own kingdoms. He does not mind when we talk about the kingdom of God as long as our real focus is our own kingdom. “Serve God,” he says, “but make sure others know just how much you’re serving Him. In a ‘humble’ way, be sure to get the word out about the size and influence of your ministry.”
  8. He wants us to cloud up the message. Without question, the enemy rejoices when the gospel message is decidedly and clearly forsaken. At the same time, though, he is pleased when the message is subtly changed so the gospel disappears while still sounding like a biblical message. The cloudiness of the message thus keeps non-believers from hearing the truth.
  9. He wants us to give up on prayer. He points out unanswered prayer, reminding us that God has at times not heard us in the past. Why would we then seek God’s presence and power today?
  10. He wants us to get puffed up with ego. In fact, this strategy is the root of the rest of these strategies. When we reside on the throne of our lives, the enemy is at least temporarily winning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

7 Things We regularly Get Wrong About Worship


Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name (Psalm 29:2).
It's Sunday around noonish. As the congregation files out of the sanctuary heading toward the parking lot, listen closely and you will hear it.
It's a common refrain voiced near the exit doors of churches all across this land.
"I didn't get anything out of that today." "I didn't get anything out of the sermon." "I didn't get anything out of that service." "I guess her song was all right, but I didn't get anything out of it."
Sound familiar? Not only have I heard it countless times over these near-fifty years in the ministry, I probably have said it a few times myself.
This is like dry rot in a congregation. Like a termite infestation in the building. Like an epidemic afflicting the people of the Lord, one which we seem helpless to stop.
But let's try. Let's see if we can make a little difference where you and I live, in the churches where we serve and worship. We might not be able to help all of them, but if we bless one or two, it will have been time well spent.
1. You are Not Supposed to 'Get Anything Out of the Service'
Worship is not about you and me. Not about "getting our needs met." Not about a performance from the pastor and singer and choir and musicians. Not in the least.
2. Worship is About the Lord
"Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name." That Psalms 29:2 verse atop our article today is found also in 1 Chronicles 16:29 and Psalms 96:8. It deserves being looked at closely.
a) We are in church to give. Not to get.
Now, if I am going somewhere to "get," but find out on arriving, I am expected to "give," I am one frustrated fellow. And that is what is happening in the typical church service. People walk out the door frustrated because they didn't "get." The reason they didn't is that they were not there to "get," but to "give."
Someone should have told them.
b) We are giving glory to God. Not to man.
We know that. At least we say we do. How many times have we recited, "...for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory"? And how often have we sung, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."?
c) We do so because glory is His right. He is "worthy of worship."
This is the theme of the final book of the Bible. 
  • "Who is worthy?" (Rev. 5:2) 
  • "You are worthy...for you were slain, and have redeemed us" (Rev. 5:9). 
  • "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 5:12).
3. Self-centeredness Destroys All Worship
If my focus is on myself when I enter the church--getting my needs met, learning something, hearing a lesson that blesses me, being lifted by the singing--then Christ has no part in it. He becomes my servant, and the pastor (and all the other so-called performers) are there only for me. It's all about me.
We have strayed so far from the biblical concept of worship--giving God His due in all the ways He has commanded--it's a wonder we keep going to church. And it's an even greater wonder that our leaders keep trying to get us to worship.
The poor preacher! Trying to cater to the insatiable hungers of his people, even the best and most godly among them, is an impossible task. One week he gets it right and eats up the accolades. Then, about the time he thinks he has it figured out, the congregation walks out grumbling that they got nothing out of the meal he served today.
The typical congregation in the average church today really does think the service is all about them--getting people saved, learning the Word, receiving inspiration to last another week, having their sins forgiven, taking an offering to provision the Lord's work throughout the world.
Anything wrong with those things? Absolutely not. But if we go to church to do those things, we can do them. But we will not have worshiped.
Warren Wiersbe says, "If you worship because it pays, it will not pay."
4. Evangelism & Discipleship, Giving & Praying, Grow Out of Worship; Not the Other Way Around
The disciples were worshiping on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them and drove them into the streets to bear a witness to the living Christ (Acts 2).
Isaiah was in the Temple worshiping when God appeared to him, forgave his sins, and called him as a prophet to the people (Isaiah 6).
It was in the act of worship that the two distraught disciples had their eyes opened to recognize Jesus at their table (Luke 24).
5. We are to Give Him Worship and Glory in the Ways Scripture Commands
"Give to the Lord the glory due His name and bring an offering." So commands I Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 96:8.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart--these, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
Singing, praise, rejoicing. Praying, offering, humbling, loving. All these are commanded in worship at various places in Scripture.
The Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, "Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). That is, with their inner being, the totality of themselves, their spirit, not just their lips or their bodies going through the motions. And in truth--the revealed truth of how God has prescribed worship to take place. He is not pleased with "just anything" that we claim as worship.
We must balance our worship between spirit (the subjective part: body, soul, emotions) and truth (the objective aspect: all that God has revealed in His word).
6. We Are the Ones Who Decide Whether We Worship upon Entering the House of the Lord
Don't blame the preacher if you don't worship. He can't do it for you.
No one else can eat my food for me, love my cherished ones in my place, or do my worshiping for me.
No pastor can decide or dictate whether we will worship by the quality of his leadership or the power of his sermon. Whether I worship in today's service has absolutely nothing to do with how well he does his job.
I am in charge of this decision. I decide whether I will worship.
When Mary sat before the Lord Jesus, clearly worshiping, He informed a disgruntled Martha that her sister had "chosen the good part," something that "will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). That something special was time spent in worship. Such moments or hours are eternal.
Lest someone point out that Martha could have worshiped in her kitchen by her service for Christ, we do not argue, but simply point out that she was not doing so that day.
7. Remember: Worship is a Verb
And it's an active verb at that.
Worship is something we do, not something done to us.
In the worst of circumstances, I can still worship my God. In the Philippians prison, while their backs were still oozing blood from the beating they'd received, Paul and Silas worshiped (Acts 16:25).
Even if a church has no pastor and has to make do with a stuttering layman or some inept fill-in, I can still bow before the Lord, offer Him my praise, and give Him my all. I can humble before Him and I can bring my offering.
What I cannot do is leave church blaming my failure to worship on the poor singing, the boring sermon, or the noise from the children in the next pew. I am in charge of the decision whether I will worship, and no one else.
Someone has pointed out that ours is the only nation on earth where church members feel they have to have "worshipful architecture" before they can adequately honor the Lord. Millions of Christians across the world seem to worship just fine without any kind of building. Believers in Malawi meet under mango trees, according to retired missionary Mike Canady, and their worship is as anointed as anyone's anywhere. (What? No stained glass!)
Our insistence on worshipful music, worship settings, and worshipful everything are all signs of our disgusting self-centeredness.
It's disgusting because I see it in myself, and do not like it.
No one enjoys a great choir more than I. I love to hear a soloist transport us all into the Throneroom by his/her vocal offering in the service. A great testimony of God's grace and power thrills me. And of course, being a preacher, I delight in hearing a sermon that you feel is direct from the heart of God.
But if I require any one or all of those before I can worship, something is vastly wrong with me.
My friends, something is vastly wrong with us today.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Prioritizing Church Attendance

Let’s just face the facts. Today, many Christians do not think attending church is that important. In the past, Christians believed that actively being a part of a church body was absolutely necessary to one’s faith. There used to be an understanding in Christian families that unless one was deathly ill or there was a family emergency, you just never ever missed church. So what has changed and caused so many people to view the church as a disposable good instead of as an intricate part of one’s spiritual life?

WHY WE DON’T ATTEND CHURCH: A 40-HOUR A WEEK JOB, BUT NO TIME FOR GOD

Pastor Kevin DeYoung is right. Our lives really are “crazy busy.” There is no doubt about it. Whether you are a college student, a newly-wed couple, or have a family of seven, we live in a day and age where the mentality is simply: go, go, go! This is one of the main reasons why church attendance is viewed as optional. Most people work 40-hour a week jobs in the United States, and so once the weekend hits the mindset of rest and recovery sets in. Trust me, I get it. Everybody wants some downtime. But why do we think that rest and recovery should take place outside of the confines of the house of God?
Recently, Trevin Wax wrote an article titled: “Are You A Part-Time Church Goer? You May Be Surprised.” Wax explains various reasons why people miss church in today’s society. There are 52 Sundays a year. If you only attend 25-30 Sunday services, you are a part-time church goer. Congratulations!
Do you recognize what is clearly wrong with this? Our jobs, which of course we must have to be able to support ourselves and our families, are seen as absolute necessities, while church attendance is simply seen as a dispensable activity. Brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be. Of course, the mindset of just attending church, getting your church attendance ticket punched, is absolutely wrong as well. Pastors and church leaders should preach against this mentality as well. However, think about this for a second. Just like you gather with your biological family, shouldn’t you also desire to gather with your spiritual family?

WHY WE NEED THE CHURCH: A BIBLICAL CASE

I know the arguments that are going to be raised about what I have said thus far. People are going to say: “Does he really believe that attending a local church, going to its building, and doing this once or twice a week is what the Bible is suggesting?” Well yes and no. Kevin DeYoung explains, “I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25.” I couldn’t agree more.
Fellowship with your spiritual family is a sign of maturing in the faith as a disciple. Hebrews 10:25 says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Have we really become so “new-agey” in our thought that we now think that we have matured past the need to attend church? Lord, let it not be so.

GOSPEL-MOTIVATED CHURCH ATTENDANCE

There is no doubt that what we need to recover in the life of Christians today is a gospel-motivated church attendance. What might this look like? Well, in my opinion its demonstrating the fact that when the church gathers on the Lord’s day, she proclaims the gospel, meditates on the gospel, and rehearses the gospel. By doing this, lives will begin to fundamentally change. It really is just that simple.
When the gospel is at the center our focus shifts. We no longer view church attendance as something we just need to check off, but as an intricate part of our spiritual lives. Instead of serving the god of individuality, we will be serving the God of Scripture. The gospel changes everything. However, we must first let the gospel change our low views of the church, and recognize that the house of the Lord is absolutely vital to the Christian life—to the life of a mature disciple. Should not the good news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins motivate us enough to enter into God’s house on Sundays? I would say so.
We are all at different points in our spiritual walks with the Lord. No matter what point you are at on your journey, I hope that you will come to see the importance of attending church. Do not be so narcissistic and self-consumed to think that you do not need the body of Christ. That is simply a sign of spiritual immaturity and a straight-up lie from the Devil.
I am not trying to guilt anyone into attending church regularly either. However, I am issuing a challenge to those who consider themselves Christians. If you consider yourself to be a part of the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7-921:2), tell me why would you separate yourself from the body of Christ (Rom. 12:51 Cor. 10:17)? Logically, that makes no sense at all.
So Christians, live in light of the fact that you have been redeemed and do not have to earn your acceptance before God through your church attendance. The community of Christ needs you because it cannot function without all of its body parts. This is not condemnation, but rather an exhortation. Attending church is a blessing that should not be taken for granted.
Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly atgospelglory.net.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

11 Differences between a College Football Fan and a Church Member

I am reposting this article by Thom Rainer... It does speak ....
Warning: The article below is a bit of sarcastic humor. I am speaking in hyperbole to make a point. The football fan noted represents a very rabid football fan. The church member represents some, but certainly not all, church members.
Disclosure: I tend to be a rabid college football fan. I see my allegiance as an area of devotion that needs significant adjustments downwardly. So I don’t necessarily practice what I preach. For example, even as I type these words, I am reminded that the kickoff for my team’s first game of the season is exactly five weeks from today.
Caution: While I do write these comparisons with some humor and a lot of hyperbole, you might get just a bit uncomfortable reading them. That may indicate there is some truth in each of them.
  1. A college football fan loves to win. The typical church member never wins someone to Christ.
  2. A college football fan gets excited if a game goes into overtime. A church member gets mad if the pastor preaches one minute past the allocated time.
  3. A college football fan is loyal to his or her team no matter what. A church member stops attending if things are not going well.
  4. A college football fan is easily recognized by his or her sportswear, bumper stickers, and team flags. Many church members cannot even be recognized as Christians by people with whom they associate.
  5. A college football fan pays huge dollars for tickets, travel, and refreshments for games. A church member may or may not give to his or her church.
  6. A college football fan reads about his or her football team every day. A church member rarely reads the Bible once in the course of a week.
  7. A college football fan attends the game no matter how bad the weather is. A church member stays home if there is a 20 percent chance of rain.
  8. A college football fan invites others to watch the game every week. A church member rarely invites someone to church.
  9. A college football fan is known for his or her passion for the football team. A church member is rarely known for his or her passion for the gospel.
  10. A college football fan will adjust gladly to changes in kickoff time. A church member gets mad if his or her service time is changed by just a few minutes.
  11. A college football fan is loyal even if he or she never gets to meet the coach. A church member gets mad if the pastor does not visit for every possible occasion.
Yes, I admit I do enjoy college football. But I really love Christ’s churches even more. I need to demonstrate that reality more readily. Do you?
So . . . what would you add to my somewhat sarcastic list? Do you see the humor? Do you see some truth?