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Saturday, January 14, 2017

5 Reasons Young People Should Connect with Church Revitalization

Citation
“The young people are the problem!”  “Once we get young people in here- like back in the good ole days- then our church will be able to do ministry.”  These represent the diametrically opposed views of young people in churches-especially among churches in need of revitalization.  One of the common ways this manifests itself is in a war of worship songs.  A classic hymn says, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”  Many have taken that song and taken a different spin, “If they are gonna lead, I’ll go!”  These often cause divisions in churches.

Among these “distracted” churches, young people are seen as a hindrance or as Saviors.  Both are unhealthy.  Regardless, there are many reasons for young people, who are often wanting to connect with the “cool, hip” churches should pour out their lives into distracted churches.

1) You have more of an opportunity to use your gifts.

God has gifted every one of us, and we should consider those gifts as a stewardship (1 Peter 4:10-11).  In my experience, in many larger churches (notice, size is the measurement, not health) you can have many gifts people, but only the “most” gifted get to participate.  There is little room for a believer wanting to grow in leadership to teach because- to be frank- there is little freedom to fail.  While you may be able to have a gifted teacher lead a small group or Sunday School class, there are still limits on the amount of classes and the amount of teachers that can be used.  You can only use so many on the worship team.  Also, these venues are often still not fit for the less experienced believers.

Smaller, distracted churches offer a better avenue for believers to use their gifts.  First, from my experience, there are literally a hundred ways to serve.  There is room to fill in the youth, in the music, and so on.  In fact, a staple of distracted churches is that there is little desire on the part of the members to create new ministries.  A sure sign of a distracted church is a desire to control, not a desire to create.  Creation of new ministries, whether it be music or youth or discipleship classes, provide a context for less experienced believers to steward their gifts. 

Less experience is often mistaken for less gifted (no such thing!), and younger believers can get lost in the crowd.  When there is less people and more need, this is less of a problem.

2) You can grow in your experience and giftedness.

Sure, some of these believers you send out to create and work to equip will blow it- good.  We all blow it.  No one learns without blowing it.  The gospel is for people who have blown it.

 So, we should give believers, especially those with a desire to be involved, freedom to create.  As they create, the job of the pastor is to shepherd through control and crafting.  Be careful giving the keys to the new youth group to a youth, but don’t be afraid to sit in the passenger and let them try out the experience.  As they go, you can help them cast vision and craft the ministry- this provides the opportunity and context for discipleship and leadership development.

Young believers, you can benefit from the church revitalization process as much as the church you help serve.

3) You need wise godly council (and you may learn that “old people” are not that bad).

One of the many benefits of the church revitalization process is that generation gaps tend to be less cut and dry in smaller churches.  When the college student, the retiree, and the pastor’s high school daughter all share a pew together- bonding is bound to happen.    Circles of friends have to be more diverse because more diversity (in one sense) sits in the pews. 

One of the benefits of this is that natural connections can form.  Another is that both parties will see the benefit of the other.  In fact, the various generations may see that they need each other.  The zeal of one and the wisdom of the other complement one another.  Pastors must make it clear that every person in the church is dependent on the other.  Lastly, we must make sure not to view young believers as the “future” of the church.  They are the “present” of the church.  They need to be involved.  They need discipleship for now, not for later.  Older believers, mentor the next generation.  

Next generation, seek and submit to mentorship from others.  You may find it shocking, but you’ll realize that you need each other.

4) You will learn that the church is not about you and your preferences- and that is a glorious thing.

Younger believers learn through church revitalization that churches do not exist to serve every preference, but they exist for the increase of the kingdom of God.  A short but profound point is found here: The church you attend will have a direct effect on how you view the church.  It is not about us- we need to know that.  We need to recognize that the Christian life is one about sacrifice.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Can we consider our churches faithful if we never have to crucify our desires?  Since when was “denying ourselves” a comfortable experience?  What does this say to younger believers about the purpose with the church?

5) You need to be revitalized too.

Revitalization is simply refocusing.  Friends, young believers, while you may think the problem in the church is the older generation (and vice versa) we all need to be refocused.  We all need what Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.”  While our distractions may be different, we all need to be focused on what matters- obedience to God.  We need each other- may we never forget that.


Younger believers, is God calling you to leave behind the comforts and coffee shops of larger “hipper” churches and to pour your life out helping to refocus the distracted church down the street?  

The experience may not be the most comfortable, but the gospel is not a call to be comfortable.  Ask God to lead you.  Ask God to empower you.  Take up your cross and follow him.  Whether you realize it or not, the generations before you have tons of teach you.  They have sacrificed a ton for you to reap the benefits.  May one thing we model the attitude found in one of those “old people songs”…”Wherever you lead, I’ll go.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some Reflections on Church Revitalization

From here
“I don’t want to serve in a dying church.”  My jaw dropped as I heard a pastor friend retell this story.  He recounted the story of how someone had decided to stop filling in as the music leader at a small country church.  They played a role on the music team of their much larger home church, and didn’t see a point in serving as a music leader at a much smaller country church 15 minutes down the road. 

As a pastor of a church that is far more similar to the latter than the former, I was dumbfounded.  Stories like this are not unfounded.  There a massive misunderstanding, especially among younger believers, about “dying” churches.  The Bible speaks a different word over these churches.

First, the title “dying” next to any church is a denial of the gospel.  Yes, while I know what they mean, if there are believers in any church than it is by definition a “living” church.  Ephesians 2:5 says, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [Christ] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  No church is a dying church because every church contains people made alive by the gospel.

Now, certainly we need to be put a title on the type of church we are talking about.  Often times by “dying” many are meaning to say “declining.”  Certainly spiritual life and numerical decline are different.  Also, there are studies that show that the majority of churches are in decline, not able to grow at a pace equivalent to the surrounding area.  Decline is not just something that affects the tiny country church, it’s just has a faster effect on them.  

Also, the term “unhealthy” could be used.  Often times there are churches are overrun with unbiblical traditions, whether with their membership, leadership, or practices.  Certainly these traditions could be having a negative effect.  While "unhealthy" is a better term than "dying", and gets more to the point than "declining", it doesn’t address everything that can be happening to a church.  I know many churches who are healthy in terms of their membership and leadership, but are far from impacting their community.

I propse that the term “distracted” better displays the reality of what is taking place in most churches.  Yes, they are in decline.  Yes, they are unhealthy.  But, ultimately this is due to distractions.  This could be doctrinal distractions (liberalism), or practical distractions (traditionalism) or a mixture of the two.  Ultimately, all distraction in a church is a distraction of affection.  Jesus speaks to a church in this same situation in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The goal of church revitalization is to restir affections toward Jesus and toward His Word.  Once a church is more in love with Jesus than with prior commitments (doctrinal or practical) then transformation can begin.  Jesus speaks in John 15 of this reality, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  To see the fruits of transformation in the life of our people, they abide in Jesus, and they cannot do this without their affections resting on Him.

How do we do this?  Here are 5 reflections...

First, we need faithful preaching.  Pastor, I know it is tiring, but continue to preach faithfully.  Exalt Jesus.  Lift Him up.  They need to see the one they are to love as lovely.

Second, evaluate where the churches affections rest.  What “golden calf” do they have?  What areas of church life will be a battle to see transformation in?  When those are evaluated, make immediate changes in areas that can be changed without a battle (for us, this was leadership and membership).  Once those changes are made, and the benefits are seen, you will be in a better position to see future transformation.

Third, set your focus on the long-term.  I know I am one who cares far more about the short-term comforts of life (this is a reality I am repenting over as we speak).  But, Abraham set his eyes on his heavenly home (Hebrews 11:17).  His eyes were to the long-term, which was how he endured through the short-term discomforts.  In fact, every single biblical figure lived this way, why should the pastor be any different?

Fourth, pastor, get friends.  You may feel alone, but you are not alone.  Form networks and fellowships with other pastor's in your area.  You need brothers to cry with, to pray with, to bounce advice off of.  Especially if you are without a plurality of leaders, get friends!  Spurgeon said “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” 

Fifth, be willing to confront the golden calf.  I will write more about this in a future post


Church revitalization is not easy, but it is necessary.  We must give ourselves toward transformation.  This will require humility and unity- we need people of all ages!  In a future post, I implore young people to plug into church revitalization and address other issues that I have seen in the past two years of working with church revitalization.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Albert Mohler Quote

“I fear that there are many evangelicals today who believe that God spoke but doubt whether He speaks.  They know and talk about the fact that God spoke in the Old Testament but think that now that He no longer does so and that they must therefore invent new ways to convince people to love Him.  But if you call yourself a preacher of God’s Word, and you think that all of God’s speaking was in the past, then resign.  I say that with deadly seriousness.  If you do not believe that God now speaks from His Word-the Bible-then what are you doing every Sunday morning?  If you are not confident that God speaks as you rightly read and explain the Word of God, then you should quit.


But if you do believe that- if you truly believe that God speaks through His Word- then why would you substitute anything else in the place of the expository preaching of the Bible?” – Albert Mohler, “He is Not Silent” pg. 57-58

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Birthday Reflection: A Year of Restoration and 5 Recognitions

God will destroy us for our good.

It may sound counter intuitive to us, but love is always willing to wound.  A year ago I was wounded.  I was drowning in a sea of despair and barely skimming the surface.  I was gasping for breath.  Sure, I put on the face.  I attended all the social events.  I would even stand and preach the Word of God.  I would do everything I would normally do- but I was not the same.

In the course of the month I had lost everything I held dear: dear friends, a growing ministry, a girl I thought I was spending the rest of my life with, my health was in a bad place.  I felt betrayed as all of them left.  To this day it doesn’t even seem real.  How does everything you love and pour two years of your life into just turn and walk away?  It began a year of spiral downward that echoed the words of David in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (13:1-2).  People of faith suffer real pain.  I asked the Lord every day for a year, “Why?”  I could hear nothing, whether due to my stupidity or His gracious silence.

In my pride I was pretended there was not a problem.  I viewed vulnerability as an enemy, forgetting that confession has always been the pathway to freedom (Psalm 32:5).  The victory I’d preached from the pulpit felt like a distant memory.  “Who am I fooling? Lord, I’m not cut out for this.  I’m throwing in the towel.”  I would try to form cohesive words in prayer as I sobbed.  I was asking for the Lord to not just take me out of ministry, but I often asked him to take me out of this life.

Look how David continues in Psalm 13,

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken
– Psalm 13:3-4

I need an answer, but little did I know He was not finished with me yet.

No matter how much I desired to let go of everything I knew, He was not letting go of me.  Jeremiah was put in stocks by the priests and he declared, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.  I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).  But, in the midst of it, Jeremiah would also declare, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot…Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers” (20:9, 13).

The good news has never been about how hard we hold onto God, but how hard God is holding onto us.  Jesus words in John 6 were warm sweet promises to me.  He had given me to the Father and I would not perish.  He has drawn me and He would raise me.  The will of the Father was that all who believed would be raised on the last day.  Jesus’ death absorbed all of God’s wrath toward me.  This suffering was not His wrath, it was for my good.  He was not inflicting me with Hell, but loving His child all the way Home.  We was keeping me, and sometimes keeping us involved taking things away.

Now, a year after my earth shattering heartbreak, I resonate with the words of Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”  He has down a miraculous work in showing me more about friendship in ministry, giving me a great set of accountability partners, brought me into a new ministry, and brought me together with a helper who is beyond what I deserve.  My health is even far better!

Friends, restoration does not always mean you will be brought back where you were.  God’s exile out is often an exodus into something new.  I would love to say the story went back into a happily ever after, but the story isn’t over yet.  Chapters end so others begin.  Our happily ever happy happens later, not in this life.  But, even as our story unfolds, a few things have be reaffirmed to me even in the face of heart-wrenching despair.

1) Jesus is Lord.  He is Lord of salvation.  He is the Lord of life.  He promises that from beginning to end all His intentions will work toward His purpose.  He is gracious and is going to conform me into His image.  This is going to involve suffering.  God is passionately dedicated to blessing his people, but God blesses the bankrupt in spirit, but the banker (Matthew 5:3).  But in the gospel, suffering is a servant, not a serpent (Romans 8:28-39).  This truth has become even more precious to me.  John Piper says this, 

Outside of this promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions.  There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans.  There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles.  Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28….The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.”  - John Piper, Future Grace 122-123

      2) The doctrines of grace remain the only bed rock for deep suffering.  To know that my salvation is rooted in the sovereign election of God, the effectual calling of the Spirit, and the particular death of the Son is a firm foundation when you feel as if you don’t control anything.  Because, in honesty- we don’t.    The scandalous grace of God is the only answer for scandalous heartbreak.  Sure, our actions have consequences, but God is control of everything that occurs.  My salvation is never grounded in how I’m feeling from day to day, but in the work of the Triune God- and Him alone.  To the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14)

            3) Suffering is good for the stubborn.  The Lord has given me a much more vulnerable and pastoral heart through this suffering (something my stubbornness caused me to lack).  People hurt.  Life is far more complicated than I originally lived like it was.  God comforts us, so that we might comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).  This means that God will wound us, but never without a purpose.

         4) The church will let you down, but don’t give up on her.  Jesus didn’t.  In fact, nothing that Christians have ever done to me has ever been as bad as what Christians did to Him.  Jesus pursued a wandering bride.  He endured her spitting in His face, pushing Him away, but He still pursued her- even to death.  Most grooms wed their brides with a ring on their finger, but Jesus pursued His bride with two nails in His hands.  Don’t give up on the church, Jesus has not and will not.

      5) The mission of God is not about me.  His mission will be complete whether I am face down in the dirt, or whether I am out on the front lines.  God doesn’t need me.  He could raise us rocks to replace me (Matthew 3:9).  But, God has graciously invited us in and sent us out.  Why not give everything for the sake of the gospel?  It will involve this kind of heart-wrenching, soul-emptying, life-altering suffering I have described, but in the end those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).  We will see His face (Revelation 21) and His mission will be accomplished.


In the end, God destroys us for our good.  He builds us up, or moves us away, or leaves us to taste mud with the pigs- all with the goal of building us up and bringing us back (Luke 15:11-32).  Life hurts.  God is good.  The gospel is true.  His mission is urgent.  He may take what is most precious to us to show us that He should be more precious than all of it.  Why should we delight in the gifts when the Giver is so much more satisfying?  In the end, God never answered David’s question.  God’s response in our suffering is not an explanation, but revelation.  God is giving us more of Himself.  In our midst of our questions, answers will not satisfy us, He will.  Even in the midst of devastation, may we find joy in Him more and more each day.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13:5-6

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

“We look to the professor leader with his big library and quick answers, and we think he’s the definition of biblical conviction.  In reality, he’s a distortion.  Our Christian solutionism is dangerous, because, like the Silicon Valley version, it’s permeated with misplaced eschatological hope.  The buzz about the latest conference, book, and blog is that they’ll help us “reach up to the heavens.”  But that’s not the message of the Bible.  It’s the message of Babel (cf. Gen. 11:4-7).  We somehow believe that having the right information will bring salvation.  But, while solutionism may work in principle, it fails in practice.  Ministry doesn’t function as simply as we hoped, so we just get angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed.  Like the Pharisees, we think that life is about mastering the Bible.  Convictional leaders haven’t master the Bible.  The Bible has mastered them.” – Daniel Montgomery.  “Leadership Mosaic” pg. 47-48 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Does God Still Reveal Himself Through the Avenue of Dreams and Visions?

Here is a copy of my paper I wrote for my Systematic 1 class at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the question of, "Does God still reveal Himself through the avenue of dreams and visions?"  Hope it edifies the saints and exalts our Savior!  (In case you are curious, I got a 97! :D)


Issue


This paper will discuss the question, “Does God still reveal Himself through the avenues of dreams and visions?”  Definitions are key to this discussion.  Merriam-Webster defines dreams as, “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind…”[1]  While Webster speaks of “dreams” as being experienced in sleep, in the Bible dreams and visions can happen while a person is fully awake.[2]  Dreams and visions are synonymous in that they are both audiovisual apparitions.[3]  Both dreams and visions are an experience or state in which thoughts, images, and sensations occupy someone’s experience.  In this paper we will not be debating whether God used dreams in the visions to reveal Himself in the past; we will be considering the role of dreams and visions for the believer today.  We will conclude that God may use dreams and visions as a form of general revelation, but since the canon of Scripture is closed, dreams and visions are not to be considered authoritative as special revelation.  I will argue this thesis by examining alternative views, presenting my view, and answering potential objections.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Facinating Quote from James White

Though it may seem surprising to some, in many aspects the Christian scholar of today is “closer” to the original writings of the apostles than people who lived as little as two centuries later. Why? For one thing, we not only have ready access to the entire Bible but also many of the secular writings of the day that give us important historical, cultural, and/ or linguistic information. We have the Bible available to us in the original tongues as well as in many excellent translations. We also have access to a vast amount of writing from generations between then and now; we can read the works of men like Spurgeon, Warfield, Hodge, and Machen, and can glean insights unavailable to many over the centuries. While a person living in the sixth century might have been chronologically nearer to the time of Paul, he would not have had nearly as much opportunity to study the Pauline writings as we have today. We can include in our studies the historical backgrounds of the cities to which Paul was writing; we can read his letters in their original language. These days we can sit at a computer and ask it to provide us with all the aorist passive participles in his letter to the Romans. These considerations allow us to be far more biblical in our teaching and doctrine than the person who had to live his life in hiding due to persecution, resulting in limited access to the Scriptures and also to those able to teach him.

 – James White, Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible's Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What an encouragement to pick up our Bibles!