Previous month:
October 2013
Next month:
December 2013

Posts from November 2013

Avoiding the Coming Tsunami of Church Closure

In 1964 Bob Dylan released his third studio album "The Times, They Are a-Changin'." As was typical of the music from the 1960s, political and cultural statements and protests were the norm. The times were changing. Some for the better (i.e. the Civil Rights Movement.) Others, maybe not (i.e. the sexual revolution.) Nevertheless, songs such as this and others that gained popularity became themes for a generation in flux.

Churches changed as well over time. Some for the better. Others. . .well maybe not. Over the last few decades we have seen the advent of the church growth movement, the growth of para-church organizations, the birth and subsequent death (well, basically) of the emergent church, the focus on being seeker-sensitive, the development of labels such as "traditional" and "contemporary" when it comes to worship styles (which by their nature are labels that mean different things to differnt people) and categorical shifts in emphases in areas such as youth ministry, family ministry, men's and women's ministries, and the like.

There are always those voices that speak of needed adjustments in church practice as culture changes. Some have wrongly attributed these changes to keeping the message "relevant." That's a misnomer. The Gospel is always relevant and always will be. The local church, however, that has been accused of sliding into irrelevancy often is just a victim of becoming an inwardly-focused organization that has forsaken the missional commands of the New Testament.

Hurry Up, We Have To Do Something!

Unfortunately, many churches realize they are on life support when it's too late. Of course, with God, it's never too late. I get that. However, I have been in numerous churches over the years, full of nice, loving people who have forgotten their mission. They gather, listen to sermons, go to Sunday school, worship through giving and singing, while the community surrounding them really doesn't even notice they exist. Then, as if finally awakened from a deep sleep, they acknowledge they have had far more funerals in their building recently than baptisms and begin to see the writing on the wall. Something has to be done.

In some cases, these well-meaning believers hire a young pastor or maybe an associate pastor with the instructions to reach "those people out there." It's a noble gesture, but often doesn't match true expectations. While the new pastor may have the greatest intentions to reach the community, and with the backing of those who called him to do just that, he often discovers the message given and the actual expectations are different.

While the instructions were to "reach those people out there" the actual, non-verbal instructions were "reach those people, but don't force us to change anything in here."

I have talked with numerous young ministers who have experienced this very thing. In most cases, they don't last in these churches. In the most severe cases, they find themselves out of ministry fully.

Reaching Millenials While Keeping Boomers & Busters

Generational differences are real and as the times change they become more and more evident. Many church leaders track these trends, but others discover them naturally as one generation matures and the next steps into leadership roles. A church that only reaches an older generation will have a room full of wisdom and potentially no debt, but will not be as effective in reaching younger people in the community.

Conversely, a church thath only reaches Millenials will have a lot of energy and will "Like" ministries and movements that address social issues such as trafficking and justice, but will find it difficult to finish any significant task and may discover the funding to lack for all areas.

I'm not throwing stones. I'm simply stating facts. The Pew Research Center, as well as other surveying groups, have affirmed that young people (ages 18-29) are less religiously affiliated than any other generation in our nation. Unfortunately, the trending is that this number will continue to decline. The statistics mirror that which has been happening in Europe for decades. The times, they are a-changin' it seems.

Millenials-affiliation-chartThe rise of the "Nones" is alarming for those within the church. We discussed this last Saturday during our prayer gathering.

So, how does a church that desires to "be all things to all people" so that we may reach some for the Gospel, do this? How does an established church with almost a century of history adjust processes and programming in order to remain effective ambassadors for Christ in this culture? The answer may seem simple. It may even sound like a cliche, but when lived out fully, it is not. It is the Gospel in action. Regardless of generational makeup or church culture, living missionally is the key. It leads to viewing the community surrounding one's church as the mission field. This inevitably leads those within the church to begin living as missionaries. Perhaps this is what God meant when he called us his ambassadors? 

Living missionally removes the typical church marketing strategies that intend to sell a program or ministry to a community that doesn't want or think they need it. No longer are church members bragging about their great church or the ministries offered. Here's a newsflash - lost people aren't thinking about the church and therefore, do not view what the church has to offer as something they need, much less want.

Living missionally leads Christ-followers to love their neighbors and to offer that which they do need - the good news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel! That changes everything.

Avoiding the Tsunami

I have seen a number of local churches in our city take steps to avoid the coming tsunami. These churches are different from the ones described above in one very significant way. These senior saints desire to see those in their changing community reached and are willing to sacrifice "their" church for the sake of the Kingdom. It's an amazing transition. By sacrificing the concept of it being "their" church, they are affirming the reality that they are God's church and the mandate given by Christ in the Great Commission is as valid today as ever. These "traditional" churches with a majority of older members are as relevant, and perhaps even moreso, as any "contemporary" church in the community.

Know the Times

In reading Pastor Mark Driscoll's latest book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?, some points really struck me the culture.

  • It is estimated that one quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 29 and 39 are currently living with a partner and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner.
  • Over half of first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation.
  • Over 60% of high schoolers "agree" or "strongly agree" that cohabitation before marriage is a good idea.
  • Churches that market themselves as a great place for the entire family, with service times on Sunday morning that work for young families, a great kids' program, rocking student ministry, family camps, and daytime Bible studies for stay-at-home moms, are inadvertently telling the majority of Americans - singles - they are not welcome and to say away. 

These points, and many others from various sources, all echo that which we know to be true - the western church is in trouble. In many cases, it is on life support, surviving on the tithes and attendance of an older generation while lamenting the fact that reaching the young, uncommitted "nones" is not easy. 

Whoever said it would be easy?

God has promised that His church would prevail. However, he never promised that the local gathering on the corner that meets in a building with the name "church" on it would always be around. In fact, according to history, every local fellowship has a shelf-life. You don't see anyone talking about the current work of the great church in Corinth or Ephesus any longer, do you? 

So, while we're here, we are called to honor God, spread the Gospel and do whatever it takes to be His uncompromising ambassadors in the community he has placed us. That focus and appropriate action will help us avoid the coming tsunami.

It must be less about "our" church and more about His.


Why We Must Stop Wrapping the Flag Around the Cross

What happens when Christianity and nationalism are merged? It's a challenging topic and one that tends to polarize audiences throughout the nation. This is a touchy subject. If not clearly presented and clearly heard, more severe polarization is the result, even within the church. 

Flag crossI have said on numerous occassions that to wrap the flag around the cross is a disservice to the Gospel.  Our God is a jealous God and while I believe the symbolism of the flag and the cross together was created innocently and with a sincere attempt to affirm the Judeo-Christian values upon which this nation was founded, the result has been a sad mix of patriotism and faith (and faith has been greatly minimized.)

Consequently, many unfortunately have grown to believe that to be American is to be Christian. The merging of Christianity and nationalism has resulted in a marred faith that results in a religiosity that does not need God.

In 2012, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat stated, "America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a varient of pseudo-Christianities in its place." 

American Civil Religion

The concept of American civil religion was revealed by Robert Bellah in his landmark essay from 1967. This civil religion was developed over time, subtly it seems. The concept of God and mode of worship in this civil religion was secondary, if vital at all, to the moral framework devised as the primary matter of making a great nation.

Consequently, a civil religion was birthed that merged nationalism with Christianity and ultimately left authentic Christianity by the wayside.

The "American Dream" was married to this civil religion and many have falsely believed it was biblically sound and affirmed by the Gospel.

In Mark Driscoll's book A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?, he speaks of this development clearly.

What has happened since the days of Washington and Eisenhower is that Christendom is no longer the legitimizing center of American civil religion. Instead, our nation has created its own religion that appropriates many of the symbols and narratives of Christendom but with out the substance of Christianity. Think of American civil religion in biblical terms: America is Israel. The Revolution is our Exodus. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution compose our canon of sacred scripture. Abraham Lincoln is our Moses. Independence Day is our Easter. Our national enemies are Satan. Benedict Arnold is our Judas. The Founding Fathers are our apostles. Taxes are our tithes. Patriotic songs are our hymnal. The Pledge of Allegiance is our sinner's prayer. And the president is our preacher, which is why throughout the history of the office our leaders have referred to "God" without any definition or clarification, allowing people to privately import their own understanding of a higher power.

Patriotic Christians?

Does this mean there is no place for patriotism in the life of a Christ-follower? No, I don't believe so. The blessings and value of being an American are significant and in no way do I minimize that which God has provided. Far be it for me to mar the memories of those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. So, display your flags, honor your leaders by praying for them and be patriotic, but don't worship the nation, or anything else other than the Lord. As a child of God, you have surrendered your rights, meaning that you are not the center of the story, and have become a citizen of God's Kingdom. 

It's difficult to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, especially in a nation built upon a revolution to a kingdom. However, we have a Good King who has provided us the Way, Truth and Life. How dare we relegate God to a tepid civil religion.

So, Now What?

Ultimately, I pray that God will raise up disciples who love Him fully and live transformed lives. Disciples are those who are fully-devoted followers of Christ, at least by one definition we have used and believe to be biblical. To be full-devoted means that we must be "all in" and not a mix of Christianity and anything. "God plus" always results in a disservice to the Gospel. Whether that's "God plus patriotism" or "God plus family" or "God plus _________ (you fill in the blank.)" God deserves and desires total devotion. 

"That Counts!" Why Off Campus Small Groups Are Essential

We've talked about it for a few years now. Other churches and even missionaries have used the model to great success. The challenge is unlearning that which we have done for years to enable us to see things a little differently and step outside the four walls.

LifeGroupI'm a Sunday School guy. I always have been. My seminary training focused upon such things as "Flake's Formula" and the strategy for using Sunday morning Bible study groups to impact a community and grow a church. The only problem is that while I am convinced the strategy still can be effective, in many communities it is more and more difficult to grow a healthy, missional church with groups that only gather on Sunday morning.

About eight years ago we proposed the "Four Connections" for a healthy disciple. Our encouragement was to connect in four areas regularly, weekly if possible, within the local church.

  • First, in a corporate worship service.
  • Second, in a small group (i.e. Sunday School or other such study group)
  • Third, in an area of service within the church.
  • Fourth, in the local community somewhere.

We still believe in these four connections, but the difficulty has been in leading people to see the value of the small group gathering and then to see the validity of mulitple expressions of small groups.

This led to discussions regarding short-term groups that meet on Wednesday evenings (another pre-defined church gathering time) as well as other times throughout the week.

In each discussion, I found myself saying "That counts!"

It was a revelation to many, especially those who have grown up in a Sunday School-centric church.

Questions like "You mean, if I'm actively participating in small group that meets at a coffee house on Thursday evenings. . .that counts?"

Yes, it counts. Why wouldn't it?

Home study groups and groups that meet off campus are not necessarily as "easy" as those on the church campus, but the validity of a group that meets in a venue where many who would never go to a church building would go is incredible. We must not miss this.

Can you imagine if our church were to grasp the validity of such a concept? What if there were hundreds of groups, working through a storying of the Bible in homes and restaurants around our city? Do you think this would change anything in our community? Corporate worship gatherings would be incredible. Small groups would be more missional in structure (though not automatically) and I believe more people would become children of God and citizens in His kingdom through this process.

Oh, we're not shutting down Sunday School. It still works, but to believe that nothing must change in the coming years is short-sighted and weak. 

Some churches have stepped into this strategy and have found great results. However, there is a strategy at work. It's more than saying "Hey. . .go do a home group and figure out what to teach." There's a storying of the Bible that is done intentionally and strategically. The Gospel attracts people. God gets all the glory.

So, over the next few months we are going to begin working toward releasing God's church into the community with a strategic model and plan for Kingdom growth. People won't really have to "go to church." The church will be going to them.

Almost sounds like the Book of Acts, doesn't it.

The Dress-Code Distraction in the Church & Denomination

I attended the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention earlier this week. The messages and worship presented was God-honoring, powerful and grounded firmly in the Word. Those who attended, as well as those who watched online, were challenged and encouraged by what God continues to do through Florida Baptists.

However. . .

Yeah, you knew there'd be a "however," right?

There seems to be an underlying frustration by some who attend. I first experienced this a few years ago at our national convention. I heard it spoken of last year in Orlando and this year a couple of the speakers addressed the issue.

It's a big issue.

This issue has the potential of derailing Gospel work in our state for generations to come. 

It's not the conservative-moderate-liberal issue. It's not the Calvinism-Arminianism issue. It's not even about which translation of the Bible one should use.

This issue is much bigger. 


Tucked or untucked?

Jeans or Dockers?

Sport coat or suit?

Tie or not (or bow tie, maybe?)

Tuck-vs-untucked1Denominational gatherings are not the only places this "issue" is discussed. Apparently, many of our churches still have debates on it. I would say that even churches that are seemingly beyond the issue get sidetracked at times.

Dr. Michael Orr, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chipley brought a wonderful message at the convention. About half-way through the sermon, it became clear that he was "wound up" and stepping away from the notes to share as God's Spirit was leading. I agreed with his frustration regarding those on both ends of the spectrum of "dress code." It was clear - both groups are right in their arguments, but wrong in their responses at times. We are sinning when the dress code becomes a divisive tool of the Enemy to keep the church from doing that which it is called.

I sensed he, like most pastors of established churches in our denomination, was facing a little "conversation" about this issue within his fellowship.

Dr. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, shared a powerful message on Tuesday evening. He shared of when he was pastoring in Kentucky. It was after their second worship service and before their third on a given Sunday. One of his ushers came to him greatly concerned. He said, "Bro. Kevin, I need to let you know of something pretty important. I don't want you to be alarmed, but there's a situation in the worship center. Sitting near the back. . .DON'T LOOK RIGHT NOW. . .but sitting near the back . . . there's a young man."

Kevin leaned in and said, "Yes?"

The usher said, "And. . .well, he's wearing a cap!"

When Dr. Ezell said this, the congregation at the convention laughed loudly. Yet, among the laughter, there was the realization that this is not an uncommon situation. In fact, there were perhaps many in the congregation who had similar stories.

Dr. Ezell continued, "I looked at him and said, 'Is it your cap?'" 

"Well, no," said the usher. "What do you want me to do?"

"NOTHING! Leave him alone," responded Dr. Ezell.

We laughed and yet, we know this seems to continue to be an issue for many.

Is it about defacing the place of worship? Is it cultural? Is it really about what we wear or something else? 

These and other questions run through one's mind.

I looked around the room Tuesday and saw friends and pastors and laypeople wearing suits and ties, jeans, khaki pants, t-shirts, dress shirts, tennis shoes, dress shoes, and other varieties of dress. No one was dressed immorally. No one was dressed to draw attention to oneself. Yet, there was a variety of styles.

The teaching heard was powerful.

The worship was a sweet offering.

God was honored, I believe, in our gathering.

The worship was sweet and honorable.

I long for the day when the distractions of those things which do not matter are gone and God's church will focus on what truly matters. As I hear of 93 percent of south Florida being unchurched, my heart breaks. The many in our community who awakened this morning with no assurance of heaven, with no relationship with Jesus Christ, lost, separated from God and not even knowing it, cause me to grieve.

I believe we're close to moving beyond the dreaded "dress code" issue. It will be evident when we no longer have to speak about it during our sermons or parking lot conversations. It will be obvious when our conversations center around God, the Gospel and redemption stories.

Church Discipline in a Consumer-Oriented Culture

Let's be honest, most churches are not very good at church discipline. Perhaps it's the consumer mentality that permeates the western church? There's an underlying fear that if a church were to discipline someone in the membership, they would get mad, leave the church, blog nasty things about the church or pastor and maybe even join elsewhere. Even as I write this, knowing this is why many churches avoid the issue of discipline, I cringe to think that these are even reasons. In fact, they're not reasons. They are excuses.

Many churches will avoid the prospect of discipline for fear of being labeled legalistic and old fashioned. Under the banner of "relevant" the biblical prospect of holiness is ignored.


DisciplineSimply put, it is the process of correcting sin in the life of the fellowship and membership. This may be a private admonition and word of correction from other members or leaders. It could result in formally removing a person from membership. However, in a culture that places little emphasis on church membership, this seems empty to some.

Nevertheless, church discipline is covered in the New Testament and any church claiming to base its polity and existence on the Gospel and the New Covenant must take this to heart. 

Discipline within the church, just as in a family, is a love-based action. Punishment looks like discipline, but punishment is void of love. Discipline cannot be executed apart from love. This is primarily the love of God and for His church and children. Discipline is corrective and serious. Discipline is not a retributive action. It is not enacting God's judgment or justice necessarily. It is remedial and healing.

The intent is to help and lead the individual and the church as a whole to holiness and godliness. God gives commandments and corrective instruction to His children. We sin. We fail in our walk. However, within the church, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who have the capacity to speak words of discipline in love, words of correction. 


Who does? Children don't. Yet, a loving parent will discipline his or her child accordingly, for the sake of the child. Discipline is hard. The old phrase "This hurts me more than it does you" seems empty as a child being disciplined by a parent, but once on the other side of this action, the truth is clear. 


Church discipline must have as its goal the result of redemption and restoration. Each child of God has a redemption story. In fact, we are redemption stories. As the church, we stand firmly on the Word of God intending to be used by God as agents of redemption in others' lives.


At all times, honestly. There's no season of discipline where the church seeks to impart these truths. A church should practice discipline when someone sins. That seems too broad, so to clarify, we look Jay Adams distinction between private confrontations and public church-wide confrontations.

Any sin, whether of a serious or non-serious nature, might elicit a private rebuke between two brothers or sisters in the faith. That's not to say we should rebuke every single sin that a fellow church member commits. It's simply to say that every sin, no matter how small, falls into the realm of what two Christians may lovingly raise with one another in a private setting, prudence depending.

Jonathan Leeman writes. . .

One way to summarize the biblical data is to say that the formal church discipline is required in cases of outward, serious, and unrepentant sin. A sin must have an outward manifestation. It must be something that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. Churches should not quickly throw the red flag of ejection every time they suspect greed or pride in someone's heart. It's not that sins of the heart are not serious. It's that the Lord knows we cannot see one another's hearts, and that real heart problems will eventually rise to the surface anyway. (1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 7:17, Mark 7:21)

Some look at this and think immediately "We're all sinners." While that is true, prior to salvation, once redeemed we are now named "saints." Yes, we sin and live as the "old man" at times, but our name has changed. But, what about when one who claims the name of Christ wears the sin of the "old man" continually, blatantly and publicly with no repentance?

This is where the church has often failed. 

We are blinded to the sin of those we love at times. We "justify" the sin in our lives as well as others, forsaking the teaching and holiness of God's Word. This is not about sliding into judgmental legalism. It's about living lives according to the Word of God. It's about shelving our ideas of what is okay and standing firmly on what God says. Yes, it's a narrow place, but that's God's command.


Jesus is the shepherd of the church. He lays out the framework for discipline in the Gospel of Matthew.

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)


Well, yes. The process is four-fold. In Jesus' example, he lays out the process:

  1. An outward sin is exposed. The offended goes to the individual one-on-one to confront in love.
  2. If the sin issue is not acknowledged and there's no resolution, then bring two or three others from the church to the offender. This affirms the justice and righteousness of the law, though we're under grace, as this step hearkens back to Deuteronomy 19. Once again, this step is restorative and in love.
  3. If the intervention is fruitless, the offended party will share this issue with the church. In some cases, the overtness of the sin is so well known, the church is already aware. Nevertheless, the leadership should be clear in why discipline is to be enacted. The congregation is then encouraged to seek out the offending party, in love, for the sake of repentance and restoration.
  4. The final step is exclusion from the fellowship. This seems harsh in a consumeristic society. It is not harsh, it is the hated step that hopefully will be avoided through the previous three steps. However, if the party claiming church membership and the name of Christ continues to literally or figuratively thumb his/her nose at the Truth of the Word and the Trinity, the church is left with no recourse other than removing the person from the "Lord's Table" and fellowship within the body. 

There are times when a quicker process is required. Paul reveals such in 1 Corinthians 5 when he called the church to remove a member immediately. This member was involved in a scandalous, sexual sin that mocked God's plan for marriage and relationship. In some cases, the process may be months long. This is discerned through prayer and study of the Word.


Should a disciplined member be allowed to just attend services, but not participate in the Lord's Supper, leadership or other areas? This is to be decided per individual, I believe. There are cases when attendance is continued, not with a spirit of repentance and restoration, but rather with an arrogant spirit, clothed in justified sin. Some would even attend just to be seen and cause distraction. Simply put, any attdendee desiring to be a distraction to the fellowship or a disruption to the worship should be asked to leave the building.

In other cases, the process of repentance is growing and increasing. However, there are others in the congregation as well. I remember a number of years ago when a woman and her children were actively attending as members of our church. Her husband had recently divorced her and left the family but desired to continue to attend. This caused much pain and distraught to this dear woman and her children. The ex-husband was made aware and encouraged to worship elsewhere. While not exactly "church discipline" we were encouraged that the man recognized the reality that his presence was disrupting worship for others seeking honest, pure worship. He moved to another fellowship in our city.


I like what Leeman writes about this. . .

Though the family members of a disciplined individual should certainly continue to fulfill the biblical obligations of family life (Ephesians 6:1-31 Timothy 5:81 Peter 3:1-2), the tenor of church members’ relationships with the disciplined individual should markedly change. Interactions should NOT be characterized by casualness or friendliness but by deliberate conversations about repentance.


Simply put, because of our love of God, his church and his children. To care about the reputation of Christ is to care about the individual within the fellowship. There are often not "case-study" examples of each situation in Scripture, but there are timeless principles we hold to. 

No one is without sin. We all are being disciplined daily. Yet, there are times God calls His church to step into the role intentionally and with a holy love unequaled by anything the world offers.


Thanks to Jonathan Leeman and his article here on the 9Marks blog for much of the information leading to the content of this posting.

God Hates Divorce. . .But Not the Divorcee

110313_1045_Going Through the Motions 5

"God hates divorce!" We know this. The Bible is clear. Yet, sometimes, the church and others misinterpret this to be "God hates divorcees." That's unfortunate and a misread of Scripture.

Divorce2_616However, though many have been stung by divorce, the reality and solid truth is that "God hates it." Why? Ultimately, because it pictures the dismembering of the "one-flesh" of the covenant. Marriage is an illustration of God's covenant relationship with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the "bridegroom." We, the church are the "bride."

Malachi speaks God's word clearly to His people in Chapter 2 of his book. It's a message that was relevant to a self-serving religious people 450 years before Christ. The timeless principle shows the relevance of God's Living Word is always there.

It is a hard truth, but a needed one. While many live their lives under the banner "God wants me to be happy, right?" the Spirit of the Lord is saying clearly, "God wants you to be holy." 

I pray we take to heart the last portion of Malachi 2:16, regardless of our human relationship status:

So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless. Malachi 2:16b (ESV)