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Inviting

Why Inviting People To Church Is So Hard

Have you ever considered why Churches grow? There are actually many Church growth models out there. A Google search for the exact phrase “Church Growth Strategies” returned 98,400 results. Almost all of the results were tools of evangelism, i.e. sharing your faith with people who have not yet experienced Jesus. There were even some incredibly creative and diverse ways to share your faith I found. But if you look at each and every one of these programs and strategies, they all have one thing in common – they require an invitation.

Both the old and new testament are filled with invitations from God to His people. For instance, Psalm 34:8 invites us to experience the goodness of God and to accept His blessing as we rest in Him,

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Jesus invites us to come and enjoy rest in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

In the book of Acts, we see how the Spirit of God brought 3000 new believers into the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Peter, filled with the Spirit, stood up and preached the gospel, boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and inviting people into the Kingdom of God:

“Repent and be Baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

For many years, the number one reason cited for people not going to Church is that no one ever invited them. Can you believe that? And still today, according to Michael Harvey of Back to Church Sunday,  80% to 95% of people in our Churches have no intention of ever inviting someone to Church  and, by extension, into a community of faith where they can encounter the risen Christ. There are many reasons for this, but it generally boils down to a rather simple one: fear. Fear of rejection, fear of messing up a relationship, fear of not having the right words to say, the list goes on and on of things that we fear when we invite others into Christian community.

Now, as a example, I want to simply throw out some things for your consideration. Have you ever thought about other areas in our lives where fear ought to exist but it doesn’t deter us? People have fears of car accidents, yet we still drive. People have fears concerning the world that our children are born into, but we still keep having them. So why do we let fear govern our mentality about faith?

Joshua 1:9 states,

“Have I not commanded you? Do not be terrified, do not be dismayed. For I the Lord your God am with you where ever you go.”

We have a God who is bigger than all of our fears, who is with us no matter where we go and who is asking us to be the means by which others are invited into relationship with Him. We have a wonderful opportunity to share the love of God and extend that invitation to others everyday, but simply need to overcome the fear which holds us back. Remember the old adage, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.” You have the ability to act and to live in the invitation that Jesus gives you to be a part of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples in spite of the fear that you may feel.  And as you live out the ability to act in the presence of fear, the fear grows less and loses the hold it has on you.  You can defeat this fear and make an incredible difference for the Kingdom of God. And as you do, you will strengthen your faith and be encouraged as you see God at work in and through you.

So what will it look like for you to take the risk and invite someone to Church? How can you step out and believe that God is bigger than your fear? What are ways of inviting people into faith that work for you?

One Church here in the north has seen an incredible growth through using the simple phrase, “I would like to invite you to my Church.” A simple statement which allows you to put out feelers and see if there is an interest in spiritual things – a question that paves the way for the actual invitation (if there is a positive response). If they balk at the idea of being invited to Church (and they might) there is no harm done and you can continue the relationship without it being awkward or uncomfortable. If they say yes, you make the invitation and find a time for you to bring them to Church. It is not complicated and it works!

While we may face a few (or many) “No” responses to our invitations, I think God is just waiting with a few “Yes” answers to truly surprise us and show us that He is with us and that He can and will work through us. I encourage you to take a small step out from behind the fear and see how God might work in your life using this rather simple exercise.

Relationships

How Comparison Kills Relationships

Before I begin, let me first confess that for the majority of my life I have lived envious of people. I was ruled by jealousy. What I perceived that I lacked, and saw in others, was the lens I used to view my relationships. Even as a pastor, I found it challenging to understand how to identify and use my gifts when I felt I was so inadequate. What I really struggled to understand then was how much other people mattered and how to live out the mandate to love others more than we are to love ourselves.

Today, I have learned that the best investment we can make is in other people and the best assets we hold are the relationships we form. The best use of the resources we have is to effectively steward these relationships to the greatest capacity possible. For me, it can still be a challenge though to view people purely through a positive lens. Why is that? Is it clearly selfish?

Tony Campolo once said we “need to love the sinner and hate our own sin.” This is not the usual approach – it usually reads “love the sinner; the THE sin.” Often, instead of looking at life this way, we become defined by our judgment. If you believe you are exempt, I would challenge you to a little self-reflection. Once we see that we are clearly sinful, then our perspective can truly be changed. I, personally, look at Jesus’ words about the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” and strive to do my best each and every day. The question I am now asking and have those around me ask, “does my attitude and actions represent the very element I am seeking to live by?” and then “Be honest with me.”

DL Moody once said, “The scriptures were not given for our information but our transformation.” The greatest commandment has to transform us in this way. The question we should ask now is how is this transformative work is being applied in our actions and attitudes towards people?

I would challenge you to ask these questions with me: How can our attitudes be changed? Can our actions reflect this change? Can love be at the core of our responses to people? Let’s love God and others to the absolute fullest in everything we do, even if it might not always be our gut reaction.

Hunger and Thirst

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

What do you long for, yearn for, lay awake at night dreaming about? What do you hunger for? Much of what we yearn and hunger for never becomes reality. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to the moon. I could have told you everything about the space program, including every man who walked on the moon and each Command Module Pilot who circled the moon while two of his buddies played Rat Patrol in the Lunar Rover. I had a hunger to go to the moon. Sadly the program was killed long before I ever had a chance to go. Today I am pretty certain that NASA won’t be starting up a shuttle service to Tranquility Base anytime soon, so that hunger will likely never be satisfied.

Jesus says that there is a hunger that can be satisfied, but it is not something that most people really care much about. In Matthew 5:6 he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” At first blush it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as a chance to hit golf balls on the moon. But the more I think about having a hunger for righteousness, the more appetizing it sounds. Think about it for a moment. What would be different in the world if life was characterized by righteousness? What if people actually did the right thing, treated each other with dignity, watched out for the hurting and weak, and generally loved God and their neighbor above all else? How different might things be if political leaders actually cared about doing the right thing more than getting elected again and again. For that matter, how different would it be if the voters hungered more for leaders who did the right thing than for those who seem to promise the most perks for us? How different would it be if people so longed for righteousness that we would no longer put up with a world in which children starve to death while others grow fat? How different would it be if we thirsted like a dying man in the desert for a world in which women need never fear being raped?  How different would it be if we yearned for a world in which the color of ones skin was seen as a beautiful example of God’s love of variety instead of a reason to exclude, reject or attack?

Jesus hungers for such a world. It is a world in which human beings fulfill the requirements of our relationship with God and with one another. We are to hunger and thirst for “right relationships” that are characterized by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never be satisfied with anything less.

But in order to be truly satisfied we must long for a righteousness that is worthy of heaven. For it is only there that we will ultimately experience a relationship with God and one another as it was intended. We must hunger for that heavenly righteousness as a starving man hungers for a crust of bread.

That kind of hunger will lead inevitably to the foot of the cross. At the cross I am reminded again and again that I have no righteousness in myself. I can do nothing to satisfy my need for righteousness. I am spiritually bankrupt. Jesus made that clear in the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit. But it is also at that cross that I receive my one true hope. I find that Jesus has gone to that cross on my behalf so that I may indeed be in a right relationship with the Father. And that is at the heart of righteousness. It is being made right with God, being in a right relationship with him because my sin has been forgiven. Jesus promises that if I hunger for that kind of righteousness that I will be filled.

As much as I may look at the world and the appalling lack of righteousness in it, I have to look deep into my own heart first. It is there that I must hunger for righteousness before anywhere else. It is in my own heart and my own relationship with God that I must thirst for right things. It is in my heart of hearts that I must yearn for a love for those around me that knows no bounds.

It is a humbling thing to admit that in our hearts we are just not right with God and others as we need to be. But it is also a very freeing thing. It frees me to become the person I know Jesus wants me to be and to look with expectation and hope to the day when all my hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Church

What Should Church “Look Like”?

Has you ever been asked what Church looks like? When most are asked this question,  they talk about the physical aspects of a building.  Gothic cathedrals to modern theatrical spaces, tiny white clapboard buildings to movie theaters and rented halls – we all have an idea of what Church ‘should’ look like.  Perhaps our ideas are shaped by our upbringing or by personal preferences.  Whatever the reason,  if you ask three different people in Church what it should look like, you might get four different answers. 

Too often, I find that we measure the success of the Church by the way it looks.  If we have a building that looks like what we think Church should be, the Church is a great one.  But what if we stopped looking at the physical aspect of the building and started to consider the spiritual ones?   Instead of thinking in terms of bricks and mortar, let’s think instead in terms of God’s people accomplishing the mission that was given to them by Jesus.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

To be a Church, the first thing we need to consider is: do we reach out to others with the love of Jesus?  As a group of believers, do you prioritize  reconciling our world with Jesus?  One of the benchmarks of a healthy Church are how many new people come to faith and if there is a growing body of believers who are being baptized into the Kingdom of God. 

Is the Church not just growing bigger numerically, but is it growing deeper spiritually?  Jesus calls us to the messy (but joyful) work of making disciples as we teach them to obey His word.  We need to be about the business of helping others to be transformed into the image of Christ.  While we might have a great building with an abundance of programs, but the end goal needs to remain the making of disciples.

Finally, a healthy Church recognizes the power of Christ being with them.  They take comfort and direction from Him, striving to live out the mandate that He has gave us in Matthew 28. A healthy Church relies on God for His provision, magnifying Him through the worship of their lives, and giving Him the honor and glory for how He works in and through them.

In my own life, I have had to learn to let aspects of Church life that I enjoy go, all for the sake of the mission of the Kingdom of God.  So like me, what do you need to re-evaluate in light of our mission?  What is there that you might need to let go to be faithful to the call of the Great Commission? Personally, I am working at scaling back to a simple focus on that which brings God joy and fulfills what He calls us to.  And in that, I am learning to find peace.  Why don’t you join me on the journey as we realize that the Church is not a building or a place, but a way of life.

Titus

Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.

Blessed Are The Merciful

Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

I continue to be perplexed at the anger and rejection that so many Christians heap on people whose sin is obvious and public. What befuddles me is that this is about as far from doing what Jesus did as you can get. I look at how Jesus treats the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery, or the drunks and prostitutes. What I see in Jesus is a savior who was completely committed to holiness and glorifying God in all He did. Yet, He did not allow that commitment to result in the condemnation of those who consistently wrestled with sin and lost. Rather Jesus showed great mercy to those people. He certainly called out their sin and challenged them to live a holy life. But at the same time He empathized with their weakness and sought to lift them to higher things. And He did this even though He never sinned and, therefore, never needed that kind of mercy.

In the beatitudes Jesus has made it clear that we are spiritually bankrupt and in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy. If you are a follower of Christ you have received that mercy, countless times over. Knowing that we have received such wonderful mercy, what can we do other than to pass that mercy on to others?

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of the Unforgiving Servant. It is about a man who was forgiven a monstrous debt by his master. The debt was so large that it would take the average worker (in Jesus day) 200,000 years to earn that much. He was forgiven something he could never pay. The servant later comes upon a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of about three months wages. That fellow servant asks for time to pay the debt. The man refuses to give him time and in great anger, throws him in debtors prison along with his wife and children. Later, the master hears of this and in his anger, throws the servant in prison for the rest of his days. Jesus makes the point that He is the master and we are the servants who, because of the cross and resurrection, have been forgiven of a debt we could never pay. In light of that, how dare we spout vitriol and anger at people who have sinned against us in significantly smaller ways. How dare we not show mercy to a fellow debtor.

Giving people mercy simply means to not push on them the punishment that they deserve for what they have done. If you throw yourself on the “mercy of the court” you are saying, “yes I am guilty but please do not punish me to the extent I deserve”. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have thrown yourself on the mercy of His cosmic court. And you have received mercy. Having freely received, we are to freely give. It doesn’t mean that we fail to call sin what it is. It means that we call it what it is, but we let a person know, we will not heap anger, rejection, punishment or suffering on them, because we have received a far great mercy from the Lord.

There is a symbiotic relationship at work here. We have received mercy from the Lord so we give mercy to others. When we do, we will continue to receive mercy. When we don’t give that mercy, we can be assured that we will not be receiving it. The unforgiving servant learned that sad lesson.