Let’s Keep Reaching Consumers. Aka, Lost Sheep.

“The American church is so consumeristic!” It’s a common line uttered by the religiously fed-up, and of course, there’s a lot of truth in it. Some churches in America do tend to cater to the consumeristic mentality of our culture. But I think, on the whole, most churches don’t, and that’s actually part of the problem.

The American church has a perceived problem of consumerism. And it’s very popular to speak and write on the topic, preaching to the choir and an angry chorus of “Amen’s.” The insinuation is that churches too often go out of their way to please seekers and make the gospel palatable to non-believers, watering down the message and skirting hard truth in the process.

Does this happen? Sure it does. Some leaders, choosing the approval of people over the fear of God, invite people to an easy version of Christianity that never makes the invitation Jesus made to “come and die” with him. But let’s be honest for a moment. For every “six flags over Jesus” fun house version of church, there are dozens of churches that really couldn’t care less about what the average consumer thinks. And that may be the bigger issue.

I believe our greater problem – the reason why thousands of churches will close their doors this year – is that we don’t care enough about consumers to loosen our grip on church done “our way.” We’ll hold on tenaciously to our musical preferences, our outdated modes of communication, our pride in not being one of those consumeristic churches.

Maybe we could shift the argument if we began to think of consumers differently. A friend of mine was struggling with this very issue and expressed his fear about catering too much to consumers. I simply replied, “You keep calling them consumers. I’ll call them lost people.”

The church doesn’t exist for the saved. And the church doesn’t exist for the lost either. The church exists for Jesus. He thought it up, founded it, empowers it through his Holy Spirit, and commissioned the church to go into all the world for his purposes. And what is his purpose for the church? I believe Jesus founded the church to be the pillar and ground of truth so that by spreading his truth and showing his grace, we might reconcile a lost world (aka, a consumeristic culture that includes us) to him through the message of the cross and the resurrection.

So before you knock come-as-you-are, this-is-a-safe-place-for-sinners churches, consider these thoughts…

  • We are all consumers.
  • Every church is designed to appeal to someone’s tastes. Some churches appeal to insiders and some appeal to outsiders but there is no virtue in neglecting the latter.
  • Jesus died for consumers. And again, that’s all of us.
  • Consumers are the mission.
  • Consumers are seekers looking for fulfillment, purpose, healing, relief, wisdom, peace, and plenty of other things that Jesus certainly offers to all who will humbly repent and follow him.
  • We are all consumers, but we all have the potential to become contributors.

And that last point is the one I want to camp out on.

Don’t believe for a second that there are only two options: catering to and keeping consumers happy, or ignoring consumers in a pious attempt to protect the frozen chosen. There is a third way, and I believe it’s the way of Jesus.

The church’s mission is to tell every consumer on the planet about Jesus so that he can save and redeem them, reconcile them to God, and re-condition all of us for the mission field! He’s in the business of turning consumers into contributors!

So…

  • Greet people with a smiling face.
  • Reserve the best parking spots for guests.
  • Serve great coffee.
  • Give guests a gift of appreciation.
  • Create amazing kids spaces.
  • Have fun and laugh.
  • Drop the dress code.
  • Preach in a conversational, but passionate tone.
  • Play great music that normal people like for God’s glory.
  • Display great art for God’s glory.
  • Make. The. Service. Attractive! To consumers! Aka, lost people, like us.

No, you may not substitute a watered-down, feel-good, palatable message for the gospel of Jesus and its requirement of repentance and surrender. At least, not if you want to please the One to whom we shall give an account of our stewardship of his church. But you also can’t spend your days pridefully ranting about churches that are trying really hard to care about the people for whom Jesus died.

This is America. We’re a bunch of lost consumers, seeking fulfillment. I know it’s found ultimately in Jesus alone. If you know that too, then let’s reach every last consumer we can and then…

  • Invite them to membership in God’s family through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus.
  • Grow with them to maturity through the spiritual disciplines.
  • Serve one another, surrendering our own self-interests for the benefit of others.
  • Go on mission together to find more consumers, whom God loves deeply and for whom Jesus died.
  • Learn to live our lives for the glory of the Creator!

Thank God, someone reached this consumer. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Now let’s go find others and introduce them to a church that cares more deeply about their spiritual brokenness than our own preferences.

Sermon Video: Let’s Throw a Party!

Sometimes, things change, such as the location where we gather for worship. But some things never change, like the mission and message of the church. In this message delivered on our inaugural Sunday in our new space, I’m casting a vision for the future and challenging us to throw a party for sinners like us.

Who Are Your 3? Your 12? Your 70? Your Thousands?

Jesus Washing FeetWith whom are you doing life? What I mean is, with whom do you spend time hanging out and talking about the deepest things of life? Whom do you sharpen, and who sharpens you?

Jesus lived toward the cross and the resurrection, and his singular focus on his end game motivated him to live very intentionally. He depended on God for constant guidance and made choices rather strategically. For example…

One day soon afterward, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.

– Luke 6:12-13 NLT

Jesus had thousands of followers.
He had dozens of disciples.
He picked twelve to train more deeply and send out.
And he had three that were with him even more often.

I think there’s a pattern there for us to follow when it comes to the goal of our lives as Christians. Whether you want to call it discipleship, leadership development, or just plain friendship, I’m convinced we need to intentionally develop relationships with these circles of people in our lives. We need to pour ourselves into others, and we need to be poured into ourselves by others.

We need to gather with our “thousands.” I don’t think this is about the number, I think it’s about the environment. To put it more simply, we need to be part of a weekly gathering with other followers of Jesus, some of whom we might know personally, but many of whom simply share our common bond of being part of God’s forever family together. We can sing together, be taught and equipped together, and serve together, but we can’t go deep together. Therefore…

We need to have a network of “dozens.” Beyond attending a weekly worship service with a large group of friends and acquaintances, we need to get to know people by name. This is our network. Whether you attend a church of 100 or 100,000, you’ll never go deeper with the entire body. But you can go deeper with a network of people with whom you intentionally stay in touch. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that the average human cannot cognitively maintain friendship with more than approximately 150 people. I think he was onto something. We may have thousands of “friends” via social networks, but we probably only maintain actual friendship with a small percentage of those.

We need a small group. There isn’t anything magical about the number twelve, but there does seem to be an interesting correlation to the average small group that gathers for a weekly time of Bible study and prayer. This is the circle of people with whom we will pray together, talk about life on a personal level, and mutually encourage one another. It’s where accountability begins in an informal sense. People who tend to “stick” to a church are usually those who have tied themselves to a small group.

We need a handful of close friends. Jesus spent more time with Peter, James, and John than the rest of the disciples, and this was intentional on Jesus’ part. He wasn’t showing favoritism. Rather, Jesus knew that there needed to be a tightly knit core of friends in his life. This is the circle of people with whom we hang out to talk about our spiritual growth and development on the deepest levels. We pour wisdom into them, and they pour it right back into us.

If you want to grow in any sense – spiritually, intellectually, professionally, etc. – you’re going to need to intentionally develop and foster a close relationship with a few grace-oriented truth-tellers. Who are your handful?

Master PlanSo, who are your 3?
Who are your twelve?
Who is your network of dozens?
And with whom do you gather as a larger body?

If you can’t spit the names of your few or your dozen out pretty quickly, start working today on developing relationships. How? Well, not by passively waiting for friendship to happen. Reach out. Encourage. Invest. Give. And BE a friend, a mentor, and a leader.

And if you want to read the best book ever written on this subject, check out Robert The Master Plan of Evangelism

You’re Never Alone When You’re Sharing Jesus

Most believers understand the “ought to” side of sharing our faith. We know we ought to do so. Some of us understand the “how to.” In fact, churches have been quite good at equipping and educating believers in the finer points of the gospel and the act of sharing it. But on a daily basis, I think very few understand the “can do” side of witnessing. This is something you can do, and you can do it in what Adrian Rogers often called a “supernaturally natural” way.

I say you can do this and that the “can do” is grounded in the fact that we’re not alone – that we don’t ever go alone when we enter a conversation about our faith in Jesus. There is always a team at work. In addition to your work as a believer…

1. The Word of God is at work as we share it. The Bible is a powerful, living book and God uses it to dissect the heart in deeply spiritual ways. Consider these teachings…

  • Isaiah 55:11 – The word of God accomplishes a purpose.
  • 1 Peter 1:23-25 – The word of God stands forever.
  • Jeremiah 23:29 – The word of God breaks through the hardness of hearts.
  • Hebrews 4:12-13 – The word of God is living, active, and piercing.
  • Romans 10:17 – The word of God is the means of a person believing the gospel.
  • Romans 1:16 – The word of God is powerful to save.

2. The Holy Spirit is at work invisibly in the heart. He’s ever-present and always willing to bless the greatest work a believer can enter into – the work of sharing the good news of Jesus. In fact, while we like to treat the Holy Spirit’s work as something He does for us and for our pleasure, the Bible’s emphasis is on His work through us as we serve and share with others. Check these verses…

  • Acts 4:31 – The Holy Spirit is our source of boldness.
  • Acts 1:8 – The Holy Spirit empowers the church for missions.
  • Acts 8:30 – The Holy Spirit leads us to opportunities.
  • John 6:44 – The Holy Spirit draws the lost to Christ.
  • John 16:8-11 – The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin.
  • John 3:3, 5-6 – The Holy Spirit regenerates the lost (causes them to be born again).

3. A redeemed witness is at work when you share the good news. That is, you as a believer are a called, sent, redeemed, empowered messenger of the gospel. And God will always be at work through your life, your service, and your words.

  • John 15:16 – Believers have been chosen to bear fruit.
  • Matthew 4:18 – Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.
  • Luke 24:46-48 – We are called to be witnesses of the gospel to all nations.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:5, 7 – We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, to share for Jesus’ sake.

You can witness because Jesus Christ has called every believer to a life of faithfulness to the great commission and fruitfulness in the world. Realize that God has called you to live in continual partnership with Himself, going where He leads us and walking in the power of His Holy Spirit with His word hidden in your heart. And as you go, He’ll be with you always.

 

He will open doors. Are we ready to break out of the sin of silence to share the message?

Why God Gets All the Credit

When I hit dating age, I was afraid to ask girls out on dates. Until I met Angie. I asked her repeatedly, and she repeatedly said no, until she finally said yes, and the rest is a beautiful history. Sometimes we view our relationship with God as though we asked God to save us and, as if it was the first time the thought had even occurred to Him, He reluctantly and finally said yes. But the opposite is actually true.

Paul described salvation this way in Romans 8, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.” (Romans 8:28-29 NLT)

I believe that salvation by the grace of God is freely available to anyone who seeks it. But seeking out the grace of God in no way infers that we are responsible whatsoever for our own salvation. It’s really completely of God, from start to finish, and we just respond to His work and receive the free gift He has decided to provide. In Paul’s statement are found what D. Martin Lloyd-Jones called “the five links in the chain of salvation” and every link belongs to the initiative of God.

He has known us in advance in a personal way, long before we came to the realization of His existence. And He chose us in advance, along with all who are “in Christ”, long before we ever considered choosing to follow Him. And He called us out of our surroundings, spiritually speaking, to follow Him long before we called out to Him. He justified us, giving us a right standing before Him in His perfect justice, when we could not possibly plead innocence. And He gave us His glory and the eternally secure gift of a home at His side in a glorified and perfected state when we were utterly helpless to change our own corrupt natures.

You may remember a time in your life when you realized the truth about God, about yourself and your sin, and about how Jesus paid your penalty on His cross and then rose again. You may remember calling out to God, turning from your sin, and placing your trust entirely in Him for salvation. In fact if you don’t remember ever coming to that place, let’s talk! But what you need to understand now is the backstory. The entire time leading up to that moment, God had already known you, chosen you as part of His people, justified you, called you out of darkness and into His light, and given you the gift of sharing in His very own glory for eternity.

Salvation is all of God. He gets all the credit. Your story is really a story written by the One who loved you so much that He’s had His eye and His affection on you for eternity. There are others, too. And in His prerogative, He’s chosen that they come to know Him the same way you did – by hearing the good news from a friend, and that friend might just be you.

When You Go with the Gospel, You Never Go Alone

There is no feeling on earth like the feeling of helping someone find Jesus and trust Him for the very first time. Sometimes, in our talk about “missions,” we forget that this is really what missions is all about. Going to every nation starts with going to the next person with the good news.

The problem is, there is a natural intimidation factor when it comes to sharing our faith. I think talking about our faith should come as naturally as talking about any other deeper subject and it should happen in the context of a conversation that turns toward spiritual things somewhat naturally. But even in the middle of our natural conversation, we should be assured with confidence that there is a Supernatural force guiding our spirits and working behind the scenes. As Jesus was saying, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” He also said, “And I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NLT)

The source of our confidence in sharing Jesus should be His presence and powerful work. He wants to be known among all peoples. He wants a restored friendship with people who are lost. He gave His life to redeem them. He offers bold truth and fresh, life-giving grace to anyone who has ears to hear.

When you go to people with the good news of Jesus, you never go alone. He is with His people through the endless ages of eternity.

God Wants to Bring Life to Others Through You

20140619-064638-24398573.jpgOne of the greatest problems facing Christianity today is our lack of confidence. We lack confidence in ourselves, in the Gospel, and in the church. And often, we allow the culture to back us into a corner In silence because of its misunderstandings about the nature of all three.

How different was the attitude of the apostle Paul as he wrote these words:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Romans 1:11-12 ESV

Just hear the confidence oozing from his soul. His boldness came from his confidence in God’s truth and its power to free people, give life, and change eternal destinies. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t share our faith in Jesus as much as we wish we did is that we forget just how amazing the story of Jesus really is.

Furthermore, Paul was convinced that as he spoke God’s words, God’s Spirit would empower the message to touch the hearts of his hearers. We don’t have to make the message likable, we just have to make it understandable. The Spirit of God will make it personally relevant to those who hear it.

So here’s some encouragement that I hope will help you to be bolder today about your faith… You have been saved by an awesome grace. You have been called to show the world the goodness of God. And a culture that seems resistant to God’s truth may actually be crying out for the message of redemption in Christ.

If you are a child of God, then you have something pretty spectacular to offer people. So walk in confidence today. And let that confidence rest on the shoulders of a God who is fully capable of changing the world through you.