Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Am a Church Member

As I listen to pastors and authors around our country, as I read their blogs, and as I have been in pastoral ministry for more than a decade - I hear a recurring theme.  Sadly, we are experiencing a disease spreading through the church - it is the result of several generations now who are used to having people serve them "my way"  in a consumer-oriented culture. 

My mother shared with me a few weeks ago concerns over her church.  She said that the young people (meaning people under 40!) have a very different orientation to church - that they don't have much of a sense of commitment to a place.  If they don't like something, if they get their feelings hurt or experience conflict, they simply leave and go to another church.  This is a symptom of the consumer-driven culture.  If McDonald's doesn't fix my hamburger the way I like it, I can go to Wendy's, Hardees, Burger King, or a dozen other burger joints.
Herb Codington said it well last week in our church when he shared what one, I believe it was Korean seminary professor, said in response to the question, "What is the hardest theological concept to teach American Christians?"  His immediate answer was, "The Body of Christ."   Our trained selfishness in the USA spills over into the way we think about church.
Today, in many cases across our nation, instead of folks coming to church with the concept of "how can I serve here and help make this place what God intends for it to be?" people come with an attitude of "how can you benefit me and my family?"  In other words, "What can you do for me?" instead of "how can I serve God here?" 

In their book A God-Centered Church, Henry and Melvin Blackaby address this issue:

Jesus never hid the cost of being His disciple.  He made clear that His disciples would have to deny self, take up their cross, and then follow Him.  We must deal with this mark of a true disciple, for it is also the mark of a true church.  Unfortunately, I have found that today there is an intentional effort to avoid the cost of discipleship.  Often there is a deliberate abandoning of the people of God during times of cost in order to go to another church where they can find times of blessing instead.  What a cop-out!  What a tragic misunderstanding of discipleship!  Our generation can be so self-centered, forsaking God's will when the cost of discipleship gets hard.  Church hopping is usually nothing more than a selfish desire to be happy, when the Lord desires that His disciples be holy.  He desires for them to make a difference where He has put them and not simply go to the place where their needs are better met.
Too many people look for shortcuts or substitutes for the hard, painful, and weary work of a disciple.  They want instant gratification and pleasure but no cross.  They look for ease and comfort in life, but they are unwilling to count the cost of following Jesus.  If they do not receive honor, position, and recognition, they search out other churches that will grant recognition so they can be "satisfied" in their Christian life.  The thoughts of scars or wounds, like their Master's, does not even enter their heads.  They want all the benefits of God's great salvation with no costs attached.  This is too often characteristic of individual believers.  "Make us successful so my family and I can be happy!"  "I can't afford to give financially!"  "Don't ask me to be a part of starting a mission church; it would cost my family too much!"  On and on I hear "disciples" of Jesus disqualifying themselves as disciples of Jesus.
Jesus made clear to all of His disciples that He was going to suffer in order to accomplish the Father's will for His life.  When was the last time you looked at the Savior's hands and side?  If we want to make an impact on sinners in our world, there is a cost.  Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
Wow.  Those are great words.  We live in a day where Christians in the West love to focus on personal fulfillment and personal happiness - "what can the church do for me?"  Instead, a disciple takes the attitude, "How can I serve others where God has placed me?"
At Tom Wright's funeral I shared that one of the things that impressed me about Tom through the 15 years I knew him was the simple fact that he came to church for two reasons - 1) to get to know God better, 2) and to figure out how he could use his gifts to serve others.  In 15 years I never once heard him complain about his own needs not being met.  Instead, he wanted to know how he could better pray for others, serve others, and listen to the Lord.  Many times through the years he would call me with a Bible question, or arrive at my office asking for a book on how to better pray for people, or come by my house to serve me in some way.
For a six-week period during October and early November, I or one of our deacons are going to take a small portion of each service and talk about one aspect each week of what it means to be a healthy church member.
I am asking each church member to pick up a copy of the small book by Thom Rainer called I Am a Church MemberIn it Thom addresses what he calls the 6 attitudes that make a difference in a church.  He wrote the book for pastors to give to every one of their church members and ask them to read!  There are six short chapters that can be read in about 7-10 minutes each.
Andy Stanley says about I Am a Church Member:
Thom delivers a biblical perspective and practical approach to church membership.  This little book is both refreshing and inspirational.  I couldn't put it down.
And Ed Stetzer says that it is a rare treasure for a generation deeply in need of a compelling vision for this community called church.

Evaluating Spiritual Success

Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of the well-known book The Making of a Leader, wrote an excellent article about on avoiding discouragement from Haggai's words for Worship Leader magazine years ago.

In it he shares . . .

"Haggai's narrative brings two perspectives that should encourage us greatly wherever we find ourselves.  The first is that no matter what level of influence your spiritual service garners, there is no such thing as a small work of God.  If God is in it, it is important.  And we should be convinced of that simply because He has promised as such: For I am with you . . . .  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear (2:4-5).

The second principle from Haggai is that God is not limited by size.  He can accomplish much more through our small work than we can imagine if we will just commit ourselves to faithfully obey God as we minister.  Haggai's followers must have been astounded when told their work would be "better" than Solomon's. 

Do you believe that God has called you and that He is involved in your ministry?  If so, then be encouraged, dear friend, that God will accomplish whatever He wishes.  Don't let the size of the work be your criterion for discouragement,  neither let it be the standard for your encouragement."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Preaching with Authority: Three Characteristics of Expository Preaching

Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people.

A keen analysis of our contemporary age comes from sociologist Richard Sennett of New York University. Sennett notes that in times past a major anxiety of most persons was loss of governing authority. Now, the tables have been turned, and modern persons are anxious about any authority over them: “We have come to fear the influence of authority as a threat to our liberties, in the family and in society at large.” If previous generations feared the absence of authority, today we see “a fear of authority when it exists.”

Some homileticians suggest that preachers should simply embrace this new worldview and surrender any claim to an authoritative message. Those who have lost confidence in the authority of the Bible as the word of God are left with little to say and no authority for their message. Fred Craddock, among the most influential figures in recent homiletic thought, famously describes today’s preacher “as one without authority.” His portrait of the preacher’s predicament is haunting: “The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities.” “No longer can the preacher presuppose the general recognition of his authority as a clergyman, or the authority of his institution, or the authority of Scripture,” Craddock argues. Summarizing the predicament of the postmodern preacher, he relates that the preacher “seriously asks himself whether he should continue to serve up monologue in a dialogical world.”

Read the entire article by Albert Mohler here.