Posts Tagged ‘Church Life’

The Myth of the “Institution-less” church

Jason Clark has a great post up at Deep Church that challenges the notion that we can avoid institutions in the church… he doesn’t deny the problems and inertia that institutions create, but also argues that to simply throw out any form of institution would be the same kind of action as closing all hospitals (because hospitals struggle with the same institutional problems churches do)… here’s a quote:


What we need is not the absence of institutions, but an articulate institutional imagination, something more than the incapacity of being ‘anti-institutional’. For if we get rid of hospitals, we might remove the problems they produce as institutions, but with it we also remove the provision of medical care from all those who had access to it before, or we restrict it to only a few who are in proximity to those who can provide it with no institutional support, or those who know how to provide to themselves. Which is what much of the ‘institution-less’ church has come to look like.


The question is not whether you can avoid being an institution; the question is what kind of institution can we imagine that will support the purposes of who and what we are trying to bring to others?


Jason’s whole post is not long, and worth a read. View article…

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Christians and Accountability

Today I want to say a word about Christians and accountability groups or accountability partnerships. I am not sure if Christians have always spoken as much of accountability as we do today or if this has been a happy result of organizations such as Promise Keepers. I guess I have not been an adult Christian long enough to know.

I am convinced there is great benefit in Christians pursuing accountability relationships, at least in some situations. It is valuable, I believe, for Christians to meet on a regular basis to confess sin, to speak of God’s grace, to share triumphs, to ask tough questions and to pray for one another. I meet every week among a group of leaders from my church and just about every week somebody asks one of these questions: “Is there anything you really do not want to talk about?” or “Is there something you should tell us that you’re hoping nobody will ask?” These are good questions, leading questions, that cause us to probe our hearts a little bit to see if there is something we ought to confess. As leaders and potential leaders in the church, we desire transparency; we believe the Bible demands it.

As much as there has been great personal benefit in these times of accountability and in living with the specter of accountability, I’ve seen as well that there is one drawback; not surprisingly, it is a drawback related to my own sin. A little while ago I was reading a book review by Erik Raymond and thought he brought this out so succinctly. “Accountability is often quite helpful,” he said. “However, many times folks end up fearing their ‘accountability partner’ while remaining numbly void of a healthy fear of God. This does not kill the root of sin, but unwittingly increases a fear of man (idolatry).”

I know that this has been something I’ve been prone to. Because of my accountability relationships I find myself putting sin to death, or at least refusing to give in to sin and temptation of various kinds. But often, when I look to my heart, I see that my motive is hardly pure. I am motivated by not wanting to have to admit or confess such sin to another person. Every week, before we meet, we fill out a sheet that asks a variety of questions: have I been faithful to pray for the men and women of the church this week? Have any of my financial dealings failed to be filled with integrity? Have I given sufficient time to my family? Have I fallen into any kind of sexual sin? Did I take a day off this week? Though this is a helpful way of examining my week, looking back to see evidence of sin in my life and evidence of God’s grace, I know that my heart is often motivated more by a desire not to confess sin to other men than it is to honor God. In other words, I am often motivated more by fear of man than I am by a fear of God.

I’ve (quite literally) laid awake some nights, wondering what is going on in my heart that I’d be more concerned about what my friends and pastors think of me than I am by a desire to obey God. If I want to be very pragmatic, I can rejoice that at least I am not sinning; without accountability I might be more likely to give in to temptation. After all, if that were the case, only God might ever know. If no one was going to ask me whether I’ve been faithful to pray for the people of the church, I would be more likely not to pray. But I pray, at least in part because I know that I will have to answer the question, “Did you pray for the men and women of the church this week?”. But then I wonder, what kind of prayers am I offering if they are motivated by fear of man instead of obedience to God? Does God even want to hear such prayers? What if they are 50% obedience, 50% fear of man? Or 80% obedience and 20% fear or man?

I think Erik nails it when he says accountability may give opportunity not to kill the root of sin, but to actually increase a fear of man. This is not the fault of accountability, I’m sure, but of the individual’s sinful heart. It’s my fault, not accountability’s. There is some kind of idol in my life that values the acceptance of man or a desire to perform well in the eyes of man more than it desires to be obedient to God for the sake of God. At least, that’s the only explanation I can offer. View article…

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John Piper in Finally Alive speaks about relevance. Using preaching as an example, he writes that there are two ways that people can think of relevance:


1. When someone feels as if something is relevant.


“It might mean that a sermon is relevant if it feels to the listeners that it will make a significant difference in their lives.” p.100 (emphasis his)


2. Things that are relevant whether someone realizes it or not.


“The second kind of relevance is what guides my sermons and my writing. In other words, I want to say things that are really significant for you life whether you know they are or not.” (p.100)


In thinking about relevance in the second way he says that someone would be wrong to walk out of a sermon and say, “that has nothing to do with the real problems this world is facing.” He then writes,


They would be wrong–doubly wrong. They would be wrong, in the first place, in failing to see that what Jesus meant by the new birth is supremely relevant for racism and global warming and abortion and health care and all the other issues of our day… And they would be wrong, secondly, in thinking that those issues are the most important issues in life. They aren’t. They are life and death issues. But they are not the most important because they deal with the relief of suffering during this brief earthly life, not the relief of suffering during the eternity that follows. Or to put it positively, they deal with how to maximize well-being now for eighty years or so, but not with how to maximize well-being in the presence of God for eighty trillion years and more. (p.100,101)


Let us pray that those who come to Grace have their eyes opened to the reality of the Word being relevant to real life problems and that they might behold Christ and put their faith in Him that their greatest need might be met. View article…

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… One Another

  • “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50)
  • “you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)
  • “love one another… Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34)
  • “love for one another” (John 13:35)
  • “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)
  • “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (John 15:17)
  • “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10)
  • “live in harmony with one another” (Rom 12:16)
  • “love one another” (Rom 13:8)
  • “no longer pass judgment on one another” (Rom 14:13)
  • “welcome one another” ((Rom 15:7)
  • “admonish one another” (Rom 15:14)
  • “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16)
  • “wait for one another” (1 Cor 11:33)
  • “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25)
  • “agree with one another” (2 Cor 13:11)
  • “through love become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13)
  • “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2)
  • “bear with one another lovingly” (Eph 4:2)
  • “be kind and compassionate to one another” (Eph 4:32)
  • “be subject to one another” (Eph 5:21)
  • “bear with one another…forgive one another” (Col 3:13)
  • “abound in love for one another” (1 Thess 3:12)
  • “you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess 4:9)
  • “encourage one another” (1 Thess 4:18)
  • “comfort one another…build one another up” (1 Thess 5:11)
  • “be at peace with one another…do good to one another” (1 Thess 5:13)
  • “do good to one another” (1 Thess 5:15)
  • “exhort one another every day” (Heb 3:13)
  • “provoke one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24)
  • “not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:25)
  • “confess your sins to one another…pray for one another” (Jas 5:16)
  • “love one another from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22)
  • “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another” (1 Pet 3:8)
  • “be hospitable to one another without complaining” (1 Pet 4:9)
  • “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Pet 4:10)
  • “meet one another with humility” (1 Pet 5:5)
  • “greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Pet 5:14)
  • “have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7)
  • “this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11)
  • “we know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (1 John 3:14)
  • “we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16)
  • “love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23)
  • “let us love one another, because love is from God” (1 John 4:7)
  • “we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11)
  • “if we love one another, God lives in us” (1 John 4:12)
  • “let us love one another” (2 John 5)

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Developing Christian Accountability

Accountability allows us to be answerable to one another, focusing on key relationships such as with our spouse, close friends, colleagues, coworkers, a boss, small group members, and pastor. It is sharing, in confidence, our heartfelt Christian sojourn in an atmosphere of trust. Then, we can give an answer for what we do and understand where we need help in areas where we are weak and struggling, where and how we are growing, what we are learning, and to be encouraged. These precepts help us to stay on track, and get prayer, care, and support when we fail. We can also model guideposts for one another in order to keep going. View article…

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15 Efforts to Increase First Time Visitors in the small church

The pastors were surveyed as to their intentional efforts that seemed fruitful to reach new people and increase the retention of first time church visitors.

1.   Emphasis on Invite a Friend

2.   Utilize advertising — phone, letters, ads, signs

3.   Start new programs

4.   Welcome visitors better

5.   Encourage lay visitation

6.   Follow up with visitors

7.   Conduct pastoral visitation

8.   Focus on children’s ministries

9.   Deliver visitor welcome packets and baked goods

10.                Offer pastoral care to the community

11.                Redirect existing programs outward

12.                Clarify the meaning of being a Christian

13.                Pray intentionally for unreached people.

14.                Provide opportunities for new people to serve

15.                Plan for special evangelistic events.

From Ron Crandall’s Turnabout and Beyond

As I look at this list I can’t help but be slightly disgusted. Just some random comments from the list

3. New Programs – Obviously the old programs like feed the hungry, visit those who are sick or in prison (ok, hopefully they won’t be first time visitors until they get out legally), are too old, heck they are practically Biblical.

New Programs, reminds me of professors requiring new versions of a textbook that has all the same content but a different cover.

4. Welcome friends better – ok, I agree with this one –but- I have to confess, I am tired of people who sit in the back row, stick their head in a book, make no eye contact, refuse to talk to people claiming “I’m shy” and then complaining that the church was cold and unfriendly.

5, 7 Visitation – Depends on who is visiting? I really don’t want a lot of women running around my house. There aren’t that many guys who I’d welcome into my house. Isn’t coming to my house by invitation, not “Hi, you filled out a card, we are 3 total strangers who are eager to fill your evening. Is it ok if we come in?

8. Focus on Children’s Ministries – Why? I go to a church where there are few children and even less I want to see. Unless they are the child of a member, I really don’t need to be stared at by a bunch of kids wanting free English lessons. Go home and get thee to a hagwon. Most of the foreigners in my church are child-free, most are single. Why would we want to have the very group that points at us, stares at us, and makes us feel like animals?

In general children don’t behave, have less supervision than a non-housebroken saint Bernard with a dead owner, and distracting to anyone attempting to love their neighbor (well at least those 13 or older). Unless they are on a parental leash keep them at home!

I have always liked the idea of a children’s bus ministry especially if it was going off a cliff. Assuming they were all saved, what’s the problem? Hey, don’t look at me like that!

9. Baked goods – Aren’t most Americans overweight? Maybe the church should give out salads instead. Why am I bribing you like a dog with treats to come to church? If you want to hear the gospel, you already have living water. If you don’t have living water, a brownie ain’t gonna do you much in hell.

10. Offer pastoral care to the community – Especially if it comes with cookies but keep  the gospel out of reach. When I was in the hospital with my step-father before he died, I was amazed at how little the chaplains, who knew I was a Christian would talk about Jesus. They were so community oriented; they couldn’t speak the gospel if the ear bit them on the backside.

Ok, most of the above, should be taken with a grain of salt. Some I mean every word of. 🙂

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What Are You Looking for in a Church?


Some people couldn’t care less about religion. They do not believe in God; and “church,” in their opinion, would be a burden and a waste of time. There are not many theoretical atheists (the evidence for God’s existence is much too compelling); there are, though, legions of practical atheists—those who profess belief, but live as if there were no God.

Most folks, however, have a genuine conviction that there is a Creator and they believe they owe him allegiance. Accordingly, if they really are conscientious about that, frequently they will search for a church. They may choose one associated with a family tradition, or they may simply go shopping for something near their home. Neither of these avenues of pursuit is necessarily wise.

Churches are plentiful. If one lives in a metropolitan area, he scarcely will be more than a few blocks from a church building. There are large facilities and smaller ones. There are bright, well-kept places, while others are run down. If you are looking for material constructions, you can just about have your choice. Unfortunately, it is the case all too often that “church” choices are superficial. For many, spiritual considerations are not the prime factor in a church selection.

In looking for a church, the first consideration for some is what type of facilities or programs are available. For example, is the building comfortable? What sort of seating is provided, or how is the temperature regulated? Is the parking convenient? Is there a commodious nursery? Is a day-care facility available? Are there recreational and social activities for the members? Do you have a “bail-out” program in case I get behind on my car or house payments?

Notice that all such questions are grounded in physical-material interests. Others move in a slightly different direction. They want to know: Do you have a good music program? Is there, perhaps, a chorus or “praise” teams? Is your church a democracy where everyone has the right to help make church decisions, etc.? Questions of this nature, though sincere, indicate the need for a more mature level of knowledge.

More crucial are the following considerations: What does this church stand for? Does it hold the conviction that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God? Does the leadership believe in the uniqueness of the New Testament church pattern and strive to lead the congregation in the direction of faithfulness, as opposed to a loose philosophy which alleges that most all “Christian” churches are okay, and doctrine really doesn’t matter? Does the church have an “open-door” policy where folks can simply float in or out at their convenience, with no accountability to the leadership? Such is not a responsible way to conduct the Lord’s business.

Does sound doctrine emanate from the pulpit—teaching that enriches the soul and inoculates against worldliness and false doctrine? Or are people looking for speakers who are jokesters, stand-up comics, with a repertoire of jokes that ridicule the church and biblical preaching?

Are we anxious to have leaders who love us and are concerned about our souls? Or do we prefer to be left alone to craft religious procedure according to our personal tastes? Do we want healthy teaching that reproves, exhorts and, when needed, rebukes? Or would we rather have that mushy, feel-good psycho-babble?

Are we still interested in restoring the original church, or have we gravitated toward the Joel Osteen, Rick Warren “community church” motif? There is much talk these days about the “emerging church.” The so-called church is one that has “emerged” from the restraints of New Testament authority and is of the Jeroboam variety (1 Kings 12:25-33). Far too many want a religion fashioned after their own inclinations (Colossians 2:23), with just a faint aroma of pristine Christianity.

Congregations that have been identified with a “restoration” principle for many years are coming under a new leadership that is charting a course more toward Rome than Jerusalem, and scores of naive people can’t tell the difference. Many need to look into the mirror of divine truth (James 1:23-24), and ask themselves this question: “What am I looking for in a church?” View Article

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Scripture speaks of God’s people in the language of saints. We do not. Scripture speaks of Christians as a family. We do not. Why is there such a difference between the way the Biblical writers describe us and the way that we describe ourselves?Business people who attend assertiveness classes are taught about the important power of positive thinking. They learn the danger of negativity and especially the depressing consequences of working in an environment in which their status is constantly undermined. If someone keeps talking you down, sooner or later you’ll feel yourself on the ground.


The problem is that this kind of negativity has invaded the church – and we have unwittingly endorsed it. But modern Christians now talk themselves down. Older writers followed the Biblical example and kept their descriptions of Christians high – for these people, Christians were ‘saints’, and with respect to one another, we were to be ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. But, by and large, we’ve abandoned the terms. We’re prepared to think of ourselves as something less than ‘saints’. We’re prepared to treat one another as something less than brothers and sisters. We’ve forgotten the metaphors and abandoned the power of Biblical thinking.

The metaphors are vitally important, because how we describe ourselves ultimately impacts how we behave. Think about it – how we describe ourselves is vitally important to who we believe we are; how we describe ourselves is basic to what we think about ourselves; how we think about ourselves is basic to the way we act.

Isn’t that the reason we have forgotten the Biblical identities we possess? We are reluctant to call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ because we’re not prepared to act as if we were each other’s brother or sister. We are reluctant to call ourselves ‘saints’ because we’d rather not live under the expectations that name involves.

But these terms are important. Bible writers in both testaments use the term ‘saints’ to emphasise that God’s people are his ‘holy ones’. The New Testament epistles constantly reiterate that these saints have been brought into a family relationship with their heavenly Father, and hence with one another.

Thomas Goodwin has something vital to say about our forgotten metaphors. We should keep on calling ourselves ‘saints’, he writes, ‘that the reality of the true religion be not lowered (as it is) by avoiding this title, which in these times is out of use; but it is [out of use] because true holiness is out of fashion’ (Works vol. I, page 11).

Let’s recover the metaphors. Let’s embrace our identity as ‘saints’. Let’s embrace one another as the brothers and sisters of the family of God.

View article…

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Errors of the “Church Growth Movement”

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

“Is it any wonder that the doctrine of eternal damnation is de-emphasized in preaching today? Is it any wonder that God is spoken of mostly as a God of love, and seldom as the God of indescribable eternal wrath? D. L. Moody, the turn-of-the-century American evangelist, set the pattern by refusing to preach about hell. He made the preposterous statement that “Terror never brought a man in yet.” That a major evangelist could make such a theologically unsupported statement and expect anyone to take him seriously testifies to the theologically debased state of modern evangelicalism. It has gotten no better since he said it.” (Gary North, cited by Kenneth Gentry – The Greatness of the Great Commission, pp. 158-159)

Proponents of the church growth movement are to be commended for two things, their zeal for evangelism and their desire to understand those to whom they minister. Having said that, we must ask some serious questions regarding their methods, and even more importantly, their results. It is tempting to look at churches that are growing numerically as signs of Spiritual Health. But what kind of “fruitful results” does the church growth movement bear? Their methods do seem to cause particular churches to grow, but does “church growth” equal true conversion? Some startling research polls (yes, research polls can tell us a lot) suggest otherwise.

  • Half of born again Christians (46%) agree that Satan is “not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” (2007)
  • 37% of born agains believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven. (2007)
  • 26% of born agains agree that “while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people,” compared to 41% of all adults. (2007)
  • Born again Christians are more likely than non-born again individuals to accept moral absolutes. Specifically, 36% of born agains said they believe in moral absolutes, compared to just 16% among non-born agains. (2006)
    Barna Research Group on Born Again Christians)

As we can see, about half (at least) of our “born again Christians” are not born again, yet some churches are growing. The real tragedy is when these poor goats actually believe that they are sheep because of a repeated prayer or a “decision for Christ”. Furthermore, the church growth crowd can’t seem to tell the difference. Here is a summary of errors that are presumed by the church growth movement:

1.) It assumes that unsaved people are a good judge of their own Spiritual needs. We have twice examined the marketing questionnaires used by church growth pundits, and they are clearly a promise to give the “unchurched customer” what he wants. The result is that the world begins to influence (and even dictate) to the church how to operate in regards to worship, preaching, and evangelism. What the “unchurched” person needs is not a church that makes him feel comfortable, convenient, or fulfilled. What he needs is to be born again, and that information cannot be obtained by marketing research.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

For the rest of this interesting article, please visit  View article…

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The Church must never be in any sense a little huddle of pious people, shutting their doors against the world, lost in prayer and praise, connoisseurs of preaching and liturgy, busy mutually congratulating themselves on the excellence of their Christian experience.

    … William Barclay (1907-1978), In the Hands of God [1967]


 A conversion is incomplete if it does not leave one integrated into the Church. By this we do not mean any particular part of the Church; what we do mean is that conversion must leave one linked in loving fellowship with one’s fellow believers. Conversion is not something simply between a man and Jesus Christ, with no other person involved.

True, it may start in that way; but it cannot end in that way.

Conversion is not individualistic. It is, in fact, just the opposite. It joins man to his fellow men, and certainly does not separate him from them. (Continued tomorrow)

    … William Barclay (1907-1978), In the Hands of God [1967]

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