revival

What Can We Learn from Dead Churches?

Photo credit: unsplash.com KHillacre Throughout the history of the Christian church, there have been cycles of life and death. Cycles of revival and decline are evident by their impact upon the culture around them—both good and bad.

What about individual churches? You can find similar cycles of revival and decline. Some churches seem to thrive, while others struggle to survive.

Is death and decline an inevitable destination for every church? Not if we're willing to learn from history.

Thom S Rainer's book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, doesn't sound like a fun read. I wouldn't call it fun, but it is enlightening, and in the end, encouraging.

I could easily see various churches I've known or been involved with that identified with Rainer's post-life church assessment. These are actual churches Dr Rainer worked with and knew.

He begins with a story of a church as if it had been a patient, in denial of her real condition. She no longer had vision and followed a familiar path to death. It's a sobering look at fourteen different churches who died. The author provides insights as to why, and later gives twelve responses to the question, "Is There Hope...?"

What is learned from the autopsy

Amazon-Autopsy_ChurchAll the insights Rainer writes about are helpful, but a few struck home in a sad way. He speaks of the Slow Erosion (Chap 2) that takes place, and of the inward and rigid focus a church develops.

In the The Past Is the Hero (Chap 3), a fixation develops on the "good old days." I've seen this too often in churches who experienced high points during the Jesus Movement, but this applies to other churches also. Rainer says this was the "most pervasive and common thread" in all of the autopsies, which created a backwards-looking vision.

This nostalgic, inward focus eventually leads to a church with ...No Clear Purpose (Chap 10). I've seen this way too often, churches that "do church," but have no clear direction or purpose except to exist.

Out of place and out of sorts

Rainer's small, succinct chapters yield insights into churches who didn't change, though the community around them did (Chap 4). Other churches rarely prayed together (Chap 9), and others became ...Obsessed Over the Facilities (Chap 11).

A chapter that struck a sad, familiar chord is where, The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission (Chap 6). As a missionary and pastor, this one grieves me the most. The focus of the church becomes so inward that the command to "Go!" is set aside and forgotten.

I see this in both a lack of local evangelistic outreach and disinterest in world missions. This is pervasive throughout America today, along with a diminished focus on discipleship and equipping God's people.

Another great insight looked at the life stages and decrease in pastoral tenure (Chap 8). Rainer lays out five general stages of relationship between a pastor and the church. From my own experience, I found these to be accurate and remember going through or seeing each stage.

Is there hope?

An autopsy isn't fun, unless you're a forensic doctor I guess. So the book doesn't end on a down note but with hope.

Rainer lays out twelve responses to give hope. These are laid out in three categories of churches— those with sick symptoms, very sick, and dying.

You might think the last category isn't going to have much hope, but you'd be wrong. It's all a matter of focus and perspective, which is lost in a sick or dying church.

Final thoughts

I was sent this book by my friend, Pastor Bill Holdridge, who established Poimen Ministries, and graciously allows me to be part of this ministry to pastors and churches. He's seen all of this more than I have. If you're a pastor and concerned about the health of your church, I encourage you to contact Bill or any of us with Poimen Ministries.

So I recommend Dr Rainer's book for any pastor, no matter what your current role may be in church. It is well worth the read.

Here's a blog post of Dr Rainer's that echoes much of the same issues in his book– 8 Reasons Many Churches Are Living in the 1980's

Another resource I recommend is the blog of Pastor Karl Vaters, especially for pastors of small churches– New Small Church. Karl has a clear focus and purpose that is healthy and outward, and is a great encouragement to many.


If any of this post encourages you, or you see its value for someone else, please feel free to share it! Thanks for reading!

 

Risking Community to the Next Generation

Photo credit: unsplash.com_lukepamer I've found a kindred spirit in Pastor Ed Underwood. Ed is pastor of the historic Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, CA.

We are both products of the Jesus People Movement of the early 1970's, fans of the LA Dodgers and the USC Trojans, and grandparents.

We're ministry veterans (old guys) who want to see a fresh revival in the church, and are committed to intentional, relational discipleship to equip and raise up the next generation of leaders. Here's Ed's post

Sooner or later, the ones who always get things done in a local church, the ones who make the key decisions, they will die.

It’s a one-to-one ratio. Everyone in our faith communities will die–pastors, elders, deacons, volunteers, teachers, and everyday serious disciples of Christ–every one of us will die.

A sad reality? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be a desperate problem.

Unless the ones who are closest to the end refuse to risk what Jesus risked: Handing off his community to the next generation.

[bctt tweet="We need to risk what Jesus risked: Handing off his community to the next generation. @EdUnderwood" via="no"]

Jesus’ community is the church. Notice that he didn’t choose one person over forty to birth his church.

Notice also that Jesus’ devoted followers, the Apostles, were constantly building into the next generation. Peter took John Mark under wing, Paul had his Timothy and Titus.

But all the teaching, equipping and modeling is lost if those of us who are on in years refuse to pass through the threshold of trust.

The Threshold

The day will come when we not only speak truth into the next generation, train the next generation, equip the next generation, and encourage the next generation, but we also hand off to them. Until we trust the next generation to do what we’ve been doing all of our talk about loving community and caring about the future of the work of God is just that.

Talk

Because we’ve stepped back from the real test of trusting God’s Spirit at work in the next generation.

Trust

Until we actually give them voice, space, and ownership, we’re just one more bunch of old Christians clinging to the inertia of institutionalized church.

And we’re the ones who lose, because if we’ve done what Jesus asked us to do–make disciples–we’re missing the greatest earthly joy of community: watching the next generation’s giftedness glorify our Lord.

The Payoff

Last weekend we risked our beloved community, Church of the Open Door, to the next generation.

When I first proposed this radical idea to hand off responsibility for our 100th Centennial Celebration to the next generation there were a few raised eyebrows. I mean this was a big deal. What if they blow it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if? What if? What if?

If you’re reading this and you’re over forty you need to know that you’ll never run out of “what ifs.”

I have some better what ifs:

What if they have creative ideas we would never imagine?

What if they could energize a demographic we’ve lost touch with?

What if they, not us, are on the cutting edge of what the Holy Spirit’s doing in this world?

A tent, family, and hashtags

We risked it.

And rather than blowing it the next generation of Church of the Open Door blew our minds.

With creativity.

With energy.

With a front row seat to the power of the Spirit in their lives.

They wanted informal, not formal. They wanted family friendly, not program driven. They wanted it outside under a tent, not in the worship center. They wanted to build a memory for their children. And they wanted a hashtag rather than a videographer and a memorial magazine.

Wow!

I still can’t figure out how to use the #cod100th hashtag, but every time someone under thirty shows me how I can’t believe how spectacular our 100th Anniversary was.

It seems Church of the Open Door’s future is in good hands.


 

I read Ed's book, Reborn to Be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus, and realized we were kindred spirits. We have similar passions! We want to pass on to the next generation all that Jesus has poured into us.

I hope you'll visit his site where you'll find more great posts and some great resources. Here's the link to the original post on Ed's site— Risking Community to the Next Generation

Ed is featuring one of my recent posts, so check it out at— EdUnderwood.com

What, or Who, Are You Following?

©Lightstock.com©Lightstock.com The advent of social media brought a new twist on the subject of following. Some make a science out of it. Others obsess about gaining more and more followers. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it should mean one simple thing.

Recently, I read an article by a well-known pastor in a Christian online magazine for leaders. What he says is certainly not heresy, but I do take exception with a couple of things he says. Actually, one thing in particular.

The article

I want to make it clear—this is not a knock against this pastor—otherwise I'd make it more personal and name him. I'm sure he's a fine pastor, and I know he's a sought after speaker.

In fairness to him, I get the point of what he says about how the church is perceived by people in general, especially the unchurched. But even in this, I believe he and many of us are missing the primary issue. Here's the paragraph I take issue with—

“The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model,” he continued. “The Church really should be … nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. You don’t have to agree but you shouldn’t dislike it unless there’s more to it.”

Well, there is more to it.

The problem

My concern is the sentence, "nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God...."

When I became a believer, something I've shared about in my book and in earlier posts, I chose to follow Jesus, not just His teaching. Yes, of course, I study what He taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him.

[bctt tweet="I study what Jesus taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him"]

Over the centuries, schisms and splits have come because of differences on doctrine and practice, and theological viewpoints. And so, thousands of church denominations and variations of denominations were born. But the identity of the church is not about doctrine or theology, it's about Jesus.

Heidlbg-schlosseDon't get me wrong, doctrine and practice matter, and good theology is to be valued. This is where we and the rest of the world get sidetracked. It's not about religion, but relationship, and that relationship is with Jesus.

I'm reminded of my conversation with our guide at the castle in Heidelberg. He told me that we (American) evangelicals seem to focus on Jesus more than they (European Protestants) do. He's right, but not as right as we'd like to believe.

What matters

Our natural bent as humans drives us to justify ourselves. It started in the garden when Eve, then Adam, made their fateful choice (Gen 3:4-6). Since then, we all try to cover our nakedness with fig leaves of some kind to cover our guilt, shame, inadequacy, or whatever (Gen 3:7).

This effort at self-justification takes on all sorts of forms, and is popularized by the expression, "We're saved by grace, not by works" (Eph 2:8). We can say that, and believe it, but do we live it?

Over the years, I've seen and heard many people conclude one person or another is not "saved" because of what they believe. I've also heard plenty of people claim spiritual rightness based on what they believe.

But the Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son. Here are a few of the many places this is made clear—

  • Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23— Jesus calls "whoever" to follow Him
  • John 14:6-11— Jesus makes it clear that He is the only Way to the Father
  • 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17— the apostle Paul makes it clear who he is following to his followers (disciples)
  • Hebrews 8:7-13 (especially verses 10 and 11)— the basis of Christianity—the New Covenant—is relationally-based, not performance-based

[bctt tweet="The Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son"]

Does the church need rebranding or revival?

Back to the article's content, the pastor contends the church has become "unnecessarily resistible" and needs rebranding. Is this really our responsibility?

Does the church need rebranding or revival? It seems to me we need revival.

Whenever there's been revival, the church didn't shape itself, it exalted Jesus. The revival was the work of God, not the followers who experienced it. My only experience with revival was during the Jesus Movement.

I suppose you could say the church got rebranded in those days, but it wasn't because a pastor, group of pastors, or churches decided it was needed. The outpouring of God's Spirit into those who became believers brought change because they were changed.

[bctt tweet="Does the church need rebranding or revival? I think we need revival, what about you?"]

Revival is God's work, not ours

We were following Jesus, not a set of teachings or new approaches to doing church. As our lives were transformed, we wanted to go to church, and we came "just as we were." We wanted to hear God's Word taught, and wanted to worship with abandon, and we wanted to tell others about Jesus.

I've been reading a book that challenges the church today about the need for revival. The book is called, "Reborn to Be Wild" by Ed Underwood. In the book he challenges readers to a radical commitment to Jesus.

Revival is God's work, not ours. He brings it about as He changes us from the inside out. The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, we need a change of heart. We need to follow Jesus with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30).

[bctt tweet="The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, but a change of heart"]

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“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)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!


[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”


This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel

What Should We Do?

When John the Baptist began preaching and challenging the status quo of his day, he caused quite a stir. Nowadays it's called revival. He was a non-conformist, an independent preacher. But he was not self-ordained, he had a prophetic call upon his life—even before his conception (Luke 1:13-17). His role in life and ministry was preparing people for the coming Messiah. When he preached—and it was strong preaching—people listened and responded (Luke 3:3-9). After hearing the strong words of John's message the people's response was simple—"What should we do?" (Luke 3:10 GW).



There was a different response on the part of the religious leaders of the day—indifference or rejection. But most people saw John for who he was—a prophet sent from God. The response to John's message—his preaching—was a stirring of the heart deeper than emotion. It's called conviction. People knew things were not right and their life needed change.


The great value of preaching is spiritual truth stirring a person's heart towards God. But there's a difference between preaching empowered by God's Spirit and good preaching. The first, like John the Baptizer and Jesus, stirs a genuine conviction of guilt and response of the heart towards God. Preaching that is good can be used by God, but also by the one preaching.


Preaching is persuasive. It stirs the heart to engage the mind. This is why it can be hijacked by the preacher pursuing his own end. When driven by God's Spirit there's a pure motive. But when driven by ambition, or some other human trait, it can be manipulative. Looking at the present state of the church, both in the US and worldwide, I wonder about the motive or ambition of many who are preachers. It is not my place to judge anyone's heart, but I am responsible to examine the fruit of any preacher's ministry (Matt 7:15-20), as my own preaching should be examined. 


Christianity, in developed nations, has enjoyed unparalleled popularity in the past few decades. Even in many closed countries there has been great growth in the spread of the Gospel. And yet, I wonder about the state of the church, especially in the US. If we have so much great preaching, which I believe is true, why are we not seeing a wholesale change in our nation—spiritually and culturally?


I'm sure there are many who would contest my question, pointing to the growth of many churches and the reported thousands who have committed their lives to Christ. So, how could I ask such a question? In my experience over the past forty-plus years of being a believer in ministry service, I'm seeing less and less instance of the question—What should we do?—the fruit of genuine conviction.


True revival changes culture, even within a decadent culture such as the Roman Empire. The birth of the church, in Acts 2, saw its first large ingathering of people who asked the same question—"Brothers, what should we do?" (Acts 2:37). Why are we not seeing more people asking this question? I believe if this were the case we'd see dramatic change within our own culture, like what is seen in other cultures throughout the world undergoing genuine revival.


When I hear teaching and preaching on the great ingathering of Acts 2:41, the focus is usually on how many people were added to the church and Peter's answer to the question. I wonder how different things might be if there was more emphasis on what happened for the people. In Acts 2:37, it says, "and they were cut to the heart"—that's true conviction by the Holy Spirit.


If that's not the response of people after preaching, why is this so? Does the message need to change, or the motivation of the preacher?


I long for genuine, Holy Spirit conviction to be seen. I long for it in my own heart. I've experienced this at various times in my life—even while doing the preaching—and that's even more convicting, but welcome. How about you—do you see this question in the hearts of people...in your own heart?