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Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

10
Jun

How do you pray?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble

[This post was originally published on Jeff’s blog.]

In 2014, a in-depth study was done on the praying life of Americans. 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily. 45% of Americans — and a majority of Christians (55%) — say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions.

 

I’m a pray-er. And I need prayer. I truly believe that God is both good and powerful – that His every interaction with us is cloaked with love. When we can’t grasp what He’s doing, and we don’t feel like following, when we are certain of His love, we can trust and “carry on.”

It is prayer that allows us to carry on.

Prayer.

Not the rote, repetitive kind. I’m talking about honest, vulnerable conversation with God. Prayer is the literal engine of our faith.

Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God that “If you have an obedience problem, you have a love problem.” This truth has the potential to transform your relationship with God from one of grudging “have-to” to one of joyful “want-to.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14.12) When we understand how much God loves us, we will want to submit our lives to Him.

I think Blackaby could better emphasize prayer as a significant dimension of our relationship with God in his book, however. (It’s not that he de-emphasizes it.) Loving God should lead to our obeying God. It’s just that in the process between loving God and obeying God, there should be a lot of honest, vulnerable and perhaps even painful conversation. To put it another way, it’s our conversation with God (or lack of it) that reveals what we really believe about Him.

If we simply obey without conversation, without affirmation, without affection, we are missing the point. We must tell Him why we’re obeying. In some cases, we may obey from sheer duty and faith (we don’t want to, but we trust His Word is right and true). At other times, we joyfully obey Him because we sense His pleasure and see His purpose.

All along the way, we must pray.

In Victorious Living, E. Stanley Jones explains how prayer changes us more than it changes God:

Prayer is not bending God to our wills–it is the bringing of our wills to God’s. When we throw out a boat hook and catch hold of the shore, do we pull the shore to ourselves? Rather we pull ourselves to the shore. Prayer does not pull God to us, it pulls us to God. It aligns our wills with His will, so that He can do things through us that He would not otherwise have been able to do. An almighty Will works through our weak wills, and we can do things all out of proportion to our ability. Prayer is, therefore, not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Those who pray link up with that willingness.

Kent Hughes summarizes Jones like this in his book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome:

Prayer is surrender–surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.

I love that we are invited and expected to pray by God. That should be a huge clue as to how much He loves us. It should also reveal that as we pray, we will grow and see Him work. Prayer is our intimate connection to a God that loves us and is transforming us daily. When we pray, we know His heart and mind. When we obey, we experience His will.

Prayer Journaling

Last year, I began a different approach to my prayers. I use the back 4-5 pages in my journal for prayers. Here’s how it looks:

  1. One page is reserved for “prayer requests” – things that others have asked me to pray for.
  2. One page is reserved for “prayers” – things I’m aware of about my own life or others (that they’ve not asked me to pray for)
  3. One page is reserved for missionaries. I pray for a different missionary/team/org each day of the week.
  4. One page is reserved for “answers.” I always date a prayer request on the pages above, and if I see an answer, I’ll notate it again with the date I see an answer. On this page, I also list answers to prayer. Sometimes, I’ll be praying about something and have forgotten to write it down, and when I see an answer that delights me, I want to record it.

This part of my journal has become well-used. It’s a humble privilege to pray for others, and a refreshment to my own heart to see that God responds so faithfully.

According to the survey I cited earlier, there’s a whole lotta prayin‘ going on in America. It’s sobering that people of all religions pray in some way. How do you pray? May I encourage you to do so constantly, confidently and expectantly? He loves you.

More on Prayer here on the Blog:
17
Apr

Why…?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble

Here’s a post from The Boars Head Tavern by Michael Spencer. Buckle down. It’s pretty much a soap box piece, but one well-suited for the likes of IP.

Why are Christians so convinced that stadium events are going to change the world? Why are massive gatherings like Promise Keepers, Battle Cry and, now, “The Call ‘07″ so attractive to Christians? Is this just a measurement of how far evangelicalism has gone down its own rabbit hole? Has our concept of discipleship gotten this bad, that a bunch of church folks driving to a stadium and singing songs is really going to change the world? Why is it so difficult to see what read discipleship means?

Why do we continue to believe the bizarre mythology that this country is a Christian nation in covenant with God, instead of acknowledging that we are no different from any other nation? Why do so many Christians fall for any Old Testament passage applied to America as “my people?” Why are so many Christians more interested in American politics than the Kingdom of God?

Why can people claiming to be “prophets” twist the scripture into whatever they want it to say, even using dreams and visions as justification, and get straight-faced acceptance from people carrying Bibles? Why can a person saying “God spoke to me” supercede scripture a a matter of routine in many churches?

Why are Christians in America so convinced that God wants to “turn things around” and revive the church in America? Why can’t they see what is happening around the world? Is it simply our ethno-centrism, church variety? Why can’t we see that the WORST thing that could happen to world Christianity is to become like the church in America, stadiums, t-shirts, praise bands and all?

Why do we believe that singing and raising our hands is worship? Hasn’t every pastor in America preached at least one series of messages on “True Worship” that cleared that one up?

Why does Christian media, TV, radio, and web sites translate all this nonsense onto my radar so I wind up ranting about it?

13
May

What are you bringing on Sunday?

   Posted by: Adam Wilson

Have you ever taken some time to focus on what you and your friends/family talk about right after leaving church on Sunday? Hopefully you are spending some time reflecting with others on the service. So what do you talk about in the car ride home or when you go out to lunch?

It is too often that I hear out of my mouth or others things like, “So what’d you get out of the worship today?” Or often times, “I didn’t really like that song” and “I hate it when the pastor’s sermon goes 5 minutes over. He does that all the time!”

The problem with these comments we often make is that they reveal our self-centered heart condition. Going to church on Sunday is not primarily about you or me. It is about worshiping the One True God and celebrating His Son, Jesus. If church is about worshiping the Lord, then what we need to be thinking about is what we are bringing before Him, not what we are receiving.

God has gifted each follower of Christ uniquely to be a blessing to the Church and the body is not whole without you. It is my prayer that we would arrive at our churches every week, with our minds set on what we can offer before the Lord and how we can bless His name with the gifts He has given us.

It is my hope that our measurement of our church services will move from “What did I get out of it.” to become, “Was the Lord honored and did we worship Him in Spirit and in truth?”

23
Jun

An informal survey of the unchurched

   Posted by: Mandy Moss

[The following post was a collaboration between Mandy and Jeff…]

Church has become quite a hot topic issue in the recent years. Move to a southern town, and the question you’re most likely to hear after “What’s your daddy’s name?” is “Do you go to church?” After that, you’ll most likely hear:

“What church did you go to where you lived before?”
“Are you looking at any churches here?”
“You should come to my church.”
“We’d love to see you Sunday!”
With so many people ready to pounce on any newcomer or anyone they discover is not attending a church, the question remains, “Why do some choose against going to church?”

In a quest to answer this very question, a series of five simple questions were sent to several people that have struggled with attending church. They were all more than willing to answer. I felt their urgency to be heard on this issue and also realized that their responses would have a lot of relevance for churches seeking to understand how to better reach people.

The questions were as follows:

What do you dislike most about churches?
What do you think churches should do more of?
What do you think churches should do less of?
What is one church you would like to attend one day? Why?
What would you be least likely to attend:
a) A Sunday morning worship service.
b) A small group in someone’s home that you know.
c) A service project with folks from a church.
d) An evangelistic revival-crusade type meeting.

1. What do you dislike most about churches?

When answering the first question, the answers were amazingly similar. “Churchy” people were much disliked. Another issue was friendliness (or lack of it). One explained that in times when they had branched out and tried a church, they were ignored at church, shunned, and even talked about during the service by those sitting around them. Even worse, some were treated kindly Sunday morning before services started, but as soon as church was over, everyone “got into their own cliques” and seemingly forgot they were even there. No one was invited out to lunch with the group, no one was invited to sit and chat after church, no one was contacted again by anyone.

Churches being too politically correct came up again and again as well. Though most disliked the “fire and brimstones” sermons, they also grew tired of only hearing of Christ’s love. They knew that they should leave church feeling both uplifted and ready to make changes. “Are pastors afraid to anger their congregations? Would a sermon speaking against premarital sex or judging those around you make too many red in the face?”

2. What do you think churches should do more of?

When asked what they thought churches should do more of, answers varied from more community involvement to being more “real.” Less pressure and more relating scriptural application to their life were very common themes as well. One answer that I personally enjoyed was, “Less technical terms. A lot of times a preacher will be speaking through their own intellectual level instead of that of a common group as a whole. Just as with computer lingo, preachers typically use lingo that is not necessarily well known to the group he is preaching to. For instance, Evangelical. Now, I can look that word up and still not decipher the meaning or usage. We need laymen’s terms.”

3. What do you think churches should do less of?

The third question seemed to stir up the most heat. The people questioned all had very similar answers again. The gist of what they said was, “Stop pressuring me!” People are tired of continuously being pressured to give more money, to attend more often, and to confess sins. They basically articulated that one will do those things in their own time. They asked, “Isn’t it better to do these things with an open heart, than do them because you feel forced to?”

4. What is one church you would like to attend one day? Why?

This question got the least answers. Most simply said they didn’t know of any churches they would like to attend. Only one answered: The Church at Rock Creek (in Little Rock). When asked why, the answer was simply because they had heard the pastor on the radio, and they thought he seemed to be in touch with what Christians of today are faced with. They also mentioned that he speaks in a language anyone can understand.

5. What would you be least likely to attend…?

The answers to the last question were divided. People were least likely to attend both a small group in someone’s home they knew and an evangelistic revival-crusade type meeting.

Observations

With all of the “church talk” that swarms around, I found it a bit shocking that only one person could think of a single church they would like to attend one day. What are we as churches doing wrong in this area? What are we doing to keep people away? Are we doing anything wrong, or is it a preconceived notion of how “churches” are?

My question in response to the objection of feeling forced to do something spiritual vs. wanting to do it is, “What is a pastor to do?” In my personal opinion, my pastor’s job is to give me Biblical truths, to guide me in my spiritual life, and to come to me if he sees me struggling or making wrong choices.

Matthew 18:15-17 says:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector.

When a pastor is so well aware of what truths the Bible holds and how they impact lives, how can we expect him to hold his tongue when dealing with us and how we live? To me, people that care about you will address issues with you that they see are holding you back or keeping you down. Don’t we want our pastors and church family to care about us? Perhaps the problem lies in this: Some people only hear from their church what they do wrong, and there is no care behind it, only judgment.

I was also rather surprised about responses to what they would be least likely to participate in. Why were so many turned off at the thought of attending a small group? Though they did not give their specific reasons, I’m assuming it’s because of the pressure they think will be put upon them to participate their first time coming or to have all of the answers. I’m also assuming they think that they will be even more harshly judged if their questions or answers don’t match up with the typical Xeroxed Christian responses.

Upon pondering all of the answers and writing them out, it occurred to me that the most used word in all of them was simply – judgment. It is understandable that no one wants to be judged. No one wants to be gossiped about or excluded from a group. No one wants to feel like the black sheep or unwanted. It is absolutely inexcusable that anyone would walk into a building set apart for Christ’s followers and have any of these feelings. If we are truly following Christ, we will love people – ALL people. We will hurt when they hurt. We will put ourselves in their place and think of how we would want to be treated. We will remember The Golden Rule. The twist on this is that we, as Christians, are no different. We also do not want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to think poorly of us or assume how we are, or what we think, based on how any other Christian has believed or acted.

The reason we are Christians is because we are completely aware that we are sinners. We are not and never will be perfect. This truth often means that we are called hypocrites. How can we sit in church each Sunday when we were using drugs Friday night? How can we raise our hands and worship the Lord when we gossiped Tuesday? The answer, my friends, is because we are on a journey. It is a never-ending journey to be more and more like Christ each day. Yes, we will stumble. Absolutely we will fall. Praise God that he never stumbles or falls. He is always there, each day, to wipe the dirt off of our stained faces, and to forgive our truly confessed sins, and to help us do better, and better, and better. We are in a constant battle of flesh vs. spirit. We must have other Christians, strong Christians, surrounding us to help us on our journey. To keep us on the right path. Sometimes to anger us with their truths, sometimes to hold us as we crumble, and many times just to have good fellowship with.

The Bible warns us about looking down on and judging others.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (Romans 2:1-3 )

“Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 )

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14 )

These are just a few examples of scripture that shows the obvious distain Christ has for judgment on his people. I believe that we who attend church should be held to much higher standards than other should, for we hear God’s word each week. As Romans 2:1 says: “You, therefore, have no excuse….” From the outside looking in, it is easy to see how so many refuse to step foot inside a sanctuary. In our church, Journey, I know that we spend great amounts of time in conversation and in prayer about how we can reach those that have given up on church. How we can be more welcoming and more loving. Less “churchy” and less judgmental. I see our numbers growing each week. I see people from so many walks of life entering the front doors and leaving with smiles on their faces, and returning the next Sunday, and the next. I know that God is working through us. The joy that provides so many of us is simply indescribable.

We must all be careful not to use the “do not judge” line in order to avoid accountability and thus refuse to submit to biblical authority or pastoral guidance. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 explains the importance of discernment and discipline inside the church. We are to be held accountable for our actions by fellow believers.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Wrapping up this long list of likes and dislikes of many people in reference to churches, I think it is imperative that we all, Christian and non-Christian, remember that oh so important word of judgment. We are all guilty of it. Instead of pointing fingers at each other for being the imperfect creatures that God created us to be, let’s hold out our entire hand, fingers stretched out, and embrace one another, faults and all, just as Christ has done. Let us not be afraid to speak God’s truth to each other, and let us not be quick to be offended when we hear it. Remember to do all things out of love. All things with a compassionate heart. Let us make this day the day we soften our hearts to one another and let God’s love shine through us.

16
Mar

Closing the Back Door of the Church

   Posted by: Richard Pool

Thank you to Jeff for inviting me to contribute to this site. I hope I can contribute something of value to the ongoing conversation we can all enjoy.

The subject of this post has been swirling around in my mind for a long time, but a recent day spent at a seminar,coupled with a determination to get pastoral care working right in the church, has stirred my thinking.

Let me begin with a simple definition or two for our thoughts:

The back door of the church is used to describe the exit path of anyone who leaves the church in a non-positive way. In other words they leave unnoticed, or in a bad way with guilt or hurt or something similar in their baggage.

The front door is the point of entry into the church through which everyone arrives. It’s also the exit path of those who leave positively. The front door is all about welcome and integration into the life of the church.

Given that these definitions are working definitions, it’s highly likely that there will be times when we mix our metaphors, but as long as we understand that there is a good way into church, agood way out of church and a bad way out of church, we should be okay.

My personal goal is to develop a strategy that connects the front and back doors and helps as many people as possible to leave well if leaving is what they must do.

This conversation is mainly about the back door, but if we manage the front door well, I think that will help us manage the back door better.

People get to the back door for a whole host of reasons. A good strategy for closing the back door must begin with how we stop someone’s progress towards the back door of the church. If they reach the back door, it will be much harder to stop them once they cross the threshold.

I also think that it’s important to understand that no matter what we do, some folk are set on a path that can only ever lead them to the back door of the church. Personal choices and lifestyles, a growing sense of the Holy Spirit convicting them of their need to make changes, can mean that some people will choose to leave rather than face the truth.

However, just because this is true for some, it does not mean it is true for everyone.

Here’s a starting point for thinking about how people arrive at the back door. Ron Kallmier, who lead the seminar I recently attended, pointed us to Luke 15 and described three ways people end up leaving the church (becoming lost).

  1. They get lost by accident. They just wander off like a sheep, not really paying attention and before they no it they are lost.
  2. Lost through the carelessness of someone else. Plenty of people end up getting hurt at church and by church. That hurt and pain festers and eventually they can stand it no more and make their exit.
  3. Lost by choice. Like the prodigal son they make a choice to leave the church because it suites them to do so.

If these are the three major reasons people are lost from the church, we will need to take them all into consideration when building our strategy.

I look forward to sharing the conversation with you.

16
May

Welcome and buckle in!

   Posted by: Jeff Noble

I’m excited about the development of this blog! Let me tell you why I started it…

I grew up in Southern Baptist circles. I deeply appreciate and continue to respect that American tribe of believers for their nurturing of my faith. In 2003, I resigned from being an SB campus minister on a small campus in southeast Arkansas. My family and I felt called to start a new church in our community, one that would be vastly different from the very traditional churches and denominational structures of our area and state. You can read more about that on our church site.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve experienced and seen so much of life outside of denominational circles, that I’ve been deeply impacted and convicted about just how confining those structures actually were and are. I have been deeply burdened by how similar American churches look to American businesses, school, and other organizations. Many are run by the same principles and processes. I’ve seen very few that are earnestly attempting to be “led by the Spirit.” It seems that the GOCC (God Of Common Sense) reigns supreme in Protestantism. So much of American church life lacks spiritual vitality and vibrancy.

I began to look further. There’s not time in this post to trace my mental meanderings through a study of American revivalism, the Keswick movement, Puritanism, and finally to the Protestant Reformation. The PR is where so many of our prominent churches and leaders identify their heroes from. I began to ask myself… “Self, why do so many of us stop there… with Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and others?”

It was then that I began to be deeply impressed that the PR, with all its needed correction of the 16th century RCC (Roman Catholic Church), was also a reaction, a deeply powerful and polarizing reaction.The pendulum was on one side, and as the Reformers identified the issues of their day and began to take their stands (some to the death) on them, the pendulum began to swing back. That’s what my little pea-brain sees.

Today, however, the pendulum of the Reformation has swung far to the other side and we stand in need of great correction and re-identification as the church of Christ. There was much that was lost in the PR in the 15th-16th centuries as a result of the polarizing effects of the conflict. Today, most Protestants are ignorant of valuable, historic, deeply significant, and even mysterious elements of the ancient church. Some may not be recoverable. But many can be.

It is the purpose of this site to link us to our past, to willingly admit our ignorance and seek the wisdom of Christ through His Word and His people. Ours is an Ancient-Present-Future faith. May God increase our love for Him, for each other, and consequently for His Bride, as we shine like a city set on a hill. Let us no longer be ignorant!

Practically, here’s the plan…

  1. Enlist regular contributors from a variety of Protestant backgrounds.
  2. Create a healthy, positive, and insightful ongoing dialogue related to Protestantism.
  3. Assist churches, leaders, and denominations in reclaiming the ancient-future faith established by Christ and the apostles.
  4. Identify theological, cultural, and philosophical drifts which impact the Protestant church.

And away we go…