Thursday, January 31, 2008

Church Growth or Church Health

It was in the early 1970's when I first heard the "term" CHURCH GROWTH. Honestly, at that time I didn't know a movement even existed. But what I did know is this; everything I read about church growth makes sense (and today, in large measure, still does) because Jesus' words were about "an ongoing construction process" that for whatever reason He invited, insisted, and even expected us to be involved.

For years now there has been an evergrowing emphasis on "Church Growth." We have read books, heard tapes, been to conferences, and tried our best to catch the wave. While without any apology I have a biblical conviction that every local church should be alive and growing (both spiritually and numerically) perhaps we should re-examine our goals, aim, and yes, purpose. During the "State of the Church" address this year, I challenged us to focus on Church HEALTH as opposed to Church Growth, because a "HEALTHY" church will be a GROWING CHURCH. The object is health and the outcome is growth and not the other way around. This is eye-opening for me.

It will surprise many to know the place and the person who convinced me of this truth. Although it has taken over 18 months (I'm a slow learner) to get my hands around it. In May of 2006 I was priviledged to attend a conference at Saddleback Church in Southern California. There, I heard and met Dr. Rick Warren. Although the press has been unkind to Rick, without hesitation or reservation, he guided us to think about leading our churches to be "Spiritually Healthy" and trust God that the growth would come.

Candidly, after praying through this thought (for 18 months), I have come to 3 inescapable conclusions;

1) God desires every church to be spiritually healthy.
2) God desires every believer to be spiritually healthy.
3) The only way to have a healthy church is to be filled with healthy believers.

In publication today I have found at least 18 different lists of characteristics which would seemingly define a heatlhy church. A careful study of all these list shows that only 2 of these lists mention "prayer" by name. Another couple refer to things like "passionate spirituality" or "personal disciplines" or even "experientially focused on God" to point us to prayer. But it seems to me that we are truly confused as to what a "healthy church" would actually look like.

While we can take anyone of these 18 lists, apply them to a local church setting, and improve the condition of the church, I would argue that the results would not necessarily be a healthy church. As I understand God's word, it is unrealistic to believe that without addressing the personal lives of the individuals who make up a group called the church, it is possible to bring that body to a state of true health.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Okay, maybe they are not so little, but certainly they are leading.

Last night (1/27/08), the students at HBC led a service in which they shared about their recent camp experience. For most of us in the church, we have heard these reports many times before. At times, these service get into a "contest" of who can be the funniest, who can say the "craziest" thing, or even a testimony to the food and "van ride."

However, last night seemed to have a deeper and more spiritual sense than in times before. This time we heard about relationships being forged, spiritual relationships. We heard about getting to know God on almost a "first name" basis. We heard about laying things down on the altar. We even heard one teenager being brutally honest and talked about her heart, or her feeling of not having one.

Of all the comments of the night, this moment of total transparency was used by God to speak to every person in the house. To think that a young person can share the most intimate part of her innermost being with a church family is almost beyond belief today. As a church family, we all felt helpless to "do" anything to ease her pain, but we did offer a prayer and ongoing support for spiritual and emotional healing.

For me, I left the service a little hurting and deeply encouraged. Talk about "mixed emotions", well, I had them. My heart was hurting because of the questions racing through my mind. "Why do students have to get away from the "church" in order to have an experience like this?" (While I do understand the spiritual principle of "retreat", it seems to me that the assembly should always be a retreat from the world.) "Why do the students come back and share such a soul stirring message about God changing their lives only to slip away in a couple of weeks?" "How can I assist our Students in Maintaining a "hot-heart" for God even here at home?"

The questions for me are seemingly endless. Yet, I am encouraged. Maybe because of this experience the student will find the strength to change the church. Maybe they will step forward and continue to move toward spiritual maturity and lead the church membership on that journey with them.

Seems to me, that once you have "tasted that the Lord is good", you never want to settle for second best. Lord, Make It So!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A NEW Start

Okay! One of the more popular commitment songs of the church is "I Surrender All"....Well today, I guess that I am surrendering. Until now, I have avoided the regular, routine, even the recurring, habit of blogging. However, I will stop dragging my feet and admit this is the "21st century way" of communication (for now)....Guess I will attempt to get on board this train before the NEXT TRAIN comes along.

Today is Thursday, January 24, 2008. Unless hindered in a big way, it will be my goal to post a blog on Monday and Thursday of every week. The goal will be to speak about current events, offer words of advice (that should be good), the culture, the church, and the life of a believer.

Although it is difficult to believe, this first blog in my new committment is a word of caution for all emailers and bloggers. There is much bad or bogus information on the cyber-superhighway which, I believe, is placed out there to make people look, shall we say, not so smart. A prime example is the bulk email which I receive at least 4 times every year about the well-known atheist "Madeline Murray O'Haire" being at it "again." In this email (as you well know) is an empassioned plea to write the FCC about something or other. (the last I received was an attack on the show "Touched by an Angel" which according to my information has not been in production since 2003) The problem with this email is that MS O'Haire is dead and her organization (at last check) was defunct. Yet the emails go on.

The most recent email I received (and I have received it no less than 6 times in the last month) was about the musing of Jay Leno relative to President Bush and this country. Candidly, from time to time I have watched Jay performed over the last 15 or so years and as long as he keeps his humor "clean" he is pretty funny. However, the statements credited to him in this email certainly didn't sound like him at all. Just my opinion, but I could hear Bob Hope giving these words like I remember him giving many words of patiotic support in years past.

In checking out this email, I found the true source of this writing. His name is Craig R Smith of the World Net Daily news. To read this column in the original form, click on his name. The original date is November 6, 2006.

After reading Mr. Smith's column, I challenge you to go to a google and search with these words "Leno blessed are we." Yes, I did this and literally, both laughed and cried at what I found.

Without writing so much that no one will ever read it all, it seems that all the links, which contain articles, blogs, comments, and other responses to Mr. Smith's column CONFIRM just how spoiled we are as Americans. We have much that we should be thankful for and yet, we continue to defend our right to be pampered and coddled.

Here is the payoff for me; All these words both affirm and confirm for me what the Bible teaches when it says, "the heart above all things is deceitful." In times like this I am reminded of how many times in scripture we are told to not be deceived, and particularly "self-deceived."

The answer for our struggles in this nation will only be found in the heart of the individual. According to the Bible (and my experience) all of mankind needs a heart transplant, one given by our Lord Christ.

I offer us two challenges; 1) Let's check out every tidbit of info BEFORE we pass it along, and 2) Let's make sure our heart bears of the marks of Christ, who, while standing firmly on the truth did so with a heart of love and compassion.

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