When I work as a computer trainer and consultant, I offer potential or new clients a free “needs analysis.” It didn’t take me long to realize that most of these clients fall into one of three categories:
1. They know exactly what they need, and they are right. They understand their situation and possibilities.
2. They know exactly what they need, and they are wrong. Their perspective is limited and/or skewed.
3. They’re not sure what they need, but they know they need help.
I’ve found a similar pattern with people who believe they are a Christian:
1. They believe they are a Christian and they are right. They have a relationship with Christ.
2. They believe they are a Christian, but they are missing a relationship with Christ.
3. They’re not sure what they believe, but they are seeking.
(And then there are those who are comfortable with where they are and aren’t seeking.)
John Wesley saw that second group of people clearly. Adam Hamilton, in his book Revival, described it this way:
“Wesley said that many who thought they were Christians seemed to be so in name only; they were almost Christians. They did not have the joy, assurance, or peace that comes from being wholly surrendered to God. They lived their lives in compromise with sin, willing to do just enough good but no more. They entertained evil, provided that it wasn’t too extreme. They did little or nothing to grow in love with God.
In what ways did faith in the church of Wesley’s day resemble the faith in our churches today? Some would suggest in a great many ways.
Wesley said there is so much more to being a Christian than simple acceptance; there is a power, love, and joy that come from walking with God. And God expects more of Christians than simply trying to not be so bad as other people.”
To say this quote resonates with me would be an understatement. I can only speak from my experience and understanding, so I’ll say it this way. When I accepted Christ at 15, He became my savior. I lived my life in the context of that relationship with Him until 2007, when He revealed to me that I was holding back. He wanted to be more than my Savior. He wanted to be the Lord of my life. He wanted me to give up my will and trust Him in every aspect of my life, with no limitations. Over the last 7 years, by the grace of God and through the equipping of the Holy Spirit, I’ve taken down the boundaries between the different aspects of my life and I’ve been striving to offer up all of me to Him. I’ve been growing into an intimate, dependent, living relationship with Christ.
While I’ve spent most of my career as a computer trainer and consultant, at my core, I’m an educator. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a passion to help people grow. As I myself have grown closer to Christ, the Holy Spirit has taken that passion and set it on fire. I’m determined to encourage and challenge people to intentionally examine what they believe and why they believe it. I’m determined to encourage people to doubt their assumptions, ask questions, search for answers and make informed and intentional decisions about their beliefs.
Notice the language I just used. It’s very specific. I said “decisions about their beliefs” not “decisions about God.”
My goal within any of these conversations is not to change someone’s mind.
My goal is to leave a “spiritual stone” in the shoe of everyone with whom I interact, mostly through asking questions and listening.
I fail often.
But when I have a conversation with someone who wasn’t thinking about God, and the conversation results in them thinking about God – especially long after the conversation is over – I haven’t failed. After the conversation is over, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften that person’s heart and open their mind as he draws them closer to Himself.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44a (ESV)
Relating to the three possibilities above, God has specifically planted and grown in me three distinct, compelling and persistent passions:
In addition to my own desire to be discipled, I have a passion to disciple others – to help people who have a relationship with Christ, continuously grow closer to Christ. My prayer is that God would reveal to all who know Him what he revealed to me: That He wants them to give up their will and trust Him in every aspect of their lives. That He doesn’t just want to be their Savior, He wants to be the Lord of their Life. He wants an intimate, dependent, living relationship with them.
2. Relational Evangelism
a) For the people who believe they are Christian but have never entered into a relationship with Christ, my prayer is that they would enter into that relationship. I can’t help but think of this verse:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
b) For the people who know they aren’t Christian, but are willing to share with me what they think and feel about God and, more specifically, Jesus, I’m determined to be a safe person with whom they can voice their doubts, ask hard questions and search for answers. My prayer is that they come to faith in Christ. It’s not my job. It’s my prayer.
For people who are apathetic about God, who don’t believe in Him or flat out hate Him and all His followers, my passion is to help them set aside the baggage that so often comes from religion and help them see that the selfish behavior of some of the people who profess to be Christian is more a reflection of flawed humanity than that of a perfect God. My prayer is that they make their own personal decision about Jesus based on Jesus, and Jesus alone, rather than on their thoughts and feelings about religion and the bad behavior and beliefs of other people.
John 10:10 tells us that Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness. Not abundant blessings or stuff. Abundant LIFE.
This is the 16th post of a series. In my previous post, entitled “church: THERE. IS. MORE.” I drilled down to the core of the issue. Today, I’m clarifying something I think may have gotten buried.
(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
and prayin. and prayin…
I said something in my previous post, but I’m not sure it came through. I need to try again. If you got it the first time, bear with me.
There are people in my church who understand what I’m saying when I talk about being Christ-centered.
There are people in my church who are experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him.
Are YOU one of those people? Is YOUR faith in Jesus at the center of your life? Are YOU experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him?
But what about our churches?
At my church, as a unified body of believers,
We profess belief in God. We pray to God. We give offerings to God. We learn how to live good, moral, Christian lives. We learn about discipline and character. We sing praise to God. We serve others in the name of God. We love each other. We support each other. We encourage each other. We help others. We serve others. We accept others.
WE, as a unified body of believers, are not Christ-centered.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t view the heart of the gospel as the foundation for everything we do.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t even have a common understanding of what the word “gospel” means.
The definition of the word “gospel” isn’t limited to: “Jesus saves!”
To share the “good news” of Jesus Christ is to declare the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – NOT just the fact that He saves sinners from eternity in Hell.
THERE. IS. MORE.
Jesus is the VINE and everything we do as a church should branch off from that Vine and be fruitful:
I’m praying that OUR intrinsic need for Jesus would be at the heart of our church culture,
– because more often than they should, our affinity for each other, our acceptance of each other and our service supersede a shared acknowledgement that the greatest thing we have in common is our need for Christ.
I’m praying OUR corporate prayers would articulate that we know we are the body of CHRIST and that we are utterly dependent on Him for everything we need;
– because when we aren’t intentional, we tend to pray as body of believers who need and love God. In general.
I’m praying OUR understanding that it is Jesus who makes Christianity distinct from every other religion would be at the forefront of our collective focus;
– I’m praying that a visitor would never leave our worship service without a clear understanding that we believe and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, not just “God.” In general.
I’m praying OUR love of Jesus would fuel our passion to know Him intimately and to understand the depth of His love for us;
– because I believe too often our love for Him motivates us to strive to live a good Christian life. So He’ll love us more?
I’m praying that as people become active in our church, there would be some specific, consistent but comfortable time and place we intentionally ask them how they came to their faith in Christ;
– instead of asking them how they came to our church, so we would have an opportunity to hear their testimony rather than just their church membership history.
I’m praying that OUR desire to share Jesus would be the underlying reason for every single ministry;
– as we provide for the temporal needs of others, I’m praying we also make sure we share how our discovery of the Bread of Life and the source of living water has changed our lives and given us the hope that is within us.
I’m praying that teaching the Bible-encompassing redemptive story of Jesus would be the ultimate goal of all our classes;
– not just some. I’m praying that even classes on personal growth, discipline and character development would be clearly grounded in Biblical wisdom and the concepts taught would be intentionally recognized as an outgrowth of our relationship with Christ.
I’m praying that OUR collective gifts would freely and sacrificially overflow from our gratitude and knowledge that Jesus is enough;
– because when we have unwavering confidence in Christ, we can begin to give without fear – and find JOY in the giving.
I’m praying that the proclamation of the Gospel – declaring the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – would be THE clear and unmitigated reason for every. single. Sunday morning service;
– because we never know who is listening or how God is moving in someone’s heart, mind and life that particular day.
I’m praying that WE, as the body of Christ, would consistently, cohesively and clearly evidence a commitment to Christ-centeredness – in ALL we do;
– and if something we are doing doesn’t evidence a commitment to Him or allow us to be witnesses for Him, we would re-evaluate why we’re doing it – and whether we should be doing it at all.
I’m praying that as the body of Christ, our corporate worship services would evidence a deep commitment to and complete reliance on CHRIST. I’m praying that, in every interpersonal interaction, we would be witnesses to how we’ve been transformed by our relationship with Christ. I’m praying that witness would be crystal clear to any visitor who attends our Sunday morning services.
If you read that list and thought, “I already do all the things she’s praying for.” and “None of that applies to me.”
That’s EXCELLENT. And you’re right.
Absolutely, unequivocally RIGHT. None of it applies to YOU.
I am NOT talking about YOU. As an individual.
I’m talking about my CHURCH. As a body. Made up of many, many, many individuals.
If, in that context, you understand and agree with anything in that list, then PLEASE PRAY WITH ME?
That the HOLY SPIRIT WILL BRING REVIVAL to our church.
Because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is: “But what else can I do?”
NOTHING else. You can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
God is Able. Prayer is more powerful than ANYthing we can do on our own.
If you disagree with the things on the list, if you think I am flat out wrong, please…give me a few more minutes of your time. A few months ago, I took a quiz and I want to invite you take it too.
Resist the tendency to answer as an individual. Step back. Try and answer as a member of your church.
Even more difficult and uncomfortable? Step back even further. Try to look objectively through the eyes of a visitor and answer.
Review all ten statements and apply a number equal to that element’s frequency in your church. [emphasis added]
1. Expectant prayer frequently before, after, and during the actual service. God’s grace petitioned for healing work at every level: mind, emotions, and body. Where stories of healings of all kinds are regular and verifiable as God’s response to prayers of faith from His people. (James 5:14-16)
2. Powerful “thus says the Lord” biblical preaching where people have a distinct sense of hearing God speak with authority into their souls in a way that brings Holy Spirit conviction they cannot deny or dismiss.
3. Where people line up at the doors long before the service starts and rush to the front to get the best seats for passionate, expressive worship where the voices are loud, hands are raised, tears are flowing, minds are expanded, and hearts are moved as Christ is adored by every one in every corner of the room, from the very first note. The passion of their praise testifies to the reality of God’s presence and melts the hearts of those attending who do not yet believe. (1 Corinthians 14:24– 25)
4. Where individual salvations proportionate to the size of the church regularly and continuously occur in large numbers because people want their friends to experience what they have. Salvations flowing from all walks of life— from the businessman who discovered his millions as worthless to the derelict or prostitute who looked up from his or her addiction and despair to experience the total transformation of their now and forever. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
5. Where racial, economic, language, and generational diversity is growing because what we have in common in the Lord is far greater than the things that separate. Where the white guy covered in piercings and tattoos sits beside the black businessman and the babe who is inappropriately dressed but everyone welcomes and embraces her because they remember when they were like that. (Galatians 3:28)
6. Where the majority of adults gather in smaller groups to stir up and spur on and support the weight of walking with God. Where relationships flourish and follow the biblical pattern of grace and truth. 57 Not the shallow grace of mutual enablement but the truthful grace that fights for God’s best in each other, one relationship at a time. And Christians love and forgive and forbear and carry one another’s burdens from house to house. (Acts 2:26, Galatians 6:2)
7. Where elders lead, discord is not tolerated, and people are held to account. But where leaders also listen and learn, loving the people and letting the unity of the Spirit be enjoyed by all who persevere in working to keep it. (Ephesians 4:1– 2)
8. Where Christ reigns and is exalted increasingly as Head in the hearts of the people, so that gratefulness overflows into graciousness and generosity so that Christians become disciples and disciples become leaders and leaders are frequently sent out so that churches are planted nearby and around the globe. (1 Timothy 2:2)
9. Where the needs of the poor are met and those in prison are visited and aliens are welcomed as friends and strangers are served as brothers and widows are not neglected. Where these priorities are not a program or a phase but the lasting overflow of God’s abundance in our hearts.
10. Where all of these things are manifest. As in, everyone sees it and knows it and feels it and delights in it. Manifest means visible, obvious, undeniable activity that cannot be attributed to a person or a place or a program and is totally disproportionate to the ones who experience this abundance with overflowing joy as glory comes down when they gather.
Add your boxes for a total that helps you evaluate your current Verticality.
40– 50 = A Vertical Church to the glory of God— keep it up and spread the word.
30– 40 = More Vertical than most— review the survey for areas of improvement.
20– 30 = Feeling the heaviness of your horizontalness? Much to follow in this book will help you.
10– 20 = Your honesty is good, but it’s time to get on your knees and deal with what hinders.
0– 10 = We will deal with your kind of church in chapter 4— God may have a new plan.
Let’s just say I immediately skipped ahead to Chapter 4. And I didn’t have to do any math first.
but over the last month, I would have to bump myself up to the 10 – 20 range. Because right now?
#2 is a FIVE.
I believe God is still moving. I’m desperately, persistently praying He’s not finished here yet.
desperately. persistently. not exaggerating.
“…a huge difference— the difference between knowing the gospel and being consumed by the gospel, being defined by the gospel, being driven by the gospel. It’s one thing to see the gospel as an important facet of one’s ministry. It’s quite another to hold firmly to it as the centerpiece for all a church is and does, to completely orbit around it.
The gospel. Though such a glorious thing, it’s also such a simple thing— so simple we almost overlook it. Such a basic thing, we’re tempted to feel as if we’ve somehow graduated beyond it. And yet without this simple thing, this basic thing— without the life-giving gospel driving and defining both us and our churches— there really isn’t much of anything that makes us distinct and alive, nothing that other people, groups, and organizations aren’t already doing…
…In your heart perhaps— if you’re being very honest— you sense a loss of awe for the gospel, a failure to connect its power to your entire ministry…
…So here at this place of recognition and regret, we meet together to start a fresh journey into the heart of the gospel, prepared to be newly amazed by it, resolved to let its principles begin shaping how our churches worship, serve, and operate.
Too often, Christian churches today are not what they were originally intended to be.
Too often, they are social meccas, driven by self-preservation and focused on service.
Too often, Christian churches today are more like clubs, whose leadership is firmly claimed by the kids who contributed the most materials to build the tree house.
Too often, sermons are inspirational messages, motivational speeches or dry academic lectures.
Too often, the sermons delivered in Christian churches today are so vanilla they could easily be delivered in a Mormon Temple or Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall without changing a single word and without offending a single person.
Too often, pastors are motivated to keep the peace along with their job security.
Too often, churches today are too soft.
Too soft on sin.
Too soft on Christ.
Too soft on their members. Including me.
Have you been a member of a church like I’ve described? ARE you a member of a church like the one I’ve described?
12 years I’ve attended my church.
Why have I not noticed any of this before?
Because I thought it was normal.
Consider this analogy. In a way, churches are like families. And when our family culture is all we know, we think our family is normal. Until we’re exposed to another family culture. It may be through a book, a movie, TV show, or a visit to someone else’s house. And as we notice the differences, we realize. What we thought was normal?
If we live in a vacuum, never questioning the way things are, operating on assumption and never challenging those assumptions, we can spend years going along with the way things are.
We can fall into a deep complacency.
The real danger is when we slip into autopilot and start going through the motions.
Because after a while, complacency becomes normal.
But sometimes, by stepping outside of our comfort zone, by stepping outside of what we have come to view as normal, we come face to face with problems we never saw before. We realize we’ve been oblivious.
On autopilot. Satisfied. Comfortable. Complacent. Going through the motions.
In my case, 12 years.
My relationship with God has grown stronger over those 12 years, especially since 2007, when I entered into a deeper level of intimacy with Christ than I’ve ever experienced before. But my church hasn’t played much of a part in my spiritual growth.
How did I become aware of that? If you’ve been reading this series, you’ve already seen a little bit of how God revealed it to me.
Now? I can’t un-see what I’ve seen. I can’t un-know what God has revealed to me.
It’s the difference between living “a good Christian life” and experiencing abundant life in Christ.
I’ve discovered there’s MORE than “a good Christian life.” And while I personally know some people at my church who also experience abundant life in Christ, there are too many people who have no idea what I’m talking about. There are too many people who are completely unaware that it’s possible to experience abundant life in Christ. There are too many people who are settling for that “good Christian life.” Too many people who don’t know that in addition to salvation by grace, through faith in Christ the “more” I’m talking about is also the strength to make it through a day, the ability to serve in His name because He equips us for that service and for the freedom to forgive themselves when they fail to “be good” – because He first forgave them.
The question is, knowing all that, what do I do? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to that “more” in spite of the seeming preference to continue with the comfortableness and safeness of the status quo? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to how abundant life in Christ is transforming me? In spite of a barrage of rationalizations and excuses? In spite of attempts to belittle me or dismiss me?
Or do I abandon my church and the people I’ve come to care about and find a place where I’m more challenged. and more uncomfortable with my sin?
Because the thing is, God never promised me “comfortable.”
Do I stick around? Can God use me here? I know He doesn’t need me, but can He use me? I know it won’t be easy. God didn’t promise me “easy” either.
Thankfully, God finally got through to me on this one: I’m not responsible for the outcome.
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Do I know what He will do?
I don’t get to know the mind of God as some sort of precursor to obedience. What whatever He does, He will do it. Not me.
Thankfully, I know what I need to do. I need to be faithful in the small things. Even though some people won’t like it. Even though some people find me annoying.
“Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16
I know it would be more convenient if I kept my mouth shut. More comfortable.
It’s okay. God is equipping me for this task.
I found myself watching this:
This post is the sixth in a multi-part series, written mostly in early autumn 2012, published now for the first time.