God’s kingdom: Small churches or mega-churches?

In Jesus’ days, the religious leaders were consumed with anxiety that Jesus had been gaining too many followers (John 11:45-57).

 11:48 – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
12:19 – “’See, this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the the whole world has gone after him!‘”

Religion today is still concerned about how many people attend our worship services.  The number of parishioners translate into dollar amounts collected in the offering plate, which is translated into how many pastors it hires/calls and how big a building project can be.  This causes us think of adherents and followers as just a piece of the pie (“more for others means less for us”). This also causes us to think of the small church as lowly vs mega-churches as more successful.  Should we carry this view of God’s kingdom.  Is this a healthy or distorted way to view God’s kingdom?

Jesus was concerned about discipling people and truth and life, not the number of followers he has.  For pastors, elders and deacons, it takes faith to carry on as small churches in communities where there are mega-churches next door.

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Three-point sermons: proper or improper?

When preachers deliver a sermon and boil it down to three points, I sometimes question where they get the three-points from.  Sometimes, they draw them from a single passage of Scripture; and sometimes they get them from separate but related pieces of Scriptures.  If we try to squeeze three points from a passage it can probably be done but the question is: Is it proper to do so?  Can every sermon be boiled down to three points?  I’m not convinced it should be done or can be done.  Sometimes, a passage of Scripture only has one main point and no sub-points or no sub-points at all. But when preachers preach a three-point sermon, I think it might be for either our own benefit.  It also does make it easier to walk away from the pew remembering three simple points of a message.  Maybe listeners do prefer three-points in a sermon.

Anatomy of a sick church

Thom Rainer posted on his blog about 10 symptoms of a sick church.  Many churches don’t realize they’re unhealthy or sick until they get to the latter stages of the sickness and near death.  Let’s hope and pray that these churches would wake up and realize our need for healing and for Jesus to come and heal our body.

  1. Declining worship attendance. Surprisingly, the majority of church leaders do not monitor worship attendance. I advise leaders to compare each month’s average worship attendance to the same month of previous years.
  2. Decline in frequency of attendance of church members. This symptom is the number one explanation for attendance decline in most churches. Members are not as committed as they once were. Their waning love for their church is reflected in their declining frequency in worship attendance.
  3. Lack of joy and vibrancy in the worship service. Obviously, this symptom is subjective. It is still, however, very important. Most people can sense when a worship service is vibrant, lukewarm, or dead.
  4. Little evangelistic fruit. As a general rule, a healthy church will reach at least one non-Christian for every 20 in worship attendance. A church with a worship attendance of 200, for example, should see at least ten new Christians a year.
  5. Low community impact. In my consultations, I attempt to find clear indicators that a church is making a difference in its respective community. I ask both church leaders and community members for clear examples and indicators.
  6. More meetings than ministry. A sick church will meet about what they should do rather than do it. Some churches have more committees than conversions.
  7. Acrimonious business meetings. Christians can and do disagree. Sick churches have meetings where the disagreements reflect obvious bitterness and anger.
  8. Very few guests in worship services. A vibrant church will attract guests. A sick church will not.
  9. Worship wars. Yes, they still exist in many churches. Those wars are indicators of an inward focus by the members.
  10. Unrealistic expectations of pastoral care. Sick churches view pastors and other staff as hired hands to do all of the work of ministry. Healthy churches view pastors as equippers for the members to do most of the ministry.

[ See full blog post here ]

God’s calling is really about God

jesusfishermenMany church-going Christians seem disengaged today… disengaged in the sense that we are not living out an engaged relationship with Christ within the church.  Most Christians never move from the pew to service; but God calls each Christian to move into some form of service to Christ within, and outside, the church.  God gives us an internal “spiritual” calling to love and serve the Lord.

Many Christians become wrapped up in fear and a sense of inadequacy, and put up a wall between God and his calling. We feel more comfortable keeping God and His calling a safe distance from ourselves.  Why? Because we’ve been deceived  into thinking that it ought to begin with ourselves.  Today’s popular theology unwittingly teaches that this calling is about us… but it’s really NOT about us.  We are only participants but we act like we are the “star players in the game” of service and ministry.

One reason for our fears of inadequacy is that we think we have to measure up to God’s standards of holiness.  God’s calling is a holy calling.  We haven’t seriously considered God’s holy calling for what it really is because we think we have to first measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  The truth is: we don’t measure up, and no one ever will.  But God has already taken that into consideration and given us enough grace to walk into this calling and see it to completion. Jesus called some rough and simple fishermen like Peter, James, John and Andrew into the ministry, didn’t he?

God’s salvation was given to us and made possible when he cleansed us of our sins. So the holiness that God expects is not due to our own conduct or actions.  It is not due to our good works or good deeds.  God’s work of sanctification is not the same thing as our life of walking in God’s holy and righteous laws.  Our human acts of love, mercy, kindness, etc. are already expected of all followers of Jesus. It’s a given.  It was expected when we first came into a love relationship with God in Christ. We should be compelled to obey because He has been so gracious and loves us so much.  We can never repay God for his gift of forgiveness.

So how can we, as sinful human beings, possibly match up to God’s standards of holiness? We can’t.  First and foremost, it is really about God’s work of cleansing of our sins.  Only God can make us holy.  That’s what Paul is talking about when he talks about the gift of forgiveness by grace through faith.  It starts from God. It is ONLY God who makes it possible.  It’s all about God—and it is NOT about us.

Paul said in Ephesians 2:9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  If God’s call to salvation began with God, then he will also complete the calling to serve Him.  Paul said: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

If God calls each of us to be engaged with the Lord’s kingdom work and service, then we can ask the Lord to help cast our fears aside to have faith that God will empower us for service in His love.  God wants us to simply obey and follow him, and when we fail or fall, we get up and start again. God enables us to serve in His God-given holiness; then, God enables and empowers us through his Spirit and gifts.

Helping unwed mothers

Gimme_ShelterThe idea of single pregnant teenagers scares many people including Christians.  We probably wouldn’t know what to do about it if someone in this situation were to come to us, or walk into one of our churches.

What would your church do about it?  What would most churches do about it?

Would you advise such a person to have an abortion, or to have the baby and at least give it up for adoption?

If churches do not have compassion or the willingness to minister to the downtrodden, then is it any wonder most girls turn to the easy solution of abortion?  So if we say we are pro-life, then we should be there to support them and counsel them to have the child, and later, give it up for adoption if they don’t want to raise it themselves.  There are up to 36 couples waiting for every one baby placed for adoption.  Yes, really.

I watched a film called Gimme Shelter.  It’s based on a true story and is inspiring.   The main character, Apple, who’s a sixteen year old teenager, runs away from her mother who is a drug addict and sex worker.  Apple finds herself pregnant and hospitalized from a car accident.  A Catholic chaplain (priest) in a hospital was initially turned away by Apple, but his patience and long-suffering eventually paid off.  Apple began to trust him and gave him the opportunity to bring her to a shelter where she is loved, care for, and finds friendship.  The shelter was founded and run by a Catholic housemother, who truly has a calling in ministry to take care of young unwed mothers.   The love in that place really impressed upon Apple because she chose to stay even when she had the chance to leave. Truly inspiring.

There aren’t a lot of good films that promote the social needs of people from a Christian perspective. This is one that can inspire not only Catholics, but evangelicals and protestants to take action to do what is godly.

What NOT to say to the preacher

simpsons-in-church-sleepingI caught this from Thom S. Rainer’s blog and found it almost hilarious, but true.  These ten things can deflate a minister, especially after what the the preacher felt was a Spirit-inspired message.  It’s funny how some people see it as their job to put the pastor in their place, or they’re just totally insensitive.

Which one of these have we said, or thought silently to ourselves, on a Sunday morning?

  1. “I am going to be late for lunch because you preached so long.”
  2. “You must not have had much time to prepare that sermon.”
  3. “My former pastor preached a much better sermon from that text.”
  4. “I wish {fill in the blank} would have heard that sermon.”
  5. “You act like you weren’t feeling well while you preached.”
  6. “I’m sorry I fell asleep while you were preaching. Your voice just puts me to sleep.”
  7. “Your subject/verb agreement was incorrect three times in your sermon.”
  8. “I wish you wouldn’t preach from the Old Testament.”
  9. “Let me tell you what you missed in your sermon.”
  10. “Are we ever going to be done with this sermon series?”

Thom Rainer always has serious stuff to say about pastoral or church issues, but this one was just too good to pass up because we can all relate to it (in a wierd way).

Theological pilgrimage

I have blogged about this matter in the past but only very briefly in passing.   After many months of self-reflection and getting resettled, I now have more time to reflect upon my journey and share with  readers here (and anyone else who may be interested).

Since November of 2011, I have made a journey that has brought my family and I to a new denomination, and to another province.  As  some of my old readers may know, I began serving as an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. My family and I decided to leave the Lutheran church for various reasons–partly for family and ecclesiological reasons.  The ELCIC denomination (Canadian equivalent to the ELCA) in which I was a part of had made big changes in the summer of 2011 in the way it treated marriage between two people of the same gender.  I believe its interpretation of Scripture had gone awry and I know that this goes against the popular beliefs in society today. The atmosphere in this denomination made it very difficult for pastors to speak their mind (despite what they may say).  After some time praying and reflecting upon this, as a family we decided that it was better just to leave rather than remain within the system.  The theological currents within the ELCIC was too powerful, especially in its leadership level, so I was under no deception about this.

Despite these huge changes, many of my former fellow colleagues in ministry chose to remain in the same denomination (since they are mostly life-long Lutherans).    I know how hard it is to leave a denomination they have known all their lives.  It takes a lot of courage, perhaps too pressure to stand alone for most.  [but to my Lutheran colleagues and brothers and sisters who choose to remain, I pray for them God’s richest blessings. ]

For me, it was a much easier decision to leave because I was already very familiar with the evangelical church.  I had grown up a classical pentecostal assembly (PAOC) in Vancouver, and was baptized by immersion in a Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Church in Ottawa in my early 20s, and had fellowshiped in evangelical churches most of my life.  (…yes, I’ve been on a theological-ecclesiological journey.)  So to return to the evangelical fold was no problem at all.  Our family packed up our belongings and moved from the prairie towns to the Greater Toronto Area in eastern Canada.  We finally feel more settled now.  We’re recently in the middle of a transition, but overall, this move has been a spiritual pilgrimage back to our evangelical roots.  In looking back I think this pilgrimage has also stretched me in  ways to become a better pastor. I have recently served as a pastor in a Baptist Church (CBOQ).

Do you support your pastor’s family?

Do you support your pastor’s family? To many people’s surprise, the pastor’s family might be one of the most mistreated families in the church.  The expectations of the pastor is that he/she ought to give, give, and give, and if there’s more to give, then squeeze him dry. The only thing pastor is expected to receive is a salary-paycheck, afterall, that’s what he’s paid to do, right? On top of that, the pastor’s spouse and kids are also expected to serve their hearts out too as a good example to the rest of the church, and also be under the microscope of the people full-time.

These are unrealistic expectations.  A website article (read more: Ministry Matters) suggest some things you can do to show support to your pastor and his family.  Here’s several:

1. Temper unrealistic expectations of the pastor’s family.
2. Make a pastoral support group a priority.
3. Support a sabbatical.
4. Protect your pastor’s sabbath day.

Do these look like something you or your church does to support your pastor?