But is it there?

In an article he wrote, Bill Wilson, the president of the Center for Healthy Churches wrote about how they go about helping and consulting with churches. “First, tell us the reason or the long-term goal you envision, and then we can help you evaluate methods, candidates, processes, metrics, and all the various routes you can take to arrive at your destination.”

He then goes on to comment about what is his and his organization’s typical experience with churches. “Sadly, most are unable to offer a clear purpose that is shared and embraced with passion by a sizable number of people. Many of us are playing out scripts that other people wrote for us. We have lost the personal connection with the core reasons or purposes for our church’s existence. While many of us can recite the two Great Commandments and the Great Commission, we have wandered far from those purposes and gotten lost in the weeds of methods and routines. Thus, pushing people to purpose is a necessary and invaluable process.”

Over the past weeks, the conversations I have been having with the Spirit have often centered around one particular theme: kingdom-building. These conversations have been both at the personal level, meaning, what I am currently doing to build the kingdom, and at the corporate level, meaning, what initiatives is the congregation I lead doing as a whole to build the kingdom.

And, invariably, the Spirit reminds me of a sermon He had me preach a few months ago titled, “What’s a Successful Fishing Trip?” The purpose of fishing is to catch fish! What a shock. And, if no fish are caught, then it was not a successful trip. What’s the ultimate mission of individual followers and congregations of Jesus? To build the kingdom of God. And how does a person or a congregation determine if the kingdom is being built? Check the fish. If no fish, then something different must be done.

It’s great if people can recite the two Great Commandments and the Great Commission, but, in the scheme of the kingdom, that is worth absolutely bupkis. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

What is quite valuable, though, is when people, individually and collectively, are actively engaged in THE purpose of followers and congregations of Jesus – birthing and growing disciples.

It has often been said that many congregations in this country are in decline, but the stark reality is that, if this is the case, one needs to look no further than those who make up the congregation. Congregations who have many members who not only know the purpose of a congregation and agree with it and believe in it but are also actively engaged in it are not in decline; they are growing. These are congregations which are growing people in it who are sharing about Jesus with those around them. They are actively seeking connections with people so as to be able to share the awesome love of God and the reality of hope for this life and beyond  that we have in and through Jesus. These people are actively seeking to draw people into a life-altering encounter with the living God. These are people who are committed to the God-given purpose of followers and congregations of Jesus.

Imagine if each person in a congregation was able to annually draw just one other person into a life-altering relationship and brought him/her into the congregation for growth in discipleship. I realize accomplishing that goal means making many connections with people, but just think about it. That would mean that a congregation would almost double in size every year. I say almost because inevitably a number of people leave for some reason. 

So, let’s say there is 50% annual growth because everyone of the congregation is wholly committed and actively engaged in the mission of birthing new disciples.

So, a congregation starts 2017 with 50 people in it. 

At the end of 2017, it would be at 75.

At the end of 2018, it would be at 112.

At the end of 2019, it would be at 168 and possibly looking at planting a new congregation.

And this is not transfer growth. This is true kingdom growth. Of those 168, 118 are new followers of Jesus. That means 70% of the congregation came into a life-altering relationship with Jesus through someone in that congregation. That’s a great number!

That’s the possibility. At when that is happening, ain’t no one talking about decline.

But it requires absolute commitment to the mission.

But is it there?

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The Necessity of Being Intentional

Every Saturday in the local paper is the religion section. Among other things, this space allows for different congregations to publicize events they are hosting in the coming days. Events being publicized are dinners and other activities.

And with a number of different people with whom I have discussed these different events, these events are classified as “outreach.”

But are they necessarily so?

What exactly is outreach when done by a congregation? Well, reaching into a community to meet certain need or needs can be defined as outreach, but is it, in and of itself, “full” outreach when examined in light of the Great Commission – the church’s mission from Christ Himself?

These types of events can certainly be vehicles for carrying out a congregation’s mission, but I have found it to be more often the case that these activities lack intentionality in actually drawing people of faith into conversations about faith and God with those who are not of faith.

And what I have found from my own experience is that when left up to their own decision, there are many people of faith who will not naturally enter into a conversation with someone about faith. The hope that these types of events will eventually lead to these types of conversation just does not often come to fruition.

And if these types of conversations are not occurring and people of faith are not actively calling others to consider or to come to a place of faith, should it be any wonder that so many congregations in this country are shrinking?

So, while events and activities which meet needs of people in a community please our Lord, they do not, in and of themselves, advance the mission given to the people of God to birth and grow disciples.

There are many people who have a variety of questions about life. And because of that, congregations need to look to create a gathering of people in a safe and welcoming environment where people can ask and have respectful conversations about these questions and perspectives on life.

This is a place where people gather around two activities common to all people – food and conversation – a place where the atmosphere is relaxed but also is intentional on the topic of discussion – faith – but done so in an open and unoffensive way. This is a place where new relationships are created and existing ones are strengthened. This is a┬áplace where people are asked to consider Jesus and encouraged to ask questions about His message and faith, whatever they may be.

Therefore, I am taking a very serious look at what is known as Alpha.

 

What do you believe?

Have you ever considered that question? Too often, people don’t realize that they operate everyday based on their beliefs. Beliefs go unnoticed, but what one truly believes shapes actions and gives direction, even in mundane ways.

For example, belief is demonstrated by the act of sitting in a chair or on another piece of furniture. At some point today, you will sit down and you will do so because you believe that piece of furniture will support your weight. If you don’t believe, or are unsure, that a piece of furniture will support your weight, what do you do? Either you choose not to sit or you do so with great caution. How or whether or not you sit reveals your belief about that piece of furniture.

What is truly believed will be demonstrated in our actions because those beliefs give direction to our actions.

There are so many questions which are asked about this world and about life itself. Questions like, “Why am I here?” and “What is the meaning of life?” and “Is this all there is?” and “How do I find fulfillment in life?” and “What will bring satisfaction in life?” and “How to I experience hope in life?”

How questions like these and others are answered reveal and shape what we believe about life and this world and our direction in both. These answers can bring hope or they can bring the attitude of “Live for today because tomorrow we die.”

So many people have chased what they believed would be answers to life’s big questions only to realize that, after achieving them, they were wrong. Those things did not bring lasting meaning, but meaning only for a brief time. People chase riches. People chase fame. People chase power. People chase (you insert here).

People chase after things because they believe that if they only could achieve this or experience that, then they would find satisfaction and fulfillment in life. Only, many find that after the achievement or the experience, the satisfaction and fulfillment they had hoped to achieve through it quickly fades. They then start the cycle again with, “If only I…” They move from one achievement and/or experience to the next hoping that the next one will be the one.

And that’s how they live life, by the belief that the next thing will be “it.”

So, what do you believe? How has that belief altered your life? Has that belief brought true and lasting hope? Has that belief brought about real and permanent satisfaction in your life? Has that belief brought about real and permanent fulfillment in your life?

Or has that belief taken you down a path on which you are, like an addict, always chasing the next “high,” always thinking that what brings meaning, fulfillment, and hope in life will be around the next bend only to find that it doesn’t?

What do you believe?

What has your life revealed?