Tag Archives: Religion

Be The Church Or Make Way For Something Else

Great read for those of us in leadership positions of churches. Enjoy!
Be The Church Or Make Way For Something Else

Christ is not found in our institutions, he is found in the church. In people who love Jesus, love each other and gather together regularly.

Why does the church exist?

It’s not to get people together for meetings. Or to keep our theology pure. Or to defend our traditions. Or to look cool and appealing to the unchurched.

But it’s easy to fall into one or more of those traps if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves what we actually do exist for.

Why The Church Is Supposed To Exist

As defined clearly by Jesus himself in both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, the church exists to love God and share his love with others.

We’re not about meetings, denominations or creeds – although all of those have had and will continue to have a place. We’re about relationships.

It is our calling and our mandate to introduce people to Jesus, connect those people with each other, then prepare them to help others meet Jesus, too.

Being The Church

Through the command to make disciples, Jesus created a self-perpetuating system to keep the church alive, vibrant and adaptable.

Through the command to make disciples, Jesus created a self-perpetuating system to keep the church alive, vibrant and adaptable.

For 2,000 years and counting the church Jesus started has been the most relentlessly growing, most adaptable, most life-changing, most liberating organism in the history of the world.

Despite all the cries of alarm and concern, the church is not in trouble. It’s not dying. Its best days are not behind us.

The church is alive and well, with far greater days ahead than any we’ve seen come and go so far.

But the formats we’re currently using to accomplish those ends? Those are in trouble. Big trouble.

What We’re Doing Instead Of Being The Church

The way we format the church experience, the expectations we have of people when they gather as the church, the top-down hierarchical structures that are so commonplace we barely see them any more – those are going, going and soon will be gone.

And that’s okay.

Because we’re not supposed to be in the business of preserving those formats. And, in fact, to the degree that we try to preserve them we will continue to sap precious resources away from doing what we should be doing – helping people find, love and serve Jesus.

Being the church.

Why Does The Church Exist?

We need to rediscover and re-commit ourselves to being the church Jesus called us to be. Or, while we’re off chasing other ideas, someone else will offer a knock-off version that feels better than what we’re currently doing.

Actually, that’s already happening. It’s been happening for 2,000 years.

There’s always some version of “almost church” that’s ready to give people an “almost” version of Jesus.

There’s always some version of “almost church” that’s ready to give people an “almost” version of Jesus, wrapped up in a greater sense of community than what many churches have.

The church doesn’t own a monopoly on friendship, mission or caring. We have a monopoly on only one thing. Jesus.

Christ Is In His Church

Christ is not found in our institutions, he is found in the church. In people who love Jesus, love each other and gather together regularly. That is de facto the only place to find, know and grow in Christ.

  • Not in a building
  • Not in a creed
  • Not in a specific format
  • And not alone

People loving Jesus and loving each other is how Jesus said the world would be won to him.

That’s the church.

That’s the Jesus way.

That’s who we need to be.

Stay In The Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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THE GOSPEL OF JUSTIFICATION

The sermon for Sunday, Oct 21, was not recorded, so I am sharing my sermon notes for everyone who missed seeing the sermon. Enjoy!

The Justified Gospel

Sunday, October 21, 2018

City Church Del Rio 

Galatians Sermon Series—No Other Gospel, The Justified Gospel, 3:23-29

Introduction—Justification. A big Biblical word found throughout the Bible. A complicated word. A essential word. Today, we are going to step into the them of the Justified Gospel. The good news of Jesus and His awestruck love for all people on His planet. 

Now, as most of you know I am not a big wordsmith. I like simplicity. I try and connect with the masses. So, if you can please lean in today and pay close attention because I want to assure that if you can begin this process of living in a justified lifestyle, where you don’t hold grudges, you don’t assume the worst, and you don’t allow other people’s sin to knock you off your path. 

All the doctrines of the Bible are important, but none is more vital to the peace and rest of a child of God, than the Biblical truth of Justification. The follower of Christ does not get to the peak of Christian joy, until we appreciate and appropriate this grand aspect of grace. 

Forgiveness is amazing; pardon is wonderful; cleansing is powerful; but Justification is the greatest experience in my theological opinion. In Paul’s day, and during the reformation period of the 1500’s-1600’s, and even in our day, it would be difficult to find a more central truth to our historic Christian faith than the doctrine of justification. 

So, let’s get started. 

Stand & Read—Galatians 3:23-29

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Pray

I want to remind you that Paul is still answering the question the he asked in verse 2

Galatians 3:2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

  1. Justified by “The Faith”—verses 23-25
    1. Verse 23Before the coming of the “the faith”
      1. Notice with me, that Paul distinctly uses a participle for you English gurus. He doest just say faith, he says the faith. 
      2. You may have a translation that doesn’t use a participle until the second part of the verse. It may say this faith or the coming faith.
      3. It is the same meaning behind the language Paul purposely id using here. He is really talking about the time before our Christian Faith came to be.
      4. Before the coming of the faith. What about it.
    2. Verse 23We were held in custody under the law
      1. We were prisoners under the law. Why? Wasn’t the law given to Moses by God to give to the people? Yes, but I remind you; the law was given to in order for people to know what sins were so we could know how to live. The law never intended to save people, but point people to their need for God.
      2. Paul says, while we wait for a Savior, we are under the law, as if we are in a prison cell. When you think of a prison cell, you think of an awful place, with no freedom.
      3. But what you don’t realize, in jail, you are protected from yourself. You can no longer be free to create havoc in society. 
      4. So Paul compares our time under the law like being in jail. Protected, out of trouble, until you could be trusted to go free. Not actually a bad thing.
      5. The 10 commandments are a good thing, keeping us in line with the requirements given by God so that we could ask for forgiveness when we sinned against Him. 
      6. If you are here today, and you have never trusted Jesus as your own personal Savior, then you are still in custody of the law. You have rules and regulations to follow in order for you to have a relationship with God. 
      7. But Paul reminds us that we no longer have to live like that.
    3. Verse 23Until the Faith was to come and be revealed. 
      1. The faith is Jesus the Christ. Once He came to offer freedom from the law. 
      2. Without Jesus in your heart and life, you are being held in custody. 
      3. Jesus has come and Jesus has reveled Himself to the world. 
      4. Jesus is the most loved, hated, and controversial person to ever walk the planet. 
    4. Verse 24So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.
    5. Here is the million dollar word—Justified. We are under the law no longer because Jesus has justified us if we have faith in Him.
    6. If you are here are you claim you have faith, yet your actions speak otherwise, how does one balance those 2 things?
    7. Listen to me this morning. You will always let others down. You will always be in a sinful temporary body while you are here. So at times, we won’t appear to be related to Jesus. We do things that are against God. We are still sinners saved by grace.
    8. The great thing about justification is in how it relates to our relationship with Christ. This is so important for us to know.
    9. The word justified means “pronounced or treated as righteous.” For a Christian, justification is the act of God not only forgiving the believer’s sins but imputing to him the righteousness of Christ. The Bible states in several places that justification only comes through faith. Justification is not earned through our own works; rather, we are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Christian, being declared righteous, is thus freed from the guilt of sin. Justification is a completed work of God, and it is instantaneous.
    10. Once a person is justified, there is nothing else he or she needs in order to gain entrance into heaven. Since justification comes by faith in Christ, based on His work on our behalf, our own works are disqualified as a means of salvation. There exist vast religious systems with complex theologies that teach the false doctrine of justification by works. But they are teaching “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all”.
    11. Aren’t you thankful for justification today? Are you thankful?
    12. All you need is faith in Jesus to be justified by God.
    13. Verse 25—Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
    14. Paul reiterates verse 23-24.
    15. You too can live under the doctrine of justification. 

 

Illustration—Here is how the system works in religion: 

You love God by following the law. Then, when you break the law, you go to jail for sinners. You wait there until you have asked for forgiveness so that you can have your freedom for a short time again. You break the law again, and you become a prisoner over and over again and again, in and out of jail. Then one day you realize that you can no longer continue to do this cycle of in and out of jail, so you decide it is easier to stay in jail, apart from God, since you seem to never please Him.

Church is no longer important, praying no longer exists, and the Bible is out of the question because no one can measure up to that. 

Then, one day a crisis of belief come into your universe, and you find yourself searching for answers, only you tried the God thing already, so you look to human wisdom, and then you try other options. Trying harder. Talking to people. Researching the internet. Working more. Investing in support groups. You see where I am going.

The Faith has come to set everyone free, including you, from the curse of this wheel of circling that never ends. It is time to let Jesus be in control. Not the religious Jesus you were taught about in your past, but the real Jesus. The real justified Gospel. 

Application—How about you? Have you been justified? Are still trying to set yourself free with acts of good will? Are you still in custody of the law? Jesus is the only freedom that can change your destiny. Give Him your life today!

  1. Justified by “The Promise”—verses 26-29

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    1. Verse 26—Those famous words repeated over and over throughout Paul’s writings—IN CHRIST. 
    2. When a repeat theme is continuous in the Bible, it is so we won’t try and figure out some other Gospel. The true gospel is “in Christ.” In a relationship with Jesus.
    3. When we come to faith “in Christ” we now become a child of God through our faith “in Him.” 
    4. Not everyone in the world is a child of God, although many have sold us this false doctrine. If that were the case, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die for our sins. We would not need to be “in Christ”
    5. Verse 27—A picture of how you are to live “in Christ.” Baptism.
    6. When a person is baptized in Christ, they identify a transformation that has taken place on the inside. 
    7. Paul say when we are baptized we are clothed with Christ. We put on our new clothing. We identify with Jesus. 
    8. Baptism is not salvation but a symbol of it. Salvation is what happens when a person opens up their heart and asks Jesus to be the Lord of their life. Baptism is an act of humble obedience of identifying with Jesus. We put on our new wardrobe. 
    9. To be clothed with Christ means to be like Christ.
    10. Verse 28—This verse is one that unifies all believers in Christ. 
    11. We will still be Anglo, Hispanic, Black, Asian, other differences that make us Unique, but they are no longer significant in our new identity in Christ. 
    12. The Christian is now brother and sister with any and all who also claim Jesus as their Lord. You now assimilate based on the Jesus identity, and not so much as a Mexican, Black, or White person. 
    13. Look at City Church Del Rio. The make up we have here is representative of this verse. We identify with each other as followers of Christ, not follows of what our culture tells us. 
    14. So, if Paul were writing to the American church today, which is but the way still very segregated by ethnicity, he would say: there is no longer Hispanic, Black, White, or Asian, your now brothers and sisters in Christ first!
    15. We must not get caught up in that non-sense. We will exalt the name of Jesus here, in order to win all, no matter ethnic background, color of skin, social-social-economical status, etc., etc. Jesus wins out at City Church.
    16. Men will not be elevated above women, and women will not be elevated above men. Jesus will be elevated above all. 
    17. Oneness in Christ is the call of us that want to see the Justified Gospel proclaimed.
    18. Verse 29—Paul reminds us once again. We are the people of promise. We are in the lineage of Abraham. We are heirs to the throne of Jesus.

Illustration—1 Corinthians 12:12-20

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

We are on body in Christ, made to unite in a higher calling in order to fulfill God’s purpose through His church.

Application—Do you have the assurance that you are part of the promise? Today is the day that God has called you into His Kingdom inheritance. All you need is faith to believe it.

Stay In The Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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What “Living Biblically” says about religion and culture today

Great read by Dr. Jim Denison. Enjoy.

Television is producing more shows with religious themes, as the sitcom Living Biblically illustrates. The show depicts a lapsed Catholic who is married to an atheist and decides to live by the literal commands of Scripture with the help of a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. I found it mildly humorous at times, cringeworthy at others.

Other religiously themed shows include a young man preparing for his bar mitzvah, a young genius who struggles with his mother’s Christianity, and a stand-up comic who wrestles with his faith.

What they seem to have in common is this: they treat Christianity as a religion more than a relationship.

“That’s easy-it’s grace”

In What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey describes a conference on comparative religions in which experts were discussing whether any specific belief was unique to Christianity.

The debate went on for some time, until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked. He was told that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among the world’s religions. Lewis responded: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

When we focus on the grace-centered, intimate communion we can have with God Almighty, those who don’t understand may mock us for listening to our Father’s voice. Recall Joy Behar’s claim on The Viewthat Mike Pence, who claims to hear God’s voice, has a “mental illness.”

As Eric Metaxas notes, “If Mike Pence is crazy for believing he hears God’s voice, then so are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama-all of whom said they listened for the still, small voice of God.”

The good news is that some in Hollywood really understand the good news.

For instance, Letitia Wright, who plays Princess Shuri in Black Panthertold an interviewer that a few years ago, “I was pretty much obsessed with acting, and it became my world. It became what I used to be happy.” So she went on a hiatus from acting: “I said, ‘Okay, Jesus, I’ll try you,’ and I haven’t looked back since.”

Now, she says, “I don’t really consider myself religious. I view it more as a relationship. And if anyone thinks that’s weird, then okay.”

When we work, God works

How can you and I build a more transforming, empowering relationship with the Lord of the universe?

Our self-reliant culture would expect me to encourage more church attendance, Bible reading, time in prayer, and other spiritual activities as the answer to the question. The brilliant theologian Henri Nouwen agreed that such disciplines are vital: “Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating.”

Then comes the grace-centered surprise: “It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.

“Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.”

Said simply: When we work, God works. When we make time for God, we position ourselves to receive what his grace intends to provide. We cannot earn what he can only give. But we must be close enough to receive what he wants to bestow.

“O Lord, do it again!”

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). His Father promised us, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). Our Savior added: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (John 8:47).

But know this: after God speaks to us, he intends to speak through us.

Yesterday I reflected on Mark Batterson’s terrific new book, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God. I’ll close today with my favorite story from the book:

“In 1940 Dr. J. Edwin Orr took a group of Wheaton College students to study abroad in England. One of their stops included the Epworth Rectory. The rectory now serves as a Methodist museum, but it was the home of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.

“In one of the bedrooms, there are two impressions where it is believed that John Wesley regularly knelt in prayer. As the students were getting back on the bus, Dr. Orr noticed that one student was missing. Going back upstairs, Dr. Orr found a young Billy Graham kneeling in those kneeholes and praying, ‘O Lord, do it again!'”

Now it’s our turn.

Stay in the Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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500 Years of Reformation

Today’s post comes from Dr. Jim Denison’s Forum:

Nine hundred million Protestants the world over are remembering an event that was far more obscure at the time but soon changed the world.

On October 31, 1517, an unknown monk in a small village nailed a document to the door of the town church. I’ve seen stories on Martin Luther, the Catholic Church, and the Protestant Reformation. But I haven’t seen much coverage of the document that made history.

Luther’s Ninety-five Theses are a set of theological statements regarding the church of his day. Their central concern remains an issue of enormous significance to our culture and our souls today.

The promise of religion

The subject Luther wanted to address was the selling of “indulgences.” Church historian Michael Whiting explains:

“Indulgences had been available in the church since the Middle Ages. In exchange for the giving of alms towards a religious cause, penitent sinners could be remitted part or all of the acts of penance, or temporal discipline, required for their sins. . . . Now, following a papal bull promulgated in 1476, indulgences could even be purchased on behalf of loved ones suffering in purgatory.”

The slogan of the day was, “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”

Luther became convinced that indulgences could not save a person’s soul. To the contrary, he noted, “Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences” (Thesis #43). He added: “Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath” (Thesis #45).

Luther meant to begin a discussion within the church. However, ecclesiastical authorities eventually condemned him as a heretic. His supporters formed a protest movement calling for reform, leading to the Protestant Reformation.

Here’s the part of his Reformation I would like to explore with you on this significant day: the difference between religion and relationship.

Indulgences can be an expression of transactional religion: if we do our part, God will do his part. Such religion is endemic to Western culture, with roots in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Our ancestors built temples to various deities and promised that sacrifices to these gods would ensure their response and blessing. If you’re going to war, you sacrifice to Mars. If you’re going to sea, you sacrifice to Neptune. If you need wisdom, you sacrifice to Athena.

The same religious spirit is popular today.

It’s not hard to find preachers promising that financial contributions to their ministries will ensure God’s monetary blessings in your life. People go to church on Sunday so God will bless them on Monday. We read the Bible and pray so that God will guide and help us.

The promise of religion is that if we do what it wants us to do, God will do what we want him to do.

The peril of religion

What’s wrong with religion?

Fil Anderson is a longtime Young Life leader, speaker, and counselor. In Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God, he defines religion as “a human activity devoted to the impossible task of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to itself.”

Fil knows his subject matter. His insightful book describes his personal journey from a legalistic religion about God to a life-giving relationship with Jesus. His experience has been shared by many of us:

“The pathology of my religion erupted in insidious fashion: believing and doing the right things became a substitute for living in right relationship with God. As a result, I got lost in the details and simultaneously lost my heart. I spent most of my time learning what I couldn’t do instead of celebrating and enjoying what I could do because of my relationship with Jesus.”

Fil quotes pastor Doug Banister: Religion is “what is left after a true love for God has drained away. Religion is a shell that is left after the real thing has disappeared.”

Speaking to the transactional religion of Hosea’s day, the Lord warned: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Our Father wants our love before he wants our service (Matthew 22:37). He longs for a transformational relationship with his children, one founded on worship and grace rather than works and grades.

Whenever people confuse religion with relationship, the Reformation is still relevant.

Just as Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of his church, so Jesus stands at the door of his church today: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

When last did you open your door to Jesus?

Stay in the Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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Church Planting

Today I am posting an article from Ed Stetzer. I was intrigued by it because as a church planter, our church never officially launched with a big hoopla. We started in November and God has been so gracious to us.

Church-Planting Shifts, Part One: The Launch

Consider your people group and the time of year.
Church-Planting Shifts, Part One: The Launch

Church planting is somewhat of an entrepreneurial enterprise that tends to be on the front end of change, both catalyzing change and being catalyzed by change.

This is the crux of what I want to discuss in this four-part series. The series is intended to keep grounding us in the realities of church planting while helping us seek creative ways to engage with our specific contexts.

Let me be honest, church planters tend to think that their individual and local church-planting model is the norm globally. That’s not the case.

Furthermore, our tendency is to cling to whatever conference we attended and mold our plant around a personality, model, or successful movement. That also makes it hard to think about different methodologies being helpful and appropriate.

For example, let’s looks at the church planting launch service.

The methodology of starting a church with a publicly announced beginning has probably influenced all of us. Even if we are doing a missional incarnational approach to church planting, at some point we realize that there is value in inviting people to our community. This may not be at the scale of the traditional approach, but because people are intrigued to check something out the first time, most church planters have a grand opening of some type.

One of the lessons we have learned is that big beginnings are now becoming less common. Although many still have ‘grand openings,’ since the 1980s and the 1990s there has been a decline in the size and audaciousness of large launches when planting new churches.

But large launches are still out there.

Large launches tend to be successful when we consider a few factors. These factors are not things I’m saying are good, but things I am saying help promote a large launch.

First, it helps to have clearly identifiable people groups living in relatively close proximity if you are planning a large launch.

In addition, large launches also benefit from new people moving into a community or sufficient homogeneity that gives the church traction and acceptance within a certain subsection of the community population. Let’s say the community is predominantly Haitian and there are not a lot of Haitian churches. A larger start to the church might see more success because of the need and void present.

Second, it is critical to consider what time of year is best to launch in your context.

Let me give you a helpful example. Many churches aim to launch around Easter. Although this may seem like the ideal time due an openness to the gospel this time of year, the proximity to summer (a down and travel time for many) and inflated numbers may lead to discouragement shortly after the launch. In my experience, fall is the best time to launch a church plant.

You typically have a three to nine-month window to launch the church and get the small groups and other ministries going. If you go longer than that, you will lose people who fear the church will not be sufficient for their needs.

Another rule of thumb when it comes to timing: you also have three to nine months of preparation and meeting before you need to officially launch the church, so plan accordingly.

When it comes to reaching people in our community, we always need to celebrate new beginnings when our core team is ready, but the prevailing trend is to downplay the launch somewhat and build in core strength for the long haul, where real growth occurs.

More on that next time…

Stay in the Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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Assurance Sermon Series

letters-of-john-assurance

Today, as I write this post, I am reminded of the great gift God has bestowed upon us-assurance. We are allowed to live out our life in assurance. We can know who Jesus is and who we are in Him. This aspect of the Christian walk can transform our being. We no longer have to be intimated by a society that believes we are the ones who have lost our way.

The letters of 1, 2, and 3 John are what I like to call the black and white, cut and dry, and zero gray areas of Christianity. There is this a theme throughout that says it either this or that with no in between.

Light or dark, good or evil, love God or don’t love God, heaven or hell, Jesus or Satan, righteousness or sin, life or death, eternal or temporary, and truth of false.

This will be an 8-week series leading up to Easter Sunday. I look forward to our time together as we journey through another book of God’s amazing Word of Life.

I plan on posting some notes each week for each of the 8 sermons here on this blog.

In the meantime, stay in the light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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Leading a Church of Less Than 100

Are You on Track if You Lead a Church of Less Than 100?

Most of the time church planting is a long, hard slog.
Are You on Track if You Lead a Church of Less Than 100?
I came across this article and really thought of this as reality. I lead a church of 80 or so at the beginning stages of year 2. I sometimes feel as if the growth isn’t going fast enough and as numerically as it should be. You too may feel that way too. Read the article below and be encouraged if you are a church planter!

Every church leader or pastor desires ministry to be fruitful and to influence their community. But we need to be reminded that we can no longer depend on the success of the past to be the shelter of our future.

While leadership is important, a church’s size can change frequently, depending upon other factors like changing demographics of the community or cultural shifts. But how do we respond when the previous generation was much more numerically effective than we are? What do we do when people ask, “Why don’t you have the results they had before?”

Older members of any given church typically seem more nostalgic about the past and use that as a measure of success in the future. It is important to remember, however, that culture has changed in such a way that it becomes misleading in many places to expect the numerical success of the past for a new generation.

Reaching for the Unattainable?

Several years ago, at a conference at Saddleback Church, I noticed that all the other speakers were pastoring a church between 5,000 and 25,000. However, what they also had in common was they had planted churches in another era.

At the time, I was pastoring a church whose size was far less than 5,000. When it was time for me to speak, I kept looking at Rick Warren out of the corner of my eye. I was scheduled to preach at Saddleback on Sunday, so I did not want to tick him off!

But I also had something to say.

I told listeners that conferences like this are great, but that they can also be really confusing and disheartening. When you drive onto Saddleback’s property, if I recall correctly, you drive up a four-lane highway called Purpose Drive and then you come to a stop light at Saddleback Way before parking your vehicle and entering one of the many entrances into the main sanctuary.

People came into this conference and heard speaker after speaker tell implausible stories of preaching and teaching only to see thousands of people showing up. I reminded those in the crowd that this conference could help them, or it could hurt them. “If you aren’t careful,” I told them, “this conference can be ministry pornography for you. It will be an unrealistic depiction of an experience you’re never going to have that distracts you from the real and glorious thing.”

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that everyone in the next generation isn’t going to reach as many people as they would like. There will always be outliers. I know of numerous faithful church planters who are attracting relatively large numbers. There are stories of tremendous, immediate success. We praise God for these situations. But we also need to acknowledge the reality that most of the time church planting is a long, hard slog.

And it is a lot harder than it used to be.

When Smaller Is Better

The typical church plant averages around 100 in attendance until after the four-year mark. Most churches in the U.S., in fact, have 80 people or less attending their weekend services.

Pastors and planters should know the statistical realities of the average church instead of assuming they are a disappointment if they don’t match the atypical success stories they see at conferences or read about in books. It is for this reason that I launched the Breaking the 200 Barrier series. It is time we have more chastened expectations; this, in turn, will make us more likely to succeed. A Lifeway Research study found that one of the four correlative factors to church-planting success was coming in with realistic expectations.

So, you are probably not going to have 1000 in a year, and it will be harder than you think, but knowing that will help you reach people as you grow.

Now, I know that does not fill conferences. People don’t rush to attend a conference with the guy who failed at planting a church or the one who took six years to get to 100. But the truth is, speakers who pastor or lead smaller churches are in the ideal situations to give practical help and encouragement to pastors struggling to reach their community. Having a right perspective always helps.

Let me share an illustration from how I watch television with my daughters. To help them realize that what they see is mostly unrealistic, we actually google pictures of the women on the screen without make-up. We do this so my daughters can have a better understanding of beauty and perception.

(If you have young daughters, try it—you may be surprised by their response.)

Similarly, church planters need to know that the expectations they see on conference platforms are unrealistic. Pastors need to remember that ministry in the past should not serve as the only measuring stick for ministry in the present. If we don’t remember this, then planters and pastors may see the tremendous success on the stage or in the past and assume they are failures if they don’t reach those virtually impossible-to-reach levels.

It is past time that churches measure success based on the current realities of their cultural context instead of past glories or present-day anomalies.

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