What Is Our Goal on Sunday Mornings?

Graceway MediaI came across this article over the weekend and wanted to share it.

What should be the goal of our preaching and singing together on Sunday mornings?

Should preachers try to have the clearest, most engaging, entertaining
message they can? Should the worship team seek to have the coolest arrangement,
the most passionate singing, the most exciting sound?

These things are not necessarily bad in themselves, but they are not the
goal of our Sunday mornings. Jonathan Leeman shares this great illustration in
his book Reverberation:

A group of American Christians in the nineteenth century planned to visit London for a week. Their friends, excited for the opportunity, encouraged them to go hear
two of London’s famous preachers and bring back a report. On Sunday morning
after their arrival, the Americans attended Joseph Parker’s church. They
discovered that his reputation for eloquent oratory was well deserved. One
exclaimed after the service, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no
doubt, that Joseph Parker is the greatest preacher that ever there was!”

The group wanted to return in the evening to hear Parker again, but they remembered that their friends would ask them about another preacher named Charles Spurgeon. So on Sunday evening they attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where Spurgeon was preaching. The group was not prepared for what they heard, and as they departed, one of them again spoke up, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no doubt, that Jesus Christ is the greatest Savior that ever there was!”

Here is the goal of our preaching and singing together on Sunday mornings:
That we proclaim Jesus Christ, our glorious Savior and all he has done for us,
and urge everyone to respond to him appropriately.

When people leave our churches tomorrow, may they not say, “What moving
worship, what a great worship band, what an incredible preacher, or what a cool
building” but may they say, “What an incredible Savior.”

(Written by Mark Altrogge)

How different would the world view the church if the only purpose for church every Sunday was to simply lift up and glorify the name of Jesus?

Child-like Faith

And Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it.” (Mark 10.15 ESV)

A few weeks ago we were watching a story on the evening news about a
car that had hit a motorcycle.  The motorcycle was on fire, and its rider was trapped under the car.  The flames were consuming the bike and had spread to the engine of the car, and yet, people were desperately trying to get the young man out from under the car, thus putting their own lives in danger. Dozens of people rushed to the car, lifted it up so that another man could pull the injured rider to safety, set the car down, and backed away from the dangerous fire.  It was an act of selfless heroism.

 As I sat in my recliner watching this unfold I just kept saying, “That is unbelievable!  In today’s world you just don’t expect people to react like that.” I was truly pleasantly surprised that people would rally together, put their lives in jeopardy, and then do what was necessary to save someone else’s life.  No sooner had the words left my mouth when my seven-year-old son said, “Dad, isn’t it great that God sent all those people to help that man!”  Needless to say, I now was speechless.  Child-like faith has a way of putting things into perspective.

 In Mark 10:15, Jesus tells us to enter His Kingdom we need child-like faith.  Children believe what we tell them.  The Bible says God is gracious, merciful, kind, loving, generous, our defender, supplier, and meets all our needs.  In spite of this, adults tend to get caught up looking at the problem instead of the problem solver.  We end up focusing on the seen rather than unseen.  We walk by sight rather than by faith.  Children do not have that problem–they simply believe what they are taught and walk by pure faith.

 As you go about your day, keep your eyes of faith open to see the wonders which God is working all around you. You never know, it might be your hands that God uses to rescue someone from perishing.

Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups

Here is the final article by Thom Rainer from his series on small groups.

Rainer writes:

Over the past two weeks, we’ve covered the five myths facing small groups as well as the five benefits of small groups. Unfortunately, there are still challenges and obstacles that hinder transformation in and through small groups.

The first obstacle to transformational small communities is that the transference of information is valued much more than life transformation. Biblical illiteracy is a problem in North America and even the church. But the work of a small group or Sunday School class does not end when the members can all find Thessalonica on the map in the back of their Bibles. The purpose of community must be to engender the desire and see the effects of transformation. Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity. Knowledge puffs up and cannot be the goal alone. Transformation includes biblical learning, but it does not end with it.

Another obstacle to transformational small communities is that teaching is valued more than learning. We have already pointed out the danger of only recruiting the uber-qualified as leaders for classes and groups. The goal must be that people are joyfully learning, not that one person is happy teaching. Leaders should focus as much on application of the truth as the delivery of it. For small groups to be transformational, they should include monologue and dialogue. Leaders of groups should always have these questions in mind:

  1. How well are members applying God’s truth?
  2. Where is each participant with the Lord?

Remember the agenda is Christ being formed in the lives of those involved in your small group.

The third obstacle to small communities is when they become a reflection of past practices. Churches with a strong history and tradition can be closed to deeper discussions and questions. They have done groups a certain way for years. The way is safe. The connection is important. Group life is a tool of God for His purposes, not an institutional expectation. Groups provide the opportunity to live life on life.

The fourth small communities’ obstacle is a segmentation of the mission of God. The mission of small communities is not to teach the Bible only. Every expression of church owns all the mission of God. Your smaller community owns the mission of God. You have been called and empowered. The danger of segmentation is great. The smaller communities say that is not their role. Our purpose is to get through the study, they think. Instead, every small group could adopt a nation in the world or a people group. We are going to go. We are going to connect. We own the mission of God.

The fifth small communities’ obstacle is a lack of intimacy. We use the term community freely, yet there are multiple layers of community. Community in a broad sense is achieved around common interests. The most concrete example of community is your local neighborhood. You may not have any significant conversations with your neighbors, even though you have lived on the same street for years. Normally if there is a series of break-ins on your block or another neighborhood crisis, you start talking to your neighbors. You now share a common interest: the security of your personal property. Although new friendships can begin because of the mutual interest and corresponding conversations, you only experience community on a shallow level.

The next level of community is critical for a smaller group to become transformational. The word is communitas. Communitas is a threshold or space where deeper sharing and conversations take place. The dynamic of a deeper level or threshold of sharing is not automatic. The smaller group becomes a safe zone where deeper questions and struggles can be discussed. The environment is relaxed and open. People can pray for one another in the moment. People can pray (and do in a transformational small group) beyond living rooms and meeting times. More conversations evolve outside the meeting. Actions and accountability take place.

What obstacles are small group facing? Are you developing true community?

“In My Seat” — A 9/11 Story

Most of us can remember where we were on September 11, 2001. In my mind, I can still see the images of buildings burning and eventually collapsing. I can also remember vividly the video images filmed from a helicopter hovering over the crash site in Pennsylvania as well as the Pentagon.  I remember gathering at our church that evening to pray for survivors and the search and rescue teams.  I remember the pain in my own heart as I thought about the anguish so many families were feeling at losing a loved one in such horrible fashion.  Without a doubt, it is a day that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life.

This week I received an email from a dear friend entitled “In My Seat.”  He told me that it wasn’t your normal 9/11 heart tugging story, but it was a wonderful testimony of a man who was scheduled to fly American Airlines flight 11.  The video is just over 15 minutes long, but it is well worth your time to listen to the 9/11 story of Steve Scheibner.

I’m Going to be a Dad?

In my office, on the wall above my computer monitor, is a present my wife gave me for Father’s Day 2005. It is a picture frame with thirteen pictures of me and William. It starts with a picture of me holding him the day he was born and is followed by another picture taken on the same day each month. The final picture is, of course, me holding him on his first birthday. On my book shelves I have several other pictures of him—graduating preschool, his school photos from kindergarten, first, and second grade.  In just a few seconds, I can see all seven years of his life.

Sometimes I just can’t think or study anymore, so I take a break to rest my weary mind. It is during those breaks that I recall all the wonderful memories I have had with William over the last seven years. I think about how much he has grown physically, all that he has learned educationally, and how he is maturing spiritually. Without a doubt, I am a proud father. I love my son with every ounce of my being, and I make sure he is confident of that love. I want him to know my love for him doesn’t change when I am frustrated at his disobedience, when I am disciplining him for his actions, and most especially when we are separated from one another. I want him to understand that my love is unconditional, and nothing—I mean nothing—will ever separate him from my love, ever.

Most of us have seen too many children literally fighting for the affections of their parents. When they do not get it, they go elsewhere in search of love and acceptance, and it is guaranteed they will find it somewhere. It was this thought which woke me up from a deep sleep shortly before William was born. I sat straight up in the bed with one thought racing through my mind, “What if I’m not a good dad?” I found myself gripped with fear and anxiety. What did I know about being a parent? I was thirty-nine years old and should be getting ready to be a grandpa not a dad! Needless to say, I wasn’t able to clear my mind or go back to sleep, so I quietly knelt down beside the bed so as to not wake my wife, and I began to pray.

That night, I prayed for everything. I prayed for my son’s health, protection, salvation, his spiritual calling, and even his future wife. I remember asking God to give him a heart that burns with a passion to live a godly life, tell others about Jesus, and meet the needs of the hurting. And then I prayed something I had never said before, “Father, I guess I’m asking you to give me a son like Jesus. A son who loves you, obeys you, seeks to glorify you in all he does.” To be honest, the words came out before I thought them through, so I stopped praying to contemplate what I had just asked for.

Up to that point, praying had eased my fear and anxiety; however, that last line had rekindled the fire of anxiety and put one thought in my fearful mind, “If he is to grow up like Jesus, he needs a father like Jesus’ Father, and I’m not GOD!” With that dark storm cloud of fear hovering over me I cried out, “God, please help me be a good dad!” Immediately a thought rushed into my mind, “Give him Jesus!” Give him the unconditional love of Christ, teach the commands of Christ, show him the love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness of Christ, and most of all, live the life of Christ as an example for him.

That dark night of the soul has become a bright beacon on days when I just don’t feel like I’m getting the job done. It is a bright lighthouse shining in the darkness—lighting the way for me to avoid the dangerous rocks of doubt and depression. It is a memory that reminds me that my son doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does his father! Why? Because Jesus is perfect and He is in control of our lives!

Five Benefits of Small Groups

Here is part two of Thom Rainer’s  three-part series on small groups.

Rainer writes:

Last week, I wrote on the five myths of small groups. This week, I turn my attention to five deliverables of small groups. For a church to have transformational small groups, it must first recognize how its small groups will equip participants for the mission of God and the cause of Christ.

Today I examine how the activity of community within the context of small groups results in transformed lives.

Deliverable 1: Smaller communities deliver deeper friendships.

As our churches continue to grow larger, they must also grow smaller to connect people on a transformational level. We may not like to admit it, but we know when we are known, and we like it better that way. It has been said that our own name is the sweetest word in the world to us. Nothing is more personal and unique. Nothing gets a quicker or more emotional response.

For transformation to take place, we must know and invest in relationships with one another. By joining other Christians in small-group communities, believers can find the environment where life change can often occur most readily.

Deliverable 2: Smaller communities deliver accountability relationships.

The most valuable takeaway in a smaller community is the person sitting beside me. Our lives become a weekly narrative to one another of God’s faithfulness and our response. Connecting to a small group of friends means that we leave our halo at the door. The accountability living in a class or group helps us to live in the transformation brought about by Christ.

It might sound a bit strange, but the local church needs more provoking. We read, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). In the KJV the word promote is translated “provoke,” which provides a more vivid picture. We like the word provoke because it feels a bit more aggressive . . . of course in a positive, Christian way. Our nature is to be a sinner and drift away from God and His purposes. We need a bit of positive provocation to keep us on path through the accountability of friends.

So small groups cannot be just another program provided to those interested in . . . small groups. Smaller communities must be part of a commitment to spur one another on in our Christian commitment.

Deliverable 3: Smaller communities deliver environments for spiritual growth.

Attraction may get someone in the front door of a church on Sunday morning. The unchurched, previously churched, and church shoppers are looking for excitement, energy, and creativity. Churches have never been better at producing solid Sunday morning environments. But relational connection and life transformation in small groups will move them beyond the spectator level.

Also, what attracts them into the front door will not translate into personal transformation even if they attend multiple times. Initially they may only feel comfortable enjoying and engaging at a distance, but something must make them more involved in the action. One visit a week or a few visits a month are less evasive with less results. The nature of a smaller group results in another connecting point. In most churches new attendees only see multiple layers of structure and little relational space. Connecting them to a small community is critical for their spiritual journey.

Deliverable 4: Smaller communities deliver maximum participation.

Even the normal size church (seventy-five on Sunday morning) is driven by its worship service and is limited in the number of people who can participate. Transformational small groups require more than just attendance. Attendees must take responsibility for the long-term functionality of the group. The more responsibilities can be distributed, the healthier the group becomes. We believe in small communities that give everyone a job. Prayer leaders, home hosts, greeters, communications leaders, facilitators, and community mission leaders are just a few job opportunities in a small group. Normally small-group jobs are simple and do not require knowledge or experience. The group belongs to the group. When we get maximum participation, we get maximum buy-in for people engaged in God’s mission. That matters.

People need to move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles. Sitting in rows you are watching someone else using their gifts. You are more a passive spectator than an active participant. Small groups help people move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles and from sitting in circles to going into the world.

Deliverable 5: Smaller communities deliver missional opportunities.

The small groups in your church must be more than social or study groups. If they are biblical communities, something else must happen. They must be filled with people who hold to a missionary mentality ready to engage in the mission of the church. Mission will provide the glue for the group.

The group and classes will serve to minister to the members. But to keep the members ever transforming to look like Jesus, they must be given the opportunity to help the community reflect the kingdom of God. The goal of a group must be the multiplication of disciples for Jesus.

What is your small group delivering? Are you producing true disciples? Are you provoking one another to good deeds?

The Way to a Peaceful Mind

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God,which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4.4-9 ESV).