Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Exhortation

First of all, I commend you on your choice to be a shepherd to God's flock and to dedicate your life to bringing lost souls to Christ. Yours is an extremely difficult job and is getting more and more difficult each day. I pray that God will be with you and watch over you as you fulfill the mission that He has assigned to you.
 If this message steps on your toes, do know that I am sincere in the fact that I do not judge anyone. I am merely discussing a lesson that I have learned in my own life. You can choose to disregard this message, get angry, or deny that your church has this problem. As a matter of fact, many churches do not have this problem at all. I am not trying to degrade anyone and this message is truly meant to change hearts and lives where a problem may exist. As a member of a congregation and someone who will soon be transitioning into more leadership roles, I would really love to see the leaders and members begin to work together to find solutions. Sometimes other people's viewpoints are just what we need to clear up issues when we can't understand the source of a problem.

       We often complain about several problems we have in our churches. Perhaps you have had some of the same complaints in the past. In some churches the few always do the work while many are not involved. Many leaders are overworked in their ministries. Church attendance is steadily declining to the point that some are closing their doors. Perhaps you and your congregation are leaving the house of God Sunday after Sunday feeling less than fulfilled and you can’t figure out why. You want to change things and bring true power into the house of God again, but if you don’t know what is wrong, you can’t fix it. I want to address some key problems that I have seen which can hinder the Holy Spirit from working. These problems may or may not be your personal issue. To assess what is truly hindering your ministry, you must pray as a church body and ask God to reveal it to you. This is meant merely as insight into potential causes. Please note that for every solution I give, I have included the scriptural basis for that solution so there will be no misunderstanding about where my message comes from. Please note that all scripture is taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
       Before I begin, I would like to apply Psalm 139:23-24 to this entire message. I pray that God would search my heart and see if there is any sin or ulterior motive within me. I pray that He will truly speak use me as a vessel of His love and edification and not allow the enemy to use this message to bring divisions and strife. I also pray that God will open the hearts of those who read it and allow them to truly receive His Word.

        In Matthew 5:13-16, the Lord calls us to be the salt and light of the earth. One of the problems I have noticed is that sometimes we tend to preach more about the happy, good feeling stuff. When we try to promote change in people's lives, we dilute it and sugar coat it so much that it becomes ineffective. Those diluted messages become like salt that has lost its flavor. He says in verse 13 that "...It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." We also have a tendency to beat around the bush until the people miss the message. We try to hide the light of the truth so that it will not be so intense. You cannot hide the light that God has put within you and still glorify Him "...that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (V 16). The basis of all this beating around the bush and sugar-coating is rooted in fear. We fear that if our message is too sharp, it may cut someone. We don't want to offend people or push them away. Though we mean well, In Hebrews 4:12-14, God says that His true message is sharp and that we must "...hold fast our confession." It is supposed to cut away the fatness and sin that is within us so that we can be unburdened and lighter and more free to run the race that He has set before us as described in Hebrews 12:1. We cannot be fearful of offending someone or hurting their feelings because sometimes, the act of cutting away the sin is going to hurt! This does not mean, however, to intentionally offend people. Our teaching should always be seasoned with love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.
            One of the most powerful verses that speaks to those who are in a position of leadership is this: Jeremiah 13:20-21,"Lift up your eyes and see those who come from the north. Where is the flock that was given to you, your beautiful sheep? What will you say when He punishes you? For you have taught them to be chieftains, to be head over you. Will not pangs seize you, like a woman in labor?" In what way have we taught them to be head over us? By allowing fear of our congregations reactions to dictate how we preach God's holy Word! Leaders in the body of Christ will be held in higher account during judgement for they are to be the picture of Christ and they are to lead His people to salvation and help them from going astray. So if the people are going astray, but we as leaders fear to confront them because we are afraid the members will leave and take their money with them or that we will lose our jobs, we are putting worldly concerns ahead of God and thus, we are jeopardizing our congregations' salvation. We should not worry about their attitudes. God will take care of that. Regardless of how people decide to take our message, we must do what we know our God requires of us. Again, I am not advocating harshness, but loving guidance.
          Why are we so concerned that we will not be provided for if they fire us? Are we making small of the power of the Almighty God to provide for His church if they leave and take their precious tithe somewhere else? According to Mark 8:31-33, Peter’s worldly wisdom dictated it foolishness that the Savior of all mankind should suffer and die. It made more sense for Him to physically rise in power to conquer and subjugate the world. However, according to 1Corinthians 1:20 that God has “...made foolish the wisdom of this world”. If Christ Himself necessarily suffered and died, how much more should we also suffer persecution for remaining steadfast to the pure Word of God? Christ reiterates in the very same chapter of Mark in verses 34-38 that we must not love our lives to the point of being ashamed of the gospel. I think that should be applied, not just to our physical lives, but to our social lives as well. To be honest, I have found that people usually respect someone who is not afraid to correct someone in a loving way. My pastor steps on my toes on a regular basis. I still think the world of him.
         A second problem that I frequently notice in churches today is that we tend to complain that our church members don’t get involved. There is always an elect group of people that do everything and the rest simply show up on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, what we don't realize is that we are hindering ourselves. Frequently, it seems only people from an old family, or rich, or popular, or highly esteemed by the world have an active role in services. Why is that? Anyone who does not fit those categories and norms is automatically looked upon with so much suspicion and mistrust that they are unable to be useful. We have allowed our churches to become too full of divisions between those who have worldly wealth, esteem, and power and those who do not. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that these divisions are intentional. You see, to understand this phenomena, you must understand why people who are not in the upper class do not take more of a hands-on approach in church. Many times, they feel insignificant and unworthy by worldly standards and this translates into their spiritual life. In Romans 12:3-8, Paul exhorts the early church in Rome to not think of more highly of themselves than they should. He explains that no one has any worth outside of the grace of God and that we should not judge which members of the body of Christ are more important and that we should embrace the diversity of gifts and personalities that God has given us. Also, in 1 Corinthians 12:20-26, he reiterates his point once again that the body of Christ should be unified with no schism or inequality between its members. It is not such a hard thing to give a bit of extra encouragement to the people that we see as being less active. It is entirely possible that they feel they have nothing to offer or that their gifts are neither wanted nor needed. It would be beautiful to see the church begin to teach people about how to find out what they can offer and how to apply the gifts that they are unique for.
       We all know that man is not qualified to judge the worth of God's creation, so maybe worth is not the real problem. Sometimes it seems that church organizations don't want you to actively minister unless you will look good and give them a good reputation. Many people feel that the church doesn’t want anyone who would be bad for their image. Image is a worldly concern. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul explains that God cares nothing for our public image except that it be holy as He is holy. He doesn't care if a person is ugly...or poor...or strange...or even stutters. (So did Moses!) He asks that we not be conformed to the viewpoint or image of this world. We might miss the message that changes our lives and the lives of our congregations if someone is feeling suppressed to preserve a public image of being 'cool' or 'respectable'. Often, this message is the topic of many sermons and we wonder why people don't respond to it more. It could be that they don't know how to put that knowledge into common practice. Many people are not as proactive as others and we may have to be the ones to take the initiative to spur them into action.
            Perhaps you genuinely are concerned about the validity and honesty of the person who wants to serve. Maybe you are afraid that they will present false doctrine or lead people astray. Perhaps you are concerned that they are not truly called into a new ministry they want to begin. This is a vary legitimate concern within the church and many leaders know how to deal with this effectively. This is where we can help each other. There are many ways to confirm that someone is led by the Holy Spirit. Help them pray and seek God for a total plan. Find out if there are two or more other truly Christian people who can confirm this calling. Have them submit the whole plan to the church leadership. Then they can make sure it is biblically solid before it is implemented. We should not be hesitant to open our minds and hearts to new ministries. In missing out on the new ministries that God wants to begin, we may miss out on a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will accompany that ministry.
            Lastly, a church that is not ministering effectively to the community is not showing a unified view of themselves to outsiders. If a church becomes focused on itself, there will be no growth outside of the old families. Even though it may be leadership’s intention to grow new ministries, they may not know how to proceed. If we have prayed for God to bring us ideas, we can't be so suspicious that it creates total inaction when one of our members comes to us with one. Without testing and actively living out what we believe, we grow complacent and eventually fall away from faith. Without positive growth, some churches will face a real danger of closing their doors in the near future. As generations move away and fall farther and farther from faith, those churches will grow smaller and smaller until they eventually are no more. By living the example set in Acts 2, we must show the world who we are and live out our faith amongst them so that they may be drawn to our light and be saved, becoming one with us. That is where the true growth lies.
       The question is this; what are we afraid of? What is holding us back from the entire depth and breadth of the ministry we know God has called us to? Consider Matthew 10:27-31. I believe the time is now to have a reviving of the body of Christ. In this world of gray areas of compromise and corruption, there are only two masters. There are only two choices. Will you be a part of God's movement in the world today? Or are you in the ministry to serve your own interests? Granted, I realize that the problem is not exclusive to those in leadership positions. There are problems with the other members of the body as well. One reason I am focusing on leadersip right now is because that is the lesson God is teaching me. The other reason I have this particular focus is that if the head of the body is sick, it is impossible for any of the other members to be well. Every time I catch a simple little head cold, if I do not treat it properly right away, I end up with bronchitis, laryngitis, ear infection, tonsillitis, sinus infection, you name it! The things that affect the head of the church trickles down to every member of Christ’s body and affects us all. The place to begin healing is at the the head.

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