Friday, January 14, 2011

Not ‘Change the Question’ – Find the CORRECT Answer…

Recently an article was posted to a Baptist association website in my area.  It proposes that we ask certain questions to figure out better strategies of how to do ‘effective’ church more or less.

There is a fundamental flaw to the line of thinking set forth in the article.  The problem with most churches isn’t that they are asking the wrong questions but rather they are coming up with the wrong answers.  They come up with the wrong answers because they are seeking answers from a man-centered point of view.

By God’s grace I’ll address the issue without pride and I think the best way to do that is to take apart the questions line by line and suggest the answers that should be invariably the same across the board whether you are a large church or a small church.  There discussed and proposed questions are marked as Question #1-9, and then my proposed answers follow.

Question #1:  “Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone about some issues in that person's home church. Here are the some of the questions they were asking: Why are people leaving our church”

As with any question in life at all the first place we should seek an answer is the Bible.  What are some possible BIBLICAL reasons that a person or family might leave our church fellowship

Reason #1 - Perhaps those individuals were false converts or non-believers to begin with.  We’ll start with a worst case scenario.

1 John 2:18-19 - Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.  19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

John is writing to the churches over whom he has apostleship and they were obviously concerned over the departure of some of the members of their fellowship.  These individuals, whom John says are among the antichrists that will rise from time to time, were likely Gnostics who had never been born again to begin with.  They were either unbelievers who had crept in to deceive or false converts who had never truly repented and trusted Christ and so they were easily susceptible to false teaching of any kind.

What do we do with those types that leave because they don’t like the truth of the Gospel that is being taught from the pulpit?  We absolutely do NOT pass judgment on them and assume that while they may be yet unconverted they are beyond God’s grace.  This simply is not true.  No one is too sinful to be redeemed by our Sovereign God.

If they have left and it is because they are false converts it is better for them to leave lest they store up more wrath for themselves on the Day of Judgment (Romans 2:5).  If they are unwilling to repent, it is better that they not sit in church pretending to be Christian.  God desires sincerity in worship (Isaiah 1:10-20).  That does not in any case permit us to write them off.  We should continue to love them and definitely continue to share the truth of the Gospel with them imploring them to repent and be reconciled to Christ.  Not so that they will rejoin our fellowship and our numbers will stay high, but because we are chiefly concerned about their eternal welfare.

You may be asking, how do we know if that is the reason they left?  Is it our place to make that call?  Well I would say use extreme caution on these grounds.  Rather than trying to figure out if that is the exact reason they left, take John’s word as a possible reason that they left and let it motivate you to a deeper compassion for them.  Keep in mind though that if your end goal is getting them back in the pew, it will be sniffed out and your efforts are in vain.

Another possible reason, on the flipside of reason #1, would be:

Reason #2 - They left because they ARE born again believers and your church ISN’T striving to proclaim the Biblical Gospel.

2 John 10-11 - If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting;  11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

We are living in a day where unfortunately more churches are concerned with being hip and trendy over being Christocentric.  They are more in love with the a soft gospel that doesn’t mention sin or repentance and rather they proclaim a gospel that says, ‘Get saved and life will be great.’  That type of Gospel doesn’t save because it isn’t true (Galatians 1:6-10).  It may well be that the answer to your question begins with you examining everything your church preaches and teaches and does in ministry through the lens of Scripture.  Does everything you preach point your flock away from sin and towards Christ?  Does it bring man low and exalt God?  Are you proclaiming sound doctrine even though it isn’t always popular (2 Timothy 1:12-14)?  If not, you’ve just identified the reason that faithful Christians are leaving your church.  The response, repent and get on the Biblical program (Mark 1:15) then go and be reconciled to that person and tell them of what God has shown you in His Word.

Question #2: “How can we get those that left to come back?  What’s the problem?”

At the risk of being accused of being cold hearted and uncaring, can I just say that if reason #1 is true then you don’t want them back.  Until they repent and are converted they are not going to be anything but a cancer on your fellowship.

If reason #2 is true then you won’t be able to persuade them to come back until they see proof that the church has changed to a more Christ-centered direction (and not MAN-centered)

Question #3: “Now, I am not suggesting that those are not legitimate questions. I am suggesting there is a question that is more powerful. Why would anyone want to come to our church? That question is not a criticism (unless we can't come up with a single answer for it). It is a way of refocusing.”     

Why indeed?  Why would anyone want to go to any church?  Well several reasons might be suggested and depending on your understanding of who church is being done for, you might come up with a plethora of answers…

That being the case, there must be an equalizer.  A standard starting point that all true churches must filter this question through.  Scripture is that starting point.  After all, the first thing a true church must affirm unwaveringly is that ALL Scripture is infallible, inerrant, and God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Some great foundational Scriptures to help a church begin assessing the health of their church might be:

John 21:15-17 - So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Romans 1:16-17 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 - And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 10:31 - Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Ephesians 4:14-16 - As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

1 Timothy 4:16 - Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

2 Timothy 1:7-14 - For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.  8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,  9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,  10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,  11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.  12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.  13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.

Jude 3 - Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Do you see a theme just in those few verses?  What is the most essential thing in a church?  Sound doctrine.  Without sound doctrine, without sound teaching and preaching, how can you proclaim the Biblical Gospel?  Answer:  You can’t.  Without preaching the Biblical Gospel, no one will be saved Romans 10:14)!

Church is for the Believers, not the unbelievers… Do we want the lost to come?  Absolutely and we don’t want to do anything that hinders them from coming… but the primary role of the church is discipleship within its doors, not evangelism.  When Jesus gave the Great Commission He told us to “GO”.  That implies leaving our home, leaving the comfort of the four walls of our church to take the Gospel to a world that is full of lost and dying people.  The church should be welcoming and loving towards the lost person who comes to their church, but never ever ever at the expense of the truth of the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-10).

If anything we do that lost person a tremendous disservice when we water the truth of the Gospel down for their sake… We need to speak boldly to them, lovingly, explaining from every angle that we can muster about their sin and the just wrath of God due to them for that sin (Romans 7:7)… we need to proclaim to them with awe and reverence the great love of God for sinners, that He sent His only Son to die on the cross and take the full wrath of God… that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16, Romans 3:25, 1 John 4:10).

Question #4-8:  What do we have to offer ... What do we do well ... What are our strengths ... What sets us apart ... How is God "showing up" in our church?

Applying the above Scriptural principles, it should be a piece of cake to answer these.

What do we have to offer? Sound Biblical teaching and training of disciples. (Christocentric Discipleship)

What do we do well? Preach the unadjusted Gospel of Jesus Christ

What are our strengths? Strive to be a church that reflects Jesus Christ and shines His light in the world.

How is God “showing up” in our church?  I must confess I must wonder if God finds this question insulting… if those whom God has drawn unto Salvation, purchased by the Blood of Jesus Christ… if they are gathered together… God is there… Not that the people are God obviously… but we have the “Helper” the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us… Again, our goal is how we can best glorify God… where do we find how to glorify God?  The Bible!

Question #9: Imagine what we might learn if we asked a new church member, "What drew you to our church?"

If the answer coming back from this “person” isn’t that they were drawn there because we love Jesus and we love truth and because of the love Christ has shown us we loved them… I don’t see any reason to take seriously any other answer…

The last paragraph read “Do you think it might empower our people if they heard that their lives and ministry investment actually impacted someone's life in a positive way? Do you think it might help us know how to be good stewards of our resources if we found out what ministries are truly having an impact (and maybe which ones aren't)? Do you think it might assist in the assimilation process if new members saw themselves as valuable resources to help the church expand its ministries rather than new blood (and money) to support current ministries?”

All of those questions are terribly man-centered… And as far as “assimilating” new believers…  let them join, be a part of your fellowship and enjoy worship and discipleship with the brethren… but be oh so cautious before putting a new member or new believer into leadership quickly… 1 Timothy 3:2 warns that new converts in leadership roles can easily become conceited and if so they can fall under condemnation.  Now, in fairness, that verse is specifically referring to the role of Elders in the church, however, I think it is a wise principle to apply in any leadership role.

I firmly believe we would begin to see a tremendous revival in this Nation if the preachers would all take the pulpit next Lord’s Day and begin to boldly, unashamedly, and lovingly proclaim the Biblical Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to their flock.

Yes, some will leave… they will. They will go out from the church because they were not a part of the true body of believers to begin with.  Some will likely be convicted of their sin and be drawn to repent and trust Christ for the very first time.  Either way, no matter what happens… Whether you have a church of 3, 30, or 300… God being glorified is your chief concern.

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