Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry Conference – Post #3.

Why did Jesus come to the earth?

Seeking that which is lost is a major theme of Jesus’ parables. Jesus talked about lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. These parables showed how important saving the “lost” is to Jesus.

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save that what was lost. Jesus was about salvation.

What did Jesus think about the “church people” of his day? Reading through the gospels it is easy to come to the conclusion that Jesus had a very low opinion of “church people” – especially the leaders. The “church people” cared about themselves—not those who were “lost.” The “church people” didn’t give a rip about the “sinners.”

Let’s fast-forward 2000 years…

Would most churches be able to prove with a preponderance of the evidence that they care about sinners—those apart from Jesus? Would I be able to prove it? Would Presbyterian churches be able to prove it?

Jesus spent so much time with “sinners” that the church leaders accused him of being a drunkard. Jesus went to the parties. Jesus went where there were prostitutes. Jesus was with people when they were drunk. Jesus was with the “crack-dealers” of his day – the tax collectors. The “sinners” found that Jesus cared about them. The sinners flocked to Jesus. Jesus had good news for them. Jesus gave them hope. Jesus would give them life!

Now comes the hard part… if you don’t want to be convicted you better stop reading now. You have been warned! Since I am a Presbyterian pastor I will be picking on Presbyterians but the criticisms apply to most every church and denomination.

The time has come to cut through all the crap.

How many new conversions have there been at your/my church is the past two months? How many of the new members have truly come into membership through a profession of faith? How many of our new members (or people at worship) have simply migrated from another church? Honestly, HOW MANY!!!

In the Presbyterian Church we have three ways to become a member of the church: profession of faith, reaffirmation of faith and letter of transfer. At Evergreen, we regularly have people come to the church from churches that do not “transfer” members. We are stuck with a dilemma—they don’t fit any of the categories. There isn’t a letter of transfer so we cannot “officially’ call them a transfer member. They have continually worshipped God so they really haven’t come in by profession of faith or reaffirmation of faith. At Evergreen, we record that they come in through a reaffirmation of faith. Thus, our “numbers” are not exactly correct.

An in-depth look at most churchs would find that we gain new people from other churches. We pat ourselves on the back for our annual membership gains. When the truth is that we just swap people back and forth. All the while, the “lost” are still lost. It would seem as though the Presbyterian Church doesn’t care about the lost—even Evergreen! But things are changing (at least at Evergreen).

The secret to being a healthy congregation is to have BALANCE between worship, fellowship/connecting, discipleship, ministry and mission/evangelism. Christian Schwartz, of Natural Church Development, says that a church can only grow to the level of its weakest area. Presbyterian churches do not grow because we do not do evangelism (or what ever you want to call it). Evangelism makes us uncomfortable. Evangelism implies that some people won’t make it to heaven (and we have many pastors who don’t believe this). We are more concerned about those inside the walls of the church than we are about those outside the church. We are out of balance.

Several years ago Evergreen Presbyterian Church did the Natural Church Development survey. We found that our lowest area was “fellowship” – it was even lower that evangelism! We put a lot of effort into building relationship. We have made great strides in this area—we still have a long way to go. If Evergreen Presbyterian Church was to take the survey today we would find that our lowest area is evangelism/mission—we are too inwardly focused. The Faith in Act!on campaign was implemented to help change from an inward focus to an outward focus. We have made baby steps—but we are started in the right direction!

When I hear a church (or church leader, pastor or person sitting in the pews) say that we can’t have a “seeker” sensitive worship service I want to cry. They are saying that they don’t care about the very people Jesus came to save. The arrogance! The pride! God’s judgment?

I have yet to find a church that says, “Sinners not welcome here.” Yet, most things that our churches do communicate that very message.

On the first day of the Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry conference we were challenged to “collect information” about the people in our community. Part of this process includes going to those people who don’t go to church and asking them questions like (there are many more questions that could be asked):

  • What are your greatest needs? What are the needs of your family?
  • Describe the type (not denomination) of church you would go to if you were to go to church?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your favorite radio station?
  • What makes you maddest about the church?

Another part of this information gathering process involves hanging out with some folks who don’t go to church. Jesus did it all the time. I have found that the longer a person is a Christian the less time they spend with unbelievers. We lose touch with the very people Jesus came to save.

Coming away from this year’s Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry conference I felt the Holy Spirit challenging me to spend more time looking outside the walls of the church. I need to spend time with people who don’t go to church. I need to spend time with people who aren’t Christians.

What would happen if every church REQUIRED their pastor(s) to take one Sunday each month and not go to church? No, they would get to just sit at home and watch the ball game. The purpose of “missing” church would be to spend the day with a non-believer. The pastor would be REQUIRED to report back to the Elders concerning that day. Imagine doing that EVERY month. I believe it would change the church. Before long, the entire church would close its doors one Sunday a month so that those who love Jesus would be able to spend quality, and quantity, time with the “lost.” Imagine…


At 8:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot that you say but wonder about the "lost" people that already attend. Or the ones that come for a short while and move on. Where is the outreach for them?


At 10:45 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

That is a great question! That is another area where we do not do as good of a job as we should/could. It is actually two similar, yet different areas. Area #1 is the "lost" among us and how we can be used by God as instruments of transformation in their lives. Area #2 is what do we do when people are at the church for short period of time (or a long period of time for that matter) and them move on. i am hoping that as God makes positive changes in our church that these areas will get addressed.

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