Revitalization: It Can Do Your Body (Church) Good

It is not uncommon for a church to need change. In fact, the corporate church body is like individual believers. Individual believers need constant change. This constant change is what we refer to as sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy, or it is the process by which God molds and conforms us into the image of Jesus. Thus, sanctification is continuous.

Sanctification is to believers what revitalization is to churches. Church revitalization is the constant process by which the corporate church body is conformed and molded into the image of Jesus—an image that is ontological and functional. Church revitalization continues to ask questions like: are we being who Christ would have us to be and are we doing what Christ would have us do? In other words are we the missional people God has “called out” (of the world) and “sent” back into the world. Missional captures the essence of who we are by our nature and what we do by our actions. However, this does not describe many churches today. The reality is that an overwhelming number of churches in America have plateaued or are in a state of decline. Depending on the source, anywhere from 70-90% of churches in America are plateaued or in a state of decline. This means they are not reaching new people. This means they are not missional, or being true to who they are and what they are to do. Therefore, what they need is revitalization. The question then becomes, how can churches be revitalized and even continue the process of revitalization? The answer is three-fold. 

First, they need to trade in their current mentality for a missional one. Many times churches fall prey to the “arrived” mentality. They think because they hit a certain number of people, or have a certain number of ministries and programs, they can relax and just let the machine run. The problem with this is that it is more in-line with a spiritual country club—once we get the golf course built and have enough members to sustain and maintain a nice gathering place for members, we have arrived and can now relax. The church will never arrive until Jesus arrives a second time. Therefore an “arrived” mentality overshadows an assignment one, where the church has been assigned as the vehicle or tool by which God accomplishes his mission.

Other mentalities affecting the church’s mission include: maintenance, complacent comparative, comfortable size, and survival. A “maintenance” mentality usually transpires after the “arrival” mentality. “Maintenance” mentality occurs when a church focuses their attention from mission—reaching more people—to the programs and ministries they created to house the people already reached. What usually takes place without anyone noticing is the shift from mission to maintenance. Before long the church finds themselves maintaining the people they have reached—thereby neglecting the mission to reach more.

A “complacent comparative” mentality consists of churches (ones that have been stuck or that have been in a slow decline for a sustained amount of time) looking at where they are and where other churches are, whether in their denomination or in their area, and saying, “we are just fine… In fact, compared to other churches we are doing good.” Thus, when they take their eyes off their own condition, their own reality, their own numbers and focus their attention on other churches by comparison, they become complacent. Complacency prohibits commission.

Many individuals comprising to make-up local churches have a “comfortable size” mentality. I wish I had a quarter for every time I  heard these words, “I am uncomfortable with a big church… I want to go to a church where I can know everybody….” In fact I conducted a survey one time at a church where I had asked two consecutive questions. The first question was, “Would you like to see the church grow? Yes or No?” 98% of the people checked yes. The second question was, “Would it make you uncomfortable if the church grew larger? Yes or No? Half the people who answered Yes to the first question answered Yes to the second question. In other words, while they wanted to grow, they did not want to get bigger—bigger made them uncomfortable. Guess what? When people are comfortable with the current size, and it would make them uncomfortable to get bigger or to have multiple services, they will continue to stay their current size. Comfort and convenience smothers call and cause.

And finally, churches that have a “survival” mentality are either going through, or have gone through some type of turmoil or transition that has damaged the church. During these times the church goes into survival mode in an effort to protect the ship and prevent it from going down. However, generally what happens is that the church never fully recovers from the turmoil or transition and stays in survival mode, which simply means they exist. While there will be certain times and seasons where a church may enter into survival mode to withstand the storms of ministry and opposition, the greatest antidote to overcoming the survival, or existent, mentality is to replace it with a sending one. 

Therefore, the first step to church revitalization is repenting from mentalities that leave churches stuck or declining, and more importantly that crush the church’s nature and function as God’s missional people who have been called out of the world by the gospel and sent back into the world for the gospel.

The second step to church revitalization is to refocus its attention to their mission, vision, structure, and strategy. I have pasted a part of my staff agenda from the other week that lists and explains mission, vision, structure, and strategy. (Note that these four areas I have borrowed and tweaked from authors and books such as Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley.)

  1. Mission (Foundation). What is the Mission of Western Oaks? Why do we exist?
  2. Vision (Framework). How will we fulfill the mission? What will we ask from people that will be the way in which we lead people to fulfill the mission? The Mission and Vision will be same for every single age group and ministry.
  3. Structure (Filling). How will we structure our vision in order to effectively and efficiently fulfill the mission.
    1. This includes how we overall structure our church’s governance
    2. This includes how we structure our Sunday Morning corporate worship gathering
    3. This includes how we structure our children’s ministry and area—including on Sunday mornings
    4. This includes how we structure our youth ministry
    5. This includes how we structure our small group ministry
    6. This includes how we structure our corporate mission area
  4. Strategy (Furnishings). This answers how we will contextualize each area of our ministry in a way that our culture, the people we have and are trying to reach, understands. For example, this allows us to think through what our building should look like, how our building should be set up, what kind of music we play, what our children’s wing aesthetically should look like, how we should check in and secure our children’s ministry. In addition it can include things like technology, publication, marketing, communication as well as help us determine what we can do in and with our community that would help us fulfill our mission. Lastly, it helps us think through how—once we reach people—we can guide them through a process by which they become part of the mission and vision of the church.

What this process (Mission, Vision, Structure, Strategy) does is create clarity, definition, alignment, and movement so that a church can see the big picture of how they can become the people God has created them to be, as well as function the way God intends them to function.

But there is one last element, one last step that must be present if a church is to be revitalized and continue the process of revitalization. There must be a revitalization of individual hearts. Individuals must be willing to change. Here’s the reality about change when it comes to people: people love change when it benefits them, but hate change if it infringes upon them. When it comes to change in the church, or churches undergoing revitalization, people must be willing to change—even if the change is not what they like, what they would prefer, or the way they have always done it. Once again, the church exists for the glory of God and the good of the world in that it is on mission to reflect God’s glory by being his gospel agents in the world who live and share the good news of Jesus. Therefore, if revitalization will ultimately take place and continue to take place within churches people must be:

1)   Sacrificial

2)   Surrendered

3)   Spirit-filled

In conclusion, churches can change; they can be revitalized. While I am aware there may be more steps and elements to church revitalization, I have covered three that I think are very important. Therefore, churches desiring revitalization must discard the current mentalities that have led them to the place of plateau and decline. They must refocus their mission, vision, structure, and strategy around who God wants them to be and what he wants them to do. And lastly, the individuals who comprise the church must be willing to pay the price of change, which is their willingness to sacrifice, surrender, and be Spirit-filled for the glory and mission of God. 

Imaging God in our Work

This past Sunday in my message I spoke to the fact that part of our function as image bearers—created in the image of God—was to participate in work, or in culture making. When God provides Adam and Eve with their tasks, one of them included “subduing” the earth as they were being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. “Subdue” is a very strong word signifying that humans are to take the raw materials of the world and with intensity and intentionality cultivate. This function of cultivation—subduing the earth—mirrors and reflects what God did earlier in the Genesis narrative. He takes the shell and framework of the created order that he created, namely the heavens and earth, and begins to bring shape, clarity, definition, and filling to it. In other words, God goes to work. His workweek consisted of a six-day workweek with a rest on the seventh. In addition, after each day of work he declared what he had done, good; and on the final day of work, he looked around at the completed canvas and declared it very good.

I believe that the creation account including God’s creation of the created order as well as God’s creation of man in his image and providing them functions brings great clarity and understanding to our work/vocation today. Our work is a function, a task, by which we as image bearers of God reflect the goodness and glory of God. It is a way in which we are distinct and special from all other creatures and aspects of his creation. In addition, our vocational function is good. Work is not evil; work is not a result of the fall, or the sin of man. Work originated with God and existed prior to the fall. Therefore, we can rest assure that what we do vocationally and culturally is inherently good. With our work and vocationally being inherently good as well as a function of imaging God, work therefore should be meaningful, purposeful, satisfying, and fulfilling. Furthermore, our work should be done with the perspective of how it benefits and blesses others. In other words, our work should be exercised for God’s glory and the world’s good.

But how can we know that we our honoring and glorifying the Lord with our work, or with our vocation? In other words, how can we know that we are imaging God in our work? I think there are at least six ways we honor and glorify God in our work and vocation.

1)   In order to honor and glorify God in our work we must guard against entering into a vocation or work, or guard against going to work simply for a paycheck. While I completely understand that we must provide financially for our needs and the needs of our family, this cannot be the fixed object by which our work and what we do revolves. If so, we have made an idol out of both work and money. We are worshipping the work for what it provides, while at the same time worshipping the money by which we earn. I believe that in order to honor and glorify God with and in our work (even if it is not our first choice), our central purpose—the fixed object of which our work and money revolve—must be the glory of God. We must work unto and for him, thus working in a manner that both pleases and honors him. Therefore, work is so much more than a paycheck, or something that we have to do to make a living. It is something that has great dignity and value. As Tim Keller has written, “We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings, regardless of its status or pay. . . .  And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.”

2)   Having a passion for what we do is another way we can honor and glorify God in our work. How one’s love and passion are displayed stems from the desire to enhance what you do and make it better. In other words, you want what you do to be done with excellence. When it comes to God’s work in creation, he didn’t withhold his best. He brought creation into existence and went to work making it better, more functional, more harmonious, and more beautiful. You could say that God enhanced creation and made it better. Thus, his desire to enhance and make it better stemmed from his love and passion for the created order. When we think of how many hours we spend at our work or vocation, which can be in the upper range of 60-70+ hours, I pray that it is something we love doing. [I am well aware of the fact there may be a season, or seasons, in one’s life where they have to work in a job they may not necessarily would have chosen, but does so in order to provide, or in order to get to where they believe God wants them to be. In fact, there may be people that feel stuck in a job they would not prefer.] Even still, I believe we should approach our work with a love and passion, which leads to our work being done with excellence. If we don’t have a passion, a love for what we do, or for the very essence of work itself, it will be difficult (although not impossible) to approach our work with excellence as well as a desire to enhance it—thereby reflecting the goodness and dignity of work.

3)   Giving our best is another way in which we can honor and glorify the Lord in our work. If we don’t approach our work with the intention of giving our best, or giving our all, then we fail at reflecting the Lord. Not only does the Lord give his best in his creation, but he also gave all in the work of redemption. Not only does giving our best (our all) glorify God, but giving our best also honors our vocation as well as our employer. When it comes to our work our expectations should be higher on our self than any other person would put on us. This means even if we have a bad boss or leader over us, we give our best to the Lord. As Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Slaves (or servants), obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:22-24).

4)   Seeing how our work helps, benefits, and blesses others enables us to honor and glorify the Lord. This idea stems from the purpose of our existence—for God’s glory and the world’s good. Therefore, we should see how our work does good in and for the world. From construction to counseling, from dentistry to doorman, from stay-at-home-mom to salesman, we should see how our work and our vocation blesses, benefits, and helps others. As we remember the good our work does in and for the world it gives us the perspective that we are not serving ourselves but rather the Lord and others. Take a second and think about how your work and vocation blesses others.

5)    Looking for ways we can manifest and advance the gospel in our work and vocation can also enable us to honor and glorify the Lord. Manifesting the gospel in our work and vocation means that we look for ways to be redemptive and distinct in our work. In other words, we are looking for ways that the gospel should change our work and/or our work habits. Advancing the gospel in our work and vocation means that we are looking for ways to share the gospel with those God places around us. This allows us to see that we do not have to be in “vocational ministry,” nor do we have to go on a “mission trip” to live a life on mission. God has intentionally and purposely gifted us talents as well as planted us where we are to live a life that manifests and advances the gospel. It is absolutely false and a lie that God cannot use you to advance his mission in the world there in the workplace, or the marketplace. There is no such thing as the dichotomy between the sacred and secular. God is just as alive and active in the workplace as he is in our corporate worship services, community projects, and structured mission trips.

6)   Living in a state of gratitude and thanksgiving for our talents and gifts, as well as our work, allows us to bring honor and glory to God. James writes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” I would contend that “every good gift and every perfect gift” would include our work, talents, and gifts that God has granted us. Therefore, as we work in the world for the glory of God and the good of others we are constantly thanking and praising God for his gifts and talents he has bestowed on us.

For extra reading on Work and Vocational Calling see:

–       Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012.

–       Gene Edward Veith Jr., God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002.

–       Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008.

–       R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.

–       Mark L. Russell, The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2010.

Cost-Conscious Christianity

I have told people that I like to shop. And that is true. It doesn’t matter the type of store—it can range from Walmart to the Outlet Mall, from a furniture to an electronic store—I like going with the potential of buying. Now my buying pattern has been consistent for as long as I can remember. I don’t go to buy at any price; I go in search of a great deal—a deal that cannot be refused. In fact, many times when I go to a restaurant I find my eyes gazing at the right side of the menu (where the prices are) in search of the best deal—where I can get the maximum amount of food at a decent price. I would say that the majority of Americans, whether they like to shop or not, are (for the most part) cost-conscious when it comes to spending money. They are looking for the best deal.

While I am all for finding the best deal and stretching money to go further, this practice is not a good one in relation to a life lived for Christ. Christians (Christ-followers) must guard against the tendency of enjoying the freedom, the forgiveness, the life they have at Christ, and living a life on mission at the least amount of cost for them. In other words, when it comes to following Christ we should not be in search of the best deal for the least amount of cost. Our mentality should not be one of constriction, but one of liberal generosity. We should be willing to give our all, to pour our heart, mind, and soul out for the glory of Christ. As Jesus put it, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). So, there should be no such thing as a cost-conscious Christian. Yet, I feel that we all, at some level, struggle with this idea of desiring the abundant life at the least amount of cost. Let me give two ways it is easy to be a cost-conscious Christian:

1)   It is easy to be a cost-conscious Christian when we see ourselves as the consumer rather than the consumed. In our culture we are all consumers. Our role as a buyer of goods is what is called a consumer. As consumers we are always in search of the best deal. That is why loyalty today is at an all time low. If Target has the same product at a cheaper cost, many will jump ship and run over to Target to save a buck. When it comes to our perception of following Jesus, we are not the consumer, but the consumed. We are not shopping around for the best deal Christ can offer me for the least amount of energy. The place where this mentality is lived out the most is in our churches. We treat local brides the way we treat local grocery or department stores. If the church is not meeting our needs and giving us what we want and how we want it, we jump ship and start attending another church. The reality is the way we treat local churches is indicative of how we treat Jesus. We must be ever cognizant that Jesus died to take our place, to pay our debt, and to reconcile us to the Father in order that we may be found in him and have an intimate and vibrant relationship in which we reflect his glory through the obedience of our lives. We must become the consumed rather than the consumer.

2)   It is easy to be a cost-conscious Christian when we are asking how much does this cost. This continues the mentality of seeing ourselves as the consumer rather than the consumed. Yet to shake this cost-consciousness we have to be willing to dump the price-tag mentality. There is not a price-tag on Christ’s glory and his mission in the world. As Christ-followers we must be willing to live life fully abandoned! We must be willing to give anything, go anywhere, do anything for the glory of Christ and the advancement of his gospel. This is rubber meeting the road type of discipleship. This is hard-core (is some sense) normal Christianity. Following Christ may require an extra 30min/1hr a day to spend time with him through bible and devotional reading as well as prayer. It may require extra time being part of a bible study with other believers that we may grow in our relationship with Christ and with others. It may require giving up “want” spending in order to start giving financially towards the mission of God through the local church. It may require churches seriously looking into their ministries, programs, and structures and asking what do we need to give up in order to be more effective at the overall mission of God. And when something may need to change or be given up in order to be more effective in advancing the mission of God, then what may be required is one’s support rather than disgruntlement.

So when it comes to our lives as consumers participating in this world’s economy, let us continue to be cost-conscious. However, when it comes to being Christ-followers on mission in this world, for the glory of Christ and the good of the world, let us never be cost-conscious. In fact, let us be all consumed with the glory of King Jesus, obeying him in ever sphere of life, and all consumed with the mission by which we are a part of—blessing and making disciples of all nations.