We’re Not from Here

This post originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer.

When people ask me where I’m from, I think to myself, That it’s a tricky question. Do I answer where I currently live, where I currently moved from, or where I was born? In all honesty, I think they are trying to locate the accent they hear from the words coming out of my mouth. So, I answer, “Memphis, Tennessee.”

Truthfully, I’m not from Memphis. I’m actually from Munford, Tennessee. But most people wouldn’t have a clue where Munford is located. It is a town about 30 miles north of Memphis.

Munford was a small town. Growing up, there was no McDonalds, Walmart, or BP Gas Station. Everything was mom and pop. It wasn’t until years later, after I had moved, that Munford began to commercialize. Munford was your typical small southern town—simple, conservative, religious, connected, and friendly (still to this day I tell my wife about the “index finger” wave). This was the cultural environment in which I was raised and in which I became a Christian.

At the age of 15, I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began to lay out my future plans; I planned to attend college, then seminary, and finally land at a church serving God in some capacity. Participating in several overseas mission trips as a teenager gave me a perspective of the world that was bigger than Tipton County. Thus, I never thought I would stay local.

At least my 40,000-foot plans panned out. I attended Union University, graduating with a degree in Biblical Studies. Prior to graduating, I met my wife. As newlyweds, we embarked on seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Full disclosure, I was your typical Bible College, young seminarian. I was consuming so much Bible, theology, and Greek—in addition, serving in local churches—that I was overweight with pride.

Shedding pride 

But there were two practical things that happened that help shed some of that overweight pride. I was part of a church planting team in urban Atlanta and a few years later—upon completing my MDiv—I entered a PhD program in Missiology.

Remember, I’m from Munford, TN—population under 5,000. I found myself on a small church planting team in urban Atlanta where there were 5,000 people in a few blocks. No building, no budget, no people.

How in the world do you reach people—without borrowing members from other churches—with no church building, no members, and no money? Maybe I was a bad student, but from my perspective, neither college nor seminary had prepared me for this environment under these conditions.

There, I learned the precious principles of proximity and presence. It was great that college and seminary had built a theological foundation. But that theological foundation would be useless unless first, I knew the people living around me and, second, I knew how to contextualize the gospel and church in their heart language.

The second practical thing that led me to shed some of my pride weight was my PhD studies in Missiology. In that program, it occurred to me that I’m not as smart as I thought. In addition, it taught me that if the church is going to reach a changing culture, we must change our perspective and our paradigms. Both lessons require a posture of humility.

I remember reading a statement by Ed Stetzer (at the time, one of my professors, now my boss), that if the 1950s came roaring back, there would be so many churches ready to engage. That’s so true of many established churches.

But then, one of the problems with Western Christianity is that it is a copy-cat culture. We copy what we perceive is working.

The church growth and seeker church movement captivated so many young leaders 20 years ago, and since then, such churches have popped up all around the U.S. to the point that they’ve saturated many of the suburban and urban markets.

Why do I say, “saturated the markets”? Because there are those like Aubrey Malphurs and Rick Richardson that accentuate, based upon research, that only a fraction (10 percent or less) of church growth is from conversion growth. In other words, the church is having a difficult time engaging an ever-changing culture with the good news of King Jesus.

Navigating the unfamilar…

I woke up to the realization that I was no longer in quaint, conservative, religious, down-to-earth Munford years ago. I had to wake up from my presuppositional stupor if I was going to be evangelistically effective.

The lessons I’ve learned over the years remind me of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy woke up realizing she was no longer in Kansas on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s farm. She was in Oz. Oz was a strange, unfamiliar land. Oz was a place of witches, lollipop guilds, lions, scarecrows, tin mans, and flying monkeys. Dorothy had to learn how to navigate Oz if she wanted to get back home.

Navigating unfamiliar, strange, and even hostile territory was something the people of God in Jeremiah 29 had to do. Could you imagine being a captive, taken from your homeland? You find yourself stunned, marginalized, uncomfortable, oppressed, and even despised.

Wondering what to do, God tells them to settle down—for they will be there 70 years! He proceeds to tell them to get back to the basics of family raising, field planting, and community building. In addition, he tells them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city of Babylon.

In short, God tells His people to enact Promised Land life in Babylonian captivity and to engage the Babylonians with grace and mercy.

Talk about a tall order for a marginalized, oppressed people!

Also, in God’s directives, you won’t find instructions to retreat, to become sub-cultural hermits. They weren’t to sit and sulk—longing for the good ol’ days back in the Promised Land. They weren’t to become mean-spirit, violent, and intolerant. They were to navigate the new, strange, unfamiliar, even uncomfortable land with grace and grit.

Truthfully, the Western Church today is like Dorothy in Oz and the Israelites in Babylon. Foreign and unfamiliar describe their environment.

In such environments, there’s a natural inclination to long for home. And that we do. But, I’m not talking about a home in which we go back to. And it’s not a home that is three-clicks-of-the-heel away. Our home is a future City—The New Jerusalem.

While we wait for home, let us as the church of the Living God, the Bride of Christ, live for the peace and prosperity of the unfamiliar, the strange, the one different than us. Doing so will require a posture of humility, a heart of grace, and a mind of understanding. And this is the essence of our podcast, Living in the Land of Oz.

Dangerous Church

dan·ger·ous (ˈdānj(ə)rəs/)

Dangerous is an adjective which means, “able or likely to cause harm or injury.” It can also mean, “likely to cause problems or to have adverse consequences.”

Typically, when Americans think of the word “dangerous” they tend to think of a weapon, an object in the house, a kind of animal, a kind of person or group, an area of town, or a region of the world.

Those things that we think of as dangerous have the potentiality of causing an effect on us and our lives. When something is dangerous it yields a certain kind of power and authority towards those who consider it dangerous. In other words, when someone thinks something or someone is dangerous, there’s a respect and honor—even a fear—towards that something or someone.

If I had to guess, I don’t think people today (particularly in America or throughout much of the world) believe the church is dangerous. Sure, they may think that radical religious groups like the Westboro Baptist tribe is emotionally dangerous and/or a cultural nuisance. Yet, they don’t view the church, in and of itself, dangerous. In fact, many do see the church, by in large, as a menace and nuisance to society—not to mention irrelevant.

However, when it comes to the book of Acts, the church was dangerous. Now, before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean. Did the church cause bodily harm to people? No! In fact, they brought healing to people. Did they cause problems for religious people and their institutions? Yes. Did they cause problems in cities throughout the known world as people turned their life over to Christ proclaiming Him as King and God, not Caesar nor their pantheon of gods? Yes.

The harm induced by the church—the problems caused by the church—throughout the world in the first century, had to do with the kind of change and transformation the gospel brought into the lives of people, and thus, in the spaces they occupied. Isn’t this ultimately why the Jews and Romans killed Jesus? He was dangerous. He was a threat. He was causing harm and causing problems within their spheres of influence. He was disrupting their way of life, their religious system.

In this short post, I want to provide the “how” and “what” of becoming a dangerous church.

First, how do churches become dangerous? Jesus exclaims, “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). So, just what does it mean to die to oneself? To help understand what it means to die to self, I use the acronym D.I.E. (Deny yourself; Intend to be crucified to the world; and Emulate Jesus. In sum, to follow Jesus—and to access and download His life for us—we must D.I.E. daily. To state it in another way, to download the latest version of His life for us, we must kill the oldest version of us.

To download the latest version of Christ’s life for us we must die to the oldest version of us.

So just imagine what our churches would be like comprised of people who D.I.E. to themselves daily.  Imagine the impact these churches would have in and on their communities and cities.

Those who D.I.E. become dangerous to those around them and the places and spaces they occupy.

Second, what does becoming a dangerous church look like? In other words, what are some of the characteristics displayed in churches that are dangerous? Based upon Acts 5:1–32, I believe there are at least five characteristics exhibited by a church that is dangerous.

  • They realize they serve a dangerous God. Early in this chapter, God takes out Ananias and Sapphira because of their lie and deception. They lied to church, and ultimately to God, about the amount for which they sold their property. A dangerous church has a dangerous God working in and among them to fulfill His mission. I find it interesting that in the same chapter, religious people are trying to protect their institutions and way of life through violence and threats. Dangerous churches never have to resort to violence and vehement threats to those who endanger their way of life and mission. Why? Because they serve a dangerous God who ultimately protects His people, His church. This doesn’t mean that we don’t shepherd, watching out for wolves in sheep’s clothing or ravenous lions looking to devour weak prey. It simply means we don’t have to fight fire with fire—violence with violence, nastiness with nastiness. We can trust in a sovereign, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotent God who work in and through us to accomplish His will for His good pleasure.
  • They stand in awe of God. A couple of times in this chapter Luke tells the reader, “And great fear came upon” those who heard of what God had done—particularly with Ananias and Sapphira. The idea of “fear” invokes awe. There’s this healthy reverence and fear the church has towards God. When a church stands in awe of who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do, they posture themselves submissively to God offering their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him.
  • They embody unity and togetherness. In the early days of the church, while God did many signs and wonders in their midst, they gathered consistently in Solomon’s Portico, a large outer-court where large numbers of people could gather. We also see in other places, whether it is in the Upper Room (Acts 1), devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to one another (Acts 2), or believing they were of one heart and soul (Acts 4), the early church wasn’t about individuals coming to a location to consume a religious experience but about individuals coming together to form a body (Jesus’ body) to live on mission. One person can make a difference, but a group (a body comprised of many) can alter history. Think about it. The only reason why Jesus altered history as we know it, was because He empowered His body to go into all the world. A dangerous church can only become dangerous when it is unified, moving and operating together in the power of the Spirit.
  • They buy into Jesus’ comprehensive mission. Not only did they preach the gospel, they served the hurting, the needy, the broken, and the sick. They were serving and meeting the needs of so many people that it went out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to the point that people from the surrounding towns and villages started bringing the sick and afflicted to Jerusalem. As they physically met needs they spiritually pointed to Jesus—the hope and King of the world—who had come, lived, died, and rose again to make all things new.
  • They are willing to die. After being arrested, the apostles’ lives were threatened once again in Acts 5. They were told they had been warned and charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet they continue to do so. Peter, along with the other apostles, respond, “We must obey God rather than men.” And they go on to proclaim the gospel once more to these, already irritated, men. In the face of an angry religious mob, Jesus’ devoted apostles declare, “Kill us if you must, but we cannot disobey the command of our King.” This mentality makes the church extremely dangerous. And it is this kind of attitude that becomes the seedbed and fertilizer of God’s movement in the world. Church father, Tertullian, put it this way, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world cannot stop people willing to die for what they believe in!

In closing, are you dangerous? Is your church dangerous?

May it be said in our generation, from cities and communities throughout our land, “These men (and women) who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).

A Servant’s Viewpoint

A few mornings ago, my 11-year old had a “princess moment”. You know what a “princess moment” is? Where she thinks the world should revolve around her. She was running late, as she fell back asleep. As she comes down the stairs, my wife was very gentle and encouraging to Ellie as she said, “I have everything ready for you. I’ve made you breakfast; got your bookbag all packed.” 

As parents we would love for our child to respond by saying something to the effect, “Thanks so much mom! You’re the best! I couldn’t ask for a more caring mom. I love you.” Yep, you guessed it. That’s not how she responded. Having plopped down on the couch, opening up her laptop, she begins barking about the breakfast. “That’s not what I want,” she exclaimed. With a little bit of my wife’s New York-Italian coming out, she expresses that all she wanted to do was serve Ellie and make her life a little bit better and easier since she was running late.

My wife’s words resonated with John 13, the passage I’ve been contemplating lately. John 13 is where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Imagine the scene. The Son of Man wraps a towel around His waist. He kneels down to where the dirty, nasty, and filthy feet are planted. He then takes the basin of water and begins to wash the dirt and grim off the disciples’ feet. 

As He begins to wash Peter’s feet, a shell-shocked Peter immediately and bluntly says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” We know that Jesus responds, “What I’m doing you don’t realize now, but afterward you will understand.” Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus looked up and locked eyes with Peter, or if Jesus continued to focus on the feet. If I had to guess, I would say that Jesus locked eyes with Peter for the dialogue goes on a few more sentences to the point where Jesus exclaims, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.” 

It is in this exchange that we see a servant’s viewpoint. It is from the bottom looking up. We live in such a culture where I don’t know if we fully understand a servant’s viewpoint, for our culture in one way or another is where people posture themselves from the top looking down. 

A servant’s viewpoint is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. 

Looking up rather than looking down is a game-changer. They are two completely different viewpoints and perspectives. One says, “I’m here to serve,” whereas the other says, “I’m here to be served.” 

Jesus goes on to describe to His disciples that what He did that night they are to do likewise. They are to pick up the ministry of the towel. To follow in the vein of Jesus, and to take upon ourselves a servant’s viewpoint, we will have to arm ourselves with three questions. In other words, a servant will always be asking themselves the following questions.

Who Can I Serve?

This seems to be the easiest question, yet it is the most difficult. I know what you’re probably thinking, “How is it the most difficult question?” Because, although it is easy, our hearts and minds don’t naturally want to ask this question. Rather our hearts and minds—especially in our culture—are constantly looking at who can serve us. 

Be honest. When’s the last time you went to a sit-down restaurant, entered your subdivision, pulled into your home, exercised at the gym, or attended church and thought, “Who can I serve?” The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves. 

The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves.

When you ask yourself, “Who can I serve?” it takes the attention of you and refocuses it on those God has placed around you. It can be a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a complete stranger. Jesus arrived that night and entered into that upper room knowing that He was going to serve His disciples. 

This question is critical. If you don’t know who you are going to serve, you won’t be able to answer the next question. 

How Can I Serve? 

Why did Jesus take upon Himself the form of a servant, wrapping a towel around His waist and kneeling down with a water basin to start washing feet? Because Jesus entered that upper room not only knowing who He would serve, but how He would serve them. 

Knowing how He would serve them was built upon knowing them. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them. In other words, knowing precedes doing. Better yet, knowing precedes serving. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them.

If you know the account in John 13, you know that Jesus performs a physical act of service that has deep spiritual connotations. In other words, His physical act of cleaning feet represents His fast approaching physical (yet spiritual) act of sanctifying hearts. In short, Jesus’ physical act of serving feet reflected a deeper kingdom reality directed at their hearts. 

The physical act of service should reflect a deeper kingdom reality directed at hearts.

As followers of Christ, when we ask ourselves, “How can I serve?” we should be thinking about the deeper spiritual realities of our physical act of service. For instance, husbands when you ask this question in the context of your home—particularly towards your wife—your deeper spiritual reality will involve loving your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. 

How we serve should ultimately reflect the deeper spiritual reality of the kingdom of God invading the dirtiness and brokenness of our lives.  

What do I Hope to See from My Service? 

Obviously Jesus wanted His disciples clean—spiritually speaking. John 13 isn’t as much about feet as it is about hearts. Jesus wanted to see His disciples (as He wants to see the whole world) clean so that mankind and God could be reconciled. Without cleaning—which ultimately required the shedding of Jesus’ blood—there is no reconciliation. In fact, Jesus tells Peter if He doesn’t wash him then Peter will have no part (or relationship) with Him.

But there is something more Jesus wanted to see from His act of service. He wanted to see this kind of service enacted in the life of His disciples. In other words, what He did, He wanted the disciples to replicate. 

If you continue to read the passage, there’s even one more layer to what Jesus wanted to see. He wanted the disciples to experience deep-seated happiness—better known as joy. He expresses that those who do such things are blessed. 

Could it be the reason why many today have such an unsettled spirit is because they are selfishly driven to feed the bottomless pit of self-absorption. The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

Put these three things together, and a servant’s viewpoint hopes their service: 

1) draws the person closer to God, 

2) ignites others to join in serving in a similar manner—making the world a better, more selfless place, and 

3) instills a deeper-seated joy and peace in life. 

Do you get it? A true servant’s viewpoint leads to the trifecta of life—right relationship to God, right relationship towards others, and a right relationship with self. 

In closing, Jesus teaches that the greatest position in this world is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. That’s what we call an inversion of the gospel. The Prince of Peace didn’t tie a towel around His waist and kneel down next to a water basin to wash feet so that we could be American cultural princesses and princes that tell Him, “He missed a spot.” He did so in order for us to take our clean feet—washed by the blood of the Son of God—and go and do likewise. And this is definitely something my wife and I are striving to emulate for our children—not to mention, praying for them. 

Living in the Land of OZ: Three Ways for the Church to Posture Herself in a Foreign Land

The influence of Christianity upon Western society seemingly has become a past experiment. As the Enlightenment experience failed—failing to eliminate all societal ills and bring about a human utopia—so too has the “Christian Nation” or Christendom failed. As a result, the church has struggled with this shift—and now find herself, in many ways, confused as to her role and posture in a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian, and skeptical environment. In other words, the church in North America has finally realized they are no longer in Kansas but in the land of OZ (or biblically speaking, in Babylon). And now believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, “What do we do?” 

Believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, What do we do?

In many ways, the North American church in the twenty-first century finds many similarities with the people of God in Jeremiah 29. [The dissimilarity that I must point out is that God was in a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, whereas America is not.] Jerusalem had fallen. No longer did Israel experience cultural and national hegemony. Now in captivity, Israel experienced life as a sojourner, alien, and minority. They were marginalized. Obviously, many saw their newfound position as difficult, demoralizing, and depressing.

In response to their newfound foreign environment, they had a few options with regards to how they would posture themselves towards the larger culture. First, they could have just faded off as a sub-cultural hermit—sitting and longing for the ‘good ole days’ as they faded into irrelevancy. Second, they could have taken a more antagonistic, resentful, and angry approach, one that was mean-spirited, violent, and intolerant. Second, they could have bashed the Babylonians over the head with the Torah. Third, they could have accommodated the Babylonians—thinking “if we can’t beat ‘em’, join ‘em’.” Or, they had a fourth option—God’s option. They could seek the peace of the city.

Embedded within this Spirit breathed option, there are at least three particular ways the people of God were (and are) called to seek the peace of the pagan land.

1) Live here as if you were living there. We are to live everyday normal lives as if we were living in the homeland. God informs His dazed and confused people to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer 29:5-6). In other words, God tells them to live here as if they were living there (back at home)—faithfully tilling and cultivating both land and family while they multiplied in the land. Seeking the peace of the foreign land begins by living faithfully as if we are in the homeland. [Keep in mind that for believers today, our “homeland” is the new city where Jesus will have made all things new (Revelation 21).] 

God tells them to live here as if they were living there.

2) Live to bless, not curse. God expresses that His people take up the task of blessing the pagan nation. This is quite remarkable! The people of God were to live as a blessing, praying to the Lord on behalf of the nation as they seek the flourishing of the pagan city. For in the city’s flourishing, God’s people will flourish. While the scope of this article does not permit me the time to dive into the notion of “blessing,” this vision, nevertheless, harkens back to both Genesis 1 where God blesses humanity (Gen 1:28) as well as the prophetic promise God made to Abram, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

3) Live faithfully, not forcefully. We are to strive for faithfulness, rather than striving for world change. In this passage, there is nothing about seeking the transformation of the city. God doesn’t ask them to work towards transforming Babylon into a theocentric (Jewish) nation. God doesn’t ask them to transform the Babylonian culture and cultural practices to those that more align with the Torah. While change may very well take place, God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life, as they seek God and the welfare of the pagan city. 

God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life.

In applying this notion to the cultural context of the church today, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I completely agree that the gospel is transformative; the gospel changes individuals, families, cities, and even nations. To a certain degree God did bring change in Babylon through the faithfulness of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. My point is that the goal for the people of God is faithfulness to God and to His call, work, and mission in the world.

In neither Testament does God ever assign the task to His people of world change or city transformation—forcing people to believe and behave like the people of God. 

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples. We witness and make disciples by working as ambassadors for the kingdom of God, serving as agents of blessing for the city, and inviting people to follow Jesus as their King who is in the construction process of making all things new. In sum, we simply share and show the gospel of King Jesus!

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples.

In closing, may the church today—in finding herself in this foreign land like Dorothy found herself in the land of OZ—seek to live faithful lives reflecting the characteristics, attributes, and signs of God’s kingdom life in our homes, vocations, relationships, and ethics. May churches seek the “welfare” of the foreign city, living as agents of blessing rather than antagonistic, mean-spirited, angry, resentful and defensive agents. And finally, may we take the posture of faithfulness—faithfully calling people to follow Jesus. 

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If… (Part 1)

I have been involved at three country clubs in my life. The first CC was under my parents’ membership in Covington, TN. The second CC was as an employee serving as the assistant to the golf pro in Canton, GA. The third was at an affordable club I found in Louisville a few years back. Let me just say, I have an affinity for golf!

I’ve also grown up in the church and have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years—serving as a Lead Pastor for the past 12. Let me say, with all her blemishes and imperfections (of which I am a part), I love the church! 

Having been a part of both country clubs and churches—as well as studying the North American landscape—I think for many Christians it’s easy to confuse country club membership with church membership. In this two-part blog, I want to highlight eight identifiers (four in each post) that your church might be a country club.

Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for the church to be a country club. Jesus died and rose again for the church to be a commissioned conduit to take the good news to the ends of the earth! 

With that in mind, here are four identifiers that your church might be a country club.

1—Your church might be a country club if the goal is to keep members happy. 

A country club is a service provider. For many, they provide golfing, swimming, tennis, dining, and entertainment services. Thus, if their services don’t appeal and appease the members, they will soon experience a decrease in membership. As a result, if members complain about the conditions of the locker rooms, the quality of the greens, the attire of the staff, or the taste of the food, country clubs will work to rectify the problem. A club’s future and sustainability is fueled by the satisfaction of the members. 

A church, on the other hand, is a mission vehicle. A church’s goal isn’t to keep members happy consuming a service, but to equip members to be sent out proclaiming and demonstrating good news. However, many churches have been turned into country clubs as they field an onslaught of complaints and suggestions. When churches are crafted into the image of consumers they distort the image of their Savior. 

2—Your church might be a country club if the leaders are seen more like a board of directors.

Many country clubs have a group of people called the board of directors that oversee the activities and effectiveness of the organization. In short, the board is mostly comprised of business people that are mainly concerned with two things: membership happiness and the club’s bottom line. Thus, board of directors are inclined to measure a club’s success based upon the bottom line of bodies and budgets. 

In the New Testament, church leaders were never referred to of as a board of directors, but as apostles, pastors (elders), evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). And these leaders were to equip the members for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Did you catch that? Those who belong to the church are to do work! Gospel work! I don’t know about your club, but I never experienced my club calling for a work day for members to tidy up the property. Members pay others to do the work so that they can enjoy the benefits of the club. 

Church leaders aren’t a board of directors but a body of developers.

Beware, churches that are primarily built on a country club mentality will experience a bottom-line effect when they have leaders that call members to work—getting their hands dirty—for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good. 

3—Your church might be a country club if people with affluence carry all the influence. 

For many, membership to a country club carries a connotation of status and wealth. Our culture is conditioned to treat those of status and wealth differently than those without the position or the deep pockets. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the owner of a multi-million-dollar company received preferential treatment compared to the retiree who drove a UPS truck. It’s not that the retiree was treated poorly, he just didn’t carry the weight the million-dollar business man did. 

I’ve also witnessed first-hand in the church world how status and wealth can get one a prominent place of influence in the church. Never mind the person of affluence swims in a theological, missional, and spiritual kiddie-pool. Yet, because of the influence his affluence provides him, he is able to bend the ears of the board of directors (leaders), which ultimately gives direction to the bent of the church.   

Affluence should not be a factor for giving one influence in the church. People that should be given a voice and weight are those who exhibit an authentic and deep abiding love for Jesus and His mission.

Success in business doesn’t mean maturity in mission. 

4—Your church might be a country club if the membership is homogenous. 

There’s seldom diversity in club members. Most members are cut from the same piece of cloth. They live in the same area, go to the same schools, dress the same way, vote for the same political party, etc. In short, most country clubs are set up for homogeneity. 

The church, however, was birthed for diversity. With the mission to create a peoplefrom all peoples, Jesus envisioned a diverse church—a third race as some have expressed. Therefore, churches should be about engaging, reaching, and cultivating the diversity represented in the community around them. Therefore, churches should experience racial, cultural, socio-economic, political, and to some extent denominational diversity. In doing so, the church demonstrates the in-breaking reign of God to unite a people from all peoples through the blood of the Lamb! 

In closing, I’m for both country clubs and churches. Given my affinity for golf, I understand the benefits and environments of country clubs. Given my love for Jesus and having studied His affection and mission for the church, I understand who the church is and what the church is to do. But the two entities are entirely different! A church isn’t a country club, and a country club isn’t a church. 

“God’s Life for You” App: The Essence of the Christian Life

I’m sure most of us have entered into the App store, found the app we wanted, and then proceeded to download it.

As most know, every app has a description of what the app is and what it does. Like for instance, the “Waze” app provides the following description, “Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Join drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info to save time, gas money, and improve daily commuting for all.” There’s some other information under the “Description” but you get the idea. So in short, the “Description” provides information on what the app is and what it does.

What if “God’s Life for You” was an app? What would the description be? In other words, what is the essence of the Christian life? Here’s what I believe the “Description” would be, thus what the essence of the Christian life is:

God’s Life for You (The Christian Life) is about God creating a people for Himself. With the sole purpose of creating a people for Himself, the Christian life (in the power of the Spirit) is about:

1) God repairing you to reflect His image

2) God leading you to participate in His mission

3) God moving you to live in His kingdom.

When God saves you by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the life He saves us to is one where he repairs His image in our life, leads us to participate in His mission on earth, and moves us in or makes us part of His kingdom in the world.

Image

In the very first chapter of Genesis we read that God creates man in His image. Image denotes reflection and representation. Thus, mankind was created in the imago Dei (the image of God) to reflect and represent God’s glory—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule, and reign—to the created order.

More specifically, God’s image would be reflected and represented in mankind in three ways: socially, culturally, and spiritually.

Socially, mankind would reflect God in their relationships—how they engage other people. From marriages to neighborly engagement and every type of relationship in between, humans are to reflect the nature and attributes of how God relates to Himself—as He is the Triune God existing in community with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

If you think about how God relates to Himself, He does so in a mutual, respectable, honoring, caring, and loving way. In addition, think about how God related to humanity who had sinned against Him. Romans 5 describes how God engaged wicked humanity. While mankind was at enmity towards Him, God demonstrated love for sinful humanity by sending Christ to die for us. Moreover, Paul describes the kind of relationship Jesus has with His church in Ephesians 5:25–27, which is a model for how husbands are to relate to their wives.

Culturally, mankind would reflect God in the world—what they do in the world and how they do it. In other words, as mankind works the ground, takes the raw materials of creation to bring about culture and civilization, they are to do so in a way that brings honor and glory to God. For instance, when someone creates a musical instrument and begins to put rhythm and harmony—accompanied by words—they image God; when a beautician or a stylist takes a nappy, chaotic hair-do and cuts and styles it, they image God; when an engineer takes raw data and raw materials and puts them together to construct something, they image God; when an English professor teaches students vocabulary words and sentence structure and helps them put it all together, they image God.

Not only do our careers and vocations fit within the cultural realm, but our recreation (hobbies), civic duties, and any other cultural practices fit within the realm of cultural activity. Thus, how we view, engage, and carry out such cultural practices are to reflect God’s image—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule and reign—in our life.

Spiritually, mankind would reflect God in the world—how they relate to God. Humanity was created to rule under the lordship, under the sovereignty of God. In other words, they were to see themselves as stewards of God’s creation and of God’s life for them.

Although God created mankind in His image to reflect His glory in the ways described, Adam and Eve’s sin and rebellion shattered God’s image in humanity. So rather than reflecting His radiant and stunning glory—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule, and reign—mankind would reflect a distorted and damaged image of their own glory. The image man would project would be sinful, dark, and broken.

Thus, part of God’s work in salvation is repairing His image. Through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the believer, God is repairing His image within us so that we can relate to Him, others, and the world (our work, hobbies, and cultural participation) in a way that images Him and brings Him glory.

The Christian life is much more than saving people from their sins. It is about God reconstructing us, repairing His damaged image in us so that we can become the person, the people He envisioned from the very beginning.

Mission

It’s very easy to automatically go to Matthew 28:18–20 when thinking about a passage that describes God’s mission. However, I want the church (believers) to understand that God’s mission is clearly seen at the very beginning of time.

God’s mission was to fill the earth with worshippers who reflected His glory.

As worshippers would multiply and fill the earth, God would cover the earth with image-bearers who reflected His glory—signifying that He rules planet earth.

Adam and Eve usurped the rule and reign of God, desirous of becoming their own god. As a result, God’s mission to fill the earth with worshippers was temporarily thwarted. However, mankind continued to multiply and fill the earth with image-bearers who reflected a sinful, dark, and broken image. But God, who was rich in mercy, with such a great love for His prized image-bearers, initiated a global mission through one man, namely Abram.

Through Abram, God would begin a global mission of saving a people for Himself from all peoples on planet earth. In other words, through Abram and his descendants—through their declaration of God’s salvation, which many times was set up by their demonstration of His life in them—God would pursue and save people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group.

What will be the result of God’s global redemptive pursuit? Saving and repairing image-bearers who reflect and represent God’s glory—thereby who would signify that God rules planet earth. In other words, the result is completing the mission for which God created humanity—to multiply and fill the earth with worshippers who reflect His glory.

Kingdom

So far, the essence of the Christian life is about God repairing His image-bearers to reflect Him as they participate in His global mission of repairing image-bearers from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group. The last description that is included in the essence of the Christian life is kingdom. A kingdom is comprised of a people ruled by a king. In other words, a kingdom is the corporate body or entity that a king rules.

When we think about the kingdom theme throughout Scripture, God’s intention has always been to create a people (a kingdom) for himself to reflect His image in the world as they participate in His mission.

Therefore, since the focus throughout Scripture has been on God’s (corporate) people and how He is conforming them into His image and using them to accomplish His purpose, it is impossible to fully “BE” who God is creating you to be without “BELONGING” to the people God.

In conclusion, putting these descriptions together, the essence of the Christian life is for believers to exist in a covenant community (part of the people of God) who reflects God’s glory as the community participates in God’s global mission.

This is the essence of the Christian life. Thus, it is the framework by which believers download the latest version of themselves as well as the framework by which churches structure their ministries.

What’s So Special About the Church?

Over my life there have been “special” things that have meant a lot to me. There have been special toys like my Teddy Ruxpin. [My mom swears I took that bear everywhere.] I’ve had special friends and mentors in my life like Shane Harchfield that have played a huge influential role that has helped shape me into the man I am today. I’ve had special moments in my life like the day I came to know Christ, the days I proposed and married my sweet wife, and the days all my children came into the world (although I was half asleep when Ellie came into the world). For many of these special things they continue to hold a special place in my heart.

As I was reflecting on the message this past Sunday—A Picture of a Revolutionary Church—I couldn’t help but think about the uniqueness of the church and how she is one of those special things in life. But what’s so special about the church one may ask? I can think of at least seven things that make the church special and unique.

  1. The Church is the bride of Christ.

The New Testament likens the church, followers of Jesus, to a bride (see Rev 19:7). Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, are His bride. Now, I’m no expert on marriage—having been married for only twelve years—but if you don’t view or treat your spouse as special there’s a serious problem. Likewise, the church should be viewed as something special because she is the bride of Christ. I’ve heard many say that they love Jesus, but don’t necessarily care for the church. The problem with this is that if you love Jesus, you will love what he loves—and the truth is He loves His bride.

  1. The Church is the people of God and the body of Christ.

Where the church is present, God is present. In the Old Testament, God chose to take up residence in the tabernacle and later the temple where He would be present among His people. In the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, Jesus was God incarnate who “tabernacled” with and among His people. When one saw Jesus, they saw God. Prior to His resurrection and then ascension, Jesus promised to send His disciples His Spirit to indwell them. When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, filling the followers of Jesus, the church became the dwelling place of God. No longer was a temple needed to house the presence of God; now because of the finished work of Christ His people became the spiritual house whereby God’s presence dwells.

The church, therefore, is special because she literally is the locale where the presence of Jesus is manifested. When one sees the church—whether gathered or scattered—they are gazing upon the presence of Christ.

  1. The Church is the vehicle that advances God’s mission in the world.

God, throughout Scripture, has aimed to create a people for Himself who would advance His mission of making Him known throughout the created order by reflecting His glory in all spheres of their life. However, Adam and Eve failed in the mission when they succumbed to the serpent’s deceptive temptation. In addition, Israel failed to be the God’s glorious light to the nations as they continued to chase after false gods. But it is through the church, because of the finished work of Christ and the Spirit’s indwelling, that the mission of God advances throughout the world in every nation.

The church is special because she is God’s chosen vehicle by which He moves through the world inviting people (through verbally sharing the gospel) to repent of their sin and idolatry and to surrender to and confess Christ as their Lord, God, King, and Savior—thereby becoming part of His people, the church.

To be part of the church is to participate in God’s mission of making Him known.

  1. The Church is the window by which people look to see the kingdom of God.

I love shopping! I know it’s weird for a man to like shopping, but I can’t help it. When it comes to shopping, I’m more of a window shopper. I like peering through the window to see if there’s something good to be had—especially a good deal! The nice big windows are the lenses by which I see whether or not something good is to be had.

Just as department stores use big windows and displays to catch the attention of those passing by, God uses the church as large windows for people to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Being the windows that give people a glimpse of God’s kingdom makes the church special. As the church (both individually and corporately) lives under the rule and reign of God in all areas of life—personal, emotional, marital, familial, relational, vocational, financial, and cultural—she reflects what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

  1. The Church is a loving, supportive, caring, and encouraging family.

As Americans, we are some of the most individualized and isolated people on planet earth. Yet, at the same time, we are some of the most lonely and depressed people who long for true community and connection. If you don’t think we long for community and connection, look no further than Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. People want community and connection. But the truth is, it’s hard to find the type of connection and community we were made for.

The church is so special for she is the community, connection, and family we are longing for, and not only that, but she’s the community, connection, and family we were made for.

Biblically speaking, the church is suppose to be the most loving, forgiving, supportive, caring, gracious, kind, and encouraging family and community in the world. When you find this kind of family, you have truly found something special.

  1. The Church is a selfless, sacrificial organism that enhances life.

My grandma is one of the most selfless and sacrificial people in the world. She is constantly putting others before herself. When she goes to the store it’s not to look for her, but for others. My grandma pours her life into the cups of others. The church is special because, like my grandma, instead of sucking life out of a community, city, or the world, the church breathes life into them. Instead of seeking or receiving glory, the church seeks to give it. Just as Jesus gave His life for the glory of God and for the good of the dying world, the church (in a similar manner) is to do likewise. As the church lives a selfless and sacrificial life she pours her life into others thereby enhancing life and bringing flourishing to the cities and communities where she resides.

  1. The Church is a transformative agent.

I’m grateful for laundry detergent. Why, you ask? The simply answer is laundry detergent is the transformative agent that cleans my clothes and allows me to wear my clothes again without the fear of having a fowl smell exude from my body.

In a similar manner, the presence of the church in the world is a transformative agent that gives off the sweet aroma of Christ in a fowl and putrid world.

In addition, the church acts like salt and light providing taste, preservation, and exposure to a tasteless, decaying, and dark world. Therefore the church is special because as she is empowered by the Spirit, God works through her to bring transformation to people, families, communities, and cities around the world.

In conclusion, the church is special because she is special to God. The church holds a near and dear place in the heart of God. Therefore, the church is special to me, and holds a near and dear place in my heart. In all honesty, I can’t help but love the church and be devoted to her—regardless of her imperfections. My prayer is that every believer would see the uniqueness and the specialness of the church, and how God is using her to glorify Himself, advance His mission to every nation, reflect His kingdom, work for the good of the world, and conform His people into the image of Jesus.