Monthly Archives: August 2012

What Do You Think of Church in America?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Luke 11:28–30 The Message

These are Jesus’ words, paraphrased by Euguene Peterson in The Message version of the Bible. Don’t they sound inviting, the kind of person you would love to spend time with? That is the kind of person Christians have in fact found in Jesus. Do you feel that way when you think about your local church in America? I don’t want to over generalize or be overly critical, because the churches in  America are doing a lot of good things. They are trying to do their best and they have the same problem that any institution, organization or company has; they are led by flawed men and women.  I love my church. It’s a great place to worship on Sunday, filled with music that is selected with prayer and thought and sermons taught directly from the Bible each week. The leadership is God honoring and desiring that people come to know Jesus personally and grow in their faith. But, my church is not fully succeeding either in this area.

Sometimes God uses the words of other people to prompt you to think about and act on something He wants you to do. When this happens it usually supports some activities you are already engaged in and may be in a situation to go deeper. For a little over a year I have been in a four person group that you could describe as a discipleship group. We started with an intentional purpose of building strong relationships so that we could be honest and transparent with each other and along the way, build and deepen our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It has been an exceptional experience for me and very much like what is described in the verses from Luke I opened with. It has also taken a lot of time and commitment on our parts to do that.

Our group is now at a fork in the road and I have to make some decisions about what to do next. This is where God used the words of others to give me some guidance. Here are some passages from a novel called “The Last Christian” by David Gregory that I just finished. It is set in 2088 in an America that has no visible Christian population.  They come from a section of the novel where a college class is discussing the causes of Christianity’s demise in America.

“From its outset the Christian religion claimed that the intervention of the deity in people’s lives would change people for the better. They would have a different character. They would have different morals. They would think, speak, and behave differently. They called it Christlikeness – ‘Christ’ of course, being the title given to Jesus of Nazareth.”

“When a large segment of society became openly nonreligious, an amazing thing happened – amazing to the religionists anyway. People discovered that religionists and non-religionists behaved similarly. Sexual behavior, divorce rates, self-reported levels of honesty – none of these varied significantly between religionists and non-religionists.”

These words in a piece of fiction reinforced what I read recently in Francis Chan’s “Forgotten God”: “Church goers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to these words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside churches see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”

The church in America in general is not being effective in helping us with this spiritual transformation because it has instead become focused on the Sunday event. Attracting people and keeping them engaged on Sunday morning is the focus, which is working. The church I attend grew from less than 150 when I first came to it in 1995, to over 1,500 today. Sunday services are well done and well attended. Changing lives is happening, but not as often and not to the degree that it could be. The current (July – August 2012) issue of Mission Frontiers magazine is devoted to this topic, “Do We Need to Change the Way We Do Church to Reach the Unreached?” A very challenging article in that issue is the one by Mike Breen, “Obituary for the American Church.”

How do we change the descriptions offered by David Gregory and Francis Chan? How do we enter into the relationship Jesus describes in Luke? First we have to desire that relationship and pursue it, and submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, become a follower like I did. Secondly, get involved in a discipleship group of up to four other Christians of the same sex, one of who is already a mature Christian, and live life together, study the scriptures together, share your burdens and challenges, lift each other up and hold each other accountable. This takes time and it takes commitment and it takes intentionality. You have to be patient. This type of relationship can’t be built in a church on a Sunday morning. It can’t even be built in a small group of men and women meeting occasionally like is happening in many churches today. Mike Breen explains this very well in “Building a Discipling Culture.”

This is what I’ve been doing for over the last year. I am fortunate that the person leading our group is deeply involved in this discipleship movement that is moving across America and I will be learning how to do this even better and then along with some others, duplicate ourselves with the intention of multiplication happening.  This is how we follow Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to “make disciples”. If any of this resonates with you I’d enjoy continuing the conversation, especially if you live in Central Wisconsin.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.” – Mike Breen

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Some Select Leadership Lessons

In the month of August I was fortunate to be able to attend two events that focused on leadership, Family Life’s men focused Stepping Up Saturday morning simulcast and Willow Creek’s annual two day Global Leadership Summit. The challenge in attending events like this is that you don’t always know what kind of wisdom you are going to be getting due to the variety of speakers and the short amount of time each speaker is given to say something worthwhile. Sometimes you are disappointed, but more often you get some good insight and learn something new or are reminded of something you already knew but haven’t been practicing. One of the takeaways from Patrick Lencioni was this point: “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”

Here are a few leadership lessons from some of the speakers at these events:

Manhood is a decision, with character being one of its most important components. It is rooted in the right thing, demonstrated by endurance and consistency over time. It is not casual, it requires continual effort and work, an intentional pursuit of moral excellence, fighting against our sinful nature. Rely on the Holy Spirit and your surrender to Jesus Christ to help you in this battle. Don’t fight the battle on your own and don’t give up your role in the battle. Grace applies when we repent and ask forgiveness for our sin, it doesn’t apply when we keep sinning without repentance. This teaching from Crawford Loritts is based on 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

Dennis Rainey used 2 Timothy 2:2 to remind us that we need to help other men be men through mentoring, teaching and discipling. I was shocked by a statistic he shared, that 41% of all U.S. children are being born to unmarried mothers. Fatherlessness is epidemic in our culture. We need to teach boys and adolescents, we need to disciple young men, we need to be mentored ourselves, and as we age and grow in wisdom, mentor other mature men. The great commission applies the commands of discipling and teaching to all, not just those in foreign lands.

Condoleezza Rice reminded us that even though we are living in very challenging times, a world that has been shocked by the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 global recession and the Arab Spring revolutions, there have been times that were just as challenging. She compared the events of the years following World War II when the Soviets developed nuclear weapons, the Communists took over China, and the Korean War began. In those times and in our times we need to remember the promises of Romans 5:3-4: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” ESV

Jim Collins used lessons from the 1910-1912 race to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott to demonstrate leadership qualities of humility and discipline. The presence of these leadership qualities in Amundsen were displayed in his successful expedition to and return from the South Pole before anyone else. Scott’s leadership qualities were evident in his expedition arriving more than a month after Amundsen and even more tragically in the death of his entire party before they reached their base. A humble leader has an ego, but that ego is channeled into a cause or purpose greater than themselves. A disciplined leader knows that there are forces beyond their control, that events can’t be accurately predicted and nothing is certain, so they must display consistent discipline in their actions, making  progress each day regardless of the challenges encountered.

Pranitha Timothy shared her story of transformation from cold and calculating to a bold woman of faith, rescuing thousands of slaves throughout the world through her work with International Justice Mission. Through her story she reminded us that we are called to serve, that our life belongs to God and that He is good. The strength of her message was contrasted with the weakness of her presentation, a result of a brain tumor and lost voice suffered years ago. That contrast made the message all the more impactful.

You will see common leadership ideas among these diverse presenters; humility, a desire to learn, discipline, endurance, courage and a dependence on God. I probably didn’t instruct you much here, but I hopefully reminded you of much you already knew.

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What Book Do You Turn to For Advice?

Saturday morning I attended a conference put on by FamilyLife called Stepping Up. Here’s the description from FamilyLife: “On Saturday, August 4, Dennis Rainey, along with James MacDonald, Robert Lewis, and Crawford Loritts, will unpack what biblical manhood looks like and what it means to be a godly, courageous man in today’s world. They’ll help men understand their biblical roles and the responsibilities they have to fulfill those roles. They’ll show men what it means to lead at home, at work, and in the community. They’ll discuss why men need the accountability of other men on the journey of manhood. And they’ll explain why being passive is not an option.”

The conference was better than I anticipated and challenged me in a few areas of my life. Each of the speakers was very different in their approach and content, but were each able to pass on true wisdom, applicable to all men. What was the common denominator that each man relied on for this wisdom? It was the Bible, commonly referred to by Christians as “God’s Word”. Each of these leaders based their teaching on a passage from the Bible. They read it out loud, it was printed in the conference materials and they applied the passage to how men should be living their lives. This same pattern is repeated in my life each Sunday in my home church in Plover, Wisconsin and hopefully, in churches I visit when traveling.

Why should we care what the Bible says about life? What do we rely on when we are faced with decisions about life? Public opinion? If you look at any polls in the United States of America today, about half the people disagree with the other half on just about any given topic. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who’s advice should I take? Our nation places a high value on education, with over 85% of the population graduating from high school and over 25% graduating with a college degree. There are thousands of business and self-improvement books published each year. I recently subscribed to a book summary service because there are too many for me to read and stay current in my profession. There is an audience for truth and there is segment of the population offering their version of truth. So, again, why should we care what one book says about life?

We should care because the “God’s Word” reference is accurate. There are authors more skilled than me in defending this point, the most recent being Tim Keller in “The Reason for God“, specifically chapter 7, so I won’t spend time doing so. I accept that basic truth and recommend you seriously consider it yourself. If I accept the fact that the Bible is God’s Word and he gave it to us to use as a text book for our life, then I need to read it. Not just read it, but study it and use it as a reference book when needed. We are so fortunate in the USA to have so many Bibles to choose from, paper, electronic and audio, many of them free. Take advantage of these resources. Start reading what God has to tell you about how you should be living your life. This is especially true if you are a man with a family. You have a responsibility like no other to lead your wife, your children and hopefully some day your grandchildren. Wouldn’t you like some direction, some guidance, some wisdom in helping you with that crucial role? Don’t just rely on other men for that, rely on the truth and rely on men who believe in that truth, live out that truth and can help you apply that truth to your life.

Take time today and tomorrow and the next day and start a new habit of learning what God has to say to you about how you should be living your life. If you don’t read it how will you know what you should do? If you aren’t a reader, then get an audio Bible and listen to it. Read it to your children so they get the benefit as well as you. In addition to reading the Bible every day I also recommend you find someone who is older than you, more mature than you and wiser than you who also reads God’s Word every day and ask them if you can meet on a regular basis, at least a few times a month. If you can’t find someone in your community you might want to consider FamilyLife’s online mentoring program called eMentoring. See my earlier blog on getting started reading the Bible. I pray that you are impacted as positively as I have been by this active choice.

(Here’s a cool blog on what to use to make notes in your Bible: http://souldesaenz.wordpress.com/what-to-use-for-writing-in-your-bible/. I’m going to have to get some of these pens.)

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