Scripture Reading Challenge (#23)

Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.

Read Joshua1:1-18

There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.

How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#14)

God does not point out our sin to laugh at us or scorn.  Instead, he reveals our issues so that we can deal with them appropriately.  That is, to be cleansed and forgiven.  In the story of Genesis, the brothers need to make a second trip to Egypt.  They will face their sin one way or another.  Joseph is building with excitement to reveal his unfeigned love for his brethren.

Read Genesis 43:1-44:34

Something that should be jumping off the pages of the Bible to us about this story is Joseph is dropping hints to his brothers all the time.  In Genesis 42:18, he says, “for I fear God.”  The word used for God is Elohim, which can be a generic term to identify any God. However, the writer of Genesis uses it to signify the One True God of Israel.  It’s possible that Joseph is letting his brothers know that he fears their God.  We also see in our text today that He knows that his brother’s and father’s God blesses (Genesis 43:23).  This Egyptian is very well acquainted with the Hebrew God.  Egyptians probably had cultic practices and perspectives against Hebrews.  Finally, the individual interest he took in his full brother, Benjamin, and the extra food he gave him (Genesis 43:34).  All I can say is Joseph may have disguised himself from his brothers, but at the same time, he is trying his best to get them to recognize him.

God is doing the same thing.  First Timothy 1:17 and Colossians 1:5 reminds us that God is invisible.  He has dropped hints all the way through the Old Testament about his character in that is it claimed, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)  The Psalms also teach, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).  God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).  The Father has made himself known fully in the Son and witnesses in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Even more, Christ has left us the Church, His literal body on earth.  First John 4:20 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  It is difficult for me to believe someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in

It is difficult for me to understand that someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in fellowship with a local congregation).  We have faith in the invisible head of the Church but no faithfulness to the visible body.  God has revealed Himself fully in time past through His Son.  Today, God continually reveals Himself through His people.  Our bodies are the temple His spirit dwells in now (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Not something made with human hands but fashioned by God.  So, again, how are you living out the faith you claim to have?  God has given us the Church as the community where we are to live out our faith.

God’s design of the Church

Regardless of whether you are called to pastoral ministry or itinerant (evangelistic travel), it is important that you understand the Biblical foundation and design of the church. The ministry of the church is astoundingly vital to every believer. For those that are homebound, there must be a ministry to show them the compassion of Jesus. To those that say they don’t need to go to church, they sever the head which is Christ, from the body, which is the church. The believer’s who faithfully attend and those that don’t, need to be disciplined. It is even vital to the sinner because the church brings the message of the Gospel to them and witnesses their conversion. The Church is necessary.

The original Greek word for church is “Ekklesia.” It to be “called out” or “separated.” The other Greek word, from which our English word for Church is derived, is “Kuriakon.” It means, “belonging to the Lord.” As a definition, we can define the church as a group of people that have been called out from the world and separated from sin as the Lord’s property. The Bible gives several pictorial illustrations of the Church. It is seen as: (1) the Body of Christ (1 Cor.12:12-31, shows unity and diversity), (2) the building of Christ (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19-22), and, (3) the bride of Christ (John 14:1-3, Eph. 5:25-31, Rev. 19:7).

The church is viewed in Scripture as both universal and local in scope. Universal doesn’t mean that every person in time is part of it, but rather every person that has come to Christ is part of the real Church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 2:20, 5:23-32). Scripture also recognizes that the real church is divided by geographical locations into individual local congregations. This is evidenced by the various churches in Acts by location, the names of many of Paul’s letter, and the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.

45

The biblical purposes of the church are first to glorify God (Eph. 3:21). Secondly, it is to edify or disciple believers (Eph. 4:11-12) and purify them (Eph. 5:25-27). Thirdly, to evangelize the world (Matt. 28:19- 20). Fourth and last, to prevent corruption in the world by saturating it with God’s truth and Love (Matt. 5:13-16).

SOM: Blessed are the Meek

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

Weak and meek are not the same the same thing.  Jesus was anything but weak.  He had power of demons, diseases, and death.  He demonstrated his power over nature by simple use of His voice and when he spoke the people that heard him recognized an authority in it.  Jesus is the Son of God but yet He was meek and here He calls us to have the same attitude.  We are called to live in the power and freedom of grace but not at the cost of another’s own walk with Christ.

It is probably best for us to get a better understanding of what it means to be meek.  The Greek word used here can be translated with other words such as humble, gentle, considerate, and courteous.  Perhaps a better understanding of meekness requires us to take each of those words into mind when we read this verse rather one or another.  Together the word indicates an inward virtue exercised toward others.  For example, when the meek are wronged or abused, they show no resentment and do not threaten or avenge themselves.

Psalm 37 provides the background for this verse because it seems Jesus was quoting it, “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (37:11).  If you would take the time to read this entire Psalm by David you would be sure to quickly realize the calm assurance he gives as we lean on God’s power, wisdom and timing in dealing with those that would take advantage of us.  Earlier in this study we seen how the first set of beatitudes we vertical, meaning they focused on our relationship with God as citizens’ of the heavenly kingdom.  This verse seems to emphasis the fact that while we may have power and authority to avenge ourselves and deal with our enemies, we still don’t.  Rather than taking vengeance into our own hands we allow God to be God.  We rely on God dealing with our enemies, natural and supernatural.

We are tempted to take full advantage of all our rights in order to take care of ourself but the meek choose not to.  Why?  It is because we are not of this worldly system. Notice the blessing of the meek, “for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).  This world is not our home.  We are only passing through it on our way to the promised land.  The blessing though is like Abraham, who was promised a certain land but is also told that everywhere he sees and steps will also be part of his blessing from God.  The same is with the meek child of God.  We do not use the systems of the world to better ourselves because we are of Heaven and not of Earth.  But one day we shall inherit the earth when it is made new.

When shall that be?  In the context of Psalm 37 we notice that it the time frame is when the wicked have been dealt justice by God.  At the return of the Lord we will find ourselves the recipients of the message, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23).  When evil and the ones that perpetuate evil are removed then shall all things be made new and the righteously meek will inherit the earth.

So, the big question for us is whether we are willing to live meek in a cutthroat world?  Where people are constantly looking to take advantage of others and various systems in order to constantly get ahead we are cautioned against such actions that show us to be more earthly minded than heavenly.  During our times of devotion we must look not only towards pride, desires to have revenge, and to take advantage of others but also to examine our actions to see if we have behaved in such a way that is contrary to being meek.

Church Health: Functional Health

Measuring a Church’s Functional Health

Chances are great that your church is suffering from what is called Pareto principle. This principle is a “commonly noted observation that 20 percent of the people in a church do 80 percent of the work” (Thumma, 2011, p. xxi). This principle is so prevalent in cultures globally almost regardless of the organization. It is definitely a common lament of many pastors and other church leaders. The problem for churches is that this problem has so many different pieces to it’s puzzle. As one writer puts it, “Indeed the problem is complex; it is a participant, leadership, organizational, and spiritual issue” (Thumma, 2011, p. xxv). This makes it a hard task to measure a church’s functional health but it is still a possibility, especially as a church focuses on its operational values,

Defining Functional Health and Measurable Variables

            The question then at this point is, “What exactly is functional health?” Especially as functional health relates to the church. If something is functional it is simply, “working.” In an overall view of things one might see a church solely on the term functional, but then we beg the question, “why or why not is a church functionally healthy?” Basically, that comes down to the individual parts that contribute to the whole. In a church then it is talking about the activity of the people. It’s not just the presence of the people that make a church functionally healthy but the involvement and the quality of the involvement. The vision of any church would be that all of its members would be actively serving according to their gifts. As we shared with the Pareto principle, most church’s functional health would be at 20%. Could you imagine if your entire body only had 20% of its cells or organs working?  You can now imagine the importance of functional health. If 20% of a church’s membership is doing 100 percent of the work, just think what could be accomplished; the decline of burnout, and the growth of individual spiritual health.  While 100% may not be achievable (some can’t because of their physical health or age), 60-70% would be considered healthy if these were people actively participating in ministry.

The question is how do we gain an accurate measurement of a church’s functional health. This requires quite a bit of participation on the leader’s participation. It does consist of crunching a few numbers but also an examination of some of procedures and ministries of the church. There are four main areas are where we will focus our attention for functional health, 1) membership/attendance against the numbers of those that are actively participating, 2) those who are actively participating but have been attending less than two years, 3) training opportunities for volunteers, and lastly, 4) the guidance given to clearly define ministry tasks/roles. The first two will focus more on numerical data while the last two focus on surveys.

Membership Vs. Participation & Newcomer Assimilation

            The first major component to understand this area of functional health is knowing your total number of constituents. This is your members and non-members that make up your overall church family. For those are afraid of paying to much attention to the use of numbers in church, they will pay attention when the number reaches zero. Ideally, this number becomes a base number for finding functional health, not a sole descriptor of it, regardless of size. Some other statistics that would be important to locate are…

  • Number of small/task groups.
  • Average size of small/task groups
  • Number of individuals who have attended less than two years. Number of individuals who have attended less than one year.
  • Number of individuals involved in small/task groups. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.
  • Number of individuals that give financially to the church. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.
  • Number of individuals that have at least one designated role/task. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.

Simply, put there will be a lot of mathematical division taking place here. With the exception of the first statistic (# of small/task groups), you will be dividing stat by the total number of constituents to find the average. The first finding will show you how many small/task groups you have for a certain number of people (example: 100 people divided by 7 groups equals one group for about every 14 people). The remaining numbers will show a percentage of people’s active participation in a congregation, (example #1: 35 people in small groups divided by 100 overall people equals 35% of the congregation is participating in small group; example #2: 5 people who have attended less than two years with a designated role divided by the 20 people who have been attended less than two years equals 25% of the newcomers are actively participating).

Volunteer Training & Ministry Description

While the previous focus area focuses on hard numbers, the following focus can be much more telling as to what is actually taking place. The statistics gathered previously can show clearly and quickly show problems areas but the following seeks deeper connection with how the church’s functional health is taking place. These following questions could be developed into a church wide survey or could be used as directed interview questions to gather information.

  1. Has the church provided you in-house training for your ministry role or task?
  2. Did the church provide direction or stipend for where you could find instructional materials for your ministry role or task?
  3. Did the church provide outside training, through the use of a ministry school or conference that helped you in your ministry role or task?
  4. When you were recruited or volunteered where you given a description of what was expected?

References

Thumma, Scott. Bird, Warren (2011). The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants. Jossey-Bass print. San Francisco, CA.

Church Health: Spiritual Health

Measuring a Church’s Spiritual Health

One the hardest things for a church to acknowledge is that they may not be spiritual healthy. It may be even harder to identify what truly makes a church spiritual healthy or unhealthy. This is due to the fact that many traditions have emphasized different aspects and expressions of spiritual experience in the Christian faith. It is because of this that many churches will then gauge their own spiritual temperature based upon their own definition of what a spiritually healthy church looks like.   So, we will work off of a simple, yet, biblically rooted definition of what a spiritually healthy church will look like.

In John chapter four, Jesus is speaking to a woman that he met at a well in the most unlikely of places. There the woman tried to ignite a conversation that were their equivalent of modern day worship wars. Her question to Jesus was where they should worship.   Yet, Jesus took the conversation to a whole other level. Regardless of place, God is seeking “true worshippers” that “worship in spirit and in truth.” Biblical exposition and spiritual worship are then the call from the mouth of Jesus. While it is possible for a congregation to be involved in increasing the quality of the preaching, this is a personal endeavor for the preacher. On the other hand the overall worship experience is at the hands of people. Bob Russell writes, “The primary purpose of worship is to honor God, but corporate worship should also uplift and encourage believers” (2010, p. 46).

This is why worship should be inspiring. This is not just a positive experience through therapeutic sermons and happy feelings that are created by the songs. Healthy, spiritual worship compels people to come in with anticipation of what will take place. As the psalmist David wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Ps. 122:1). Not only does inspiring worship draw people in because it lifts up Christ (Jn. 13:32) but it is also inspiring because when people are sent out, they feel compelled to live out the Word of God that was brought to them in the service. This is a place where worshipping in truth comes to play. Through biblical exposition the people are encouraged and challenged to live out the Word in their everyday lives after the worship event, because they understand it is a lifestyle. They are excited to come to church because they know they will leave with greater conviction to live out the Christian faith.

The next major marker that we examine is the issue of prayer. Jesus quoted scripture when he reminded people that the temple was a “house of prayer” (Mt. 21:13). We understand that individuals are now the temple of God with their own body but it is an important aspect that the local church or congregation is also known for being a community of prayer. There needs to be atmosphere of prayer that includes intercession and thanksgiving that is promoted by the leadership and is part of the identity for the whole church.

Lastly the congregation needs to be marked by love. Jesus states in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Love is a badge for any believer as well as the church. While many churches may be welcoming to a point they may not all display an atmosphere of warmth and fellowship. Knowing the love of a congregation includes their welcome and integration, their promotion of fellowship, and their hospitality.

Method of Measure and Content

The main method of measuring could probably be by a survey. It is possible to use a larger survey that will help the church leadership gain a larger understanding of more than just spiritual components. A survey such as the EFCA Church Health Survey (2007) will measure ten different areas for overall church health but it does have three focal areas that include, “passionate spirituality (prayer), Spirit-filled worship, and loving relationships.” Just those three areas from the EFCA Church Health Survey would bring to the table thirty questions.

Another method of measure would be in personal or group interviews. The questions would be opened ended questions so to promote more conversation from those being interviewed. Responses from the interviewer should be there to help dig deeper into the conversation. The following would be possible questions for interviews. These are adapted from some of the questions provided by Thom Rainer’s, “10 Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup” (2014).

  1. How has the church helped you read your bible more?
  2. How has the church helped your prayer life?
  3. How has the church challenged and helped you share you faith with others?
  4. How has the church’s worship service inspired you to serve the Lord faithfully?
  5. How has the church’s worship service inspired your fight against sin?
  6. What scriptures and songs has the church’s worship services helped you memorize?
  7. How is your family involved in worship services?

References

Rainer, Thom (2014). http://thomrainer.com/2014/06/24/10-questions-six-month-spiritual-checkup/

Russell, Bob; Russell, Rusty (2010-05-20). When God Builds a Church. Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

Church Health: Relational Health

Measuring a Church’s Relational Health

“We are a friendly church.” This is a statement that has been used by most churches. The reality is that while some churches have appeared friendly during “meet and greet” times, they have no effort made towards integration and fellowship. A church with a warm greeting may still have a cold fellowship. Churches with a cold fellowship are more likely to face a declining attendance, as people no longer feel cared for by the leadership or other members in the congregation. Therefore, measuring a church’s relational health becomes increasingly important.

Relational health has been defined as different things throughout the years. In the book, Who Cares About Love (Arn, NyQuist, and Arn, 1988), the relational atmosphere in a church is pictured as the Love/Care Quotient (LCQ). That research shown that there was a direct relationship that exists between being perceived as a relationally healthy church and a growing church.   It was found that growing churches showed a significantly higher LCQ than other churches that had been declining for five years, regardless of denomination.   All of that together shows that churches that are lacking in love and care from leadership to members are usually declining. Healthy relationships attract people and a lack of healthy relationships repels.

Still, what defines healthy relationships? Biblically speaking, healthy relationships centers in on a single word, “oneness.” For example, Ephesians 4:3-6 reads,

“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

            In this passage we are immediately drawn to the repetitious use of word, “one.” Seven times in these four verses the word is used to remind the Ephesian believers of the oneness that is in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. So what does oneness look like? It implies closeness in proximity and togetherness in thinking, action, and goals. Therefore, creating an atmosphere that healthy relationships can flourish is vital for overall church health and growth. In the book, Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer writes about promoting fellowship, “Intentionally connecting people in community is not an option for the church. It’s a biblical mandate—the essence of what it means to be the body of Jesus Christ” (2010, p. 151).

Measuring Relational Health

Now that we have a basic understanding for what healthy church relationships looks like we can begin to measure the relational health. We will do this through two primary methods, hard data collection and surveys. This will give a church a good starting foundation for understanding the state of their relational health.

Hard Data

  1. The first piece of hard data to collect would be looking at what material has been brought to before the church to teach them about love, congregational care, and fellowship. This would be sermons topic and in a series. Small groups and Sunday school curriculums. A key point in understanding the churches relational health can be found in whether it is a teaching topic during the last two or three years.
  2. The next piece would be statistical data. The data collected would be the average worship attendance compared to the number of individuals that attend small groups. Small groups could range from Sunday school classes, home groups, teen youth groups, and others. Small groups are a place where intentional relationships are built and an excellent place to grow healthy.
  3. The last piece would be knowing how many people arrive to the church fifteen minutes early to fellowship and don’t leave for at least 15 minutes after service. This wouldn’t include those that have to prepare for the service and clean up afterwards (most of the time) but those that are there early and are leaving late after the service because they desire to communicate with others. The time spent in worship does not provide a time for intimate Christian fellowship (it is important to worship together though) but the time before and after can.

Survey

This simple seven-question survey would be sufficient to give first time guests and entrenched members. While it would be best to remain anonymous, it would be important to also include space to obtain the persons age, and how long they have attended, martial status, and such in order to gain an understanding about different demographics relations also (These were adapted from, Who Cares About Love).

  • Were you greeted at the front door?
  • If you had children with you, were you told about Children’s church and the church nursery?
  • If you are a current attender are you currently involved in a small group (Sunday School, youth group, home group, bible study, etc) through the church?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do you feel the pastor cares for the members?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do you feel the members care for other members?
  • If you are in a small group, on a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do feel in your group?
  • If you are a member, on a scale of 1 – 10, how loving do you feel that you have been to first time guests or new members?

References

Arn, Win. Nyquist, Carroll. Arn, Charles. (1988). Who Cares About Love? Church Growth Press. Lakewood, Colorado

Stetzer, Ed; Dodson, Mike (2010). Comeback Churches. B&H Books. Kindle Edition.