Category Archives: Church growth

Dear Church


Dear Church,

On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.

The American church isn’t growing in most areas.  In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births.  However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.

As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.

We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all.  We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith.  We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.

We evangelize.  We bring people to the churches.  We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.

As a teacher I should know better.  I have been taught the most effective way to train people.  Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching.  I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance.  And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.

Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training.  Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do.  Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me.  Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.

Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years.  How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?

Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him.  How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life?  How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?

Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him.  This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?

Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples.  He didn’t stick around and micromanage them.  How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it?  How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?

Dear church, I’m sorry.

So what can we do to fix this?  How can we become a church that thrives and grows again?  We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships.  We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry.  We model for them.  We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility.  When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church.  We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.

Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating.  These are actions.  The church is to be on the move, not stationary.  The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.

If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple. 


Confession Time


If I were to ask you to tell of your sins, how would you respond? I would assume you would balk at the question and do everything in your power either to change the subject or physically leave my presence.

Confession is a lost art in Christianity today, and its absence is keeping us in bondage.

When we have sin that isn’t confessed, it eats away at us.  It keeps us from truly finding healthy intimacy in marriage and even friendship relationships. And it keeps us from finding healing from that sin since we aren’t willing to ask for help.

Confession brings freedom.

I know the excuses. I know you’re scared to let someone know the things that are ugly about you for fear they might use that knowledge to abuse you. You’ve experienced it before. Hurt people hurt people, and you don’t feel you can trust someone enough to confess your sins to them.

These are valid. Trust is easily broken and much harder to build.

However, if a sin you’re struggling with becomes public knowledge, it may hurt at first, but there is freedom from having to hide it once it is revealed. Then you’re free to work on that issue without restraint or secrecy.

We treat confession like it is optional. We confess when we feel like it to whom we feel like it, and sometimes (often times) we don’t confess at all. The scriptures are pretty clear about confession.

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Psalms 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Confession is essential to the growing godliness of the believer. Through confession we invite the accountability needed to actually stop sinning. It is possible to stop that sin you’re struggling with.

Confession is given first to God – not because he doesn’t know, but because you need to admit your problem.

Confession is given next to your brother or sister in Christ. If you’re married, start with your spouse. Beyond that, confession is better done with someone of the same gender. The purpose for this type of confession is to invite them into your struggle to pray with you, check on you, and walk with you as you grow beyond this temptation.

People in recovery programs understand the need for this kind of healing process. We shouldn’t think that because our sin doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs we don’t need the same process to overcome our sins.

If you’re struggling to confess, start small…confess the little things. Then you will see how they react and help. If you’re looking for someone to confess to, look to your minister and his wife or your elders and their wives. They would be honored to join with you in this journey of healing.

Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, my sin stinks just like yours, so I have no right to look down on your struggle when I have my own.  If we all understood and behaved according to this fact, we would be much more eager to confess to one another.

May you find healing through confession, and by this, may the church become strong in unity and love.


You Get What You Ask For

Be careful what you pray for. You might just get it. 

When we pray, we are encouraged to pray for what we want and to be willing to follow the will of God whatever the outcome. But what if the will of God isn’t what He gives us? What if He gives us what we wanted even if that means he has to work a different outcome?

God had a plan for Israel, but they wanted a king, so he gave them one. It wasn’t exactly pleasant for the Israelites, but they got what they wanted, and eventually God worked out His will for them anyway. 

We just voted in a new president. Many churches prayed for the outcome of his election. Many Christians prayed specifically for Trump to win, but is that what the church needed? 

The American church is weak. The American church largely functions like a 40 year old bible nerd that still lives in his mom’s basement. 

Where is evangelism? Where are wonderful works of the Holy Spirit? Where are those strong in the faith who are able to speak truth without fear of their fellow man? Where are the “greater things than these” that Jesus promised we’d do?

Yes, there are preachers and some Christians who function this way, but this is not the norm. 

If the American church functions largely to put on Sunday morning bible classes and worship assemblies, then she has missed the call of the New Testament. 

The American church is full of people who claim to be Christians but don’t even know what Christ said about how to live. They look just like the world and cower at the concept of being blunt enough to tell others about the dangers of sin and the need for a savior. They don’t want to be seen as religious “nuts” and work hard to be cool according to the world’s standards. 

When has the church been strong? The church was strong under the persecution of the Jews, Pagans, and Romans in the first three centuries. The church is still strong in places where persecution is more than just a hateful glance or derogatory comment. The church is strong where there are threats of prison and death. 

Why? Because if you’re still going to choose the way of Christ in such circumstances, you’re going to have to be truly filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. There are no partial Christians in places like that. There are no “Sunday morning only” Christians in that culture. 

Perhaps what the American church needs is some persecution. Maybe she needs to lose some of her rights in this nation. Maybe her members need to be threatened in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. God has done it before. One day, He will do it again. 

I pray for President-Elect Trump and his staff. I pray for our nation. I pray especially for the church – that she begins to pray prayers more like Acts 4 – prayers of boldness and not protection; prayers of courage in the Spirit of Christ.

It’s well past time for Christians in this nation to come back to the Christ they claim with their lips but deny with their lifestyle. It’s time for the church to be a bastion of love in a world gone mad with fear and hatred. It’s time for the church to stop being “of convenience” and start being actually “of Christ”. 

What are you going to do to help the church be what Jesus calls her to be? Change starts with me, and it starts with you. 


Communion…What Do I Do Now?

The Lord’s Supper is such a solemn time during the worship service each Sunday. The emblems are central to the life of every believer. Jesus said that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us and no part with him (John 6). This is probably the most important segment of our Sunday morning assembly. 

During this ritual, however, there is quite a bit of waiting. We wait and listen while the person says a few words to remind us why we participate. We wait for the tray to get to us each time it is passed around. We wait for everyone else to partake after us. So what should we be doing during this time?

I’ve heard people lead into the time of communion with the thought that we are to be examining ourselves. It is thought that we need to be introspective, considering the ways in which we are not right with God – our sinfulness. This comes from 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 which says,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Doesn’t this sound like we are to sit there during those waiting times and rake ourselves over the coals of guilt as we remind ourselves of the myriad of ways we fall short of being like Jesus? It does if we take this verse out of context. 

What was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to write this letter? The church there was full of immorality and division. In fact, the division in the church is what Paul begins the letter with addressing. In chapter 11, he once again addresses their division as an introduction to the verses we so often read to prepare for taking the Lord’s Supper. 

1 Corinthians 11:18-19
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

Did you catch that? It is sarcasm. Paul thinks division within the church is a severe problem. In this division, the communion they partake of is not the Lord’s Supper. You cannot partake of this meal in division without judgment from God. 

In verse 29, he warns against eating and drinking without discerning the body. What does this mean? He is referring to the body of Christ – the church. Then, in verses 33-34 he encourages them to wait for one another. He’s trying to get them to practice unity. 

So, what are we to examine within ourselves while we wait? We are to see if we have some division within us concerning our brothers and sisters in the church. Do you have something against a brother? Does a sister have something against you? These divisions cause a church to be weak and sick (1 Corinthians 11:30). 

Maybe we should go back to practicing what Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount. 

Matthew 5:23-24
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

What if the church was once again concerned with the ministry of reconciliation that we are called to administer (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)?

Next time you’re sitting and waiting during communion, pray for yourself and your relationships with your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Resolve to do your part to make reconciliation. Don’t wait for them to act – you be the mature follower of Jesus and make the first move. Then we will watch the church grow in strength and health as the church becomes even more unified in Jesus as one body. This will be an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. 


The Church Needs to Repent

Imagine our country decided to wage war on Christianity. If you were a Christian you would be condemned to death. Which kind of Christian would they choose to persecute? Would it matter whether you were Methodist or Baptist or church of Christ? What would matter is your allegiance to Jesus.
Church of Christ, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Assembly of God, Church of God, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.

These are just a sampling of the myriad of denominations we find in our culture today. Millions of Christians meeting in different buildings under different monikers all claiming to love Jesus and each other but not willing to fellowship each other creates confusion for those outside the church.

If I wasn’t a Christian, if I didn’t go to church, I would be appalled by what I saw in churches. I would see that they claim to have a better way through Jesus and are supposed to love one another, but they can’t even get along with one another so there is a different church on every corner. If I wanted to come to know Jesus and join a church, how would I know which one is best or right?

This kind of division flies in the face of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. Why did he want the church to be unified? Because of the spread of the gospel. So that people would know God sent Jesus.

The letters to the Corinthian church were written to convict them of their division. Now churches divide all the time even within their specific tribe, and people don’t even bat an eye. How will we ever be the true church that belongs to Jesus if the selfishness and bickering within us gets in the way?

“But they don’t teach the truth.”

Are you sure? Have you studied for yourself, or have you just been in a movement that has taught a certain way for generations. With the onset of more and more independent and non-denominational churches, can we honestly say we know their theology well enough to sit in God’s seat of judgment in condemnation of them? Should we ever sit in that seat?

Even as you read the New Testament epistles, you see a wide variety of religious understandings and practices. Jews wanted to force Gentiles to conform to their traditions. Gentiles wanted nothing of it. This was a huge schism within the church, but over and over we read of a desire for peace and unity in diversity based on the foundation of the gospel event.

It is time for churches everywhere to not only want to accept the grace of Jesus but be willing to extend that grace to others as well. It is time to remember that God’s grace covers my sins and my doctrinal misunderstandings insofar as I desire the ways of Jesus and strive to follow them as best as I understand. If that grace covers me, then it covers you too.

We look at the lists of sins and consider all the personal sins with abhorrence, but we seem to forget that the sins most written and spoken about in the NT were the sins that divided the church.

Where do we go from here?

It’s time we started to get to know and love those in the other church communities that find their direction from the Bible and look to the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation.  It’s time we presented a united front in our communities as we publicly express our unity with one another.  It’s time we repented of our arrogance and division.  It’s time we begin to recognize the one church that Jesus died for – not a building with a sign on the door, but all people who have surrendered to Jesus.


The Church Needs You

Recently, a friend told me he has trouble with the concept of giving in the traditional sense to the church because it feels like he’s just contributing to a black hole. There’s no understanding of where the money is going or what it’s used for other than paying the preacher and keeping the lights on.

I really understand the sentiment.  I’ve heard this from more than one person in my time as a minister. But is it right? Should our desire to give be controlled by our understanding of the inner workings of the ministry?

The generation that I am a part of doesn’t understand generosity in the same way that generations before do.

Prior generations gave, and still give, out of a sense of ownership and belonging to the movement or organization.  It gives out of a sense of duty and obedience. More recent generations give because of compassion and a desire to help the individual or cause. The difference seems to be that the former generations still give out of a desire to help and compassion without neglecting to maintain their gift to the broader organization.

When someone tells me that they don’t feel comfortable giving because of this or that reason I get this awkward sense inside – like something is missing in their statement. This morning I figured out why this statement doesn’t set well with me.

First, giving isn’t for me. It isn’t so that I can feel better about myself. It isn’t so that I can be comfortable.  Giving is a discipline of sacrifice to help me learn that life is about others.  It is a discipline that teaches me trust of God and not of my finances. Giving is a way of participating in the kingdom of which we are supposed to be seeking first.

When I understand giving in this way I can be more free to give. I can see what I need to learn about the discipline of giving. If I am living the selfless life Jesus prescribes, then there won’t be excuses of “I don’t feel comfortable”. There won’t be loopholes of “I can’t afford it”. Remember the examples used in the New Testament about giving: the widow (Mark 12 and Luke 21) and the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8) and the church at the beginning (Acts 2:44-47).

Second, giving isn’t done out of understanding but out of faith. To say you don’t give because you don’t know where the money is being used is not faith in the leadership God has placed in the church you attend. In the same line of thought, it follows that it is not trust in God to not trust in your leaders. Yes, sometimes people who are in leadership prove themselves untrustworthy.  That is why the scripture calls for a plurality of leadership.

If a leadership squanders the money you have given to the Lord, will you fail to receive your reward for your generous heart?

In most cases, however, the church leadership diligently seeks to use the generous donations of he congregation wisely. But even so, many people refrain from giving and cripple the work of the local congregation.

You are called to be generous with your finances for the work of God in His Kingdom. When God called Abraham he didn’t give him an itenerary. When the first century church gave they didn’t need a financial breakdown or tax deductible receipt. When you give, you are giving out of gratitude to God.

So, consider the work at your local congregation. What would happen if you and your friends gave 10%? What if you gave more? If you’re in a church like the one where I serve, the run down building could be fixed or expanded. More staff could be supported as missionaries to the local demographic. More local ministries could be funded to help the hurting. More evangelism could be done through more and varied means. More foreign missions could be supported. The church could grow in new and exciting ways!

So give to God and his church. Give to the homeless man on the corner. Give to the missionary. Do each of these things simultaneously, but don’t neglect the church. She needs the generosity of her members to be healthy.


What is the church of Christ?

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For over a hundred years there have been churches that refer to themselves as the Church of Christ. These churches have that sign on the door or out by the street, and many people recognize that there are certain things that make these churches unique.

However, the name that is used was never meant to be a name. It is and has always been a description of the people. The people are the church that belongs to Jesus, the Christ (Romans 16:16).

So what does the church that belongs to Jesus look like? The following is a list of ideas that Jesus presented which should be attributes of his followers. I encourage you to read this with your bible open following along with the passages referred to.

What is the church of Christ?

The church that belongs to Christ understands its need for forgiveness and is anxious to be able to extend that forgiveness to others. It is not a church that holds grudges. (Matthew 6:14-15)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks the Holy Spirit in the lives of each believer. They follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they live each day – not just on Sunday. This creates within them a fire, a passion, as they experience life in the presence of God who lives within them. (John 14:15-17, 26-27)

The church that belongs to Christ understands that belief in Jesus and connection with Him in baptism (immersion) are essential to salvation. They don’t try to argue this away. They accept it and are willing and eager to follow Jesus’ instructions and example in this manner. (Mark 16:15-16)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that unity with one another is essential to life in Him. They believe that this unity is key to their ability to evangelize to the world. They are not known for their division. (John 17:20-21)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that faith is essential to a person’s ability to follow Jesus. They recognize where their faith is weak and ask Jesus to strengthen their faith through the Spirit at work within them. They understand that without this faith it is impossible to please God. (Luke 17:5-6)

The church that belongs to Christ is a praying church. Prayer is seen as powerful and necessary to the connection and relationship between the church and God. They understand that it is through prayer that much of the power of Christ is released upon the world around them. They follow Jesus’ example of being constantly in prayer. (Luke 5:16; 11:1-13)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that He has called each one of us, no matter our past, to evangelism – to tell others about Him. This is not just the preacher’s job, but it is the role of each follower. A follower excited about his or her Savior cannot help but tell others about Him. (Mark 5:19)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that communion – partaking of the body and blood of Jesus – is essential to the life of the believer. They believe it is in communion with Jesus that relationship with Him is fostered as often as it is taken. (John 6:53-56)

The church that belongs to Christ doesn’t make it a practice to stand in judgment of others. They are accepting of all people because they recognize that all have sinned, and everyone has need for the same Savior. (Matthew 7:3-5)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks the reign of God, His kingdom, in their lives each day. This is not relegated to once or twice a week in a certain building but is shown by a lifestyle devoted to following God in every decision and action daily. (Matthew 6:33)

The church that belongs to Christ is full of flawed people who haven’t got it all figured out. They are broken people who are trying their best to allow God to change them, but it is a daily process, and some days are better than others. This creates an atmosphere of equality among all people regardless of race, age, gender, or class. (Matthew 9:12-13)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks to obey Him in all things. They see their obedience as part of their faith. (John 14:15)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks to show mercy and grace to all whom they come in contact with. They understand that they have been shown mercy and grace by Jesus and seek to reflect Him to others. (Matthew 5:7; 9:13)

The church that belongs to Christ is in the business of disciple-making. They aren’t interested in merely inviting someone to a weekend service. They want to help one another grow in their understanding and ability to follow the teachings of Jesus. (Matthew 28:18-20)

The church that belongs to Christ is compassionate. They seek to show that compassion in the world around them and seek nothing in return. (Luke 10:33-37)

The church that belongs to Christ is generous because it understands that everything it has has been given by the One who owns everything. It understands that the money and possessions it acquires are to be used to glorify God by helping others. It gives generously as an act of worship. (Mark 12:42-44)

The church that belongs to Christ focuses on what Jesus said are the most important ideas: Love God and Love your neighbor. This church is recognized by its love. The world all around knows there is something different about the church that belongs to Jesus because it loves like no other entity does – masses of followers banding together to be an example of love to everyone around them. (Matthew 22:35-40)

The church that belongs to Christ doesn’t worry about names on building or denominational association. This church is boundless. It has no borders. It is found in every church as people claim allegiance to the Savior who died and rose again. (John 10:16)

The church that belongs to Christ follows Jesus. No. Matter. What. (Matthew 10:38; 16:24-26)

This is the church of Christ. It’s not a name on a building but a way of life. It is all people who choose to follow Jesus – his examples and his teachings. Are you a part of that church?


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