Are You Dreaming?

Dreams
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We dare not miss an important dimension to hanging tough. It is the thing that keeps you going. I call it a dream. I don’t mean those things we experience at night while we’re asleep.

No, by dream, I mean a God-given idea, plan, agenda, or goal that leads to God-honoring results.

Most pastors I know don’t dream enough. If someone were to ask you,

What are your dreams for this year? What are your hopes . . . your agenda? What are you trusting God for?

Could you give a specific answer? I don’t have in mind just ministry objectives or goals, although there’s everything right with those. But what about the kind of dreaming that results in character building, the kind that cultivates God’s righteousness and God’s rule in your life?

The Church: A Safe Place to Hurt

The Church
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Everybody hurts. But not everybody lives such honest and vulnerable lives that they admit the pain. Why? Because, most often, there isn’t a safe place to do so. The church should be that place (second only to the home). Regrettably, it isn’t.

I heard of a research study where psychologists discovered the top three places where average people “fake it.”

  1. We tend to put on airs when we visit the lobby of a fancy hotel.
  2. We typically fake our true feelings alongside the salesperson at a new-car showroom.
  3. Can you guess the third place we wear a mask? That’s right. In church!

Tragically, in church where authenticity should be modeled, we’ll paint on the phony smiles, slap backs, and shake hands, all the while masking what’s inside our hearts.

In reality . . . we’re hurting.

You Need 3 Individuals in Your Life

You Need 3 Individuals in Your Life
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A church as God intends it is not a gathering of people who sit back and listen to one person preach. Instead, one life touches the life of another, who then touches the lives of people in his or her sphere of influence—those whom the originator would never have known.

To make it even more exciting, those recipients, in turn, touch the lives of others also. That is a contagious ministry.

The medical profession models the idea of multiplication very well.

Is Your Church a Place of Mentoring?

Is Your Church a Place of Mentoring
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Jesus gave the church its marching orders in practical terms. You’re familiar with His words:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)

Here, in Jesus’s Great Commission to His followers, we find no greater challenge . . . and no more comforting promise. This is what Jesus meant when He told them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

But you probably have never considered the Great Commission as part of what makes a church contagious.

A Word about the Emerging Church

Areopagus6
(The Acropolis in Athens, with Mars Hill in the foreground. By Χρήστης Templar52Templar52 at el.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons)

When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.”

Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).

A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication.

I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears.

Are we to minister as those in the world?

The Church’s Need to Look in the Mirror

Mirror
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In late 2007, Pastor Bill Hybels and the leadership team of the Willow Creek Community Church shared the startling results of a study they conducted of their own church—as well as other so-called “seeker churches.”

The results, Hybels said, were “the greatest wake-up call of my adult life.” Among other findings, they discovered that their ministry to “seekers” was very effective for introducing Christ to those who were new to church.

No big surprise.

But they had not been as successful in fulfilling their mission statement to turn “irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” That is, they had not been as strong in developing the spiritual lives of those who had trusted Christ. As a result of a conversation Hybels had with his executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, they realized:

A Contagious Ministry Has an Absence of Legalism

Trusting God
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A church that is strong in grace is attractive for many reasons, not the least of which is the absence of legalism.

Just as most non-Christians don’t understand the good news of Christ, most Christians do not understand the remarkable reality of grace. I know of no activities more exhausting and less rewarding than those of Christians attempting to please the people around them by maintaining impossible legalistic demands. What a tragic trap, and the majority of believers are caught in it.

When will we ever learn? Grace has set us free!

That message streams throughout the sermons and personal testimonies of the apostle Paul.

A Contagious Ministry Is a Place of Grace

Corporation
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When considering church growth, we must think strategically . . . we must preach creatively . . . and our worship must connect. Absolutely. But we must also be careful.

A marketing mentality and a consumer mind-set have no business in the church of Jesus Christ. By that I mean, Jesus is NOT a brand . . . human thinking does NOT guide God’s work . . . and the church is NOT a corporation. The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual entity, guided by the Lord through the precepts of His Word.

If we sacrifice the essentials of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer on the altar of strategy, creativity, entertainment, and “relevancy,” we have abandoned the main reasons the church exists.

We should build on those essentials, not attempt to replace them.

Marketing Jesus, Part 2

Preacher
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Our world has lost its way. So it’s no surprise when the church takes its cues from the world that the church begins to drift as well.

But must we resort to gimmicks for people to come to church? Is biblical reinterpretation the new essential for church growth? Must we dumb down historic Christianity into shallow entertainment skits in order to pamper consumers?

Surely, not!

Marketing Jesus, Part 1

businessman
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Our culture is driven by marketing. There’s no escaping it. Consumerism and materialism have wormed their way into our lives, and the germs of marketing spreads the disease.

For instance, how can I possibly know which of the eight hundred cereals in the store is most healthy? Which car should I purchase? What vacation should we take this summer? See the dilemma? Consumers must make decisions.

I’ve learned through the years that perception overshadows reality. I hate that . . . but it’s true. From political candidates to polyester carpet, how people perceive things is, to them, more convincing than a truckload of evidence. Unfortunately, most draw their opinions from the shallow stream of perception instead of the deep reservoir of truth. I find that strange and disappointing. Perception actually overshadows reality. Scary thought, isn’t it?

It’s even more frightening when we realize that our culture doesn’t market Christianity very well.