I look pretty dog gone good in the picture above, don't I? Well, that would be me with all that grey!
I heard a self-help guru once ask, “You know what happens when people give up on their dreams? They go rotten!” I am certainly one of those who say that God has equipped each of us with every natural tool we need to get the things done that He has created us to be able to do. We could become whatever God has equipped us to become. I hoped that those were the dreams that the trainer was talking about.
We start out so full of ambition, so confident that we could be anything. We used to one up each other in that “what are you going to be when you grow up” sort of talk. Fireman! Army man! Teacher! A mountain climber! There was nothing that was off the table. We were sure that we could do anything.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans not for your destruction, but plans to give you a hope and a future.” We started out in life wired with a personality. We were born unique from one another. We developed interests based upon certain qualities that were present inside of us. Sports. Drawing. Singing. Climbing on everything. Bossing people around. Being quiet and observant. Each of us had a unique signature that adults could point to and say that’s my kid!
Hopefully parents recognizes our natural inclinations and helps us to direct and develop them into our strengths. God put parents in charge of encouraging us to develop those things God had blessed us with so that we would have the highest chance at success in whatever we would eventually do.
We are given a band instrument. We are sent to voice lessons. We join a baseball team. We get a jumbo artist’s kit complete with every kind of art medium we could use for a Christmas present. We get a telescope for our birthday. Our parents with God’s help gently guide us toward the direction that utilizes our God given talents. We become interested in the things that we discover that we are not too bad at! And we have fun at it! As we have more and more success, the more a dream begins to form. Finally… anything’s possible.
Can Christians Feel Down?
Though this article is more of a letter directed to one of my prized loved ones, I believe that there is information here that is edifying to the church at large. That is why I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it for all to read. Quite naturally, those who are not believers of The Way may not understand and they may call us crazy, superstitious, or even incompetent because of our commitment to relying upon the Lord Jesus rather than submitting exclusively to the science of medicine when we face problems such as depression.
When a person accepts the fact that sin is real and that they will face a consequence for that sin unless something is done about it, that revelation can be a pretty daunting piece of information to handle! In Romans 6:23 we read “The wages of sin is death….” Whoa! Death? What is this? I don’t want to die! The rest of the verse is the solution, “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Great news! I want some of that!
The rational person who the Holy Spirit has been tugging at the heart strings of will respond to the invitation and accept God’s grace of salvation and escape the bonds of sin. He will accept Jesus as Lord and ask Him to come into his life and live happily ever after. The end.
It doesn’t work that way, though.
We’ve got a lifetime of sin behind us. Sin is in our paradigm for living day to day. Sin is the example set for us at every turn of the minute hand. Sin is the lifestyle of those we care about most. Sin confuses us and prevents us from hearing the urging of God to accept His invitation and have the confidence that life will be any different once we accept. Many of us who have felt His call in our hearts still turn away because of the lies and twisted influences sin continues to lay upon us.
The apostle Paul when writing to the church at Corinth the second time had this to say, “There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us! Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:12-14).
We are tied to our past and we are tied to those people we’ve spent time in our lives being a part of. I like those people I hang out with, after all they are just like I am! We understand each other. Those are my friends! Those are my people! We are tied to people in our past.
But, you are moving on and they are not necessarily moving in the same direction as you or as quickly as you. Some of your friends and relatives have a “head knowledge” about Jesus as they may have been raised in the church and are culturally connected but their desire seems to be more like a teenager who is finally living in his own place choosing finally to follow his own rules. “Some of those things of the world can’t possibly be as dangerous as my Christian upbringing has claimed them to be” is their thinking while you have already lived through some of those “dangers” and have somehow escaped alive with a new shot at life!
Jesus grieves over those who should be followers but for some reason they simply stay just out of arms reach, not accepting quite the fullness of the Holy Spirit or quite receive any of the blessings. Yet they claim to be Christians. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37).
We have those friends. Some of them admire that we’ve accepted Christ and claim to be on the same page. We are attracted to them because they claim to be one of us and as a bonus, we really like being around them. But before you know it, they invite us to participate in activity that is not pleasing to God. It might be drinking alcohol in the context of a party in which by nature can invite drunkenness. It might be in participating in games that glorifies things that are completely opposite of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It might be in allowing non God honoring programming to be shown on TV or participating in the audience of a concert or comedy club that represents the opposite of what God represents but the content is very entertaining nonetheless. It might be that if this person is your boyfriend or girlfriend, that in a tender moment they convince you or you convince them to participate in sensual activity that God has blessed when couples are united together by Holy matrimony—things that are meant to be sweet and bonding but when misused causes instead guilt and shame. We have those friends.
Scripture instructs us in how to deal with our relationships. “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:13-15).
“Prepare our minds for action and exercise self-control.” But that’s the whole battle right there, isn’t it?
We have the influence of our old lifestyle and the tugging of our friends and relatives who think we ought to not get so “religious” on them. Paul faced this with the Corinth church when he claimed his weaknesses so that God could be counted upon as being in charge. “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. You have made me act like a fool. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).
OK. Maybe we get it. Maybe we decide that we want the blessings of God and have finally chosen to serve Him and we want to dedicate our lives to serving Him. How do I protect myself from being depressed because I fall into the trap of reimagining my past and entertain the thought from time to time of what it would be like today if I had remained? What do I do about my thoughts when they wonder to some time in my past that were harmful, but were so comforting to me at the time? How do I protect myself from remembering the fruit of the experiences I’ve had but I know that they were in a context that was sinful and forbidden? Those things from my past are powerful, powerful thoughts filled with feeling and emotion. They are packed with tricks and deceptions that subtly lure me to long for those passions once again. How do I get away from those thoughts from my past private life?
I love visiting GotQuestions?org. There is a team that condenses questions like these to the simplest and most direct answers that we can easily test by turning to scripture. I love what they have to say about encouragement:
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness,” Hebrews 3:13 tells us. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Throughout the Bible we see instructions to encourage one another and verses that are meant to encourage us. Why is encouragement emphasized in the Bible? Primarily because encouragement is necessary to our walk of faith.
Jesus told His followers, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Jesus did not shy from telling His followers about the troubles they would face. In fact, He told them the world would hate them (John 15:18-21; see also Matthew 10:22-23 and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16). But Jesus’ grim forecast was tempered with cheer; He followed His prediction of trouble with a sparkling word of encouragement: He has overcome the world. Jesus is greater than any trouble we face.
Without encouragement, hardship becomes meaningless, and our will to go on wanes. The prophet Elijah struggled with discouragement (1 Kings 19:3-10), and so do we. It is important to remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This truth makes encouragement all the more important. It is not just that we face the world’s displeasure; we are caught in the crosshairs of a spiritual battle. When we are encouraged in Christ, we have strength to put on our spiritual armor and remain steadfast (see Ephesians 6:10-18).
It is important for us to realize that we are not strong. It is not a defeat to know that there are things in our past that remind us of what were are missing. It is not a defeat to know that there may have been atrocities from our past that no longer define us in the present, yet we are still burdened by the images or the hurt caused by what we did. It is impossible to be unexperienced in something we’ve experienced. We don’t usually forget. These are the consequences of sin. We can escape the wages of sin, but we are left with the consequences.
Those are the times we turn, and turn again, and turn again back to our God for comfort and release. Part of turning to God for release is relying upon the body of believers God has blessed you with as being a part of. You have a spiritual family who loves you just how you are with no conditions attached and they are at your disposal not out of obligation, but out of love. (Those who do have conditions attached are still working out their issues with God and they need our love and understanding all the more.)
Encouragement makes it easier to live in a fallen world in a holy way. Encouragement makes it easier to love as Jesus loved (see John 13:34-35). Encouragement gives hope (Romans 15:4). Encouragement helps us through times of discipline and testing (Hebrews 12:5). Encouragement nurtures patience and kindness (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-26). Encouragement makes it easier to sacrifice our own desires for the advancement of God’s kingdom. In short, encouragement makes it easier to live the Christian life.
Without encouragement, life would soon feel pointless and burdensome. Without encouragement, we can be overwhelmed by the very real pains of our lives. Without encouragement, we feel unloved. Without encouragement, we begin to think that God is a liar or is unconcerned with our welfare. So, the Bible tells us to encourage one another, to remind each other of the truth that God loves us, that God equips us, that we are treasured, that our struggles are worth it.
Satan’s plan is to isolate each of us from each other so we can be worked over by his thugs and be punished again and again for our past. He’ll tempt us with those things we enjoyed, then remind us how damaging and disrespectful to God enjoying that experience was. Then we feel shame and guilt of which Satan now hammers upon. Maybe he’ll see to it that we are involved in circumstances around us that are negative, so negative in fact, that without the support system of other Christians we become susceptible to those exact thoughts that continue to plague and haunt us once again.
In that moment, why not call or text immediately to a couple of mature believers you know, about what is going on in your head and allow them to pray with you and for you? Do you have access to scripture right away? Do a google search for “encouragement” and read the scripture references presented to you. Ask your mentor for a pocket resource you can refer to that helps you zoom in on God’s exact words that deal with what is attacking you at the time.
And as soon as you can, grab that Holy hug from those beloved support people who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. There is comfort when we express familial love for one another.
This may sound silly, but often when I am being attacked by the thoughts of my sinful past or reminded of my constant failings, I begin to sing a song that seems to drive all that away.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.
Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice.
Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.
But trust me. I’m still coming in for that hug.
What Do Your Actions Reflect?
For a Christian, actions speak louder than words. What we do is our testimony of our current relationship with God. It's not about "us." It never has been. What I want doesn't matter. The only thing that matters in this "love your neighbor as yourself" commandment from God is how are others influenced by how you take your life steps! God will take care of your needs if you care to only consider how your actions will influence others! That is loving God (by trusting Him) and loving others (by demonstrating God's love through your actions and decision making)!
Take for example that a young teen-aged girl is trying to make sense of her world by watching how you get things done in yours. She is watching the level of patience you are demonstrating as you develope your relationships and from afar, she is making decisions on how to conduct herself in what she sees as being similar circumstances.
Did she see you exercise caution and move slowly, carefully considering a constant, prayerful dialog with God throughout the process? Or did she see an excited, adrenaline spiked "I'm just going for it, because I've made my decision and that's that" kind of process? If our lives is a living testimony demonstrating our relationship with God, what did your actions just reveal to the teenaged girl?
The Christian life is not about you or your happiness--if that's what you are focused upon then you will miss the true blessings of God because of your lack of trust in Him providing EVERYTHING you need in abundance. Your Christian life is about your neighbor! How does your life testify to your neighbor about God's nature?
If your neighbor or that young teen-aged girl sees you calling all your own shots, then you obviously don't have much confidence in your God. You get permission to talk about Jesus to someone else only when they see Jesus in charge of your life!
Why Are You Yelling?
I just wanted to make an observation and leave it here because I really do not know where else to state this without inciting a fight. Church! I am grieving! I am nearly in tears!
The Spirit within me is so grieved that it is hurting my ability to serve enthusiastically.
Since Josh and Ashleigh has released their book, "Church Refugees" of which I am reading a second time, I see how very important that work is and I am happy that it was done, I am reading responses from many people that is very disheartening. Sales are climbing for this important book, which is good and important, but some of the "reviews" in these blogs and on social media seem to have a taunting, "I told you so" chest beating ring to it. This is sad! This has led to denomination bashing and finger pointing! I didn't think that was the purpose of this important work! And I do not believe God intended for us to turn on each other.
We collectively are the church! ALL OF US. Even those of us who have left the mainstream church and either have found or are looking for an alternative way to serve our Lord, we still have loved ones in and we are responsible for these churches! They are still our heavenly kin!
I am praying that as the book sells more and more, that it doesn't bring out more of an attitude that further divides believers. I am praying that those of us who support the work will use it to humbly encourage church leaders to take notice. Some of the comments I've read is akin to standing on the corner yelling at every passerby that they are all going to hell! Though any of those things may be true, winning the argument or coming out the victor in the fight is not our goal here. Our goal is to restore the church before it is too late.
Help me pray for churches to consider the pleas of the "dones" without the need to point out that they may not be interested in hearing about it. Please stop pointing out leaders publicly because, who knows, you might even make it impossible for me to speak to some of them. If I am busy trying to promote a tool to the very people the rest of us are highlighting as not willing to listen, then why would they EVER listen? Help me help them.
If Ed Stetzer said "good riddance," after reading what many of us have been stating publicly, I wonder if he knew something I didn't. Because some of our finger pointing and bashing of brother and sister certainly supports that he may have been right.
I am active on a blog by Thom Schultz who is the founder of Group Publishing and of Lifetree Café. He writes articles that asks a lot of questions and then posts them for comments on his website, Holy Soup. The article in question is “I’m not being fed at this church.” You should visit and comment yourself!
I had given several points as to one possible reason people are leaving their churches. Why are so many people becoming “done” with church? Why are there so many people who have never been to church their whole lives, resistant to visiting even one even with a really good friend? (Barna Group, 2015)
There was a young man who identified himself as Brian who commented on my observation on the “I’m not being fed at this church” thread. He stated, “I tend to agree with Pastor Bill. But let me extrapolate on my feelings as (a) Millennial traveling quickly towards being “done”. Many more of us in the Millennial generation have sat through hundreds of hours on lectures in college. We know how to sit and absorb information, whether it be 20 minutes or 90. However, often the weekly sermon feels like Christianity 100.”
In my comments, I stated, “They (members of a church) need to be involved in the presenting and planning and exegeses! They need to pull out of the chapter the nuggets inductively. The Sunday morning service does not make this possible for most people and those churches simply do not know what to do for these people.”
I’d like to believe that above statement stimulated this thought from Brian, “How many years must we sit in Christianity 100? How many times would you repeat the same course? We are already saved and believe in the redeeming grace of Christ. Having grown up in the Church, I can scarcely force myself to attend during any of the pre-Christmas or pre-Easter services for lack of interest in the same sermonettes I’ve heard for 20+ years.” Brian stated that he “grew up in the church” and he said that he was close to being “done.”
I have had several members of Parkland House tell me that they enjoy the services at the regular church, but they continue to come to Parkland House because they feel that they understand the Bible better. The discussions we have that surround the Word gave them better understanding and insight. “I serve at ******** church, but I come here to learn. I get more out of these studies,” another tells me.
Some of these people have been attending their traditional church for many years and most of them will continue to go and stay connected to their friends there, but they say their growth comes from when they attend one of the house to house fellowships. One belongs to a military church on base. One goes to a church that’s in a town about 35 minutes away. Some had stopped attending church altogether until they came to PH.
There isn’t anything real special about Parkland House. It isn’t a church that sets itself aside as “the best thing since sliced bread.” Parkland House doesn’t beat its chest or point fingers. We simply continue to help other churches understand the best we can as to how to reach more people. They might be proud of their 500 or 5,000, but how proud can they be of those who are exiting out the back doors? We are a house to house church following the great commandment and the great commission. And we have gone back to the early church roots and have made the “home” the most important gathering area.
And if we are living in “unequally yoked” homes as many of us do, then we find the next best place to gather intimately, while sharing everything with each other. Offices. Fast food restaurants. Coffee shops. Picnic tables at the park. Places where new people will not feel ganged up upon and where their questions can be answered in a conversation on the spot.
I am finding that people are responding to this way of loving others and each other. “Where is Christianity 200, 300, etc? Perhaps small group studies?” Brian still ponders the question. I believe the answer unfolds all by itself when people engage with each other while focusing on common cause. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach these disciples all the commands that I have given you.” That is our cause and our purpose.
The other way we can put it is to simply “love others as yourself.” We experience God as we learn together what His commands are. We become like Christ as we behave like Christ and that’s done by how we reach out to love others.
See that cool little spot on the right--or maybe it's below if you are on your smart phone--but it is a way to leave a comment for me! Please let me know how your feel and what's on your mind about this or any of the other articles you see on this page!
Parkland House Ministries
Diane and I drove to Lynnwood to a dinner party provided by the North American Mission Board for church planters and their wives. They had a fancy chef prepare a dinner of chicken or of salmon… and wow, was that ever good! We met other church planting couples from the I-5 corridor from Portland to Bellingham. We had great fellowship, played games and simply had a great time!
We figured that the drive from our house was going to take about an hour and a half. Because we frequently travel to the north end of Seattle, we were aware that our drive through Seattle could take even 2 or more hours depending upon how weird the traffic was going to be. We were going on a Saturday, so that was a plus, but we would be passing through at about 3 to 3:30 in the afternoon, which was a minus!
Of course we didn’t want to arrive too late as to miss anything. We also didn’t want to arrive way too early either because, well, we really didn’t know anyone and that might be a little awkward, wouldn’t it? So careful preparations had to be made. This became important to us so we paid a little more attention to what we had to do before we were ready to go on this trip to Lynnwood.
Diane and I both had GPS APPS on our phones. She had Scout on hers which was an APP we really trust when it suggests that we take alternate routes and such. When we upgraded to our new phones, I hadn’t downloaded Scout on my phone yet so I had to rely on a program called Maps. I had put our destination into Maps and set out to our event. Diane decided to the same thing on Scout so we would run the two APPS side by side as a test to see if they would have made the same turns and get us there using the same route.
We noticed a difference between the APPs right away as we pulled out of our driveway. Maps wanted us to go down Pacific Avenue which took us through shopping and a multitude of traffic lights. Scout permitted us to take the Loop which went around Spanaway Lake and delivered us right at the freeway with many fewer lights. Of course once Maps recognized which direction we were heading, it immediately corrected itself to match our course, but just as soon as we would approach a major intersection, Maps would encourage us to turn off our road and make our way back to Pacific Avenue and all those traffic lights.
Once we were on State Hwy 512, both Maps and Scout agreed that we should turn on to I-5 and head north. Agreement! As we traveled a bit, Scout began to caution us that we should be moving to the right lanes in about 13 miles to turn off of I-5 to take a detour of I-405 through Bellevue and the east side of Lake Washington rather than plow through the shorter route through Seattle as Maps was encouraging as to go.
Should we trust Maps or should we trust Scout? We had used Scout before and that APP had steered us away from congestion and problems in the past while Maps lost our confidence just as soon as we turned out of our driveway! We decided to trust Scout and take the long way.
As we approached the exit to I-405, we noticed that a large freeway reader/caution sign showed that there were problems in downtown Seattle and that there would be heavy traffic—it was warning drivers to use caution as they moved through the downtown corridor. Wow.
Maps obviously sputtered and disagreed with the new route. It encouraged us at the next 3 exits to turn off and turn ourselves around to get right back on I-5 and head to that messy traffic that we already saw was beginning to bog down.
Our trip past Bellevue going the “long way” was a breeze. We actually drove faster than the speed limit as we took that detour (uh… trust me when I say that we would have been blown off the road by passing traffic if we hadn’t sped up a bit! King County drivers are just crazy like that). I-405 deposited us back onto I-5 well passed Seattle and wouldn’t you know it, as we got onto I-5, Scout had us get right back off the very next exit! It seems that we were just a ½ mile or so from our destination where we were to join in a party that the “Master” had prepared for His “good and faithful workers.”
I told Diane that I saw a sermon illustration in this. Two APPS presented that they were capable and were trustworthy to take us to our desired destination. Both were encouraging us as we went and attempted to cause us to make corrections when we strayed off. Both knew how to get there. Both were moving us in the right direction except one of the routes was good wisdom but the other we had to question.
The one that wanted us to head into danger was the one that was the most logical for us to take. We knew that was the regular route and that was the way we would have usually taken. That APP did not know the danger. It knew what we wanted and it gave us the most attractive route, but in the end it would have led us to more struggle, inconvenience, and give us a higher chance of getting into an accident which, given the nature of Seattle drivers, was more of a probability than it was a possibility.
The APP that took us off the straight path and took us the long way around was aware of something that the other APP was not aware of. That APP did not give us a reason for the detour, it simply told us to go that way instead.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans not for your destruction, but plans to give you a hope and a future.” I realize that life is pretty tough. I’ve had a rough go of it, so trust me, I know. But there is one who is greater than all the others who knows where the traffic in our lives can get bogged down or become dangerous and all He wants us to do is to trust Him. When He says to take this detour, though it might be longer and it might even be rougher, it is less dangerous than the road you are on and He will help you get past those difficult parts. Just trust Me, He says.
“There is a path that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death” Proverbs 14:12. “The way of fools seem right to them, but the wise listens to advice” Proverbs 12:15.
Both Maps and Scout are supposed to do the same thing—get you to your destination. One was better than the other. One had information the other did not have. You too, will come across people who seem to know very well where you need to go and may give you seemingly logical advice to get there. Many churches focus on things that are a bit different than The Big Thing. That Big Thing is to love God and love others and to make disciples teaching them all the commands you’ve been taught.
You might think that meeting that one guy or that one gal is the big thing. You might think that getting educated and getting trained and obtaining that big job is the big thing. You might think that getting that big toy, that boat or that cherry car is the big thing or maybe taking that yearly vacation with your family to exotic places is big thing.
The problem is, many of us mistake the journey as the big thing! The reality is meeting that guy or gal, going to school and getting that big job, obtaining those toys or going on those vacations is all part of a journey. None of those things is our destination. They are only parts of a journey that we may be allowed to experience as we go! We need to stop becoming so obsessed with those things and focus instead upon The Big Thing—our destination! Our destination is about how can we better love God and love others, make disciples and teach these disciples the commands Jesus taught us! Those are the things that reflect our relationship with Jesus. And since Jesus is the way to heaven, shouldn’t He be the GPS we follow?
One more thing; if we are to arrive at our destination in the best shape possible, shouldn’t we be prepared to take the detour if our GPS, Jesus tells us to take the detour? It could be that the guy or gal you were wanting to focus on or getting that big toy or focusing on going on that big vacation may be the very thing that bogs us down in traffic and tries to prevent us from reaching our destination. Are any of those things really more important than reaching THE destination?
And as I found, once I trusted the GPS APP that had the inside information about what was best for my wife and me, I was able to navigate around those obstacles just fine and with great joy. Don’t you think that your Lord in heaven wants you to reach your destination just fine and with great joy? Don’t you think that by detouring you to take the long way, that He just might be directing you to have those other experiences with more abundance and with even greater joy? “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly” John 10:10.
I hadn’t thought of this before, but how can we help others begin and grow small groups? It seems so natural and simple that I really never looked at how to help others do it. Seems like invite someone to come over, eat something while enjoying each other’s company while focusing on God’s favor, study something from the Bible together, discuss what you plan to do about what you just learned, and pray with each other is a simple thing to do. Then others join you as they discover what you guys are up to and they soon would like to join you and of course you let them. Before you know it, you’ve got a small group going.
On paper, it seems natural and simple.
The truth is, these steps haven’t been so simple even for Parkland House. And we are a church that is based upon this exact model.
Don’t get me wrong, gathering a few people together, sharing a meal, revealing prayer requests, praying and studying the word together has been the simple part. We love gathering together. People are hungry for the gospel. Folks who are your friends and relatives want to know about Jesus. That is the simple part.
What’s hard is overcoming how we’ve been trained to understand how “church” works. Hundreds of years have been invested in honing the little nuances of effective church. The tiniest details have been researched and are now taught in seminaries around the world. Perhaps someone has even written something like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Church or Church for Dummies. And now that we have discovered that small groups is where the action is, we are scared because we have no idea what this is supposed to look and feel like!
Churches of all sizes have been really focusing on getting more small groups going. Most of the pastors I’ve talked to agree that small groups is where the action might be and developing more small groups is the key to the future success of the church. Church leaders are nearly willing to give their right arms to discover a person—anyone—that would be willing to just host a small group in their home or somewhere away from the church campus. This is an idea that even large churches realize, that not everyone is going to be willing to “come to church” but they just might be willing to go to a neighbor’s house or go to a coffee shop to learn about Jesus.
The problem is this is not the predominate model that most American churches represent. Those who have been attending church since, well since forever, expect their church to behave in a certain way and will not feel comfortable “doing” church in any other way. Get up. Wrestle with the kids. Fight with your spouse. Dribble coffee on your clean clothes on your way out as you gulp a large bite of breakfast while rushing to the car. Pull into your church parking lot and put on your best smile. Exchange pleasantries with a handful of people you may or may not know. Drop the kids off at the nursery. Find a seat. Stand, sing, kneel, pray, listen to a well prepared and inspiring message, grab the kids, then leave. It’s a pattern that has been comfortable for most church going families for hundreds of years.
Trust me; it is hard to get people who have based their Sunday morning lives upon this model to give it up to do anything other than this! This is so ingrained in our family unit that to suggest anything else is a threat to the whole structure of Christianity for these people. Great grandparents did it this way. Grandparents did it this way. Mom and dad did it this way. It’s not church unless we do it this way. Anything else is unnatural. But this is not natural or comfortable for today’s young people who do not know this life.
I presented to the church I was attending years ago that I wanted to begin a ministry which was based upon the model of the small group. I even guaranteed that I would not pull or recruit from our existing base of members to begin this new ministry. I promised that I would develop it with people who were not attending church who might already know and love Jesus and I would also invite unsaved people and transition them through a process of discipleship into joining our small group.
This idea was so strange and “out there” for them that they would not even agree to release me to do this on the side! The pastor saw its potential and a handful of that church’s members saw its potential, but the Church Council basically said no. I can see how even larger churches would have a struggle moving their people to accept this model or at least a hybrid of church as they know it and engage the more daring small group model on the side.
The small group is where the action is. The small group is the future of the church. The fastest growing Christian nation in the world nearly exclusively uses this model to grow even though it is still illegal to share Jesus in that country. All evidence and studies point to this model as being the most influencing and the most inviting to those who have never been in a church before. Yet the American church is so resistant to moving this direction. Everyone agrees that it makes sense, yet no one is willing to plan, lead, organize and control it into the mainstream.
So, no. I never thought about whether to put together training or coaching on how to successfully put together a small group, grow it until its time split it into two small groups, and grow a whole church based upon this model. I didn’t give it a thought because it seemed so simple and natural. Its how the first church grew.
The fact is, this is not so simple, and what is natural for established church attenders is something that looks nothing like a small group. At the same time, the small group is where we can best introduce being a church to people who are unchurched. Can you see the dilemma?
Parkland House and at least 112 million other Christians across America gathered in small groups who do not attend a “regular” church is now getting the attention of Christian leaders. George Barna and Frank Viola and others have written extensively on it. Thom Schultz has put together a really cool strategy and incorporated a whole new franchise around this idea by starting Lifetree Café. He writes a LOT about creative ways to reach the lost for Jesus Christ in his blog, Holy Soup. Thom Rainer of Lifeway Research has spoken toward it from time to time. This idea scares a lot of people because they do not understand it, yet they can see why it is so necessary.
This past week I had a pastor ask me if I offer coaching on how to develop and grow a house church. I have received email from others who want more information about Parkland House and more importantly, they want to know either how to join us or how can they begin a small group where they live. The answer is, well, we’re small—hence a house church. Though there’s 3 houses and a handful of discipling groups, we are still, well… in Parkland. So unless you live in Pierce County, Washington, you might not want to attend a Parkland House fellowship.
Therefore… don’t you just love it when one of the apostles begins a thought with “therefore?” Something is about to follow as the result of what was said previous. Therefore Parkland House is going to begin assembling training materials and put together resources that can help others to do what we are doing and to go on and on and beyond. Parkland House members have agreed that this is important for us to do. Coaching and training resources is now a front burner issue for Parkland House. As a mission minded fellowship we always look for new opportunities to serve the Kingdom and our community. So it seems that God has opened this door and we have accepted the challenge to step through it.
Keep your eyes open and be sure to find us on Facebook and also register on this webpage and we will keep you up to date on our progress as we grow! Whatever we get, we’ll pass it on to you. Christians sharing in everything so we can take care of each other’s needs. Kind of sounds like what a church is supposed to look like, doesn’t it?
Parkland House Ministries
A friend of mine posted one of those memes that said “God didn’t give you the strength to get back on your feet so that you could run back to the same thing that knocked you down.” I began to think about that. It reminded me of the verse that tells us that a dog will return and eat his own vomit. The very thing that depressed us, gave us fits, ruined us, and in fact, was causing our own demise is the very thing a person became a Christian to get rid of! We have the promise of eternal life free of the bonds of sin.
For people who do not believe in such things, then none of this applies, obviously. You get what you get and you are left to whatever devises and explanations that make the most sense to you. Go in peace.
But for those who chose to trust in a Savior, a Lord, in Jesus Christ, for you this is living bread. This is life! This is the escape from a past to a hope for a future!
For example, for a time you might have been “unequally yoked” and that relationship led to grief and more grief. The very things you know you should not do were mostly the things you did do while in the pressure of being in that relationship. You sought God to help and eventually His answer was lead you to realize how damaging that relationship was and presented to you the difficult and gut wrenching way to leave that behind with the promise of presenting you with a better opportunity for the future.
Now that you are free, what now? For some, a new journey begins with getting educated. A new life requires discovering how to live it successfully! No one steps into a new career field for example, without first going to school or at least becoming an apprentice to learn the rules that dictate how to succeed in that new venture. And the rule is-- while you are a student or an apprentice, you do ONLY what you are being taught to do. You breathe it, you live it, and you associate only with other people who are successful in it. You do everything you can to eat, breathe, and live the new journey and never, but never take your eyes off of the prize!
Your new friends and lifelong partner candidates should now be chosen from the pool of those who are pursuing this new lifestyle with you. You trusted God to remove you from permanent damage, then trust God for your future success! If you choose to trust in those who are outside of God’s chosen, then you are choosing to “run back to the same thing that knocked you down.” How do you know if your new person of interest is one of God’s candidates? Is he or she relentlessly pursuing the things of Christ? If you are pursuing the things of Christ, then they should be as well. Does the person of your desire adamantly stand the gap to protect your honor even if it is from yourself? Do they constantly resist your attempts to tempt them into behavior you both know leads to a future downfall? Will this person continue to love you and still resist your sin nature while protecting you against yourself and from others who would give in to your past patterns of hurt?
Don’t be deceived. You will find others who are struggling the very same things you are and they may be on the very same road to discovering a new life as you. These people are also members of your church! These still are not the people for you and you are not the person for them. Neither you or them can hold onto accountability, you will cause the other to fall and they, you. If your choice is a person who has obtained complete and unconditional victory over said struggles, then this might possibly be your candidate, but certainly not the person who is wrestling with these struggles still!
But what about starting a relationship with someone who is not pursuing Jesus but seems to have every other thing in common with you? How about that? It must be a union being crafted in heaven, right?
Remember that relationship you so bitterly was able to escape before you were able to be damaged permanently? That one began just as this new one, did it not? Didn’t you “have everything in common” and this is the “one?” All the things you like to do, that other person liked to do and everything you wanted to talk about, that other person liked to talk about. But this is different you insist! How is it any different? Is this person RELENTLESSLY pursuing Jesus Christ? Is this person’s first response to you to share Christ with you and engage in discovering God more deeply with you as being the most important thing you have in common?
If the answer is “no” then my guess is that you will be facing similar circumstances that you have faced in the past. You are choosing to face a path that has no hope and a future because it will not be backed up by the only One who has a plan not for your destruction but only focused upon giving you a hope and a future—and He is the only One who can pull it off.
Wow. That was a whopper of a sentence.
When I stopped following my mentor in a business venture many, many years ago because I thought I knew more than he did, he eventually stopped working with me to help me. I managed some success that encouraged me into thinking I was making right choices and that I had made the right choice to “go it alone.” Eventually I ran into complexities that I was not prepared or trained for. My mentor was not there to help and I was truly left alone. That business failed because I did not do the things I needed to do to ensure that it had a “hope and a future.” I did what was right in my own eyes.
When you step away from the protection and leadership of God, He will step aside and allow you to “go your own way.” The support system He had chosen for you, that would be your church, cannot be there for you in the way you would expect them to be either. They cannot go on the path of your choosing. They are bound to a path that will give them “a hope and a future.” Since they cannot go your way, you may have to say goodbye and part ways. Your support system will be left behind. They will not have abandoned you, you would have left the protection and support they were giving you—you abandoned them.
If you are in a church, God gave you some wise people to guide you, to encourage you, and to see things you cannot see. Your pastor is the head of this family, well, under God that is. In one denomination, he is given the title of “father.” My church chooses to reserve that title to the One and only Father and we choose to simply be called “pastor” or “brother.” But this is the person to help you make life changing decisions. If you are considering entering any relationship, one of the “jobs” of your pastor is to lovingly serve as your counselor or appoint one that will respect and represent his authority. That is the primary reason why God chose him to be in your life!
Let him help you vet out your choice. Some pastors have, besides the Word of God and prayer, actual scientifically based tools that can assess your intentions and give you a really good, outside look at how likely your new relationship is to succeed. As for myself, I use a tool from a company called Prepare/Enrich. It is an online survey of the two candidates who wish to enter a dating relationship—we’re not even talking about marriage at this point! This tool measures compatibility among other things such as religious compatibility and prints out a very detailed report so I can help the couple to assess their relationship together. This allows them to discover up front whether they are, in fact, on solid ground in regard to their compatibility. It is remarkably accurate—so accurate in fact, that secular couples are willing to access this evaluation to increase their chances for success! We pastors have these kinds of tools because God made them available to us. Doesn’t it make sense for you to trust them?
The fact is this, why become a member of a church if you are not going to trust the leaders God put there just for you ? Most people do not engage in any help or assessment outside of a few friends who support with “about time,” “way to go,” “wow, what a great catch” and other unhelpful and inaccurate encouragements. Remember, it was your friends that encouraged you to accept a bad choice the first time.
“As a dog returns to his vomit a sinner returns to its own vomit and a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud” (2 Peter 2:22). We too are susceptible to returning right back to the very same things that brought us down to begin with. I saw another meme (I don’t take stock in these things very much as most have maybe a hint of real truth) that says, “God knows who belongs in your life and who doesn’t. Trust and let go. Whoever is meant to be there, will still be there.” If this is true, then wouldn’t it follow that you should trust your church leaders to help you evaluate your choices before you engage in them and most certainly before you announce to the world, “In a Relationship?”
Please heed these words from one who is immensely greater than I am:
accept my words
and store up my commands.
2 Turn your ear toward wisdom,
and stretch your mind toward understanding.
3 Call out for insight,
and cry aloud for understanding.
4 Seek it like silver;
search for it like hidden treasure.
5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
and discover the knowledge of God.
6 The Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He reserves ability for those with integrity.
He is a shield for those who live a blameless life.
8 He protects the paths of justice
and guards the way of those who are loyal to him.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
as well as integrity, every good course.
10 Wisdom will enter your mind,
and knowledge will fill you with delight.
11 Discretion will guard you;
understanding will protect you.
12 Wisdom will rescue you from the evil path,
from people who twist their words.
13 They forsake the way of integrity
and go on obscure paths.
14 They enjoy doing evil,
rejoicing in their twisted evil.
15 Their paths are confused;
they get lost on their way.
16 Wisdom will rescue you from the mysterious woman,
from the foreign woman with her slick words.
17 She leaves behind the partner of her youth;
she even forgets her covenant with God.
18 Her house sinks down to death,
and her paths go down to the shadowy dead.
19 All those who go to her will never return;
they will never again reach the ways of the living.
20 So you should stay on the path of good people,
guarding the road of the righteous.
21 Those who have integrity will dwell in the land;
the innocent will remain in it.
22 But the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be ripped up.
Proverbs 2 (Common English Bible)
My friend, Josh Holland and his wife Beth and some friends began meeting together with a desire to reach more people for Jesus Christ. They finally grew large enough to meet in a school. I am very happy to see that they have invested themselves in so many people and started something different than what was so prevailing at the time. Eventually they grew large enough to secure their own building. I am very happy for them and they fill a niche that requires their special gifts.
There Are Different Niches to Fill Though!
As you probably could tell if you've been reading these articles I post on the Parkland House Ministries website, we believe very strongly in small. Small is a tough idea for church planters and those who support church planters to conceive as being an actual plan for success. Most church plants either die or they end up being a new church with a sign in the front, a pulpit, chairs and places to divide people such as children, youth and adults. Nothing wrong with that except many of the people who were attracted to the church plant to begin with were wanting to remain in that same intimate setting they so fell in love with!
Recently, Thom Schultz of Group Publishing and Lifetree Cafe wrote an article in his blog, Holy Soup, called "Big Ways to Think Small." He quoted me in his article and I'd like to share it with you. You can find his article HERE.
I was referred to an article with the title I used
above. You can go to THIS WEBSITE
to see the article. The article/blog was a good one I felt, but do as I
did and read as many of the comments as you can handle. Oh boy. No
wonder our churches are falling apart and shrinking in the modern world!
Below is one of two responses I wrote toward some of those who were commenting on that blog. After re-reading what I wrote, I decided that I would be as guilty as they by judging them for judging others. So I withdrew my comments, but instead I am posting them here as my own personal blog entry. Read first, if you will, the comments on the website I referred, then come back and read my comments--they'll make more sense. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, at least they will make more sense!
"Sigh..." Many of the comments on here are mixed up on the purpose of the "church." The big building you go to on Sunday mornings is NOT the church. That building is a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ can be given to give an opportunity for people to make a decision to accept Jesus as Lord and petition to have their sins forgiven. We speak the language of the audience to do that--see the book of Acts. The church is grown in YOUR home and HIS home and HER home, the place where "they met daily, broke bread together, and shared everything." That is the where discipleship happens. That is the where deep relationships happen. Christians joining with other Christians with whom they have things in common. The church is PEOPLE!
The church meets in homes--"and they met house to house." The fastest growing Christian country in the world currently is a country where a "church" is still illegal in most places within their borders--China! How? By following the early church model described in Acts!
There were no dress codes commanded in the Bible. There were no styles of music pronounced as good or bad in scripture. Both only what was common to the culture of the day and region in which the "church" was growing! If you were to attend a church in Hawaii in anything else but shorts and flip-flops, you would be so out of place it would embarrass you! No one is able to stand being there wearing a dress or wearing a suit in such an environment! I haven't read one apostle state such a thing, yet I see it repeated in mocking-bird style with-in these comments.
This is one of those instances where we are to "judge not lest we be judged in like manner," I think. Re-examine your intolerance and maybe discover the real reason young people are dropping out of church and not coming back after they graduate from high school. 1 out of 9 youth will continue attending church after high school if we are lucky--if we are lucky! During the Korean war, more than 75% of Americans were basic, Bible believing Christians. Within the last 10 years, that number has dropped to below 35%. And at our current rate of evangelism, it is possible that in the next 5 to 10 years less than 4% of Americans could be basic Bible believing Christians-- and you want to hold music and dress code as the reason behind it?
Are YOU personally discipling another in the Word? OR are YOU hosting a Bible study or small group in Your home? OR do you have believers gathering weekly in your home to share a meal--communion--and have fellowship with other Christians? If the members of your church is not engaged in at least ONE of these basic, believer developing activities, then you have your answer as to why the church is shrinking and becoming more irrelevant in this age.
Part of my ministry is seeking "nones" and "dones" and I can tell you that they ARE interested in being engaged with Christians who are seeking Christ and they DO want to share in the experience of that walk with other believers but they do not want to be in the presence of those who constantly pick on them about things that are not Biblically condemned. They have been told over and over again about the specks in their eyes by the multitudes of those who have a forest of planks in theirs. They accept the condemnation from God but would rather not get it from you.
And before you begin picking at the specks in my eyes... most of the time we don't even have the music to offend anyone in our service, anyway! You'll see us at the coffee shop. You'll see us at McDonald's. You'll see us in the kitchen or back room of a house. You'll see us at a picnic table in a park. Our discipleship groups are going through the Max Lucado 3:16 series right now. After this, we will begin the Navigators' stuff! We have ages birth through 60 with mostly 19 through 23 year olds--all meeting together over a meal, several times a week!
Please stop criticizing those people who are not like you who are coming to discover your church and instead, you, yourself, become an active part of the church! Either teach, host, mentor or be mentored, but stop being critical about things that do not matter. Stop trying to do the Holy Spirit's job and instead, "be conformed by the renewing of your mind!"
teacher/mentor who is filled with the Spirit of God would never
consider offering to take a student from another Spirit filled
teacher/mentor. If there is unity in the Spirit, and since the Spirit
never divides against itself, then there is no reason for a student to
leave a teacher to study under another unless the first teacher
recognizes through the Spirit that he's taught all he could, then he
will be urged by the Holy Spirit to release the student to go away to
grow and study further with the new mentor.
When God declares that He has a plan not for our harm but to give us a hope and a future, then consider why He led you to your teacher to be discipled in the first place. You are that student until you've been given leave by God to go elsewhere. American Christians church hop so much that they do not understand what a commitment consists of. I believe that is partially why they are so confused about how a relationship with a church or a teacher/mentor is supposed to look like! It is more than friendship. It is the development of a family! And no one would want to break up a family except for reasons probably not encouraged by God.
That is why honorable pastors call the previous church of a new member to double check that this new member has the blessing and permission to join your church to take on these new responsibilities. If there were no conflict and there was no permission given, we do everything we can to restore that person with their previous church! Giving love; teaching love; and receiving love is a very serious business. And every good teacher of the Word of God understands how much investment and love is poured into each person. That is why they would not consider asking you to leave such a person or group in order to join them. They would with all their heart encourage you to grow deeper and engage further with your established fellowship and/or teacher/mentor.
When you choose to be alone with another person, you have willingly chosen to invite the risks that come with that intimate seclusion. If that person knows anything about your past, they will usually expect from you to live up to your reputation. Even if that other person is the only person who knows your secrets, that expectation lingers. If that other person happens to be your wife or husband, then enjoy your time together and disregard the risks as your trust has already been vetted to the point of your choosing to marry!
I have worked with and counseled youth for over 20 years, 16 of which have been in ministry. I have discovered that youth have the very same tendencies as their adult counterparts. The big difference is they lack the filter of experience—the experience of being damaged or hurt or the experience of spending a significant amount of time with someone else who has been damaged or hurt. They lack the experience of recognizing the dangers.
Interestingly, if the person you are risking seclusion with has already experienced damage or hurt, you are more likely to be a bit more vulnerable to that person’s advances as the result of your sympathetic humanity. You want to comfort and help make that other person’s hurt go away and perhaps it helps you to put your own hurt to the side as well. Often after this, you discover that you both had gone too far and ended up succumbing to a behavior neither of you would have engaged in otherwise.
Some would say, well that’s just human nature! What’s so wrong with that? And I would agree with them that it is simple human nature. We have a sin nature. That is our human nature.
The thing is… we can change!
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
There is a reason why I offered taxi services for so many youths who have taken each other out on dates or go to proms and dances. I offered those services to help them to keep in check those behaviors that they would not have engaged in otherwise!
How does that work once they began driving cars on their own? The risks have obviously increased. Even those with the most honest and noble intentions succumb to the temptation the risk of 2 person seclusion offers. It IS our sin nature. And unless there is a forced crime taking place, the succumbing to temptation takes two willing participants. However you want to look at it, our sin nature makes us weak. We most always succumb to temptation when we operate upon our own power. Satan has done his work very well.
Why is church so important to a Christian? One reason is a Christian is still a person. A person is someone who has a sin nature. Christians have a sin nature. It does not go away. If we were buttheads before we became Christians, we probably still have a butthead tendency after we become Christians. Once a butthead, always a butthead unless we choose to not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
Christians can transform by being around those who are also choosing to be transformed and are doing everything in their power to regulate the influences around them. If we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, does that not also include sacrificing our want to be alone with anyone else who is not our husband or our wife? Isn’t that a reasonable sacrifice? Doesn’t it make sense to make certain that if you are not with your church, at least remain in the company of another person in addition to the person of your interest? Would that not reduce your risk of repeating the actions of your reputation or being tempted for the first time in an activity you would not otherwise engage in?
Bees in a hive have a hive mind mentality. It is very difficult to invade a bee hive not having a hive mentality and not become noticed by almost all the other bees. That, I believe, represents one of the highest examples of accountability I have ever witnessed in nature! If you enter a hive with a different set of motives, you will be attacked! You have no business being there!
Christians help each other to be accountable to Godly behavior. Why would I be concerned whether you behave in a Godly manner or not? The simple answer is that I love you and I want you to have the best opportunity for success for your life and I do not want to see you get hurt or damaged by relationships that went wrong. Even if there are others in your fellowship that engage in risky behavior and you know it—that person certainly would not be engaged in that behavior while they are in the company of other believers! Bee hive mentality!
The safest place for anyone who has not completely been transformed into the image of God and is diligently working toward that goal should make it an absolute rule that they will not allow themselves to be found alone with anyone who represents a temptation. Period!
Remember when your youth pastor used to drop you and your friends off at home after a youth group meeting or event? Did you recognize that the last person that was dropped off was always a person of the same sex as the driver? Have you ever wondered why? If that rule applied to them, then why would it not be useful for you as well regardless of how old you are?
Be safe. Use God sense. Put on a bee hive mentality. Associate with those who are already successful in the behaviors you would like to emulate. Being transformed by the renewing of your mind requires being with those who have the same goals and ambitions you have in mind!
You will likely recognize some of these themes if you read this blog with any regularity. These are my eight prayer requests for churches in 2015:
These are my eight prayers for our churches. What do you think of them? What are your prayers for our congregations?
Now, here was my reply:
Wow, Thom. You just defined the organic, house to house church movement by sharing your 8 prayer requests for churches. How amazing it is that you and other church leaders echo similar intentions, yet most churches are set up to yield very different results.
1) Greater emphasis on prayer: Really, how can churches of 50, 100, 500, or 5,000 have effective corporate prayer when we realistically can’t know how the Holy Spirit is urging any single member in the congregation to share a request? Or how can any one of these members offer spontaneous prayer and be received or agreed upon as the Holy Spirit moves? We are not set up to achieve that intention by our modern church structure! In fact, how we gather, effectively quenches the Holy Spirit in regard to prayer.
To give prayer a higher priority regarding corporate prayer, we need smaller “corporate” groups in order to best facilitate a greater emphasis and include more members in the prayer. In large gatherings, we can agree with the pre-planned praying persons, but there is little hope for the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself through individuals who could otherwise become more involved in his or her church. It simply is too difficult to engage a church member in the praying process in a (more) complete way if we only gather in large numbers.
2) Standing firm on Biblical truth: Again, the lack of Christian social interaction between members of the church engaged in healthy discussions about how they are to live in the world without actually being of the world is thwarted in a large group situation. Church leaders should be involved in these kinds of interactions with their members, not just now and then, but on a day to day basis as it was with the early church. Then accountability naturally develops because the culture our people live under is our church culture rather than people living in a worldly culture and occasionally blending with others at church. Who has the most influence is dependent upon who a person spends most of their time with. You simply cannot get that kind of church accountability with 50 or 5,000 people.
3) Greater unity: Big churches develop tribes. Groups who actually seek each other kind of gathers with others of like beliefs, behaviors and similar paradigms. My 50 something fellowships do not enjoy the same kind of worship my 20 something members do for example. There are differences. Today’s churches force people to accept other people to whatever parameters that are set by the church leaders. In a small church or house church, that is nearly eliminated because everyone comes together based upon similar interests to begin with. Greater unity is nurtured and accountability is increased.
4) Intentionally engaged in Evangelism: The purpose of the fellowship to meet is to make disciples and teach those disciples commands you’ve been taught. They met house to house and everyone shared everything. How does this get done in churches of 50 to 5,000? These small church units make it a priority to seek non believers to join their ranks. It is far more comfortable to invite someone to my home full of my church friends than it is to invite them to attend a church service of so many strangers!
5) Greater emphasis on groups: Hello? “Churches should grow larger by growing smaller. A church member not in a small group or Sunday school class is not fully committed to the body.” Yep. Grow the church to 12 or 15 then begin a new church. Teach them to replicate. Stay small on purpose, each on mission then more individuals will become involved.
6) Membership to be more meaningful: How can we establish a meaningful relationship between any given leader and 50 to 5,000 people? Relationships lead to teaching and learning. Teaching and learning leads to accountability. Accountability leads to responsibility. Responsibility has meaning. You are part of something that is more than a team, that is a family that has the Holy Spirit at its head.
7) Clear plans for discipleship: Again and again, churches of –you pick the number this time—do not foster an environment for developing disciples. The small church with a high degree of accountability built in causes individuals to want to dig into the bible in CO2s (church of 2s) or smaller groups of 2 or 3 in order to keep each other sharp. It is far easier to expect this of people when everyone else you see in your church is already doing the same. Expectations are met more easily in small units where many of your peers are watching than they are in churches where members can easily disappear and hide.
8) More ministry involvement and impact in our communities: Sigh…. A church of a couple of handful members can motivate members better than a guilt provoking message from a pulpit from someone who most likely has never broken bread with you or even knows the names of your children! You want involvement from each member of your congregation in our communities? Then how many of these individuals are you having a direct impact upon and thus serve as a model for those you are wanting to motivate to action? Disciples do not do as you say, they do as you do! So, again, how many people can you effectively put into service or ministry?
Thom, you have given by your prayer requests 8 reasons for establishing small churches of a handful of people. Develop and begin them in homes and grow new churches through discipling relationships. Each small church attracts people of like interests and they begin to share everything and bond together as a true family. They establish goals and challenge each other to reaching others for Christ, they become missional minded, they encourage each other to seek ways to serve and minister. And they replicate, replicate, replicate. How else does China become one of the fastest growing Christian nations in the world even when it is still mostly illegal?
The following is what John wrote in Revelations while quoting Jesus from his vision. He was writing to the church at Thyatira, which in modern times is the town of Ak-Hissar in Turkey.
This was a warning and a promise:
Revelations 20:19-23 - 19 I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. 23 I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
With love, the church can become codependent by protecting one of their own who is in sin. We may love that person, which the Bible implicitly demands us to do and we may forgive that person again and again, which the Bible also implicitly implores us to do, but we cannot allow such a person to continue in those obvious sins if they have no remorse or show any indication of repenting! By continuing to associate with such people while ignoring their now current ways, the church becomes codependent. The result of that could be that the church suffers from a charge of hypocrisy; we would be found to be hypocrites. We could unwittingly represent the sin as being permissible to others by ignoring it. We could be shunned by any prospective new church candidates as they watch to see if we “practice what we preach.”
As individuals in the church, we must not judge such people; we are commanded to love them—only God can judge them. We are to seek peace and help to restore them to the church. In other words, if we care for them and love them as we should, then we do not engage in overt criticism—no matter how much you feel deceived or hurt—but instead we seek to lead them to repentance. At the very least, we keep quiet on the public forum on the subject lest we be judged in like manner!
At first, one person goes to the person needing to be helped. If the brother or sister refuses to repent, then that first person takes a second responsible and wise person from the church with them to make another appeal. If the brother or sister continues to resist the help and chooses to disobey God and not repent, then that is a fairly strong indication that the brother or sister has decided to not be bound by the church any longer. At this point the church chooses whether or not to exclude the brother or sister from being a part of the fellowship until the repentance has become obvious.
When the first person makes the appeal, the offense is between the two and God. When the second appeal is made, the offense is still not of public concern. But if it has to be brought up in front of the church, well folks, it’s all on the table. We don’t judge, we seek first to heal and restore. If that doesn’t work, then we have the obligation to protect the other members of the fellowship from the influence of the non-repentant brother or sister.
The church at Thyatira was not obeying this command, so they were going to be subject to some God-smack! Jezebel’s future was sealed by her repeated refusal to repent of her sins. We do not judge our people, but we do need to protect our people from the possibility of believing that persistent wrong behavior performed by choice is permitted within the fellowship. Allowing that influence to persist would then become the sin of that fellowship.
My heart is breaking. People I love are misleading other people I am wanting to shower love on. The “message” my first group of people have has way more influence over the second group of people that I want to love, so much so that I will end up having no credibility when I am able to finally reach out and minister to this second group. My first group of people is essentially disassembling my ministry and I don’t know what to do about it.
If I choose to approach these people who are misleading others, I am sure I will lose their willingness to continue their friendship with me and I will lose the ability to love up and influence them at a later time. They will most certainly feel like they have been judged by me and by anyone who is following my teaching.
They have great influence over the very same people I also want to love so very much—they all have similar interests and have been friends with each other for many years. As adults they meet and enjoy each other’s company tremendously. The ones who are nearly adults can’t wait to be in their shoes or with them. I used to be so very proud of all of these folks, now I am simply heart broken.
I am heart broken because, like Eve checking out the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the Garden of Eden, these people have no idea of the harm that their influence has begun to have on innocent other people. In their desire to simply have a good time and be happy, they are innocently leading others toward a temptation that could destroy their lives.
I am talking about church people who see no harm in the life style they have chosen to live for themselves. The problem is not the lifestyle they’ve chosen, because I believe that their lifestyle will not have any adverse consequences on their own lives personally. They will probably be just fine! But those who are impressed by them and desire their friendship and by extension are willing to follow their leadership and example, these people can fall into a trap that will cause them great harm and that is what is breaking my heart.
There is a part of the Lord ’s Prayer that says in the King James, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God does not tempt us so we are not asking Him to not tempt us because He already would never do that. But we are naturally attracted to certain things that may look and feel innocent, not knowing what harm may come because we are not able to see the broad strokes of destruction that lay ahead. But God does see that, so we ask Him to “lead us not into temptation….” We ask Him to “deliver us from evil.”
The problem is when we do not heed His directing Spirit. The problem is once we get caught up in the seemingly harmless act and enjoyment that “doesn’t hurt anyone,” we no longer recognize the signals the Father had been sending us all along and we fall into a neutral sensation where we do not experience “good” necessarily and we do not experience “bad” necessarily. We only receive the experience of the event and what surrounds it, good or bad, exciting or boring. We do not recognize that we are no longer surrounded by what experience the Holy Spirit would have for us and we will miss the blessing that would have come attached to that experience.
And then it happens. The person or persons who was watching from afar with interest — based upon their admiration and respect for you— they choose at the right time to duplicate your example because after all if it was good for you then it can’t hurt them. But their result may end up being much different than yours. Their experience causes pain and suffering that was not even considered in the planning. And you, who announced to the world how much fun it was to do what it is that they did that caused that pain and suffering will never realize that it was your example that led them to suffer that pain. And you will innocently and ignorantly continue to live your life not knowing how much power you wield in the lives of others who look to you for inspiration and a sense of hope. You will never know that they desired so much to have what it is that they saw that you had.
And if what they desire in you does not lead them to Jesus, but causes them to respond eventually in the opposite way, then that breaks my heart. The thing that absolutely stomps on my heart even more than that broken heart I am speaking of is that you may never see for yourself that it was YOUR example that led these people to their destruction to begin with.
If we are followers of Christ, then we must count the cost. Are we willing to “pay” the cost of broken lives because of our bad examples? Or are we willing to “pay” the cost of sacrificing our own pleasures in order to see Godly fruit growing in the lives of those we influence? Will it break your heart more to give up a simple pleasure or will it break your heart more knowing that your simple pleasure eventually caused harm to someone else?
Through the Christmas season, we see despair at every turn. Christians are not exempt from feeling the pressures of the world caving in from around them. This is the time we should look at the promise of why we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He came to give the world hope. What does the Bible say about Hope?
1. 1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Trust that God has solutions to our problems. Our will or God’s will. We must decrease and allow God to increase. Mature Christians trust God for what is best and sacrifices their own will in trade for God’s most perfect and good will.
2. 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
God’s grace is plenty. He is sufficient for every need. He equips and blesses.
3. Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
You can have hope because God can do much more than we expect or imagine.
4. Lamentations 3:32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
You can have hope because God is always faithful.
5. Hebrews 6:19-20 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hope, firm and secure, is the anchor for the soul. Jesus is the great high priest. We can put our complete trust in Him.
6. You may read Psalm 42 but I will focus on verse 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
We can put our hope in God.
7. Psalm 146:3-10 Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.
You can place your hope in an almighty and faithful God. The one who had made everything, He remains faithful forever!
8. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Work is inspired by faith, labor by love, but our endurance is produced by our hope in our Lord, Jesus.
9. 1 Peter 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Our hope is a living hope because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can count on that hope forever, a hope that never has to die.
10. Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Trusting in the Lord, Jesus will bring you even more joy, peace and hope. The more you trust Him, the greater the flow of hope powered by the Holy Spirit.
This is a short, “down and dirty” list of things that trip us up. Surely you must fit into some degree of a category in this list? Once you understand the snares, what do you think you can do to get out of the problems that mount as the result of falling for the snares?
1. The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. Genesis 3:6
Eve’s sin began with lusting. How did your sin begin? Did it look like it was probably the right thing to do? And once you’ve decided what you wanted, who else did you drag in with you to share in that sin? Who ended up getting hurt or inconvenienced because of what you set into motion? Who in your life convinced you to engage in sin with them?
2. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17
This one’s simple: Don’t covet. I have found that when I stop praising God for the things I have, I end up wanting what the next guy has. I want his life. I want his car. I want his promotion. Sometimes I even want his friends! The more of wanting what’s not yours, the less you tend to see the extreme blessings God has already bestowed upon you and blinds you from seeing the unique opportunities to more blessings. Don’t covet. Adore your husband. Enjoy your children. Dig into those school assignments with anticipation. Rejoice for the Lord is always with you, and again I say rejoice!
3. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14
Don’t even think about how to gratify the sinful nature. Guard yourselves. Don’t let your mind wonder. For example, do images on the TV stir up lustful thoughts? If so, do you sit and watch or do you distract yourself to something else? An idea that isn’t flushed becomes a thought, and the thought goes to the heart, and the heart becomes an action. What’s in YOUR heart?
4. For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, Titus 2:11-12
Ungodly passions are snares. Many of them are legal, certainly, but the Christian is called to a higher ground. A Christian sacrifices his “right” in order to live for Christ! Say NO to ungodly passions.
5. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. Ephesians 2:3
Just because we were “born that way” does not mean that was the way God intended us to be—in fact, it more than likely is not the way God made us. We are all born into sin. That was not God’s way. So to say “I was born that way” is a ridiculous argument because we all were born with sin that needs to be dealt with. Our sentence for living in sin is death and with that comes God’s wrath. No amount of legislation can change God’s plan. Those who fulfill evil desires are objects of God’s wrath.
6. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) Ephesians 2:4-5
The good news is we do not have to live with our sin or suffer the wrath of God because He has a different plan for us. Jesus Christ came to save us from lust and evil desires!
7. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:14-16
Staying away from sin requires our part in the plan. One of the tests of our commitment to Jesus Christ is to what lengths are we prepared to go in order to keep from sin. That is one of the ways those of the world will be able to recognize us as being a Christian. Don’t conform to evil desires, but be Holy.
8. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. Galatians 5:16
God knows we can’t avoid sin on our own. So He gave us a support system. He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell among us. Live by the Spirit to overcome the lusts of the flesh. While on the subject, those who have the Spirit naturally seek to have community with others who also have the Holy Spirit. We long to spend time together and that’s a good thing! We keep each other accountable. When we are in the presence of other Christians, how eager are we to want to express ourselves in sinful ways? We don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of our brothers and sisters, do we? So… guess who you should be spending MOST of your time with? How’s your community with other believers tripping over themselves to obey God?
9. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. Romans 8:5-8
One way of thinking leads to things like being fired rather than simply being laid off. It leads to divorce or an unhappy marriage as apposed to a marriage that seems to get better and better every day. It leads to depression rather than to thoughts of joy and contentment. Those who live according to their sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.
How do you escape sin’s consequences? First, you have to understand that Jesus Christ is the only one who can forgive your sins. He’s been given all authority in all of heaven and of earth. You need to talk to Him. Ask Him to forgive you of all your sins.
Second, you have to give yourself to Him. Ask Him to be your savior and ruler over your life. Why? He knows everything about you. You can trust Him to lead you in a life that is not only free, but full of peace and of joy!
Third, and this is your sacrifice, give up the lifestyle that keeps you in sin. Walk away from it. Become something different. Be changed. Get new friends and pray for your old ones to follow you. Stop sinning! After forgiving people of their sin in the Bible, Jesus repeatedly told them to “go and sin no more.” The rich man in the parable of the rich man was sad that Jesus told him that he had to sell all he owned and then follow Him if he wanted to be perfect because the rich man’s lifestyle (and it had sin in it) was all hung up in being rich! Give up what is keeping you down. Don’t worry, God will take care of you and you will be much more rewarded.
Fourth, get with a body of believers. Hang with Christians. Trust me, there are some who are just like you. You’ll fit right in. There are many who have the very same things in common as you. Join them and spend as much time with them as you can in and out of where they worship and study God. Become part of the “family” and find a job within that family to keep you rooted and reminded of what God wants for you. Become a servant of Christ.
If anything that you’ve seen here today makes any sense to you, please let me know what that was and tell me what kind of decisions this may have led you to make. Let me know what’s going on in your life and how are you getting connected. Let me know what I can pray for you about. I am but a brother who loves you and cares for you. Let me pray for you and be your friend.
Parkland House Ministries