“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
(Acts 11:21 ESV)
We are in desperate need for the Lord’s hand to be with us. He is always with us, but it is possible for Jesus to be with us in salvation, but not with us in ministry. He might be right outside of the church building, elder meeting, or prayer gathering knocking, “Hey, you want me to come in or what?” (Revelation 3:20). Or maybe we have “transforming lives for the glory of Jesus” on our website and membership booklets, but we’ve abandoned the Risen Christ—we’ve reduced him to a prop. Lord, help us. If that’s the case, he might just shut your church—not his—down (Revelation 2:4-5). His will be just fine. He’s made no promises about our churches.
If we think our hands are cultivating the ground, we are soon to sink like good ol’ Peter. Or we might be building a nice hay-house on the sand. That sounds doable. Any man can do that. But straw can only do so much. The big bad wolf isn’t going to blow that house down—the Lion of Judah will take of care business.
The Secret Sauce
Confidence in church planting can only come from one place: Jesus of Nazareth. Vision, plans, missions, core values, core teams, preaching calendars, lattes, beards, tattoos, suits, fog machines, and the latest gizmo gadgets cannot replace or replicate the power of the Lord’s sovereign hand. Those aren’t bad things; they just aren’t the power of a Cosmic Emperor.
The secret sauce to any thriving ministry is no secret. It’s blood.
It’s the blood that spilled out from the hands, feet, brow, and side of our Lord. It speaks a better word than any conference speaker. A bloody hill and vacant tomb is our confidence. There are countless “As Seen on Stage” strategies—but we are committed to “As Seen in the Savior.”
People repent of their sins and confess that Jesus is the Lord, because a nail-pierced hand turned them around. Fruit happens in a local church because of the Lord’s hand. No pastor can cause this. No plan can produce this. No one can take credit except our resurrected King. So whether we preach or pray, or whatever we do, give glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Longing For More Than A Sheep Trade
And what do we really want in our planting of churches? If it’s not “a great many people turning to the Lord”—what the heck are we doing? The Bible-belt is like a sheep-conveyor-belt. Transfer. Transfer. Christians sliding to the new kid on the block. “Their music is so good!” Congregants playing musical chairs—literally. Some folks have been a part of five or more churches—but they have never moved. Is that odd to anyone? Ecclesiology much? Friends, we must hope and pray for so much more. I want Christians to be at a biblical church—I’m not against that. I long for more than a sheep trade market.
Pray for the hand of Christ to be among our churches. Not just on paper, but in atomic power. Pray that our churches would be filled with more new converts than new transfers. May revival swell over us again. We really are in need of the Lord’s hand.
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Acts 16:8–10, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Isn’t it interesting that the apostles never started a Christian coffee shop? I mean, the name is there, He-Brews. They never launched a line of overpriced, glue-sewn shoes to help the needy. Paul made some tents, probably organic, maybe fair trade—but not to be hip and socially aware, he did this to make money—to make a profit—to plant churches.
While some of those endeavors aren’t evil, they aren’t the gospel priority of the church of the risen Christ. The New Testament is obsessed with church planting—and if we are going to be New Testament Christians, so should we.
If you want a Christianity that looks like Acts, commit to the planting churches.
Acts 2 isn’t the only chapter in Acts to long for in your church. Acts 1-28 has some great stuff too.
Learn From The 1st Century
1st Century Christianity has much to teach us 21st Century Christians. Here’s what they did over, and over, and over.
- Go (Mt. 28:18-20).
- Be Witnesses (Acts 1:8).
- Make Disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).
- Plant Churches (Acts 1-28).
And they did this all because the Lord Jesus said so. He hasn’t commanded that we open Christian greeting card hubs—he hasn’t condemned them either—but the apostolic vision of the New Testament is the viral propagation of the news of a crucified and risen carpenter from Galilee, who paid for sins, and reigns as the Emperor of the Universe inviting sinners to be forgiven and accepted by him, and to him.
No cup of joe can do that—but the church, we exist for that.
Paul’s Answer To The Call For Help
A man from Macedonia cries out for help, so what’s the plan? What do Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke decide the Macedonians need?
The gospel (Acts 16:10).
Macedonia is helped by the planting of the church at Philippi.
The chief need of every city is the gospel of Jesus echoing from a planted church.
How did Paul help Corinth? He planted a church. The city of Thessalonica? Another church plant. Did Paul mix it up in Ephesus? Maybe a wrestling gym with a crucifixion theme? Of course not—he planted a church.
Planting Churches. Planting The Gospel.
The planting of gospel-centered churches, filled with gospel-centered people who live as grace-leaking, missional monsters as lights in the darkness, inviting the dead to come alive in Jesus Christ and to dwell in the Kingdom of God—that is the hope of your city and mine.
Our cities don’t need more shows. The movie theaters, stadiums, and Redboxes have that covered. Our cities don’t need the planting of services, but they need the missional going of Christians, our disciple-making, our witnessing—that’s church planting.
We have the power of God that makes demons shudder, that sets captives free, that can save a thief on the cross, that can comfort a prostitute, that can redeem a drunk, that can restore a religious hypocrite—that can fulfill all that we are looking for, made for—that power, that word, that name, that person is Jesus.
That is the number one missional strategy of the New Testament. Nothing has changed since Acts 28. We cannot improve upon what Dr. Luke has chronicled. And for us to put more weight behind any other strategy might be the most idiotic thing we could do. This strategy is old, normal, and completely supernatural.
And maybe, just maybe one day we’ll hear, “There is much joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).
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Many Christians on Sunday mornings are hearing sermons, but they aren’t listening to them.
Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing.
I can hear music playing in the background and not be listening to its message.
I learned the difference working at Starbucks while going to Bible college. I could hear blenders, customers, music, cars, and coffee being ground—but it was vital that I listened to the orders coming through my headset. I could hear all kinds of things, but I was listening for one thing.
Listen to sermons. Do more than hear them.
Hearing is passive.
Listening is active.
When it comes to sitting under the preaching of God’s word, don’t be passive. Be an active listener.
Over the next few days, I want to provide a handful of practical helps for listening to sermons, here are two:
1.Pray for yourself and your pastor before the sermon begins.
Invite the inclining power of the Holy Spirit to move you toward the word, to move your affections toward Christ, and to show you something awesome from the Bible.
Prayer is never passive. Prayer is a great way to be reminded that you are engaged in spiritual warfare, and you are ready for battle.
Pray for the Spirit to empower your pastor. Pray for your pastor to be sustained for decades of gospel proclamation. Pray that souls would be stirred by what he’s preaching—his and yours.
2.Bring your Bible.
I don’t care if you look at the Bible on your phone or tablet or the physical page. If you have the willpower and self-control to not flip over to Instagram, ESPN, Twitter, or start texting someone, that’s great. I sure don’t.
I love the book. I don’t want my phone in my hand. I want the visual reminder that I’m doing something totally different than seeing cat photos.
Now, as a pastor, when I’m preaching, it drives me nuts to look at God’s people, and see someone (who I know isn’t a guest) just looking at me with no Bible (or device) in their hands. Bring your Bible. Open your Bible. The words on the page are more important than anything I’m going to say. And everything I’m saying, by God’s grace, is being excavated out of those words.
You want to see the words your pastor is marveling over. You want to see the truth your pastor is rejoicing over. You want to behold the glory of Christ found on the page.
When you follow along in your Bible, you are joining the journey, you are active in the pursuit of truth. You are in the trenches, on the dig site, mining truth.
Don’t be passive. Be active. Get engaged. If you do these two quick and simple, yet massive things, I’m confident your love for sermons will grow.
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Every pastor, ministry leader, and church-goer knows what a negative church person smells like. Cantankerous with a hint of Folgers.
But let’s get more specific.
I’m talking about the person who is negative about everything but they show up every Sunday, are in a community group, shoot — they even give 10%. What do you do with this person? They are suspicious of your leadership, the direction of the church, the new ministry endeavor, the new hire, the last sermon series, the mission’s dollars, the elders, the deacons, the membership process, the lack of position papers on alcohol and home-schooling, the quilting ladies, and the amount of bulletins printed. But they love the bad church coffee, which makes sense, they are in charge of it!
Get the picture?
Negativity comes in many different packages and people; emails and phone calls, early coffee meetings and late night barn-burners — how will you deal with it? I’ve had a man stand in my office, look me in the eyes and say, “I don’t like that you are the pastor of this church.” Thanks for sharing!
Here are a few things to consider when dealing with negative church people.
Before you handle the pan, put on a glove.
Deal with your sin before you deal with theirs.
You get right before you deal with someone’s wrong.
It’s always good and biblical to humble yourself. You aren’t that great. You aren’t above being questioned or criticized. Don’t pull a muscle while thinking so highly of yourself (Romans 12:3).
Jesus had negative critics — and still does. Some of the strongest negativity came from his team of leaders; Peter had a knack for being negative. Peter tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Jesus corrected him, strongly mind you, and still kept him around.
I’ve heard too many pastors and planters shoo someone away that was detracting from their mission and vision because they went against the grain; don’t put the cart infront of the horse and kick out the passengers.
Negative saints are still saints. They need a shepherd, not a sniper.
Instead of writing them off, fulfill your duty as a Pastor and pastor them. If they’ve sinned, rebuke them. Encourage them in the gospel. Meet with them, face to face — email wars are for losers. And when you meet, be biblical. Embody the fruits of the Spirit. You may benefit from them by asking about their perspectives. Do your homework before you give a grade. It takes a humble shepherd to learn from a negative wart, and it take a proud pastor to send a saint out to pasture with out shepherding them on the way. Maybe Mr. Negative needs to find a new church, or maybe he needs his Pastor to pastor him.
Here’s the deal, negative sheep don’t detract from the mission and vision, they are whom the mission and vision exists for — if it’s biblical. Christians are never distractions. Mr. Chipper might be a slithering wolf, but you have to get up close and find out. Don’t judge negative church folk like you’re cooking a hot-pocket; you need more time. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).
Some negative church folk have a rap-sheet filled with church hopping. Could it be that none of their past pastors had the love and guts to shepherd them? The pastor couldn’t get over his wounded pride in order to deal with the pride of his assailant?
I don’t have any data but I bet I’m close to the bullseye.
This should go without saying, but sometimes what is crystal clear is missed.
When dealing with negative church people here are a few verses to remember and put into practice.
The aim of your leadership is love. . .
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
(1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
And love looks like. . .
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4–7 ESV)
It’s easy to love those who love your sermons. It’s biblical love to love those who can’t stand the way you write your emails and let you know it.
And there will come a time when the controversial straw is breaking the Elder’s back. Titus 3 might be one of the ignored passages in the Bible.
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
(Titus 3:10–11 ESV)
Proverbs and the French call this person, Le Fool.
Negative folks might need an heart adjustment from a loving pastor, others may not change and remain unrepentant. But you gotta go the distance here. Matthew 18 still applies. Titus 3 needs a hearing in the ears of the heart. How many ramped up negative Neil’s and Nancy’s have heard Titus 3:10-11 from the heart of a true shepherd? I bet E.T. could count it on one hand.
In closing, why not . . .
- Change where needed
- Rebuke when needed
- Be thankful
- Love at all times
And lastly, don’t be negative towards those who are being negative, that’s not the way of the Kingdom.
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A lot of people are skeptical of Christianity and the the church in general. You’ll often hear statements like, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” How should we respond?
Take It Back To Jesus
Our goal isn’t to convince lost people that church is cool. We are witnesses of the Risen Lord, this is about Jesus. Jesus is the Savior of sinners, not a cool Sunday service.
When people say they don’t like organized religion, ask them their thoughts about Jesus Christ. More pointedly, ask them if their position on organized religion means that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.
If they think Jesus is dead, why go to church? Who cares? Why be in a huff over organized religion if its founder is a loser?
But, if Jesus is alive—everything changes. Their thoughts about the church and “organized religion” have to be seen in light of the Risen Lord. Since Jesus is breathing, everything the Bible says about Jesus’s church has weight to it. It is solid. If Jesus conquered the largest obstacle in our lives—that’d be death—than we need to listen, and seriously consider everything his book says.
- Jesus said he was going to build his church (Matthew 16:18).
- Jesus came for the church (Acts 20:28).
- Jesus picked 12 leaders to start his church.
- Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23).
Jesus wants a church; if he didn’t, don’t you think he would have told the apostles in Acts to stop organizing and corrupting his vision for Christianity? In Acts they are meeting, structuring themselves, sending out missionaries, appointing leaders, etc. I don’t think Jesus wants a disorganized religion.
Jesus loves the church (Eph. 5:25). You can’t truly follow Jesus and not be a part of his church. It’s backwards. The New Testament doesn’t recognize that as Christianity.
A Rebellious Christian
If they profess to be a Christian and are against the church, then they should be called to obey Jesus, who is the head of the church, which is his body. To have Jesus, the head, is to also have his body, the church.
A professing Christian that is against the church is against Christ. If you are anti-Church, you are acting more like Satan, more like an anti-Christ, than your professed Savior.
The New Testament is clear, Christians are meant to belong to a local church (Hebrews 10:24). I’ve met far too many Christians who are too “mature” to obey the Bible and go to church. Sheesh. Repentance is in order.
God Isn’t Against Organization
There is nothing wrong with the words, “organized” and “religion.” But put them together and people get goosebumps.
God isn’t against organized religion. The entire Old Testament shows that. And the New Testament affirms the gathering, structuring, and ministry activity of God’s people for the sake of God’s glory and the spread of the gospel. Again, the Bible doesn’t prefer a disorganized religion, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
So, the bigger reality is not what we think about “organized religion”, frankly, it doesn’t matter; the greater question is what does God think?
God is pro-organization. I’ll just give two pieces of evidence. Exhibit A: The Bible. And exhibit B: The Universe.
What Do They Mean By “Organized Religion”?
When discussing or debating a word or phrase, define it. Ask what they mean by “organized religion”—it takes the conversation from the clouds to the ground. And then you can get going somewhere.
What they probably mean by “organized religion” is that they don’t want to be a part of some system that doesn’t care about them, doesn’t help them, just wants their money, etc. And I’d agree. That sucks. And frankly, that’s how Satan would run a “church”—which is not a church.
So, yeah, I’m against that kind of organized religion too—we all should be.
But the New Testament gives a different vision for the church—the main metaphor used is that of a family.
No one is against a family—or organized families.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ. God is our Father and Jesus is our big brother. We are adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15). We aren’t a perfect family. But we are family. There is real love, joy, and harmony to be had among the family God, the body of Christ, the local church.
Affirm the yuck of abusive, manipulative, serpent-like “organized religion”, and put forward the compelling vision of the family of God.
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“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47 ESV)
From Asia to Europe, Africa to Latin America, Christians are facing persecution for what they believe. We live in an increasingly hostile culture that no longer values the foundation upon which it was built—that is biblical Christianity. As I have been thinking and praying about this topic more and more recently, I have become increasingly burdened as I watch the growing situation in Iraq (with ISIS), and the increased persecution of Christians all around the world.
According to Open Doors USA, Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. The U.S. State Department reports that Christians, in more than 60 countries, face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ. Christians Solidary Worldwide reports that one of the worst countries in the world for persecution is North Korea. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture, and in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean Christians or other foreign missionaries (such as those from China), and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed. Open Doors explains that in forty-one of the fifty worse nations for persecution, Christians are persecuted by Islamist extremists.”[i]-
The statistics I quoted above paint a disturbing picture about our world and where it is headed. Thankfully, God’s people don’t have to despair, since we are a people with the hope of the gospel—a message that is the hope of the world. The Church has continued and thrived in the face of persecution from its earliest days and will continue to thrive as it is faithful to the gospel.
Jesus stated that in this world we would experience trouble and persecution (John 16). Paul told Timothy that anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ will experience persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the disciples that, “blessed are those who are persecuted” (Matthew 5:10-12). He also said to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and modeled the truth of how He expects His people to handle persecution on His way to Calvary. The persecuted church testifies of our need to get out of our “comfort zone” and proclaim the victorious work of our Risen Savior.
Be Aware of the Situation
Christians here in the United States (and elsewhere) can support our fellow brothers and sisters being persecuted by gaining knowledge of what is going on around the world. I recommend checking out Voice of Martyrs and other organizations like it that are doing heroic work for the sake of the gospel.
Pray for the Afflicted
Second, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:3 to pray for those in prison. Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” The preacher of Hebrews here gives his readers a profound lesson about those who were experiencing mistreatment and imprisonment.
Be There as a Friend
There are three ways we can seek to fulfill this verse. First, we can be there for others when life gets hard. The presence of a friend has been a boon of encouragement and strength to me in my Christian life.
Give Assistance as You’re Able
Second, we can provide direct help. Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing with him in his affliction by giving him money to carry on his ministry in other places (Phil. 4:14-16). By giving to him financially, they also encouraged him spiritually.
Finally, we can care by praying. Paul’s closing words to the Colossians in Colossians 4:3-4 were an appeal for prayer. They could not visit him and money would have been no help at that time. By remembering him in prayer, they could support him powerfully. Following’s Jesus’ example, who did not come to be ministered to but to minister, we should lose ourselves in the sustained, sympathetic, and loving care of others.
As Christians, we are commanded over fifty times to “one another” each other (love one another, prayer for one another, etc.). It is my hope and prayer today that you would join with me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Praying for one another is one way we can practically show the world that we love Jesus and one another (John 13:35). Get involved and speak up—your voice matters.
Photo Credit: Pray For the Persecuted Chains
[i] “Quick Facts About Persecution” ERLC, accessed August 1, 2014. http://erlc.com/issues/quick-facts/persecution/
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