As a Pastor I get asked questions about the church I serve by those in the community and friends from other areas about how the church is going. When most people ask me a question about the church it seems to always be about how many are showing up or what exciting programs we have. Because we meet in a school and we own some land another question I get asked is when we are going to start building a building. I am for more people coming and I believe that is part of the great commission and I am also for us having a building so we do not have to set everything up and tear everything down every week but I am not sure those things are what God is going to hold us accountable for. We are doing what we can to get more people to come and to find a permanent building accomplish but I wonder when it comes to the health of the church if we are asking the correct questions.
We cannot say that God’s will is being accomplished because we have a building because many people meet around the world meet as a church without a physical building. Some countries it is unlawful to have large groups meet so they cannot be judged by how many are attending at one time. I know someone in west Texas that is a Pastor in a farming community that runs eighty people each week and does more funerals than weddings in a community that is not growing. Is he a success in God’s eyes even though he is not growing?
Most people measure a ministries success by what is called “Nickels and Noses”. How much money are you bringing in and how many people are showing up to your events. Because it has become about how many are coming to our churches there are people who believe that there are formulas (outside of God’s word) that will help you accomplish having more people and more money in your building. Listed below are some of the questions that people use to evaluate their church to see if they can be more effective in ministry.
- Does the worship experience feel exciting and relevant to you?
- Do you enjoy the music?
- Is the message inspiring?
- Are you made to feel special when you are here?
- Did your kids/ students have a good time?
These are not necessarily wrong questions to ask, and they are not in and of themselves bad, but they apply to Disney World more so than to a church. The real question is, “what does God consider a successful church?’
“What we read in the Bible and what we see in churches are two different things. Growing in numbers is something we can learn to do but seeing the hand of God takes prayer.” Francis Chan
I want people to fully understand that I am for growing the church numerically and in facilities but I am not for growing by compromising the true meaning of why the churches exist. Many churches grow simply by taking people from other churches because of new facilities and programs but they have done nothing to impact the community they are around. Regardless of whether the world or even other church leaders think I am a success I want to know what questions I should ask to make sure that I am fulfilling the call of God on my life.
So what questions do I think we need to ask in order for us to be the church we need to be?
1) Do we really believe the word of God is true and that it has the power to change lives?
One of our core principles at The Vine Community church is to listen to the word of God. Of course this includes Sunday morning but it also means that you will read and or listen to the word of God during the week as well.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
As we study the word of God we find out more about God because God is a personal God who made a way for His creation to be back in a right relationship with Him. God’s word is His love letter to us revealing to us about Him and His holiness, about us and our sinfulness and how we are in need of saving. Most people think they are good people but the Bible paints a different picture about how we are fallen and separated from God. The problem is that most people do not read the Bible to find out what God actually says and so they rely on their own thinking which can be corrupted.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect
Faulty thinking leads to faulty behavior and the word of God changes us like no other book can. Some people say that all religious books are the same but that is not true because the word of God has power that no other book has and the ability to change lives.
The question that needs to be asked; “How many of our church members are reading and studying God’s word every day?
2) Are our lives bringing glory to God?
When I talk to parents I tell them to not ask their kids if God is happy with their behavior. The reason is that many parents are teaching a false theology that God’s acceptance of us is based on how we act instead of what Christ did for us on the cross. A better question to ask is “is your life bringing God glory?’
Mark 14:3-9 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
There is a particular line that sticks out and that line is in verse 8 “She has done what she could” We are not going to be all held accountable to God the same way. Yes we are forgiven of our sins but we still have a responsibility to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of who we belong to. The woman probably did not know that she was preparing Jesus body for burial she was just overwhelmed by her love for Jesus and took the most precious and expensive thing she had and gave it to Him. This woman did not care about what others thought she only wanted to demonstrate her love to Jesus.
Why do you do what you do? Have you fallen so crazy in love with Jesus and relish the fact that He died for your sins that the only thing you can do is live for Him? Jesus told a parable about three servants that showed who they were living for and whose glory they really cared about.
Matthew 25:15-30 For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[c] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[d] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[e] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Each one of us was given talents and gifts to be used to multiply the kingdom of God. We live in a selfish society and even much of the preaching about Christianity has made it about us and not about Jesus Christ, what He did on the cross and how we should live for Him. The one man buried his talent because he decided not to live for his master but to go and do his own thing. Because the one servant decided to go and live for himself the ending of the parable shows that he was not welcomed into eternity with God.
Instead of asking if our church is creating an environment we should be asking those who call themselves Christ followers if they are living for Him. As Leonard Ravenhill says in his book “Why Revival Tarries’ we have unbelieving believers. Those who truly belong to Christ will be the ones who are doing what they can to advance the things of Christ by not living for themselves.
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship
Worship is not just Sunday Mornings or when you are at a Christian retreat. Worship is how you live your life for God. A living sacrifice means that you have to continually put your glory to the side and so to live for the glory of God.
3) Do I care about others?
Once you start living for the Glory of God and not yourself is to put other people’s needs above your own. The first place we do that is in the church.
- A) In the Church:
We are created to be in a relationship with God and with each other and so we need to learn to love other followers of Christ the way that Christ loved us.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
How we act toward each other and love each other will impact our world because they will see that we are different than the selfish society that we live in. We live in a time when I hear people say “I can worship God on my own” but that is not the design God had for His followers. He created the church to help us grow through accountability and the encouragement of other believers. Jesus grew His disciples by having them walk alongside each other and not just on their own. With technology and churches having on line sermons you can grow in knowledge but you will never become the person God wants you to be away from the relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ. The reason most people want to avoid people in the church is because people’s personalities can irritate us and so we avoid them at all cost. The Apostle Paul wrote 1 and 2nd Corinthians to show us how the church should operate and how we should address problems within the church. Jesus gave us instructions on how to deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Matthew 18. There is no case that can be made that you are to grow on your own as a follower of Christ. Yes there will be times that you will seek God in solitude but those times should be used so you can encourage and strengthen others.
Just like a wood worker will sand a piece of wood for preparation for paint so God uses other people in our lives to show us that we have rough spots that need to be smoothed out. The reason some people bother us is not because of their personalities (although that is what we say) but because they are showing us an area in our lives that God wants to work on. When someone says, “you made me angry” what they are really saying is that you exposed an area in my life I really do not want to change.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 tells us that we belong to each other and we have been gifted to serve God with each other. To avoid a community of believers is to avoid the teachings of the word of God and it keeps the church and the individual from becoming all that God intended them to be.
The question we need to ask about the church is if our people are using the gifts and talents that they have been given to lovingly serve God and other believers.
B)In the Community
Churches have become inward focused by trying to see how many people they can get to come to their service but the great commission from Jesus is to go. (Mark 16) When our church started only 17% of people in our county attended church on Sunday mornings. Most people that attend church did not think that was accurate so I asked them to look at their neighbors driveways as they left to go to church. Our society is busy with travel, sport teams and work that they no longer make Sunday mornings a priority for God. Christians have to think differently as to what they count as a successful church and if part of that success is not sending our people into the community than we are missing the entire message of Jesus Christ.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
If we are going to live for Jesus then we should care about the same things He does and He cares for those who do not know Him as Lord and Savior. In Luke 15 we see three parables of how they left the 99 to go find the one, they swept the house until the coin could be found and they looked for the son who went away and then ran to meet him. Our desire should be to see those who do not know Christ come to Christ but that is not going to be accomplished inside the walls of a building.
As I told you earlier one of the questions I get asked about is when we are going to build. I was at a funeral service and a man came up to me that I did not know and he told me that I needed to go down to the bank and borrow money because if I built the building the people would come. The problem I have with the statement “Build it and they will come” is that it is not from the Bible. That line is from a movie the field of Dreams.
“If you build it they will come, or more to the point, if you offer it, they will come. Meaning if you spruce church up a bit musically and stylistically, and if the unchurches are informed, those same unchurched people will suddenly stream in your doors and fill your seats. No, they won’t. Not if they are truly unchurched …Yes, it worked in the movie Field of Dreams. A man built a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield having been promised, “If you build it, he will come’ meaning Shoeless Joe Jackson and other members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. (The rise of the None’s, James Emery White pg 87)
I understand that people have built buildings and it helped their attendance increase and I know as soon as we get a building that people will show up but the question is who will be showing up? The “build it and they will come”, works for those who are disgruntled with the church they currently attend but it does not work to reach those who are unchurched. The majority of our society is not looking for a church because they believe their lives are just fine without one. Some may say that their lives are even better since they left the church. Those who believe in the “build it and they will come” or those who are trying to create environments for people do so because they are more of the philosophy of the attractional model. The attractional model means that you make your facilities and programs attractive to draw people into the church. I do not want to criticize those who are doing so because they have to do what God is calling them to do. The church I serve has a different mentality and that is we are all going to be on mission as we go throughout the week. J.D. Greer equates churches to being like an aircraft carrier and people get sent out on different missions.
We are to disciple and train people to go and seek out those God has placed in their lives and help them realize they are to be used by God with those they work with, go to school with, live in a neighborhood with and everyone they come in contact with. I heard that 90% of evangelicals have never shared their faith outside of their family. If that is true then we have many people who are not doing the very thing we were commanded to do. As a society we have been convinced that religion belongs in a church setting and is not to be discussed anywhere else. The problem with that mentality is it goes against what Jesus told us to do.
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If you are wondering where to start in telling your friends about Jesus the first thing I would encourage you to do is to start praying for them. Of course, you cannot just pray for them but you will be amazed at the opportunities that God will give you and what God will do in their lives as you begin to pray.
When it comes to questions the church needs to ask I have come up with a few on my own.
- How many of our members are involved in small groups?
- How many of our people are talking to others about Jesus?
- How many of our church members can communicate the Biblical gospel?
- How many of our church members are using their gifts for the Kingdom?
- How many of our church members are serving their community?
- How many of our people are teaching others about what it means to follow Jesus?
- If the church stopped existing would our community miss us?