Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is It Okay for Churches to Die? Part 2

It has been said that churches, like everything else in life, have a life cycle. There is a process of birth, growth and eventually death. Although many churches may experience multiple cycles of growth, decline and renewed growth, most if not all, eventually die.

So how does this apply to the church I am currently planting? I realize that Connect Church will not be on this earth forever. It may last 20, 50 or 100 years. However, at some point it will eventually close its doors. This should come as no more of a surprise than the fact that I too will eventually die. Before this sounds too morbid and depressing let me get to the point. My prayer is not for Connect to remain for 1000 years but that the vision and purpose of Connect survive and continue on in the core of the churches our church plants. I want our church planting vision to be carried on through the churches we plant and the churches that are planted from them and so on down the line. As a result Connect will live on through it's children, grandchildren, and great-grand children.

Unfortunately I believe many churches are like an elderly person that has no other family. They are coming to the end of their life and have no children or grandchildren to carry on their legacy. As a result these churches are fearful of the thought of closing their doors because they know of no one to carry on their work for the advancement of the kingdom of God. However, if more churches would commit to planting multiple, healthy, growing churches then they could rejoice in these times as they watch new churches grow and take the gospel to this culture.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thoughts on Preaching

The following are some thoughts I have on preaching. This list is in no way exhaustive but contains some of the key elements I seek to incorporate into my own preaching.

1. Expository - I often joke that I am not creative enough to come up with fancy and thought provoking sermon series and topics. Therefore, I often resort to simply taking a passage of Scripture and preaching through it verse by verse. Over the years I have come to believe that expository preaching is the most effective form. By preaching through books of the Bible in a systematic manner I increase my chances of preaching on all of the subjects and topics it contains. This also prevents me from only preaching on topics that I may consider important. Furthermore, it tends to help listeners understand the Bible more easily and completely since I work through passages or books in a systematic fashion.

2. The text can never mean what it never meant - This line of thinking comes from the book The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text by Sidney Greidanus. The phrase speaks for itself. The Bible cannot mean for us today what it did not mean for it's initial hearers. This is extremely important to remember when preaching and developing the application of a particular passage. Therefore, it is imperative to do the proper research to determine the cultural and historical settings in which a particular passage of Scripture was penned.

3. So What? - As mentioned by Bryan Chapell in Christ-Centered Preaching, every sermon must answer this question. After all a sermon is not a classroom lecture. I believe it is my responsibility to help the listener apply the passage to their everyday lives and help them understand what Scripture is calling them to do as a result. Obviously the Holy Spirit may reveal an application to the listener that I do not mention. However, I believe it is important for me to help provide as much application as possible.

4. One Meaning, Multiple Applications - This is important to prevent the common statement, "this passage means this to me." Each passage in the Bible has only one exact meaning. Although we may disagree at times on various interpretations that does not mean that there are multiple ways to interpret a passage. I do believe that one can at times derive multiple applications from a passage. A person may take a promise such as found in 1 Peter 5:7 and apply it to multiple areas in which they are experiencing fear and worry.

5. Preach the Gospel - This was ground in to me by my preaching professor, Robert Smith at Beeson Divinity. It is imperative that every sermon point the listener to the cross and the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. Although it may be easier to do this with some passages than others, I believe all of Scripture serves this end.

So, there are a few simple thoughts on preaching. I have noticed that these ideas seem to be gaining popularity which is very encouraging. Those who believe that preaching is outdated and irrelevant and must be drastically changed would do well to reconsider. Otherwise they may not have anyone in their churches to listen to their new, "relevant" style of preaching.

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
1 Timothy 4:13

Monday, August 3, 2009

Is It Okay for Churches to Die?

Over the years I have noticed two extremes among churches. There are some that are young church plants that are seeking to impact their community with the power of the gospel. These churches emphasize outreach and discipleship and appear to have a bright future ahead of them. Unfortunately these churches struggle to raise enough funds to effectively carry out their mission. The other type of church is much older, owns large facilities, but has very few people attending. They remember the glory days of ministry in the past. Now however, they are simply trying to survive.

I have often heard that the goal for the latter of these two churches is to find someway to revitalize their slow death and help them to regain their once healthy and growing status. As a result ministers and associations spend countless hours and energy trying to resurrect a dying church (many of which have no desire to change).

But what if we were to simply let them die? What if we were to help them transition their few remaining people to a new growing body and allocate their funds to new churches that are being started? Obviously this is not as appealing. The thought of letting a church die sounds like a defeat. But is it? For example, take a church that owns a facility and has money in the bank. If this church were willing to "die" it could then either sell the building and use the money for new church plants or allow another church or churches to use it's facilities. Furthermore, the remaining congregation could join another local church and participate in effective ministry in the community.

I believe one reason many people would be opposed to this line of thinking is due to the fact that we are not starting enough churches. Here in the Pacific Northwest there is a huge deficit of churches. As a result if one church closes it's doors it is significant loss. However, if there were 5 churches being planted for every church that closed then the loss would not be as significant.

Another reason we may be slow to accept this idea is we are often more concerned about our own church as opposed to the growth of the Kingdom of God. I believe it is important for us to strive for the growth and success of God's church as a whole instead of narrowly focusing on our personal kingdoms.

Therefore, I believe pastors, churches, associations, conventions, etc. should be putting much more effort into church planting and helping dying churches to transition their resources to new or existing churches that are growing and making an impact. The process of life and death is common for all of us, including churches. After all, none of the churches started by the Apostle Paul are still in existence. Maybe it is time we let go of the past and allocate our resources more effectively for the future so that we can impact this culture with the saving power of the gospel.