“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” Hebrews 5:12
In Part 3, we discussed the need for making God our daily priority and living out our Fruit of the Spirit from the overflow of our relationship with Him. In this post, I'll give you three practical ways to accomplish this (based on Jesus' example) and how churches can be more effective in these three areas.
Jesus lived out his life focusing on three types of relationships:
Up—with his Father
In—with his chosen followers
Out—with the lost and hurting world around him.
Upward Focused: First, we should focus on our relationship with God because if this relationship is healthy, the others fall into place. Jesus often would leave his disciples and the crowds of people to spend time in prayer. Despite all Jesus had going on, people constantly needing him and the thousands of people showing up to see him - Jesus still often took quiet time to pray to His father. Jesus' example shows us just how important he considered his relationship with God.
Our relationship with God comes in the form of Worship, Prayer, Community, Bible Study, Meditation and our daily application of His word in our lives. Everything we do should be for His glory, not ours.
It's easy for modern churches to get caught in the secular worlds business and marketing models. Many churches believe they need to focus on creating Sunday "productions" that emulate Broadway or Hollywood in order to entice guests to show up. Churches often look at other churches down the street as competition and feel the need to continually "up their game" by adding more lights, smoke, theatrics, coffee, etc. to make them unique and attractive.
While one could argue this is just a modern approach or methodology to ministry, the question is what is the intent behind this approach. Is the intent to glorify God or to make the church more appealing? Is the worship band trying to connect people to God or bring attention to their performance? Is the pastor leading people to Christ by unapologetically preaching Scripture or giving a motivational speech and using the Bible as a literary example?
Author Tim Kimmel told me, "If they don't even remember your name but felt the presence and a connection with God, you were successful." Let connecting people with God be the main focus of every facet of our ministries. Let God Himself be the main attraction at church again, and let us be tireless in our insistence that church is for God, about God, through God, and to the glory of His great Son.
Inward Focused: Once we have our relationship and focus on God established, next we need to focus on our relationship with other Christians, especially those we are in community with, discipling and being discipled by. Jesus called each one of his disciples into an accountable relationship with Him. First Jesus and later Paul explained that the difference between a Believer (salvation) and a Disciple (sanctification) is authentic community, spiritual growth and accountability among followers.
Jesus did not spend a majority of his time preaching, performing miracles or worshipping. He spent a majority of His time focusing on the discipling of the twelve. Jesus knew he would ultimately leave them, therefore, He needed to teach them to take personal responsibility for their faith, spiritual growth, and how to multiply themselves. Jesus used the following model in His discipleship of the twelve.
I do, you watch - Jesus was a living example for the disciples in his prayer, speech and actions.
I do, you help - As the disciples observed and imitated Christ, he would also take them aside from the crowds to teach them, correct them, and sometimes explain his methodology.
You do, I help - Jesus gave his disciples clear instructions, laid out his expectations but then delegated authority to them to complete the tasks.
You do, I watch - at this point, Jesus began turning His ministry over to the disciples, sending them out on missions but gave them the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance.
During Jesus' time with the disciples, they also spent time together at meals, in prayer and in work for the ministry. They did not see themselves as a weekly small group but a daily community living together. Authentic Community begins when we choose to start living life with other Christians and asking them to hold us accountable. When we authentically expose all our sins, flaws and struggles to our fellow disciples and drop the "Church Facade" of trying to look or act a certain way on Sunday's or around other Christians. Authentic Community is also sharing our victories and joy with our fellow disciples. It's an intimate group of friends we can call on at any time for anything.
Outward Focused: Finally, Jesus reached out to the lost and hurting in our fallen world. Christ did not try to build segregated communities for His followers far away from sinners. He did not condemn or ridicule those who did not believe. He did not fear the sin or temptation of the world but instead went directly and intentionally to the lost and hurting using love and compassion to build bridges to these people and ultimately led them to repentance and salvation. Christ never tolerated sin and always spoke in Truth but did so with love, compassion and Grace. He never tried to make a sarcastic point, but to reach people's hearts and He saw everyone, no matter how cruel and devious, as someone who needed His Father. Jesus never lost sight of His Father’s mission and vision, to reach out to a lost and dying world.
The Focus of the Church?
While many of our modern churches are strong in doctrine and theology, they often struggle to create a methodology or environment that is Upward, Inward and Outward Focused. Ministry often becomes more like a business with people to manage and a product to create each week than the selfless task of honoring God, discipling the flock and fulfilling the Great Commission.
Often, modern churches successfully implement one or two of the focus areas but not all three areas that Christ gave us.
Up and In Churches: These churches often focus on having powerful praise and worship, study of the Bible, and do a good job of building community (among other things). They are often creative and innovative in worship and ministry but they struggle with their emphasis on reaching out to those outside the Kingdom of God. There is often an "Us" and "Them" mentality. Leaders and members are often more enthusiastic about adding on to their property than reaching inner city neighborhoods, the homeless in their area or planting foreign churches or missionaries. Outreach and Missions is just another program that happens once or twice a year rather than a strategic, ongoing process.
Up and Out: These churches are often committed to the Upward but also stress evangelism and are concerned with reaching outside of the walls of the church. There is a lot of outreach and strong support for missions; but members are often driven more by social causes and justice than being a part of a community. Often, the Inward focus is lacking as inward community and fellowship become more of a checklist item than a heartfelt desire. These churches will draw in a lot of younger, passionate people but the church culture becomes more like the "Christian Peace Corps" than an authentic discipleship community.
In and Out: These churches are often older, mainstream churches with a heart for caring for the hurting and lost. They focus more on ritual and conformity than the core teachings of Jesus and the importance of connecting with God. Prayer is more by rote memorization rather than spirit led or personal petition. Scripture reading is part of the service but it's often not explained for life application. They churches emphasize community within the church and helping the community around them but are often lacking in modern expressions of faith and worship with doctrine and dogma that does not line up with Scripture.
In summary, using Jesus' model we need to be Upward, Inward and Outward focused simultaneously.
First, we need to ensure our prayer, worship, study and actions are always glorifying to God not ourselves. We need to set aside our personal preferences or desires for the honor and glorifying God. We need to change ministry methodology to ensure the focus is always on God and not distracting from Him.
Second, we need to focus on building authentic, accountable relationships with other Christians and living life with them in authentic community. We need to share in the joys and the burdens of our fellow Christians and make "doing life together" a priority. Churches need to effectively connect people to God and each other with an ongoing, deliberate discipleship process. Small groups need to focus less on programs and topics and more on helping people grow deeper in Christ using Jesus' four step process.
Lastly, we need to see the lost and fallen world through God's eyes. We need to engage them with love and compassion rather than judgement and condemnation. We need to have authentic empathy for our lost brothers and sisters and build bridges of hope that lead them to the Cross. Churches need to stop perpetuating the "Us" versus "Them" mentality and welcome EVERYONE into God's church with open arms. Before we can hep them repent, find salvation and sanctification; they must first know they are loved, welcomed and accepted by not only God but his people.
Stay Tuned for Part 5 – The Leader-Disciple Relationship