Oh, the Places You’ll Grow

Sermon delivered at Lakeview Church on 5/20/19.

A disciple is someone who is actually following Jesus. Discipleship happens when the Spirit applies the Word to our lives in the context of the church to help us follow in Jesus’ footsteps. In this message, we dig into the context of the church and discover that discipleship happens in three places: a gathered place, a scattered place, and a close place.

Discipleship Includes Evangelism

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b NIV)

As most of you know, our church, LakeView Church, is entering a season of transition as God has called us to a new way of being the church as opposed to doing church. While I would love to tease out the differences between being and doing church, that will have to be a separate post. In this post, I want to look at a question several people have asked about our shift in direction.

In a letter to the congregation on Feb 6, 2019, I talked about LakeView’s history following a church movement pioneered by Willow Creek Church, a massive 30,000-member church in Chicago, known as “seeker-sensitive.” I pointed out that our mission as a church is not to get more people attending our events, but to make disciples, and in order to do that we needed to become “sticky,” focusing our time, energy, and resources on helping people stick, rather than merely drawing them in to an event. (By the way, if you want to read a little more about the seeker-sensitive movement, and why many churches are abandoning it, read this article from The Gospel Coalition or this article from Got Questions.)

Several people have asked if this new focus means that LakeView is going to stop caring about reaching the lost, or if we’re going to stop caring about seekers. The answer is a resounding NO! Our mission as a church is to be disciples who make disciples for the glory of Christ and the common good. The first step in being a disciple is come to Jesus. That means someone who isn’t saved hears the gospel, believes, and chooses to turn from their sin and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. And, the third step of discipleship is share Jesus with others. That means evangelism and outreach are part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus–discipleship includes evangelism!

As we focus on being disciples who make disciples, our value on reaching the lost is actually higher than before. Now we see outreach as more than just an event or a program. It’s an integral part of our personal obedience to Jesus–it’s part of how we show our love for Christ, by sharing Him with others. Now everything we do is outreach, not just a few special events we plan each year.

Now outreach is not something planned and conducted by a committee. Sharing Jesus with others is something all of us do individually, in small groups, and collectively as the Body of Christ. We can no longer say, “I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I’ll let the outreach team do that.” It’s your responsibility and mine as obedient disciples of Jesus.

Now the goal isn’t just to get a few hundred people to attend a great event. And, people aren’t projects we only care about because we’re trying to get them to pray the sinner’s prayer. Now the goal is to help people we know and love–our family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, and friends–discover the life-changing love of Jesus. We care more about building real relationships with people and loving them than we do about the next big “outreach” event.

Does that mean big events are of no value? Are we going to stop doing them? No. Special events have their place in the life of the church, and we have several fun things planned for the upcoming ministry year. But let’s not confuse “church” and “outreach” with “programs” and “events.” The church is a family of believers, not a building, a service, or a program. And outreach is part of our DNA, an essential step for all disciples following Jesus, not an event planned by a committee.

As we pursue a life of following Jesus, we will actually find that we are more “sensitive” to seekers, not less. And as we are filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, we will actually see more people saved and encouraged in their walk with Jesus.

One Generation to Another

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4, NIV)

In my last devotional, I wrote about how God had reminded me that in the busyness of life, I need to remember to share my faith in Jesus with my kids. My goal with these Monday devotionals is simply to share what God puts on my heart and says to me in the hope that it will encourage you to listen to what God is saying to you. I think more people hear from God more often than they realize, and if I can model or share how God speaks to me, perhaps it will help you learn to better recognize His still small voice in your own heart and mind. Occasionally, one of you shares with me what God is saying to you, or how He is working in your life. I love hearing those stories! Please keep them coming!

I also hoped the devotional last week would encourage parents (and grandparents) to be more proactive in teaching their own children (and grandchildren) about the Lord, and modeling a genuine faith in and relationship with Jesus for their own kids (and grandkids). I know there are many kids out there who don’t have Christian parents or grandparents. They are incredibly important. But, in our zeal to reach them, let’s not forget about the kids God has given us–they matter, too. God reminded me of the importance of investing in my own kids last Monday, and I passed it on to you because it’s what I do with these devotional emails.

That said, this week will be a little different because I want to follow up on last week’s topic. Last week was for parents. This week is for the church. For 30 years (maybe more), the prevailing thought among churches has been divide and conquer. We’ve assumed the most effective way to reach the next generation is to isolate them and create programming in which every second is designed specifically for them. But in the past few years, we’ve begun to realize the drawbacks of that model as more and more teens walk away not just from church, but from God, when they hit adulthood. And, alarmingly, a huge percentage of these young adults are not coming back to God or the church at all, even when they start having their own kids.

Some churches reacted to this by canceling all youth and children’s programming in favor of a fully family-integrated approach. I’m not convinced that’s the right approach, either. Why do we tend to run to the far end of the spectrum on almost every issue? The best way is likely not going to be at either pole, but somewhere in the middle.

The problem with an isolation approach is that you end up with a youth/children’s ministry that is siloed, separated from the rest of the church. The church isn’t a family to them. You end up with a group of kids only loosely connected with the larger church whose building they use for their programming. When the kids become adults, they often lose interest and walk away because they’re not really part of the church. And let’s be honest, our goal isn’t to pack out our programming with high attendance (no matter what age we’re aiming for, whether children’s ministry, youth ministry, Sunday worship, or senior adults). Our goal is to lead kids (really, people of all ages) in a growing relationship with Jesus that will last their lifetime.

The problem with a fully family-integrated approach is that it also ends up isolating people (not just kids). It leaves out those who don’t have a traditional nuclear family, which just happens to be the majority of our society. The very approach targeting integration ends up as just another form of isolation.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think what we need to figure out is not isolation or family-integration, but rather a church family approach to reaching the next generation. My desire is to see the church become a spiritual family. I want everyone (seniors, middle-aged, young adults, teens, and children) to have a place where they belong. I want every generation to know that they have a family–whether or not their parents are Christians–they have a family that loves them, cares for them, prays for them, and is there for them. They are welcome, they belong, there is a place they can call home. The church needs to be a surrogate family for those whose earthly families don’t follow Jesus or are not safe families. I want to see teens and children be loved by seniors who aren’t their biological grandparents but are their spiritual grandparents (of course, it would be great if their biological grandparents also loved them and helped them along in their faith journey).

Psalm 145:4 isn’t just for parents teaching their own kids (although it does cover that, too). It’s also for each generation within God’s family, the church, to pass their faith on to the generations below them with love, prayer, encouragement, admonishment, teaching, and leading by example. I’m fully in favor of age-appropriate programming and church-family-integration.

Tell Your Son (and Daughter)

“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me…’” (Exodus 13:8a, NIV)

Parents have an incredible amount of influence on their kids. Many of us try to raise our kids to be Christians, but statistics show that the majority of kids raised in church walk away from their faith as young adults. While the reasons for this are many and varied, Dr. Tim Kimmel (author of my all-time favorite parenting book, Grace Based Parenting) points out in his book Why Christian Kids Rebel that many kids see their parents treating faith like a hobby, and follow their example.

There is much that has been written about church programming for youth (see this excellent and challenging article by Marc Yoder). Yet, as important as church programming is (or isn’t–the real importance of the church is not the programming), the primary responsibility to teach kids about the Lord belongs to the parents (or grandparents or legal guardians–whoever is raising the kids). We cannot hand over that responsibility and hope that their Sunday school teachers and youth leaders will do our job for us. Youth and children’s programming is supposed to supplement what kids are getting at home, not replace it. It serves as a catalyst, a resource, a conversation-starter for parents. But we have to do our job as parents, and the most important parental responsibility we have is to teach our kids about Jesus (we can’t make them choose to give their lives to Christ, but we can show them what life with Christ is all about, lead them to the point of decision, and help them follow Jesus if they choose to).

I understand it’s not easy. And, my kids are still little, so I don’t pretend to know how this works with teenagers. All I can say is this: As I was having coffee with the Lord and His Word this morning, Exodus 13:8 kept grabbing my eyes. I asked the Lord why, and in reflecting on the verse two thoughts came to my mind from my own childhood. First, my parents’ faith is genuine and important to them–definitely not a hobby. They lived a real relationship with God in front of us, and their example is still to this day the most powerful influencer of my own faith. Second, my parents never hesitated to do just what Exodus 13:8 says. They told us, “We do this because of what the Lord has done for us.” They talked to us about God in a natural way so that conversations about the Lord became a normal part of life, not some weird, dorky, or forced thing.

I am thankful for my parents. God reminded me this morning that I need to do the same with my kids. My prayer for this week is that you will be gently nudged by the Holy Spirit  to have a conversation with your kids (or grandkids): “I do this because of what the Lord has done for me…”