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.

Faith Comes By Hearing

This is the last of my Advent prayer devotionals. I’m calling us all to pray for the unsaved who were in church services over the Christmas holidays. We’ve had a lot of guests at LakeView the last couple Sundays, and some of them may not know the Lord. If you’re part of a different church, the same is likely true in your congregation as well. Let us not underestimate the power of prayer, but rather bring these people to the Lord and ask Him to move in their hearts.

If you invited someone in the past month, would you mention them by name in your prayer and initiate a conversation with them about where they’re at with God? A natural place to start is by asking them about their visit to LakeView.

Scripture and prayer are below. Merry Christmas!

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NIV)

Lord, I come before You to pray for those who have visited churches in the past few weeks. Thank You for stirring in the hearts of Christians to bring their friends into their church family. Thank You for the opportunities You’ve given me and others to preach the good news of Jesus. Thank You for leading faithful men and women to plan non-threatening events that make it easy to invite a friend.

I ask You now to work in the hearts and minds of the people who’ve walked through our doors. Holy Spirit, convict them, bother them, keep them awake, show them Your power and mercy, heal them by Your love, speak to them, and draw them to Christ. Bring them back into conversations with their friends and family members who are saved.

I also ask that You would embolden our hearts to initiate follow up conversations with those neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends. Give us the opportunities to speak, the courage to speak, and the discernment to know what to say and when to say it. Father, I pray that every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ would see themselves as preachers of the gospel. That what Paul said in Romans 10:15 would be true of them, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Thank You for Your work in and through us. We love You. Amen.

Dealing With Demons

Mark 5:1-20.  In this passage, Jesus invades the kingdom of darkness, binds the Strong Man, and destroys his legions with nothing more than a word of command!  Jesus’s power is unlimited, and through our study of this text, we’ll learn how we can deal with demons in our own lives and our world.

Sermon delivered at LakeView Church on 11/12/2017.

Engaging Worship Services

There have been so many blogs, books, and articles, written about worship style that I could probably read one a day for the rest of my life and still not read them all!  Yet, I’m writing one more… go figure!  When it comes to corporate worship, I believe that the megachurch craze has hurt the church in America.  Megachurches have created unrealistic expectations for both quality and style, and because Christians so often have absolutely zero creativity of their own, many, many, many, many, many smaller churches (in smaller communities) have tried to copycat megachurch music… with varying levels of success failure.  In this blog, I want to consider just one question: how do we create engaging worship services?

First, I think we need to understand the primary goal of a worship service is to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Psalm 29:2a).  The ultimate goal of worship is not to make seekers comfortable, evangelize the lost, reach a new segment of your population, or make people feel sentimental.  Not one of those things is bad, in and of itself; but not one of those things is the primary goal of corporate worship.  Worship is first and foremost about giving glory to God.  Once we understand that, we can move into the waters of seeker sensitive, evangelistic, traditional, contemporary, charismatic, emergent, EPIC, ancient-modern, etc, etc, etc, etc, with a clear head.

If the primary goal of a worship service is for the people who are present to ascribe to God the glory due him, then I think the first question we need to ask in planning a service is, who are the people present?  If your service is a youth service of primarily teens, the type of music and service flow that will engage them in ascribing glory to God may be vastly different than if you’re doing a service at a local nursing home.  Or, if your congregation is mostly blue-collar working class people in a small Midwestern town, you’ll probably find that the type of service they most deeply connect with will be different than a wealthy, professional congregation in a major city like New York.   Likewise, there are similar differences in charismatic vs. non-charismatic churches, ethnically-diverse vs. all-white churches, urban vs. suburban vs. rural churches, etc.

So now you’re already beginning to see the problem of copycatting what a mostly-white, highly-educated, upper-class, suburban megachurch does on Sunday morning.  Their context may be very different from yours (or mine), and therefore your worship service may need to be different in order to more effectively engage your congregation in ascribing to the Lord the glory due his name.

The second question to ask in order to plan an engaging worship service is, who has God given to the church?  God gives people as gifts to a local congregation (see Ephesians 4:11-12).  How has God gifted your congregation?  I do believe that we are called to develop the gifting within the church, but you have to start somewhere.  If God hasn’t given your church any drummers, bass players, or electric guitarists, should you be trying to start a Christian rock band in your worship service?  I believe God equips you to carry out his calling.  If God is calling your church to start a hip-hop worship service, then God will give you hip-hop artists who want to serve your church in that way.  If he hasn’t given your church those artists, then perhaps that’s not the direction he’s calling you to head.

The third question for planning an engaging service is, how can I use the artists God has given us to engage the people who are present in ascribing glory to God?  This is really the heart of the issue at hand, and, it requires deep thought, many conversations, trial and error, and… prayer.  Lots of prayer.  If your church is in a small farm-town in rural Missouri, all white in a town that is 97% white, mostly middle-aged and over because there aren’t a ton of young families in the area; and if God has blessed you with a keyboardist and a couple of guitar players, and a teenager who’s learning to play drum set… then trying to start a hip-hop service, or put together a Christian-radio-pop service, or build an orchestra to play the hymns of Bach probably won’t work well.  You’re not going to engage the people who are there, or use the artists God has given you to work with.

As you wrestle with this third question, here’s what I’ve discovered in over 20 years of worship arts ministry.

Quality + Authenticity > Style

I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter that you’re singing the newest song from Crowder’s American Prodigal album… if your band stinks.  If God hasn’t given you the musicians to play Christian pop-worship with good quality, then either seek a different expression of worship or wait to pull out the Christian pop until you have developed the teen drummer to keep a steady beat.  Here’s a secret: just because Elevation Church is doing it, doesn’t mean your church has to do it!  Quality is critical to engaging people in worship.  So, stop trying to be Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, Northpoint, or Elevation Church.  Be who YOU are, worship with who God has given you, and strive for excellence.  If that means you need to sing older music in order to sing it well, then by all means, sing older music well.

Quality is important.  So is authenticity.  It doesn’t matter that you’re singing Oceans (again) if your congregation isn’t genuinely worshiping.  I’ve been in churches where the band was better than the radio version, but no one was singing!  It was a performance, a show.  The congregation just didn’t engage.  Finding what engages the hearts of your church involves a lot of trial and error.  I grew up in a Pentecostal church.  Planning 35-40 minutes of “open worship” where people could “enter into the throne room of God” and “soak in the presence of the Spirit” worked great in my Pentecostal church.  But, when I took a worship pastor position in a non-charismatic church, I couldn’t figure out why the 35-minute unbroken praise fell flat.  It’s because the people in that church hadn’t learned to enter into or express worship in that way.  The style, flow, and lyrics that they most authentically worshiped with were different than in the church where I grew up.

Unfortunately, megachurches have (imho) created an unrealistic expectation for what Christian worship services are supposed to be.  The seeker-sensitive movement hijacked worship for the glory of God and turned it into a sales-pitch to convince a seeker to buy into this whole Christianity thingy.  But, I think there is hope on the horizon for normal (read, not mega-) churches to consider who, where, and when they are; to consider the artists God has given them to work with; and creatively lead a congregation in authentic worship with excellence.

Whatever you plan for your worship services, remember this: God deserves our best; and God deserves our hearts.  When you have excellence and authenticity, your worship services will not only ascribe glory to the Lord, but they will be engaging for unbelievers who visit your services.  There are few things in this world as effective for evangelism as the sincere worship of God’s people (regardless of the style).

Six Lessons from a Missionary Church

Do you see yourself as a missionary?  Or do you think of a missionary as someone who travels to a foreign country and engages in some sort of full-time ministry as a career?  While we commend, pray for, and encourage people who are called to minister overseas, we also need to recognize that to be a Christian is to be a missionary–if you belong to Christ you are sent as one of his missionaries to your corner of the world.  In this message I was honored to deliver to Pontiac Bible Church, we cover six lessons from a missionary church and how they apply to our lives both personally and collectively.  I hope you are challenged by this Scripture as much as I was when studying it!

The six lessons:

  1. A missionary church is naturally evangelistic.
  2. A missionary church is intentionally cross-cultural.
  3. A missionary church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  4. A missionary church has godly leaders.
  5. A missionary church practices what it preaches.
  6. A missionary church is a ministry church.

Photo by Barry J. Beitzel. Copyright 2014 Faithlife.