Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sometimes God sends you a reminder about what is important

Yesterday I had coffee with a great college age guy who used to go to our church.  What made him stop going to our church and start going somewhere else?  Well, as is often the case in our denomination, and sadly so, somebody else told him about Jesus in a way that made him want to give his life to Him and he did.  Yes, cue the chorus of "Once I Was A Lutheran But Now I'm Saved."  You have to understand that I'm very happy for this young man.  He has a vibrant faith and is fully devoted to following Christ.  Praise God, the kingdom gains one even if our church looses one and I'm certainly not keeping score.  

So there are two BIG, make that HUGE, questions that any pastor in my position has to ask himself.  1.)  Why didn't this kid come into a relationship with Jesus at our church?  and 2.) What's this church got that we haven't got?  Because it's my blog, I choose to answer number 2 first and maybe number 1 in a subsequent installment.  I know the answer to number 1 but it's complicated to explain.

So what's this other church doing that hooked this young man?  Well, we spent a lot of time talking about it, he and I, and I want to share with you what I heard:  

1.  This other church is intentional about leading people, especially young people, to Christ.  That's why they exist, it's their mission, it's reflected in their values, it's their reason de etre, it's who they are as a church.  They have a strategy for reaching this city and especially the students in this city,  and it's working.  Everyone who attends this church knows why this church exists and they all help to fulfill the mission.  OK, let's summarize like this:  this church has a vision, it's easy to understand, everyone knows it, believes it, and most importantly, does it.
2.  In the nearly two hours we were together, I heard him reference the good teaching of the other church.  Teaching is important.  People are listening.  If you don't take the time to teach people the truth about Jesus they wont get it.  You have to do the work.  Sometimes at pastor's conferences in our denomination I just want to throw up.  Why?  Well, lots of reasons but chiefly because our pastors think there is a difference between preaching and teaching.  Teaching is for weeknights, they say, and preaching is for Sunday mornings.  The problem is that so often their sermons don't teach anything.  They proclaim something but they fail to seal the deal by explaining the who, what, where, when and why.  I can't tell the difference between preaching and teaching.  They are the same to me.  Because if you're preaching without teaching you're wasting your time.  
3.  Back to #2.  In all that time talking about the good teaching he heard on Sundays and during the week, this guy never once referenced a particular pastor.  There wasn't any hint of a cult of personality.  There wasn't one statement about "Pastor Jim's sermons have really changed my life."  This lack of acknowledgement of the preacher really struck me.  I asked him why it was that he didn't talk about a particular teacher/preacher.  He said that was because all the teaching was from the Bible and no matter which pastor was doing it it was all good.  Praise God!  I love his comments because so often in churches we get hung up on who is preaching instead of the what.
4.  This church has multiple campuses (campi?) and plans more.  They have one for the north side, one downtown, and one in the western suburbs.  They even have a worship service on the Drake Campus weekly.  They also may get a another location in West Des Moines.  I know some people think multiple site churches are just building empires.  But the truth is they are helping to expand the kingdom.  The reason they have these campuses isn't to say, "Look at us!," its so that their target audience, namely students, doesn't have difficulty in attending.  Kids can't drive across town all the time.  Why not make it easy for them.
5.  Life changing small groups.  Outreach is done by forming groups at schools.  This allows for discipleship to happen and also keeps everyone on task.  When a new person joins the group they instantly become part of a community that loves them and continues to help them grow up in the Lord.  
6.  Life changing small groups that hold each other accountable.  How is your walk with the Lord going?  With what are you struggling?  What do you need prayer for?  In most churches, there is no system of accountability.  I'd say there is no attempt at accountability.  You just come to church, listen to the teacher and then go to lunch.  But how do you live out what you believe?  How does it work?  Who is going to help keep you on task during the week?  You need a group of believers who love you and will hold you to the standard of Jesus.  
7.  This particular young man is very close to one of the pastors at this church and all I can say is that it sure sounds like they practice what they preach.  
8.  It occurs to me that in order to have this kind of vision, to reach the students of our city with the Gospel, this church must have a heart for this city and for the lost.  They must really love people in order to want them to be saved.  Wow.  

So there are eight things.  There's a lot more, I'm sure, but that's what struck me in the last 24 or so hours and I wanted to share it with you.  It was a very encouraging conversation for me because it reminds me where we need to be going and also encourages me to think that by being in the word of God together and building our church upon that Word, we can get there and experience together biblical community and together see our lives and the lives of others changed and transformed by Christ.  Keep the faith. 

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