Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy, Happy: Joy, Joy

Just recently I read a very challenging blog. In it the writer was taking the pastors of many mega churches to task for preaching the prosperity gospel. That is not what the blogger called it because the author is not deeply enough immersed in the church culture to know insider code words such as “prosperity gospel”. I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes in this article, but it certainly has me thinking. What he was complaining about was the pop-psychology, theology-lite sermons that are preached on Sunday mornings in many churches in North America.
He put it like this: “Feel good! Be happy! Be nice” There you go. I just summed up the message that millions of Christians will be hearing at the mega churches of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many others this weekend. If you were planning to go, now there’s no need.  You’re welcome. In fact, if you’re driving there and you see a “Don’t worry, be happy” bumper sticker on the back of someone’s minivan, you might as well turn around and head home. That’s about all you were going to hear when you got there anyway. Sure, they might come up with more compelling ways to communicate it, but in the end, when you dig past the charisma and the personality of the pastors who utter this gibberish, this is all you’re really left with. An episode of Barney. Syrup and sugar. A smile and a pat on the head. A self-help speech.”1
I certainly understand Mr. Walsh taking a shot, in my opinion a quite accurate shot, at pastors of many, but not all, mega churches. Such pastors are large and easy targets. And many of them do consistently serve up non-nourishing, mushy textured nothingness to their congregations. It is appealing and easy to swallow but isn't spiritually helpful. But they are certainly not the only preachers doing this and they did not invent the process. We mainline denominational pastors, who love to hate those mega church pastors, have been doing it for years.
We are not as blatant. We do not say that God’s basic will for your life is that you will be fat, happy, rich and trouble free. Instead we talk about stuff that doesn’t really matter. In our congregations it doesn’t matter what we say as long as it is not challenging. Most of our people don’t come to church to be challenged, they come to be congratulated, calmed, soothed, and taught theology. Not practical theology; instead, theology that reminds us how much God loves us and thinks we are the bees knees. Compelling and challenging sermons are seen as an affront to our intelligence. How dare we, the pastors, assume to speak to them about the realities and practicalities of life?
On Sunday morning in the “normal” church one hears what sounds like a lecture by a history professor or a feel-good pop psychology talk or a deep and convoluted study of the scriptures in the original language that is impossible to follow or a cute little homily with little to feed the soul. Some churches I have attended remind me of an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show with everyone leaving singing a rousing rendition of “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.”
The most frightening aspect of modern day sermons is the lack of confrontation of our sinful lives. God is presented as some type of pleasant fellow who loves us like a grandfather and thinks whatever we do is just wonderful. And anyone who says different is a fundamentalist, legalist, narrow-minded, hate monger who is anti-Christ. Since the ultimate good in our culture is not righteousness, but is niceness, we need to get our feet off of the sin pedal. I think it was Rob Bell who articulated this idea best in his book, Love Wins. Basically his book boils down to the idea, there is no hell because God is much too nice to send anyone there. I have trouble with Rev. Bell’s conclusion since it is my belief that God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose to go there and wouldn’t be happy in heaven. The stuff that goes on in heaven is not the least bit appealing to them. Because, for the unrepentant, it is all about me. And the glimpses we get of heaven in Scripture tell us  it is all about God.
My concern with the church’s present approach to sharing truth was summed up several years ago by A. W. Tozer when he wrote: “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.” Are we present day preachers going to someday stand before God and answer for the hazy, shallow, culturally acceptable, happy, happy, joy, joy crap sermons we have preached? I believe we will. And it is a scene I don’t even want to think about. Because I am pretty sure at that point Mr. Nice Guy God is not going to be all that nice.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dealing with Challenging People in the Church

Having been around for a long time, I have often heard people describe their churches as being like “a family.” That description causes me to think. I have been a part of churches like that: a family—a profoundly dysfunctional family. Most congregations live with strained relationships. The strained relationships in a congregation are rarely brought out on the table and talked about—dysfunctional behavior.
Our motivation toward inaction may be to believe talking about the problem would not be polite. Somehow we have developed the idea that, as Christians, we must be nice and that being nice means putting up with other people’s poor behavior. Perhaps we fear that talking about our problems will just make them worse. Or that a fight might break out. We live in the hope that, if we ignore our problems, they will just go away. But they don’t. They just remain under the surface and fester, and the church family remains dysfunctional.

But somehow even occasional visitors to worship services sense the tension that our unresolved problems cause. The visitors can’t quite put their fingers on what it is about the church that bothers them, but they are not interested in becoming a part of that church family. You certainly can’t blame them. Most of them feel that if they wanted to fight, they could just stay home on Sunday morning. That would have worked in my family.

For whatever reason or reasons, churches tend to ignore broken relationships and pretend that there is nothing wrong with their problem people. One of the first difficult things a leader will find himself or herself doing in revitalization is confronting some longtime members about their unacceptable behavior. Soon after arriving at Faith Christian Church in Omaha, Nebraska, Doug Pfeiffer confronted old problems. Doug approached these hurts and problems head on. In his words, “The church continued to struggle with the sudden and misunderstood departure of the long-term former pastor. We talked about this incident head on when it surfaced. Another was long-standing feuds between families and leaders. We dealt with conflict and dealt with it head on—bringing parties together to talk through the issues.” Doug’s loving but no-nonsense approach soon led his church beyond these problems and helped prepare the church for transformation.

Like many families, many churches have people who control those around them by using anger whenever something doesn’t go their way. Churches find themselves tiptoeing around their problem people and not even suggesting some new ministries for fear of setting off those people. I have difficulty understanding why churches often not only attract people with borderline personality disorders but often move those people into positions of leadership. Such people take it as their calling in life to keep the church from having a positive impact in their community.

Hasn’t every church had something proposed and found that a vast majority of the people, if not excited about the proposal, are at least willing to give it a try? Then someone begins to complain. They complain and gather a couple more complainers into their corner. Suddenly, a perfectly good ministry is stopped in its tracks because a vocal minority is against it. The minority rules because we don’t want to make anyone angry. Well, that’s not true. We probably make lots of people very angry while we are working so hard on keeping Mr. Cranky happy. The “new people” who proposed the new ministry, quietly leave the church, things remain the same, and some old-time members wonder what ever happened to that nice young couple who joined last year.

Possibly the church’s hurts, heartaches, and brokenness are in the distant past. Most people may counsel the leadership to leave well enough alone. I would urge a church to have a healing service. In that service, the church (people) would write on small pieces of paper the hurts and disappointments they have suffered. These could be brought to the altar where a prayer of forgiveness and healing would be offered. The people could be urged in the following week to seek reconciliation wherever possible.

If the people who have broken relationships still attend the church, it is very important to get those folks into the same room for a healing service. They need to talk about the circumstances of their strained relationship, hear what each other has to say, ask for forgiveness, and pray with and for each other. This is easier said than done. Most people will do almost anything to avoid such a “confrontation.” But once it has happened, it is amazing to feel the difference in the atmospheric pressure in the church.

These cranky barrier people and guardians of the status quo often wield great power in the life of the church. Often, they have been around a long time, have taken on some of the most difficult and unpopular jobs in the church (such as teaching junior high boys or chairing the evangelism committee), or have worked hard to position themselves in key leadership roles. Other church members would rather do anything to keep them where they are so they don’t get stuck with that job. Somehow we get the idea that seniority matters in the church and that if one has seniority then he or she wields extra power and influence. As members of the church board, they have convinced other members that the job of the board is to keep any new things presented from happening. The board, and some church lay leaders who no longer serve on the board but are perceived to have power, become the gatekeepers and keep the church safe from change. These guardians have several methods of controlling the direction of the church. As much as we hate to face it, many of these methods are unhealthy. Acceptance of such behavior by others in the church is why many church systems are dysfunctional. Among the weapons in the guardians’ arsenals are: temper tantrums, threats to withhold financial support, leaving the church and trying to influence as many as possible to come with them, gathering allies and attacking (usually just verbally) those who disagree with them, and demanding that the pastor resign.

Such behavior must not be tolerated. It must be confronted and named for what it is. Most people don’t care for confrontation. I know I don’t. But if one is going to truly be a leader, he must learn the art of positive, healthy confrontation. In fact, willingness to confront negative, unhealthy behavior in the church is a sign of leadership. It takes courage, prayer, faith, and a deep love for the church to confront people in the church who are damaging the church by their unhealthy, hurtful behavior. Such confrontation should be done in private meetings, but the leader should never go into such a meeting alone. Doing so sets one up to be misunderstood, misquoted, and misrepresented. Always do confrontation with at least one witness who has credibility in the church. At times a leader has no choice but to confront a problem of a problem person in a public forum. This should be done only when you are left with no alternatives.

Dealing with problem people is something that does not need to be done very often. Just as problem people get reputations in the church around their behavior, a leader willing to confront problems and problem people also quickly gets a reputation. People soon come to understand that poor behavior will not be tolerated; and such behavior quickly ceases, or problem people quickly move on to other churches or organizations where their behavior will be tolerated. But we are slow to do the needed confrontation because confrontation doesn’t seem nice.

Sometimes it is difficult to deal with problems and problem people because of the subtle methods they use or because of their passive/aggressive behavior. But sooner or later the opposition will rise to the surface. It is important to know this so that the church leadership is not blindsided by the opposition. Rev. Judy Turner tells of an experience she had several years ago, early in her work of church transformation. “Some of the leaders opposed passively, not showing up or participating in new gatherings or groups I initiated. Others expressed ‘concern’ to me about how many people were upset by what I was doing. When I was on vacation, some of the congregation got together and signed a letter asking me to resign, which arrived by certified mail when I returned.” This attempt at sabotaging her ministry instead led to confrontation that enabled her to move ahead with the transformation of the church.

It is important to keep in mind that some of the old guard, though not necessarily in favor of some changes that need to be made, can probably live with the changes. Pastor Brad Powell of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan, gives some excellent advice in dealing with longtime members in times of transformation and change. “Unfortunately, leaders sometimes make the mistake of seeing these veterans as the enemy. While some people do become negative and disruptive, they’re still God’s people who have given sacrificially to start, build, and grow the church. The goal isn’t to get rid of them, but to get them so committed to being like Jesus that they’re willing to sacrifice what they love to reach those whom God loves.”


Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Finding Our Way: Sign Posts Along the Way

As we journey on our way toward spiritual maturity we will observe signposts along the way. We will call these Benchmarks and Landmarks. They are things available to let us know we are going the right direction – that we are making progress – the we are growing.

Spiritual growth and spiritual maturity are much less about what you know and much more about who you are.

Just this past week my wife sent me this quote from Henry Blackaby. "Christianity is not a set of teachings to understand. It is a Person to follow. As he walked with Jesus, Andrew watched Jesus heal the sick, teach God's wisdom, and demonstrate God's power.  Andrew not only learned about God; he actually experienced Him! Moments will come when you stand at a crossroads with your Lord. You will have a hundred questions for Him. Rather than answering the questions one by one, Jesus may say, "Put on your shoes, step out onto the road, and follow Me." As you walk daily with Him, Jesus will answer your questions, and you will discover far more than you even knew to ask."

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Spiritual growth and maturity cannot be measured but spiritual growth can be observed. Just ask a few questions.

How well you know and understand God? How open you are in your relationship with God? How much control of your life and decisions have you given God? What is the time span between something happening and your turning to God? How you treat others? How is your temper? What do you spend your time and money on? How much time do you invest into the lives of others?

We are navigatingh some very difficult terrain on this journey of the Christian life.

  • The Christian life is not a spectator sport or a reality TV show.
  • Too often we think we know something because we have heard about it and too often we think we have been somewhere because we have seen pictures of the place.
  • Spiritual maturity is not just how much you know, it is how much you know that you are doing.
  • In churches I pastor we don’t often offer strictly Bible content classes.
  • In a Bible Study you learn things about the Bible. That is good but that is not enough.
  • I don’t think my experience is unusual in that some of the most immature and meanest people I have ever met know lots about the Bible.
  • That is because too often I have seen people take a class, hear some information and think they know it.
  • We must understand that we don’t know it until we are doing it.

James puts it in these words. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25)

In attempting to produce mature disciples growing, healthy churches are more interested in Bible application classes than in just Bible information classes. We call these Life Groups. As you learn more about how God wants us to live, in the safe confines of your Life Group, you also learn how to do it. The Life Group provides a safe place to try and fail and try again surrounded by people who love you and will not judge you but will help you.

One must be motivated in the journey to ask, “Where am I in the process?” We must be willing to discover and follow some of the signposts along the way.

Several years ago a pastor friend shared with me a conversation he had with one of his church leaders that caused me to think what we are doing as a church is not necessarily producing spiritually maturing disciples. Scott told me this. “The elder I am telling you about was responding to my challenge to the Elders to become a part of a Life (Small) Group.  His response to my encouragement was, ‘Getting to know God is admirable, but we do have lives outside of church you know.’” What that elder was saying was he didn’t have time to invest in spiritual maturity. This is not a response I would expect from an Elder.

Along the same lines I read an interesting article in a church newsletter. It had to do with the resignation of one of the church’s Elders. The Elder was resigning for some, to me, rather curious reasons. The Elder stated, in his letter of resignation, that he was leaving the Elder Board to free up more of his time so he could lead a Bible study and invest time in mentoring some of the younger men in the church. From my perspective it sounded like he was resigning from being an Elder so he could have the time to be an Elder. What, I wonder, do Elders do in that church?

So what are some self-tests can one use to measure one’s spiritual growth and find where he or she is in the process. To do this we can look at the journey in stages much as we look at our physical maturity: Infant; Child; Young Adult; Mature Adult.


Things they say:

  • Why do I need to go to church?
  • I was hurt at church so I will never go back.
  • I didn’t know the Bible said that.
  • Jesus is real but so is Karma.
  • If I pray and read the Bible occasionally that should be good enough.


Things they say:

  • It is just me and Jesus. I don’t need the church.
  • Don’t branch my small group into two. I like my group and don’t ever want it to change.
  • The church is getting too big and I don’t know everybody.
  • No one is helping me enough.
  • I didn’t like the music in worship today.
  • I’m not being spiritually fed.
  • The pastor doesn’t pay enough attention to me.

Young Adults

Things they say:

  • I love my group but there are others who need a group so perhaps we should start a new group.
  • With some help I could lead a group.
  • I couldn’t find a close parking space Sunday morning. Awesome!
  • I noticed there isn’t a ministry to care for older members. Do you think I could start one?
  • I missed Randy at church. I think I’ll call and make sure everything is okay.

Adults (Mature Disciples)

Things they say:

  • A friend at work has a Biblical question. Pray for me as I attempt to answer it for him.
  • The church is having a mission trip. I think I’ll volunteer to lead it.
  • A member of our small group is getting baptized. I will ask him if he needs a mentor.
  • I have come to realize that spiritual growth happens at home. I need someone to hold me accountable for discipling my children.

These are some great questions to ask yourself to find where you are on the path toward spiritual maturity; to find where you are and dedicate yourself to the process of maturing.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding our Way: Tools for Travel

As we live this thing called the Christian life, we are on a spiritual journey.
I have heard many people say that the important thing is the journey, not the destination. I believe the destination because if it is all about the journey without the destination in mind, that is called being lost. Jesus said that he came to seek and to save the lost. We can’t be on a journey with Jesus and still be lost.

We must keep in mind that there is a DESTINATION. Sometime we act as if our journey ends at accepting Christ. But this is be beginning point of our spiritual journey. The apostle Peter put it like this. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Contrary to popular thought, our destination it is not heaven only. We have been called out of darkness into His WONDERFUL LIGHT. We live in a very dark world (spiritually) that could be called the Kingdom of Darkness. We are moving into the Kingdom of God. As we respond to that call, we must now journey out of that darkness.

We can make the journey because we are now children of God. We are people who have received God’s mercy.

The journey before us is a process to conform us to the image of Christ. The journey may not be easy, convenient or without huge challenges. But whatever we must endure it is worth it to become the people wants us to be. We read of this in Ephesians. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

In Ephesians Paul tells us what God’s plan is. We exist as a church in order that believers can grow up, become mature and attaining the full measure of Christ. In Colossians he speaks more to the practicalities of this change, this journey.Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:5-10)

We must gather some tools for traveling on our journey. When we take a trip we gather what we need. When I was young we made sure we had a map and compass. Now we program our GPS device, make sure the car is in good shape, stash away some money, pack what we will need and load up the car.

Preparing for our spiritual journey we gather a Bible, some prayer, the Holy Spirit, load up with the family of God.

I believe we see some best practices to move toward spiritual maturity in looking at what the early church did. “They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.  They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

I learned several year ago that a healthy Christian does the following things consistently: Worship; Personal Quiet Time & Bible Study; participation in a Life Group; involvement in an ongoing Ministry.

In his writings Andy Stanley tells us that research has shown that there are Five Things God Uses to Grow Our Faith.

  1. Practical Teaching – Teaching that shows in practical ways how to apply God’s word and God’s spiritual values to the living of our daily lives. These are taught from the pulpit, in Sunday School Classes and in our Life Groups.
  2. Private Disciplines – Learning to practice personal spiritual disciplines on a regular basis. Some of these disciplines are: Prayer; Scripture Reading, Study and Meditation; Solitude; Silence; Fasting;
  3. Personal Ministry – Being involved in a hands-on, consistent, practical ministry that impacts those who are seeking to grow with the faith community and for those who presently reside outside of the influence of the church. Some of these would be: working with the church’s youth; leading a small group; serving on a church Ministry Team; feeding the hungry; working in homeless shelters; handing out water to people walking; supporting out ministries in Memphis; giving rides to appointments;
  4. Providential Relationships – These are relationships with Godly people who can and will be available to us for support and counsel when difficulties arise in our lives. These relationships are developed and nurtured in the context of our Life Groups.
  5. Pivotal Circumstances – Life provides these. Every life, if we live long enough, has challenges, disappointments, traumas and heartaches. How we respond to them will either draw us closer to God or turn us away from God.

If you will actively and consistently do these five things I can just about guarantee you will grow spiritually.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Finding Our Way: Finding a Guide

Let us begin with the basic truth that The Christian Life is a JOURNEY. It is a journey toward spiritual maturity. It begins with our spiritual birth. Much as we do in our physical lives, we grow and develop as Christians. That growth can be done well and produce a healthy, mature believer – or not. It won’t just happen. If we don’t work toward maturity we just grow old. Unfortunately, in my lifetime I have seen more old Christians than I have encountered mature Christians. Not a judgment; just an observation.

Our spiritual journey could be an impossible journey. It is impossible to complete if we do not begin. It is impossible if we do not first know where we are and then know where we are going. Jesus put it like this: You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5)

We are on a very simple yet very difficult journey. Don’t confuse the two. Simple doesn’t always mean easy. Especially when it comes to following God. One of my favorite preachers is Charles Swindoll. Several years ago, referring to the Christian life, he said when he first entered the Christian Life: “Gee, this is easy.” About a year into it he said: “Wow, this is difficult.” In the next year he said, “This is impossible.” And it was at this point that he felt God answered him and said, “Yes it is and I have just where I want you.” We don’t decide to be a Christian and then make it a do-it-yourself project. If we do we will invariably screw it up. We are warned in this short piece of scripture. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

To begin and complete this journey we must first get on the path. We will never grow spiritually if you are not born spiritually. One must be born before one can grow. Jesus gave this advice. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:5-8)

As we take this journey we discover that it is dark and there are many hazards in our way. We live in the Kingdom of Darkness and are traveling into the Kingdom of God. The church serves as outposts of love and life in this present darkness. Travel in the dark is difficult and dangerous. For centuries nocturnal travel was rare.

Many things and people call us off the path. “Before every man there lies a wide and pleasant road that seems right but ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We find that it is easy to get off that track. Many things sidetrack us: We get busy; We pursue a life of comfort and ease; We are comfortable adopting a worldly world view and value system – a common but ungodly value system.

To avoid this and to stay on the path we would do well to engage a Guide. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6) Many theologians don’t like this statement. They are uncomfortable because in our multicultural world, it makes Christians seem narrow-minded. (And there is no greater sin than narrow-mindedness.) I don’t believe it is a theological statement: I believe it is a practical statement. Sometimes when giving directions we realize there is only one way to go from here to there. I can tell you from experience that if you want to get to Wilmore, Kentucky, there is only one way. You don’t go through Wilmore on the way to someplace else. There is one road in. Take that or go cross country. And what better guide than someone who has walked the path before us? Who better to show us the way to God than God’s own Son?

Too often we think we have arrived when we have only arrived at the starting point. Christianity is a growing relationship with God, not a religion designed to get us to heaven. Heaven is a bonus. Christianity is about living life in the here and now. Jesus put it like this: “I have come that you might have life and have that life to the fullest.”

My reading of the New Testament tells me that Jesus is not interested in or impressed by religious people. He did not hang out with religious people. He did not seem to get along well with the religious people of his time. Looking at religious people throughout history tells us that religious people can be misled and can even be dangerous.  In our time we have proof of this by being exposed to radical Christians and Muslims. God talk is not the same as following God and growing spiritually. Again looking at the words of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christianity is more than accepting Jesus and getting our ticket punched to go to heaven. This limited concept of Christianity leads to some sadly shallow and almost silly discussions of the concept of salvation. I have heard questions like, “What about my Uncle Ray who accepted Christ but still beats Aunt Mary?  Is he still going to heaven?” What do you think? But what about us church people? We may no longer blatantly sin, but is it obvious to the casual and not so casual observer that you and I are children of God? Our Religiousness doesn’t necessarily move us forward on the pathway to life and spiritual maturity.

The key is to get to know Jesus and letting Jesus get to know us. It is a relationship. His ultimate criticism of what seem to be some very religious people is “I NEVER KNEW YOU.” What will Jesus say when he sees you? My hope is that he says, “Hi Bill. I’ve been expecting you.”

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The REAL Reasons People Don’t Attend Church

Over the past few months I have been reading many articles and blogs on the subject of why people don’t go to church. It is a popular subject for those of us who are concerned with dwindling attendance at Sunday worship in our churches.

We (Church lay leaders and pastors) think people should come to church for several reasons.

  • It is what we do. If it is important to me, it should be important to you.
  • We like the people in our churches.
  • When people don’t show up, we feel like failures.
  • When people don’t show up we think they don’t like our preaching. (We preachers have rather fragile egos.)
  • We really do think church attendance can have a positive effect on your life and is good for you.
  • Churches spend most of their energies, time and resources preparing for Sunday worship so small attendance figures are disappointing.
  • Attendance on Sunday mornings is one of the basic ways we measure success.

So we church leaders are very concerned when you don’t show up to worship. We worry about it. We study the phenomenon. We talk at length about it. It is the central topic of discussion at our staff meetings. Articles and blogs are written on the subject every week. Why, we want to know, are fewer and fewer people attending church worship services?

The answer is easy. People don’t go to church because they don’t want to. I’m sure there are many reasons for them to feel this way.

  • Non churchgoers believe they have better things to do than spend most of Sunday morning sitting in a church worship service. It looks like a waste of time.
  • They believe church sounds boring.
  • Church people sound like they would be no fun to be around – serious and more interested in rules than people.
  • There are some pretty interesting news programs on Sunday morning television.
  • We are watching the Breaking Bad marathon this weekend.
  • Taking up Sunday morning with church shoots a hole in the day.
  • The family wants to go away for the weekend.
  • Living the Christian life (really living it) is very difficult.
  • If church is so unattractive perhaps heaven is too.
  • It’s a whole lot easier to make up my own God and worship him, her or it at my convenience.

I can understand why the self-made God many in our culture choose to worship is so alluring. Allow me to share an email from an old friend that speaks to this allure.

Dear Bill,

Just a thought I want to share.

So I heard some woman the other day say:

"Oh I took a walk in the woods and I just felt so close to God and it was wonderful and warm feelings and happy and fuzzy and nice things and smile" and so forth and so on.

After a moment I thought "What the heck?  When I feel close to God....He tells me to do stuff!  And it's usually stuff I don't want to do.  I mean stuff like "Get involved more"  "What have you been doing lately?"  "You haven't read your Bible much lately...but you've got time for Facebook, I see"  "Some kids need a scholarship for Bible camp"  "Have you been praying for your guys in your Men’s Group?"

God is not always warm and fuzzy and surrounded by flowers.

There are many reasons that I attend church on Sundays. Central to them all is a belief that it is where God wants me to be.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Theology-lite Church

I make it a policy to avoid negativity. One of the factors that dictate the content of my sermons is that they should not speak of other faith traditions in disparaging way. I have had other preachers in my pulpit who only lasted one out of three services. That was because they didn’t believe me when I said, “We don’t talk badly about any other church.” They either failed to believe me or they just could not help themselves.
But over the past years as I have served a church in Memphis, something has been happening on Sunday mornings that is driving me nuts. As I prepare for worship I leave the radio on to the same station that was the alarm that woke me. On this particular station, which I chose because it is a strong signal and doesn’t fade, there is a fundamentalist preacher on (Same one every week) who is preaching against something. He is preaching against people who disagree with his theology, his view of science and his world view. I find it interesting because I have yet to hear what he is in favor of. And he rarely mentions Jesus. If one is going to be a fundamentalist at least preach about Jesus. He is my role model (Bad example) to keep me positive.
This poor guy is so tied up in his theology and rules and defending them against all comers that he doesn’t have the time to talk about Jesus and love and grace and forgiveness. This guy is the poster child for not being a fundamentalist.
My particular brand of protestant Christianity (Read denomination) proudly proclaims that we are not encumbered by doctrine or a doctrinal statement. That should work well in our current culture where being a “none” is very popular. A “none” is a person who describes him or herself as spiritual but not religious. A “none” is a spiritual person who is unencumbered by church theology and is making it up as they go. A great way to go since that way I can design my own God who approves of everything I do or fail to do. Instead of, as the Bible says, being created in God’s image, one is able to create a God in one’s own image.
Early in my life as a clergyperson I would occasionally field phone calls from people who, for varied reasons, wanted to know what my church believed about the second coming of Christ, or baptism or abortion or salvation and on and on. They would generally become hostile when I said we have no doctrine and no stated beliefs on any of those subjects. Before angrily hanging up on me, nost intimated that they thought me a gutless liar unwilling to stand up for what I believed. More than once I was told, “If you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.”
We say that we have no doctrine but when asked, the average clergy of my denomination will rattle off a pretty substantial list of the things one needs to believe or least accept. Unfortunately, like most groups who envision themselves as open and accepting, we tend to only be accepting of people who think like we do. Those other stupid people are, at best, to be tolerated. Like most groups the rule is: if you are smart you believe what we believe and if you don’t, you are stupid. We have an unwritten doctrinal statement and we are very protective of it.
I did attend a seminary (Not one of “ours”.) that taught systematic theology. They knew exactly what they believed and taught it well. Of course, me being me, I didn’t agree with their theology and spent much of my seminary class time arguing with my professors and classmates. It was very stimulating. And my professors were awesome Christian gentlemen who made such discussions a joy to engage in. (Yes I know about ending a sentence in a preposition. I just don’t care.) There is some things good to say about systematic theology. It helps one be consistent in one’s belief system. It causes one to have some foundational theology upon which to build a belief system. (That sentence could have been simpler but I didn’t want to end it in a preposition.)
Being a part of a doctrine-less church has its pitfalls and shortcomings. One is that we are inconsistent in our theology. We tend to believe things that, if true, are diametrically opposed to each other. Another is that we sometimes lack a foundation for our belief system and that causes us to wander and be open to believe the next best thing that comes down the pike. We lack a systematic method to measure and filter a new thought or theological concept. We lack a measuring stick, a foundation, when we see the Bible as a book that can be discounted when it fails to agree with what we choose to believe on this particular day.
It seems to me that if we have any basic and foundational theological concept it is that we have to be nice, agreeable and accommodating. Several decades ago we dropped any reference to sin and canceled hell around that same time. Our theology is constantly in flux; God is ever changing and right and wrong is a matter of opinion. As one very popular author said, love wins. That conclusion is based on a rather shallow and syrupy concept of love. Love, when seen through the lens of the God of the Bible, is a love that challenges and disciplines. It is not always nice but it is always loving.
I like being a part of a theology-lite church. But it is a dangerous place to hang out. One must really pay attention if one is to survive as a part of this church.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon.