Monday, April 13, 2015

Spirit-less Church

During this past Holy Week, in an effort to be renewed and challenged, I was again reading A. W. Tozer. His writings consistently challenge me and often just plain gets under my skin. Which I believe is a good thing. His words often jar me from the semi-comatose thing I call life.
Like many Christians of our culture, I spend much time and energy making sure I am safe and comfortable – as Pink Floyd put it, “Comfortably Numb.” Too often we seem to work on being comfortable and numb in this journey we call life. I doubt this is what God has in mind for us. The life of ease and comfort most of us powerfully pursue keeps us completely out of sync with what God is seeking to do in and with our lives. The Christian life is both difficult and challenging. I quote another author who challenges me, G. K. Chesterton, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Over the years I have had occasional glimpses of people and groups practicing the Christian life in ways that remind me of the stories of the early church recorded in Acts. Those occasions have been exciting, challenging and a little unnerving.
As I have rumbled along working hard to do this thing called “church”, especially during the busyness of Holy Week, I was brought up short by a Tozer quote. He said, “I remind you that there are churches so completely out of the hands of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn't find it out for many months” (Tozer Pulpit) Ouch, that will leave a mark. It is much too close to the truth to gloss over, ignore or to pretend it is intended for someone else. As I look at the modern (or postmodern) church, it is obvious he has hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, more often than I like to admit, I am the nail.
It is not like Christian leaders don’t care. Many of us study, plan and innovate in an effort to lead the church into a new and productive age. We worry about, pray about and talk amongst ourselves about the seeming coming demise of the church, as we know it. We do almost everything in our power to correct what we perceive to be wrong about the church that is causing it to lose both membership and impact in our communities. And, frankly, though we prefer to believe differently, our efforts are not very effective. Occasionally small pockets of improvement are notice but those are few and far between. And when we do see something work, our human nature kicks right in and we seek to codify it, copy it, reproduce it and ultimately institutionalize it. We do that again and again even though it rarely, if ever, produces good results.
I suggest we invite God into the situation. I know that sounds like a self-righteous and cynical statement but I believe it to be true. Too often we do church as if God neither exists nor cares about the church. Habitually we turn to God as a last resort. We church leaders generally like Jesus (Though his popularity has been waning.) We seem to be more inclined to talk about God than to talk about Jesus. Perhaps God is a bit more “vague” and more distant and theologically safe than Jesus. If one has read the New Testament one then has to deal with some of the difficult and radical things Jesus said and did. Though, if they are too problematic we have the option to just declare they didn’t really happen. In some ways we find Jesus to be too upfront and personal. He is difficult to hold off at arm’s length and tends to invade our personal space. And then there is the Holy Spirit. We hardly mention the Holy Spirit and often act as if the Holy Spirit didn’t exist. As my friend, Dave Hussing used to say, “There are two kinds of good ideas, and you just had a bad good idea.”
In my theological understanding, the Holy Spirit is Jesus with us in the here and now. Jesus told us that it is to our advantage that He leaves so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us. Unfortunately Jesus’ statement that, “apart from me you can do nothing”, runs counterintuitive with our basic nature to believe we can do anything. As my oldest daughter informed me when she was a toddler and I was attempting to help her, “Don’t help. I can do it myself.”
There are several possible reasons why we leave the Holy Spirit out of the mix when doing church. (I don’t mean to be harsh, but we must take a hard look at the phenomenon.)
  1. The truth is we can do okay without God’s help or intervention, including doing church. It is a subtle temptation. But we must ask: 1. Is what we are doing what God expects? and 2. Couldn’t we do better with God in the mix?
  2. Unfortunately we are so sure of our great intelligence and wisdom that we rarely think to ask God for wisdom and direction. Too often inviting God into the church doesn’t even occur to us.
  3. Including the Spirit in church makes many of us preacher types nervous because we intuitively know that doing so will cause us to lose control. And we really like having control.
  4. We may have lost touch with the Holy Spirit. We have studied about the Spirit but we lack personal experience of the Spirit. When speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of today I am reminded of a story recorded in Acts 19:1-2. And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, ’We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’" The church of America seems inclined to do church as if we have never even heard there was a Holy Spirit. And perhaps we haven’t.
  5. Many feel the Pentecostals and the Charismatics have taken the Holy Spirit thing over the top, given it a bad name, made it socially unacceptable and we feel more comfortable erring on the side of less Holy Spirit and more social acceptability.
  6. Perhaps it is due to a lack of faith and trust. Do we really trust God for the wellbeing of the church? Can we trust God for the “success” of the church?
I am not suggesting we do nothing and expect the church to grow and be effective. But I am suggesting we rely on the Holy Spirit of God to guide us, direct us, and empower us and to provide the growth of the church. We would do well to embrace the words of God to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6. “So he answered and said to me: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts.”
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, March 24, 2015

The Children Shall Lead Them

This past weekend my church was blessed to host the Watoto African Children’s Choir. They were marvelous. The program was wonderful, (Click here to get a preview) but the children were even better. They were warm, well behaved, faith-filled, loving, kind and everything one would want their own children to be. I fully realize they have been trained and prepared for their tour of the United States, but the way they behaved goes way beyond training. Many of our church members, especially those who hosted the children and adults in their homes, were deeply moved and had life changing experiences. They told me their stories and tried to explain what had happened but couldn’t find the words. I believe that is because it is impossible to explain when our lives are touched by God’s Holy Spirit. These children can only be described as spirit filled.

Every host was anxious to tell me of their experiences. The stories were all different and they were all the same. The children were delightful. And the children prayed for them and with them. Everyone had a powerful and moving experience interacting with the children. They were touched with their open lovingness and deep spirituality. They couldn’t believe pre-teens and teenagers could have such a dynamic relationship with God. It forced them to stop and reevaluated their own relationship with God and their own spiritual growth. One dear friend was brought to tears every time she mentioned the children.

My question (I always have questions.) is “Why?” Why is the Watoto Church producing young Christians with such appealing faith, joyous living, and spiritual depth? It is something that we in the North American church rarely see. Some of the difference has to do with our cultures. The Watoto church is located in Uganda. It is a country where, for the past 20 years, life has be difficult. There have been hardships brought on by civil war, an AIDS epidemic, poor medical care and a lost generation. More than half of the nation’s population is under the age of 20. Think about that for a moment.

While the church in North America is in a rapid decline, the church in Africa is seeing continued growth. Why? Again part of it is cultural. The church of Jesus Christ has never fared well in places where life is easy. Human nature tells us that we humans rarely reach out and embrace God without the motivation of need. When our basic needs are met and we become comfortable, we tend to trust more in ourselves and less in God. God becomes optional. These children, all orphans, have come from great need. They have joyfully embraced God as a father who loves and cares for them. They have been rescued from lives of misery that were certain to end in an early death. They now have the warmth of a loving family, good food, a great education and the promise of being prepared to make a difference in their country. The motto of the Watoto Children’s ministry is “Rescue, Raise, Rebuild.” As odd as it sounds, these children have the advantage of being disadvantaged.

After talking to many of the children and adult leaders on tour with the choir and doing some research, it is clear why the Watoto Church is such a dynamic church and has such a huge and powerfully life changing ministry. We can find many commonalities between what they are doing and what growing churches in America are doing. Let’s look at those things.

Many if not all failing churches have several things in common. Some of the things most dying churches have in common are:

  • Worship services that lack energy and are unengaging
  • Laypeople are not engaged in ministry
  • Staff do most of the ministry and that is expected
  • 90% of all church activity happens on Sunday morning
  • The church does very little community outreach
  • Evangelism is non existent
  • Most teaching in the church tends to be intellectual and not practical
  • Very few church members participate in small groups
  • Serving on a committee is considered doing ministry
  • Most time at board meetings is spent discussing finances and not the church’s mission

And many, if not all, growing, healthy churches have things in common. These are the same things I have found to be true for the Watoto Church.

  • Worship is energetic and engaging
  • Most of the ministry in the church done by laypeople
  • Staff is there to train and direct the laity in doing ministry
  • Christianity is not a once a week happening but is, instead, seen and practiced as a lifestyle
  • The local church is having a positive impact on the local community
  • The teachings of Scripture are taken seriously
  • All teaching that is done is Biblical and practical
  • A vast majority of church members are deeply involved in healthy small groups. (The Watoto Church has 2500 active small groups and 25,000 members. The groups are the heart of the church.)
  • Pray is a habit and is shared freely
  • It is a joy to share one’s faith story
  • The governing body is small and is focused on ministry

One of my elders, who hosted some of the Watoto children said, “We questioned the adult leader we had in our home about their church and how they did things. We were amazed. They are doing the same things you are helping us learn how to do.” I was pleased to hear that but, more importantly, some of my leaders were able to see the kind of people produced through of being a part of a healthy, growing church that is producing spiritually maturing Christians and what those people look and act like. They were tantalized and hopefully provoked to seek all that God has for them.

We took a nice offering for the children. But we received much more than we gave. God is good.

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, March 10, 2015

How Does a Church Measure Success?

How do we know when a church is successful? It seems that the most common measurement of success is how large a crowd we attract. We try not to do this but it is always the pastors of the largest churches that are asked to speak at conferences and write books for the big name publishers.

On the other side of that coin, often pastors of churches that do not attract large crowds tend to discount any significance to how many people come to worship as important or meaningful as to the impact of their ministry. Honestly, in many ways, this is just a case of sour grapes. If we did begin to attract a large attendance we would suddenly see such “success” as a result of the many things we were doing right. Several years ago I read of a researcher who interviewed pastors of two churches that were within a mile of each other. The first was the pastor of a church with over 2000 in weekly attendance. When asked the secret of his success he replied, “It is because we unashamedly preach the clear word of God.” Next the pastor of a church will an average attendance of well under 100 per week was asked, “Why do you think so few people attend your church?” His reply, “Because we unashamedly preach the clear word of God.” You see, whether attracting a crowd or not, most of us preacher types believe that how we are doing church is the “right” way to do church.

Most of us, in a fit of honesty, would answer the question of does attracting a crowd for worship services mean a church is successful, with a resounding “No!” We would say that but we don’t act much like we really believe that. Churches rarely begin a search for a new pastor when the attendance numbers are climbing. Board meetings are seldom as contentious as board meetings can tend to be when the budget is being met. Pastors of declining churches are not often considered as candidates to pastor of larger churches. Just as in most of our culture, in the church, more is better.

And it seems we will do almost anything to attract more people and bring in more money. Please understand, I am not against the church I am serving attracting larger worship attendance or having more money to invest in doing the ministry God has called us to do. But are we attracting an audience? Are we attracting club members? Are we attracting the uncommitted and unchanged? Are we making members (Whatever that means.), or are we following the Biblical call of Jesus to make disciples. Some would say you have to attract them before you can change them. And that is true. I am a great believer that to be a God honoring church does NOT mean the church must be boring, judgmental, out of touch, technologically challenged, stiff and humorless. The church needs to be as attractive as Jesus obviously was.

But when push comes to shove we, the church, are ultimately called to make disciples. And a shallow, fuzzy, easy come – easy go, indifferent, what’s the least called for approach is not going to produce what God is calling us to do and be and produce. Not everyone, and probably not the majority, are going to be willing to become a disciple of Christ. For that entails accepting Jesus, not as a friend or a good idea or even as a savior. The Biblical model calls for accepting Jesus as Lord. Frankly, I find it easier to accept Jesus as Lord of the universe than to accept him as Lord of my life.

With whatever means we are using to attract and win people to Christianity, what exactly are we winning them to? Club membership in the “We’re all going to heaven club.” Or the “We are going to be politically active and thus change the world club.” Or the “We are right and everyone else is wrong club.” Decades ago A. W. Tozer addressed the question of what is the church doing – what are we winning people to. He wrote: “Winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is no.”

We, the church, will continue to struggle with how to measure our success. Perhaps we need to figure out what we are supposed to be doing, what we are supposed to be producing, before we will know if we are succeeding or not. Peter Drucker has said that the product of any not-for-profit organization is changed lives. The church calls that making disciples. So, church, how are we doing?

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, 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.