One of the many things I love about Scripture is the symbolism stretched across its pages. It’s everywhere. Of course, it’s all meant to conjure imagery and teach lessons within lessons. Almost every story in the Bible contains a message within a lesson within another moral. I realize we can get carried away and start imagining things that aren’t actually there. We might extract beliefs that aren’t divinely intended without careful consideration, which can be dangerous. And many of my friends are understandably wary of focusing too much on biblical symbolism. I get that. However, avoiding biblical symbolism altogether robs us of vast, awe-inspiring realms of beauty that God intended for us to experience.
The Juxtaposition of Jesus’ Rhetoric
One thing many anti-symbolists forget is that Jesus alternated between straightforward and intensely parabolic teachings. What is a parable exactly? It uses imagery, stories, and symbols to illustrate a moral truth. Jesus is perhaps best known for His use of parables. And they weren’t always immediately understandable because the parables were peppered with prophetic meanings. Quite literally, many of the implications of the parables could not be understood because they weren’t intended to be comprehended at that moment. Like full-fledged prophecy, many parables only made sense in the future as events unfolded. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jesus interacted this way because God has always used signs, symbols, parables, types, and shadows in His communication with us. For example, when God rebuked Satan in the Garden after The Fall, He spoke cryptically: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
The First Good News
Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the “first good news” because it’s the first foretelling of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God announced that a male descendant—He—would someday deal the serpent (meaning Satan) a fatal blow. The New Testament writers understood Jesus Christ to have fulfilled this prophecy (Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8). In an extended sense, the New Testament also indicates that God would work through the Church—those indwelt by the Spirit of Christ—to destroy the works of the Devil (Romans 16:20).
The Significance of Symbolism
It’s worth considering why God would employ so much symbolism throughout Scripture. As best I can tell, there are three reasons: One, because Satan does not know the future, prophecy is purposefully vague to keep Satan confused. Two, if humanity knew the exact details of future events, we might be tempted to help them along when we need to get out of the way. Three, it builds faith when humans look back through the lens of history and see the puzzle pieces clicking into place.
The uninformed might assume the Bible is a carefully orchestrated body of literature. Perhaps, like an epic Tolkein novel, all the little loose ends are skillfully tied up in the mind of a genius for our consumption. However, the Bible is a library of individual books, with over thirty-three inspired writers spanning 1,500 years, written in different places, cultures, millennia, and perspectives. The only constant across the Bible’s pages is God’s inspiration. It would have been impossible, unthinkable, and unmanageable for mere humans to coordinate such a thing without the divine breath of God.
Therefore, when we see various symbols popping up throughout the inspired Book, we see glimpses of the marvelous mind of God. The magnificent consistency of eternal Truth peeks out from Genesis to Revelation offering fresh illuminations of ancient revelations. And while we should be careful not to build beliefs entirely on symbolism, it certainly can reinforce clearly defined doctrines. Powerful inspiration comes from recognizing that these symbols come from God’s throne, not men’s mere imaginations.
A Tale of Three Trees
It’s no exaggeration to say that trees are necessary for life to exist. They suck carbon dioxide out of the air and release the oxygen we need to breathe. Historically, trees have provided food, shelter, energy, sustenance, biodiversity, beauty, and soil preservation. We literally cannot survive without what trees provide for us daily. It’s also not an exaggeration to say a single tree was at the center of the utter destruction of God’s original created world.
Tree One: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).
In God’s interaction with Adam, He begins by offering a level of freedom that you and I have never seen or experienced. “Of every tree,” He said, “thou mayest freely eat.” Adam had unparalleled autonomy to do as he pleased. He had comfort, ease, authority, abundance, creativity, beauty, and eternality. The nature of God was to lead with freedom before establishing the first human law. This almost imperceptible detail allows us to glimpse the goodness of God towards humanity. We tend to view God’s laws as burdensome without taking the time to appreciate the freedoms God provides. God’s privileges and benefits far outweigh the weight of the laws He levies upon us. We also think it would be easier serving God if we had fewer rules and regulations. However, humanity’s first sin proves that God’s rules aren’t the problem. The frailty of our flesh and the pervasiveness of evil are the problems. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not evil by its nature. There was nothing wicked about the tree. To claim this would imply that God created something evil, which would contradict Genesis 1:31. The tree was not the source of sin; humanity was. The tree didn’t contribute to man’s sinfulness beyond providing him with an opportunity to obey or disobey.
In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. Before that time, the two were separate, and evil had only a nebulous existence in potential. While free choice did exist before eating the fruit, evil existed as an entity separate from the human psyche, and it was not in human nature to desire it. Eating and internalizing the forbidden fruit changed this, and thus was born the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The closest comparison we have is the sadness of watching a child lose the sweet innocence of youth. No wonder Jesus commands us to be “born again” (John 3:5-7). It also sheds light on Jesus’ mysterious charge, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5).
In Rashi’s notes on Genesis 3:3, the first sin came about because Eve added an additional clause to the divine command: “Neither shall you touch it.” By saying this, Eve added to God’s command and thereby came to detract from it, as it is written: “Do not add to His Words” (Proverbs 30:6). However, evil already existed in the heart of Lucifer. Adam and Eve’s first sin offended God in three ways: One, by rejecting God’s authority (we typically call that rebellion). Two, by distorting His instructions (His holy Word). Three, probably most offensive to God, by accepting Satan’s influence. All subsequent sins follow that same threefold pattern of offense against God.
Tree Two: The Cross on Golgotha’s Hill
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).
Because a tree became the symbol of condemnation looming before humanity in constant judgment. It’s fitting that a tree roughly formed into a cross by sinful hands would become the universal symbol of hope and salvation. In His infinite foreknowledge, God knew that He would become the sacrifice for our sins. Furthermore, God formed the tree that would become His mode of execution. When Lucifer slithered into Eve’s presence and convinced her to taste the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, he couldn’t have known that the mind of God had already formed the tree that would become crucial to the remedy. Only God can so thoroughly turn things around in such a beautifully poetic way.
Tree Three: The Tree of Life
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim’s, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
Contrary to popular belief, the Tree of Life did not predate God. The Tree of Life received its life-sustaining properties from the Lord: “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…” (Genesis 2:9). Mankind lost the privilege of accessing the Tree of Life by eating from the Forbidden Tree. In that instant, death became a looming inescapable aspect of human existence. Physical and spiritual pain throbbed into the hearts of the First Father and the First Mother and has been passed down to every subsequent family tree.
Every teardrop, every disappointment, every disease, and every act of unspeakable horror is a direct result of that first sin. Even worse, humanity lost connection and relationship with its Maker. Consequently, losing purpose, fulfillment, direction, inward peace, and intrinsic joy. In a symbolic gesture of finality, God placed an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance of the Garden to keep guard over the invaluable Tree of Life. Humanity was cast into a cruel cursed world. Yet, it’s sublimely splendid how God allowed Himself to be nailed onto the same roughly hewn materials central to humanity’s first sin. While that splintered tree bore Christ, He bore our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24). A tree for a tree, a perfect sacrifice in place of hopelessly flawed sacrifices, that’s what Christ did for us. And if we take up our crosses and follow Him in this fallen earthly realm, we will taste the Tree of Life’s exquisite fruit when we step into that faraway country beyond this kingdom.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
If you missed part one, just click the picture below.
Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.
Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.
The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).
I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.
A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.
Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.
Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).
Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.
Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.
Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks likehere. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.
Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.
Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.
The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.
Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.
Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.
Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.
Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.
Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.
Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.
Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.
Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.
Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.
Few false doctrines are more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond theological academia’s reach. “Once saved, always saved” is a popular mantra for the average “low information” Christian. It crosses denominational lines, bleeds between theological spectrums, and slips into everyday dogmas.
The doctrine of eternal security essentially states that nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God once a person is saved. Without going too deep, it should be noted that there are numerous variations and machinations of this doctrine. In its most extreme form, a person could theoretically be saved and murder his wife while remaining “unconditionally” saved. Others would assert that if someone were to commit such a heinous act, he was never “truly” saved in the first place.
Sadly, this dangerous doctrine flatly contradicts Scripture, and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity. It gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.
The doctrine of eternal security flatly contradicts Scripture, and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity.
It’s eerie how the Calvinistic notion of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. The serpent assured Eve, “…Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).” The satanic implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences. The doctrine of eternal security makes the same false claim, and it originates from the same satanic source. Here’s the primary passage of Scripture used to prop up the concept of once saved, always saved:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The doctrine of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. Satan said, Ye, shall not surely die. The implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences.
First of all, this is a tremendously encouraging passage of Scripture, but it’s talking about God’s unconditional love, not unconditional salvation. With close examination, you’ll find that sin is not once mentioned in the context of this promise. As with other passages used to support O.S.A.S. (John 3:15, John 5:24, John 10:28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13), the emphasis is always on external forces having no authority over your personal responsibilities towards God.
Let’s put it this way; nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions. Sin separates us from a right relationship with God, but it does not remove us from the love of God. For example, “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say the cross made sin acceptable is to undermine the cross’s necessity in the first place completely. The phrasing “while we were yet sinners” shows Paul’s assumption that believers would naturally understand sinful lifestyles must be discarded after salvation. Furthermore, the apostle Peter calls us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, “Who did no sin (1 Peter 2:21-22).” A few verses down, he underscores that Jesus “bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).”
Nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions.
But we still haven’t sufficiently debunked the doctrine of eternal security. Few people would argue against the Scriptural emphasis on living above sin. Many would say that righteous living is the best way but not a requirement for Heaven after obedience to the Gospel. So let’s take a look at several Scriptures that prove that it is possible to throw away our salvation and trample upon the grace of God.
The parable of the sower gives us insight into the issue at hand. Jesus speaks of individuals who receive the Gospel immediately with joy, but when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word, they fall away (Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13).
Consider these self-explanatory Scriptures from the book of Hebrews:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).”
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).”
“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition(destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38-39).”
Additionally, Peter speaks plainly of people who return and are “overcome” by the “pollutions of the world,” stating that it would be better if they had never known the “way of righteousness” in the first place (2 Peter 2:20-22). But the words of Jesus are the most potent, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity(Matthew 7:21-23).”
We could go on and on demonstrating the Scriptural imperative that we must not depart from the faith post-salvation or risk Divine judgment. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures proving saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”
Children of God Can:
“Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
“Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
“Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
“Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
“Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
“Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
Today, I awoke in a frustrated state, as my dogs raised the alarm. Their urgent barks were interrupted momentarily by low guttural growls as they raced from window to door in agitation. The guard dogs were on the prowl, warning of imminent danger; or were they? Many argue a guard dog is the best alarm, money can buy, but I’m not so sure I agree.
You see, once I awoke enough to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I knew in my heart there was no true threat. I had seen it too many times, in mere seconds they would transform from frothing beasts to their normal sweet, amiable selves, clamoring for a belly rub. Dogs are unable to differentiate between a real threat (a thief) and the “evil” mail carrier. I have watched my own dogs sleep through a knock at the door, softly twitching their paws content in their dream state, just to attempt a death-defying leap through a glass window to defend the household from the “danger” imposed by the garbage truck. No matter, how we try to sugar-coat it, the reality remains, all dogs are in truth dumb, regardless of the tricks they know or their loyalty to their human family.
In today’s society, many have reduced themselves to nothing more than guard dogs. Some, like a dumb, lazy dog choose to sleep, unconcerned with the effects of today’s decisions on future generations. The pressure of political correctness has stifled free speech, sensitivity to “micro-aggressions” has overridden wisdom, demands for “trigger warnings” have made people fearful of open debate, and a political platform has displaced logic. Although, many champion an era of “new tolerance”, the current climate has, in fact, created one of the most philosophically intolerant time periods in human history. This intolerance automatically labels all truth claims as suspect and few are willing to take a counter-cultural stance. People willingly sacrifice the power of their voice, the essence of their humanity, and their spirituality for a comfortable, blissful sleep. While a moral revolution takes place, many bury their head in the sand and remain unmoved. They choose to navigate without a compass, set adrift, anchorless on the changing winds of popular opinion. The temptation to deny reality and cling to the mirage of a utopian dream beckons and those who surrender to its siren cry welcome the sleep of spiritual death.
Others epitomize the aggressive, guard dog on the prowl. They demand individuality at the expense of truth and are obsessed with the concept of non-conformity. Many ardently state their disillusionment with everything considered “too mainstream” and choose to draw lines of demarcation. This is most evident in the various ways our culture self-identifies across socio-economic, racial, ethnic, educational, philosophical, religious, sexual, and gender lines. Their attempts at originality are articulated via mass-produced bumper stickers, copy-cat tattoos, branded clothing, political flags, and mass-produced entertainment. The cries of this generation are unmistakable as they fight to protect the territory they’ve arbitrarily defined. Their area of marked defense is ever changing, shrinking and expanding as individual emotions shift, trends change, and public opinion polls swing. The guard dog mentality has created a self-absorbed culture of violence and discord, which has fractured society beyond human repair. After all, a “good” guard dog doesn’t sleep through a time of revolution, but stands, prepared to rip out the throat of anyone who crosses into its territory, whether friend or foe.
Though the church is immersed in this extreme culture, it is imperative, both ministers and saints recognize we cannot slumber and we cannot rage. There is simply too much at stake for God’s people to follow the lead of society. We cannot afford to simply “wing-it” and hope for the best. Our response must be determined, deliberate, and decisive. We are hopeless if we merely reflect the failed guard dog mentality of culture.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of those God commissioned as watchmen. However, he does not commend them for a job well-done; in fact, he rebukes them as nothing more than “dumb dogs”. He indicts them as “blind” and “ignorant”. He suggests they value the comfort of sleep more than the safety of God’s people. (Isa. 56:10). When the Christian feels overwhelmed by the obstacles and wickedness of this world, slumber is a very real temptation. It is easy to ignore the signs of the times and the monumental shifts in culture. Often we see this evidenced in the following ways:
Churches and saints who still operate according to a nineteen-fifties approach to ministry and daily living. They continue with business as usual and fight to maintain a cocoon of protection from all secular influence. They placidly sleep while the enemy prowls. Their unwillingness to acknowledge the effects of the post-modern worldview creates an entire generation unprepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the twenty-first century.
Others embrace a neutral, permissive attitude in the name of love and tolerance. The assumption that compassion and a good example alone are enough to change hearts and lives, robs the church of any true growth. Dynamic oratory skills are not a replacement for solid Biblical teaching! When the priority is to avoid offense and confrontation, nothing is established as a moral or doctrinal absolute. Individuals abandon growth and embrace spiritual stagnation. Some even limit the spiritual development of children and new converts to prevent them from offending, by virtue of their walk.
However, simply closing our eyes to everything unpleasant does not lessen the impact society has on the minister, the church, or its saints. While we refuse to acknowledge the enemies’ approach, a generation is slaughtered mercilessly. The church must rise to the demands of the times to do anything less is sin. (Ja. 4:17) Furthermore, sleep is surrender and surrender is not an option!
The alternative is just as destructive. God forbid, the body of Christ adopts the same dog-eat-dog mentality modern society has perfected. The church confronted with the vehemence of culture cannot stoop to society’s methods of communication and unabashed, self-preservation. God never called His people to an attack dog mentality or a pit bull ministry. Doctrine and holiness is not the church’s squeaky toy to protect by tooth and claw. Truth should never be defended based on an intellectual decision or principle alone. The church functions at its best and doctrine is most effectively articulated when His people are sincerely in love with God and His Word.
Though secular society lives in the muddied waters of moral ambiguity, reliant on emotions alone to define their understanding, the church does not have to do the same. Thankfully, Scripture provides a lifeline! In fact, I would argue, God’s word speaks directly to our current situation. There is no excuse for a morally ambivalent church, just as there is no defense for a saint that doesn’t represent the Savior in word and deed. We must exemplify true Biblical Christianity in the way we live, minister, and lead. Our passion and love for the Creator is demonstrated through a loving, but honest approach to the sins of this world. So, in the midst of the extremes of a guard dog culture, God demands the church look to the timeless words of Scripture.
First and foremost, we must learn what it truly means to be the church of the Living God. It is not merely a title we wear emblazoned on our shirts or a placard we hang behind the pulpit. The early church didn’t accidentally turn “the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Their level of effectiveness in evangelism was a direct result of the depth of their relationship. They didn’t reflect the world, but rather the God they served. Non-conformity is an illusion. Ultimately, how we spend our time and energy, where we set our affections, and what entertains us will define us. The choice is ours; will we conform to the broken, self-destructive worldview of the guard dog or the liberating image of our Creator and Redeemer? (Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:23-25; Ro. 12:2) It is impossible for us, to know the mind and heart of God if we refuse to spend time getting to know Him through prayer, fasting and His word. When we learn to fully trust God He will shape and define us, so our character will mirror His. Philippians, chapter two explains that God, Himself “took upon him the form of a servant” (Ph. 2:6-11). In the face of such great condescension, we must not be offended when He asks us to humble ourselves for His service. After all, we must realize, before He called us to be saints or ministers; He called us to be His followers and servants and that call doesn’t change. The temptation to embrace an extreme mentality fades as we turn our eyes away from our own desires and the distractions of this life and focus our hearts and minds on Him alone.
Secondly, we must learn the power of obedience. The guard dog is often difficult to control growling and snapping without regard for its master’s command. But, Scripture tells us “obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Sa. 15:22). Sacrifice is required for the overcoming, Christian. However, our sacrifices are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by a willingness to obey the One we claim to worship. When we are in love with God, submitted to Him, and growing in our relationship with Him; obedience is a natural response. Holiness and right living, no longer feel like an imposition, because His spirit compels us to demonstrate our commitment to Him with our lives. In essence, we learn to walk in the spirit. (Ga. 5:16) If we hope to be God’s instruments for revival, we must learn to obey Him. He isn’t looking for an aggressive church straining at the leash and foaming at the mouth. His heart desires men and women, willing to submit to Him in obedience and allow Him to order their steps.
The Bible is clear. When we recognize who God is, we are faced with the reality of our own inadequacies and must choose how to respond. John 9:38-40 gives us a perfect example of this concept in action. Jesus didn’t heal the spiritually blind of the Pharisees, because they refused to admit their weakness and continually claimed to see. The revelation of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, demands we willingly acknowledge the limitations of our own finite human understanding. The sooner we admit our human intellect is powerless in the face of pain and spiritual brokenness, the sooner we can communicate, in His strength to a world in need. There is no excuse for an ignorant church or saint and despite the claims of some, ignorance is never bliss! We need His wisdom and discernment. God knows the height and depth of our knowledge, it’s impossible for us to pull the wool over His eyes. This is why He promises that if we ask in faith for wisdom, He won’t chastise us, but will empower us. (Ja. 1:5-6) The wisdom that comes from above has the power to move us beyond complacency and emotionally charged responses. When we surrender our understanding at the feet of the all-knowing One, He enables us in the following ways:
a. To identify the enemy – There are true enemies and we mustn’t spend time attacking the proverbial windmill (ala Don Quixote) or fighting the wind (I Co. 9:26). We have to know who and what we fight against. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle isn’t physical, but spiritual. Furthermore, he states “…the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God…” (II Co. 10:4-5) A spiritual battle requires a spiritual approach. When the disciples failed in healing a demon possessed child, Jesus told them “…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:14-21). We must be sober, vigilant, and culturally informed. But, without prayerful surrender and putting “…on the whole armour of God…” we face the reality of defeat. (Eph. 6:10-18) His discernment grants us the ability to focus our time and energy in the right direction. Instead, of battling perceived enemies, we can preach timeless Apostolic truth, strike at the heart of the enemy, and teach our generation how to apply the principles of Scripture to their lives.
b. To distinguish the lines of battle – The war for the hearts and minds of an entire generation is ongoing and the fences we construct, should with each post hole dug mark the field of battle. Ultimately, if the sheepfold we build is too small, the sheep will feel trapped and fight to escape, but if it’s too large, the enemy can creep in unaware. The sheep’s safety is determined by their nearness to the shepherd and the shepherd protects the sheep by staying close to the Great Shepherd. Therefore, our positions on matters of morality, entertainment and holiness must not be based on an emotional response or an intellectual analysis. We must resist the urge for a knee jerk reaction to anything new or foreign but must rely on His wisdom to teach us where to draw the lines of battle, when to fight, and how to protect God’s people. (Jn. 10:1-18)
c. To sound the alarm – If we act within our own wisdom and sound the alarm without cause, we are no better than the little boy who cried wolf. We sacrifice the power of our witness, when we simply attack everything we don’t understand. But, when we submit to His wisdom our message will ring with prophetic timeliness and resound with the voice of eternity. The collective sound of the church will echo with the clarity of a trumpet, warning of danger and beckoning sinners to a place of repentance and refuge.
Although, at times the devices of the enemy may seem overwhelming, God does not excuse us from our responsibility to Him. Instead, He fully equips His people through initiating a relationship with us, teaching us the power of obedience, and imparting His wisdom. He gives us the power to not only endure times of change and unrest, but to thrive! The Apostle Peter defined us not as guard dogs, but as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” So, it’s time we abandon slumber and rage and “…shew forth the praises…” of the One who called us “…out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (I Pt. 2:9)
Jennifer Mast is a graduate of Indiana Bible College and has worked full-time at IBC, since 2004, serving in various capacities. Currently, she is the registrar, as well as an instructor for the Biblical Studies Department. She teaches a number of courses including; Gospel of John, General Epistles, New Testament Greek, and Biblical Hebrew. In addition, she holds ministerial license with the United Pentecostal Church. She is a passionate preacher and teacher and has a burden to communicate His word to the world.
If you’re anything like me, you’re leery of church growth books and articles. I’ve read them by the dozens and most of them are either completely irrelevant for apostolic churches, full of platitudes, totally unrealistic, or so technical that you need a college degree just to wade through the formulas. It can be more discouraging than encouraging by the time you’re through. I’m writing this with that in mind.
I’ve hesitated to broach this topic for some time now because just writing about church growth can sound smug and braggadocios. I for one, do not claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that will fill every pew overnight. In fact, I don’t even think filling every empty seat overnight is truly healthy in most circumstances. If your leadership structure is too small to handle a sudden influx of hundreds of brand new spiritual babies you’ll see a lot of premature deaths. In my opinion, consistent gradual growth is the healthiest form of church growth. It gives the leadership and the congregation time to adjust when and where needed.
For the record, I don’t serve a mega church. But by the grace of God, Apostolic Tabernacle has grown in attendance by over 150% in 5 years. Our church has benefitted from a wonderful legacy and stellar stewardship from our Bishop. There was a tremendous small core of godly saints when we arrived. We’re also in a highly populated, although economically struggling, metropolitan county. In spite of those blessings, we’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures. We’ve tried things that flopped and we’ve made mistakes. We still have lots of room for improvement. That’s all part of the messiness of revival. I’m telling you this because there is no one size fits all path to church growth. Every city is different, every church is different, and every situation has nuances that must be identified before sustainable growth will take place.
Keep in mind, the average church loses about 10% of its membership on a yearly basis. Some of these are healthy losses like job transitions or college student move-aways, and some are due to spiritual backsliding and the church hoppers that we all know so well. This means that for a church to grow annually by 10% it actually needs to grow by 20%. As I’ve written in the past, Gideon had to lose some losers before the victory could be obtained. Not all losses are a bad thing, and not all gains are godly. So this article is about healthy church growth, not just temporary crowd generating activities.
After evangelizing for five years all over the US in churches of every shape and size; I’ve had the privilege of seeing almost every church paradigm imaginable. I’ve observed first-hand what to do and what not to do. Both have been instructive and helpful. I’ve tried to whittle these church growth insights down to universal truths that transcend into every apostolic church setting. Let’s get started.
You get what you preach. I love deep sermons that explore the rarely mined gems of Scripture, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of preaching, but I’m amazed at how many churches think preaching the basics is boring. If you rarely preach the plan of salvation, you’ll rarely see people obey the plan of salvation. That goes for holiness too. If you want people to evangelize, talk about it. Talk about it a lot. I would suggest taking inventory of how often you are preaching core doctrinal subjects. Most are surprised at how rarely they actually tackle doctrinal fundamentals. Furthermore, I know the trend is to have less church, but less church means less opportunities to preach into different situations. I realize it varies from church to church, but for us, Sunday mornings tend to be evangelistic, Sunday nights are the best opportunity to preach specifically to the church, and midweek Bible Study is the time for digging deep and mining for those Scriptural gems. If the Bible tells us that people are saved by the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then shouldn’t we be preaching more not less? As churches have less and less church they also have less and less preaching, and sometimes almost zero teaching. Laying Scriptural admonishments aside, we live in a culture that demands options and opportunities. Shouldn’t we be giving people more service options and opportunities not less? Can you imagine a hospital only opening its doors once a week? If you rarely have church, you rarely have preaching, and for those who are trapped in the 24/7 work culture, missing their one-weekend service option can be spiritually devastating. On the opposite end of the spectrum are churches that never preach beyond the platitudes and always preach down to the lowest common denominator. They render all preaching down to spiritually anemic bullet points that leave people spiritually malnourished. There is a time for meat and a time for milk.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).
One man cannot do it all. Churches that think a lone pastor can and should do everything are destined for failure and pastors who think they can do it all are crazy. One person cannot be on call 24/7, preach and teach great new sermons, visit everyone, attend every event, be a financial guru, be a janitor, plan ahead, keep his family healthy (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), teach home Bible studies, cultivate relationships, manage day to day building operations, win souls, pray for the sick, maintain a personal prayer life, study, counsel with people (sometimes for hours on end), and mentor other leaders. It’s just not humanly possible or healthy. Even Jesus didn’t do all those things. Even Jesus had a leadership team of twelve. Even Jesus went away for days to pray and fast. So what’s the solution? Delegation.
Some things must be delegated to volunteers, and as soon as possible additional pastoral (and administrative) staff should be brought onto the team. Jesus demonstrated this process when he began sending his disciples out in pairs to preach and pray for the sick (Matthew 10:1-5). Quick thought, no matter how large the church, there’s never quite enough money in the budget for new ministerial assistants or support staff. Taking that leap of faith is vital. Most churches peak out because they max out their leadership’s capabilities. Ironically, one of the surest signs that a pastor is a great leader is if he can be gone for a week and everything still operates smoothly. Again, churches that refuse to add additional staff and train qualified volunteers always plateau. Period.
Many years ago Pastor Paul Mooney said something about church structure that shapes my thinking even to this day. He likened the average church leadership structure to a small table. He poured a bucket of sand onto the table and compared the sand to saints and church growth. The table easily contained the majority of the sand with only a few specks trickling off the edges. But as he continued to pour sand over the table eventually the majority of the sand began dramatically sliding off the sides onto the floor. His point was clear, the only way to sustain more growth is to build a bigger leadership table. None of this should be interpreted to mean that you should use sub-par leaders out of desperation. No. The only thing worse than maxed out leadership is toxic leadership on your ministerial or administrative team. Delegation is only effective when it is delegated to the right kind of leaders (read more on that subject here).
Be consistent. I’ve outlined the importance of consistency in leadership here. But beyond that, churches must be consistent as well. Remain consistent in the mission, purpose, culture, plan, and apostolic identity.
Insist on excellence. I’ll never understand why some churches develop the mindset that doing your best is carnal. You can’t just show up and wing it and expect God to bless your halfhearted efforts. Insist that your singers and musicians do their very best. Insist that your ministers give their very best in preparation and dedication. Insist that your teachers, greeters, and volunteers give their very best. Call people out of mediocrity. If you don’t take church seriously no one else will either. Practice, plan, prepare, and lovingly pressure people to be the best that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom. People who have grown complacent and comfortable with mediocrity will dislike you for a season until they see their own personal growth. Eventually, they will be glad that you insisted on excellence. No matter how small your congregation is you can call them to do their absolute best for the Lord.
This also means that not everyone who wants to do something should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do. For example, not everyone is musically gifted, which means that not everyone should be allowed in the music program. This can be awkward but it’s less awkward than having visitors flee from your off-key church services. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. Not everyone who wants to preach is called to preach. Not everyone who wants to decorate is gifted in decorating. The same goes for media, design, kid’s ministries, hospitality, and general leadership. Insisting on excellence means that sometimes you have to say no and redirect people towards their area of gifting. I know. I know. This is easier said than done. But it must be done or you will wallow in a sea of mediocrity that repels visitors and discourages your saints.
I’m not talking about absolute perfection. I’m talking about common sense policies. In the corporate world, they call this personnel placement. Meaning, you place people where they are best suited to be productive based on their talents. Knowing where you and others fit in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-25) is a biblical imperative. Paul made it clear that the hand is not better than the foot, but the body will not function correctly if the foot is trying to operate in the same capacity as the hand.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:17,23).
Love, equip, encourage, and care for people. People can tell if you genuinely love and care about them. There’s no replacement for this quality. Spiritual leaders who love the lost and the saints will equip them to withstand spiritual onslaughts, hardships, and teach them how to thrive spiritually. Love means more than smiling and having a good time. Real love tells the truth and confronts painful realities. If you’re struggling to truly love people, ask God to give you a new heart.
Expect a mess. In case you didn’t know, America is a post-Christian nation. Meaning that now more than ever, people are going to bring baggage with them into the church. Multiple broken marriages, addictions that you’ve never even heard of, tons of false doctrines, strange philosophies, and on and on and on. If that makes you wildly uncomfortable it’s time to reshape your perception of ministry. Imagine a hospital full of doctors and nurses that can’t stand the sight of blood; it definitely wouldn’t be a very effective environment. Churches that get all dizzy and faint-hearted at the sight of sinners have forgotten where they came from and their commission. They alienate the very people that Jesus has called them to reach. Squeamish churches will not grow. Churches that are condescending towards sinners will not grow. Churches that only welcome pristine people will never grow, nor are they godly. If it hadn’t been for a righteous man who was willing to pray for a hateful, messy, murderous, blind sinner named Saul there would be no Apostle Paul (Acts 9).
Additionally, conversion does not make all the baggage magically disappear. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Yes. God forgives. Yes. God removes eternal damnation after repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). But a lifetime of sowing sinful seeds will produce a painful earthly harvest for some time. Thankfully, the Fruit of the Spirit and the sowing of spiritual seed will eventually replace bad harvests with good harvests. For example, God can deliver an alcoholic from addiction in a single instant, but that doesn’t mean the broken relationships the addiction caused will be mended overnight. New seeds will slowly be planted, growth will begin, and the Fruit of the Spirit will bring about the healing. Taking this hodgepodge of analogies one step further, Jesus referred to salvation as being born again (John 3:1-8). Peter continued the metaphor by referring to new Christians as infants (1 Peter 2:2). Birth is messy. Babies are messy. Even toddlers are messy. My mother would be quick to tell you (based on my teenage years) that teenagers can be the messiest of all. Growing churches love spiritual children enough to keep cleaning the mess and raising new believers into full maturity in Christ.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Protect the platform and the pulpit. The people on your platform and in your pulpit are a reflection of the values and culture of your church. Just because someone wants to preach doesn’t mean they should be allowed to preach. Just because they want to sing and can sing doesn’t mean they should sing if they don’t reflect the biblical values and culture of an apostolic church. Earlier we were talking about standards of excellence but now we are referring to spiritual protection. You can avoid a lot of spiritual heartaches and perceived inconsistencies by keeping your platform and your pulpit carefully guarded. This is easier said than done; do it anyway. Scripture repeatedly warns us that wolves will try to invade the church and cause division (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29). Be careful and use discernment. Don’t give influence to people who could be spiritually harmful to the church.
Pray. Fast. Study. Rinse. Repeat. Make prayer a priority. Maintain corporate times of prayer and fasting. Equip and engage people to maintain personal Bible study habits. All leaders are readers. Study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15).
Preach and teach with clarity and conviction. I’m noticing as I write these thoughts that much of my focus revolves around preaching. I make no apologies for that, preaching has always been central to apostolic revival. The New Testament Church was birthed around Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2). Using Peter’s sermon from Acts chapter two as an example, you’ll notice that he was completely confident in his delivery, he spoke from the head and the heart, and he spoke with clarity. In other words, he was clear and understandable. He didn’t leave any wiggle room for the hearers to squeeze in their own interpretation of what they needed to do to be saved. I hear far too much ambiguous preaching these days. Fuzzy preaching that sounds brilliant (or sometimes just incoherent) but makes it hard to pin the particulars down. This isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from a desire to sound intellectual, or maybe it’s just poor communication skills, sometimes lack of preparation is the culprit, or possibly it stems from a subconscious fear of offending the hearers. In worst cases, it comes from internal doubts and disbelief. You don’t have to be a great orator. Passion, conviction, confidence, anointing, and clarity are far more valuable qualities than just being a wordsmith. Bottom line, clear preaching isn’t always the prettiest preaching but it produces apostolic results. Study thoroughly, know what you believe, say what you believe, believe what you say, and let God do the rest. Secondly, a clear distinction must be maintained between teaching and preaching. Many churches are seriously off balance in one direction or the other. They have tons of preaching and very little teaching or vice versa (this goes back to the problem of having less and less church). There really must be a balance between the two for healthy spiritual conversions and spiritual maturation to take place. Interestingly, most pastors struggle to accurately define the biblical differences between preaching and teaching. I’ve often heard people make the tongue-in-cheek statement that teaching is just preaching with less screaming. That’s funny but horribly inaccurate. Teaching should never be used as an excuse to be boring, uninspiring, or less anointed. Robert L. Waggoner gives one of the best differentiation between teaching and preaching that I have read. Waggoner writes:
“The primary meaning associated with the nature of preaching in the New Testament comes from the fact that the Greek word most frequently used to describe a preacher was that of a herald. A herald was one who announced a message, generally from the king or some other ruling authority, to those who had not heard it before. Preaching in New Testament times, therefore related primarily to announcing good news. In the New Testament, the content of that good news centered around the themes of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. On the other hand, the nature of teaching in New Testament times was primarily to explain ideas and their implications, and to exhort people to live by declared values. Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character. Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad terms.”
With this definition in mind, many churches lay a lot of good foundation with preaching but never adequately build upon it with solid teaching. This creates tons of spiritual babies that never survive into maturity. On the other hand, churches that are imbalanced on the teaching side of the equation are constantly trying to build structures on weak foundations.
Volunteers are valuable. As I mentioned earlier, there’s never going to be a big enough budget to hire the staff needed to fulfill all the needs of the church. Even large churches rely heavily on volunteers. Sunday school teachers, ushers, greeters, behind the scenes tech engineers, cleaning crews, board members, youth workers, bus drivers, outreach teams, hospitality teams, altar workers, and more are usually volunteers. They are the backbone of your church. Love, respect, appreciate, honor, lead, train, and equip them. Do not take them for granted.
Refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. Let me say that again for impact, refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. The idea that compromise always results in church growth is a huge myth that many have swallowed hook line and sinker. This often makes watering down the Word seem attractive even to preachers who actually believe in sound doctrine simply because they feel a desperation to grow. I’ve made this point in a previous article but it bears repeating, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise (or likely never preached apostolic doctrine in the first place) without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publicly or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. If you’re an apostolic church and you’re not growing it’s not because of your doctrine. There are probably many reasons you’re not growing, but standing for apostolic truth is not one of them.
Consider this, recent studiesare showing that liberal mainline churches are in sharp decline while Pentecostal churches are still experiencing dramatic growth worldwide. This leaves researchers scratching their heads because we Pentecostals tend to be doctrinally dogmatic which is terribly politically incorrect. Biblically correct churches are outgrowing politically correct churches because they stand out as a beacon of light in a philosophically and doctrinally hazy world. To be clear, it would be better to preach the truth and stay small than to preach a lie and be damned. I would rather lead a small church to Heaven than lead a megachurch to Hell.
Know your limits. Even super-duper mega churches with deep pockets can’t do everything well. Find the things that your church is really good at (probably through a process of trial and error) and do them really well. It would be better to do a few things passionately and excellently than to do a hundred things badly. If your church isn’t exceptionally gifted in music don’t try to put on a music conference or a concert. That’s counterproductive. Find what you’re good at (and your church is good at something) and double down on it. Doing more stuff for the sake of doing more stuff is a terrible idea. Busyness for the sake of busyness is a recipe for burnout and church-wide depression. Oftentimes, less is more. Just because other churches are doing it doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. In fact, your focused efforts and unique abilities will set you apart in your community in a good way. By the way, the reason many church growth books are grossly unhelpful is because they want you to imitate every move of another numerically (although not necessarily spiritual) successful church. Unfortunately, your church may not be gifted or motivated in the same ways by the same things. You must identify your localized abilities and focus on them with laser-like intensity.
Trim the fat. Once you’ve found what your church is really good at and what it’s really bad at its time to trim the fat off the “sacred cows”. You’re going to be met with a lot of resistance at this point. You’re going to hear a lot of things like, “But that other Church does this and we should too” or “But we’ve always had this program” or “But everyone else is doing it this way or that way.” Stand firm, once you start doing things just to do things you will lose purpose, passion, and perspective. Cut out time-consuming, cumbersome, unproductive, expensive, and counterproductive programs as quickly as possible. To review, it’s better to be known for doing a few things really well than for doing tons of stuff really poorly.
Don’t be a seeker-friendly church. Be a God friendly church. Remember, God is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and He alone gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be friendly to seekers (you absolutely must be friendly), but the term “seeker friendly” has become synonymous with churches that try to create a generic and culturally acceptable worship environment. Again, if we use the book of Acts as our model, we find that the Church was anything but generic. The apostles spoke boldly into hostile and conflicting cultures with their primary concern being to please the Lord, not people. If God gives the true harvest than being a God-pleasing church should be our main concern. Churches that are more interested in pleasing people than God attract crowds and nothing more. Churches that are more concerned with crowds than the Gospel throw Super Bowl parties and churches that love the Gospel throw Holy Ghost parties. That’s a generalization, but the point is valid. A crowd does not make a church, but a book of Acts church will attract a crowd. When God starts moving, people in a cold world will be attracted to the warmth of the fire.
Promote praise and worship. I have explained the often overlooked differences between praise and worship here. God dwells among the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Praise sets the tone and the right atmosphere of faith for preaching to be most impactful. Praise drives away dark spirits (1 Samuel 16:23) and turns mourning into dancing (Psalms 30:11). Praise gets our flesh out of the way making room for the moving of the Holy Spirit. If you want revival you must promote and cultivate a worshipful church environment. Like it or not, you can gauge the spiritual temperature of a church by its praise and worship. Outward praise is not a replacement for spiritual depth, but you cannot claim to have spiritual depth without outward manifestations of praise. A church that refuses to be demonstrative in praise is in direct violation of countless passages of Scripture (Romans 15:11, Psalms 22:23, Psalms 33:1, Psalms 66:8, Psalms 67:3, Psalms 98:4, Psalms 100:4, Psalms 102:18).
Define revival. As Rev. Wayne Huntley often explains, many churches confuse revival with evangelism. The root word of revival is “revive” meaning to bring back to life or to infuse with fresh strength. You can’t revive something that has never been alive. Revival is for the saints and evangelism is for the world. A church that is not constantly being revived will not grow. A dead church cannot give birth. Having said that, evangelism is something altogether different. Evangelism reaches beyond the walls of the church house into the lives of those who are lost. The distinction between revival and evangelism is important because what revives the church does not always produce evangelism. Evangelism does little to no good without a revived (alive) church.
Revival and evangelism must be approached as two distinct processes that are connected but unique. Otherwise, a church will fall into the trap of having revival without evangelism or vice versa. I’ve preached in many churches over the years that settled for having terrific revival but never evangelizing. They needed to learn that being revived over and over again is not the same as reaching out to the lost.
Let me address an elephant in the room that is seldom mentioned; many churches love revival but they dislike evangelism. Sadly, many congregations grow very comfortable with their crowd of friends and they become content to just have good church and leave their community unchanged. This is a direct violation of the Church’s mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Every church needs to be taught that revival must overflow from our church services into spontaneous bursts of community evangelism, which leads nicely to the next point.
Live evangelism. Often, churches relegate evangelism to group events like door knocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 110% for door knocking and passing out flyers and water bottles at the park on a hot summer day. All great stuff, but if that’s the extent of your church’s outreach efforts your church is either dead or dying. Evangelism is a daily lifestyle, not a weekly or monthly program. Every growing church has one thing in common, saints who organically invite and encourage others to visit their church on a regular basis. This organic church-wide evangelism is not limited to friends and family members but includes strangers and acquaintances. Growing churches live evangelism as a constant lifestyle everywhere they go.
Have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I’ve laid out the case for yearly preaching plans here. My thinking has drastically evolved concerning church planning over the last several years. I used to disdain the idea of being overly planned because I felt that it hindered spontaneity and the flow of the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. God honors planning. God knows the future and He can give us direction a year in advance just as easily as He can give us direction ten minutes in advance. Every church regardless of size should have an annual planning session mapping out a schedule for the upcoming year. That calendar should be neatly printed and made readily available to the entire church. This keeps ministries and activities from overlapping. It gives each ministry an opportunity to suggest strategies and develop a game plan. It promotes unity and creates general awareness. Obviously, there must be a level of flexibility throughout the year in scheduling and things will be tweaked and changed as needed, but every ministry and department will operate best within the structure of yearly preplanning.
Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). That word quench in the Greek literally means to “extinguish” or “to go out”. In its normal context, the word was used to describe putting out sparks, fires, or flames. Many churches either intentionally or unintentionally quench the moving of the Spirit. If you read the context of the passage you will notice the next verse admonishes the church to “despise not prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:20)”. Spite towards spiritual things automatically hinders the Spirit. Churches that develop a top-down aversion to preaching, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, praise, prayer, and holiness are perverted vessels that put out revival fires. Some churches love prophecy but they despise praise. Some churches love preaching but they disdain the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Some churches love outward holiness but they dislike the very sinners that the Church is mandated to reach. These imbalances hinder the Spirit and create dangerous droughts. Learning to be sensitive and responsive to the moving of the Spirit is paramount in terms of church growth. A spiritually tone-deaf pastor will stick to the program even when the Spirit is flowing in another direction. A spiritually insensitive preacher will miss windows of opportunity when and where the Spirit is trying to flow. While I affirm that we must do all things “…decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)” it is always orderly to abstain from quenching the Spirit’s flow.
Deal with sin quickly, mercifully, and decisively (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). Sadly, sin is going to infiltrate the lives of even the most trusted of saints from time to time. Even worse, it’s possible that trusted leaders in your church will fall into sin. It can be tempting to procrastinate addressing the issue at hand. Don’t do it. The festering will grow worse and leave a wake of destruction in its path. Make the necessary adjustments and corrections as quickly as possible. Take decisive and integrity-laden steps of action. And above all, be merciful and restoration-minded when and where possible. If you publicly oppose sin but privately tolerate sin among the core of your church or within the leadership structure over time the entire foundation of the local church will be weakened. If sin within a church is left unchecked for a long enough period of time it will replicate and spread like cancer until a church is no longer a church; just a collection of backslidden posers.
Have a guest follow-up ministry. As I peruse over what I’ve written so far, I’m realizing that the vast majority of these points are mindset oriented. They are mostly spiritual principles. But for those of you who are technique-minded, you will appreciate this point. Guest follow-up is a technical imperative for church growth. Yet, I am amazed by how many churches either have zero guest follow-up or very insufficient guest follow-up. To put things in perspective, if someone goes through all the trouble of getting ready and driving out to your church to visit they are the most likely converts in your proximity. I’ll double down on this point, if someone pointed a gun to your head (silly hypothetical) and forced you to choose between having a guest follow-up ministry or a neighborhood outreach ministry, you should choose guest follow-up. Studies have shown over and over again that a church is far more likely to get someone to come back than they are to convince someone to visit for the first time sight unseen. For the record, I absolutely believe that churches should be using every means of evangelism possible.
There are gobs of ideas out there about the best way to do a guest follow-up ministry. By the way, I prefer the word guest over visitor because the word visitor has a temporary connotation while the word guest is more welcoming and permanent sounding. Regardless, here are a few basics of guest follow-up. One, have some kind of welcoming area with a stationed greeter (preferably a very friendly and warm person) who is equipped with guest information cards. Two, the greeter’s goal is to make guests feel welcome, answer all of their questions, and acquire the guest’s contact information. Three, a letter from the pastor should be mailed or emailed to all guests within the following week. Four, a quick personal phone call or text (some people prefer this) from an actual human being should be initiated. Five, add them to a mailing list so they can be invited to all major events and activities throughout the year (unless they request to be removed from the mailing list). Those are the very basics. Many churches do personal visits. I did this in my early days of ministry but found that people were a little creeped out by having someone randomly show up at their house (maybe it was just me). Some churches with big budgets send a gift basket with all kinds of logo-covered goodies and edible treats. I think that’s great if you can afford it but unnecessary. However, I do suggest three things if your budget allows: 1) provide all your visitors with a very nice looking (professionally printed) brochure complete with information about beliefs, programs, media, service times, and ministries, 2) give away nice but inexpensive pens with the church logo and website emblazoned on it (people will use pens forever and it will serve as a gentle reminder of your church), 3) give away refrigerator magnets that contain your church contact info (people love fridge magnets and they will use them). This may seem like a lot of trouble but it will reap immeasurable benefits.
One last thought regarding this point (and this just might be the most helpful thought in this whole article), tell guests that you want them to become a part of your church. I mean, literally say those words to them out loud. Don’t just assume that they know how you feel because of your friendliness. Don’t say, “I really hope you visit again” as if they will always be an outsider trying to get into the club. Say, “I’m really hoping that you’ll make this your home church and become a part of what God is doing here”. One is exclusive and one is inclusive. Tell them they are wanted and mean it from the bottom of your heart.
Be a self-aware church. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and awareness of how we are coming across to our guests and to our communities. Individuals can do it and churches can do it as well. For example, just because we think we are a friendly church (I’ve never been to a church that didn’t think it was crazy friendly) doesn’t mean that we are actually a friendly church. Be friendly, don’t just act friendly. Meaning, many churches become proficient at going through the motions of “friendliness” without truly having a caring or loving desire to know and help people, and they don’t have the self-awareness needed to even realize what has happened. But people can quickly spot all the things that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to in our comfortable surroundings.
In many ways, it’s similar to how I feel when people visit my home. My home doesn’t seem dirty, messy, or disorganized until guests show up, and then I start noticing every flaw and imperfection. The difference between church and our homes is that most folks rarely have guests in their homes, but we constantly have guests in our churches. Make a conscious effort to look at your church like you do your house when you know that company is coming. If nothing else, keep the platform and altar area clean, organized, clutter-free, and pleasant. Why? Because the platform and altar area is where people’s attention will be focused 99% of the time. Do your best to “awkward-proof” your platform as much as possible. Meaning, avoid tripping hazards, weird set-ups where singers are practically on top of ministers who are seated, chairs that make strange noises (funny story goes with this tip), busy seating arrangements that people have to weave around like a maze, bad lighting, exposed tangled wires, decorative arrangements that are easily bumped or fall with little provoking, and odd instrument and musician placements that conflict with the overall environment.
Being self-aware also means that we realize that unchurched people often don’t understand expressions and words that are common to us. No. I’m not one of those guys who wants to dumb down our preaching or secularize our expressions, but I do think we should pause often and explain to guests what we’re talking about. Yes, sir. That’s just common courtesy and good manners. We know exactly what we mean by God is going to “split the eastern sky wide open” but a guest just hears a weird, scary sounding phrase. Self-aware churches do a lot of patient explaining.
Along those same lines, if you announce that everyone who wants to be a part of “such and such” needs to talk to “so and so” without visibly showing them who “so and so” is, every one of your guests and newer saints is going to feel completely lost and excluded. Self-aware churches do lots of introducing people to people.
Utilize the power of social media and onlinepresence. I’ve written many times about the dangers and pitfalls of social media (here, here, and here). However, it’s simply irresponsible when a church fails to harness this powerful outreach tool. Our church reaches over fifty thousand people each month via iTunes and podcast, and much more than that through our online presence. The vast majority of people in your community will check out your church online before making a decision to visit. Very few people show up without doing a little research these days. If possible, set up a podcast where people can listen to your lessons and sermons. Have a website, it doesn’t have to be state of the art but it needs to be updated (don’t have announcements posted for things that have already happened) and very informative. There’s no such thing as too much information. Tell them about your church, what to expect, what you believe, all about your vision, your ministries, your leadership (many church sites make it challenging to even figure out their pastor’s name), your service times, and your location. Link your site to various social media sites and utilize them to the best of your ability. Ideally, someone trustworthy and tech-savvy should be shepherding this ministry (and it is a ministry).
Don’t be ashamed of your apostolic identity (Romans 1:16, Luke 9:26). Hollywood isn’t ashamed of their spectacle. In fact, the world has never been prouder in spite of the chaos that it’s in. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus, holiness, Apostolic doctrine, the moving of the Spirit, exuberant praise, passionate preaching, or our Pentecostal heritage.
Beware of the Grasshopper Complex (Numbers 13:26-33). Remember the ten spies who gave an “evil report (Numbers 13:32)”? They said that they could not take the Promised Land. Mostly because they had spotted intimidating giants. They famously whined, “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs (Numbers 13:33)”. They were suffering from an Inferiority Complex. They were so impressed and oppressed by the perceived strength of their enemy that they lost faith and paralysis took control. Many churches suffer from a Grasshopper Complex. They see thriving false churches, encroaching evil from every side, political pressure, cultural decay, obstacles that seem insurmountable, and they are frozen in fear. This is fundamentally a faith problem. Here’s the deal with giants; the bigger they are the easier it is to hit them with a slingshot. Okay. I know that sounds flippant and sometimes the battle is extremely intense. But in the end, we either trust God for the victory or we don’t.
It’s no secret that our country is in a tremendous state of turmoil. America is in religious, political, economic, and moral upheaval. We seem more divided than ever by class, creed, color, and culture. This ought not to be so, but ignoring reality is not an option. Let’s narrow down that massive list of generalities to the subject of the escalating racial tensions that have dominated the news over the past few weeks.
First, all racism is rooted in hatred and hatred is a sin. John didn’t pull any punches when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 19:20-21).”
You cannot claim to love God and hate others at the same time. In another place, John equates the sin of hatred with the sin of murder (1 John 3:14-15). If you study the Bible and human nature you will quickly find that hatred and murder are just a few short steps apart from one another. Christians of all races absolutely must resist the pressure to be subdued by racism or hatred of any kind.
Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). He works feverishly to divide and conquer. The Church must recognize and rebuke Satan’s handy work wherever hatred manifested as racism raises its murderous head.
We should also know that this proliferation of racial division is a clear indication of the soon coming of the Lord. While speaking about the end of time, Jesus said in Mark 13:8, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Recently, my friend Reverend Victor Jackson articulated that the word nation mentioned here finds it’s root in the Greek word meaning race. Therefore, it is accurate to say that in the last days, races will rise up against races and kingdoms will rise up against kingdoms. The Church recognizes that this is the spirit of the antichrist at work. If the Church allows the spirit of division (a spirit that is antithetical to the Holy Spirit) into its ranks it will cease to be the Church.
I believe that racial injustice is more prevalent than many want to acknowledge, and less than some who peddle division would lead us to believe. The Church must stand against injustice for people of every color, race, and creed (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 24:24-25, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 27:19). The Bible intertwines the unfailing love of God with justice (Psalm 33:5). In other words, love and justice are closely connected attributes of God. If we are reflectors of God’s image then we must love people and love justice.
Jesus took it a step further by commanding us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This might not be very compelling had Jesus not obeyed his own command by forgiving the very people who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34).
As racial tensions hang over our nation like storm clouds we must remember one key Scripture: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).
And so, as the Church stands against injustice, racism from every direction, hatred, violence, and class warfare we must be ever mindful that the battle will be won with spiritual weapons. Bullets are not the answer. Hatred and violence only instigate more hatred and violence. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are more relevant today than ever before:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
It is imperative that the Church models to this world what racial unity looks like in word and deed. We must stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For the record, I believe that the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with excellence and integrity (there are always exceptions to the rule). The apostle Paul clearly admonished believers to give honor and respect to governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7). As a Christian, I grieve over every senseless loss of God-given life. I rigorously oppose violence against black lives, blue lives, and white lives. I know it sounds silly and sappy but the words of an old children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School keep ringing in my ears, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.
We know that our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore, prayer is a powerful force of good in the fight against evil. Prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer is not just something that we do to make ourselves feel better. Prayer is not just a platitude that we talk about. Therefore, pray we must. I’m imploring everyone who loves the Lord to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation. Join me in prayer for the families who have recently lost loved ones to what seem to be unjustified acts of police violence. Pray for the families of the Dallas police officers who tragically lost their lives because of an injustice that they did not commit. Pray that the cycle of hate and violence will stop. And if you really want to be like Jesus; pray for your enemies too (Matthew 5:44).
This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.
The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.
A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.
We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.
If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.
It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.
Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.
With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.
Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.
For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.
Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.
With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.
Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.
5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
This post will likely not go viral or attract more than a few clicks. There’s no hook. No catch. No gimmick to draw our overloaded minds into a brief moment of introspection. And therein lies a glimpse of our cultural dilemma. We have become shallow, narcissistic, and just plain bored.
We have more gadgets and gizmos than a Cold War spy, and yet we are listless. Yes. Technology has enabled us to spread the Gospel with the click of a mouse, and yet, who’s paying attention? The blessing is also a curse. The very instrument that can send truth around the globe in an instant has deadened our senses. We are reduced to Twitterbites, and soundbites, clever little memes, and silly little quotations. Those things are well and good. They have their place, but by themselves, they are empty and meaningless.
Like it or not, the Bible is a voluminous catalog of God’s very words. Simplify it as we might, it is not compatible with our national, self-inflicted, attention deficit disorder. We are all like kids in a candy store running from one jar of candy to another with zero tolerance for self-control. That might be fine for kids in a candy store, but it spells disaster when it comes to spiritual things.
Preachers can’t speak longer than 20 minutes before people start staring like freshly turned zombies. Teachers can’t expound the Word for more than a few minutes before eyes glaze over and fidgety hands reach for smartphones like withdrawing addicts. Everyone rushes from entertainment to entertainment, and from distraction to distraction. We can’t focus. We can’t think clearly. We can’t dig into the gems below the surface because we are riddled with restlessness.
We want the preacher to get to the point, but theology is not a sitcom; the plot doesn’t always work itself out in 20 minutes or less. We want our books to be thin because we don’t have time to read anything substantial (although our time spent on social media proves otherwise). We want the Cliff Notes version of the Bible. As the apostle Paul would probably say, “we want milk, not meat.”
It’s bad enough that our pews struggle with this modern problem, but our pulpits are struggling as well. I know this because I am the chief of sinners in this area. As I write, my cell phone rings, my iPad beeps, my laptop whirs, and my watch keeps the beat. I find myself giving in to the pressure to oversimplify weighty matters of theological discourse. I find myself avoiding important sermons that I know will induce unjustified boredom.
And our ministry model does little to resist this disturbing trend. We promote ministries like celebrities rather than by examining their depth of knowledge. We do little iron sharpening these days. We’re all so busy trying to get in the last word that we rarely listen. And we can only learn when we listen.
Young preachers spend more time crafting their image than working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Beware of an image-driven Gospel with no genuine apostolic authority.
This never-ending rant does contain a word of hope. God’s Spirit is still drawing the hearts and minds of people. I am convinced, that although the challenges are great, we can cut through the clutter and return to critical thinking and anointed preaching. There is little room for error or mediocrity. We are competing in a fast-paced marketing-saturated society. We must bring the Word to life with clarity and intensity. We must be creative yet systematic, fun but serious-minded (yes, it is compatible), humble yet dogmatic, deep yet understandable, and anointed yet approachable.
Bottom line, preachers, and teachers must work harder than ever before. Not only to engage easily distracted hearers but to guard themselves against the temptation to settle for MTV style theology. The Bible can’t be rushed, edited, manipulated, tamed, trimmed, or airbrushed. All the skinny jean wearing hipster preachers in the world can’t change Truth. Truth simply is, just as God simply is.
And so, as we mindlessly scroll our way around social media, let’s pause as often as possible to meditate on the deep things of God’s word. Let’s encourage our spiritual leaders to actually be spiritual and not cater to our carnal desire for less meat and more milk. Let’s push past the clutter and the buzzing and seek God for who He really is and not just what we want Him to be. Only then can we be impacted by the transforming Word of God. God’s Word has not changed, have we?
This is an extension of my recent post You Cannot Be A Church Leader If. The interest was strong and the feedback intense so today I’m adding a few to the list.
12. You cannot be a church leader if you do not have a burden.
The apostle Paul described his burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews as a bitter sorrow and an unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love, a burden goes beyond concern, it is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. It is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.
13. You cannot be a pastor without a Divine calling.
This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. Having said that, I know many people who were called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the necessary theological framework for each point, but this is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles including Paul, and Timothy. Jonah is particularly interesting because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first and God went to great lengths to take him to his field of evangelism.
14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.
Many people have knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information, wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. Couple points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership the more critical wisdom becomes.
15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.
16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.
17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry as well. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was highly visible for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants, lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. Although, God does give confirmation of anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.
18. You cannot be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.
Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s approval. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.
19. You cannot be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.
Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. This goes back to my point in part one of this post regarding submission to spiritual authority. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via unification and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church looking for someone to validate their personal ministry, eventually they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their own ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from pastor, to preacher, to teacher, to evangelist, to musician, to singer, to youth leader, and on and on.
20. You cannot be a church leader without the ability to lead.
This one is going to rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who lacked the ability to lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the true “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed) promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that in our rush to start new churches we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into. One caveat, I do believe that if God truly calls he does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their own desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, and the neck in conjunction with the head, and so on. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.
21. You cannot be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.
20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:20-22).
True servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind they are still safe (i.e. saved). When spiritual leaders traverse in the gray areas their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant but it bears repeating because of its importance.
For me personally there is probably no passage of Scripture that has given more inspiration to me than the epic story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39). It’s inspirational on many levels because it shows how one person of faith can change the course of a nation. It shows that we are not alone even when we think that we’re alone. It shows that God works all things together for good to those that love and trust Him. It shows that evil does not have to prevail. It shows that you don’t have to be in the majority to win if God is on your side. It demonstrates that God is all powerful and willing to reveal His glory when the time is right. And beyond all of that it’s just an awesome story. Who among us would not want to witness God putting the skeptics to shame with an outpouring of fire? In fact, it’s easy to get so focused on the falling fire that we forget they still needed rain even after they experienced the fire.
Elijah lived and prophesied in dark days. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had ushered in an era of idolatry. It seemed that everyone was a backslider in Elijah’s early years of ministry. Jezebel was a murderous queen who introduced Israel to a brand of sensual religious paganism. Evil was rampant in the kingdom. The culture buckled under the pressure of compromise and lasciviousness. Good and decent people were forced into hiding, godly people became the outcasts of their society simply because they would not conform to popular culture. Babies and children were the most vulnerable in the culture that Jezebel shaped because they were offered as living sacrifices to the pagan god known as Baal. If all of this sounds familiar it’s probably because I could just as easily be describing today’s culture where good is called evil and evil is called good, where righteousness is considered stupid and sensuality is the norm, where false religion is prevalent but true religion is scarce, where compromise is cool and steadfastness is underrated, and over 55 million defenseless babies have been murdered since Roe vs. Wade (watch this powerful pro-life video if you dare). It is the single most atrocious genocide in the history of mankind, and yet they sip their wine and eat their salads completely undisturbed. What have we become as a nation? What will we become without revival? How much longer will God allow mercy to hold back the hand judgment? And yet, as bad as things are now it was just as bad in Elijah’s day.
In a moment of exasperation, Elijah prayed for God to withhold the rain and for three and a half years not one drop of rain fell to the ground. It was a brutal famine. People were desperate for life-giving rain. They were perishing slowly but surely. Yet, Elijah remained sensitive to the voice of the Lord and he realized that there needed to be an outpouring of fire before there could be an outpouring of rain. The fire represented death the rain represented life; Elijah understood that you can’t have new life until you put the old life to death. This generation will not have an outpouring of rain until we first have an outpouring of fire.
And so I echo the words of Elijah, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him(1 Kings 18:21).” You can’t serve God and the world at the same time. You can’t gain new life and keep your old life at the same time. If we ever want to see a deluge of the Holy Ghost than we must first experience the purging of the falling fire. But Ryan you’re stuck in the Old Testament. Let me take you to the New Testament:
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
So how do you get the fire to fall? First, you’ve got to get yourself to an altar. Second, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice. Third, you’ve got to pray and then pray some more. And then just step back and watch God do His thing! We would have more rain if we would be willing to experience the fire. There are too many Christians who want rain, but they don’t want fire because fire takes sacrifice. Fire takes consecration. Fire takes perseverance. Fire takes dedication. Fire takes courage. Fire takes prayer and more prayer. Fire takes confrontation. Fire will not fall if we’re just doing business as usual. Fire will not fall if we’re just going through the motions. Fire will not fall while the altar is in disrepair. But there is a spiritual famine in our society today that is so prevalent that it cannot be ignored any longer. And if the Church will not call down the fire the rain will not fall.
The Holy Spirit is powerful and it moves in mysterious ways. Anyone who tells you they fully understand every interworking of the Holy Ghost is either a liar or extremely foolish. But I can tell you that the Holy Spirit manifests itself in many different ways. It convicts us and yet it saves us to the uttermost. It brings joy and consternation. It reveals our weakness and empowers us at the same time. Sometimes it falls like a gentle shower and sometimes it burns like a holy flame. It heals and it makes whole. It breaks us and reshapes us. It molds us and makes us better than we were before. It fills us and surrounds us, and it goes before us. When the Holy Ghost falls like rain it brings growth just like physical rain brings growth to the natural world. In the natural rain brings strength, refreshing, and cleansing and so it is in the Spirit as well. Our culture desperately needs the Spirit to fall like rain. But remember, the way God operates is fire first, then rain. When the Holy Ghost falls like fire it purifies.
For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2-3).
You can’t get to the rain until you go through the purification process. However, you can’t offer a bull as Elijah did on Mount Caramel. No. We must present ourselves to God on the altar of sacrifice. When we give ourselves wholly and completely to Him the Holy Ghost will fall like a refiner’s fire.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain… (1 Kings 18:45).