The Cruciform Church

When Christ died on the cross, He paid the penalty for sin.  Before the Righteous and Holy God, we are justified through Christ, legally, positionally, and eternally.  Christ’s death on the cross meant that we who are separated from God can now come before Him with confidence, trusting not in our flesh, our birth, our circumstances or our works, but in Christ alone and His sacrificial atonement for us.  And for that, we should be eternally grateful and thankful.

This is the basis for being a cruciform church (thanks to Lee Camp for this term in his book, Mere Discipleship).  The cruciform church is a church of individuals who take up their cross daily.  Worship is priority in all things, as it is first and foremost in all ministry, work, and action.  In fact, a cruciform church does not act without it being an act of worship to a most Holy God.

This act of worship of the Lord is expressed in many ways.  Most people think that worship means corporate worship, as in a Sunday morning gathering.  Actually, it’s often more than that, it can range from an individual/personal devotional and worship time, a small group bible study, a homeless feeding, and even a planning meeting (I know, maybe I’m pushing it)- that is, if the focus is on an expression from the participant’s heart to the Lord.

A cruciform church is formed around the cross.  It is a church with the cross in all its dealings.  It is a people eternally forgiven, eternally saved, and eternally grateful.  It is a people seeking not their own comfort, but the Great Commission.  It’s a mindset and a heart-felt change: all actions are driven by a concern for the non-worshippers of God, as those in the church reach to those who do not know Christ.  Evangelism, missions, discipleship, corporate worship, tithing, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines and practices mean nothing if the goal of expanding the Kingdom of Christ worshippers is not on its radar.

How does a church be more of a cruciform church?  It begins with the leadership.  The leaders must be sold out for Christ and His Kingdom.  They must be humble in their positions of leadership, as there are no professionals in the Kingdom of Christ.  They must be focused, removing distractions of “creature comforts” and self-centeredness from their thinking, centering their lives and minds on the things of the Lord through prayer and the Word.  They must be biblical, pointing the congregation to the principles of the Scriptures, shepherding the flock with patience and great instruction in the full counsel of the Word.  They must be slaves to righteousness, thirsting and hungering after the righteousness of God both inside and outside the walls of the church.  They must be bold and courageous, seeking God’s strength in standing up to the temptations of legalism and liberalism, saving the church from wolves that creep in, and pressing the people of God toward the Kingdom work of God.

Even more, it continues with the church itself.  The church must be willing to submit and to be lead, asking God to direct its paths and allowing God’s leaders to lead them in a direction that they should go.  They should be willing to come, grow, serve, and share Christ daily, in every place they influence: work, home, school, and even the seemingly mundane.  They must be unselfish, remembering the call to the Great Commission instead of the “Great Comfort” they so desire in their lives.  They must be hungry, desiring to see another soul saved, another life changed, and another sinner repentant.

These are the components of the cruciform church- the church with the cross in all its dealings.  Be the church. Expand the Kingdom.  Transform lives.


The Church

In an attempt to follow a biblical model for church ministry, I thought that I would mention a few thoughts of mine regarding churches and the prevailing attitudes within various sized churches.  I admit that these are not based on research, but on observations, and there are stereotypes that are inherent in my thoughts.  I will say that I have firsthand experience to varying degrees of least some of these attitudes:

  1. The Family Church- small church (usually 100 or less in worship), run by a few families, heart to grow, but most members desire a pastor that is more of a chaplain than a preacher.  Usually single staff pastor with a part time minister.  Out of necessity to have a continuous ministry, deacons can often be administrative in nature.  However, much of the administration is done by lay persons and through  monthly business meetings, though some churches function as a pastor led “dictatorship.”  
  2. The Transitional Church- small to mid sized church (100-200), some families still influence; heart to grow; most members desire a pastor to hold several duties (chaplain, evangelist, administrator, and preacher).  Deacons are more free to be ministers of people instead of administrators.  Critical time for the church as a lack of infrastructural change (ie. growth in the staffing or worship space) will begin to hinder ministry.
  3. The Expanding Church– mid sized church (200-350), some families that influenced in the past no longer hold as much sway; heart to grow; most members desire a pastor to lead staff, administrate, and  preach (possibly multiple services).  Deacons are ministers of people.  With the addition of full time staffing, much of the ministry is now able to be spread out among several pastors.  A church identity is formed and expressed in a sort of church “branding” to best express the heart of the church to the community.  A culture must developed that emphasizes excellence in ministry, that embraces change, and that emphasizes gifts to be used in ministry. 
  4. The Large Church- multiple full time staffed church with large worship attendance (350-1000); pastoral staff holds sway in ministry decisions; heart to grow; most members desire pastor to lead and preach.  The possibility of an executive pastor might exist to remove some of the administrative burdens off of the senior pastor.  Deacons enhance pastoral ministry through ministry of people.  A church “branding” begins to occur, with a clear identity of the church expressed to the community.  An intentional coordination among staff and key lay leaders might need to occur on a daily or weekly basis in order to best facilitate ministry.
  5. The Mega Church- Large gatherings, often in multiple services (1000+).  Pastoral staff administrates with associates in formed departments.  Many members desire pastor to be a figure head, a visionary, and a preacher.  Multiple preachers may be on staff to preach some of the services.  Deacons are ministers of people.  The church “brand” is recognizable in the community.  Senior staff meet separately, and then information is disseminated through other communications to associate staff.
  6. The Multi Campus Church– In this model, the church goes from multiple services in one location to multiple services in multiple locations.  This is not limited to mega churches, as multi campus meetings can occur in churches sizes from the expanding church model to the mega church model.  The “branding” of the church identity has now expanded to be recognizable enough to impact new locations.  
Again, I know that there are stereotype here as well as generalizations, but there is a sense that much of this occurs.  We can debate the individual thoughts here, but that’s missing my point.  After all, these types of churches all have a heart to grow, and all of these churches have organizational structures.  So what is the missing factor here?  
What we are missing here is the message of the changed life in Christ.  Personally, I think that churches have been overly focused on structure, systems, and resources and not enough on transforming people.  Sorry to say, but mega-church pastors and their methods sell books, but rarely are they models for others to follow.  In our quest to find the magic formula to grow our grandiose kingdoms, we miss the most important part of the reason for the church in the first place.  Converts come to Christ but do not know what is next.  Churches exchange sheep from one church to the next.  Pastors abandon one ministry for the greener pasture of another.  In the meantime, while on this earth, we lose our battle with Satan and his influence on the next generation.  
To our shame, our churches are baptizing less, tithing less, discipling less, disciplining less, and sharing less now than fifty years ago.  Something needs to change.  A discipling church is one that focuses on reaching and teaching.  There are systems, yes, but more importantly, there is a patient focus on changing the culture of the church to the heart of the gospel- that all people might come, grow, serve, and share Christ.  It is a mindset and a heart felt change, followed with action.  It begins with a transformation minded pastor and expands to the church.  And, yes, it will take time.
Let me mention this- building a life-transforming ministry is counter cultural, both inside and outside of the church.  It will not produce quick, immediate, results recognizable by associational and state convention baptismal numbers.  It will not spur the admiration of others in order to stroke your ego, accompanied with calls for speaking engagements and book deals.  It will not bring about offers for denominational positions and teams.  It will instead, bring about changed lives, and as some persevere to the end, it will result in praise and glory to God.  
Now that I have stated my case, I will keep posting on how this can happen.  Stay tuned as I lay out a plan for a biblical, transforming church ministry- one that emphasizes the gospel message to bring people to Christ and transform them to fruit bearing disciples of Christ.
Until next time,

Mondays…oh Mondays

Monday mornings can be a mixed bag for me.  Sometimes Mondays come and I get “right on it,” eager and ready for the week ahead.  Other times, after looking at my overbooked calendar with regret and disdain, I simply have dreaded Mondays.  Within those dreaded days, a very small percentage of Mondays are like today.  They are a downer.  A discourager.  A drag.  These days don’t happen much, but it does happen.

Now, please don’t get me wrong- I’m really okay, but it has seemed that today was going to be one of those small percentage Mondays for me.  I do realize that self pity and self centeredness is essentially self worship (idolatry), and certainly idolatry is sinful and repentance must come.  In my repentance of my sin, I first and foremost ran to God.  

I had to spend more time with a healing God.  I went to prayer.  I listened to music.  I especially ran to God’s Word.  As I struggled and pressed through the Bible reading, prayer, and meditation time, I found myself fighting for joy to take over my day and upcoming week.  My priority this morning became to focus on God and not my pity party, on God’s righteousness and not my self centeredness, the Lord’s glory and not my own.  I refused to let discouragement come in and take control, but instead focused on Christ alone, knowing that He brings joy. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5).  I trusted that pressing on and pressing forth will result in a joy that goes further than simple happiness. 

This morning was one of those mornings that brought me joy in the presence of the Lord.  Even more, in my prayer and reading time, I ran across a puritan prayer that especially helped me and may may help others.  As a result, let me share it with you:
May I never give Thee rest until Christ is the pulse of my heart, the spokesman of my lips, and the lamp of my feet (Valley of Vision, p. 273).

May His words and His ways be my words and my ways- all for His glory!


Book review: Where is God? by Dr. John Townsend

                When I first received this book by Dr. John Townsend, I have to admit that I wasn’t too terribly excited.  Although I have heard Townsend on the radio and have glanced through a few of his books in the Boundaries series, I was still not quite sure what Townsend’s approach would be as he dealt with a question often asked by many, “Where is God?”  For example, was I in store to read nothing but Freudian psychology “baptized” with Scripture?  Was I going to hear nothing but heart-wrenching stories aimed at gaining an emotional connection with the reader, but with little dealing in weightier matters?  After reading his work, I was pleasantly surprised that neither was to be the case.
                Townsend begins his book by discussing a two-sided spiritual experience while on a trip to Antarctica.  His experience had him feeling exalted at the snowy scenery, but frightened when his sightseeing team encountered danger.  This experience helped him to identify with those who ask, “Where is God?”
                Townsend tackles the hard issues in this book.  He is brutally honest and open about sin as the cause of some issues and recounts his own life and experiences of those who he has ministered to in the past.  He is extremely biblical.  As he travels from chapter to chapter, however, I began to find that Townsend was not attempting to provide solutions, only observations about struggles and sin.  That is, until I read chapter nine.
                Chapter nine is probably the best one in the book and the turning point for me in my assessment of the work.  This chapter, entitled, “The God Who Transforms You,” brings biblical insight and wisdom to the forefront.  That difficulties and trials bring character to the believer is clearly taught in Scripture, and Townsend expands on this concept to allow the reader to understand this important concept as he moves on to his next concept.  During trials, Townsend writes, one is to do the opposite of what may “feel” right: run to God and His Word.  Build your character in Christ, Townsend rightly claims, and you may be more equipped to deal with the difficulties of life. 
                Even more, Townsend continues from this chapter with the same sort of biblical advice for the various issues he identifies.  He offers Scripture, application, and real life examples.  Finally, Townsend concludes the book with a practical wrap-up of sorts to help the reader apply all of the material to his or her life.  Though it is a bit short in content, the chapter is helpful and useful for the reader. 
                All in all, this is a good read.  For those that are looking for answers to struggles, Townsend brings the reader back to God and His healing power.  I highly recommend this book to those wanting to learn and understand more about their own struggles and how they may turn it over to God.