Tag Archives: church

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

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Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Family Reunions Are the Best

I got to see some of my family last night. Oh, we might not look the same. And, yes, we grew up in different households at different times, but we’re still related. It was great to see them.

My family has a deep and special bond. It’s a bond that only comes through the blood soaked nails of Christ. It’s a common unity in the suffering of the Savior. It’s a common participation in the sweet sacrifice of a God-Man, made 2,000 years ago. We love Him because He first loved us, and we love each other because of that relationship. We are family and His love compels us.

Family bonds should not be easily broken. We might move on, but that blood bond remains. We might forget or lose touch with some, but one day we’ll remember and be remembered again. We might be apart, but we are still united, some way, some how. We are family, after all, and He will give us a great reunion one day.

The love of Christ brings all ages, all ethnicities, all sinners together as one. Love, the love of Christ, lasts forever as we become a family in Him. And by the way, if you don’t know your family, you need to. It’s not that hard, you just have to be a little uncomfortable and put yourself out there. But I can tell you that it’s worth the risk. 🙂

Thank you, Lord, for a little family reunion, for the reminder, for the taste of heaven, for the glimpse of the Banquet of the Lamb. Thank you, Lord.

Pastor Fran

So this happened…

My practice lately is that when I am out of town for LifeWay, I take extra time to visit churches on Wednesday nights to study the Word and enjoy the fellowship with believers. This week gave me another opportunity, and after looking up a church nearby on their website (yes, this is why you need a website for your church), I went to that church last night.

I was a bit confused when I got out of the car and headed into the building. The front door was, well, in front, yet I saw everyone else going through the back door. I soon followed the crowd and went into the back door and was greeted by an older man with a big smile on his face.

“Welcome!” he said with a big grin. “Come on in to our recovery ministry!”

I quickly realized that I was heading into a celebrate recovery meeting. I stammered, “b-but I’m not doing that. I’m looking for the Bible study.”

“Well, this is what we got!” He enthusiastically said. “Come in and maybe you’d enjoy it! There’s worship and a testimony too!”

“Okay, I will!” I replied, and went into the sanctuary.

The sanctuary was old and worn out, showing its history as a once thriving church but now reflective of its declined neighborhood. The people inside, however, seemed to be excited to start as the countdown wound down on the screen prior to worship. Looking around, I saw a diversity among us of many socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. The countdown went to zero, and at that point, I didn’t know what to expect.

What I soon experienced was nothing less than heartfelt praise to The God who healed them of their addictions. Men and women alike were singing about Jesus their healer, as they proclaimed to God and to the world their deliverance from the sin that so enslaved them. I heard the words sung with old, raspy voices, with thick Latin accents, and best of all, with whispers from the heart. All in all, it was a powerful testimony of the Messiah, an amazing display of joy!

The pastor told me later that there were “only” about 100 people that would come to worship on a Sunday in that church. However, what I saw went beyond Sunday and into the rest of the week. I saw a church that expanded the kingdom, to seek and save those which was lost, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This church, long in heart but short of resources, were the hands and feet of Christ. This is a healthy Body, healthier than many churches much larger and with more resources.

This is because they have the Spirit of Christ and rely on Him as they fulfill their calling. May we see their example and may we all do the same!

Grateful for the gospel,

Pastor Fran

Are You Missing?

I really love my truck. It’s a manly, testosterone laced, V10 F250 beast that pulls anything I want anywhere, anytime. I’ve taken it up hills in the snow, gone into the woods where puny she-cars can’t go, and I’ve never gotten stuck. Ever. Yep, breathe in that manliness!

2000_ford_f-350-super-duty_extended-cab-pickup_lariat_fq_oem_1_500The problem is the only thing it never passes is a gas station! And though I love my truck, 10 miles per gallon on a good day is tough to swallow (7 when pulling my camper). However, I recently had new plugs and wires put in the truck and my gas mileage increased by 20%, not too shabby! You see, it turns out that one or more of the cylinders in my hefty engine wasn’t quite connecting right, and the engine wasn’t performing as it should. My engine was misfiring. It was “missing,” and I didn’t even know it.

There are plenty of churches that are not performing as they should. And what I’ve seen is that they miss the mark on one major thing- the discipling of others. In fact, a church without a clear strategy for discipleship is like a sputtering engine that over-consumes resources and lacks power. The church might exist, but the potential to do so much more is left unused.

If this is you and your church, what can you do? I think it is so important to pray for a strategy that is easily remembered and easily repeatable. As a local church pastor, I encouraged people to come, grow, serve, and share the gospel, and I used this as a process as much as a tag line. New believers were quickly encouraged to be a part of a bible study, serve on a team, and were encouraged to share what Christ did for them. The result: lives were changed, leaders were developed, and a church was changed.

So let me ask you: are you missing? Are all your cylinders firing? You can change this! Begin with yourself, then look to help another. If you are a church leader, begin to think about what discipleship looks like. Pray, think, and ask questions, hard questions, and come up with a memorable, repeatable process. Do this, and let God use you and your church in a remarkable, amazing way!

Pastor Fran

Four characteristics to look for in a Church

Since transitioning from my church to a new ministry that serves the church in her mission of making disciples, Teresa and

 I have embarked on an unexpected journey: trying to find our next church family to join together with in order to serve Jesus. This is the first time that we have had to do this in 25 years, so you can imagine how intimidating this has felt! 

However, through this we’ve seen a wide variety of worship styles and I am encouraged for the church as a whole! Its been a very rich experience and we’ve met some wonderful people and faithful belevers. Yet as a result of this search, I’m reminded of some essentials to look for and hope that three principles might be helpful for you if you are in the same boat. As I heard someone say once, approach a church with a critical eye, not a critical spirit. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list:

Four characteristics to look for in a Church:

  1. They are Christ centered and Bible focused. This is a non-negotiable. If the church does not preach, teach, or show a concern for Christ and His Word, there’s no sense being there. Thankfully, we saw that most churches were serious about the Bible.

  2. They are caring and friendly to others. We were shocked, yes shocked, that in one case, no one said a word to us. I did have a moment when I thought a woman was going to shake my hand, that is, until she reached around me to grab a bulletin next to me! We were not looking for an overwhelming outpouring of attention, just a friendly hello or two would have sufficed from someone other than the pastor.

  3. They are concerned about the gospel. We exist to glorify God, and we glorify God by living and loving the gospel on a daily basis. When we are challenged by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it can result in an amazing, beautiful time of praise and glory to His name. This is shown when a church emphasizes missions, ministries, and daily personal evangelism.

  4. They are unified with one another. Every church has negative Nates and Nellies, but there’s a difference between a person or two who can be cranky a church who has a culture with many of them. When personal preferences disrupt unity in a church, there is a spirit that permeates everything. This can become obvious to a guest.

That’s all I have for now, and I realize that there’s only four characteristics here, but these are essential. Personal preferences in worship style, preaching style, driving distance and other items might come into play, but these, in my opinion, are secondary. Over all of this is the overriding leading of the Holy Spirit, so prayer and discernment must come into play. 

That’s what I have, would you add anything to the list?
Pastor Fran