If ever a list were made of the top ten words that are most overused at church (and I just may), this word that helps define healthy churches would most likely be at the very top. By the way, at the bottom? Apothecary. I want to use a different word, find a good synonym, but this is the best word to describe what I mean. Since it is overused, it is therefore often misused. I will, unfortunately have have to devote some time to what I don’t mean by the word. Wow Cloften, could you please put in a few more vague disclaimers before you tell us what the word is? No I will not. Here is the word.
(Yeah, dude. That word is overdone. You should have given more disclaimers)
What do I mean by relevant? Relevant means that it matters to people’s lives. What we say and do in church makes a difference in the way that people live. Maybe applicable is a good synonym. Being relevant answers the “so what?” question. Something can be true but irrelevant (Most American car horns honk in the key of F). When we teach the Bible, we want what we teach to be relevant. It needs to produce life-change (#7 on the list). One might think that this is the same as contemporary (#2 on the list), but it’s is not. Contemporary typically speaks to doing programs, worship, etc. in a way that is similar in style to the culture (#5 on the list). While that is something that churches that I lead do, it is not the same. Your church can be contemporary in style, but irrelevant in content. Your church can be traditional, but relevant in content.
“Easy heretic. The Bible is always relevant.” It sure is. The question is why do we sometimes teach the Bible as if it isn’t. I think you have to try really hard to not be relevant, but we do it.
Here is an example:
If I told you that in the time that Revelation 3:14-22 was written that Laodecia had no direct access to hot or cold water, that would be true but so what?
I’ll go a step further. If I told you that they had to pipe in water from outside the city and by the time it got to them it was lukewarm water which was nasty, would that be relevant? What if I told you that they hated that water, because it was too warm to drink and not hot enough to be used for hot baths? Would that make you a better Christian? Would that draw you closer to God?
One more step further, since all of that is true, then we can know that in Revelation 3:15-16 when Jesus says he wishes they were hot or cold and not lukewarm, he’s not saying that hot is good, cold is bad, lukewarm is worse. He is saying cold is useful, hot is useful, lukewarm water is nasty. I still haven’t been relevant.
Relevant comes when I then in some way try to explain to you that when we sit around and become stale and useless, we become repulsive to God. We were designed to be used by God. How is God using you? What is your purpose?. All the way up until I said that, what I was saying was true, perhaps insightful, it was also helpful in understanding a passage of the Bible, but it was not yet relevant. However, if we come up short in our teaching, small groups, community (#9), ministries in helping people see how their lives need to be different, we are not helping people. Life with God becomes an academic exercise, not one where God is changing our lives.
We need to be a church that is helping people become real (#4), authentic (#3) followers of Jesus Christ, where is he is changing people every day. We must be relevant.
OK, this is going to be a little risky. Anytime you start talking about characteristics of a healthy church or church values, there is always one more. There is one that is the “most important” and “I can’t believe you left that one out.” Then the discussion gets hijacked. So here is what I would like to do. I would like to start with a basic definition of what makes a church and then talk about some specific characteristics of what I believe make a healthy church. Ok? Ok.
1. Primarily exists to bring honor and worship to God and secondarily to love people (the great commandment)
2. Believes that the Bible is God’s word
3. Trusts in Jesus alone for hope, life and salvation
4. Depends completely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and bless
5. (That one thing that’s really important to you that I forgot)
I know that not all churches hold to those, but these are what make a church, evangelical if we must have a category. Go to 100 churches in 100 weeks and 90+ of them will believe and value those. Yet some churches are growing and healthy and others struggle. There are a lot of different ways to do church, different programs, leadership styles, etc., and many (most, all?) of those can be very effective. However they can all be quite ineffective as well.
After a less than great experience at a church in St. Louis, an amazing experience in Cabot, and talking, interacting and learning from some of the top church planters around, I have come to believe that there are certain characteristics of churches that make churches grow, be healthy and thrive. To repeat the disclaimer, this is not an exhaustive list. These are simply three that echo loudly in my mind. We will tackle them one at a time.
Great churches love people. They especially love people who are brand new. They mostest especialliest love people who are new and far from God. When new people walk in, that church very quickly does everything that they can to make that person not feel new. The church lets them know that they are wanted and are invited to be a part of that family. There are no strangers, no outsiders, no lonely people at this church.
How do you know if your church is friendly?
1. The members leave the best parking spaces for new people.
2. New people have been greeted, welcomed, shown around, multiple times before the service starts.
3. You have a hard time starting on time because people won’t stop talking in the cafe, lobby, back of the worship center, etc.
4. The “meet and greet” just won’t end.
5. The person that has to lock up the building never gets to eat lunch at a reasonable time.
6. Everyone, not just the greeters and ushers, welcomes and meets new people.
7. New people come back.
It is troubling the number of churches that say they want to grow but seem to resent at worst,and are indifferent at best to new people. But not your church. Your church loves people. It greets everyone. It creates a welcoming environment for everyone, visits people in the hospital, surrounds people that are hurting. Your church loves people. At least it can, starting now.
Wow. We are moving in 8 days. It really is hard to believe. It has been an amazing four years at Fellowship Cabot. I have learned so much about being a pastor and leader. It has been overwhelming. As I look to make this transition, I’ve been trying to categorize and put into words what I believe God has taught me about church and what it means to lead a church. Over the next days, weeks and months that vision will come out in blog posts, sermons, staff meetings, and random meetings at various coffee shops around Northwest Arkansas.
In the meantime, I am overwhelmed by how close August 1st is. In a short few days, I start a new job and an incredibly opportunity to lead a great group of people and prepare for another God adventure. I am “pre-working” over these next few days to get ready, and I need your help.
Please pray that our house will sell quickly. We’re moving into an apartment until our house sells. We believe God has a great plan for us, the people he wants to have our house, and has prepared a house for us in Fayetteville. On the other hand, this is stressful. I know many of you have been praying. Please keep doing so.
Those who don’t live in NWA
Everyone seems to know someone who lives in Fayetteville or NWA. If you do and they don’t have a church home, let them know about the Grove Church. www.thegrovechurch.org We are going to be spending August getting to know each other and talking about what kind of church we want to be and what we hope to see God do in and through us. That would be a great opportunity to get to know us and be a part of what God is doing.
If you know a student at the U of A, same thing. We want lots of college students to be a part of the Grove and hope that God will continue to use as to reach and minister to U of A students.
If you live in Fayetteville or NWA and don’t go to the Grove
If you are not connected to a local church there, you can imagine what I’m going to say to you: “see you soon.” Come August 1st and say hey, check us out. God is doing cool things at the Grove and will continue to. I would love to have you be a part.
If you are connected to a local church, the invite gets a little trickier. I would still love to see you one Sunday. Come by and say hi. We would, of course, love to have you, but we don’t want to be known as a recruiter from other churches. There are so many people in Fayetteville and NWA that are not connected God and/or to church and those are the people that we want to reach. Many of you I have been friends with for years, and I would love the opportunity to partner and minister with you at the Grove.
On the other hand, I do not want to take you from a church where God is using you and blessing your family. One of the best things that happened to me in Cabot is having friends and fans at other churches. We want to partner with other churches in reaching people. We are all on the same team. If all you do is love us, pray for us and our churches can work together, then that would be great.
If you go to the Grove.
Pray, pray, pray. The Grove is a great church and is doing some great things. I believe he is going to build on that. We are going to be a church that is reaching people who are far from God, strengthening believers, and launching missionaries around Fayetteville, NWA and the world. You have a role to play in that. You are going to be hearing all throughout August opportunities to be used by God to help us move forward. God wants to use your talents and passions to reach and serve people. Be praying now that God will show you what your part is.
Wow. 10 days and I will be preaching my first official sermon at the Grove as pastor. Please be praying.
I have some serious blog posts in my head, and they will come later this week. However, to attempt that would be like not exercising for a month and then running a marathon. (See, that analogy is terrible. I cannot be held responsible for the quality of this blog post). So, in order to stretch the writing, thinking, doing stuff muscles, I will start with something that I’m labelling as rambling, and thus it would be impossible to be disappointed.
In no particular order:
1. Back episodes of LOST are perhaps even better watching them again after you know the ending. Netflix recently began streaming movies through the Wii, which is great for me now, and will be problematic starting August 1st. The movie selections for what you can stream aren’t great, but they have a ton of TV shows, and I have been cranking out LOST episodes like a loser sitting in his recliner with nothing to do (Wait, nevermind). I have to take back what I have said for a couple of years, which is that the creators didn’t know how it was going to end when they started. They clearly did. It is hard to find any inconsistencies, plenty of mysteries to be sure, but not inconsistencies. They clearly had to make some adjustments. It’s hard to involve a boy that gets older every year, while the timeline of the show is not moving that quickly, for example. I will post some lingering questions when I’m finished. (I’m too embarassed right now to share with you how close I am after just under three weeks) Too start, here is the biggest:
Seriously, what was the deal with Nikki and Paulo and why should I care?
2. My girls are seriously interested in anything that I am. The current example is their interest in LOST. Most kids don’t care what “we” are doing as long as “we” are doing it. (You knew at points in the ramblings, this would get preachy) Just do something with your kids, together, they will love it.
3. I associate blogging and social networking with work. Both of those things are a lot of fun to me but when I shut the brain off from work, I essentially shut those off as well. I have still gotten on FB and Twitter some, typically one post a day, Conan O’Brien style. I have not blogged in a long time. I love it, but it felt/feels like work. In fact, I am 3 movie reviews behind.
4. I feel pressure that my kids make a good impression in their favorite sport when we move. Maylee loves basketball and wants to play for her school some day, same for Lauren and soccer. It’s hard though when no one knows you to “get in” to a sport in a new town. So we have been doing drills in the morning and then running sprints. (Yes, I run the sprints with them. Leave me alone. I have not completely atrophied) Maylee has started shooting a basketball the right way and Lauren complained about her quad hurting from all the “hop and loads” she has been doing, so success. If you would like an opportunity to beat our records at the dribbling, bball or soccer, obstacle course, let us know.
5. The pressure that comes from not selling your house is a lot easier when you are not at that house. We have gone to Mt. Home, Branson, Fayetteville, and Lake of the Ozarks in the last few weeks. (I never tweet about trips as they are happening any more. You know that urban legend about someone robbing you because they read you were out of town on Facebook? Yeah, it happened to someone I know that lives less than a mile from me. They stole his kidney too. Ok, I made up the last part) So, we are out of town and loving life, and not too worried about the house, but we start making the drive and we see the house and something clicks. It’s like Debbie Downer lives there. Further thoughts on the house still being unsold later this week.
6. I really am looking forward to being in Fayetteville at the Grove. I will probably list this out this week too, but I am excited about the people, the area and the vision that God is calling us to. See you guys again soon!
It’s good to back with you all, more to come this week including movie reviews including: why I still don’t like Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz and perhaps the best Pixar movie ever.