Getting the Most Out of Your Church

I didn’t grow up in church.

The better part of my childhood and adolescence was spent sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Up until my salvation, I was (what we now label) “unchurched”. But when I became a Christian, all that changed. I quickly went from “unchurched” to “uber-churched” in a heartbeat. As a 16-year old baby believer, I was up at the church several times a week – Sunday mornings, Sunday afternoons and nights, Wednesday nights, and even dropping by the church during the week just to see what was going on.

I was a church junkie.

I didnt’ set out to be one. It just kind of happened all by itself. I mean, I had this insatiable craving for truth, and the church had a butt-load of activities, meetings, programs and ministries to meet that hunger. On top of that, I (and the awesome 16-year old friend who had led me to Christ) started a Tuesday night Bible study for our Christian and non-Christian friends. That was in addition to the Wednesday morning 7am Bible study we attended at a crosstown youth pastor’s home, along with regular early morning prayer gatherings with Christian friends from my high school.

To be honest, I simply didn’t know any better. I thought every christian should be as involved and committed as I was. Looking back, all that activity actually served me well. I was SO hungry that no amount of gatherings or number of books could keep me full (I read over 50 books the first year after my salvation experience).

In college I was forced to be a bit more selective and strategic about my schedule. Classes and homework helped me focus on my purpose for being at college without neglecting my spiritual life. I cut down to two Bible studies a week and church on Sunday (sounds like someone trying to quit smoking!)

In grad school (seminary), I was in class 7-8 hours a say, then afterwards reading, studying and writing another 5 hours after dinner each night and working 3 jobs in the in-between time and the weekends. Church was limited to Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights (where Bev and I led a jr high Bible study in our home). This went on for 4 years.

For the next 17 years, I served as a pastor in two different church. Needless to say, I was very busy with “church”. Then Bev and I reached a point where we decided to walk away from all that “activity” so we could focus on what was really important in ministry. We left with zero regrets, knowing we had never placed church or ministry before our family and my commitment to our boys.

The church I now pastor meets one time a week.

One.

I know. Weird, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I do lead a men’s discipleship group on wednesday nights and and a long-distance Skype discipleship on Tuesdays. I am “busy”, but just with the really important things a guy like me should be doing. Philosophically, we believe the church shouldn’t gobble up your time like some Jabba the Hut monster. It’s never satisfied, but always wants more of you.

On the other hand, you really need to avoid being “that Christian” who shows up at church 1-2x a month, or only when it’s convenient for you. Sorry to break the news to you, but if that’s you, you’re stranded on the highway of growth, and you will go to your grave with many regrets.

So why not just instead make the time you do spend together (at church) meaningful and actually worth the investment of your time?

In other words, the church can be a means to a greater end for you. I told my men’s group this week to “use the church” and our study group as a tool to help them accomplish their life objectives. Instead of becoming a “church-slave”, turn the tables and use what the church offers to assist you in reaching your life goals of bringing honor to God by making disciples.

But doesn’t this feed into a “consumer” mentality? Not at all. Doing this better equips them to serve and give to those in the church and in the world.

This is the key to church NEVER becoming an obligation or a burden. After you’ve trimmed down to what’s really necessary and wise in terms of your involvement in your awesome church’s activities, programs and ministries, decide to PARTAKE of what you truly need SO THAT you can more effectively GROW and GIVE to others.

Make sense?

Sure, you may need some time to “detox”, but in the end doing this will save you from burnout and from becoming a “church junkie” It may also make your church a bit more attractive to your friends who need a spiritual family.

So, what’s in your toolbox?

What’s Your Faith Made of?

Christians talk a lot about faith. A lot. But have you ever stopped to consider what your faith actually is? Ever wondered what your faith is really made of? In other words, if you were to dissect your personal faith, what would you find? And when your time here is over, what will others discover when they eulogize your life, specifically as it relates to your faith?

Some people’s faith is more sentimental than solid. The enjoy the romantic ideal of “having great faith”, of being thought of as a “good Christian”. But just like the transition from courtship to marriage, they quickly realize it’s not all that fun at times. Reality sets in, and they find out that real “love” goes way beyond that nice feeling you get when you’re with your love interest or spouse. Love means processing wounded relationships, giving even when the other person doesn’t and demonstrating forgiveness even when it hurts. Love can be hard work.

Other people’s faith is sort of like a fireworks display – big, loud, impressive, but short-lived. I’ve known hundreds like this. They come on like a storm, and they talk big about what they’re going to do for Jesus. Like Peter, their mouths write checks that their faith (and life) can’t cash. “I’m not going to let my boss make me work on Sundays anymore.” “I’m only going to date people who are as committed to Jesus like I am.”  “You can count on me to be at church every week, Pastor!” 

Yawn.

Honestly, people like these bore me. And I can usually identify them before that promise to God is finished leaving their lips. I don’t doubt their sincerity. It’s just that those who don’t understand the nature of true faith in Jesus are blind to how empty such promises really are. It would be like me saying, “I’m going to RUN in a marathon.” Nice thought, Kinley, but you and me both know that’s not going to happen anytime soon…if ever. 

house-built-on-sand

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

These faith “professors” are the first to crumble under the slightest pressure. That’s because their faith is more facade than fact. And it’s built on emotion and good intentions, not founded on the Rock of Jesus Himself (Matthew 7:21-27).

1363044720_29111024

Their faith-boasts produce quick “fruit”, but it quickly withers in the blazing heart of the sun. It fails to take root because it was faulty from the start. And as James so eloquently put it, “Faith without works is dead (faith) – James 2:26. On the contrary, 

Real faith lasts.

Real faith perseveres through opposition.

Real faith pushes through times of confusion and drought.

Real faith triumphs over feelings.

Real faith does it’s talking with action, not mere words.

Real faith does whatever it takes, no matter what the cost or sacrifice.

Real faith isn’t pretty and neat, but bloody and messy.

Real faith believes when there seems to be no reason for it.

Real faith risks.

Real faith is daily.

Noah was a man with real faith. His deep trust and dependence on God was a rare jewel, and something we need more of today. Can you even imagine what would happen if we had more “Noah-like” faith in the church?

What about you? How’s your faith? What does it look like today? What’s it really made of?

For more on how to have a faith like Noah’s, dive into As It Was In the Days of Noah

7 Ways to Know You’re in the Right Church

 People often share with me their struggle to find the right church for them. Typically, these people are either unchurched or “formerly” churched, meaning they bailed on the idea years ago. Their reasons are varied, but include:

A) It was intellectually/spiritually uninteresting. “The pastor simply couldn’t hold my attention.”

B) It was shallow. “I got sick of ‘How To’ sermons and messages to make me feel good.”

C) It was too impersonal. “I got lost in the crowd and felt like cattle shuffling into the pen each week.”

D) It was too “entertaining”. “If I wanted a concert venue, I’d go see a real band perform. Plus, the pastor tries too hard to be funny and ‘hip’.”

E) It was small, but nobody there my age. “I had trouble connecting, and the people weren’t that friendly.” 

E) “I hate mornings. Period.”

mega-church-bus-from-sacred-sandwich

There are other reasons, of course. But those are some of the biggies I hear. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I left because those people were just too loving. They cared about me personally. The messages were just so biblical and relevant to my life, I had to leave!” 🙂

So what’s a person to do? Should you give up on church altogether? Just sit at home and worship God for 5 minutes and then go walk the dog? Keep in mind, there are no perfect churches, because after all, it’s just people coming together, right? It’s also not about how BIG or SMALL a church is. You can find community in a big church and you can stand in the corner alone and be ignored in a small church. That said, I understand the dilemma. But I still think its worth the long search. My wife and I attended a church while in grad school that gave us a chance to serve, but the pastor (though a great guy) was a sleeping pill in the pulpit. We weighed the options, and since it was temporary, stayed there. Another church we attended for a year had awesome preaching but was a bit too liturgical for my spiritual taste buds. They did the same ritual every week. But it was good for us at the time.

confused-girl“So what’s a girl like me to do?”

Obviously you don’t want to become a serial “church hopper”, either due to your inability to commit or your eternal search for that perfect place of worship. So here are a few things to think about. Seven ways you can know you’ve found the right church for you.

1. You gladly lay aside other (good) priorities and fun pursuits to faithfully be there each week.

2. You call them ‘family’ because that’s exactly what it feels like to you. You find yourself not “going to church” anymore but rather coming together with other believers out of a real need to do so.

3. You are excited and motivated to tell your friends (who need a church) about yours.

4. You look for ways to uniquely serve others in that body with your gifts and personality (doesn’t have to be in an official “ministry”, either).

5. You don’t think twice about regularly sacrificing a portion of the finances God has blessed you with, so that the work there can survive and thrive.

6. The “church service” truly enlightens, deepens and challenges you in your relationship with Christ.

7. You are confident that Jesus and His Word are honored above all else (programs, ministries, presentation, music, pastor, etc)

If you identify with these 7 things, then there’s a really good chance you’ve found your church home. If not, then keep looking. You’re in the wrong church. There’s a group of people out there who need you! There is a church for YOU! If you find yourself in a search right now, go beyond just “visiting” a church this Sunday. Stick around for a while to get the full effect. Give it time. Come back a few weeks.

Keep seeking God and go find your spiritual family this week!

You’re So Hip

17

  Some people just have it. I mean they have “it.” That intangible aura of personality swag known as “cool.” For some, it’s just a look. Others it’s the fashion, or the way they talk or carry themselves. Still others manage to work their way into social circles of others who also have “it”, thus they attain cool status because of the company they keep.

 

There is no universally-recognized standard of what’s considered cool. And for that very reason, most of the wannabe owners of coolness spend most of their time trying (way too hard) to blend in to the perceived cool crowd. Like the other night, while at a local dive listening to a band, I observed a hundred or so 20-somethings, all self-proclaimed independent thinkers and rugged individualists – all dressed virtually the same…at least the guys, anyway. Lightweight hoodie covered in peacoat, topped with a carefully-placed hipster beanie hanging off the back of their uncombed heads.

Cool.

At least they thought so. Admittedly, depending on what social culture you immerse yourself into, you may succeed or fail at earning your “cool badge”. Your behavior, moral choices, the way you talk, think, vote, not vote, or what music you listen to – all contribute to acceptance and being considered cool. And this standard seemingly fluctuates with the weather.

It’s really not that different in the church world. Again, depending on the particular church, denomination or Christian subculture you happen to be a part of, being “in” has a lot of contributing factors.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.45.38 AM    But maybe being cool, hip, “in” or having the “it factor” is a lot more like beauty – dwelling in the eye of the beholder. Instead of trying to please all of the people (or at least the important ones) some of the time, why not focus on the One who really matters? Could that ultimate coolness be found by embracing the fact that you’re already completely accepted by the God of the Universe and radically loved by Him? Could that elusive self-security automatically come from having been adopted into His forever family? Could the best cool experience simply be that you are on a lifetime road trip  of discovering who He made to become? If so, then perhaps just being yourself in Him is hip enough.

Stop trying so hard.

Try relaxing in the secure identity He gives.