SAYING YES WHEN WE SHOULD SAY NO
I guess you are a lot like me in at least one regard, and that is that you know of at least one person who has died within the past two or three years, not from disease, other natural causes, or even suicide, but from overdosing. Perhaps that person was in your immediate family context as it was in mine—hard stuff.
I have talked with various people throughout my workday who have told me their stories of addiction and how terrible it was, especially trying to get clean. The people I had talked with said how the journey down that dark road began with “prescribed” narcotics that were given to them for the pain they were dealing with due to surgery they just experienced.
They told me that the Vicodin or OxyContin worked great for a time, but then the prescription would have to be adjusted to a higher dose to achieve the same effect. Eventually, the doctors would want to stop the narcotic, but these people had now developed an addiction to it, and “quitting” wasn’t as easy a task as it sounded.
So bad became worse. Rather than saying no to what could eventually kill them, the pattern of saying yes had begun. Yes, to some other form of drug that would produce the same effect. Yes, to a behavior that would harm them.
But remember that using narcotics isn’t the only harmful activity or choice that can harm us, even kill us. Alcohol and pornography are up pretty high on the scale as well. Pornography may not kill us like a narcotic might, but it is “certainly lethal in its own way in that it kills relationships and deadens the soul.”
Hold on for a minute, just one minute, lest we begin to think this issue doesn’t relate to us. Sure it does. Our addictions may not be with a prescribed drug or an illegal one. It may not even be alcohol Or pornography, but ALL of us are dealing with some form of addiction: eating issues, social media, your particular brand of soda, coffee, etc. The list can quickly go on, but you get the gist. Like it or not-admit it or not, this problem of saying yes to what can kill you is more far-reaching than we’d like to admit.
“Saying yes to what can kill you” is the title of an article by Ed Welch. In it, he gives three aspects of our humanity that can help us with our addictive tendencies.
To be human is to say NO to temptation
“One of the first questions posed in Scripture is about temptation: When temptations come—and they will—will you trust in the words of the Lord and say no? The Wisdom Literature intends to help us with this question. The relentless message of the book of Proverbs is that our desires are not a reliable judge of which paths lead to life and which paths lead to death. In fact, our desires can suggest life is unexciting and that death can satisfy. Proverbs aims to sharpen our discernment. It helps us to consider the consequences of our decisions. We all need discernment and power to turn from temptations. We all need to see Christ as more beautiful than the beckoning trio of the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
- To be human is to turn to the Lord during suffering
“Temptations are more pronounced when we feel discomfort or pain. The pain is actual physical pain among those who fight against narcotics, yet this is joined by the pain of broken relationships, dashed expectations, and other miseries that create a jumbled mass of hopelessness.”
If you have been a Christian for any time, you have learned, perhaps the hard way, that being a Christian (in Christ) does not mean that you will have fewer struggles, trials, or hardships. We may have more of them because of our relationship with Christ and His kingdom. But, as Christians, we have something the world does not; we have Jesus and the certainty of all His promises for us!
Rather than turn away from Him amid our troubles, we need to be calling out to Him. He is the ONLY one that can manage all our struggles, fears, and despair in ways that will conform us more to His image! We don’t usually fare well when seeking to control them independently.
- To be human is to speak openly with each other about trouble and temptation
We struggle with this one, don’t we? I can write all I want to about it. Your pastor can preach many messages on the importance of it, but still, the thought of others knowing that we aren’t perfect, that we don’t have it all together, is just appalling to us, to our pride.
It’s hard to admit what we truly know about ourselves and everyone else-we are all broken! But God has instructed His people, His church, to be loving, compassionate, Christ-imitating people, which means that we need to open ourselves to God AND others. That truth is central to the scriptures (Romans 3:23, for example).
“We prefer to keep our struggles to ourselves, especially when they are shameful struggles. The kingdom of God, in contrast, invites us to be open before God and others. The challenge is that this is both alluring and impossible: to be known and accepted is peace, but who volunteers to talk about temptations and sins? And what if someone opens up to others and then is met with rebuke and unhelpful judgment?”
That is the challenge we face when being honest about ourselves with others. We need churches with pastoral leadership that understand these biblical teachings and work hard, with much prayer, to build an inviting and loving community of people who understand and care for the brokenhearted.
I hope this makes sense. I trust that if you are dealing with some form of addiction (saying yes to something that can kill you), you will follow God’s prescribed plan for overcoming it. Look to His Word. Call out to Him in prayer. Find a church where you can be open and honest with some mature Christians who understand brokenness and Christ’s compassion for the hurting.
WHERE IS MY CHURCH FAMILY?
Feeling like you don’t belong.
“*I was just there to be with my friend.
As we grew older, we decided to move on to the youth service. It was during a youth camp that I had a personal encounter with God. A lady came up to me on the last night of camp and prayed for me. As she prayed, I felt God’s presence for the first time. At that moment, I decided to accept Christ. Since then, I have become more involved in serving at church.
Over time, I have experienced much spiritual growth, but there is something I continue to struggle with—feeling like a stranger in a place that was meant to provide a sense of belonging. For years, the feeling of loneliness never went away despite being surrounded by people. Often, I found myself thinking:
“Everyone seems to have a church family. Where is mine?”
Might this scenario describe how you are feeling today? Perhaps you have been attending a local church for a few months or have been a “member” for some time, and every Lord’s day is becoming harder and harder to justify even going through the effort to attend church. After all, “know one would even miss me.”
Most likely the sermons are very good and have played a role in your spiritual growth. The praise songs always seem to lift your heart in praise to God, but outside of those things, you constantly feel like you don’t belong; no one bothers, and no one cares whether you are sitting in your usual pew or not.
Oddly enough, it is the same feeling you experienced when you walked into that church for the first time. A new church, new surroundings, new order of worship, new people. Very intimidating.
In your discouragement, I want to encourage you and lay out some food for thought, if you will, along with some practical counsel to help you as you move forward. Sadly, you are not alone. Sometimes, I don’t feel “connected” at church either. Throughout the broad spectrum that we call the “church,” untold people are going through the same struggle as you are, so no, what you are experiencing is not abnormal, and neither are you!
That said, we need to recognize both sides of the coin, so to speak, and then be honest with ourselves regarding which side of that coin our situation fits into. So, let’s begin by focusing on why people don’t feel a sense of belonging in their local churches.
1. An unfriendly church
2. An unfriendly church attender
I know, it seems too simple, doesn’t it? But as we move forward you will quickly learn that there are many subgroups under each heading. Let s focus on the unfriendly church for now.
Some churches are just not friendly. Let’s be honest about that fact. I experienced some myself when looking for a new church home. I have been pulpit supply for one or two unfriendly churches over the years of my ministry. The church where no one engages you unless seemingly pressed to do so. When you finally work through the awkwardness of finding a place to sit, someone from the church tells you that you are in “their” seat. Even so, you put on a smile each Sunday and try to engage some people there. Time passes, perhaps a year, and not one friendship has been developed! A place where the overall environment is just not very welcoming to new people.
That’s one scenario, and the issues within that church body and leadership need to be acknowledged and dealt with prayerfully. But what about the type of church that is welcoming to you on your first weeks there? Greeters greet you at the door, and you are often engaged in superficial conversations as you enter and leave church each week. The environment seems friendly enough. The worship time is edifying, and the preaching is convicting and equipping. Yet, you do not “feel” a connection like you think you should. Relationships never seem to move beyond the superficial type, and the church “doesn’t even call or send me a ‘miss you’ note when I’m not there.” Could the problem possibly be with US more so than the church sometimes?
That leads us to the other side of the proverbial coin. What if our attitude is the problem? What if our “preconceived notions” about how the church ought to feel to us are getting in the way of actually experiencing the koinonia (the fellowship) we so desire?
The first simple fact we must consider is, what if the disconnect we feel, the problem we face, isn’t the church ministry or the people? What if it is the consequence of our selfishness and a persona of “isolation” that we exude from ourselves each Sunday? We must be honest with ourselves if we hope to continue experiencing the joy and fellowship we desire within our local churches.
I have known many “church people” like that. They would come in a bit late each Sunday and, therefore, not have any communication with others. They would sit down and go through the service but then get up and leave early (during the last hymn) before anyone could speak with them.
The Lord created us for community. The opportunity was there for them, but willingly or not, they seemed to isolate themselves from others. Yet, these same people would eventually leave the church without talking with the pastor or elders and tell others how unwelcoming or unloving that church was.
So, what are my words of counsel to anyone struggling with this issue? Below is some biblical guidance that I believe may be helpful:
- 1. Seriously consider why you feel like an outsider.
Honestly, there are many reasons that any one of us could feel this way. There could be one or two bad church experiences in your past that have gone unaddressed, and possibly the offenses you experienced have created a pessimistic or bitter spirit within your heart. Maybe you are experiencing some complicated and challenging life experience, and just getting by daily is trying enough, and that might make it even harder for you to feel like you’re a part of anything.
So, first, Make an intentional effort to recognize if a work of grace needs to be accomplished in your heart that will enable you to move forward with joy. Prayerfully lay out your plea to the Lord. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
2. Associate (be present)
Make every effort to be at church each Sunday. Regular attendance helps us feel more comfortable around people and them with us, opening doors for communication to happen! Just like anything else, the constant repetition of something makes it easier and more comfortable for us.
“Healthy and growing churches pay close attention to the people they count as members, as well as those who are not yet a part of the flock. These churches do not want to impair or cut off the flow of new people to the church.” New people are the “lifeblood” of a church and ensure its existence in the future.
But ironically, even though churches claim to be “friendly” on their signs or radio spots, many prove otherwise. The truth is that many church members are friendly to the people they already know but not to guests, so be prepared to make a conscious effort at consistent communication with others; eventually, the awkwardness fades, the walls come down, and friendships are established (Hebrews 10:24-25; Philippians 2:1-11).
- 3. Participate (be involved)
This point is vitally important for anyone wanting the sense of community the church should foster. Serve the church body! Ask the church deacons or elders what you can do to serve in the church, even while contemplating whether you will make this place your church home. The quickest way to “break the ice” and establish new and long-lasting relationships within the local church context is to serve alongside others.
Become a greeter, help serve meals to widows, help set up for VBS, and participate in VBS. Actively seek ways to serve Christ by serving your church, and you will find that the sense of isolation you are experiencing will fade away and be replaced with sweet fellowship (1 Peter 4:10-11; Mark 10:45).
- 4. Communicate (be vocal)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). I mentioned earlier in this post about the sad reality of some people who don’t engage people at church and yet judge others for not engaging them. I remember the adage: “if you want to have friends, be friendly.”
If some people do not engage you, engage them. Be kind and gracious to others, and you might find out that they will be the same towards you (Proverbs 16:24). But remember that the church is a hospital for the broken and wounded, for sinners like you and me. Some people may not respond positively to you. First, that’s ok; that’s where grace comes in! “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
5. One more possibility needs to be contemplated: Does God want to place you somewhere else? This may be the hardest of all those mentioned to determine. This church may not feel right to you because God doesn’t want it to. Be honest with yourself and God, and double-check your motives for wanting to leave so you do not deceive yourself into thinking that you are doing the right thing when you aren’t.
Talk to the pastor; with other spiritually mature believers about what’s happening. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. And if they prayerfully come to the same conclusion, leave with Grace and don’t burn any bridges.
“If you are struggling to belong in your church, the fact is, you already belong because of your identity in Christ. Being in church is not about being in your comfort zone, and sometimes disappointments with one another is inevitable. But it is also through these processes that we learn to love, forgive and build up each other, just as Christ did for us.”
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, IS IT MORE THAN A FORMALITY?
I have been a member of various churches over the years and am currently one now! Sadly, most of the churches I was a part of over the years didn’t do very well at teaching the members of those churches how important being a “good” church member was.
Sure, they occasionally taught about the value of church membership, i.e., community, accountability, sacraments, and voting rights, but not so much how to be a faithful, engaged church member.
I feel cheated. Cheated out of so many years in which I could have prospered in my walk of faith personally as a member, I also feel a sense of loss for the opportunities I might have had to bless other members in fulfilling my proper role as a member.
I am not sure what your experience may have been like. Perhaps you are on the other side of the spectrum and have benefited from sound teaching on church membership. Maybe you have had good and faithful role models in your church that were outstanding examples of effective church membership. I hope so.
That is my motivation for this post. I want to discuss with you, the reader, what good and healthy church membership looks like in the life of a believer.
I will not be exhaustive on the topic; you’re welcome. But I hope what I share with you will be instructive and encouraging. I pray that we will take these truths to heart and prayer so that we will grow in this area of our Christian walk.
The first and most important aspect of being a good and flourishing church member is SALVATION!
Redemption creates a distinction between God’s people and not God’s people. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am NOT saying the church, any church, can save you. Only repentant faith alone in Christ alone can redeem a person from the depth of their iniquity.
What I am saying, however, is that the church was instituted for God’s people, redeemed people who have been justified by the blood of their Savior Jesus Christ.
It is not the gathering of the unredeemed but THE redeemed! The local church is the place where other redeemed sinners gather to worship, pray, participate in its sacraments (baptism and communion), and serve one another. It is where they are edified and equipped for their work of service to the Lord throughout the week.
So, for a Christian to become a member of a local church body, it should be observed is not a decision that he/she should take lightly.
“Church membership is about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church. It’s about “putting on,” “embodying,” “living out,” and “making concrete” our membership in Christ’s universal body. In some ways, the union which constitutes a local church and its members is like the “I do” of a marriage ceremony, which is why some refer to church membership as a “covenant” (9 marks).
So before we say “I do,” we must ensure we have the gospel right.
You and I live in a world God created (Genesis1-2). As such, He deserves and is worthy of glory and honor (Revelation 4:11). He made human beings in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27, 21-25) and put them in charge to be fruitful and multiply the earth and subdue it, they were created to live and rule the creators’ world under His loving authority. As the creator of mankind and all that mankind enjoys, He is the supreme authority over all His creation.
But sadly, Adam and Eve fell into sin. Eve bought into the lie of Satan and ate of the tree in the garden and then gave it to her husband, who did the same (Genesis 3:1-7). Now the sad testimony, ever since, is the fact that through our first parent’s sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). In rejecting God, Adam, and Eve made a mess of their lives (Genesis 3-4), and the lives of all those who follow after them. They rejected the loving creators’ authority and instituted one of their own. Sadly, we are all like this too. We all rebel against our loving creator and seek to do what we desire, not what He desires. And as a result, we make a terrible mess of our lives.
Even though we rebelled against Him and have sought our own way, not His, He is gracious towards us in that He will not let us rebel forever. God, our creator, will give us all justice, what each of us deserves. God takes our rebellion against Him seriously. He is not indifferent to the way we treat Him. It would be horrifying to fall under the sentence of God’s judgment. This reality all of us as sinners will face (Hebrews 9:27).
Because God so loved us and was not willing that any should perish (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:8-10), He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to pay the debt we owe; the righteous for the unrighteousness, the innocent for the guilty (1 Peter 3:18). He became our substitute, died in our place thereby taking on our punishment and purchasing our forgiveness with the Father, our creator (Philippians 1:5-11).
But the story does not end there. Jesus rose to life again, conquering death, and because He lives, we too will live, with Him, forever, our Savior (John 20-21; 1 Peter 1:3)! God accepted Jesus’ death as the total payment for our sins, and He is now seated by His right hand in power (Hebrews 12:2; Romans 8:34). So, now because of Jesus, we can have peace with God (Romans 5:1)!
Take Him at His word, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, will be saved (Romans 10:13)!” Talk with Him. Acknowledge your guilt and ask for forgiveness.
This is the essential aspect of being a healthy church member. With this as our foundation, what should we consider next?
The second aspect of being a flourishing church member is YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH.
Really? Why does it matter whether or not I’m growing spiritually? It matters a lot. You are not the lone ranger church; you are involved with a group of people that make up your local church.
As the wedding analogy mentioned earlier, you have become one within your church body. The well-being of the church begins with each member.
Guard your heart against pride – this sinful pleasure will lead a person away from humility before the Lord and others. Pride stifles our ability to truly comprehend greater biblical truth while hindering us in our service to the church body. It gives us a false assurance that we “know” what we need to know while falsely judging others around us.
Apathy- “Spiritual apathy, coldness, or indifference can affect even the most sincere Christian at one time or another. Human emotions being as fickle as they are, feelings of apathy or disinterest can sometimes replace the fervor we once felt for the things of God.”
Guarding against apathy is vitally important. Such indifference will draw us away from faithful attendance. It will pull us away from acts of service to others within the church. But if we find such a coldness within our hearts, overcoming apathy is necessary for continuing our walk with God.
Unconfessed sin- Proverbs 28:13
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
“We are called to live by the standard of Scriptures, walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). With the presence of the Spirit, we experience conviction when we sin overtly and neglect our duty. Often we are convicted for our attitudes and thoughts.
Sin always leads to pollution, disintegration, and perversion; worse, it hinders our fellowship with God. While we are disappointed and hurt when believers sin, we should not be surprised that it occurs. The Christian life is a struggle against the temptations of the flesh, the world, and the forces of Satan. We are all familiar with the internal war we feel as we seek to live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:13-21).
In short, the remedy is confession (1 John 1:9- Erwin Lutzer)
We may be tempted to hide our sins. Sometimes, we secretly hold onto a particular form of sin that we enjoy. “If we choose to remain in our sin, then we choose the consequences that go with that choice. Broken fellowship and lack of growth result. However, those who persist in sin need to reexamine their true relationship with God (2 Corinthiansofpture is clear that those who know God do not continue a lifestyle of unrepentant sin (1 John 2:3–6; 3:7–10). A desire for holiness is a hallmark of those who know God. To know God is to love Him (Matthew 22:37–38). To love Him is to desire to please Him (John 14:15). Unconfessed sin gets in the way of pleasing Him, so a true child of God wants to confess it, change it, and restore fellowship with God” (got questions.com).
Short, honest accounting with our Lord regarding our sins will be a blessing for us personally in our relationship with Him and our relationships with others!
A third aspect of being a flourishing church member is YOUR PRAYER LIFE
Our prayers shouldn’t be an afterthought, a last resort when nothing else has worked. Prayer should be our default mode, our day’s most crucial and sought-after conversations.
Prayer is how we converse with God and how our relationship with Him blossoms. Through prayer, our heavenly Father works in our hearts and lives, aligning them with His will.
Prayer strengthens us against temptation. Matthew 26:41
41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Our praying is being obedient to God.
18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Praying is the pathway to godly wisdom
“James 1:5 tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. Through prayer, we access God’s wisdom, which is unlike that of the world. It comes to us through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13).” Internet
In the local church, we are allowed to be obedient to the Lord in this way corporately! Praying together encourages other believers, comforts them, and plays a part in strengthening them thru their struggles.
For you and I to have a steady walk with the Lord; for the local church that you are a member of to flourish and be helpful in gospel ministry, it has to be a praying church. Prayer not only changes things, it is the main thing!
I hope these words will be found to be beneficial in your Christian life, especially regarding your life in the local church in which you are a member.
Much more could be added, but I leave that precious time to study for you. What may be some things that you have found necessary for a Christian’s life regarding their flourishing in the local church?
FEARING WORKPLACE EVANGELISM
We are all familiar with the scripture from Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent (blameless) as doves.” Luke expresses that same sentiment differently (Luke 10:3). Yet, that’s the beauty and power of the Word of God. The same counsel given to the disciples when Jesus sent them out to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” applies to us today as we go into our places of work as Christians. We need wisdom and innocence as we traverse the muddied terrain of workplace protocol!
We want to be faithful witnesses for our King, King Jesus, but it appears to be more complicated these days, right? After all, Human Resources (HR) seems to be systematically changing the rules we must follow regarding our interactions with customers, management, and other employees. Many laws are changing and becoming more “inclusive.” The woke culture has erupted onto the scene infiltrating every aspect of our society; its tentacles are far-reaching and relentless.
Scary stuff, right? Has our current climate hindered or perhaps even stifled your witness for Christ in the workplace? Your workplace? Are you confused about how to effectively evangelize your co-workers without being fired or, worse, thrown in prison?
“*The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) requires believers to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the Earth. We spend 8-10 hours a day at work, potentially eight hours or so sleeping, with the remaining eight hours divided between family, church, and other responsibilities. We are at our jobs 40-50 hours a week, that makes it our biggest ministry field for evangelism! Increasingly, people are realizing that this means that we are to be witnesses in our places of work.”
Even so, many Christians fear speaking about their faith at work. The fear of being ridiculed, scoffed at, ignored, or even disciplined or fired are powerful harbingers that tend to keep them silent among their peers.
The inescapable reality, however, is that “there will always be opposition to the spreading of the Gospel. Some in our society want religious people to keep their convictions to themselves and leave their religion at home. The law, however, does not require that religious employees and employers check their religion at the office door or the factory gate when they come to work.”
“Federal and State laws protect the religious freedoms of employees and employers. Employers can run their business in conformance with godly principles and employees cannot be forced to act in a manner that conflicts with their religious beliefs. For instance, Christian employers may hold and participate in voluntary chapel services and prayer meetings for employees, and employees can share their faith with co-workers during breaks or free time so long as it is not disruptive. In short, there is no law requiring the workplace to be a religion-free zone.”
That’s a breath of fresh air! You and I are not breaking any laws when we live out and share our faith in Jesus Christ while working. We are in full-time Christian ministry, no matter where we are or what our occupation is. As ambassadors for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we must be faithful messengers representing the King of heaven with the Gospel.
With all that being said, that nowhere implies that it will always be easy or without consequences. So, what principles can we apply here that will help us act with wisdom as we not only live out our faith but vocalize as well in the workplace?
As with building any solid, long-lasting structure, I guess you always begin with the foundation. The foundation holds everything that comes after it. Our foundation for workplace evangelism starts with our integrity as redeemed children of God.
“1 When you live out your faith, your life becomes convicting to those around you. Your words and actions can cause a non-Christian to ask, “I wonder what makes him behave the way he does. I’m impressed.”
Your witness at work includes anything, and everything people may observe about you — the integrity you exhibit by the promises you make and keep, the way you treat people you dislike or dislike you, and even the patience you show at meetings or during times of stress.
You don’t come to work at 8:15 if you’re supposed to be there at 8. You work just as hard five minutes before it is time to leave as you did in the middle of the morning. Your performance is the same when your employer’s back is turned as when he or she is facing you.
Here are some questions for reflection about your witness at work:
Are you a good worker? Your employer is God above, not a boss below. You should live and work each day with the knowledge that you are accountable to Him. This includes how you spend your time at work, even in evangelism. You are paid by your employer to work, not to witness. After-hours or break times can be great opportunities, but you need to be careful not to steal time from your employer.
Do you act and react with self-control? You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. The way you react to countless stresses and conflicts in the workplace is evident every day — in conferences, lunchroom conversations, client negotiations, budget planning, service calls and sales meetings and on the factory line. Your reactions catch people’s attention.
Do you tell the truth? Truth needs to be seen in sales reports, endorsements, expense reports, budget analyses, client negotiations and the way you repeat what others say. And not only do you need to speak the truth, your motives should be sincere.”
Without this solid foundation godly integrity, most, if not any co-workers will listen to you sincerely when you talk to them about the difference Christ makes in peoples lives!
Another principle to consider is what I underlined above: You are paid by your employer to work, not to witness. After-hours or break times can be great opportunities, but you need to be careful not to steal time from your employer. Please take all the opportunities you have during break or lunch, but recognize they will always be short-lived. Ten-minute breaks and thirty-minute lunches do not allow us much time to converse seriously with our co-workers.
Recognize that while your workplace produces some opportunities to share your faith, it comes with many limitations. My suggestion, although not original with myself, would be to consider fostering relationships with your peers outside the work environment. Invite them over for dinner. Go out for coffee or breakfast together, etc. In these venues, you will have more time to talk. During these times, you are outside the workplace environment and not under those rules of engagement; you are on your own personal time!
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Romans 10:15). This is not about our feet, dear Christian, but the message those feet deliver!
*ACLJ website, Christian Rights In The Workplace
1 Beliefnet, Witness in the Workplace
THE RELENTLESS PLIGHT OF THE SMALL CHURCH
As I sit here writing this post, I have a great sense of sadness within my heart for those small churches that have been “surviving” for years. Not growing; very little if any outreach into the community, and often faced with a minimal budget. You know the type of church I am referring to if you live in a small-town community. The kind of church you walk into that has 25 or fewer people attending, predominantly grayed-haired and generally physically limited. Usually, only one or two children are present, and often not even that!
I have been privileged to serve in churches with 150, 75, 50, and even 3 people attending. Conversations with these people often become memories of “how it used to be.” They reminisce about the congregation’s size in the past, how uplifting the worship once was, the ministry that proceeded from their church, and all the children that used to be there. And the greatest common denominator I have found between churches of 25 or fewer people is the desire to grow and be active again.
Over the years, I have talked with several leaders within those churches. I have had dialogue with various members within those churches as well, and what I have found is that while their current state of affairs profoundly saddens them, and while they acknowledge their despair at things not getting any better, they will not consider closing the doors and blessing another likeminded ministry or attending another local church! What I mean by “leaders” is the one or two in the congregation that have taken on the vast majority of responsibilities to hold it all together.
I have invested so much of my ministry in churches like these, and it has always grieved me to watch a young couple with children enter the church and, to their dismay, find out there are only several much older people here, and there is no children’s program to offer them. They don’t come back.
At this stage of the game, you can only feel sadness for them. They love the Lord and want to serve Him and help the church grow, but physically and, sadly, often mentally, they can’t invest themselves as they would like anymore. They don’t want to start over somewhere else, “to old for that,” they’ll say, so this church is their only option. Plan A, no other plans on the table.
So, there are several possible reasons why these churches find themselves in their current situations. First, it could simply be that as the future unfolded, wars came and went, and those young people did not return to their communities. In Pennsylvania, where I lived in a coal town full of life back in the day due to anthracite coal mining, a church I served in as an interim pastor had a congregation of over 125 people if I remember correctly. But ww2 and the over-regulation of the coal industry began to bring sweeping changes to these communities. Changes that they have not been able to recover from.
Sometimes a church has a bad history. Something in that church fostered a split, and the church has not recovered. Many reasons exist for possible explanations as to how some churches find themselves in their current state of affairs.
But other factors seem to keep these struggling churches in a rut, with seemingly less hope of ever recovering. Still, placing hope against hope, they persist in moving ahead. What are some of the issues they face now as they try to move forward, hoping to see their small church grow and be vibrant again?
Fewer pastors are willing to serve in these churches.
Seminary-trained pastors often carry a lot of student debt and realize that debt will not quickly be paid back from the salaries smaller churches often offer. Sadly, one of the biggest reasons for staying “stuck in the rut” is that these churches, even though they cannot afford a highly educated pastor, want one!
Regardless of the specific reasons, studies have found that many pastors will not serve smaller churches. So now, what do they attempt to do?
2. More and more smaller churches are seeking bi-vocational leadership.
As good an idea as it sounds, fewer bi-vocational ministers can easily relocate due to their other employment, which limits pastoral searches to a smaller geographic area.
Few full-time ministers are willing to move to a new location and search for other employment to supplement their church income as bi-vocational ministers. It’s not a viable option for many otherwise available qualified men.
3. One of the essentials for a healthy, growing church is strong pastoral leadership, and many pastors are unable to provide such leadership.
Many small-church pastors with leadership skills are not permitted to do so. Any effort to provide leadership is quickly halted by immature controllers allowed by the congregation to exercise their dysfunction on the entire church body.
Sadly, I experienced this scenario at one church when I agreed to be an interim pastor. Long story short- stewardship became ownership, leading to unwise and unbiblical decision-making.
4. In many smaller churches, you will likely see a lot of gray hair.
I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. These churches are often aging, and as members become unable to attend church due to death or illness, younger persons do not replace them. One reason is that much of what the church does is geared toward its older members, with little effort focused on attracting younger persons to become involved in the church’s life.
These folks have grown accustomed to making it through the main service, and nothing else was pushed aside. They lack the energy level necessary to focus on the younger generation.
5. Finances are often a problem.
It is well established that younger generations do not tithe or give to the church as the “builder” and “boomer” generations do. Many smaller churches also do not make it easy to contribute. I read an article recently that showed that check-writing among young people is almost a thing of the past; Everything is done with a debit card or by direct withdrawal.
How many smaller churches offer the opportunity for people to give through either of those means?
That is not the only reason, however, that finances may be a problem. Many of these aged saints now live on a fixed budget. They depend on whatever they receive from a work pension if they have one, and Medicare! It is tough to give generously under such economic circumstances.
6. Many smaller churches have forgotten why they exist. Some are so focused on survival they have forgotten they exist for mission.
Because of a sole focus on survival, many of these congregations have not seen anyone brought to Christ in years (decades?). Not that the gospel isn’t preached; it’s just that it is being preached to the choir every Sunday.
Unless a church understands its God-given purpose and attempts to live it out, one must question whether it is good stewardship for that church to continue.
7. Even more churches have no vision for ministry; they merely drift along weekly, hoping that something good will happen someday.
God has a unique vision for each church, and it is the responsibility of the church and its leadership to discern that vision and begin to live in it. Scripture is correct that without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18), and so do churches.
Those churches that address these problems and begin to correct them can enjoy a productive ministry. It may simply be that their focus has to change with the changing backdrop of their particular church and its ability to reach out.
I do not believe any small church has to close, but if they are unwilling to confront why they are moving in that direction, it is unlikely they will survive.
So what counsel is there for the small church member or leader in this predicament?
First, be honest with yourself, the other members, and especially The Lord Jesus Christ, who created this thing called the church and is its supreme authority (Ephesians 2:11-3:6; 1:22; Colossians 1:18). Perhaps it is time to close the doors and bless another likeminded church with your resources as the church body prayerfully seeks another church to be apart of.
Second, reconsider the new program you may want to start. There is no new program that is going to bring the crowds flocking toward your church. You will never be able to compete with the bigger church down the road that has the people and resources to run any particular program they like. That includes programs for the youth. You can offer a church family built around loving the parents and children who attend. Your focus would be better suited toward relationships.
Third, consider that you need to change some things. I want to share this quote with you because it’s helpful.
“I know that change is a dirty word for some of you. You are all about tradition and keeping things as they have been for the past fifty years. Let’s think about this for a few minutes, though. You have a church that consists mainly of seniors, which is not an uncommon state of affairs. You want to attract young families with children because you think your church will die without a new generation of young people.
The fact that attracting young families is a problem strongly indicates that what you have been doing has not been working. Someone has defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Too many churches are practicing a type of spiritual insanity in their response to this issue.
We have a shortage of young families.
What we are currently doing is not attracting young families. We will continue doing Everything precisely as we have done in the past, hoping that young families will attend. It isn’t going to happen. Any church with a preponderance of seniors will have to change something to attract young families.
For too many churches attracting young families isn’t the priority that determines what they do. They want to attract young families without changing anything to attract them. Attracting young families that will fit into their way of the church is the priority.
I am not calling for immediate wholesale changes in your church. I am suggesting that if what you are doing hasn’t worked in the past, you will probably have to change your approach if you expect any results in the future.”
Lastly, be fervent in prayer and generous in praise. We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to ask in prayer, believing that He will hear and answer our prayers (Matthew 21:22). Everything that has breath should praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6); our lips should praise Him for all His wonderful kindnesses towards us (Psalm 63:3). Despite our current circumstances and the uncertainty of the future, we are called to praise our Father in heaven because He is good, trustworthy, and omnipotent! This is not a moot point; it is the main focal point!
- 1. Smallchurchconnections.com
2. Seven reasons were adapted from an article by this man below.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bi-vocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years.
(PODCAST) SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS
Mark 16: 1-12
BRIEF INTRO: We have made it! After all these weeks of meditating on the words of Mark, we finally arrive at the last chapter of his gospel. We began this gospel account focused on the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and surrounding regions. We read about how it broadened and entered various Gentile regions, the ending of His ministry as He headed toward Jerusalem, and how His ministry was consummated at the crucifixion and His rising again.
We learned of how Jesus gained disciples, taught them, commissioned them, and then how they fled from Him when He was betrayed. And we were shocked to witness their unbelief after He arose from the grave!
We read about many miracles that Jesus accomplished. His teachings, instructions, and challenges challenged us to look into our hearts and be honest with ourselves about our relationship with Him.
We found ourselves confused and agitated at the constant attacks of the “religious” class against Jesus and their scheme to get rid of Him. Ultimately, they seem to have succeeded: But then Christ arose from the grave, fulfilling all that was said of Him by the prophets, and the church was born!
16 “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of [a]James, and Salome bought spices so that they might come and anoint Him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, they *came to the tomb when the sun had risen.3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb for us?” 4 And looking up, they *noticed that the stone had been rolled away; [b]for it was extremely large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.”
FOCUS ONE: The sun had risen (1-5)
Saturday, Nisan 16, concluded at sunset. The Sabbath had ended, and the new Jewish day had begun. That evening ended with Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses, looking on to see “Where He (Jesus) was laid” (15:47). These women then left that place and “prepared the spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56) necessary to bury Jesus properly. The new day begins with these women waking up (if they even slept) before the “1crack of dawn” to walk to the place where they saw Jesus laid to “counteract the odor of decay and as a symbolic expression of loving devotion.” The Jews did not embalm their dead!
John informs us from his writing that Jesus was placed near a tomb where He was crucified. “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41).
Mark mentions another woman with these other ladies when they go to the tomb in the early morning. Her name is Salome. We know little about her, but the snippet below is helpful and encouraging.
“*Even though we don’t know much about the second Salome and her particular motivations, what we do know gives a strong sense of her devotion. She was willing to give up her regular life to follow Jesus, a carpenter who had become an itinerant (and, since he wasn’t part of the recognized religious orders, uncertified) teacher. Dropping everything to follow someone like that, especially since he was a Messiah who avoided any worldly connotations (no way to make money from his revolution) would have been hard to explain. Doing that as a woman in a patriarchal society would have been even harder. Salome not only took big social risks to follow Jesus, but she also supported him with her resources.
Even after his cause appeared to have completely collapsed and he was dying, Salome was there for Jesus. Rather than just quietly leave and get back to her normal life, she was there at the cross. After his death, she was there to honor him at the tomb by anointing his body.”
These women head for the tomb before the sun rises. As they arrive, the sun has risen, and they face an unexpected problem. There is a huge stone rolled over the tomb! Two of these ladies knew that a stone was rolled against the entrance (vv. 46-47), but apparently, I’d think much about it during their preparation of the spices.
But the stone itself was a much more minor issue than the “official seal” placed on it and the guard that watched it. How confused and yet amazed they must have been when they looked to the place where Jesus was laid and saw that the stone had already been rolled away! “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it” (Matthew 28:2). The guards that were assigned to keep watch over the tomb “shook for fear of him and became like dead men” (v. 4)! Problems solved! Mark does not tell us these facts.
So now what? They entered it! They see “a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed” (v. 5). This “young man” is the angel that Matthew told us about.
6 “But he *said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; see, here is the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
FOCUS TWO: HE is not here! (6-8)
These women experience a broad range of emotions. They go from experiencing sorrow at His crucifixion to amazement at the stone being rolled away in verse five, and now we read that they are experiencing great fear at what they are witnessing. “Mark uses a compound verb of strong emotion (ekthambeo)” that expresses overwhelming distress at what is highly unusual.
“During the stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises.” Your mind battles the reality you face trying to make sense of it, and your body becomes overloaded. You and I may not be able to relate to their overwhelming distress, but on a smaller scale, I think we can understand it. People that have experienced a severe traumatic event, such as 911 0r fighting in a war, can relate, to some degree, to the mental and physical aspects of “overwhelming stress.”
The angel speaks to them and tells them the unbelievable yet amazing news that Jesus, who they are looking for, who they came to prepare for burial, is not there! “HE HAS RISEN; He is not here, behold, here is the place where they laid Him” (v. 6).
This straightforward fact conveyed by the angel is central to historic Christianity! “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Many people since the time of Christ have posited explanations for this grand event, seeking to explain it away. But, there is only one explanation as to why the tomb of Christ was empty: the unassailable reality that he rose from the dead as it is written of Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)!
The angel commands (“go” is in the present imperative) them to tell the disciples that He is alive and is going before them to Galilee. It will be there where they will see Him alive! What I find interesting is the particular reference to Peter, “But go and tell His disciples and Peter” (v. 7). “2 Peter was not signaled out as the leader of the disciples, but to be reassured that, despite his denials of Christ, he was s2 Peterne of them.”
At this, the women fled (flee, escaped), and their minds were overwhelmed by the shock and awe of the moment. Their bodies were trembling in fear, and when told they could go, they went as fast as they could! So consumed by shock and fear, they didn’t immediately speak about it to anyone.
9 “[[[a]Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
12 Now after that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country.”
FOCUS THREE: Refused to believe it! (9-20)
These last verses in our study and the rest of this chapter are among the most disputed textual problems in our New Testament. MacArthur states, “The external evidence strongly suggests these verses were not originally part of Mark’s gospel. While the majority of Greek manuscripts contain these verses, the earliest and most reliable do not.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary says evidence against it being included in Mark’s gospel is strong. But rather than end our study here, I will comment on these verses because they are before us to contemplate.
Click here for an in-depth article on this issue.
We read that He arose early on the first day of the week. That would be Sunday morning; Saturday was the last day of the week for the Jews. Scripture describes several separate appearances of Jesus between His resurrection and ascension; Mary Magdalene at the tomb was the first. She quickly went and reported this to Peter and John. Refusing to believe it, they both run to the tomb; Peter arrives first and stoops down, looking in (John 20:3-4).
Put chart here
After all of His appearances to the 11 disciples and their resultant unbelief, Jesus appears to all of them and reproaches (rebuked) them for their “unbelief and hardness of heart” (v. 14). We might scoff at such unbelief, but we would have acted no differently.
Similar to Matthew’s account of the Great Commission, we see an added detail in this account: baptism. “Even if v.16 is a genuine part of Mark’s gospel, it does not teach that baptism saves, since the lost are condemned for unbelief, not for 2 EveneEveningized.”
Verses 16-18 appear on the surface to be problematic. Some people apply these scriptures to all believers of all time, as some do at the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee. But signs like these were only promised to the apostolic community (Matthew 10:1; 2 Corinthians 12:12). Regarding the drinking of poison and handling of snakes; the New Testament records no instances of either of these experiences mentioned. “Paul’s encounter with a snake at Malta was unintentional (Acts 28:3-5).
Verse nineteen gives insight into what happened after Christ’s forty-day post-resurrection “ministry.” This event is recorded in Acts 1:9-11. The disciples, now energized with faith at being with Jesus after He rose from the grave, begin fulfilling the commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
We did it; we just finished our study of the Gospel of Mark! He is alive! I hope that you have been educated, encouraged, and equipped to go into the world around you and share Jesus with the lost.
HE IS RISEN-HE IS RISEN INDEED!
1 The Bible Knowledge Commentary
2 John MacArthur