Does your Church have Love or Relevance at its Core?

 church loveThe principal factor that grows our churches and glorifies the Lord is not chasing a numbers paradigm or the latest trend. Rather, it is all about how we love with the impacting Gospel of our Lord that is preached uncompromised with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then we bring it with the conviction of the true Truth of God’s Word, and the clarity of the reverence and relevance of our Lord moving in our lives. These are the precious items we bring to build our church in God’s Way!

Love is. The primary Greek word is Agape, which means “self-giving” and “sacrificial,” that is more concerned with others than self. It was used in Classic Greek literature to refer to someone who was generously favored by a god. It conveys the idea of a person giving all his or her love, or favor, to someone else rather than to self. It is a love that is not earned; in contrast, it is relational and given freely. The word “Love” also refers to parents giving all of their love for their child.

In the New Testament, agape love was used to make a similar point, as God gives to each of us all of His love.

Real love goes deeper and further, as a deep adoration that is bestowed without expectations of a response from the other. Agape love is also the most common word used both as a noun and a verb in the New Testament. The greatest example of agape love is what our Lord Jesus Christ did when He died for our sins.

Consequently, God’s agape love gave us His forbearance and rescue from the punishment that we deserved. Rather than receiving what we should have, we received His favor without earning it.

(Deut. 6:5; Joshua 24:14 -15; Isa. 44:9-20; Mark 12:28-31; John 3:16; 21:16; Matt. 22:34-40; John 3:16; 13:1, 34-35; 14:1; 15:9; Rom. 1:31; 5:8-10; 8; 12:10; 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 7:32-35; 13; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5 Gal. 5:5; Eph. 2:4-7; Phil. 2:2; Col. 1:1-6; 3:5, 12-14; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2:8; 3:6; 12; 4:9-10; 5:8-13; 2 Tim. 3:3; Heb. 10:24; 1 John 4:7-12).

All men will know that you are my disciples. When we love one another, we prove and exhibit Christ!

This is our “mark,” the prime characteristic that makes us friendly and connectable to others, and how we are to be known-by what Christ does with us and calls us to. We are to love one another-period! No strings attached! This is the mold for the form that we use to display God’s love to the world (John 13:34-35; 15:13-17; 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 5:22; 1 John 2:10; 3:14-16)!

How do we know if this is working? This is exhibited in the form of the example from Whom our Lord is being lived out in the leaders lives. Then we can examine our practice with this question, “do you use people, or do you serve them?” Remember, Jesus was God, who came to this earth to love and to serve (John 13-14; 18:15-27)!

Thus, we do not aim at our people with numbers or manipulate them to whatever the latest business model or schema, we present the Gospel of God’s true Truth in love by teaching it and by living it out. Then we grow our churches, God’s Way.

What is real love? How is it shown by the fruits of it, like humility and service?

Be Good to your Volunteers!

As leaders in the church for the most part we are leading volunteers. Volunteers are there out of a wiliness to serve and are not there for compensation. Thus they have different attitudes and expectations from professional staff that we must be aware of. Volunteers may also have a stronger sense of ownership to their church, and may see it as ‘my church’ and not our church. So we are to walk a path that is difficult, but not impossible. Just like managing professionals, leadership takes commitment to stay the course in a consistent course in the mist of frustration and conflict. Staying a constant course with the characteristics we will discuss is paramount. Because if we deter the ship away from the storm the waves will buffet on our sides where we are not protected or able to withstand, we will then capsize.

A ship must go into the waves head on, to be able to go through them safely. True leadership is the ability to keep the helm steady.

Most people can manage when things go well, this is not success, it is how we are with people and crises when the seas are tossed. Strong characters that are poured out to the Lord are essential. This will be the ability to move people from distrust and frustration in to a godly centered path. We are to move people past conflicts past the storm and into the waters, into the place that the church is for.

Building a Church that Points to and Honors Christ PVIII

Incarnational Churches are aware of their Eternal Covenant  

Because of Christ’s incarnation, work, and sacrifice, He takes the place of our debt of sin and fulfills the old covenant and the blood sacrifice, which was temporary and flawed, to atone for our sin. Now, we can go directly to God, person-to-Person. God renews His relationship with us, His people, and gives us an age of grace in Christ by faith alone (Ex. 24:8; Deut. 30:11-14; Psalm 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa. 51:7; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 31:31; 32:40; Ezek. 37:26; Rom. 6:9; Heb. 8:8-13; 9:11-22). 

A Name for Jesus in the Hebrews text is our Great Shepherd, meaning He is the One who leads, equips, and guides us—as we all desperately need. It is our call to hear His voice and obey as a good sheep does in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators. And who and what are our predators? Our wayward ways of all infighting by our pride, and the fact that when the sheep go unfed, they bite each other. For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, we have to obey Him. This is a result of our intimate relationship with Him that is synergistically touching all those who come into His Home. We know Him, He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can’t lead others or ourselves without being forever lost and unfed (Psalm 23; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:34; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7).  

For our church to work well, we need to be taught and encouraged to grow so we can be our best, to reach out and to worship and function in humility and encouragement.  

In so doing, we support and remind one another to remain in Christ and not fall away. We do this as we honor the superiority of Christ and hear God’s call so we can venture into Christian maturity. The bottom line of an Incarnational Church is that we are not just the means of the communication of the Message of God; we are also the message to those who do not know Him. Because we are His work, we are His Gospel in action as an example that communicates far more than any book, program, or speaker or evangelist. We present and demonstrate not just the Jesus who lived, but also the Jesus who lives in us (Col. 1; Phil. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).  

The Incarnational Church produces a fellowship filled with real purpose and inspiration because we are rooted in the life of our Lord. As a result, people are treated in the parameters of Fruit and by people of character, as maturity is sought so everyone feels loved, appreciated, treasured, and encouraged because they are so—discipled and involved by mentoring before they are deployed in ministry. This is what a “Christ life” looks like before “Church life” is fully engaged. Thus, the leadership top down is producing a church authentic in spiritual maturity by its involvement in Christ so that the people are inspired to be devoted, as in caught up in Christ and with one another to be more worthy in and for the faith. In so doing, we are all making Him known in the world too. The key to making this happen is how people are cared for before they are deployed; the equipping and encouraging must always continue. The antagonist to this is our pride, apathy, or manipulation, seeking to connive, posturing ones agenda over others, and/or absent from God’s precepts, call, or love. The Incarnational Church shows the kind of direction that sees Christ glorified as our tempers and temperaments come in line with His guidelines. So our church—your church—is a collection of imitators of Christ so we go in the direction of the possibilities of His lead. And, we can indeed do this if we dare stretch beyond what we think we can do or where we can go, and seek where and what Christ has for us, even with our limitations and frailty (John 14:21-22; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Colossians 4:2-5; 1 John 1:2). 

Hebrews ends with this final exhortation: pray and live honorably so God may produce even more in you. Remember your fellow Christian workers and pray for and support them. May the God of peace who saved you continue to equip you. May you produce effectual fruit for the glory of Christ, our Great Shepherd. To God be the glory!

Building a Church that Points to and Honors Christ P VII

Incarnational Churches live as a response to what Christ has done for us!

If you love Jesus, then you are to love others too. Hebrews is almost written as a letter of recommendation to encourage the hearers to continue in the faith and not give up, and to obey their leaders, because if they do not, they will face dire problems. What they were going through then was nothing like what would come later. The author, inspired by God, advised them (and us) to “shape up” so we could grow through it with joy and not melt in bitterness. Our living faith, that God gives and builds on along with our efforts, has more of a purpose than most of us will ever see or realize. Take God’s warning about negating your spiritual development or neglecting what He gives or where He calls. If we refuse to allow His work, then our faith and the future He has for us will not be received. We will limit our sanctification and cut ourselves off from God’s reward for being faithful and fruitful; we may even fall to bad or natural consequences for refusing His guidance or the fellowship of others. Just think about how many churches in the U.S. close each year—over four thousand. Thus, we have to see our call to be responsible for one another so each can encourage and equip others, helping them when they slip or are about to slip (Psalm 137: 5-6; 147:2; Isa 62:5; Rom. 12-14; Gal. 4-5; 6:24; Eph. 4-5; Heb. 10:10; Rev. 21: 2-4, 9-27). 

With responsibility comes obedience and listening—a call to obey your leaders.

This may not be popular in a day when we are conditioned to challenge and even disrespect authority, but here we are called to respect authority and to care for and keep careful watch over the people as shepherds, because leaders will be held to account. So, to make our church incarnational, make a group effort with some top down leadership, so we can heed the call and submit to those in authority with value and respect. In this way, we can thrive, enjoy orderliness, and learn from others. In contrast, a person with a lack of faith will not respect others because the emptiness where faith is supposed to be is filled with pride and even self-destruction, worry, and stress that lead a person nowhere good. This, of course, does not mean we submit to dictatorial or dysfunctional leadership (Isa. 21:8; Jer, 23:4; Ezek. 3:17; 33:6; 35:7; Hab. 2:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; 3 John 9-10). 

Christianity is community; we are all mutually dependent upon one another and must act accordingly with goodness to one another so we can show Him effectively. 

As Christians, we are all priests to one another as we collectively rely on Christ and minster to one another. In the desire to pursue Christ and His precepts, we must be careful that we honor Him and not cause others to stray from Him. This must include our devotion and surrender to Christ, for only in Him—by Word and Prayer—and being held accountable by others will our conscience be clear. Even in the face of struggles and hardships, we can live honorably, by our mutual respect and focus on God as comfort! In contrast, if we just live our lives with the attitude of how things affect “me” and not “others,” then we are living with the devil, and not with God (Rom. 15: 33: 16:20; 2 Cor. 1:12; 13:11; Phil. 4:9, 18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16; Heb. 4:16; James 1:27)!

Building a Church that Points to and Honors Christ PVI

Incarnational Churches are not led Astray 

Scripture in Hebrews, 2 Peter, and many other places clearly tell us do not be carried away, as in do not be led astray by false ideas, trends, or other things just because they are new. Lusting for something we may think is better, from a bad food to being charmed by a clever preacher, or teaching false doctrines and thinking, hey, that is their interpretation and it is OK, we will fail at being an effective church. We are just as responsible in listening to bad or false or junk teaching as the false teacher who speaks ill of God’s Word is for spreading them. False doctrines are rooted in speculative thinking and whims and not upon God’s clear Word; they kill our growing relationship with Christ and others and dissolve the incarnational approach to church life because they will leave us complacent so we do not reach forward and outward with the Gospel of Truth. What we will have is the emptiness of false ideas, meaningless rituals, and traditions that serve no purpose and do nothing to grow one’s communion with Christ or fellowship with one another. For it is by grace we are saved and we respond to God in and by faith. 

If we get too carried away with our ideas we will miss Christ, so we must be in His Word, be reflective, be in prayer to see what we are really doing and who are we serving (Psalm 31:16)? 

We must go to God’s Word—not to whims; the Bible means what it says and you can know who is false because false teachers will never use discernment or context or real word meanings. They will deceive, and not receive His Truth, thus your church will be resting on a crumbling foundation rather than the strength of Christ’s true Truth. He is our Altar and help; our truth for daily living comes from Him and nothing else—no ceremonies or special practices, for such things do no good and may even hurt us. Only by God’s special favor will we excel spirituality, in life, and in Church. For Christ suffered and paid our debt of sin so we can all live in Him and be there for one another (Lev. 7:11-18; 1 Cor. 10:18; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Peter 2).

Building a Church that Points to and Honors Christ PV

Incarnational Churches show Brotherly Love and it is Real 

In what ways does brotherly love define you? How should it? Francis Schaeffer and others have told us over the centuries; men from Augustine, Kempis, and Aquinas as well as the Reformers have warned that the attitude and trends of the church tend to be the attitudes of the culture. We must heed this warning; for if we do not, this will be a very wrong outcome! We are called higher, to be incarnational so we can listen and put into practice what Christ teaches and gives to the lives of others. We are to be good, fruitful, and faithful as followers, first and foremost, before we can be so as followers and as leaders. We are to care for our souls and watch over and care for others too. This is Christian community and effective leadership in action—the practice and application of our faith in our lives first and then letting it pour over others. For we lead by venturing forward with our eyes upon Christ as Sovereign Lord. This is a responsibility; as we follow our Shepherd, we shepherd others. We do not dictate or lead from behind nor do we connive or manipulate out of our pride; rather, we are in front, forging ahead on His path, being the example, encourager, and teacher, cutting the way of His Way for others to see and follow. We make Him real and visible as we all come to the throne of grace. Let us be fruitful, practical, real, and faithful. If we are not, we will have enormous problems and strife instead of the love of Christ in and through our churches and us. 

As Christians who are receivers and partakers of the incarnation, we are to be in a tighter community together in Christ as Christ-followers. We are to be deep friends who are bonded as family, and take this practice unto others around us.  

The purpose of our doctrine and the study of His Word is not just for the knowledge, (which is very important), but our supreme goal should be what we do with that knowledge. This is the relationship that is growing in Christ, then outward to others around us. Remember: His shed blood paid for us! You have truly dedicated your right to yourself and church to Christ! We give Him our all! It is easy to die for a cause, but are you willing to live for Him in perfect obedience so your life is poured out, your strength is gone, and you must rely on His? Hebrews, chapter thirteen, reveals what happens when we follow the incarnation, placing it into application. This is about keeping our personal and mutual faith real and growing, which means the encouragement, support, and using of spiritual gifts, and everyone working as a team. This is the strength and prime purpose of the Church that comes from our growth and worship; without them, we will fail. Our relationship with the Lord must be transparent and not secretive (unless you live in a closed Muslim country) (Psalm 34:8; Rom. 1:8-17; Eph. 4:15-16)!

 

Building a Church that Points to and Honors Christ PIV

Incarnational Churches Go to People 

Following Christ means just that: we follow His character and teachings. We also follow Him so He takes us where the people and needs are and where we can meet Him there. This may require the deliberate rearrangement of our traditional thinking, so our lives apprehend the application He has for us. This may mean planting a church where it needs to be, making ministry and relationship happen where the people and needs are. I learned many years ago from the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn (who was a Calvinist and a Presbyterian pastor) that we must go and not wait until they show up. Because our thinking in the Reformed Church as well as many Evangelical churches tends to be to wait for them to come to us, which is seen also as the template for the mainline churches. Well, people will not come; we have to go to them and live our lives well enough that they will want to come to us to meet Christ and worship Him. We have to see people as separated from God, who can’t or won’t see Him because of the clouds of hurt and culture, and of course, sin. They need an example more than they need answers; they need hope and love more than they need a tract or a onetime program, and they need to see it as consistent. Because in God’s sight, every person is important; everyone is a gift, made in His image, and we are to display that image of what each one can be. 

The question is: are you willing to rearrange your life so that you can be with people who matter to Jesus? And who are they? Jesus says they are our neighbors! 

Incarnational churches do not have programs that only cater to those who come; they go to others too. We can’t be a “come and see” organization; we have to be a movement that also “goes and tells.” We can have the goal, hope, and mindset to make our church totally focused on Christ and His Way. It is how we lead, how we treat others, and how and where we go that represent the ways of Christ. People see the church by how they see Christians in action. How they see God is how He is displayed and deployed in the life of believers. Thus, our template, vision, and goal as a local church are by the teaching and example of Christ. Period. We are called to love and to continue to do so to build our church for Christ’s glory no matter what the circumstances or oppositions. In so doing, we show hospitality to both those we know and those we do not know.